The American Stupidity Epidemic

There is an epidemic in America.  It’s not one of obesity; although that is a problem and has been a problem.  It is not an epidemic of political polarization; although our viewpoints are becoming much more dichotomized.  It’s not an epidemic of violence and violent crimes; although violence is still a huge issue.  It’s not an epidemic of a decline in morals; although many would say that the country has lost its moral compass.  It’s not even an epidemic of Godlessness; although many believe that the US is no longer a Christian nation, and that certainly is a factor in the epidemic we are facing today.

The American Stupidity EpidemicThe epidemic that we are facing is that we are growing stupid.  Despite the fact that American adults are better educated than ever before; we are collectively becoming stupider.

We are Forgetting How to Think

I recently read the book Thinking for a Change by John C. Maxwell.  That book isn’t what spurred me to write this, but it has served to reinforce some of my observations.  I see these observations consistently on Facebook, and even in every day conversation.  Critical thinking, it seems, is no longer essential to human survival.

While social media is in no way an actual representation of real life, it does give us a glimpse into the inner working of a select few (although the sample is highly skewed).  It usually comes about as something like this:

User A: Intelligent Post that contains big words that many people don’t know.

User B: WTF does that word mean? UR just trying to sound smart!!!

Or how about this:

User A: Does anyone know the definition of the word “fainéant”?

User B: Is it that hard to Google the answer?

Rather than look up the word on Google, people have started to post their questions on social media.  It takes the same amount of time, but it requires critical thinking (something that can be “hard” or requires “effort”).

It is progressing far beyond looking up simple words, and encroaching even more into the area where if something is difficult, it simply is avoided.  People would rather zone out in front of Facebook, the computer, or the television than expand their minds.  We, as a nation, are forgetting how to think!

We are Forgetting How to be Civil

The first time I noticed how people with different viewpoints can act civilly toward each other was during sporting events in high school.  As “our” team was battling “their” team, the entire school would band together and be civil to each other (not to the other team of course).  I recognized that in the crowd cheering for the same team there were people that really did not like each other.  But united against a common enemy, we are suddenly able to be civil with one another.

I saw it again, on a larger scale, after 9/11.  The US was attacked, and suddenly the whole country was banded together, acting civilly toward each other, in an effort to defend against those that hated us.  It extended even further beyond the US borders when countries would lock arms in support of the US.  Despite major ideological differences, Today We are All Americans.

Where has that decency gone?  Why do we need a common enemy to be nice to each other?  It may just be what is thrust before us regularly, but it appears that civility has gone out the window.

Many years ago I came across a similar picture to the one below, and perhaps this is why it seems that many people are overall less civil than they used to be.

Greater Internet Dickwad Theory

Turning once again to social media, we see it over and over and over, despite the lack of anonymity in most cases.  For instance, someone screws up really badly.  Let’s say they’re a prominent member of a city, and they are caught embezzling money.  Overall, they are a decent person, they got caught up in lies and greed, and eventually everything collapsed.  The news articles about them have hundreds, sometimes thousands of comments berating, belittling, threatening, and demeaning that person.  There’s no civility, and if someone tries to post, “This is terrible! I hope he gets the help he needs!” they are condemned as well!

With forgetting how to be civil, we have forgotten how to forgive.  Every one of us has made mistakes, some are major.  We all have skeletons, some that could get us in legal trouble if uncovered.  We don’t have to approve; but we can forgive.

We are Forgetting How to be Alone

Being alone is different than being lonely.  Loneliness is deeper, and you can be lonely despite thousands of friends and constantly being around other people.  You can be alone, but not lonely; but you cannot be alone while around others.

This problem has one big source: social media.  Because we are constantly attached and connected, we are constantly “around” other people.  We can never truly break away and be alone as long as we are logged into our favorite Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram accounts (or whatever others there are, and whatever other will come along in future years).

Because we are constantly connected, and constantly comparing ourselves to others, we are beginning to feel inadequate.  Our lives aren’t as good as the people we follow.  It results in some serious mental illnesses that come up, and as a whole people are actually lonelier because they are connected to more people.  This loneliness can lead to depression, and the depression can lead to more feelings of loneliness.  Many try to overcome those feelings by spending more time on social media, and that starts the whole cycle over again.  It’s no wonder that more people are being diagnosed with depression than ever before!

We are always connected

But loneliness isn’t the same as being alone.  Loneliness is a mental state of mind, and being alone is physical state.  The two are actually fairly well connected.  Because we have forgotten how to simply be alone, we turn to our devices and social media when we can’t physically be with other people.  This leads to depression, feelings of loneliness, and other mental illnesses.

When we can once again learn that being alone is not a bad thing, we can curb loneliness and all the other issues that come along with it.

We are Forgetting How to be Still

Americans are busier than ever!  Or are we?  It depends on what you mean by “busy.”  If you are looking at how many hours we work each week, then no, we are not.  In fact, we work fewer hours than ever before.  But being busy isn’t all about doing a lot of work.

