A Sudden Impulse Poll On Cultural Literacy

I am increasingly depressed by the widespread cultural illiteracy of the public, and not just the younger generations. I do believe it is an ethics issue, because, as Prof Hersch wrote decades ago, a lack of historical and cultural perspective makes competent citizenship, critical thinking and effective participation in society difficult if not impossible. It is a life skill that we all are ethically obligated to acquire, and that society is obligated to help us acquire for its own health and survival.

In a comment today, slickwilly wrote,

You are both mad.

“Oh, you can’t help that. We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

It suddenly occurred to me, with horror, that a majority of the public probably can’t identify the origin of those quotes. I wonder how many Ethics Alarms readers can. Here’s a couple of surveys/poll. No cheating, now. You’re on an ethics blog.


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Education, Literature

75 responses to “A Sudden Impulse Poll On Cultural Literacy

  1. PennAgain

    Jack, I’m not sure you meant this as a trick question or not — but #4 has been a (vile?) rumor ever since Freud came on the American library censorship scene. The author was “a friend of the family” of the original protagonist of this piece of wonderland fantasy that has engendered dozens of useful quotes (another one of which I just used here a few days ago), and at least a dozen characters so recognizable they have become universal cliches. The books were based on stories told to children of a family that has always stoutly denied anything more intimate.

    One of the sad things, I think, about the fact that few people will recognize the “six impossible things before breakfast” line is that it appears only in the book — not in any of the movies or cartoons or shortened or piecemeal versions that bear its name. More fun, even for grownups, is the Annotated version of the original that has the presentation of the math problems that are hidden in the text (and their solutions, which are not), just in case the smart child reader didn’t discover them for him- or herself.

    • PennAgain

      Correction: they are mostly logic, not math problems. There may not be an “answer” either, but it “gives one furiously to think, to use the little grey cells” (can one identify the source of that?).

      One that had me stumped until I worked it out in terms of grammar, which was just as useful:
      “Contrariwise,” continued Tweedledee, “if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.”

      And this is one of the useful ones – to Jack and Slick Willy, what I have in mind when I call someone “mad”:

      “Do you think I’ve gone round the bend?”
      “I’m afraid so. You’re mad, bonkers, completely off your head. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”

    • The Annotated Alice is one of the most fascinating and entertaining books in existence.

  2. PennAgain

    Jack, major correction (I think). Looking at the poll again, I was taking #4 from the poll Results, not the Poll, itself. The Poll puts that base canard at #2. I leave it to you to correct it, if and as needed … if you ever get down this far. Nothing to complain about in number of replies to this post!

  3. Dwayne N. Zechman

    Question #2 is fatally lacking in an “I do not have children” option.
    I chose to abstain.


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