Removing Intelligence From America

Removing Intelligence from America or RIA is a serious national problem. It's a widespread malady, or better yet, a side effect from a drug overdose. The drug is our culture, and it is killing any hope of a collective intelligence.

RIA is a devious and subtle process that goes unnoticed until one day when a European or Asian asks us the capital of Spain or the date of the American Revolution, and we freeze. We search for the answer, but it disappeared with our short-term memory three days after our high school history exam in 1979.

The Europeans and the Asians are asking us questions now; they cannot understand why we don't know anything. Is it due to our failing educational system, our focus on money and consumerism, bureaucratic paralysis and the emphasis on job specialization, our isolation from other nations, or all of the above? I fill in "all of the above" with my number two pencil.

They don't use number two pencils in England. Students write essays. The teachers read the pupils' answers rather than attend perfunctory department meetings, and students form sentences rather than guess bubble "B" all the way down the page. My 17 year old daughter--a true American teenager--is an expert on bubble "B," and in lieu of the Classics, has memorized the merchandise at Abercrombie and Fitch.

Our educational system persuades us away from long-term memory skills, generalized knowledge, and learning for enjoyment. When remembering is not the goal, forgetting is achieved. It tries to be fair or automated at the cost of all else, and accentuates our right vs. wrong mindset.

We are arguably an overly moralistic, black or white society. Are you with us or against us? Did you pass or fail? When subjectivity and creativity are compromised and replaced with a theoretical or actual "true or false" exam, intellectual disinterest often results.

We embrace another "either-or" and make it an ideal: to be a consumer or a salesperson at all times, both contributing to the decline of our national IQ. These roles are promoted through our primary educators: television, in which news or other programming is slotted in between commercials; and our failing schools, in which we are taught how to specialize.

American media emphasizes buying and selling, and both distract us from relationships, art, grassroots politics, intellectual discourse, and of course, the world at large. Why learn poetry, explore philosophy, or study foreign customs when you can purchase a trendy skateboard or make an extra few bucks from a business deal? We are taught to buy low and sell high and finagle the deal.

In order to achieve and acquire, most Americans develop a niche and cannot operate outside this limited range. Churchill wrote his own speeches, yet most U.S. politicians have speech writers, advisors, assistants and advisors to their assistants. Tony Blair regularly answers a broad range of unscripted questions on his feet in the House of Commons; George W. Bush knows how to read a cue card. Sometimes.

English barristers tend to be generalists while American lawyers are mostly specialists. There are no depositions in England: cross-examination is an art form requiring overall mastery of the law. In America, deposed parties endure countless questions. The ensuing trial is nothing other than a stage piece in which all details have been worked out by niche lawyers in advance.

The same is true in government: most U.S. jobs are standardized, requiring a fill in the dot mentality. Bureaucratization and excessive regulations relieve the individual of decision-making, leading to specialization, and eventually boredom. There's no need to be clever or see the grand scheme because the dozens and dozens of rules know the answer. The system is supposedly "intelligent," so the individual need not be.

Our geography and youth as a country may account for some of our ignorance. We stand relatively alone in a very big land. European nations have to listen to and negotiate with their neighbors; they have to know the situation outside their borders. We don't enjoy the rich tradition that some nations have, therefore many of us ignore the historical altogether. We're a new country, so we only want to know about new things.

But is this in our best interest? Should our physical isolation mean intellectual isolation? Even though we have a roomy first-class seat, shouldn't we know what's going on in coach? Shouldn't we look out the window to get a glimpse of the big picture--the past--to see how our journey fits into the whole and how it may impact the future? If we put up our tray tables and put down our "Sky Mall" magazine, maybe over time we can boost our collective intelligence and gain greater respect from the rest of the world.


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