Fighting against pressures to 'Dumb down'
People who ae busy in community movements to better the world and fight injustices can overlook or even deny what prevents the majority of the people joining them. We are aware of oppressions, sexism, racism, ageism, bigotry, militarism and the destruction of the earth. Ask why most people still seem unconcerned. Keep this question in mind. We cannot have a fair-go democracy unless all the people can be active citizens.
Edward Gibbon saw history as the record of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind. The Victorians hoped that human progress would match their technological progress. Prophets like H G Wells, George Orwell and Jacques Ellul have warned that instead, our striving for greater intelligence could roll back, and ‘intelligence’ even be seen as elitist, rather than what it is - the ability to work out what needs to be done in a situation. Arthur C. Clarke in ‘I remember Babylon’ not only foretold satellites, but also how global communication could be used to control and stupefy the masses. Political and commercial interests benefit from mass culture that keeps people ignorant, apathetic, helpless and consuming, and prevents connected thinking, organized knowledge and co-operative action to stop injustices.
‘Dumbing down’ is ‘whatever makes people less able to think, speak and act in their long-term interests.’ However ‘dumbed-down’ people may whinge, they may be unable to consider solutions except more government money.
1. THE EVIDENCE. People behave more stupidly than their own potential when they act against their own long-term interests. When they vote against their own interests. Take up self-destructive habits and behaviour, including gullibility, greed, gambling, debt, and superstitions new and old. (There are now 43 astrologers in Melbourne Yellow Pages, up from 15 a few years ago.) See how consumers are manipulated. Why is it a term of approval that something will ‘blow your brains’? Disordered consciousness is deliberately induced. Social problems increase rather than are eliminated. Costly efforts for all our social problems are mostly to remediate too late, rather than to prevent. Signs of life-style changes include the dramatic changes in women’s magazines, the shortened concentration spans in television entertainment, the limited English of many teenagers, and declines in University standards of written work. Political and commercial advertising now openly as well as successfully aims at emotions not reason. Theodore Dalrymple’s Life at the Bottom describes real lives, even though he blames intellectuals rather than our whole culture for the mind-sets that imprison them. Research shows how we are all affected, even if we feel immune.
Frogs in fact jump out of heating water without waiting to be boiled. It is humans who accustom themselves to destructive cultures, as history shows.
Our culture is mostly harmless when there is balance and moderatation - but not when excesses prevents independent thinking and active living. The greatest energy crisis today is a crisis of human energy to face and deal with the crises that face us. Mental energy is drained by poor health habits or diversions from what needs to be done into, for example, cults of superstitions, obsessions for cosmetic beauty, sporting lives dedicated to moving fast up and down, and frantic energy in exhausting forms of music.
2. WHAT CAN BE DONE? A culture cannot be legislated. But cultural changes always begin somewhere and every individual can do something. We can think outside our own boxes. We can connect ideas. Much action that is needed is obvious.
Everyone can resist dumbing-down attitudes and behavior. Keep alert to what is happening and promote alternatives, as individuals and as groups, as artists, writers, journalists, teachers, parents, innovators, unionists, business operators, activists, poets, thinkers and doers.
- COUNTER The DESTRUCTIVE MYTHS with better concepts, knowledge, ideas, living examples, schools, films, songs, the press, and books on current affairs that everyone can read.
People are being encouraged to believe that it is human nature to want the worst, to be motivated mainly by greed or fear, that they cannot control themselves, that they are helpless, it is no use trying to do anything, that people in public life are all venal, that the world can only get worse, that ‘the good life’ is to consume and relax, that knowledge does not matter because ‘you can always look it up’; that the frontiers of artistic daring are sexual rather than more courageously revealing what is not being told about what is going on in the world.
