The Tipping Point

When did it become a bad thing to be educated in North America? I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately. It’s hard not to when you see scientists, economists and other great minds vilified by idiots on a daily basis. When the media is more interested in whether or not the Secretary of State is wearing make-up than in the job she is doing.

One of my favourite comedy films of recent years is called Idiocracy. It’s set in America 500 years in the future and is about how the country becomes  a uniformly stupid human society devoid of intellectual curiosity, social responsibility, and coherent notions of justice and human rights. It shows where the country is headed unless it changes it’s current course. Athough it’s a comedy, it brings up some very real points. Even as technology is moving at lightning speed, the average person in North America is not getting smarter. It only takes one look at the nightly TV lineup to prove this. The American government is slashing funding for education on a very consistent basis. Tech jobs are being outsourced to countries who ARE funding and pushing the education agenda. So my question is when… or, more importantly, why is it more important to be cool than to be smart in North America?

My theory of when the tipping point occurred is that it became too dangerous to trust the scientific intelligentsia in the 1940’s. This was during the time when the Manhattan Project was formed and carried out the task of creating the world’s first atomic bomb. This group of highly intelligent men of science embarked on a very dangerous path when they said yes to a government contract, effectively tossing aside their morality in favour of scientific curiosity. When the Manhattan Project was disbanded in early 1947, was when we saw the emergence of Rock and Roll music and culture. The two things may seem like two completely separate events, but to me, Rock and Roll was a rebellious backlash against the evil, dangerous and untrustworthy scientific community. It was during the emergence of the Rock and Roll era that it became more important to be cool than to be smart.

The smart are never cool and the cool are rarely smart (or if they are, they must hide it under a facade of jokes). This is also when bullying started to happen. The smart kids became nerds, geeks, Poindexters and squares. They were teased, hazed and beaten up on, while the jocks and cool kids/rebels were lauded and celebrated as aspirational. This kind of social change created generations of adults who passed down this mindset to their kids and so on until we have a world where Education is getting less funding than the President’s Helicopter cost over the last 6 years. It’s this kind of thinking that got George W. Bush elected… twice. This kind of thinking also make the kids from Teen Mom and the Jersey Shore into celebrities. Smart people don’t vote for a President because they think he’d be fun to have a beer with or emulate 15 year old girls who got pregnant, just because they are on TV.

Snooki from the Jersey Shore

There are small signs that the pendulum may have started to swing back the other way. The current US president is smarter than the last by by leaps and bounds. TV shows like the Big Bang Theory are showing us that you don’t have to make a drunken ass out of yourself in order to be looked up to. Scientists like Neil DeGrasse Tyson are becoming more and more well known as household names and personalities in their own right. Even rock and rap stars are involved in projects like the FIRST Robotics Competition that encourage students to explore science and technology. Let’s just hope that this next scientific boom will learn from the scientists of the Manhattan Project and won’t favour curiosity over morality like they did.

5 responses to “The Tipping Point

  1. I have always theorized that because scientific intelligence threatened the status quo by disproving creationism and other holy roller fantasies, that being “smart” became evil and/or uncool. But this could also be because I grow uncomfortable at suggestions that rock and roll culture is the source of American idiocy. It may very well be, but… don’t mess with rock n’ roll! 😀

  2. There was an English sit-com called Nathan Barley (maybe on youtube or E4) about the ‘rise of the idiots’ – very funny!

  3. Hopefully the pendulum will continue to swing toward intelligence being more of an asset in the ‘States than it has in the past, though there’s always been an undertone of ignorance-glorification since the country’s founding, as sad as that it. Given current societal conditions, it’s not an easy thing to be optimistic about it.

    Great post.

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