Ignorance, Its Uses and Nurture

Democracy may not be the silliest idea concocted by man but, for anything larger than a small town, it is crackpot. It consists in the idea that a public, on average knowing almost nothing, can choose leaders in popularity contests among provincial lawyers  who know little more and are required to know nothing, except how  to get elected.

In a democracy, this  ignorance is both a protected quality, like motherhood and a valued resource. By common consent, the ruled do not look too closely at the mentality of elected rulers, and the rulers speak solemnly of the wisdom of the people, who hve none. Reporters will ask, “Senator, what are your views on Afghanistan?” but never, “Senator, where is Afghanistan?” or “Can you spell Afghanistan?”

To plumb the depths of democratic puzzlement, we might, by means of polls, askhow many voters   can name three cities in China apart from Beijing, Shanghai, and Hongkong. Or how many can name even those cities. Or how many know even one date in Chinese history, or Can name a single province. Yet they know that China is perfectly dreadful and dangerous.

Ask what countries border on the Caspian or Black Sea. Or, seriously,how many  have ever heard of the Caspian. In today’s politics, these are not quiz-show trivia but influence Washington’s choice of our next war’.

See how many have heard of the Minsk Accords. If they have not, they lack a hamster’s grasp   of the Ukraine war. What they think they know probably comes through CNN and MSNBC, assiduous hawkers of the not so.

Gallup: Twenty-one percent of Americans believe the sun revolves around the earth.

Fifty-four percent of Americans read below the sixth-grade level.

A good bet is that the lower third in intelligence of the population know nothing at all of international affairs and exceedingly little of national.  Given the appallingly poor schools in the cities, another good bet is that the proportion of blacks cognizant of international geography or politics is vanishingly low. Since Latin American cardiac surgeons and system programmers do not swim the Rio Bravo to pick oranges in Florida, the Hispanic percentage is unlikely to be greatly better. Taken as wholes, none of these three groups is remotely qualified to vote.””

Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) stunned attendees at a high school solar eclipse event Monday by claiming the rock-solid moon is a “planet” that is “made up mostly of gases” — before adding she still wants to be “first in line” to learn how to live there.

I suggest sending her. She is the former top Democrat on the House Science Committee’s  space subcommittee.

“While little more than a third of respondents (36 percent) could name all three branches of the U.S. government, just as many (35 percent) could not name a single one.

n reading, 628 Patterson High School students took the test. Out of those students, 484 of them, or 77%, tested at an elementary school reading level. That includes 71 high school students who were reading at a kindergarten level and 88 students reading at a first-grade level. Another 45 were reading at a second-grade level. Just 12 students tested at Patterson High School, were reading at grade level, which comes out to just 1.9%.

While people who read political columns online are likely of intelligence above the average, i wonder how many who rail against capitalism, socialism, fascism, racism, and terrorism can define the words.

I recently checked the bios of the members of the House committee on China to see how many read, write, or speak Chinese. None.  Thus do we make policy regarding the most important foreign country on the planet.

A friend, a former US Senator, once estimated, dead serious, that ninety percent of the Senate doesn’t know where Myan Mar is. If you and I, dear reader, do not know this, it probably doesn’t matter. The Senate engages in foreign policy.

It is important to note that intelligence does not by itself confer the capacity to vote. I know people way into the upper percentiles who do not have the time or the interest to worry about foreign policy, for example. There are engineers, neurosurgeons, mathematicians, journalists, musicians and artists, whose minds just don’t run in political directions, especially involving obscure countries on the other side of the world. Neurosurgeons have families who merit attention, journals to read to keep up with their fields, perhaps a hobby or two, and  don’t have much left over to worry about a new Russian pipeline across Mongolia, wherever that is.

People I have met of IQ 190 or better, maybe four (of whom I assuredly am not one), have had the memory and analytical capacity to, I think, approximate an understanding of politics, history, and so on. These people are so rare as to be almost nonexistent. The rest of us at best can know  bits and pieces.

For example, my knowledge of Caucasian politics consists entirely in the fact that Washington wants to put military bases in Georgia  to help surround Russia.  I am blankly ignorant of Congressional and state politics, agricultural policy, or much about what Blackrock is doing around the world. There is too much to know, and too little wit to know it with.

