Saturday, October 16, 2004

The Dumbing of the American People

Let's consider a notion: people are rational beings, that exhibit parsimony in their behavior; they will learn from their past experiences and apply this knowledge to future situations. Given these propositions, we must conclude that a parsimonious drive will tend to eliminate unnecessary considerations in many different situations.

Take, for example, driving your car. We've learned that when we hit the brake, the car will decelerate, and the gas will accelerate it. We normally don't consider if they will function at all, we take it for granted that they will. This might cause an accident if the brakes spontaneously fail and we're not prepared or able to take necessary measures.

Expanding this logic from this sort of hypothetical to a broader category of phenomena, we can understand this sort of modification between cause and effect. This sort of thing is natural, but may become pernicious if it lulls us into a false sense of security, or leads to a more categorical modification of behavior. I believe this is the explanation behind the irresponsibility bemoaned in contemporary society.

People spill hot drinks on themselves and reap rewards in the courts of justice for their carelessness. Others use tobacco and do the same, and the process doesn't come close to stopping there, for the typical consumer in America has to pay precious little heed to the warning Caveat Emptor, thanks to the grand benevolence of our government nannies and caretakers.

People aren't stupid, and if it's demonstrated that they don't need to be responsible for their actions, they'll be increasingly irresponsible. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy in that that which was expected was generated by the response to the expectation. By short-circuiting the connection between an activity (say, putting a searing-hot beverage between your legs while driving) and a consequence (sterility, or at least a bit of pain) with the promise of compensation, we only encourage this sort of stupidity, and so long as we permit it as a society, we have no right to complain of it.

It may be intolerant to demand that a person bear the consequences of their own actions; indeed, under these circumstances, a great many may stand or fall under their own power. Moral censure can be like that. Nontheless, I find such a situation infinitely preferable to one in which the mean slowly regresses to the intellectual level of algae.

Ask yourselves, would it really be so terrible a world to live in?


Anonymous said...

We aren't getting dumber because people agitate for safety through lawsuits(if you want to look into the woman who burnt herself with macdonalds coffee, her compensation wasn't extravagant in the end, and macdonalds quit serving scalding coffee).

We're getting dumber because we're too complacent about our place on top of the international dogpile.

Tim said...

If you made an argument there, I'm too stupid to see it. You'll have to pull it out and set it down on the floor for me to see. Forgive my myopia. If you don't think that modifications of the cause-effect phenomenon are possible, then how do you explain human action in general? I'm only describing a particular category of action, one that involves poor decisions, and the factors that feed into and reinforce it.