I’ve taken to watching Ancient Aliens sometimes because I like the historical puzzlers often introduced there. What I least like is the lurch to the conclusion that every historical or archeological conundrum may be sufficiently answered by putting a spacecraft from the Delta Quadrant on the ground. The other night I was really annoyed when these two assertions were made within five minutes of one another: a) that life could not have evolved on Earth without the Moon’s stabilizing influence on tides and axial wobble, and b) that ancient texts actually refer to a time when there was no Moon. Wa… wa… wait a minute, now! Who could have observed the moonless period and passed along that information if the Moon was needed for life to evolve? What looked like a Homeric text was quickly flashed across the screen; but Homer only mentions the Moon twice (in similes belonging to the Iliad), so I don’t know what the fleeting Greek hexameters were meant to peddle. I was reminded of how con artists will say they’re from the FBI and then flip out some toystore badge that they withdraw immediately.
Wildly presumptuous conclusions, internal contradictions within arguments, inadequate documentation… these are characteristics not just of offerings on the History Channel, but of pretty much every aspect of our culture (or our post-culture, as I call it). I heard an “expert” of some sort declare on TV the other night that our children grow brighter and brighter by the generation, and images of kids playing on smartphones appeared. If I slip on a pair of Nikes, does that make me faster than a barefooted Zulu?
Indeed, the case for our steadily dumbing down rests on the very proliferation of “devices” among us. They’re smart, all right, those chips and circuits. They do more and more of our thinking for us, to the point that our ability to string ideas together sensibly is beginning to atrophy. I had a girl in one of my classes last spring who had attended a writing class two years earlier as a freshman. I was very happy to see that she’s signed up near the end of her college work, because she had consistently made really sharp contributions in class when barely out of high school. Boy, did I ever miss the mark in that prediction! As a near-senior, she had become a dope and a nuisance, fiddling around on YouTube and tittering with her best friend as I tried to conduct discussions. She had lost all apparent regard for social propriety, for professional obligation, and for dedication to self-improvement—and, oh, by the way, her grammar had grown atrocious. After almost the full battery of undergraduate courses, she was preparing to enter the “educated adult mainstream” a worse writer and thinker than she had reached us.
This is only a graphic instance of a phenomenon that I see repeated year after depressing year. It’s one of the reasons I’ll be retiring soon. I can’t take it. You see, we educators egg this kind of thing on. Instead of demanding that students leave their i-gear and e-gadgets at the door, we require them to spend more and more time online. We tell the public that we’re “preparing America’s youth for the world of tomorrow”… or some such crap. Meanwhile, they think that research is chasing down a keyword phrase. They gather their news from the headlines that Google is pleased to flash before them when they power up. They learn to express allegiance or acquire a following by tweeting cliché one-liners and uploading photos of themselves mugging in front of some cliché venue. They have no depth and no originality… and we’re doing it to them, at an accelerated rate, all because a) we don’t wish to be thought Luddites and “flat-earthers”, b) our administrators are pushing all of it full-force (to ease more of us off the payroll and to elbow more contracts to their buddies and relations in tech), and c) we don’t have to work as hard if the children are punching buttons all period.
Is it any wonder that the line between documentary and cartoon is blurring? I guess the only meaningful question, in terms of our collective future, is whether we’ll be able to shift all thinking competency over to computers and robots before our own spiraling incompetency leaves us as dumb as a baked squash.