Monday, August 28, 2006

Idiot's Delight


AMERICANS seem to have an unnatural fascination with our collective stupidity.
Jay Leno has made it a staple of the "Tonight Show" by trotting out people who seemingly would have trouble remembering their addresses.
And usually, about once a year, some polling operation will release the results of a survey that shows that more people know Boy George than George Bush.
The latest example is a poll by Zogby International released this week which shows that three-quarters of Americans can correctly identify two of Snow White's seven dwarfs while only a quarter can name two Supreme Court justices.
As if to underscore this blight on our collective consciousness, the two dwarfs most often named were Sleepy and Dopey.
And for those few who could rattle off the names of the current justices, Clarence Thomas was the most mentioned. Which shows you the value of having a lurid sexual harassment episode as part of your confirmation hearing.
Other findings: 57 percent of Americans could identify J.K. Rowling's fictional boy wizard as Harry Potter but only 50 percent could name the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Big deal. One's a prestidigitator, the other's a politician. Both practice slight of hand.
Asked what planet Superman was from, 60 percent named the fictional planet Krypton while only 37 percent knew that Mercury is the planet closet to the sun. On the other hand, besides being the name of Queen's lead singer and a poor-selling Ford product, Mercury doesn't get a lot of ink.
Respondents were far more familiar with the Three Stooges - Larry, Moe, and Curly - than they were with three branches of the U.S. government although that's a loaded question considering the kind of slapstick and pratfalls we see in Washington these days.
Twenty-three percent of those surveyed knew Taylor Hicks was the most recent "American Idol" but less than half that number were able to name the Supreme Court justice confirmed this year, Samuel A. Alito Jr. Personally, I'm willing to bet that Alito has a better voice.
And last but not least, just over 60 percent of the respondents were able to name Bart as Homer's son on the television show, "The Simpsons" compared to 20.5 percent who were able to name one of the ancient Greek poet Homer's epic poems, "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey."
This is not a bad thing. I believe that "The Simpsons" says more about human nature than any philosopher since Plato.

Ultimately, who says Americans are dumb? All we have done over the past few centuries is to knit together a diverse population to create the most powerful nation on Earth, one with a standard of living and educational system unmatched is most of the world.
There is something called the theory of "collective intelligence" that holds a large group of diverse, informed, independent-thinking people will almost always deliver the right answer to a question.
And who cares if we stumble over "who's buried in Grant's tomb?" More often than not, we get it right.

No comments: