Monday, December 31, 2007

Time Stumbles On

It is always nice to see the old year out fondly, and with renewed hope for the future, but it isn’t always easy. A friend sent me a video clip from a British news show, in which the reporter quizzed Americans on our knowledge of the world. Considering that the future of this country depends upon the intelligence of our voters, this was a valid, if admittedly a bit skewered, way of determining how qualified we really are to have the right to vote.

When five people were asked to name a country beginning with the letter “U”, three could not think of a single one. A fourth said “Yugoslavia.” A fifth said “Utah. Is Utah a country?”

Asked for the primary religion of Israel, not one of the five knew. One volunteered “Catholic?” When asked “What religion do Buddhist monks practice?” four blank stares and one, again, “Catholic?”

And the most disheartening thing about it, to me, was the fact that the response of each and every one of them to being exposed as prime candidates for euthanasia was to laugh merrily and dismissively. And they’re absolutely right. I mean, come on…who cares about all this politics and geography stuff? That Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson were seen holding hands at L’Pissant…now that’s important.

And these people are allowed to breed!!! Their children are doomed before they are even conceived. It increasingly seems that knowledge is to ignorance as a diamond is to a grain of sand.

That the American political system relies on a public whose intelligence seems just about on a par with a stewed tomato is amply witnessed by the current occupant of the White House…who was elected not once but twice!. But surely we have learned our lesson from the debacle of the past eight years, haven’t we? (“Name a country beginning with the letter ‘U’.”)

It is, truly, to weep.

Now, I know that in the course of filming the segment, there were undoubtedly many people who did know the answers (oh, God, I hope so!) and the producers only picked out the most outrageously stupid. But even so....

We live in a world where the vast majority of all the knowledge of our race, accumulated over thousands of years, is now at our fingertips, available to all. We are living longer and healthier than ever before. I was born into a world in which television, cell phones, and computers did not exist, and in which millions died each year of diseases which have all but been eradicated. Tens of millions of others who would have died without medical techniques and treatments are still alive. And much of this progress has emerged from the same nation far too many of whose citizens today can’t name three of the members of the Supreme Court or locate Washington, D.C. on a map. Our educational system is an embarrassment to the world, and we are increasingly a nation of “who got gets more” and to hell with anyone who doesn’t.

I know, I know…the world has always been going to hell in a handbasket, and we have always survived. We probably will survive again. As I’ve said so often before, we must all have hope. But when one is sitting in a canoe at risk of being swept over a waterfall, just hoping it will be all right won’t make it so. We have to paddle like hell.

So, happy New Year, all. And who is buried in Grant’s Tomb?

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1 comment:

Mike said...

Unfortunately this degree of ignorance is not restricted to Americans. Similar surveys in Australia have produced similar results. One would despair if not for the belief that the majority know the answers but that's no fun!