Are Americans just plain dumb?

March 5, 2008 at 2:00 am 66 comments

Ayutthaya ThailandLet me start off this post by saying this is not about bashing Americans. I’m sure we all have an opinion about the current state of the US and the War on Terror. But this post is asking something I’ve pondered before when I took a look at the New York State Regents Exam in History, with its multiple-choice questions accompanied by plenty of clues. Are Americans less well-educated than the rest of the world? And warning: there’s a bit of a rant ahead, so skip it if you’re not interested in thinking about whether contemporary society is guilty of shallow intellectualism.

I’ll back up a bit: my first introduction to the US and Americans was in the late 1990s, when I was asked by a US technology company to do a conference and workshop tour, talking about their technology and KM. I have to say I really loved the US, particularly Boston and Chicago. Would even consider living there if it wasn’t for the circus that is their immigration system.

What really stunned me though was this – over dinner with some executives in Philadelphia someone commented that Australians always seem to be so well-travelled (well, that’s because we live at the arse-end of the world as Paul Keating had a habit of reminding us and so we need to get off our proverbial butts to see anything). But it was the next comment that stopped me in my tracks: “so do you really have kangaroos hopping down the streets of Sydney and what’s it like to have a Queen as your President?“.

I took a few moments to see whether this question was a joke at my expense. And did he mean THE Queen or a queen? I had visions of seeing our Prime Minister (note to Americans: we don’t have a President) participating in the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras!

Over the next month, I travelled through Texas, Virginia, New York, Florida and LA and I started to notice a pattern. The news on TV talked only of America and US events. Hardly a word was uttered about international news. But then of course 9/11 hit the US and forced Americans to lift their collective heads up and notice that there is a world beyond the borders of the Land of the Free.

So it was interesting to read about a new book by Susan Jacoby, The Age of American Unreason, which bemoans the current state of American “culture”. Jacoby is 62 years old but I don’t think she can be accused of being a fossil blaming young people for an apparent demise in intellectualism.

I’m sure you’ve all seen this cringe-worthy video on YouTube of Kellie Pickler (of American Idol 15 minutes of fame). Competing against a 5th grader, she was asked: “Budapest is the capital of what European country?“. Her reply? “I thought Europe was a country“.

Is this an isolated case or are we living in such an age of commercialism and obsession with self and reality TV that there is a backlash against the acquiring of basic knowledge? A varied intellectual life is the very basis of a functioning democracy. But 6 out of 10 young Americans didn’t know where Iraq was on the map when National Geographic conducted a poll in 2006 and recently an American I met confused Australia with Austria (okay, I can see the similarity, we Australians love to yodel too!).

Have Americans given up on the Enlightenment values of rationality, pursuit of the scientific method and encouragement of diversity of thought and argument? Are Americans now a society being kept amused and stupefied by infotainment; determined to weed out “the different”; and demonstrating an antipathy towards science from the fundamentalist religious right?

Jacoby’s book brings to mind Richard Hofstadter’s tour de force, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, published in 1963. I read it during my university days and if I remember correctly, Hofstadter highlighted three pillars of anti-intellectualism — evangelical religion, practical-minded business and the populist political style. Despite the rise of the notion of expertise enshrined in knowledge management and despite the expertise of technology geeky types, I think the three pillars are still firmly rooted in America.

Anti-intellectualism can be seen everywhere: the decline of educational standards; the corporatisation of universities; suspicion of science and medicine, leading to the rise of alternative medicine and so on. We have “expert intellectuals” (consultants), not “critical intellectuals”, schooled in the art of argument, debate and the ability to reason. We have specialists rather than expert generalists.

The postmodernist mood following WWII reacted to, if not rejected, the assumed certainty of scientific efforts to explain reality. So no one explanation is valid for all groups, cultures or races. Reality is constructed individually through our own interpretation of concrete experiences. The abstract is rejected in favour of the concrete.

This is why today’s mantra of “well, I’m entitled to my own opinion” is so sacrosanct. This is why reality TV shows reign supreme – they’re about real world experiences of grappling with weight issues; surviving isolation on some Pacific island; racing around the world looking for clues to the next destination or what task to perform.

This is why you have an American President who is better known for his comic gaffes and lack of curiosity about the world than for serious intellectualism. It is why we tend to speak or advertise in slogans and it is why our society is one of glibness and self-absorption. It is why popular science tries to pass itself off as serious science and it is why we are critical of each other rather than providing a critique. It is why business is obsessed with the bottom line, efficiency and productivity because serious intellectual pursuit requires inquiry and reflection (aka time wasters). And so we have closed minds.

Okay I realise I’m on a rant here. I’m not saying that Americans are the dumbest people on the planet. I could sling all of the above at Australia. And I think the internet, our obsession with iPods, YouTube, MySpace and so on has ushered in an age of solipsism.

What do you think?


Entry filed under: Education, Rant, Society, United States.

Personal health records Do beer and chicken mix?

66 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Curtis  |  March 5, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    Those executives in Philadelphia could have used with this blog entry I think you might enjoy, “20 Things that culturally defines Australia” —

    I have to tell you, it makes me sad that the first image isn’t a reality… 😉

  • 2. thinkingshift  |  March 7, 2008 at 5:06 am


    LOL! great blog link and thx for the sharing.

    • 3. VeniVidiVici  |  May 30, 2012 at 5:22 am

      This is why,

      The democratic process relies on the assumption that citizens (the majority of them, at least) can recognize the best political candidate, or best policy idea, when they see it. But a growing body of research has revealed an unfortunate aspect of the human psyche that would seem to disprove this notion, and imply instead that democratic elections produce mediocre leadership and policies.

