Bill Maher: New Rule: Smart President ? Smart Country

And before I go about demonstrating how, sadly, easy it is to prove the dumbness dragging down our country, let me just say that ignorance has life and death consequences. On the eve of the Iraq War, 69% of Americans thought Saddam Hussein was personally involved in 9/11. Four years later, 34% still did. Or take the health care debate we’re presently having: members of Congress have recessed now so they can go home and “listen to their constituents.” An urge they should resist because their constituents don’t know anything. At a recent town-hall meeting in South Carolina, a man stood up and told his Congressman to “keep your government hands off my Medicare,” which is kind of like driving cross country to protest highways.

I’m the bad guy for saying it’s a stupid country, yet polls show that a majority of Americans cannot name a single branch of government, or explain what the Bill of Rights is. 24% could not name the country America fought in the Revolutionary War. More than two-thirds of Americans don’t know what’s in Roe v. Wade. Two-thirds don’t know what the Food and Drug Administration does. Some of this stuff you should be able to pick up simply by being alive. You know, like the way the Slumdog kid knew about cricket.

Huffington Post: New Rule: Smart President ? Smart Country

I mostly agree with this, except for this line:

“There’s a lot of populist anger directed towards Washington, but you know who concerned citizens should be most angry at? Their fellow citizens.”

Yes and no. Yes, we should be angry at our fellow citizens. But there are entrenched powers with a vented interest in keeping the country dumb. Not that that’s any excuse.


  1. I think these problems would be here, more or less, even if nobody were trying to keep folks dumb. And I think Maher’s wrong to blame his fellow citizens. If I.Q. is mostly heritable, they can’t, for the most part, help being stupid.

    In democracy smart guys can’t get elected because the voters can’t relate to them. When one happens to slip by and get elected, nothing can get done because they are working with the kind of people the voters can relate to.

    Seems to me like it’s an intrinsic problem with democracy.

  2. I don’t think raw fluid intelligence really has much to do with the stupidity of America. “Ignorance” is actually the more appropriate term. Many of these same people who couldn’t find Iraq on a map, name a branch of government, or think Africa is a country, can do things like identify by site the make, model, and year of a wide variety of sports cars, give an informed opinion analysis of their favorite sports team’s outlook for the season, design and build an intricate cabinet system, and accomplish many other cognitively demanding activities.

    So no, I don’t think any inheritable IQ traits are to blame here (even assuming IQ is inheritable).

    That said, I also don’t think that this sort of ignorance would go away if there weren’t elites out there doing their damnedest to keep these people stupid as fuck. It’s a dual problem – the ignorant and those that exploit and encourage ignorance.

  3. Klint, I’d suggest you check out a few I.Q. studies. The ones I’m familiar with show I.Q. as being about 70-5% heritable, and I’d be interested to hear if you find anything significantly different, up or down.

    Maher’s complaint wouldn’t even matter if the masses weren’t given so much power. If I.Q. is largely heritable and most people are dumb, it’s not a matter of ignorance. They aren’t blank slates victimized by their environment. These findings undermine many of our assumptions about democracy.


    The problem, as I wrote above, isn’t low IQs anyway. The problem is how people choose to apply their intelligence.

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