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The Dumbing Down Of
The American Mind

By Doug Soderstrom

23 April, 2005

There is a very dangerous phenomenon that seems to be occurring in the United States of America; something that I refer to as “the dumbing-down of the American mind,” a nearly willful tendency for Americans to forgo reality in favor of believing what they want to believe. But how could such a thing have occurred in such a proud nation, one that, according to George Bush, has become known as a bastion of freedom and democracy, a bright light for the whole world to see?

In my opinion, there are five factors that can explain such a phenomenon. First, there is the dumbing-down of education in our country. After having taught psychology at the college level for the past 39 years, I have seen our standards (what we essentially expect our students to accomplish in order to prove that they have learned something of value) go straight to hell! I began my career as an Instructor of Psychology back in 1966 at a very small junior college located only 60 miles south of the Canadian border, one with an enrollment of only 180 students, no doubt, a very cold and humble place in which to begin a teaching career! And can you believe it, I actually required my students to read an entire textbook during the semester. And nobody got upset. Not the administrators, not the parents, nor even the students! However, today, if I were to do such a thing, I would have an extremely difficult time getting enough students to enroll in my classes in order to keep my job. The problem: A very determined standoff between the remaining few teachers willing to maintain standards versus a generation or two of students who are nearly unwilling to learn, students who have “apparently gone on strike” with an attitude of “I dare you to force me to learn!” The result: The fact that leniency (a lowering of academic standards in our country) has won out at the expense of quality education in that of our high schools as well as that of our colleges. Consequently, in my opinion, our country is slowly but surely becoming “a nation of near retards,” a collective group of individuals who have become so absurdly self-absorbed and disinterested in acquiring knowledge that we, as a nation, are slowly but surely losing touch with the reality of what is actually going on in the world! The best example is our population’s general sense of ignorance in relation to world history, and especially that of our inability (or perhaps even unwillingness) to understand our own country’s complicity in relation to the 9/11 attacks upon our nation.

Second, there has been a tendency for folks in our country to compartmentalize their religious beliefs from that of science and philosophy. Now it is important to understand that religion is based upon faith (knowledge that comes from personal experience). Science is based upon research (knowledge that accrues from the experimental process). And, of course, philosophy is based upon logic (knowledge based upon rational thought). One is no better than the other, and in our search for truth each should be allowed to complement the other. However, within that of the Christian fundamentalist community (one that did so very much to enable Bush-Cheney to be elected), there has been a deliberate attempt to discount what we have learned from science (as in global warming), as well as that of rational thought (that the world was created in a period of one week’s time). These folks believe that their religious beliefs are absolutely independent of anything and everything else in life, that their beliefs about God are more valid, and should be allowed to supersede every other source of knowledge. It doesn’t matter to them if what they believe makes no sense at all or if what they believe is in absolute conflict with that of scientific evidence. To them, there is no gray, nothing but black and white, no critical thinking, nor even a willingness to listen to “the other side.” There is just us (the good guys) and them (the bad guys), and, regardless of what you say, I am right and your are wrong, and if you do not agree with me, then you are going to go to Hell……. and that is that! Probably the best example of such is an abject unwillingness on the part of so many folks in our country to face the mounting evidence that such a Godly country (The USA) led by such a fine Christian man (George Walker Bush) could have led our country into such an atrocious war while, along the way, having perhaps committed an amalgam of crimes against humanity. You see…… to hell with logic and scientific evidence, the truth (reality) is simply a matter of what I want it to be!