      The research, led by David Dunning, a psychologist at Cornell University, shows that incompetent people are inherently unable to judge the competence of other people, or the quality of those people’s ideas. For example, if people lack expertise on tax reform, it is very difficult for them to identify the candidates who are actual experts. They simply lack the mental tools needed to make meaningful judgments.

      As a result, no amount of information or facts about political candidates can override the inherent inability of many voters to accurately evaluate them. On top of that, “very smart ideas are going to be hard for people to adopt, because most people don’t have the sophistication to recognize how good an idea is,” Dunning told Life’s Little Mysteries.

      He and colleague Justin Kruger, formerly of Cornell and now of New York University, have demonstrated again and again that people are self-delusional when it comes to their own intellectual skills. Whether the researchers are testing people’s ability to rate the funniness of jokes, the correctness of grammar, or even their own performance in a game of chess, the duo has found that people always assess their own performance as “above average” — even people who, when tested, actually perform at the very bottom of the pile. [Incompetent People Too Ignorant to Know It]

      We’re just as undiscerning about the skills of others as about ourselves. “To the extent that you are incompetent, you are a worse judge of incompetence in other people,” Dunning said. In one study, the researchers asked students to grade quizzes that tested for grammar skill. “We found that students who had done worse on the test itself gave more inaccurate grades to other students.” Essentially, they didn’t recognize the correct answer even when they saw it.

      The reason for this disconnect is simple: “If you have gaps in your knowledge in a given area, then you’re not in a position to assess your own gaps or the gaps of others,” Dunning said. Strangely though, in these experiments, people tend to readily and accurately agree on who the worst performers are, while failing to recognize the best performers.

      The most incompetent among us serve as canaries in the coal mine signifying a larger quandary in the concept of democracy; truly ignorant people may be the worst judges of candidates and ideas, Dunning said, but we all suffer from a degree of blindness stemming from our own personal lack of expertise.

      Mato Nagel, a sociologist in Germany, recently implemented Dunning and Kruger’s theories by computer-simulating a democratic election. In his mathematical model of the election, he assumed that voters’ own leadership skills were distributed on a bell curve — some were really good leaders, some, really bad, but most were mediocre — and that each voter was incapable of recognizing the leadership skills of a political candidate as being better than his or her own. When such an election was simulated, candidates whose leadership skills were only slightly better than average always won.

      Nagel concluded that democracies rarely or never elect the best leaders. Their advantage over dictatorships or other forms of government is merely that they “effectively prevent lower-than-average candidates from becoming leaders.”

      • 4. thinkingshift  |  June 1, 2012 at 8:01 pm

        Amen to Dunning and Kruger – they are spot on.

  • 5. Grad Student  |  March 10, 2008 at 5:17 am

    Great post thinkingshift, I have a couple random thoughts about your essay.

    1) Are you falling for a caricature of Americans seen in shows like the Simpsons? Is it possible that Americans with an average (mediocre) education are just as dumb as average citizens in other first world countries?

    2) You might be overreaching a bit when you place (at least part of) the blame on that extremely nebulous overused (okay so I use it too much also) word, “postmodernism.” After your paragraph starting with, “the postmodernist mood,” you have a bunch of “this is why” statements. I assume you’re using the postmodern condition to explain all the negatives you list after that paragraph, but there may be some more banal explanations for why our– yes I’m one of them– president can’t seem to master basic English grammar.

    In the end though, I think you’re correct. The American culture could use some drastic improvements.

  • 6. thinkingshift  |  March 12, 2008 at 9:17 am

    Well grad student good to hear from you. Would be interested to hear why you think I’m over-reaching by raising postmodernism (yep, agree it’s a used and abused term) – however, does it not go some way towards explaining the rejection of the scientific narrative & its replacement with a myriad of narratives, one of which is the “me as individual and I’m right” narrative? And so mediocrity counts for just as much as intellectualism. Glibness & self-absorption count as much as caring for others and communal spirit.

    But as I said in the post, the same can be slung at Australia.

  • 7. biosios  |  March 13, 2008 at 8:03 am

    Aussies are no position whatsoever to criticise America; Hofstadter’s criticisms apply here too, and forget about this post-modernism bollocks; it has little to do with the issue. these problems are endemic to the anglo saxon world, esp in the ‘new world’. go and do some proper research. Australia is a country full of small men, with small ideas. American is also a country full of small men, but due to its relative size, it appears they have big men. both countries place great reliance on the ‘efficiency principle’, and it has affected almost every major sector of social/political/economic, and even ‘spiritual’ life. over specialisation creates an ignorant society. the difference between the ‘new world’ countries, and that of most of first world Europe, at least in terms of general knowledge, worldview, and ethos, is considerable.

    forgot postmodernism. Weber provides more insights into these problems.


  • 8. thinkingshift  |  March 13, 2008 at 9:07 am

    and you are from where biosios? if you read the post carefully, I said that what I was saying applied to Australia too. I think if you researched postmodernism you might find it has quite a bit to do with the issue IMHO.
    Perhaps you’d like to enlighten us re your Weber comment? (don’t take this question to mean I haven’t read Weber: I have).

