I think the greatest impediment to building an ethical culture is the relentless dumbing down of the culture, a process now driven as much by political factors as educational ones and Honey Boo-Boo. The last election showed that ours politicians fhave decisied that they only benefit from misleading and frightening the ignorant and logically impaired among us—all the better to persuade them to elect leaders not much smarter than they are, but probably more ruthless and dishonest. In so many corners of our society, there are no consequences for demonstrated intellectual incompetence.
The news media is a prime example. CNN’s Deborah Feyeric actually asked, on the air, whether the approaching asteroid last week was “the effect of, perhaps, global warming.” She is too ignorant to be on television: this is signature significance. I know science isn’t her usual beat, but nobody this incapable of basic logic should be interpreting news on the airwaves about anything. If she had announced the moon was made of cheese, or asked if anyone had ever found that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, it could not have been any worse. CNN doesn’t care: she still has a job. Being jaw-droppingly stupid—the worse kind of stupid, so stupid you don’t even know how stupid you are—is no longer a bar to permanent employment in national media, in teaching, in business, in government. Probably Feyeric’s bosses thought she asked a reasonable question.
One of the main catalysts for dangerous stupidity and cognitive impairment is partisan fervor, which too often functions as a substitute for original thinking. I read what I would have thought was an ethically clear and uncontroversial story, certainly apolitical, about a foolish father who cornered a baby manatee in Florida and had his kids playing with it, even riding it at one point. This fool posted the photos on Facebook, and sure enough, was arrested for violating Florida’s Manatee Sanctuary Act, which protects the endangered sea mammal and says in part, “It is unlawful for any person at any time, by any means, or in any manner intentionally or negligently to annoy, molest, harass, or disturb or attempt to molest, harass, or disturb any manatee.” Of course he was arrested. It’s a law, and he broke it. This isn’t even an especially obscure or surprising law. If you don’t know manatees are endangered, you need to read more. If you don’t know that using wild animals like they are toys is cruel, stupid and wrong, you were raised in Dogpatch.
However, I made the mistake of reading the comments to the story. At least half of them were like these:
“Do the police have an affidavit from the manatee stating it felt “molested, harassed, or disturbed”? The creature might have been enjoying the attention.”
“He pets a manatee and gets booked into jail charged with “molesting” it? This is a good example of why we need less government in our lives. Legislate less and go do something useful.”
“Molesting is a strong and misleading word… He should sue the state and news agencies for defamation. This makes him sound like a deviant.”
“If their stupid enough and have so little knowledge as to reelect Obama how would he know this is a No-No.’
“Our tree huggers who think nothing of aborting a baby in the womb (because it’s human and you hate humans) are just showing your hypocrisy again, as usual.’
“The Governments of this land are getting so they intentionally make secret laws that will catch you.”
“Who knows every law or should be expected to? That was appropriate when there was basically the 10 commandments to go by.”
“Overthrow the environmentalist wacko dictatorship! Ecofreaks! Enviromaniacs! Pointing guns at Americans, kidnapping them and incarcerating them! Disarm the eco-gunmen and then beat them senseless. No, wait! That’d be redundant, wouldn’t it?”
” START A PRAIRIE FIRE! START A TEA PARTY TSUNAMI! START A TAXPAYER REBELLION AGAINST THE TAX-EATERS! SHARE THESE SENTIMENTS WITH YOUR FAMILY, FRIENDS, AND NEIGHBORS, TODAY!”
“Protect the Manatee, but abort the unborn child.”
“We live in an upside-down era. Liberal/leftist logic rules in our public life. Lets keep it entirely out of our private lives.”
“Apparently this is easier than going out and busting the meth labs, the crack hos, and they pimps. I feel much safer knowing that the cops are out to protect the manatees.”
“Do manatees pay taxes and are they US citizens under the US Constitution which the Democrats now despise?”
“You can murder your unborn child until the third trimester but sitting on a manatee gets you arrested. God will judge us all”
“Of course if some super rich politician or maybe Obama did a photo op with the creature then it would be a different story. No arrest, no fine, no big deal from the politically correct gotcha police. Country is looking more like the Soviet Union than the land ‘of the free’. “
This was about manatees!
Yet here is reasoning by anger, free-association, hatred, logical fallacies, civic deficiencies, rationalizations and partisanship as a substitute for thought. How can any society with a significant proportion of its members addressing issues–heck, daily life—with this quality of analysis make progress, reach consensus, or enforce coherent values?
We have to make it a cultural priority to stop encouraging Americans to be stupid, empowering them to be stupid, tolerating them when they are stupid, and training them to be stupid.
And I have no idea how to do that.
