When Did Dumb Become Smart?

When did anti-intellectualism become cool? I graduated from high school in 1967 and I remember that the smart kids were still looked up to back then. What happened to change that and when did it happen? It seems like it happened at our top political level first twenty some years ago? Our US politicians certainly seem to epitomize the the idea of it's cool to be dumb.

We have a president who grins at not being able to pronounce common English. In my state of PA politicians campaigned and were elected last time around on a platform of cleaning up the corruption in the state government. Then they went and did the same things the people they defeated had been doing because they think we're too dumb to do anything about it.

Politicians lie about their records and they continue to lie again even when shown a video tape of their lies. They have no respect for us. They think we only care about the Britney's and Paris's of the world. They think if they continue to say their lies over and over, we'll believe them. The economy is in deep trouble – our political leader's answer is to send everyone a check and we'll be happy. Our financial institutions are collapsing – heck – we can just borrow from Asia and the Middle East. We can always put off paying by borrowing – according to our smart leaders. I mean, what's the chance of a financial meltdown?

Our leaders tell us that the main stream media is biased. Well, that's very well true but not the way they are telling you. Main stream media are all owned by major corporations who have their own agendas – and it's not truth, justice and the American way.

Too many people only read The National Enquirer, People and US magazine. If you want to read those, I'm not criticizing you. The problem arises when that's all you read. The problem is when haven't picked up a book since high school and you're not teaching your children the value of reading, the value of education and the value of learning. The problem is that too many people look at education as a cost rather than an investment.

Our world – not just our country is at the point of  needing massive breakthroughs in finding ways to build new infrastructures, create new energy sources, while at the same time treating our planet with respect and love so it will continue to exist long after we are gone.

We're not doing that now. Too many people are more interested in whether their football team won yesterday than they are with the fact that two of the largest US financial corporations fell apart yesterday in a way that will impact us all for a couple of generations.

But, I have hope that it's people like you – the entrepreneur, small business owner and sales and marketing professional – who can and are implementing the changes we need. Every day I hear of examples of people who are creating new companies, developing innovations in their garages and basements, and working on big ideas. At least once a week, I get a letter from someone with a new idea that isn't focused on taking and making money but on creating value. Do that and the money will come.

I'm waiting for the day when I read about a group of parents that have marched into a Board of Education and said "Enough is enough. We're not going to let a small group of people who think it is smart to be dumb to run our schools anymore. We're not going to let small minds who made their own decision to stop learning years ago to choose what library books our children are allowed to read. We're not going to let you dumb down the curriculum anymore. We're in charge – not you. And, we're taking back our schools."

I'm waiting for the day when we chose leaders based on their ability to lead, their ability to unite and their ability to help us all help make this a better world. It can happen. It's people like you running your small businesses, creating value for your clients, writing blogs, talking to your family and neighbors who can and will do it.

I believe it. 

Read what my friend, Seth Godin, writes today about today's stock market and what really matters.

6 thoughts on “When Did Dumb Become Smart?”

  1. I graduated from a pretty brainy public high school in Houston, TX, in 1976 and it was “Smart to be dumb” then. If you were smart, you got picked on by the jocks and the popular kids. But there were enough smart kids that we all kind of hung out together.
    So, based on our two data points, the change happened between wherever you were at school in 1967, and Houston in 1976.
    Any hypotheses?