  • 9. biosios  |  March 13, 2008 at 10:04 am

    postmodernism is a load of bullshit. most of the theories are rubbish. i understand the problem of relativism you are getting at, but that’s not specifically a ‘postmodern’ problem; it has been around for ages. you are definitely correct in identifying it as one of _the_ modern problems now, especially in the absence of a true elitist culture, but even Nietzche was concerned about it in his day.

    if you have read Weber why do i need to explain my position? 😉 Weber’s point about rationality, and how it relates to efficiency, is part of the reason we are in the mess we are in now. Marx got the first part right, about the dangers of rigid specialisation in work and life, but Weber took it further by explaining how this ‘iron cage of subordination’ blinds us to the possibilities of a world outside of the one we have–both consciously and unconsciously–created. once we can no longer agree on values, and once they become drained of all substantive meaning and purpose, all that’s really left is the market, and Australia and America are both work oriented cultures. any idea that is not conducive to hard work is usually feared or dismissed. this obviously has massive(i.e negative) effects on the development of ‘culture’, which is practically non-existent in Australia. so if we Aussies are ignorant and stupid, it’s because all these ‘administrative techniques’ have seriously undermined our ability to think, eroded individuality, and turned us into conformist, consumerist, economic drones.

    the only postmodern thinker that came close to addressing this was Foucault, but he didn’t really consider himself a postmodernist, plus his ideas about power are sometimes fanciful and based on his own unique brand of intellectual dishonesty; Foucault was (rightfully) accused of factual distortion.

  • 10. thinkingshift  |  March 13, 2008 at 10:17 am

    well, we’re not in disagreement biosios and I asked you to talk about Weber because I’m interested to hear what you have to say and I’m sure other TS readers will too. Check out some of my previous posts where I rant and rave about the consumerist/materialistic society that we are in the grip of. Individualism has been lost.
    The only part I don’t agree with you on is the postmodern condition. I don’t think it’s rubbish.

  • 11. biosios  |  March 13, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    ^^ok, i’ll check out your other posts sometime on the weekend.

    i take it your familiar with Donald Horne? it’s really quite startling to think how accurate his portrayal of Australian life was in the 60’s, and how relevant it is today, forty years on. ‘The Lucky Country’ ought to be mandatory reading in secondary schools across the country.

  • 12. thinkingshift  |  March 13, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    I thought the Lucky Country WAS mandatory reading!! damn shame if it’s not.

  • 13. Luke Naismith  |  March 23, 2008 at 10:23 am

    Hi there Kim
    Nice to bash the seppos – they are such an easy target!
    One of my favourite books on the topic is Why Do People Hate America by Zia Sardar

    And the answer to your title of this post is – not dumb, just ignorant. But maybe I am being too nice

  • 14. thinkingshift  |  March 23, 2008 at 12:06 pm

    Hi there Luke
    I’ve read Sardar’s book – it’s good isn’t it. Possibly you are being too nice 🙂

  • 15. eric  |  July 20, 2008 at 5:50 am

    As an educator in field of higher education for the last twenty years, I have discussed this very question with many of my colleagues. I have come to my own conclusion, that, yes indeed, Americans on average have gotten dumber over the last several decades. Many of my colleagues vehemently disagree. I have listened to their arguments, and I still reach the same conclusion. I can not help but think that the American welfare system has essentially eroded the nuclear family structure, replacing fathers, and allowing, even encouraging, the less intelligent to reproduce at a much higher rate than would otherwise have happened. Mix in so called no-fault divorce, the feminist takeover of the family court system, and an open border that allows any criminal to walk across the border and the conditions are perfect to allow the less intelligent to thrive. The once mighty and noble United States is now just another third world country living off its laurels. Soon, nobody will remember its accomplishments and contributions and we will be blamed for every problem facing the world. Hell, we already are blamed for everything. It’s sad, but every empire eventually falls.

    • 16. Ami  |  August 24, 2011 at 3:01 pm

      interesting read.

      I am Kenyan and i can tell you that a good number of us here do know Americans as been dump, seriously! I hardly blame them, just look a their media!!! its purposely designed to dump down the american society so that they can believe everything their ‘smart’ government does. Their just Zombies

      I met an American while i was Italy last year and he was wondering where Kenya was,even with Obama there many do not even bother to look at the world map and find out that Africa is a continent and not a country, He actually thought Africa was a huge country and Kenya is the Capital!!!!

      I remember holding in my anger and replied to him to buy a map and atleast learn alittle bit about other ‘worlds’ i informed him that atleast every Kenyan has heard of newyork,washington,texas,chicago,illionios, etc.

      we the ‘third worlders’ strangely know alot about other continents, our media is international and we try to learn other languages.

      For any american reading this let me tell you alittle bit about my wonderful continent

      1) about 54 countries make up Africa
      2)its the second biggest continent second to Asia
      3) Different languages,cultures,religions
      4) its a huge middle class well educated citizens ie Kenya( masters,PHD holders) with huge incomes
      5)early man was discovered in my wonderful continent
      6) most amazing parks and wildlife from tanzania,rwanda,DRC,Zambia and Kenya…. no one like Africa!

      ps: its not all about war and famine as the media always potrays,their is jem and they dont want you know!

  • 17. David  |  September 14, 2008 at 7:34 pm

    Yesterday I went to Walmart, as I walked around I began noticing other people, noticing who these people were shopping at Walmart. It was like attending a hillbilly convention, there were more fat people there then a Jenny Craig all you can eat festival. People were so fat and lazy they had electric carts to haul their fat carcass around the store, they would wait for 10 minutes to park up front rather then park 50 feet further into the parking lot. They would leave their carts right next to other peoples cars, instead of walking 20 feet to put the cart away. I’m sorry, but Americans are the dumbest people on planet earth, their stupidity is beyond all understanding or belief…….

    • 18. Chance(American)  |  September 10, 2010 at 6:25 am

      While many of us “Dumb” Americans are lazy and so caught up in the newest fads and what the craziest thing a celebratory has done recently. there are those of us who are different and trying to learn about the outside world. I believe that American pop culture is so centered around celebrities that it has become an obsession to read about the latest scandal an actor or actress has done. It’s stupid to worry about something like that when you could be doing something actually fun.

