One in Five Americans is a Moron

For my day job, I work as a political consultant. This means I get to read a lot of public opinion polls. One thing that has struck me over the years of reading polls is the magical line I always look for: "...and 20% of Americans believe (insert crazy belief here)."

When a country has such a large percentage of its population that is not living in the same world as the rest of their peers, that spells trouble. No matter what the question, it always seems that twenty percent of respondents either did not understand the question, or choose to align with contrarian, or moronic, beliefs.

If you you called 500 people right now and asked them if the earth is round, 20 percent would say no, it’s flat.

At a time when nearly 20% of Americans are suffering from mental illness, either diagnosed or undiagnosed, I can't help but wonder if that is the answer to my question. If 20% of a country is just plain mentally ill and unable to deal with reality, do we have hope as a society? Is the 20% who show up in these polls the same group of people, or is the number of morons much higher?

Before we proceed, I must make it clear that I am not associating mental illness with stupidity. In fact, many of the most intelligent people I've ever met are mentally ill.

Here are some crazy things that 1 in 5 people believe:

  • Humans are reincarnated after they die - Gallup, 2005
  • The sun revolves around earth - Northwestern University
  • Witches are real - Gallup
  • The world will end during their lifetime - TIME Magazine
  • Marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol - Rasmussen, 2010



At this time, I can't decide what is more damaging, what we know or what we don't know. I tend to lean towards what we “know.”

The Dunning-Kruger Effect suggests that many people are simply too ignorant to know just how ignorant they are. But it's those who think they have the answers that run for office and shape the policies of our country. The Dunning-Kruger effect suggests that more intelligent people question themselves more often, and tend to doubt their own intelligence, which can lead to inaction and the idiots taking control.

Crazy beliefs can be dangerous to the majority. While it is easy to roll our eyes when someone says something assinine, it is clear that many of these morons have invaded public life.

George W. Bush and Rick Perry (nicknamed “Bush, without the brains”), for example. Perhaps no one has done more to encourage anti-intellectualism and a hatred towards curiosity than George W. Bush. He made it cool to be dumb. And when this type of ignorance reigns, we see environmental policies rolled back, and government regulations stripped.

It’s no wonder that someone who thinks the world is going to end in the next 50 years would not care how much smoke and smog is released into the sky, or that our children can’t read.

This has led to climate change deniers, intelligent design, and a general disdain for knowledge, all while our nation burns to the ground, our waistlines expand, and our children get stupider. There are plenty of things that even more than 20% of people cannot understand, like maps. A 2006 Gallup poll found that 37% of Americans could not point out their own home country on a map.

If you are waiting for me to offer a solution, there isn’t one.

There is no hope to fix this. Twenty percent of us are mentally ill. That will probably never change. The only thing we can do is motivate the 80% who can be rational and get them to start paying attention again and take society back from the dunces who think that all they ever needed to learn, they learned in kindergarten.

While the intelligent form committees and study groups, the morons are having tea parties and electing “leaders.” It’s time to focus on what we know, what we can agree on, and get to work before we become the first generation to leave things worse off than when we found them.

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing" - Edmund Burke

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” - Confucius

“There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.” - Goethe

“Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.” - George Bernard Shaw


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Comments 38 comments

marriedwithdebt profile image

marriedwithdebt 5 years ago from Illinois Author

Hey JS, thanks for stopping by. I don't think labels like conservative and liberal, which change every 15-20 years and aren't consistent among nations, are the problem. I think the problems are more ingrained than that.


molometer profile image

molometer 5 years ago

Hi MWD,

Interesting hub!


marriedwithdebt profile image

marriedwithdebt 5 years ago from Illinois Author

Molometer-Your fan mail about the percentage likely being higher made me laugh. It is probably higher, but 20% is the number that is consistently unafraid of revealing themselves.


