We Got Trouble, Right Here In Your City

Friends, either you’re closing your eyes
To a situation you do not wish to acknowledge
Or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated
By the presence of this thinking in your community

Well, we got trouble, my friend, right here
I say, trouble right here in these United States*

*With abject apologies to Meredith Wilson, Robert Preston, and The Music Man

As entropy applies to natural systems it means that there is a tendency to the dissipation of useful energy.  But it also means that energy cannot be created nor destroyed. 

I think a reasonable observer of our national condition would logically conclude that our intelligence, i.e., our ability to craft useful solutions to problems, is being dissipated.  Assuming entropy runs parallel with the second law of thermodynamics, this should mean that we cannot destroy intelligence.  I think this begs the question then of where it all is going because it is abundantly clear that intelligence, perhaps in the world, but certainly here at home, is decreasing.

Now, I do not profess to have a world-class understanding of the concept of entropy, but it does appear to me that while our average intelligence is decreasing (dissipated), there is not an equal and opposite amount of intelligence creation.

For example:

  • For every Elon Musk, there are the many folks supposedly “driving” that are sitting in the back seat of a ‘self-driving’ car.
  • Against all advice from Law Enforcement at all levels, the Governor of Texas is going to sign a no permit needed right to carry a concealed weapon in public. What could possibly go wrong with that?
  • In a YouGov survey last year, fully half (50%) of Trump supporters said they think Democrats are involved in elite child sex-trafficking rings, while another third (33%) are not sure.
  • As CNN reported today. “About one-quarter of Republicans, 23%, agree with a set of conspiratorial beliefs linked to the QAnon movement, according to a PRRI report released Thursday. These believers said they mostly or completely agreed that “the government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation,” that “there is a storm coming soon that will sweep away the elites in power and restore the rightful leaders,” and, finally, that “because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.” 
  • In 2015, The Washington Post reported that Google searches for “how to write a check” rose 5 times the number 10 years ago and US New and World Report just last year ran an article on the 6 steps to accurately write a check.
  • Newsweek reported that 77% of Americans cannot find Iran on a map.
  • We have at least one US Senator who could not name the 3 basic branches of the Federal Government – he is in good company as 74% of all Americans in a University of Pennsylvania survey were also incapable of doing so.
  • A 2018 C-Span survey indicated that 52% of Americans cannot name even one Supreme Court justice.
  • A Pew study found that 34% of Americans do not believe in evolution.
  • Several studies, including by the CDC, point to at least 20% of the population who thinks vaccines are unsafe or do not know.
  • And this just in, literally as I was in the process of posting this rant. Boat Rocker Studios is producing a kids’ show called ‘Dino Ranch” and commissioned a survey of adults to test their knowlege. Some 40% of the US population belives the dinosaurs died out between 2,000 and 10,000 years ago. About 20% of Americans believe that dinosaurs became extinct as little as 100 years ago. And to drive the spike right through your cerebellum, around 30% of adults believe that humans and dinosaurs co-existed at the same time. (Source: The Jerusalem Post 6/3/21)

Believe it or not, I could go on and on and on.  I mean, go for a drive.  What percentage of licensed drivers do you think know that the law says to drive in the right lane except for passing?  How about this – what percentage of drivers would be able to indicate that a “stop”, like at a stop sign, means the cessation of all forward motion?

The point is, we DO have a problem. It is not going to get any better unless we actively involve ourselves in the education system that develops and delivers the curriculum we are teaching our children.  Do not doubt that the anti-evolutionists, and prayer-in-school folks, and no sex ed people, and the book banning folks (from both sides of the spectrum) are already quite involved in influencing school policy.

Why, I ask, do students get zero financial literacy education until they voluntarily seek it out?  There is no mandated curriculum in K-12 that I know of.  That is the source of the mortgage crisis and the credit card debt crisis and the low savings rate and why most Americans have inadequate retirement resources.  Because we (parents, schools) did not teach them it was important. People do not know or understand the basics.  Why else would you run up a household median $22,000 of credit (cards & cars) debt when median household pre-tax income is $78,000. This looks even worse when you cut out the rich folks.

Why do people think that because evolution is a theory, that it can be disregarded?  Because they were never taught the basics of the scientific method, that is why.  Or they were taught but did not retain.

Why did/do people believe in Pizza-gate, or QAnon, or Alex Jones, or any of the other conspiracy theories that are easily disproven. Because they want to.  And because it fits their world vision.  But it is sure not that they took the time to really research it.

Unfortunately, the answer to why in the questions above and hundreds of others just like those nets down to either because people are mentally incapable of critical thinking, or they were never taught how to think critically.  The optimist in me really wants the answer to be the latter, not the former.

I am a believer that normal standard distribution is a real thing.  But when it comes to intelligence and critical thinking, I am beginning to have a sneaking suspicion that perhaps, in this case, the normal distribution is turning into distribution more skewed to the less (like that confusion?).  In other words, while America still has some smart, bright, intellectual critical thinkers, there are beginning to be relatively more Americans who are not so smart, bright, intellectual nor critical thinkers. Like, more than the 50% that the normal distribution would indicate.

I know this sounds like I am one of the effete elites, but I do not think of myself as such.  And it is not partisan as I believe there is just as much lack of critical thinking on the left as there is on the right.  But if I have learned anything, it is that, very often, trying to argue about critical thinking skills (and lack thereof) on the merits with someone is – as my father used to say – like trying to teach a pig to sing.  It takes an enormous amount of time and energy and simply pisses off the pig.

That is why I think we need to reevaluate what we are teaching and how we are teaching it.  It may be too late for the masses of people who have already graduated high school, but that is no excuse to perpetuate the problem with our younger folks. Assuming we correct the curriculum, we should institute a Universal Service draft for all high school graduates and/or those who have not graduated by age 18. Graduates have a choice of service or military avenues. Those who have not graduated are put into a joint service/education program and stay there until they pass an expanded GED exam that covers “the basics.”

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