  • 19. Jake  |  December 15, 2008 at 3:31 am

    Jesus Christ they are so dumb, they really are I live near the boarder of Canada and the states and honestly half of them don’t even know where Canada is RIGHT NEAR THE DAMN BOARDER and the other half HAVN”T EVEN HEARD OF THE COUNTRY….and the ones that do, think that as soon as you cross the boarder it’s all of a sudden a baron winter wasteland, even in the mid june. God.

    • 20. Brian  |  August 21, 2009 at 8:57 pm

      Do you realize you posted this on the internet. And who invented the internet? Oh yeah… Americans. Here is a list of inventions by Americans: Air Conditioning, airplanes, the atomic bomb, telephones, and color televisions. And the computer you used to type this was also probably designed by Americans.

      • 21. thinkingshift  |  August 21, 2009 at 10:18 pm

        no one would dispute Brian that Americans have invented things. The issue is the current state of education in the US (and Australia: I have blogged about the dumbing down in Aust too). I would, however, dispute your list of American inventions – I think you will find the first “mechanical” computer was the brainchild of Charles Babbage (British); the telephone being Alexander Graham Bell who was born in Scotland. The invention of the airplane is controversial – some say it was invented by Alberto Santos Dumont (Brazilian), others will say Leonardo da Vinci who made the first real study of flight in the 1400s. He of course was born in Florence.
        I would say that the notion of air-conditioning was actually invented by the Romans who cooled their buildings with circulated aqueduct water. As for the internet, that’s controversial too – any of the following could have invented it: J.C.R Licklider, Vannevar Bush or Norbert Wiener (all American); Paul Baran (Polish) or Donald Davies (Welsh) – who were co-developers of packet switching. However, none of us would be surfing the internet without Sir Tim Berners-Lee (British) who invented the World Wide Web.
        I think you will find that the concept of television (and a patent was produced in 1922) is the brainchild of Edwin Belin, an Englishman.
        As for inventions by Americans – I will give you the computer mouse by Douglas Engelbart. The invention of the atomic bomb (not something I’d wish to lay claim to) was actually a collaborative effort (known as the Manhattan Project) between physicists and mathematicians from the UK, the US, Canada and Europe.
        And you might wish to consider that the US is a melting pot of nationalities, all of whom have made your country (and mine) what it is today.
        The issue is the future: is the US (and Aust) education system dumbing us down? The issue is not who invented what, when and how.

      • 22. VeniVidiVici  |  May 30, 2012 at 5:08 am

        Ultimately it’s ironic to see an American take offense to something in this way and have a response to someone’s well argued subjectivity. (Initiate David Attenborough voice) Watch as this American posts his thoughts based on media, word of mouth and most of all opinion based facts and sciences.

        IMHO We (Westernized 1st world people) have lost the ability to argue and debate, finally coming to joint reasoning. The death of the intellectuals, has been agreeing to disagree on points that require conclusion. For example we can do this on theories that cannot be proved through logic and remain mysteries, that is okay. Commonly speaking nobody seems to want to see the other persons opinion, instead offense is taken and the sword comes out and battle begins.

  • 23. truthsux  |  January 1, 2009 at 1:36 am

    americans are just plain dumb…their brain database consists of enough info to get them to survive and thats it….no wonder everyone fucking hates us…stay in the states dumb ass americans

  • 24. usa add  |  January 7, 2009 at 11:09 am

    can list so many things wrong with their attitudes . they cannot pick up after themselves , if it something they wore it stays where it came off them and that’s usually the floor . putting down a toilet seat doesn’t compute to them . they smell like they bathe in scents to cover bad B O .

    Manners period lack , especially saying thanks for something free they received.
    if the sink has two basins both are full , being truly humble doesn’t fit . if they screwed up be prepared for it to happen again and again . if they can guilt you into doing it for them then they will follow that train of thought .

    if it makes them look good going down the road , emotionally shallow , intense thought for others also doesn’t fit for them , just plain common politeness they lack , similar to the french

  • 25. Andrew  |  March 3, 2009 at 2:28 am

    As an American I would have to agree with most of your comments, the average American is quit dumb. It is an epidemic.

  • 26. Charlotta  |  May 24, 2009 at 4:02 am

    I have lived in US for a year now, and the difference from other countries is huge. In Finland we graduate high school when we are 15-16, here when you are 18-19, as you well know…… And still we were so much more mature and intelligent at that time than what american students are now; people have no possible respect for anyone or anything, horrible lack of common sense, no responsibility etc. I could go on forever. So to me it makes perfectly sense that americans really are as dumb as said, what else can they become when they still at the age of young adults have no idea about ANYTHING.

    • 27. Rich  |  August 9, 2009 at 12:36 pm

      Finland has the highest rated high schools in the world. When americans try to copy the reason for this, our educators don’t get it: respect for education is lacking in the USA. We try smaller classes, lower standards, more money on classroom accessories: nothing seems to work. We have gone backwards, and the slide continues. Parents are content to let their kids function this way, as, often, the parents don’t realize how minimal the education is. No one will take responsibility but prefers a government agency to “fix it”.


      • 28. Ami  |  August 24, 2011 at 3:16 pm

        Very sad indeed,

        As i seat hear in my living room reading all this wall street journals about the state of the american economy, Their dollar is collapsing, housing is a mess… and are drowning in debt due to greed. Americans dont understand the meaning of saving money, they want things now through credit. Well, its time to face the consequences.

