The Economist Democracy in America Blog had an article and discussion on the topic “A nation of fearless, bumbling morons”.
In short, the discussion was asking whether people in the U.S. have become WUSSES, based on a recent canceling of a football game by a governor due to snow. A person wrote to the governor saying, “We’re not a nation of wusses. We’re a nation of fearless, bumbling morons in pickup trucks who like to drink beer, go shirtless in the freezing cold for football, and drive in blizzards.”
There was a lot of good humored mud slinging in the comments, as well as some good observations. Here is how I jumped into the fray:
There is actually a lot to learn from this question.
Erwin Haas pointed out the 200 year cycle that characterized previous societies. But that observation only applies to a narrow range of human culture. If we go back in time, Neanderthal etc., the cycles probably get a lot longer. The point being, the whole timing of social change is technology dependent. Everything has speeded up with the emergence of science and the industrial revolution. Let’s label some modern empires: France, Spain, England, Portugal, Netherlands. How long were each of them on top of the pile? The U.S. hasn’t been a super power for 250 years; maybe 60 at most. Now, bring in the Internet. All bets are off.
Now, back to the wusses and morons. First, let’s agree that we need to sort out apples and oranges to get any meaningful answer. The U.S. is NOT a nation of red and blue states. If you color it by individual, the whole country is purple. The college kids going to football games do not represent scientists, doctors, or congressmen for example ( ok, with some exceptions ). BUT, all of us can be described by some very rigid elements of human nature. Evolutionary changes ( at least until recently ), have moved slowly. The modern human race has essentially the same brain capability as our ice age predecessors. What has changed, however, is the COMPLEXITY of the world we have built. And that complexity has exploded. So, on a RELATIVE basis, all of us are heading in the moron direction. Note, this does not say we are getting dumber. We’re not. But compared with the rate of accumulating knowledge, we are going backward very fast.
Now bring in my point about distinguishing college kids from doctors and congressmen. This, I claim, is a huge problem. The mental ability that is NEEDED to guide modern society has jumped way ahead of our social structures which select and organize people. I picked doctors as an example because it is easy to see how they are currently hopelessly lost. The medical knowledge base now lists somewhere near 12,000 individual diseases. The U.S. pharmacopia lists over 55,000 drugs to treat these diseases. No human on earth can learn more than a small fraction of this. Yet society fearlessly bumbles ahead with the same medical treatment model used by the Greeks – doctors diagnosing and treating patients.
What about government? How many economic factors have been identified that significantly affect an economy? How about legal factors? Environmental factors? Medical? Industrial? And what process do we use to select our leaders who have to manage this? Voting? Ballots did you say? The Greeks again? But, I’m sure, as a minimum, we have a way to insure that all of our elected leaders are the most “intelligent” humans of all those available; Einstein level, for sure!
What? We don’t? Then I’m ready to cast my vote: we’re fearless, bumbling morons!