Lo, a plague is upon us

I invite you to consider the greatest threat to human life on this planet. Back in the sixties, most people thought it was nuclear annihilation. In the eighties and nineties, it might have been AIDS. Today you might suggest terrorism. But there is a more significant threat than any of these. It has always existed, but has now grown in severity and potency to the point that it can no longer be ignored.

I am speaking of stupidity. Please hear me when I state that it will be the death of us all.

Perhaps the doomsayers were right when they warned against the proliferation of computers and automation. The notion among many was that modern conveniences would cause us to become soft and lazy and we would stop using our brains. Whether you blame computers, or the failure of our educational system, or rap music, it is inescapably clear that we as a species are becoming stupider at an alarming rate. This, combined with the near elimination of personal responsibility, is a recipe for disaster.

The system at one time helped to protect us. Smarter people tended to gravitate toward positions of responsibility in both politics and business. But there was a critical flaw in the system – stupid people were allowed to vote and purchase stock. And over time, more and more stupid people either figured out how; or perhaps somebody showed them, calling it “empowerment.”

Stupid people were suspicious of politicians and officials who appeared intelligent. They resented being looked down upon, however justifiably. And the politicians saw what was happening to candidates like Adlai Stevenson and realized that they would have to change their strategies.

The reality today is that a politician cannot be elected to office unless he can get stupid people to vote for him. Our political system has adjusted to reflect that reality. The business world has adapted as well. Everywhere you look, the highest echelons of government and corporations are populated with the same imbeciles who run too many items through the grocery express lane.

I went to the Driver Services Facility yesterday to get my driver’s license renewed. Contrary to my expectations, the process went smoothly. I had my new license within a half hour. Why? Because the facility was designed expressly for the efficient processing of stupid people. All the signage was in large lettering, clearly worded, and highly redundant. Each service window had its window number posted on three different signs, both printed and electronic. Large arrows clearly delineated the direction of flow from one area to another. Everything was laid out such that a third grader could navigate the process without needing further clarification.

In the half hour I spent there, four people were confused enough to require personalized assistance. That’s twenty percent of the total customer traffic. And I’m sure this is considered wildly successful.

Some of my friends have been circulating an e-mail survey containing sixty personal questions. The idea is to share your answers among your friends and thereby tell them about yourself. One of the questions is, “What makes you really angry?” “Stupid people” is the winning answer so far.

Ask anyone who works in customer service – they will tell you that the majority of people they deal with on a daily basis are morons. I submit to you that any business that is successful has developed a method for dealing effectively with stupid people.

If you are reading this, you are on the Internet. The Internet is remarkable for many things, not the least of which is that it’s the world’s largest virtual congregation spot for stupid people. If you doubt that, take a look at any unmoderated message forum. Ain’t It Cool News is a great example. Every posted article is linked to a user talk-back forum. If you have any optimism at all about the future of our species, I invite you to read one of these talk-back forums at random. Carl Jung would have burned his life’s work and shot himself after reading one of these.

Earlier this week, Michael Moore went public with the news that Disney was blocking the distribution of his new film, “Fahrenheit 9/11.” This shocking example of censorship was reported on Ain’t It Cool News. Looking though the talk-back, I was amazed to find nearly half of the comments were in favor of blocking the film, on the grounds that Moore is a biased jerk. The irony, that this action was a threat to the very freedoms that allowed them to voice their own idiotic opinions in a public forum, was completely lost on them.

I’m afraid we have to accept that stupid people are here to stay, and as their numbers increase, they are going to have greater and greater impact on our daily lives. How, then, to cope?

The comedian Bill Engvall does a very funny routine called “Here’s Your Sign,” in which he proposes that stupid people should all wear a sign to assist in their identification. Engvall envisions himself as a distributor, handing the signs out as appropriate whenever stupidity is demonstrated in his presence.

He has the right idea. The best way to deal with stupidity in the world is to quickly identify the afflicted, before wasting any precious time attempting to deal with them. Size them up and write them off as quickly as possible.

But we don’t need to hand out signs. The signs are already there. For example, on the Internet, stupid people give themselves away through their complete inability to write coherently. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation are lost arts as far as these folks are concerned. I just finished reading “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” by Lynne Truss, in which she bemoans not only the continual decline in punctuation skills, but also the fact that most people refuse to see this as cause for concern. While I sympathize with her point of view, I think she overlooks the fact that these are useful tools to quickly identify and dismiss stupid people in written media.

Bad grammar, incoherent punctuation, and writing in all capital letters are all handy indicators of stupidity in the on-line world. In the physical world, we can rely on visual cues such as tattoos, body piercing, NRA hats, and a pocket full of lottery tickets. Recognizing these signs for what they are will help us to flag these individuals before engaging them in conversation, letting them make change for us, or getting behind them in line. This will be the key to our continued survival in a world of stupid.

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