Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Reverend Worthington Pyle Said

"It's God's plan, Edward, that each generation of Americans will become stupider than the last. Dummies will graduate from college and give us the laws of the land. Morons will carry the day. God in his wisdom will see to it, because an intelligent population would be too restless in the kind of culture we're developing... We've become an over-populated, leisure-time culture that's getting stupider by the minute. Two hundred and fifty million people would get in each other's way, don't you see? Brains need elbow room. Ignorance doesn't care." The Reverend Worthington Pyle, The Dean's List, Jon Hassler.

I let Reverend Worthington Pyle, one of writer Jon Hassler's more endearing characters, speak for me on this issue. I think we have devolved into a mass of really ignorant people too lazy to take the country in hand, shake it up and make things right. Even the people who have virtually nothing have opted for the "I've got mine" philosophy and each segment of society has defined a social class it can look down upon.

The really rich people--millionaires don't count anymore--operate at a level of stratospheric detachment. They have their own rules, their own laws, their own mores and behavioral patterns. They rule through wealth and we let them.

The moderately rich are happy in their McMansions and gated communities. They're too busy trying to become really rich to be involved in the day-to-day running of a complex nation.

The merely well-off are threatened by the economy and hanging on for dear life to what they have. It's dicey out there with modest investments losing value.

The middle class feels truly defenseless. The cabin in the woods, the one-bedroom condo by the beach, are for sale with no buyers in sight. It wasn't supposed to happen this way. The middle class followed the rules, worked hard, saved, sent its kids to college, put money in its IRAs, paid down its mortgage, and in spite of its best efforts, the system collapsed. The middle-class is left holding the bag, too cowed by the prospect of losing more to make much of a stir and somehow persuaded it was fortunate not to have it all taken away.

The lower middle-class is drowning in credit debt--new cars, Jetskis, bass boats, motorcycles, $1000-a-day visits to Disneyworld for a family of five, Visa and American Express balances that represent a third of a working family's annual income.

The poor, as always, are screwed.

The problem with all this, as notes Reverend Pyles, is that "ignorance does not care." The British poet Thomas Gray wrote in his 1742 poem Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College: "Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise." What we have set up is a system that fosters ignorance and more often than not punishes wisdom. We have become floaters, not swimmers. We no longer value elbow room and are content to walk with our arms obediently by our sides.

I've always maintained that the United States is a very young country, an upstart that had some good ideas--democracy being the foremost--but no follow through. It pains me to accept that, "Dummies will graduate from college and give us the laws of the land. Morons will carry the day." But it appears to be more and more likely.

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