Learn to be stillModern appliances have made life much simpler than even just 100 years ago.  Take, for instance, the evolution of the washing machine.  In years past you would have to use a washboard and hand scrub every item of clothing.  You then rung the water from it, and hanged it to dry on a line.  Over time the washing machine was invented.  But it still wasn’t like it was today.  Many machines were not automatic the way we know them today.  Yes, they automatically washed the clothes, but they still had to be monitored.  Today, we have the luxury of tossing in a load of laundry and then moving right on to the next project until those little beeps tell us that it is time to transfer from one machine to the next.

We are busily going from one chore, to the next chore, to the sporting events, to the church functions, to dinner, to cleaning up, to not missing our favorite TV show, to snacks, to bedtime, to hurrying to work, to hurrying home, to… you get the point.  We are constantly moving from one task to the next.

While in the past we were forced to be still and wait for the task to finish, we don’t get that luxury anymore.  Similar to forgetting how to be alone, we are forgetting how to simply be still with our thoughts.  In fact, when we are forced to be still, the first thing we do is reach for our cell phones so we can check our news feed, “like” pictures on Instagram, or play the latest hot game that has come out.  Instead of being still with our thoughts, we feel like we always must be stimulated!

We are Being Overtaken by an Idea and a Device

The internet and smartphones have slowly crept into our lives and have gone from good things, to things that are making us stupider.  We literally have the expanse of human knowledge at our fingertips, and the vast majority of us use our devices to get into political arguments with strangers, and to look at other people’s (digital) lives and become depressed that they are doing better than us.  But the problem is actually a lot worse than many of us believe.

How many times per day do you check your phone?  You have a few minutes to spare, so you quick open Facebook.  You are using the bathroom so you have to scroll through pictures on Instagram.  You know there is nothing new on Facebook so you pull up Twitter, snapchat, whatsapp, tumblr, or any other site where you can digitally interact.  Even if nothing else is going on you have to have that stimulation, so you open the weather app and start looking at the long-term forecasts.

We are becoming stupider, because we can’t break away from our devices.  And most of us think that we don’t have a problem.

There have been a lot of studies on smartphone usage.  But in 2015 a group of people were tracked with their usage.  They made predictions on how much they used their phones, and then had an app that tracked their usage installed for the next two weeks.  It turns out that people check their phones 85 times every day, and spend around a third of their waking hours staring at the tiny pixels!  Looking back at their previous predictions, they use their phone twice as often as they thought they did.

Back in the 1990’s, when the internet entered into homes across America, experts quickly realized that it was addicting.  Now, when it’s in all of our pockets, it’s so addicting that most of us don’t know that we are addicted.

Let’s squash the stupidity epidemic by re-learning how to be still.

Re-Learn How to be Still

In today’s society, where if you aren’t constantly on the go you are seen as lazy, it is hard to be still.  If you sit with a cup of coffee or tea, and simply stare out the window for an extended period of time, you are labeled a weirdo (because we don’t know how to be civil anymore).  What many don’t realize is that those times of thinking, meditating, and being still are the times when your best ideas come to you.  It’s a time when your brain grows and expands.  It’s a time where your body is able to fight off diseases, and a time when you can strengthen your relationship with the Lord.

I mentioned that the inspiration for this article didn’t come from reading the book Thinking for a Change.  The inspiration actually came from 2 Timothy 2:4, where Paul says, “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.”  Pastor Jim at Emmanuel Baptist Church described that as, “A good soldier stays away from distraction” and he knows to sit and be still before the Lord.

And the Bible talks about it over, and over, and over.

Zechariah  2:13 – Be still before the Lord…

Psalm 46:10 – Be still and know that I am God…

Habakkuk 2:20 – The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent [still] before him.

1 Samuel 12:16 – Now then, stand still and see this great thing the Lord is about to do…

Exodus 14:13 –  … Stand firm [still] and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring…

Psalm 37:7 – Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him…

If you include times where we are advised to be quiet, calm, wait, and silent, the list is even longer.  There is a way to overcome the stupidity that is encroaching on all of our lives.  And it involves being still.

Don’t Be Stupid

The next time that you are bored, or the next time that you have a few minutes to spare, or the next time you are stuck in an elevator, in the bathroom, cooking dinner, sipping coffee, or don’t have anything else going on, think about these words.  Think about how you can overcome the stupidity that is overcoming the vast majority of those around you.

As you’re tempted to reach for your smartphone to check out the latest sports scores, political ramblings, vacation photos, or other inane updates, think about these words.  Imagine them whispered to you clearly and calmly.

“Be Still.”

Then look out the window, and simply be still.









1 Comment

  1. […] are getting stupider.  And I’m a firm believer it’s because we no longer think for ourselves.  Instead of taking […]

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