  2. Bob,
    I hear you. I can testify the same tendencies of decay of intellectualism here from New Zealand. But at the same time, more and more people start seeing behind the haphazard facade that is the political spectacle. I think, people get more and more polarized.
    I also noticed a growing trend for small, sustainable businesses that don’t set out to become the next Microsoft, etc. (We tend to notice it partly because we are doing a business along these lines and are constantly seeing people sharing the same ideas).
    The vision of a group of our friends is to create a growing money-less network, going back to exchanging goods (i.e., garden), expertise and services on a low level.
    When I grew up in Germany, running a family business without a plan for “growth” but instead, intended to sustainably support the family was quite normal. Today, everybody would call you nuts if you wanted to set out to “just” sustain your lifestyle and not become rich along the way. But there is a slow shift in thinking where people start to realize that this is actually the only real way to sustainability. Infinite growth is an illusion.
    Get eye-to-eye with your customers or clients, let them know that you care for them (only if you really do, though) and they’ll care for you.
    Jo
    Ya-Ya House of Excellent Teas

  3. I don’t think dumb really took over.
    I simply think they have the means to shout louder.
    I would say that smart guys have been educated to be so polite that they still can’t believe how dumb the dumbs can be.

  4. Robert – I was tempted to say the changes began in the 70’s with the boomers becoming jaded with the entire Vietnam situation – but I don’t think so. I do believe larger cities (like Houston) experienced the dumbing down earlier. At this point, it’s not the kids I worry about. It’s their parents and grandparents who complain about the high cost of public school education while spending thousands of dollars on an NFL seat license to have the privilege to spend thousands more. That’s only one example. What are your thoughts? Are you concerned about marketers lying over and over again and expecting us to believe them?
    Jo – good to get a New Zealand viewpoint. Yesterday a friend and I were discussing a wonderful small local restaurant run by a couple from Belgium. It’s located in an old historical farmhouse and the couple live upstairs and the restaurant is down. My friend posited that perhaps the business was good enough for the couple to move out and expand the business. I asked why. My thoughts, as you describe your experience, are if you have a good business that supports your family and you love your work – why try to expand and take on more headaches. Thanks again for you input.
    Andrea – Yep, too many smart people are too reticent in shouting. One of the things that keeps me awake at night is wondering why more people aren’t standing up and shouting (like in the movie Network), “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more.” BP

  5. Bob,
    staying small is not only about avoiding more headaches. Usually, more tasks are delegated to people far less motivated or educated than the original owners/founders. We’ve seen it with a number of restaurants which were marvelous in the beginning stages, but as soon as they became popular (due to the high quality of their offerings), they made their service “more efficient” (we literally ended up with the dinner on our table less than 10 minutes after ordering it) and started franchising. As you might guess, we haven’t been back since.
    There is (and should be) a deep level of satisfaction that comes with running a small business without exorbitant growth plans. One of the most enjoyable aspects I find is the direct communication with your customers. If you have, say 100-200 regulars that keep your business stable, and a steady number of sporadic/one-off customers, you can have a very personal relationship with the ones that enjoy it. You can’t do that if your business is growing to 1000 or 10000.
    I realize that most entrepreneurs don’t want this, anyway. But an awful lot of people (read: customers) enjoy a personal treatment. If you’re selling computer components, your customers most likely don’t care about interaction because they’re looking for the cheapest price. But if you’re selling a very specialized and non-standardized product (tea in our case), then trust and personal interaction is very high on the priority list.
    @Andrea: I think I have to agree. There are plenty of smart people around but just like in high school, where the dumbest and rudest people are often the “leaders”, it’s all about who yells the loudest. Be it politeness or modesty, clever people (unfortunately) are often rather in the background than the front.
    Jo
    Ya-Ya House of Excellent Teas

  6. Jo – great comments! When I first started in business I wanted to build the next General Motors (little did I know how they’d turn out). However, over the years, I realized it wasn’t about how big I could get but how much I loved what I was doing. When my software company was at its largest, I was at my unhappiest as the CEO.
    I love your comment, “There is (and should be) a deep level of satisfaction that comes with running a small business without exorbitant growth plans.”
    I’ve been seeing that in the lives and businesses of friends and clients over the last 10 years. 9-11 changed many peoples’ perspective here in the US. Being the biggest company and/or having lots of “stuff” isn’t important for many people these days. I am guessing the current financial crises here will have create even more small business owners with a new outlook on both business and life.

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