If we ignore exceptions and degrees, the public can be regarded as a vast semi-comatose polyp that knows only whether it is comfortable or cold and wet  and has enough  to eat. If the economy is good, people will vote for incumbents, whether these have any responsibility for the prosperity or not. If wars can be fought without inconveniencing them, in places not actually within their visual horizon, they will pay scant attention. They will not concern themselves with education as long as their children get good grades, however unrelated to anything learned. Their interests are local, though they can be stirred up over this football team or that, this Trump or that Biden, or morality plays about police brutality or the righteous heroism of Ukrainians.

Taking into account the aforementioned poor education, controlled media, and American anti-intellectualism–Americans seem to dislike the obviously intelligent–and you have a polity utterly incapable of anything approaching functional democracy. Rev the people up over the Superbowl or morality tales about the Ukraine or Russia and they will do anything desired. Roll over. Bark. Beg. Nothing to it.


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Comments 46

  • Tremendous summary, Fred. The question arises as to how a nation so stupid and ignorant–two distinct categories, mind–can, as Lincoln wondered, “long prevail”. My money says it can’t. Thanks.

  • We mist be succeeding at what I hear is the national goal, equity.

    • I concur with your remark Tom, but I phrase it slightly differently. To me, we’re succeeding at reducing the intellectual prowess of the “average” American to the Lowest Common Denominator.

    • For those who haven’t done so, you should read the famous short story ‘Harrison Bergeron’ by Kurt Vonnegut, a portrait of a dystopian society where the drive for equity and equality has gone berserk. When Vonnegut published this story back in 1961, it was considered satire. Nowadays, it appears to be heading for reality


  • All true, and yet there is no better system. Doesn’t say much for the human race, but there it is

  • On a related note, NASA administrator Bill Nelson thinks the dark side of the moon is called thusly because it is always dark there. NASA. Administrator.

  • Great Gobs of Green Bugs, Fred….. You nailed it especially in America. I think other countries do much better education wise e.g. China, Japan and perhaps some East European counties. In my writings for the past 20 years, I refer to the constant dumbing down of the US Student. Two reasons: Many are not motivated to learn and the government dumbing down public education to bring white children down to the thinking/expressing oneself level of the majority of the Black community. A significant factor in the destruction of the US.

    Too many people who vote don’t have satellite TV or cable whom I characterize as “rabbit-ear” TV watchers — they are fed crap by the liberal networks and it sticks.

    As bad as I hate it and work against it, our America is in decline. As a country we are no longer hungry.

    Best regards Fred and keep up your great work!


  • Fred, Old Friend, Old Pal, Old Buddy… Way back in H.S., basking in the reflected glamour of You and my Brother holding court and letting this weird freshman tag along, I recognized most of the big words you used, and secretly looked up the ones that I didn’t.

    By the time I was attending college, I had the sobering experience of realizing almost ALL the other students were far better educated, and mostly quicker on the uptake than I…

    I calculated that in the fullness of time there would come a knock on the door — same fear as TV talk show celebrity Richard Cavett once confessed — and a booming voice would inform me that a terrible mistake had occurred and I had to pack my things and leave the school at once and forever.

    Well, somehow the 4am clamor never came.

    I discovered a calling within my measure and tap-danced my way past a flinty-eyed committee who fell for my con, and let me indulge in my cartooning and music. So, while half the graduating class went to law school and the other half to med school, I Are the Animator.

    When I returned for a reunion, I visited their office, and discovered the committee that had indulged my passion for animation, was using my graduation photo as a Dart Board.

    Playin’ blues w some friends in the basement my fourth of five undergrad years, I asked one of my companions, Jim Rothman, a big guy in jeans w wild frizzy hair playing really great blues harmonica, “So… What are YOU working on in your program?”
    “Oh, for my senior project I’ve built a machine that measures changes in the cell wall thickness of living cells to track their metabolic processes.”

    A few years out of med school, he was awarded a MacArthur Grant, and the next decade, a Nobel Prize.
    So there are some actual smart folks that seem to survive the horse shit that passes for education in this time.

    But, YES, at the same time there are functional MORONS Graduating from the Ivies. Platoons and Regiments of MORONS, sliding into waiting slots in the federal bureaucracies, pleading earnestly for bigger budgets before congressional committees, administering agencies that each year publish so many new regulations that the pages have to be numbered in scientific notation.

    Seems there is research to identify new poisons that can target particular DNA sequences — I’m guessing, to eliminate troublesome people who stand in the way of the carefully laid plans of our betters to re-shape Human Society.