Alternative experiences can include more non-TV reality to contrast with TV ‘reality’, school day-exchanges, and more interludes of meaningful and gentle entertainment in current-culture shows and festivals. The myths of ‘no happy families’ and ‘child-rearing is awful’ can be countered by real-life sharing and television demonstrations more than by group-talks. Everyone needs to know about history, other cultures and other people, and their own potential for fulfillment as citizens
- PRECIOUS BRAINS. Everyone needs to know that their precious brains are their greatest resource, and the most important part of health. They need to know they can make the most of being alive by being fully conscious, rather than seeking escape. We can get our thrills from challenging the frustrations and troubles of everyday life, with ‘escapes’ as a sauce, rather than letting the culture-pushed goal be to escape by any means, from chemicals to passive entertainment or the obsessions of problem gambling or internet voyeurism. Promote re-creation in its literal meaning. Promote action research on the mass experiments on the mind that are being made globally without our consent and without control groups that can stay immune. The forms of our entertainment can affect our powers of thinking and delight in thinking as seriously as thalidomide and asbestos have affected bodies.
Adolescents especially like intense stimulation, but thinking processes may be affected by repeated insults to the brain through intense distortion and numbing of consciousness, hard-impact physical noise rather than multi-dimensional music; epileptogenic and hallucinatory-style visual experiences; addictions to computer and gambling games that stimulate unreflecting reaction times; and cultural and peer pressure for self-damaging behavior including bingeing. People assume their brains will bounce back from every insult, but impairments can remain. The less you have to start with, the more you can lose. Even moderate cannabis is now found to risk long-term effects on social judgment, motivation and sensitive higher nervous centre functions. Psycho-medical research is needed on the numbing effects on problem-solving and reflective thinking of repeated exposure to unmodulated electronic drumming.
Symptoms of dumbing down include shortening attention spans, preference for sound-bites, uncontrolled acting out, form valued over content, tolerating meaninglessness in entertainment and the arts, gambling beyond resources, identifying with crime, public politics reduced to personal confrontations and trivia. Fight the causal factors that damage public mental health, and that affect us all, as well as the specific factors that are harmful in childrearing and individual experiences.
- FORMS OF PLEASURE are learned. They vary in different cultures and times. We might as well learn pleasures and skills for physical, mental, aesthetic and social enjoyment that do not harm ourselves or others and that do not waste the earth. They will usually not be commercially promoted, because they do not make profits.
- GENDER AND CIVILISATION. Societies have been most civilised when creative masculine and feminine characteristics are combined and valued in both men and women. Societies have been most brutal when they give priority to pathological extremes of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity - male aggression and female helplessness. Women can lose even what we have gained unless we stop on the one hand, the pressure from women’s magazines to trivialise female minds with absorption in gossip, cosmetic appearances, and being sexual bunnies, and on the other hand, permitting misogynist practices in the name of any religion or culture.
- EDUCATION IS PRIMARILY OUTSIDE SCHOOLS today. The mass media and advertising seek mass markets by targeting the largest and most gullible sector of the population, at the cost of debasing the rest, who could respond to better. Boycott products when advertisements use irrational over rational persuasion, and interrupt programs at closer than 20 minute intervals. Promote meaningful and innovative features, that extend curiosity into neglected areas such as social improvement. Constantly re-state the function of taxpayer-supported national broadcasting, to encourage thinking and knowledge, innovating and setting standards, doing what commercial channels do not do, and not duplicating what they do do. A three percent rating for Radio National thinking and information programs is a comment on the state of national intelligence and curiosity rather than an argument for extinction of this rare source.
- RADIO has essential functions. It can provide information that does not require visuals (a reason why TV news has such a narrow range); give access for community voices; its programs can convey thinking through language. Kindergartens of the Air are as valuable for child development and language as TV Playschools, and could replace the ABC’s cost-cutting adult story-readings, even if only re-runs were affordable.
- THE PRESS defeats its own future by dumbing-down to chase declining readerships. It could develop the attractions and utility of reading, including for the young, even in details such as ‘social inventing’ on the puzzle pages, and publishing responses to readers’ questions for information about current affairs. Even obituaries of goodies can give the young knowledge of better role models in wonderful lives, however flawed, to contrast with the criminals and celebrities on page 1. ‘Serious Pursuits’ and quizzes can omit ephemeral celebrity trivia.