Third, in our country, there has been an absolutely inordinate interest in the procurement of freedom (a need for each to protect his or her own rights), at the expense of a reasonable concern for responsibility (an interest in the welfare of others). As a prominent philosopher once indicated……… How wonderful it is that we decided to erect a Statue of Liberty on the east coast representing our concern for freedom, but how terribly unfortunate that we failed to erect a statue of responsibility on the west coast representing a corresponding need to be responsible. Such an absurdly disproportionate interest in our own personal rights at the expense of an interest in the needs of others has lead our country to a kind of narcissism rarely seen at any other time in the history of man. Imagine a nation of individuals that represent only four percent of the world’s population demanding the right to consume 35% of its wealth. It is almost as if Americans see themselves as having a moral right to plunder the earth and to hell with everyone else. And, of course, one of the best examples of such selfishness is the president’s stubborn unwillingness to go along wit the Kyoto Accord a world-wide effort to lessen the impact of global warming, much of which has been, and, of course, will continue to be caused by the tremendous polluting power of our own country. It is almost as if we, as a country, believe that we have the right to do whatever we want, and to hell with everybody else in the world. Almost as if might makes right and so….. “screw you!”

Forth, there has been an obdurate tendency for those in our country to become increasingly chauvinistic and bellicose. Chauvinistic in the sense of believing that patriotism, acting the part of a consummate American, is essential in order to be considered a decent human being, and, of course, translated this means, “If you don’t like America the way it is, then you can just get the hell out!” And then such a chauvinism paired with a bellicosity that is moving us towards militancy, a willingness to castigate, an insistent urge to go to war against anyone, perhaps even everyone, who happens to simply disagree with us; those inside our borders such as liberals, humanists, democrats, or socialists, as well as those outside our borders such as Moslems, Palestinians, the freedom fighters of other countries, or even those of the Middle East who have the “rather ridiculous” belief that just because the oil is located on their land they seem to think they have the right to control other’s access to it!

And finally, there is a tendency for the people of our country to have become increasingly ethnocentric, for our citizens to believe that our way (the American way) is the one best way of doing anything and everything in life…….. and that anyone (any nation) that disagrees with us is simply out of step and therefore must be wrong! For example…… the belief that Christianity, fundamentalist Christianity, is the right religion and every other religion in the world is wrong, and will therefore lead people to go to Hell. The belief that capitalism is the one correct way for a nation to distribute its wealth, and any other way of distributing wealth, such as socialism, is unacceptable, if not evil! And, in regards to governance, the belief that democracy is the only acceptable way, and that all others such as that of a Moslem theocracy in Iraq is wholly unacceptable (of course disregarding the rather glaring hypocrisy of the religious right who would certainly not object if they were able to transform the United States government into some kind of “Christian organization”)! Unfortunately, such a way of thinking has, no doubt, led far too many of our citizens into becoming the worst kind of scoundrels; bigots believing that we, as Americans, have the right to tell anyone and everyone else in the world how they ought to live their lives!

In conclusion, it is my opinion that such factors as I have enumerated have led our nation into a very dangerous quagmire, one of abject arrogance and ignorance, a very bad combination indeed! Arrogance in the sense of believing that our nation can do no evil, that we can make no mistakes, since our nation has quite obviously received the a priori blessing of God allowing us to do anything and everything we as a nation “feel led” to do. And, of course, such a myth has been compounded by the rather farcical assumption that our president is a man of God. And, of course, ignorance in that the people of our nation have, no doubt, allowed themselves to become quite “under-educated,” our belief in God tends to restrict honest and rational thought, we have endeared freedom to the point that it has severely inhibited our ability to comprehend our moral responsibility to others, and we have become so terribly ethnocentric that we are nearly incapable of understanding that people around the world have a right to choose what is best for them. Consequently, as a result of so many things having gone wrong in our nation, our mind, the way that we as Americans think, has become so terribly dumbed-down that we are on the verge of losing nearly everything we have attained over the past 229 years since we became a nation. I have no doubt that pride always cometh before the fall, and given such an arrogant degree of ignorance that has seemingly befallen so many in our country, it is high time that we, as a nation, come to our senses before it is too late or the imperialistic desires of the Bush-Cheney administration will utilize every bit of “our collective dumbness” to take our country to a place that we dare not go……… that of a long-standing imperial desire to conquer the world with the unfortunate likelihood of ending up in a world war……….. something that no sane human being should want regardless of how dumb they just might be!











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