- Politics and Social Issues
Everyday Dumbness: episode 1 of an infinite series
Dumb and getting Dumber
This isn't about the bigger stupidities. Any newspaper on any given day is a rich source of material on that subject. Instead, these are just a few of the myriad examples of humanity's drift towards idiocy.
1. My village has a Co-operative Supermarket. Nothing fancy, but a useful store, with a large car-park. In one corner of the car-park is a handy recycling facility, where you can drop off bottles, cans, plastic cartons, newspapers and cardboard in different sections, which the council collects (usually waiting until every container is overflowing, but that's another story ). I regularly witness complacent middle-aged couples driving their 4 x 4s (or SUVs in transatlantic parlance) up to the recycling point. . . and leaving the engine running while they virtuously dispose of their cans and bottles. It's a beautifully dumb exercise in carbon-balancing futility.
2. We've bred a generation (OK, maybe three) of unthinking consumerist brand-worshippers whose slavishness is alarming. Consider the cult of Apple and the iPod, iPad, iPhone, iCan'tBeSeenWithAnyOtherBrand. It was an empire built on the sales of an apparently stylish but unremarkable mp3 player, with mediocre sound quality and risible earphones. The company's genius was to brand not only the player, but the music itself (iTunes).
An analogy might be Philips or Sony creating a cool cassette player in the 1960s, but then insisting that every tape you played through it should be supplied by them, or at least by a subsidiary donating a large percentage of the profits to them, or at the very least that the cassettes should be vetted by them to make sure you didn't record them off the radio. Did that happen? My memory is a little flawed, but I suspect not.
3. Water, water everywhere, far too much to drink. Somewhere we (by which I mean everyone except me and my astute readers) got it into their head that gulping down huge amounts of water at all times was imperative to maintain even a basic level of health. In fact our bodies have a handy monitoring device for telling us when to drink. I believe the technical term is thirst .
What exacerbates this mostly harmless if dumb obession, is that these people insist on necking bottled water, despite the fact that, in most of the developed world, tap water is free and healthy. Companies selling bottled water are treating their customers like idiots, and frankly the customers deserve it. My favourite example of collective aqua-idiocy concerns the Coca-Cola brand of Dasani bottled water. Dasani had a disastrous launch in the UK when it emerged that the company was basically treating the local tap water in its Sidcup plant and bottling it. In 2004 there was enough vestigial consumer intelligence remaining in the UK to find this unacceptable. It didn't help the product launch when it subsequently emerged that Dasani water contained bromate, a suspected carcinogen. Dasani was pulled from the UK market, but there is no shortage of other brands of botttled water on the supermarket shelves, to fuel the ignorant rehydration fetish.
4. Sticking with beverages, how many times have you been at a fast food restaurant quietly eavesdropping on the person in front of you placing their order? The employee is just entering it into the cash register: "So that's the megameal, bacon bits, mayo and cheese on the burger, extra side of fries and onion rings, double-chocolate sundae with sprinkles. What drink would you like with that?"
"Diet Coke. Make sure it's the diet one, OK?"
5. You could care less right? Wrong. If you are completely indifferent, then you couldn't care less, as we all know in the birthplace of English. How did this perfectly simple idiom become twisted on its journey over the ocean, so that Americans habitually utter their meaningless version without questioning whether it makes sense?
The argument in defence of the US version is that it is blatant sarcasm, along the lines of "tell me about it", but it seems more likely that it's just an example of a repeated error of understanding. In any case, such is the British subjugation to American usage that it's only a matter of time before I overhear some UK teen on a bus say "I could care less" and then we're all going to hell in a handcart.