        I remember watching news when bush was in power, the idiot cant even speak english( I know what it means to put food on your family) what the F@@k?? and he was the fucking president. what does that tell us about the average american? that they could be a imbeciles? what a shame really.

        a kenyan living in a third world.

  • 29. Johnny William  |  August 8, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    Americans are very dumb thanks to all those unionized highly paid joker “teachers.” the usa is filled with stupid people, stupid workers who terry nickell and dime everyone in their tracts. ask an american about mahler about stravinsky, about the horn, good luck—-most are too busy twattering, blueberrying, or watching the boob tube filled with idiotic “news” programs profiling pop star perverts, bra-sizes, and places to get good meadow muffins–that is the USA for ya. sinking ship……..

  • 30. Rich  |  August 9, 2009 at 11:30 am

    One of the key problems in exchanging ideas is that you must make your idea clear to the other person(s). Too often, the other person simply doesn’t grasp my point because I haven’t made it clear enough, or they don’t have the background to understand my point. It’s not a matter of intelligence, but a matter of being able to communicate, which is a skill sadly lacking in society today. I consider, in my (to be completed someday) book about communicating with people, the first step is that each person must agree on what a word means. I consult a dictionary frequently, and a thesaurus. The word “pride” has a number of meanings, and one must not assume we all are using it to mean the same thing.
    It’s not so much a matter of classroom education to be a better communicator; it’s like anything else: study, read, question, and practice. The internet chat rooms are a sad testament to the loss of communicative ability of so many people. It’s better to try to repeat back to the speaker the point he/she is trying to make, and see if you both agree on what the idea is, before you agree on the correctness of it.
    Okay, that’s all for now.

  • 31. ben  |  August 12, 2009 at 7:00 am

    you pose an interesting question. my question is whether it is Americans, or Aussies, or any other specific group of people that is just plain dumb, or if it is humanity by and large? we are all a bunch of babbling apes with more power than we know how to control. flashes of genius here, yes, and strokes of beauty there, true, but overall i think this says it best:

    Picture a bright blue ball, just spinning, spinnin free,
    Dizzy with eternity.
    Paint it with a skin of sky,
    Brush in some clouds and sea,
    Call it home for you and me.
    A peaceful place or so it looks from space,
    A closer look reveals the human race.
    Full of hope, full of grace
    Is the human face,
    But afraid we may lay our home to waste.

    -from “Throwing Stones” by John Perry Barlow, as performed by the Grateful Dead

    -ps i tried to post links and your blog would not let me… kept getting error messages e.g. that test above this

  • 32. Johnny William  |  August 14, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    many americans are also very loud, very noisy–they seem to always to irate about something. Probably because they live to work. Crazy, many are work addicts and those boomers will never retire–a culture filled with greed and $$$$ obcessions.

  • 33. Johnny William  |  September 4, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    americans are dumb until proven otherwise–dumb and dumberer.

    america used to be 1st class country, thanks to bad schooling, illegal mexican problems, and lack of ethics/integrity–the country is a sinking ship. titanic.

  • 34. dillo  |  September 15, 2009 at 2:16 am

    Yes, we are dumb! and loud!

    But I have met some from OZ who may not have all their shrimps on the barbie. . .

  • 35. thinkingshift  |  September 17, 2009 at 12:14 am

    Dillo: yes, don’t you worry about that! we have plenty of dumb ass types here in Australia too.

  • 36. Krishnamurthi  |  September 25, 2009 at 8:34 am

    Why only Americans or Australians most of the World community is idiotic. Where is the Thoreau who refused to pay $10 to get his certificates from Harvard, Where is the Gandhi who refused all comforts for fellow citizens. Where is the Fukuoka who lived happily in his farm for 35 years without even electricity. How many such people the young come to know or we come to know ourselves

    Of course, part of the problem is in Education. But there are other major parts such as the lack of common sense – Originally most of religions were about common sense such as ‘love thy neighbour’. Practice non-violence with all lifeforms, care for nature, etc. – Till 100 years back there was reverence to such teachings. Over the past 100s of so called scientific thinking all such teachings are rejected in the name of unscientific and irrational, etc.

    Another part of the problem is disintegration of families. Even with integrated families no quality time is spent with the next generation.

    And another critical part of is our obsession with looking good – whether it is communication or construction or the aesthetic (?) look of food and to war. So the best con-artists, corrupt politicians with good oratory skills, great marketing and PR agents, media all are their to deceive us all the time using our weakness for looking good

    I quote here Will Durant – “Democracy means drift; it means permission given to each part of an organism to do just what it pleases; it means the lapse of coherence and interdependence, the enthronement of liberty and chaos. It means the worship of mediocrity and the hatred of excellence. It means the impossibility of great men—how could great men submit to the indignities and indecencies of an election? What chance would they have? What is hated by the people, as a wolf by the dogs, is the free spirit, the enemy of all fetters, the not-adorer, the man who is not a regular party-member. How can the superman arise in such a soil? And how can a nation become great when its greatest men lie unused, discouraged, perhaps unknown? Such a society loses character; imitation is horizontal instead of vertical—not the superior man but the majority man becomes the ideal and the model; everybody comes to resemble everybody else; even the sexes approximate—the men become women and the women become men”
    – Will Durant

    Business wants perfect human robots which won’t question the intentions yet carryout the orders well – which the schools /collages provide them with and no point in blaming them.

    What are we doing at home and what are we doing ourselves matters a lot to create an intelligent society.

    – Mumblings of a Farmer

    • 37. VeniVidiVici  |  May 30, 2012 at 5:40 am

      Thanks for the Will Durant, we really are doomed as mankind as a whole. Read about Noah’s Ark (whether you believe it to be true or not) Only him and his family were saved but what happened to the majority?