Ann Marie Dwyer profile image

Ann Marie Dwyer 5 years ago from South Carolina, USA

I think you are right about those who actually admit it. IRL I am convinced the numbers are closer to 40%. Mayhap, they consider themselves intelligent, question themselves and doubt their capability to answer.

Great hub!

Red.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA

While I agree that there are a lot of genuinely stupid people out there, I think some are also smart-alecks who will give you the wrong answer because they think it is cool to be stupid. The terms morons and mental illness don't really have anything to do with the stupid 20%.


marriedwithdebt profile image

marriedwithdebt 4 years ago from Illinois Author

Hey MT - that's an interesting perspective. So you think the 20% may be people trying to be contrarian or have a "if you are going to waste my time with this survey, I'm gonna give you stupid answers" attitude? Thanks for stopping by, as I am truly trying to understand the "20%"


parentsreview profile image

parentsreview 4 years ago from Lansdowne, PA

The problem is, people who know better, also worry more. And worry leads to fear, which is debilitating. Take a look at any teen boys, and note which ones are able to talk to girls. I guarantee it will not be the smart ones.

This is a good article, but I'd venture to guess that 20% is a low ball number. I'd also say, it's likely many people are stupid about certain things and not others.


hhunterr profile image

hhunterr 4 years ago from Highway 24

A cogent, well-supported argument against those who have no tangible support or argument for being who they are. What'll you think of next, married?


Worldwidepress profile image

Worldwidepress 4 years ago from Germany

Thomas Friedman also proclaims that the world is flat, so if eaven a NY Times Columnist is a moron i guess 20% is way too optimistic ;)


marriedwithdebt profile image

marriedwithdebt 4 years ago from Illinois Author

Hey WWP - great reference to Thomas Friedman. He may actually suffer from the Dunning Kruger Effect himself. Thanks for stopping by.


Worldwidepress profile image

Worldwidepress 4 years ago from Germany

Haha I just could not help, after this:

"If you you called 500 people right now and asked them if the earth is round, 20 percent would say no, it’s flat."

to refer to Thomas Friedman which you know is the author of a book actually called "The world is flat".


marriedwithdebt profile image

marriedwithdebt 4 years ago from Illinois Author

Thomas Friedman makes me laugh - check out the immortal Matt Taibbi's takedown of Friedman here: http://www.nypress.com/article-19271-flat-n-all-th...


Worldwidepress profile image

Worldwidepress 4 years ago from Germany

Lol I read it , it's an interesting and very very mean article :)


steveamy profile image

steveamy 4 years ago from Florida

Great Post.... Disdain for the intelligence and knowledge has a long history in this country of ours. Perhaps getting its start in the colonial era with the Great Awakening...We have work to do!


cclitgirl profile image

cclitgirl 4 years ago from Western NC

Great hub! Though, I'm not so sure it's necessarily "crazy" to believe in reincarnation...just for the fact that large portions of the human population have this as one of their core beliefs. Not in US culture, mind you, but in other countries, yes. Eh...the anthropologist in me just had to bring that up. Haha. You know, 20% of people who read this might think I'm crazy before they finish reading my comment. They might actually miss the part about me thinking that the world is "Hot, Flat and Crowded". :D


learnlovelive profile image

learnlovelive 4 years ago from U.S.

This is a little degrading to the Average American just because of the title. Other than that it's an ambitious article. I agree that reincarnation was not a good point of topic. You sound almost disdainful of the idea and even if you're not, people will think you might be.

Seek out Ayurvedic writings and teachings, read the Tibetan Book of the Dead but certainly not before you are able to put it into context. These people; the Hindus the Jains the Buddhists the Shinto they all had something about them that is inexorably different from our ideals in Western Culture. They understood life without attachment.

If the goal of the human spirit is to be realized then corporatism is the devil because it seeks to take power from the individual and place it in the institution. Systematic conformity - right of the bat. Because people have no choice but to stay attached to this paradigm....just because there are a few out there who think they deserve money or something. They think that their whole worth can be actuated by this artifice of trade. It's not even real. Try trading money for money and tell me what that feels like; tell me how real that was; what you got out of it, what the money DID for you... I wanna know...did the money speak to your hearts as it shifted hands or did it speak to your minds as you played with it...?

