Sep 29, 2010

Improvement for the Worse

As I sawed through the newspaper, catching up on how Bristol Palin faired on "Dancing with the Stars" and why I should consider installing a flat screen TV on my deck, I found myself staring pensively out the window, contemplating our current status as a nation.

We got ourselves off to a good start, that's for sure. We were founded as a nation of do-it-yourselfers, and a little self-conscious about our home-spun roots. The pewter craft of colonial America (yes, Paul Revere, et al) was a calculated, premeditated movement to demonstrate to England that we, too, could make nice stuff, even if we were a frontier colony. We also worked hard early on to establish colleges and universities that could rival Cambridge and Oxford, to prove that Europe did not have an exclusive on knowledge.

But I think what we are best know for is not this little chip-on-the-shoulder, but rather innovation. That old "Yankee ingenuity". We built the Golden Gate bridge. We settled the frontier (with atrocities along the way), built the railroads and cities and then rose to feed the world, according to the history books.

Sadly, we seem to be lacking that sort of drive and ethic these days. Our bridges are falling down, our pipelines are leaking, steel is made in Japan and bikes are made in Taiwan, and the pyramid scheme of housing was brought down by lenders who didn't understand the basic concept of risk.

A friend sent a link to a recent post on Gin and Tacos that I think sums it all up better than I can. The link is worth reading, but here's a toothsome quote:
"The real issue, and I mean the real, honest-to-god Problem With The World Today, is that Americans as a nation are dumb. Really fucking dumb."
I think that author is on to something. I don't stop with the premise that most Americans are simply stupid, however. Rather, I assert that we have made ourselves functionally stupid.

I think we've improved our lives enough, and eliminated enough predators, to effectively nullify the role of common sense and situational awareness in self preservation, therefore we are simply de-evolving into idiocracy. Honestly, the only predator I face on a regular basis is traffic, like the bus in the bike lane at the top of this post. If I can manage that, I really don't need to fear for my life for the rest of the day.

I think I am right on this, but I am not sure what the call to action is here. There might be a few basic actions that most of us can take with relative ease that might help to stem this troubling tide and help make the nation safer for thought and craft. Things like:

  • Try not to live further away from your work than you could walk or ride a bike;
  • Grow at least a little of your own food;
  • Read more and watch TV less;
  • Learn to knit, sew, can and do basic repairs by yourself;
  • Cook from scratch, and;
  • Cooperate with neighbors and share resources like snowblowers and lawn mowers.
These actions would be more hassle, but the planning that would be involved would be good for our brains, the skills gained would benefit our arts and letters, and the collaboration involved would be good for our communities and neighborhoods. 

And it would be a lot more sustainable than what most of us are doing currently.


  1. Nice rant.
    I rant often about the sorry state of our nation and threaten to move to Canada, but alas all my money is sunk in a house not worth the foundation it rests on. Stupid, stupid Americans...
    I was actually thinking of some similar things on my ride tonight...a post shall come.

  2. Nice rant seconded.

    Ironically, I was just reading on the interwebs today a story about the top 10 reasons the U.S. is losing its global influence. They don't specifically mention dumb people, but...,ewz,fxi,eeb,jjm,^dji,xle

  3. I have not done a good rant for awhile, it seems. I have another one brewing on our chronic lack of investment in R&D and O&M, which will ultimately lead to the twilight of American innovation and the collapse of the empire, respectively. This started as a conversation with a co-worker as we were driving to a sales call in Boston. They were kind of impressed and a little surprised that I meditate on this type of thing, declaring it to be "pretty dark".

  4. Snak,
    Great post and I agree with a lot of. We have become dumb and lazy expecting everything to a remote control or phone call away. I recently took a job that is 20 miles away from my home and while I can multi-modal it, I am trying to get my old job back where I can work from home 100% of the time.
    Take care,

  5. Sigrid - I'll suggest the title "Trapped in the Land of the Free" for your pending post.