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Are you an idiot? Depends on what you read- Or don't read

Updated on April 10, 2012

It’s ironic, given the seemingly endless intellectual pretensions of some elements in society, that publicly being an idiot or group of idiots is so common. US politics, and the “reporting” of US politics is an easy example. Many of the “debates” in US politics couldn’t be held by people with whole numbers in their IQs. They’re absurd, as anyone who’s ever done even cursory reading on their subjects is grimly aware.

These people don’t even listen to what they’re saying themselves, let alone what others are saying, and you could win a lot of money in bets on whether they understand either. You couldn’t, however, win a cent on whether they make any effort to understand. It’s now possible for a US Senator to say that tax cuts will have no effect on revenue, in the middle of the biggest Depression since 1929 and in the depths of the biggest economic hole the US has ever been in, and be taken seriously. Did anyone in mainstream media point out the contradiction? No.

So how do they get away with it? The short answer is lousy comprehension training in most education systems and a culture of visual stimuli where the attention span receives incredibly simple, 1+1 information. Reading is about comprehension. If you’re not much of a reader, you’re not very well prepared for the information you receive, particularly now, when the bandwidths of written materials are so wide.

If you don’t read, you quickly run out of options when trying to understand anything. If you read trashy novels, your comprehension is hardwired into scene setting, macro-based sex and “passionate” blurb, which is sweatshop work for writers and pure sugar for readers. Your extended logic literally goes from verb to verb, “…said…did…asked…belched.” That’s how you know what’s happening.

This sort of material is useful if you’re planning to become an idiot sometime in the future, like in the next 10 minutes. As training for understanding anything, it’s utterly useless. It also puts people at a severe disadvantage in practically any situation where comprehension of actions is involved. You can’t handle what you can’t understand. When you meet bright kids whose vocabularies are almost suffocated by dumbed- down “youth culture” (What youth culture? It’s more like grocery shopping.) and to put it politely vague educational priorities, you have to wonder whether there’s going to be a 22nd century.

The damage to cultures caused by Dumb Reading has been horrendous. In England and the US, where reading was a sort of cultural joy, the cultures have basically fallen to pieces. Between compulsory sleaze and stunningly trivial media, the amount of written material has increased by a factor of millions, but the value of the materials has shrunk by factors of billions. Catch 22 has been replaced by Bozo Does Fresno, and that’s an understatement.

The big indictment- What you don’t read

What you don’t read is another indicator of where your brain isn’t going. This is a checklist of possible reading subjects and their basic values to readers-

Biographies- Some of the most incredible books ever written, bios are very high value and in some cases so astonishing they’re like a full spread of training in comprehension, where simply understanding the situations is an education.

History- To ignore history is to ignore humanity. This is hard information, critically important to understanding the hows, whys and working realities of the world. (Except when you read those never-sufficiently-damned bogus histories written by dunghills with agents and political sponsors, that is.)

Science fiction- Just about everything ever written in sci-fi, until the 70s, when it became “just another middle class trade”, was based on real thinking about the future. Now, you’d think the future was illegal and/or something coming out on Xbox sometime. Thinking ahead and understanding the issues is the core role of science fiction, and it’s been replaced by nothing.

Penetrant, insightful books- These books cover a range of subjects, almost anything. Barbarians at the Gate, a classic of American business culture, Advise and Consent, and a horde of other great books were the classics in this genre. Fact or fiction, they explore areas not usually accessible to readers- If you can find them.

The ancient books- There are a lot of old, fabulous books which are stunning in their depth. Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War is a true epic of humanity, and covers one of the most vicious and unrelenting civil wars in history, including the American, Chinese, Russian and Spanish civil wars. The old Chinese books are fascinating examples of a culture which was already complaining about the rat race, 3000 years ago, as well as extraordinary insights into a culture which was for centuries the most advanced in the world.

Poetry- This is a form of writing where economy and agility of expression is a major force in comprehension. Its depth is usually overlooked by prose-based modern “literature”, but it remains one of the strongest forms of development of ideas and use of metaphor for comprehension.

Classics- Even the idea of reading classics has been slandered as some sort of literary accomplishment, as if reading Homer, Joyce or the library of other readers was some sort of trophy. These books are invaluable, not because they’re considered “classics”, but because of their substance. This is the thinking which was the basis of the rise of humanity from pure squalor as a direct result of comprehension. It’s also a guide to the history of people trying to comprehend their own times and environments.

So- Are you an idiot?

It really does boil down to how much exposure to information you have, relative to your ability to comprehend it. If you can’t comprehend or don’t know how to understand things, you’ll be considered an idiot, whether you are or not. You may be innocent of deliberate idiocy. You may not have consciously set out to be unable to understand things. You may not even want to be an idiot, despite peer pressure and the restrictions of an extraordinarily dumb society.

You can, however, consider yourself to be an idiot if you deliberately don’t develop your ability to comprehend by not reading. The brutal fact is that comprehension is a survival skill, for people, societies and cultures. You can’t handle what you don’t understand. Read, learn and live.


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    • mollymeadows profile image

      Mary Strain 

      6 years ago from The Shire

      Paul, I was nodding as I read. I've stopped watching the news anymore because it's more than half entertainment and personal opinion. Newscasters appear on game/talk shows and can't/won't shut up about their own opinions. Remember when reporters just reported? I miss those days terribly. I used to send emails to the broadcasters, but I've given up.

    • Paul Wallis profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Wallis 

      6 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thanks, Kathleen. Some things need saying.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      I'm literally on my feet applauding! Well said. Bravo. You are what you read - or more significantly - what you don't read.

    • Paul Wallis profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Wallis 

      6 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thanks, Charles. The problem is that your professor is right. Grammar should be a reflex. Historical writing also has quite a few built in technicalities that readers educated in this soggy mess of language often don't notice, but the professionals do.

      Limburger and Orally are classic cases of the lowest common denominator in practice. Follow the nouns and the adjectives, kiddies, not the gaga logic. They can't even defend themselves without empty rhetoric. The trouble is that those ratings are as much a measure of literacy as anything else.

    • profile image

      Charles Hilton 

      6 years ago

      Love this hub!

      I think the problem is largely due to our institutions pandering to the lowest common denominator, thereby lowering the bar for everyone.

      Many years ago, my Business 101 professor told us that even the Wall Street Journal is written on an eighth-grade level. Since then, it's probably been dumbed-down to a sixth-grade level.

      During one of my Writing for History classes, the professor was complaining about the upcoming new requirement of teaching basic grammar to students who should have learned basic grammar back in grammar school.

      Perhaps what irritates me most is when I hear television and radio talking-heads mispronouncing basic words and using poor syntax. The Chattering Class is supposed to be one of the guardians of language, but, they've been falling asleep at the wheel for decades, now. Ratings have replaced quality as the false standard of excellence, which explains the success of such demagogues as Rush Limbaugh and Bill O' Reilly, et al.

      Way up and across!

    • Paul Wallis profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Wallis 

      6 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      My pleasure, pdhast7. My parents almost qualified as incessant readers, literally round the clock, sometimes. Glad someone in the profession saw the comments about the seemingly endless issues with history, too.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Another excellent, inflammatory, and oh so appropriate hub. As the child of two voracious readers who grew up to be a professor of history, I simply could not agree with you more. SHARING

    • Paul Wallis profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Wallis 

      6 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      xstatic, when you see something hideous, you can either do something about it, or be as silent as all these very stupid lambs. I'll do whatever I can to bring down this damn edifice.

    • Paul Wallis profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Wallis 

      6 years ago from Sydney, Australia


      I've seen those SATs. A nasty, El Cheapo agenda at best, and that's being polite. The good news is that every disaster has a recovery period. This is a truly lost time. It will end, but only when obsolescence forces it and common sense and common interest enforce some sanity.

      Thanks for the kind words, much appreciated.

    • Faceless39 profile image

      Kate P 

      6 years ago from The North Woods, USA

      I absolutely love this hub, and I've gotta say it's refreshing to see someone unafraid to rock the apple cart. It's also a pleasure to experience proper grammar!

      I do agree with your points, as they make total sense, and are well argued. However, I would also add that, at least here in the US, the entire system is geared toward indoctrination, government agenda, and mass brainwashing. That includes, on a large scale, the "information" given out by the mass media, and in addition, the "facts" we are taught from government textbooks in school.

      Critical thinking is becoming scarce, and it's really a pity. When thinking ceases, our rights tend to slip away. This is happening right in front of my eyes, and all I can do is plead for people to read and open their eyes. Alas, they system has created many mindless fools.

      That said though, there are plenty of us who do read a wide range of subjects, and whose parents were readers, and who, when we have kids, will raise them to read (and think) as well.

      Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting. You've also gained a new follower.

    • xstatic profile image

      Jim Higgins 

      6 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

      Tough love for non-readers or readers of trash! This is told as it is, no punches pulled. Unfortunately, it is all true. Don't be an idiot the man says, Read selectively and well. Great Hub! I hope it is taken to heart. Up and shared!


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