      Perhaps the Westernization of today existed a long time ago, and its more something is being forgotten, misplaced, why have we turned to mediocre leaders, why turn to the media for truth or information? Nobody (as in the majority) reads books anymore, nobody can understand abstract thought. The majority rules and the majority will drown just like in Noah’s Ark. It could also be related to the Titanic if you are anti bible, the majority see us as continuing quickly to a grand location, but only the intellectuals know the ship is sinking fast.

  • 38. marcq  |  September 29, 2009 at 12:06 am

    Unfortunately, your are 100% correct!

    Americans apparently haven’t noticed that their country has slowly been disintegrating for the past decade as our government caters to Corporate America’s every whim.

    If you try to point these facts out to most Americans, you’ll be ridiculed or labeled a socialist/communist.

    Americans have had it easy for the past few decades since our economic dominance has shielded them from the need to be well-rounded and informed in order to earn a living, but this reality no longer exists.

    If the younger generations don’t wake up and begin to demand more out of our politicians, we will have the living conditions of a third world country in a few decades.

  • 39. Tyce  |  November 17, 2009 at 1:08 am

    americans (many) are fat, ugly, and ignorant about many , many things–yet they APPEAR to know somethings. they accept poor quality food, cars, homes, schooling etc…they seem to enjoy medicrity and stupidity b/c of the PC culture of being “nice” to everyone–including illegal mexicans and others who come into the states ILLEGALLY (felons). apathy and sheeple mentality abounds in the states and that is predominately why the states is bankrupt, dollar ever sinking, and quality of life is quite poor given their work addictive ways. i would be very surprised in an american knew who rutherford was, since they seem to be addicted to porn, emailings, pervert pop stars, and magazine “reading.”

  • 40. Marc  |  January 14, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    Good post. I have lived in America for three years now. I have lived in a few countries during my career. I have to say I was shocked and continue to be shocked over the ‘dumbness’ here. I appear to spend most of my days arguing with an imbecile over something trivial because the imbecile american is unable to fuse two brain cell together. I really mean its as simple as choosing a circle or a square and metaphorically speaking here they would insist a square is a circle. Mind boggling. If i was a conspiracy theorist i would suggest the water is contaminated, as each appear to be brainwashed or just plain dumb to refelct and think outside the box . I hope to leave soon and return to civilized life.

  • 41. thinkingshift  |  January 14, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    and where would you go Marc? to get the civilized life?

  • 42. rob  |  February 19, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    Americans are very dumb thanks to all those unionized highly paid joker “teachers.”
    The above quote sums up a major problem in the U.S. where educators have been attacked and blamed for societies problems. The simplistic view that the commie teachers and their unions are to blame is perpetuated by corporations who want to control education. Now they control the canteens and the religion rules over science and teachers have had their status attacked and lowered by the media. They have effectively destroyed their education system and are producing a whole army of fat and unthinking consumers.

  • 43. MS  |  March 14, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    I have lived in US & Australia for many years. I think the same is for both countries; education system has failed in both countries in terms of common sense. I went to a top private school once a while in South Australia, and our history teacher asked us to find where UK is on the World Map. (year 11)

    Only less than 10% of students in my class could find UK, so Australians are not better than anyone else. We also get stupid jokes like are Asians still have pony-tails? Do all of them ride bikes in Asia, so car sales must be pretty bad in Asia…

    Mind you, the latest UK survey came out “What was Newton’s greatest invention”, more than 50% of them answered wrong, and may said “fire”!

    Who invented Gravity? Einstein of course. But most Briton students answerd “Luke Skywalker”

    It all come down individuals. I actually found Americans are generally much better than Australians in terms of common sense – although, some are exceptionally ignorant.

    Depending on who you are really, some of my American friends know the world by their heart, because, mind you, American firms are everywhere in the world; many of them have chances in travelling or working abroad.

    To sum up, I think both US & Australian education systems should introduce more international cultures, histories..

    Mind you, I lived in Asia for long time, many Asian students think there is one country in the West which is US, and Australia is a State next to California, no one has heard of New Zealand. I had to explain to my relatives so many times that Australia is another country..

    So,…everyone is equally dumb if that makes you feel

    • 44. lucas  |  March 19, 2010 at 6:05 pm

      “Mind you, the latest UK survey came out “What was Newton’s greatest invention”, more than 50% of them answered wrong, and may said “fire”!

      Who invented Gravity? Einstein of course. But most Briton students answered “Luke Skywalker””


      I’m a English myself and it was NEWTON not Einstein who DISCOVERED not invented Gravity


    • 45. Danny  |  April 25, 2010 at 3:50 am

      Obviously that answered luke skywalker were joking

  • 46. thinkingshift  |  March 14, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    LOL indeed MS and thx for your observations. It’s true that many don’t know where the heck New Zealand is – one person is Europe once said to me “isn’t it in the US somewhere?”.
    I think the education systems of many countries need a good kick up the proverbial. I read the other day that UK school kids think that the Queen invented the telephone. Too funny if it wasn’t such a sad state of affairs.

  • 47. Cris  |  April 21, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    I agree with everything. I am an American. I also have had the privledge of having lived in several other countries. I am a science teacher in high school. Most of my students do not know any of the minimum scientific facts about the universe. They are not curious, and have absolutely no critical thinking skills. I am scared for the future, every year it only get worse. One wonders why the debate about climate change continues, well it is simple, the people making decisions and voicing their opinions are ignorant. In America you can voice your ignorant opinion and still get respect, why?