    But, thankfully as some judge matters, our Sun appears to be feeling dyspeptic and, according to certain 0bservers, is fixin’ to hiccup another slightly larger “Carrington Event” in the next few decades.

    All the Mainstream Academics scoff and snort derisively.

    But a lot of Billionaires, and even some mere Millionaires are hedging their bets and digging fapping deep hidey holes against the slim chance that the Mainstream scientists are in denial and missing the obvious signs.

    ¿Have you noticed, by the way, that a number of major international airports have had to re-designate the compass headings of their runways in order to be able to provide correct navigational vectors to incoming flights?

    • *sigh* The runway compass headings are changed because the north magnetic pole changes. This has nothing to do with “provid[ing] correct navigational vectors to incoming flights.”

  • As a rule of thumb, each people will get the government they deserve. This will end badly for the US empire, but I am hopeful, at my age, not to have to witness the slouch into oblivion. God grant me the serenity to associate with reasonable people to the extent possible and have local brewers provide good suds until it is my time.

    • Friedrich,

      Rather than trust in a capricious God, I found myself a plot of land in the middle of nowhere. I cannot see the slouch to oblivion from my rear deck, nor anything made by the hand of man.

      Learned how to make good beer, and grow my own hops.

      Perhaps an imperfect solution, but it works.

    • You think anywhere else in the world is that much better???

  • Uh…what’s a navigational vector? And whilst I’m at it, would Jim Morris please define “better” when he says there is “no better system” than what America has? “Better” in terms of…what Safety, wealth, education, justice, social mobility, art, truth…FOOD?

  • All this being said and agreeing that both our mayor political parties have close to the same average IQ and education one could believe that this makes for fair elections. Until you discover that one party consistently spends two to three times as much in the crucial contests thanks to political packs and the very rich. So ends a fair democracy. Dick

  • The first paragraph says it all !!! The rest just reiterates in detail !

    One thing BHO said that was TRUTH was that American voters are STUPID he proved he was right by getting reelected !

  • The number one cause for the gross ignorance of the populace is to be laid at the feet of the “education” system which in truth is nothing more than a system designed solely to indoctrinate young minds. Next in line for blame regarding the lack of citizens knowing actual facts belongs to Senor Reed’s former career, “journalism”…a field now dedicated to acting almost exclusively as a conduit for official lies promulgated by the criminals in office and their bureaucratic accomplices.

    Add in the mind numbing pablum shoveled out by television and now Internet streaming and it’s a wonder we have a society that functions at all. Which isn’t saying much when you can see the exponential increase of incompetence these days.

    As for people being allowed to vote….let’s just say that a representative government of people, elected by society is a horrible idea…an idea like Capitalism, which is also terrible and inefficient. The only thing positive about either system is they are superior to ANY OTHER SYSTEM that humanity has created over the millennia. EVERY other system of both politics and economics is vastly inferior. Which seems to be why so many morons want to throw out both capitalism and representative government.

    • Which seems to be why so many morons want to throw out both capitalism and representative government.

      This is because they think they can move in to fill the void and run things they way they want.
      They forget that there are others who will want to fill that void themselves.

    • At a minimum, you should not be allowed to vote unless you are a full citizen. Secondly, you should have to pass a 10 question civics test in a voting booth in say 3 minutes (to eliminate looking the questions up online in the booth). If you fail, your vote won’t count.

  • It’s not over yet. Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?

  • You’re right Anonymous. There is hope. When the Germans helped us to bomb Pearl Harbor, we didn’t give up hope. As Abe Lincoln said, four score and seven years ago, during the height of the battle “the only thing we have to fear is by not asking what you can do to your country, but what your country can do to you” or something inspirational. We need to take those inspirational words to heart. Democracy works, Obama said, when all 57 states to put aside their differences and stand united.

  • A large part get their understanding through the western MSM, and the other large part get their understanding from the Kremlin’s MSM. From my observation, the first group gets a lot more of the truth, but they have an insufficient background in regional history to understand it. The second part is almost utterly ignorant, having absorbed nothing but Putin’s soviet lies. Both sides have plenty of “push button experts” who know very little.

    There is a very small group that has both the knowledge and the historical grounding to be able to understand why things are happening and where it is leading.