If you look into Samsara, the philosophy that the individual (no matter what soul we're talking about here - human or animal or whatever) is trapped in this cyclic existence of material manifestation...that no matter whether you're a god or a man - you're bound to the construct; it becomes apparent that even if we don't come back as humans, the "soul," will always find itself reincarnated back into the construct. No matter whether it is as a denizen or a god or the mortal man - until the spirit breaks free from the desires of materialization, there is no Moksha (freedom from this cycle).

So in essence, there is some vindication in the thought of reincarnation.

I like your initiative, knowledge is a virtue and 3G rocks. 4G is even cooler...and free wifi AND 3G on a Kindle...oh my, that's just...blasphemy. Free information for the masses; depravity asleuth.


marriedwithdebt profile image

marriedwithdebt 4 years ago from Illinois Author

Ah, moral relativism rears its head :) Next you'll say I should be accepting of cannibalism. (joking, by the way)

I'm not worried if people think I'm disdainful of reincarnation belief. I'm generally disdainful of any belief that is not rooted in any proof or facts.

I believe one of the only real and acceptable ways to judge people is by the things they say and believe, things that they can control.

I do not accept judgment based on race, gender, sexuality or other things that cannot be controlled. Thanks guys for reading.


learnlovelive profile image

learnlovelive 4 years ago from U.S.

I like your response.


Adrian Lavelle profile image

Adrian Lavelle 4 years ago from Galway, Ireland

Ah man!! it's like reading Bill Hicks, he's resurrected...great hub! no people have no cop on, some states have no state of mind, this is from an Irish man, you think America is bad, Ireland is F**ked, stand up and be counted! peace out to my hubbers, it's the world I hate,not the people...=)


learnlovelive profile image

learnlovelive 4 years ago from U.S.

Isn't it about time our lack of a voice be heard?


LawrenceS profile image

LawrenceS 4 years ago

Great hub. I really enjoyed it.


marriedwithdebt profile image

marriedwithdebt 4 years ago from Illinois Author

I love Bill Hicks. Thanks for reading Adrian and Lawrence.


Sooner28 4 years ago

Good post. I couldn't agree more. I suspect you were trying to avoid being partisan, but you could add polls that show Americans deny evolution, say being gay is a choice, and that claim climate change is not occurring as further examples. I don't know the exact numbers, but they aren't pretty.


LHwritings profile image

LHwritings 4 years ago from Central Texas

Intriguing post — interesting arguments, thought-provoking. Just gave you an Up vote plus Interesting.

I doubt there's a close correlation between the 20% with wacko opinions and the 20% actually mentally ill. It's more a case of the entire society, our culture, being kinda loony these days. Plus a huge segment of the public are just uninformed and dumb on critical issues.

A huge problem here is that the prevalent sections of America's top-echelon power structure right now seem to WANT people to be stupid about lots of things. Being stupid is even being brandished as a kind of badge of honor among the leading GOP candidates — you kinda alluded to this in your reference to Texas Gov. Rick Perry; also, look how some GOP candidates have attacked others even for speaking foreign languages (French, Chinese).

More evidence: Look how education at all levels is being cut, from coast to coast. Top pundits and politicians now suggest that higher education is no longer worth pursuing. They're eliminating actual, face-to-face classrooms in many school systems, and substituting "online" classes. They're cutting the number of school days. The USA has fallen way down the scale in educational performance, below even some Third World countries (kids in Shanghai now have higher scores).

And I haven't even gotten into the role of the news media in dumbing down the population. But I'll leave it there for now.