  • 48. Jessica  |  June 14, 2010 at 8:08 pm

    I have found that Americans are “dumb” or at least very poorly educated. I’m Canadian and I’ve met or heard of a lot of people from America thinking that polar bears roam our street and that we live in Igloos. I can sort of understand the lack of knowledge about European countries because it’s so far away and the cultures can be vastly different; I’ve asked myself some pretty dumb questions before. But being neighbours you’d think they would know more! It’s almost like they only care about themselves and so only learn about themselves! I really hope that changes one day.

    • 49. Jessica  |  June 14, 2010 at 8:09 pm

      Sorry, I think I should say most Americans. Because there are also some who know a lot; maybe more than I do about my own country!

  • 50. Sean  |  July 7, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    Look, I’m an American (please don’t hold that against me) and I have to say you hit the nail right on the head. Americans are idiots! Everyone in this country has blinders on, and as you stated, doesn’t even know the rest of the world exists. Does anyone in Canada, Holland, Spain or Switzerland wish to adopt me?? I hate what this country has become. America used to be great but not anymore. Obama is trying to do some good things but it has become so twisted by the media and the “good ole’ boys” network that he doesn’t stand a chance. If I see one more Bush/ Cheney bumper sticker I will have lost all hope. Seriously someone please get me out of here.

  • 51. Rick  |  December 26, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    What the best part is he uses Kellie Pickler as a example for 300 million Americans. That is too funny.

    You try to make a point using the same thing that is supposedly making America dumb. Thank you I needed that this morning.

  • 52. thinkingshift  |  December 26, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    Rick: he is a she actually. And if you read the post very carefully, you should have tracked back to the post on the New York State Regents Exam in History. That post, combined with this post, would indicate to you that the proposition is not that Americans per se are dumb, but that anti-intellectualism has taken hold of contemporary society.

    The United States is merely one of many countries in the grip of it – meaning that students and young people, like Kellie Pickler, are the products of a school and university/college system that decries a varied intellectual life.


  • 53. Sean  |  April 18, 2011 at 5:09 pm


    I have to say,living in belgium and being australian,i am thankful.

    I have many american friends,they are so brain washed i keep my distance.

    They think theres nothing wrong with america and everyone wants to live there.

    Not one person i have come accross ever intends to live in the us,WHY what do they have nothing.

    there a 3rd world country pretending to be a superpower,the only other places on earth you will find such down right poor people is in the middle east and africa.

    Why pretend your something you can never be!!!!

  • 54. Brian John  |  April 21, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    I am American and am 28 years old. I believe I know why the American education system has been a failure for decades. It is because the American government and textbook publishers starting in the 1970s (or even a little earlier) decided what should or should not be in a textbook because it offended a certain group of people. Trade books have also seemed to gone down in quality since the mid-1970s in the U.S. The education system also used “visual clues” such as filmstrips, tv, and later computers, to simplifiy earlier learning “eras” (pre WWII) into almost a babysitting job. Prior to WWII, textbooks were much better in the United States that was very detailed–which makes education today look like a party.

  • 55. Aman  |  May 11, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    I like your rant. but I see no point to it, we already know that 1 out 5 Americans do not recognize other issue besides our self, but based on what on the people you met, does not represent every american, it is just that rof use are not exposed to international affairs, or maybe some of us aren’t open-minded. Over-all very good rant, even though every already knows

  • 56. human  |  June 22, 2011 at 10:52 pm

    Leave the Americans Alone, They are harmless people and they are not racist. They have accepted people from all countries, so have some respect for americans.

    1. They are Rich
    2. They are Tall
    3. They are beautilful
    4. They have manners (most of them)
    5. They are very good friends.
    6. Lots nice christian people who don’t even think bad about bad people.
    7. They invent and went to moon
    8. They made lots of cars
    9. Invented Wallmart
    10. Invented Fast Food.

    Nothing is perfect, but they far most the perfect country than any other country of the world.

    • 57. kim sbarcea  |  June 22, 2011 at 11:02 pm

      Human: did you read my opening sentence, that the post is not about bashing Americans? And who said I don’t have respect for them – I most certainly do (although not sure anyone would respect them for inventing Fast Food 🙂

      But the issues I raise on this blog about America, Australia or any other country are about THE ISSUES not the people. If you were a regular TS blog reader, you’d know this already. Anyway, thx for stopping by.

  • 58. dunc  |  July 1, 2011 at 3:07 am

    This topic made me laugh. Your observations are spot on. I came tp the US from Australia for work 10 years ago, and and am embarrassed to admit that I feel oblivious to the world outside the US. This country is ethnocentric to the extreme. Most people don’t know where Australia is on a map, don’t know that it is almost as big as the US, and don’t realize people there eat pizza and don’t all live in the Outback. Could you imagine not knowing anything about the United States. Admittedly, there are dumb people everywhere – there just seem to be more of them here

    • 59. thinkingshift  |  July 2, 2011 at 7:57 am

      Dunc: go home NOW!!!

      • 60. Balin  |  September 25, 2011 at 4:10 am

        One of the problems with America is that we give our dumb people money and freedom. They do not always make good ambassadors.

  • 61. 123456789  |  December 17, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    At least 3/4 of the population is dumb. The second graders can’t even add and subtract. How sad is that? I immigrated here from South Korea when I was about 8 or 9. I’m 15 right now. I think 1 of the reasons is that teachers aren’t strict, so the students don’t listen to the teachers. They are so immature. And the media isn’t helping. A lot of the music is about sex, partying, drugs, etc. There are a lot of the kids on drugs at school. I know a girl who’s about 14 or 15 and she’s pregnant; it’s different from state to state, but usually, it’s illegal to have sex til you reach 16. A lot of people just assume I’m Chinese and don’t even know where that is. Here’s an actual conversation I had:
    kid: Are you Chinese?
    me: No.
    kid: Are you Japanese?
    me: No.
    kid: Where are you from?
    me: Korea.
    kid: Which one?
    I remember thinking, “This kid is so dumb. I would have died from starvation.” People just don’t have comon sense. They tell me that I’m being racist, but they are, too. About 2 months ago, a history teacher asked us what happend in the year of 1776, and no one knew except me, and they lived here longer than I have. A lot of the people here don’t even know their history. Some kids got mixed up with Washington state and Washington D.C. One kid didn’t even know where U.S. is. How dumb can they be?

  • 62. Prometheus_3052  |  February 10, 2012 at 9:30 am

    Kim, I believe Human meant it as a cynical joust. 😉

  • 63. Amy  |  April 2, 2012 at 1:30 am

    First of all, great taste in your theme, it’s the same as mine. Your writing style and opinion here seem to echo my own as well. I keep noticing more and more signs of what seems to be the apocolyptic demise of intellectualism and critical thinking in American society. It’s terrifiying, really. Have you seen the film “Idiocracy”?

  • 64. Sofia  |  April 6, 2012 at 8:49 am

    Dude I tend to agree. Brave new world style, hell yes! Modern society is sliding into materialist ignorance and self-obsession. Let’s promote ourselves at the cost of others (less developed countries) is our motto.

  • 65. NOLAN  |  November 1, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    I have had roommates from Australia and England and both of them and their international friends have said that in their country Americans are perceived as stupid and/or idiots. Then after they actually take American courses in their major after four weeks they ask themselves why is this because they end up doing much worse in these classes in the US as compared to their home country.
    If someone from England comes to the United States for a semester or two they only have to get a 70% in a class to get a 4.0, while over 80% of college courses require an American to get a 90% to get a 4.0. To get a 3.0 someone from England is only required to get a 50% in a class, while most Americans would have to get an 80% in that class. Their standards are set much lower than ours which is a main reason why we are perceived as stupid. They look at the failure rate of Americans in college and notice a staggering high % compared to their home country, but they don’t realize that in college if we get a 65% in a class we tend to get a 2.0, but an English or Australian would get a 3.5 GPA. Americans set the bar much higher for our students than ANY other developed country (I don’t know about China, but every other country I know for a fact that our pass/fail % cut off line is MUCH MUCH higher).
    It frustrated me when I found out that in Australia, England and Ireland getting a 65% in a class is nearly equivalent to someone with a 3.33 GPA here in the USA.
    I am a Senior college student majoring in Physiology and I have a 3.25 GPA and it is nearly impossible for me to get into a graduate school or PA school, but if I lived in other countries like in Europe I could have something in the range of at least a 3.75 GPA and I would easily find a job.

    An Australian friend of mine told me that if you got a 65% in a class in Australia then you would have job offers after job offers. He also said that even a kid who graduates with a 55% (which is equivalent to a 3.0 GPA in the USA) would find tons of graduate schools. Yes, I understand that maybe their curriculum may be harder, but even my roommate from England said that in classes that he gets a 75% back at home he is currently getting about a 50% in and yet he will still get a 3.0 grade conversion to England, while everyone else in the class with a 50% would get a 1.5 or a 2.0

    America is one of the ONLY ONLY ONLY countries of the developed world in which getting below a 65% is considered failing (1.5 or below) in nearly every class, not including some of the high senior level science classes
    I even have classes that are 200 level classes in which you must get a 94% in order to get a 4.0 and at least an 84% to get a 3.0…yet class averages on our exams are only an 80-82% and the only grades you have are 4 exams and a final.
    Then I also have two classes where your final GPA is based on class rank where of the 300 student class (in which 180 are pre-med students who have above a 3.5 GPA, and I am not counting the pre-Vet, pre-PA, and other Pr-Professional majors I am only county Pre-DO and Pre-MD students) Only 10% of the students can get a 4.0, only 20% can get a 3.5, only 35% can get a 3.0, only 60% of the kids get a 2.5, 75% of the kids get a 2.0, thus AUTOMATICALLY 25% (75 students!!!) get a failing grade. This is a class in which EVERY medical school requires you to pass.

    So yeah. Americans may be perceived as stupid throughout other countries but it has more to do with the fact that our educational grading scales are set MUCH higher than every other developed country. Of the over 40 international students my roommate knows nearly all of them say that they are doing worse in their American courses than they are back at home.

    • 66. thinkingshift  |  November 1, 2012 at 8:53 pm

      I’m not sure what school or schools your Australian friend went to but, having been a teacher myself, I can tell you that getting 65% in a class in Oz won’t get you too far. The Higher School Certificate, which is what you require to then go onto University, is fiercely competitive. When I decided to study Law, from memory, you needed a mark of 480 or higher out of 500 to gain entrance to the top universities, such as Sydney Uni.
      Unis in Australia now go by the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank. The ATAR is a number between 0.00 and 99.95 with increments of 0.05. An ATAR of 80.00 indicates that a student is in the top 20 per cent of his or her age group. The ATAR cut-off for 2011-2012 Sydney Uni law degree is 99.7.
      I also know being a Uni Professor (part-time) myself that there are very high expectations on students these days.
      I think the comment I’d make about Americans (having worked in the US a bit and travelled extensively there) is this – Americans are not stupid. In my experience, Americans lack good general knowledge about the rest of the world and have an insular lens through which they look at the rest of the world.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

Search ThinkingShift

   Made in New Zealand
     Thinkingshift is?

ThinkingShift Tweets

Flickr Photos

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia License.

ThinkingShift Book Club

Kimmar - Find me on

%d bloggers like this: