October 2019

History of Modern Stupidity


Why should one of the few incorrigible optimists remaining on earth undertake a Short Introduction to the History of Modern Stupidity? Is the venture the venture foolish, and the adventurer stupider than all his many specimens? No. For the human race has reached an inpass from which it can escape only by fresh inquiry into its own shortcomings and imperfections

 - A Short Introduction to the History of Modern Stupidity, 1932, Walter B. Pitkin

A few weeks ago I was having a political discussion with an old friend.  We don't see eye to eye in this arena, but sometimes you just have to agree to disagree.

Friend: Politician A is so stupid!

Me: He has a law degree from Harvard.  I don't think they let stupid people do that.

Friend: College doesn't mean a thing, he says stupid things, so he is stupid.

Me: So, the test for stupidity is whether someone agrees with your point of view? There has to be a better test. Wanna do the New York Times crossword puzzle?

Friend: He says stupid things!

Me: Time for a beer... 

Seems like there is an entire ecosystem of stupidity in the United States these days, far more of it is acquired than innate.  The Dunning Krueger affect tells us that stupid people think they are smart. That can be explained by the concept of naïve realism, the tendency to think that people that disagree with them must be uninformed, rational or biased. The root of the cause may be in our educational system.

In my stupid opinion, the rise of stupidity is about the loss of critical thinking, crowded out by belief systems, adding in that today's educational system is not doing us a solid. Come on, lighten up, and admit that everyone is partially full of crap so we can get along. Meanwhile, let's review the past 100 years of stupid stuff.

The Stupid scale

First, let's look at how academics once defined  "stupid". The Binet scale, back when Eugenics was a thing, provided the following guidance:

Idiot: IQ from 0 to 25

Imbecile: IQ from 26-50

Moron: IQ from 51-70

Bugs Bunny added another category, but it was not adopted by the Binet scale:


Get this straight: it is possible that you might encounter morons at work, but you will never find imbeciles or idiots.

Notice that "stupid" is not mentioned in the Binet scale, even if it was an attempt to measure and categorize degrees of stupidity. Today, professional people no longer use the terms imbecile, moron and idiot, as they were quickly taken over as pejuratives. The modern scale is uses the word "impaired". The Binet scale was used find individuals that were innately impaired, to help them, or at possibly sterilize them so they couldn't reproduce.  Today, there is a far more difficult problem to address: people that learn to be stupid.

On the other end of the spectrum, you will find clubs such as Triple Nine and MENSA.  If you belong to either club, congratulations on being in love with yourself! I am sure you are great at puzzles. Here is an impossible puzzle about utilities.  While you waste time with Marilyn vos Savant, the rest of us will dig ditches and connect up those utilities, crossing the sewer line with the water line but intelligently maintaining the correct pitch so that all that stuff flows downhill. 


The development of radio as a for-profit entertainment system in the 1920s might have reduced the interest of people in reading books, starting society on a downward slide.  Lee DeForest often lamented that his "baby" (he consider himself the father of radio, but that point is worth arguing) was getting dumbed down from a higher purpose (lining his pockets?).  In 1940 he asked  the National Association of Broadcasters,

"What have you done with my child, the radio broadcast? You have debased this child, dressed him in rags of ragtime, tatters of jive and boogie-woogie."

There is no accounting for taste, but when you mix in advertisements, all bets are off on how radio could uplift humanity. DeForest died in 1961.  He lived to see that his prediction that television would never amount to anything, but he never got to see the outcome of his prediction that man will never land on the moon. Lee DeForest is in the Microwave Hall of Fame, even if he was part buffoon and part shyster, he stumbled into the first three terminal electronic device capable of amplification, the audion.

After a hiatus during WWI, radio broadcasting became a big thing in the 1920s.  In 1922, the Washburn Crosby Company (now General Mills) created a new breakfast product, and set out to market it. Minneapolis's WCCO radio station, also owned by Washburn Crosby, put the first "jingle" on the air in 1926. It did not take long to figure out the power of air time.


Have you tried Wheaties?

I will admit that some commercials are cute, today's insurance companies seem to have the best.  However, I am not one of these people that watch the Superbowl for the commercials.  Actually, I never follow any sports, which makes it awkward at visits to the barber shop. Here's a Wheaties classic commercial featuring Champy the Lion if you are bored.

Is it a coincidence that piano manufacturing dropped from millions in the 1890s, to hundreds of thousands today?  Why learn how to play music, when you can just flip a switch? Notice how many free pianos there are on Craigslist, it costs more to move one that you can get for it. 

The sheet music industry was collateral damage from radio.  Today, you can wrap fish in tin-pan alley sheet music, no one seems to care about this type of 19th century remnant. Thankfully, you can occasionally find someone that can bang out tunes for 24 hours non-stop.


I'm gonna sit right down and write myself a letter, by Fats Waller, performed by Floyd Vivino



I/m going to pass on staking any of the stupidity history to the movie industry during the golden age.  There is a treasure trove of art for anyone to dive into, just order the DVDs from Netflix and skip the streamed stuff.  Today, major movie studios are not doing society many favors.  How entertaining is it to see a million dollar's worth of car accidents in each revision Fast of Furious, at last count, nine?

So you guys are being hunted by an army of mercenaries, led by a genetically-enhanced soldier?  Just another day in Fast and Furious World.



Back when TV was a fledgling industry, one man made it profitable.  That man was George Raymond Wagner, a.k.a. Gorgeous George, a professional wrestler. Gorgeous George came up with  the "man you love to hate" persona. There is a direct line betwen this and the "Celebrity Apprentice", except that George stayed out of politics.


Gorgeous George versus Frankie Taliber

Here is a second Bugs Bunny reference, I cannot resist: in Bunny HugsRavishing Ronald is Warner Brothers' version of Gorgeous George.


Relatively affordable hand-held calculators first became popular around 1972.  Teachers didn't know what to make of it.  Eventually, the need to learn long division and square roots "by hand" were eliminated in curricula. I graduated high school in 1976, and might have been in the final class that was instructed on how to use a slide rule. Does that make me smart? No, but it might have helped me from being stupider.


History of hand-held calculators

The Internet

Here we are now, entertain us.

Spell checking

Come on, admit it.  You can't spell.  But you don't have to! Funny thing about this:  a certain twitter account with 50M followers seemingly does not use a spell checker. Maybe "great and unmatched wisdom" is all about triggering people to point out spelling corrections. I personally did something similar in my utterly monstrous mind-roasting childhood, but I can't really talk about it in case the victim is reading this mess... (Brenda's eyes slowly rolling back into her head...) ask me about it next time you buy me a beer.

Here at Microwaves101, teh spell checcker is broken in the back-end.  I find it convenent to cut and paset the content of a page I am working on into word to spot the errors.  My mind is slowly melting....

Social media

The the final component of modern stupidity, is... social media. Now like-minded idiots can find each other.

I'll try to add some more thoughts to this soon.  Meanwhile, feel free to weigh in and drop "UE" at a note.

Check out the Unknown Editor's amazing archives when you are looking for a way to screw off for a couple of hours or more!

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