16 thoughts on “Manatee Reflections: How Can We Tell Right From Wrong When We Can’t Think Straight At All?”
Maybe Feyeric and that Florida dad were able to pass that part of college because they and their fellow students gamed that particular exam by mutually skipping it.
The professor then stood by his solid word and curved their grades all to A+.
No, I’d say it’s right on time.
It may have been inappropriate. But I see a relationship between the two discussions.
The very weakening of the academic system to the point that students feel justified in taking the easy way out to get a grade vs applying themselves eagerly to integrate knowledge and skills shows how little regard we have for the pursuit of knowledge.
So many of my peers I’ve noted were in school for the diploma, as if a piece of paper gave them knowledge. There is an endemic attitude of “don’t worry about it now, you can learn it later”. When later comes, the same attitude still prevails of “learn it later”. Next, thing you know, there is a moron with a degree that never ‘learned it later’ who still thinks that, ‘hey, if I ace the interview, I’ll learn the skill on the job site’.
This lackadaisical attitude towards learning begins in elementary school, the very time when learning how to learn occurs.
However, despite being painful uneducated, everyone is told that they are educated.
Like giving little Jimmy Simpleton, at age 14, keys to a car and a diploma that says “Graduated from Driver’s Ed” and not expecting a car-wreck. Hey, he can learn on the highway!
I think FERPA is a good example of this. Yes, schools have a lot of information they shouldn’t just give out to anyone, but why do grades need to be protected? This is the last nail in the coffin of academic achievement. Do we hide the scores of football teams or the times of the track runner to keep from embarrassing them? Why shouldn’t the grades be posted publicly by name so the people who have outstanding grades can be recognized. It then might spur others to try harder, to allow the standards to be raised again. Have you seen the Malcolm in the Middle episode where the teacher calls them by class rank?
When I was in chemistry class, I was in competition with a kid named Marshall. We had several quizzes/week. The teacher called out everyone who got a 100%. It soon became a contest to see who could keep the streak alive. The class would cheer and take sides like it was the playoffs as the field of competitors was winnowed down. After about 10 quizzes, it was just Marshall and I. The teacher kept making the quizzes harder and harder to try to knock one of us out and we kept studying harder and harder to keep up. It went to 17 quizzes. You aren’t allowed to do such a thing in class anymore. It was considered so heinous that they outlawed it.
The analogy occurred to me as well, Tex!
Yes. But I think poorly placed after the heated discussion in regards to it.
This has been going on for about a generation, I noted when dumb leads became the big heroes because they were dumb not because of some actual achievement: “Dumb and Dumber,” most Frasier movies among too many others post Reagan. (Forrest Gump achieved despite his limitations) It hit the sitcoms painfully, leaving issues and shows about something behind. It’s all over the place and I make it a point to avoid media sections that degrade cleverness and morals, so I recently regretfully am checking out on a show where the moral character broke all the moral precepts he’d been beating the other cast on and no one called him on it including the ones he beat the moral into. The lessons of Rivera’s empty Capone vault were not learned by the current generation.
Steve Allen’s 1989 book Dumbth was when I got worried, and I haven’t stopped. I wish we could make a big Dumbth award, big enough to embarrass and hasten the idiots off the stage with a hook. Anyone can make a mistake, but we should be able to separate the occasional slip from the habitually dumb and miscreant. That would be a pleasant side effect of journalists becoming objective and selecting on-air for integrity instead of crowd-baiting and teeth, they’d not get this negative award…
I agree in general with the heroic-izing of the lug wrenches among us at the cost of isolating or reducing to pariah those who seek learning.
But in our zeal to be concerned over this trend, lets not toss the blanket onto comedies, which time immemorial, has relied on depictions of buffoons; even long before the Three Stooges
True, but they were treated as parodies and not something to aspire to. If a culture is defined by its heroes we should be much more careful where hero is used.
One of your best pieces ever. FWIW, manatees, which are big, slow moving and have no defenses, are not well situated to co-exist with people (they get hit by boats a lot). Florida and federal law are noble rear guard actions to keep them around as long as possible.
The villain in Jimmy Buffett’s early 90’s novel “Where is Joe Merchant” was known to dine on manatee steaks. When told that the manatee was an endangered species, the loathsome Colonel Cairo replied, “Ain’t we all?”
Well… ain’t we? But certainly, anyone who let’s his kids play with a wild animal is asking for trouble. If it’s big enough to cause harm and you invade its space, it may well prove “undocile”. All living things will react when they think they’re being threatened.
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I referenced this post and used it as a jumping-off point for my post this week at Green Earth News: http://blog.greenearthbamboo.com/20130222/green-is-grand/manatee-insanity/
I love when this happens…part of the reason we’re here. Thanks to you.