Americans are stupid. Or at least so goes the stereotype. Brian Reade of the Daily Mirror (an Englishman, who is presumably quite smart given his Britishness) described us simple Americans as “The self-righteous, gun-totin’, military-lovin’, sister-marryin’, abortion-hatin’, gay-loathin’, foreigner-despisin’, non-passport-ownin’ rednecks, who believe God gave America the biggest d*ck in the world so it could urinate on the rest of us and make their land ‘free and strong’.” Indeed, this popular Youtube clip seems to prove his point:
Yup, the general statement that Americans are stupid is not something I would trifle with. According to a bunch of surveys and statistics Rick Shackman gathered together:
– Only 25% of Americans know Senators serve a six year term
– Only 20% know there are 100 Senators
– Only 49% know the United States’ was the first to drop the atomic bomb
– 49% percent think the President can suspend the Constitution
The problem I have with this European snobbishness is when they come off as self-enlightened, cappuccino drinking, universal-health-care-supporting, masturbating-in-public-being-frowned-upon-is-a-social-construct intellectuals. Or perhaps it’s not the snobbishness at all, it’s just the stupidity. The stupid pig is still there, the intellectualizing nonsense of a lipstick is all that was added.
Over the past two years I have traveled in Latin America and met quite a few Europeans at the brothels I mean hostels I’ve stayed at along the way. I have generally liked them and we’ve gotten along very well. Europeans are, from what I gather, good people. But occasionally our conversations turned to politics and, at least in this small, unrepresentative sample, Europeans supposed intellectual domination was put to the test and found wanting.
The first story I will tell is of a young Swede who jokingly referred to his country as a “socialist nightmare” off a Jon Stewart sketch. He made a point to explain why socialism was so much better than capitalism. As he explained, Sweden’s socialism created the environment for great companies like IKEA and Ericsson to flourish. I will leave it to the reader to find the flaw in this argument.
Indeed, it took some time to explain that Sweden wasn’t actually socialist (the Economic Freedom of the World Report for 2010 gave Sweden a 7.4 and the United States an 8.0). Still, according to him, Sweden’s large government spending and generous safety net have created great wealth. “Our growth rates are about that of China’s.” Unfortunately, not knowing that much about Sweden, I couldn’t counter him on this point. Luckily, Google is never far away:
“About” being a relative term of course. Or maybe he was talking about 1976, I don’t know.
But forget growth rates and an incorrect definition of socialism; let’s talk poverty. A lady from Spain who wore a delightful shirt sporting the faces of Karl Marx, Che Guevara and Mao Zedong (who incidentally killed 65 million people) was disgusted by the poverty in the United States. The Swede agreed remarking that “it’s just so obvious to me that people should help each other.” Helping each other is something European “socialists” do and American “capitalists” apparently don’t.
So I asked “Why does it need to be the government that helps people? Why can’t we do that privately? After all, American citizens give more to charity than Europeans do.” I further brought up the mutual aid societies of years past that the welfare state replaced. I honestly don’t think this line of reasoning had ever crossed their minds. Her brother responded that “You can’t just stick your d*ck in someone’s *ss and then give them a couple of quarters.” OK, touché.
The United States does have a higher poverty rate than most of Europe, though. But I explained they were missing a few things. 1) I’m no die hardcore defender of the United States; I’m a defender of market economics. And the American military spending needs to be drastically cut (we basically pay for the defense of Spain and Sweden) and even though I would rather give it back to Americans in tax cuts, that is money that Spain and Sweden can spend on their welfare states. 2) The United States has a long history of immigration—the kind of which Europe has never seen—and immigrants typically start out poor. Most of the “poor” do not stay poor over time. The poor are often young or immigrants, and both groups become wealthier as they age (another argument they had obviously never heard). And now that Europe is having a large influx of Muslim immigrants, poverty stricken “ghettos” are beginning to appear.
Apparently the Swedish guy took offense to this line of reasoning calling it “a complete lie.” In his judgment, Europe (or Sweden at least) have had the same kind of immigration that the United States has had. Sigh. I guess immigration and emigration sound the same when spoken.
Europe is a more egalitarian society, as a I freely admitted. It has a Gini coefficient around .35 whereas the United States is around .45. However, the United States has historically had a lower unemployment rate and a $14.72 trillion GDP, supported by a population of 310 million. The European Union, on the other hand, has effectively the same GDP, $14.89 trillion, but 492 million people. Indeed, even the poor in the United States are doing better in some ways than the middle class in Europe. For example, take a look at housing space per capita:
Oh yeah, and the European Union currently has a fertility rate of 1.51 children per woman. 2.1 is replacement (which is where the United States is at). This means that Europe is heading toward, oh what’s the word, collapse.
Well if you can’t be bothered to procreate, it’s good to have a low murder rate. A British girl explained to me that this was because the United States has such loose gun laws and that guns should be banned.
I explained that there are strict gun policies in Russia and Mexico, yet more gun crime than the United States and loose gun laws in Switzerland, which has as little gun crime as other European societies. No luck.
So I switched tactics. “Americans love guns,” I argued. “Banning something that there is a market for simply creates a black market. Good people who want guns for defense won’t have them, bad people, however can still get them.” I argued that there isn’t the demand for guns in Europe like there is in the United States so such a ban can at least be partially effective. But even still, as the BBCironically claims, “Handgun crime ‘up’ despite ban”. “Despite” being the key word. Washington D.C. and Detroit are other good examples of the effectiveness of gun restrictions.
She stubbornly held firm using the United States’ disproportionately high murder rate as her only piece of evidence (very intellectual indeed). So I figured Europeans typically believe in drug legalization, so I used the miserable failure of the War on Drugs as an example. “Bans on things people want create black markets. The only possible way a government could effectively stamp out such a problem is to become totalitarian.” This of course is what happened in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Mao’s China, etc. Her response is as follows:
“Yeah, I think we need some of that.”
I guess she won the argument; I was so baffled I couldn’t even respond.
If I had been able to unpry my mouth from the WTF position is was stuck in I might have commented that it makes more sense now that the United States has never had communism or fascism. I read somewhere that Europe’s had some problems with those things in the past.
Perhaps the big change in Europe is from the mean 1984 totalitarianism to the soft, fluffly totalitarianism of A Brave New World. It’s not that Europe is totalitarian, or that these nice people I talked to supported totalitarianism. It’s just I noticed an undercurrent of such sentiment. When I explained to an assortment of Europeans that Barack Obama (whom they like) was, in many important respects, similar to George Bush (whom they hate) the response was a bewildering assortment of “that’s OK because he’s inspired people.” Seriously. No one could refute the similarities I outlined, so they said that “his ability to bring people together and inspire them” made up for any bad policies. Seriously. The will it took for me to not prove Godwin’s law and invoke Hitler’s inspirational abilities is something I’m still proud of to this day.
Now again, this isn’t to say I don’t like Europeans. Again, I liked just about all of them I met; good people. And no, they are no dumber than the average American (which is to say they are really dumb). Perhaps it manifests itself in a different way; Americans with the redneck, ahh shucks, sort of stupidity and Europeans with the cheerio sorta of snobbish intellectualism which always turns out to be wrong.
Or perhaps they’re just stupid too: