“Stupid is as Stupid Does These words uttered by Forest Gump in the movie of the same name, pretty much describes Americans, at least in the eyes of Charles P. Pierce, in his book, “Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free.”

I would like to report that Pierce is off base in his assessment, but the book's first chapter, "Dinosaurs with Saddles," makes the truth painfully clear. The author correctly shows how Americans ignore or discount expertise in favor of “gut feelings.”

This is how Idiot America engages itself. It decides, en masse, with a million key strokes and clicks of the remote control, that because there are two sides to every question, they both must be right, or at least not wrong. And the words of an obscure biologist carry no more weight on the subject of biology than do the thunderations of some turkey neck preacher out of the Church of Christ’s Own Parking Structure in Deland, Florida. Less weight, in fact, because our scientist is an “expert” and, therefore, an “elitist.”

As Pierce points out, many Americans believe that freedom of speech means their opinions count just as much as an expert’s, they don’t, yet, that doesn’t stop them from believing things that are not only preposterous but just flat wrong. Twenty percent of Americans believe the sun revolves around the earth. A large number of these people vote on issues that affect all Americans.

The theory of evolution and global warming are just two glaring examples among many that Americans allow "gut-feeling" to override expertise, according to Pierce. Whether or not Pierce is correct, he raises the correct points and in a country where 75% of high school graduates never buy another book, it is not surprising.

I have only touched on one-example brought out by Pierce, but the entire book is filled with example after example of what stupidity in America is doing to the country. I characterize the book as a reference for assumptions because it lists examples of how the “gut” overrides concrete thinking and leads to division based on quackery, fiction and rumor.

Is "Idiot America" worth the read? To the informed, it is nothing surprising and strong verification of what they already know. For the "gut instinct" people it is just further proof that as a Dover, PA pastor said, “We’ve been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of our culture.”

That sums it up nicely. Read and enjoy.

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Comment by Joan Denoo on October 16, 2013 at 11:04am

Luara, your posts move me deeply. Sorry to learn you felt like an outcast in highschool and it turned out to be a negative influence for you. 

My experiences at home were so terrible, I found refuge at school. I had top grades, was a loner, and I also had some wonderful social experiences. I held leadership roles in Latin Club, Tri-Sci Club, had advantages of field trips that were provided for top students. This is not a brag, it is what I experienced. I was also May Queen and Lilac Queen at school and Lilac princess for the city of Spokane. We, the Lilac court which consisted of a queen and two princesses, had a week in our lush Davenport Hotel penthouse. I could not have had a better experience. Even though I was a loner, didn't join the party crowd and spent my spare time working on projects, it kept my mind off my misery at home. 

I got a lot of praise for the queen and princess nonsense, but little for my scholastic achievements. I just kind of put those praises in the "So what" file and dismissed them. Family and old friends still talk about my social life and probably don't even know about the other stuff I did. 

My Latin experiences happened because I wanted to be able to understand scientific names of things and it provided me with a very valuable tool. I am not Roman Catholic and attended a public school. Like you, Donald, I don't remember very much of it except for root words. Even that is fading. 

Luara, I join you in concern over the mythology that grew up around vaccines. I find it ridiculous to follow the advice of movie stars or celebrities on science matters. I had a discussion with my radiologist about GMO studies that show rats developing cancers when tested with GMO foods. He said there is no compelling evidence that GMOs in human foods are harmful, however he advised shunning them until the humans have eaten them for several years and followed for consequences in the human body. He gave me many examples where rat studies did not prove to be reliable for human consumption because of the ways the studies were conducted. I trust him over what the media reports. 

As to commercial media, I gave my TV away several years ago and subscribe to newsletters on the internet. Ruth provides references to many good science studies and she has a good eye for important pieces. 

My mind always serves me well. I had to unlearn many of the principles I learned at home and education. Too many unhealthy imperatives come from traditions. Even the mission statement of a college where I taught said one purpose of the college was to teach sex-appropriate attitudes and behaviors. NONSENSE! Education is to provide information beyond attitudes, beliefs, customs, traditions and values that keeps one in a box. I want to get out of the boxes of my life and find healthier, more productive ways of living. That means understanding human behavior and finding healthy ways of communication. 

Comment by Donald R Barbera on October 16, 2013 at 8:00am
Laura, I have a friend that believes conspiracy propaganda. He is always telling to stock up on water, hide my guns, don't take certain medication, etc. I reason with him and help him get a grip. As an example (this is the condensed version)on the gun conspiracy I asked him how were "they" going to get our guns. He had no answer. I asked him if he thought legislation to gather up all the guns would be passed Congress. Again, the answer was no. Then came the UN passing a law of the same type. I pointed out that the US is the UN in many ways. I also mentioned that collecting an estimated 300 million guns would keep hundreds employed for a decade. He finally saw my point, I must say the effort may not have been worth it, because he moved on to the next conspiracy theory. This is a guy who was an outcast, because of his intelligence. I lost track of him for a decade and this is who I found. I said all of that just to point out how being on the fringes can have serious consequences.
Comment by Luara on October 16, 2013 at 6:55am

It is strange that many of the people that helped put you on the fringes wish they could be you or be like you.

They wouldn't wish anything like that. I'm still reeling in a big way from my childhood.  Mostly what made me an outcast was the emotional damage from my family.  I did get good grades in high school but that alone wouldn't have made me an outcast. 

Someone who was a bit of a friend in college, was also an outcast.  He was also very damaged as a child, but he has done a lot less to get over it than I did, and much more rationalizing.  He's never seen a therapist and he doesn't have much insight into himself, he strikes out in petty ways, he's turned into a bit of a crackpot over the years, and while I have empathy for him, I also can't deal with being around him.  So in the context of me, he's still an outcast. He had a reputation as a "creep", because he didn't take care of himself and he oozed hostility.

I did have a couple friends in high school, also social outcasts.  One of them was an obese girl who came to Pasadena with me when I went to college.  We rented a house together for awhile then split up.  I heard a rumor - somehow I have it in my head - that she committed suicide.  Her father was a doctor and I called his office a couple times and asked for her contact info (or to know what had happened to her) but he never called back.  I still don't know if she killed herself or not. 

My other friend in high school was an adopted girl who had an obsession with the police for some reason, and eventually went into police work. 

So while being an intellectual could make you an outcast, for me it had more to do with having a damaged relationship to human beings because of having been damaged by parents. 

There was a good deal of anti-intellectualism in high school.  When I told a teacher there that I  was going to Caltech, I got an eeuw reaction.  That is strange that getting intense training in a science would be make one an inadequate person in someone's eyes.  The students at Caltech were no more or less human than anyone else. 

Comment by Donald R Barbera on October 16, 2013 at 6:53am
Joan, I thought I was the only one that took Latin. I attended catholic school and it was a requirement for altar boys. I don't remember much of it today, but it was fun, especially around other students. Of course, everything we learned was built around some religious hocus pocus.
Comment by Joan Denoo on October 15, 2013 at 10:48pm

At our 40th highschool reunion, I learned the football hero had been offered full scholarships including board and room, which he rejected. He spent the 40 years between graduation and reunion emptying garbage cans. Now don't get me wrong, having empty garbage cans is a good thing and I appreciate the pick-up service the city provides. However, five of my girlfriends were scholastically tops in our graduating class, and none of us was offered even partial scholarships. We all went to college and paid our own ways. 
I also discovered many girls dropped out of highschool because they were pregnant; some of them had pretty rough lives supporting themselves and child.  I know nothing of the fathers. 

I loved school, from elementary through graduate school. It was a place of peace and exploration for me. I wasn't a party girl and didn't like the notion of sororities; I pretty much focused on topics that interested me. High school gave me so many opportunities to explore ideas; I was very lucky to have great math, science, and history teachers. My very favorite was my Latin teacher who made the language come alive. We learned how to tell jokes and tongue twisters in Latin, and ate foods common to ancient Roman era days, we dressed in togas, and had council meetings in imitation of the Roman forum, we held debates, all the while speaking Latin.  

Comment by Donald R Barbera on October 15, 2013 at 8:16pm
It is strange that many of the people that helped put you on the fringes wish they could be you or be like you. Of course, not all, but a significant amount will fit the mold and went no further than high school. I'm not saying that only having a high school degree doesn't mean anything, but the thinking process continues. You'll those that put away the books for good and know why life has been cruel to them. I know too many high school graduates that have excelled and grown.
Comment by Luara on October 15, 2013 at 10:05am

High school is full of rigid attitudes and things change a lot after that.  I was a total social outcast in high school.  But if I went to a high school reunion now I wonder what the "cool", popular people would have become. 

Comment by Donald R Barbera on October 15, 2013 at 9:51am
Amen. I have accepted it now. Although I didn't have a pocket protector, I had may face in books, enjoyed chemistry and math, but I also was on the basketball team, the football team and track.i was a busy dude trying to fit in with my buds. When I started playing keyboard with a jazz group, suddenly I became cool and my life changed. Go figure.
Comment by Luara on October 15, 2013 at 9:18am

 It doesn't make the slightest sense that not thinking would be "cool".  Working out is cool and athletes are cool, so what's uncool about getting mental exercise or being a mental athlete?

I hate being shamed for my intellectual projects.  And for wanting my romantic interests to be very intelligent - as if it's a shameful prejudice.  Of course I want them to be smart. 

Perhaps this is an American cultural thing. 

Comment by Luara on October 14, 2013 at 3:51pm

Gut feelings are a good guide with individuals and in personal situations.  I've gotten into trouble repeatedly because of ignoring my gut feeling, in favor of what I "should" do - going along with the situation as it was - because that's what I had to do when I was a child.  People pick up on subtle things about others - tiny eye flickers etc. - and we're good at it. 

The people who use their gut feelings to decide science questions and huge social issues, are taking gut feelings beyond the realm where they are valid.  People often think that they know more than they do - they imagine that reality is simple enough to conform to a simple philosophy, that their prejudices are a dictionary for reality. 

I've seen people doing that a lot, for example a mother up the block who started a conversation with me on vaccination, she was thinking of not getting her children vaccinated because she thought it might be hard on their immune systems, she asked me "you've got to go by your feelings, don't you?"  I don't know why her feelings were against it - she sees a naturopath and maybe that person was nice and had a nice "natural" anti-vacc philosophy.  Indeed there is a lack of sense - people not reality-oriented.  Maybe when life doesn't involve practical hardships, people float along on their feelings.  I looked at her very cute 2-3 year old kids and had qualms about their welfare. 



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