  • […] Ignorance, Its Uses and Nurture, by Fred Reed […]

  • Dear all, I think it was Robert Heinlein who said that “Vox populi, vox deie” generally meant “my God, how did we get into this mess? Seriously, in a country like South Africa, democracy means rule by the ignorant majority over the industrious, tax paying minority. It is why Africa is an economic basket case and will remain so forever. French city mayors have enormous power compared to mayors in almost every other country. Therefore, in a small village near Paris which houses a state insane asylum, the most popular lunatic gets elected mayor every time. A more perfect definition of democracy would be hard to find.

  • Fair comment.
    But as someone who lived 3 years in France and a semester teaching Econometrics at an Argentine university, (as well as traveling for business or pleasure to every continent but Antarctica and Australia) I can categorically state that other countries’ electorates aren’t any smarter.

  • The only thing giving America a chance is the fact that we are a Republic. A Democracy would end badly in America primarily due to the fact that most Americans are idiots. Idiots who have stopped thinking for themselves and instead let others tell them what to think and believe. Also, many Americans want to give up their liberty to the government if that government simply promises security and a guarantee of providing necessities. But the Republic is on life support. The culture is in rapid decline. Truth and facts don’t matter. Being in your tribe is all that matters. Corruption and depravity saturates American culture. The government is made up of immoral crooks who are as corrupt as we have ever seen in history. The courts are corrupt. America does not work well very much as a Republic anymore. It’s days are numbered. America is an oligarchy. Artificial Intelligence will be the last nail in the coffin in the permanent irreversible end of the American Republic.

    • George Carlin — ‘Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.’

  • The Athenians understood that you need a large slave population to do most of the work so that citizens will have time to participate in a democratic government.

  • There is no need for the federal government to hold Congressional elections. Senators and Representatives can be chosen by lot from within a draft of qualified citizens. The qualification being that they have risen – by lot – through the ranks of town, municipality, county, and State legislators . None of these positions, from Homeowners’ Association through Senate in any way approaches being a fulltime job: there is no reason to believe that these assignments in any way need interfere with pursuit of a productive career. Those who are chosen but who refuse a post, would be barred forever from holding public office; similarly those who suffer recall. That – recall – woud be an annual event, participation required of all citizens, and the only voting necessary. Administrative positions, which do, or should, require some capability, can be selected by drafts on defined pools of the nominally capable.
    It would be a hell of a lot closer to democracy than what we have now.

  • Sheila Jackson Lee obviously confused the moon with her own workplace, Washington DC. To the average American, it is as far away from them as the moon, and is mostly filled with gases.

  • “Western democracy, as practiced today, is the forerunner of Marxism. In fact, the latter would be inconceivable without the former. Democracy is the breeding ground in which the bacilli of the Marxist world-pest can grow and spread.”

    Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf Volume I

  • The state of the nation and the world becomes much more understandable and even “logical” once one accepts that nature is just ruthlessly and randomly sorting through us while occasionally splattering the whole mess against a wall to see what sticks.

    Homo Sapiens? Yeah, right.

  • ‘Democracy may not be the silliest idea concocted by man but, for anything larger than a small town, it is crackpot. It consists in the idea that a public, on average knowing almost nothing, can choose leaders in popularity contests among provincial lawyers who know little more and are required to know nothing, except how to get elected.’

    Actually, Fred, this is known as a Republic. Maybe a Democratic Republic.
    I claim this works best for anything larger than a small town. Collectivism works well in a Small Town because there are geographic limits to it, as well as better control as people can leave the area if they see too many clowns are running things.

  • I would not herald the genius of neurosurgeons. As a counter example, I give you Ben Carson, Trump’s head of HUD and someone who unsuccessfully ran for president..

    I could find similar examples for all your other examples. As the saying goes, what do you call the person who graduated last out of MD school? The answer is “Doctor”.

    Modern life is complex. This is why we need an AI to lead us.

  • Well, I can name another Chinese city: Wuhan.
    The Caspian Sea is the home of that friendly ghost, right?
    The Black Sea must be home to … who?

  • So What?The obvious reaction would be to insist on educating the public./ This  a whole diatribe sounded to me like a precursor to Trump’s ultimate goal— eliminating voting altogether. (after all I know best right) It’s the same old crap that every wouldbe totalitarian has spewed since there was a way to communicate with the masses. What does the republican party have as a platform to solve this problem? taking money away from public education and giving it to private schools, and helping to insure that the public is just as ignorant as they can be because it is only an ignorant public that would fall for the historically repeated bullshit that the republicans are using to dupe the same uninformed people this guy laments.

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