Thanks for stimulating a timely and important discussion.


marriedwithdebt profile image

marriedwithdebt 4 years ago from Illinois Author

Thanks. You caught me on the partisan thing :)


marriedwithdebt profile image

marriedwithdebt 4 years ago from Illinois Author

Thanks LH. The acceptance of stupidity is a frightening trend. Maybe an Anti-Enlightenment.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 4 years ago from Chicago

You are right that 20 percent of Americans are mentally ill. And you are right that 20 percent of Americans are morons. And I will tell you who they are: Liberals. That's right. Just the other day a new poll showed that 41 % of Americans identify themselves as conservatives and 20%—the mentally deranged morons no doubt—self identify as liberals.

You wrote: "Perhaps no one has done more to encourage anti-intellectualism and a hatred towards curiosity than George W. Bush. He made it cool to be dumb. And when this type of ignorance reigns, we see environmental policies rolled back, and government regulations stripped."

Firstly, President Bush II has an IQ of 126, while Obama's is 116. Secondly, roll back what regulations? We don't have enough regulations in your book? The compliance costs of regulations in America are $1.75 trillion each year according to a study done by the Small Business Administration. Regulatory costs exceed the projected budget deficit for FY2011 which is $1.48 trillion. In 2010 federal agencies have created 3,573 new rules, while Congress only enacted a relatively few 217 new laws. In 2010 the hidden cost of regulations exceeded 50% of federal spending. Regulatory costs represent about 12% of Americas GDP in 2010.

You say, "This has led to climate change deniers, intelligent design, and a general disdain for knowledge"

Anybody who cannot see that the world, the universe, and living things have been designed by an intelligent being is retarded. Whether climate change is man-made or not is subject to debate, despite all your information falsifiers like Al Gore, who, oh by the way, stand to make billions of dollars off their proposed solutions to their proposed problems.

You write: "While the intelligent form committees and study groups, the morons are having tea parties"

I have been to a community organizing committee on the South Side of Chicago and the people there could not have had IQs over 60—about the level of a six-year-old. I have been to one Tea Party meeting and I'd bet the people there had IQs around 120 on average—twice as smart. My IQ is 140 and I find your ideas expressed on this page moronic. And evil.


marriedwithdebt profile image

marriedwithdebt 4 years ago from Illinois Author

Wow James. I'm sorry you have so much hate inside. I hope Jesus is able to guide you to the right path.

I was a follower of yours but I just unfollowed you. The only other person I've unfollowed on here also had a tendency to want everyone to know how smart they are.

If you currently follow me, please unfollow. Seriously. I don't want your personal attacks or abuse.


laurathegentleman profile image

laurathegentleman 4 years ago from Chapel Hill, NC

Very interesting. I am respectful of others' beliefs, but some of them ARE pretty far-fetched. I think a lot of it has to due with issues with our education system, a lack of critical thinking and (apparently not-so-) common sense, and influence from the media.

I think that perhaps some of the things you mentioned aren't quite as far-fetched as others. Things like reincarnation can be directly influenced by one's religion or personal beliefs. However, I do think you've made an interesting and valid point! I'd love to talk to some of the people who believe some of those outrageous things and see why they believe them!


marriedwithdebt profile image

marriedwithdebt 4 years ago from Illinois Author

Hey Laura. It is hard to say you disagree with something without offending someone's beliefs or religion. Somewhere there is a religion that believes the Earth is the center of the galaxy, and they are mad at me.

I'm not someone who is shy to call someone out for their beliefs, because those are attributes that can be controlled.

I DESPISE discrimination against things that can't be changed, like race, gender, sexuality, etc.


cclitgirl profile image

cclitgirl 4 years ago from Western NC

Well said, marriedwithdebt. I know it's not my conversation - with James, I mean - but if you can't be open minded, then A. why are you writing? and B. going around talking about peoples IQs is insulting. Good for you for publishing that biased rhetoric - it makes for great INTELLECTUAL conversation for the rest of us. The world needs less vituperative fools that can't accept the fact that it takes ALL KINDS to make the world go 'round. Sheesh.


marriedwithdebt profile image

marriedwithdebt 4 years ago from Illinois Author

Thanks cclitgirl. The IQ thing was disturbing, especially since it has racial undertones.


