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The definitions are clear. Sometimes they're even harsh. In no case are they complimentary. "Fictitious or sham; feigned," reads the 1913 edition of Webster. "An imitation or copy of something, to be used as a substitute," it continues. "A thick-witted person; a dolt." WordNet says, "an ignorant or foolish person."

There was a time when ignorance and stupidity were to be avoided; those who lacking knowledge and the ability to use it were often doomed to lives of drudgery. Education might well be the greatest achievement of civilization and the availability of education to citizens without regard to their station in society is perhaps the greatest achievement of Western society. No normal, healthy person needs to be a dummy. Even liberty, which is widely regarded as the achievement of the West, is a byproduct of education and cannot be sustained without it. Without knowledge there can be no understanding and no less luminous a figure than Louis D. Brandeis observed that “[t]he greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.”

Avoiding being a dummy is not only possible as never before but researchers have been able to find that the single greatest predictor of good health and longevity is none other than education. In Inside the Brain, Revolutionary Discoveries of How the Mind Works (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 1997), author Ronald Kotulak explains, “Just as the food we eat gives our immune systems the strength to fight off life-threatening infectious germs, education protects us against bad choices.”

Alas, just as certain guys have amassed themselves together in an effort to justify their refusal to become men, there are others who hope to avoid the responsibility that comes with knowledge and liberty. They reason that being smart and staying that way is “just too hard.” They instead seek to justify wallowing in ignorance, perhaps even making targets of those who refuse to do so. They are, in the words of a dear friend of mine whose character was viciously attacked by such idiots, “militantly ignorant.”

America's insatiable appetite for drivel is evidenced by the popularity of The Jerry Springer Show over All Things Considered. Mr. Springer might imagine that his little social commentary at the end of each show justifies what he is doing and brings some sort of useful message to millions of people. But people don't tune in because of his commentaries; all that they remember is the argument that the 400-pound transsexual bride in a half-torn-off wedding dress got into with the audience. The crowd assembled for the in-studio performance doesn't sit there in expectation of a revelation by Mr. Springer; they chant "take it off!" until one of the guests bares her breasts. (This isn't a uniquely American problem; it isn't as though the most popular program on TV around the world, Baywatch, is much more highbrow. I daresay that the chant of “take it off!” can be heard in many a viewer's home.)

Capitalizing on this acceptance of stupidity, certain members of the book business created the publisher For Dummies, whose books make for one of the most recognizable and successful franchises in modern publishing. We now have millions of people who behave as though the first step to doing anything is to proclaim to the clerk at the store, the librarian, or others they meet that they're dummies. Fictitious. Sham. Thick-witted. Foolish. Dummies. (And there's even a knock-off series, Idiots' Guides: a dummy Dummies book series, so to speak.)

Seeing “technical” books like Java for Dummies seemed disconcerting enough: who wants to use software written by a dolt? The titles have gotten steadily worse over the years, finally leading me to some alarm: there's no way that Sex for Dummies is good for the gene pool.

Last week, I looked up from my reading as I was riding into work. Boarding the bus was a guy carrying a copy of Dating for Dummies. He looked to be pushing sixty years old, wore his hair sensibly and had a pair of glasses with relatively large lenses but thinnish frames. Apparently hoping to avoid looking respectable or sensible, he was decked head-to-toe in scarlet and gray, including an Ohio State branded leather jacket and ball cap. A guy-wannabe? Oh boy.

Not long after he sat down, he began chatting with an attractive thirtysomething black lady, herself dressed rather nicely in a business suit, wearing a photo-ID that (if I recognized it correctly) would identify her as an employee of a certain state government agency. He tells her that it's from the library and should be finished with it in a couple of weeks. (A couple of weeks? If it really takes him that long to get through a book that short, maybe he did get the right one after all.) “Maybe it'll help.”

She laughed and said, “Really!” (I wonder if self-deprecating humor is one of the tips for men to try. Everyone knows that going anywhere with a woman requires her to draw the conclusion, “ego in check.”) A few seconds later, I noticed that she was leafing through it. “Oh yeah, I've definitely got to get it! I'm going to put it on reserve.” He: “I'm going [moving?] up to Nationwide Arena District and could use the help.” She: “You and me both!” She disembarked the bus at Broad Street and he apparently decided that he's going her way.

I can't imagine that after all of that he wouldn't make any attempt to get her on a date. And if it's really as bad as she seems to think, what harm is there in going out just once to try it? I hope that he caught up with her. Maybe I'll see him on the bus again, along with a copy of Relationships for Dummies. Maybe a little dummy love can go a long way.

Created by cmcurtin
Last modified 2006-05-15 11:21 AM

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