“Are People Really Stupid?”
by Fred Russell
“Five percent of the people think;
ten percent of the people think they think;
and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think.”
- Thomas Edison
- Thomas Edison
“On the face of things – judging from the general level of knowledge and understanding, not to mention the intellectual pursuits, of most of the human race – one is tempted to say that the overwhelming majority of mankind lacks the intellectual capacity, the intelligence, to contribute to human progress. And it is in fact a very small elite that has carried us beyond Neanderthal Man, without whom, if the truth be told, we might still be living in caves. It is, in a word, appalling to contemplate the level at which ordinary people use their minds – what they read, if at all, what they watch on TV, the movies they go out and see, and the ease with which they are seduced and manipulated by the technicians of the psyche, namely, politicians and advertisers.
The impression one gets when contemplating these tens and hundreds of millions of people glued to their TV screens for the reality shows and sitcoms or fiddling with their smartphones from morning till night is of complete empty-headedness. This is not to say that such people cannot be shrewd, resourceful, or, for that matter, simply decent. It is to say that at the average level of intelligence displayed by the human race, the great intellectual achievements of mankind seem to be beyond the scope of the vast majority of men and women. But are people really stupid? And if they aren’t, who or what has held them back?
Now one may be inclined to place all the blame for our ignorance on the television producers and gadget makers, but the truth is that by the time they get to us the damage has already been done. All they really succeed in doing is dragging us down a little further. The problem starts in childhood. It starts in the schools with all those empty cells waiting to be filled and no one, not entire educational systems, really knowing how to fill them. In fact, the opposite result is achieved. By the time the child finishes elementary school, unless he is destined to join the intellectual or scientific or economic or political elite and is self-motivated, as the saying goes, he will have developed an aversion to the learning process that will persist for the rest of his life.
It is not hard to understand why. School bores him, and oppresses him. Its premise, fostered in the West by the Church – the virtually exclusive supplier of teachers until fairly recent times, historically speaking – is that as a consequence of Original Sin all men are born evil and must therefore be coerced into doing what is good. The result has been rigidly structured frameworks where teachers hammer away at the captive child until his head is ready to explode. Within just a few years, the public school system thus destroys the natural curiosity of the child and dooms him to a life of total ignorance, dependent, for whatever sense of the world he does have, on second-rate journalists, who themselves lack the knowledge, understanding, discipline and integrity to be historians or even novelists and therefore shape his perception like the ignorant clerics of the Middle Ages, raining down on his head a disjointed and superficial body of information presented largely to produce effects, and even this is beyond his capacity to retain. The man in the street may thus be said to have a great many opinions but very little knowledge, mindlessly repeating the half-truths of “experts” and “analysts” who reflect his own biases and constructing out of them a “credo” of dogmatic views that remain embedded in his mind for an entire lifetime like bricks in a brick wall.
Does it matter? After all, we have all the scholars and scientists we need, and besides, a world where everyone became one would be a dull place indeed. It can even be argued that it is better for the race if progress is opposed, since, judging from its products, it mostly expresses itself materially and economically in an unholy alliance of greed and technology. However, progress of this kind cannot be fought if all that people have on their minds is to wire themselves into this technology, and that is what they will be doing until their minds are engaged in less frivolous pursuits. They are thus doubly victimized, first by the schools, whose methods are not attuned to the temperament and capacity of the average child, and then by the economic elites who control the technologies and consequently the flow of information and whose only interest in the man in the street is as a consumer of their products.
Unfortunately, there is very little hope that any of this will change. The wrong people control human society and will continue to do so, because they created the model and are the only ones who know how to operate it. The sad truth is that today’s man in the street is neither wiser nor more knowledgeable than a medieval peasant. Calling ourselves Homo sapiens, or even Homo sapiens sapiens, seemed like a good idea once but very few of us have lived up to the billing.”