SanXuary 4 years ago

I think your assessment stinks and their is probably a whole group that would consider you a moron in their survey. You would probably label people who consider meat harmful to their health as morons or medications as honourable and proven regardless of their side effects. Anyone who offers proof from there agenda and money that is paid to convince the general public is probably truth to you. Any one who does not believe in your agenda is probably a moron or mentally ill. It probably has not occurred to you that trusting in anything said in this country is no longer worthy of being known, especially anything to do with politics and surveys.


marriedwithdebt profile image

marriedwithdebt 4 years ago from Illinois Author

@SanXuary

Ha!

The only people I consider morons are those who call things that can't and haven't been proven "facts." Meat has been proven to be harmful to some people's health, so why would I think that?

While you are here, please tell me more about myself because you are obviously psychic. Seriously, please??

I have no agenda, other than to see just what it takes to get the conspiracy weirdos riled up. You will never meet anyone more contrarian and distrustful of "authority" than me.

I agree with you that anyone who trusts everything fed to them is a moron.

But............................anyone who says you can't trust anyone (like you did) is probably mentally ill, so I'm afraid I can't support you there.

I urge you to always look between the extremes for the truth, my friend. Extremism is one of our biggest problems, and I hate to see someone falling into that type of intellectual laziness.

If you seriously believe that "anything said in this country is no longer worthy of being known," I suggest you seek some counseling.

But, if you are just a college-aged kid, I understand where you are coming from.

Don't worry...you'll grow out of it.

(PS: You wrote a Hub about being a "Real Man." If you want to debate me, don't hide behind wimpy words like "probably" so much. "You probably do this" and "you probably think that" makes me think you don't even believe what you are saying. Man up and have some confidence.)


SanXuary 4 years ago

Coming from a Political Consultant why would you survey people since you already know that their opinions does not matter? You have already proven this country is full of Morons after they robbed them, bribed them and took them for most of what they got. You should stick to K street and keep buying your so called opinion. All those so called morons are not going to be so stupid when they finally get tired of the fact that they have no opinion. Kudos on the George Bush comments not only did he destroy his own country, he destroyed his own party as well.

Out of curiosity why would believing in re-incarnation or the World ending in your life time make you a Moron? I am sure that doing all these surveys that you could bring up better material. Some people actually believe that their vote counts, Some people believe that 50 more years of Republicans and Democrats is going to actually represent the best interest of the people and not corporations and criminals. I wish it was a conspiracy but Enron was not one and either was the 16 trillion dollar robbery. Tell me how well would the politicians do on your survey. Apparently, they do not seem to know math but our only good enough to count there own bank accounts.


marriedwithdebt profile image

marriedwithdebt 4 years ago from Illinois Author

@SanXuary - This is almost funny to say, but I work in politics, but hate politics.

We survey them because it generally is an accurate way to gauge political matchups. Not so accurate, apparently, if the survey is about witches.

The ones I cited were not ones I was involved in, but rather well known national organizations.

What I meant by "believing" in these things is that people take them as facts. Once these things are proven to be true, I will believe them also.

I am not involved in Federal politics in Washington DC, nor do I ever care to be. That system is broken beyond repair.


SanXuary 4 years ago

We can not prove the truth and our hands are tied in even finding out. Perhaps they are not proven, but I like to think that believing in something else is better then completely giving up. I like to believe that we will have our revenge in the next World and these cowards of dishonesty will pay a terrible price. Your a good man and honest and yes we have a nation of mentally ill people but we created many of them. We have millions who have strange beliefs and many of them support their own destruction. I choose to not care until enough people do but always test the water. I believe everyone should have sanxaury hence the name.


Billught. 4 years ago

It's worse than you tho

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