- SCHOOLS can show dumbing-down trends to be wary about, especially when policy documents sound like Don Watson’s Weasel Words, but miss out on ideas about goodness, beauty, truth or practical life-skills and goals. Money, technology and constant curriculum change are not panaceas. Schools should be where students learn what they cannot learn outside school, to build on what they do know, and not merely reinforce the culture that immerses them. Learners deserve to taste the range of music, art, story and other worlds in time and space, in environments that are beautiful, with teachers unhassled and undistracted. Curricula should respect children’s development and childhood’s need to acquire knowledge bases and schemata, practical skills, and ways to find roots that are familial, local, national and global, with heroes more admirable than the media offer. To discover adult goals and what ‘adult’ should really mean. When bins are filled daily with throwaway ‘activities’, there are message and effects for children’s minds.
- LITERACY skills give power to know and to communicate. Reading books can be a major developer of intelligence as well as thirst for knowledge, and thinking as a pleasure. Check out the mental age of children’s books - two years old? If children read only a little, what they read should be worth reading and re-reading. Classrooms even in Year 1 need new and old books for browsing, above as well as below the children’s mental age, to inspire adult goals and act as advance-organisers, such as Arthur Mee’s ‘Children’s Encyclopedia’ (new costly version needed) and Peter Spier’s ‘People’ picture-book (Pan Macmillan, reprinting needed).
I have two dreams to help bring down barriers to literacy. That everyone everywhere has the right to free access to a short internet/DVD/video that gives them a quick overview of the writing system, an advance organizer for beginners and clues for clearing up confusions for failing learners, with graphics made by the very best artistic talent and production. A pilot version is at www.ozreadandspell.com.au.
Secondly, cut out the unnecessary difficulties in English spelling, the great barrier to English literacy world-wide. This is feasible today. (A Spelling-without-Traps version of this paper is posted on the OzIdeas website, http://home.vicnet.net.au/~ozideas/dum.htm.)
See also classroom barriers to literacy. Once recognised, these classroom barriers can be removed without cost.
POPULAR READING about social reforms and political policies. Where is it? Make it happen, for teenagers, adult-literacy students, average people, and primary-schoolers. Even written in Spelling ‘without Traps’. More readable citizens’ books for everyone, and how everyone could read them is a field for Ph.Ds in English, Politics, Commerce, Communication and Education.
THESE PAGES may seem to connect too many ideas - but it is not just a shopping list. It still has not mentioned essentials such as child-care to raise up thinkers and doers. We are being conditioned to cope with only one idea at a time. But if readers take away even one thought, that thought is: There can be no real democracy unless all the people are freed to be active citizens - Down with Dumbing-Down!
REFERENCES: Look around you. Enjoy libraries, and bookshops such as the New International Bookshop.
ORGANISATIONS - Work with all the contacts and the activist issues you have.
Use and contribute to e-magazines, and websites such as www.globalideasbank.org and http://home.vicnet.net.au/~ozideas, (no www needed) with links to pages such as /concepts.htm.
This document is re-ritn in Spelling without Traps for
Readers, for lerners to be able to read more esily.
Read it aloud to see how to see how litl needs to be changed to make reading much
easier for beginners.
The ònly decisions needed are whether c or g ar
voiced or unvoiced as in circus and garage. In Spelling without Traps for beginning Rìters, èven these decisions ar not
Note that 31 very common irregùlar werds and the werd-ending -ion remain unchànged. Easy for beginners to recognìze only 31, and it keeps print looking litl chànged.
who are bisy in comunity muvements to better the
wurld and fight injustices can overlook or even
denì what is happening that is preventing mòst pèpl joining them. We can see
racism, ageism, bigotry, militarism and
destruction of the erth. Why do mòst
pepl still seem unconcernd? How can reformers reach out to the pèpl
unless the pèpl can hear? We cannot hav a fair-go
democracy unless all the pèpl can be activ
Edward Gibbon saw
history as the record of the crimes and follies of
mankìnd. The Victorians hoped for hùman
progress to match thair tecnological prògress. Profets like
H G Wells, George Orwell and Jacques Ellul hav wornd that
insted, the strìving for gràter intelligence
could ròll back, and 'intelligence' èven be seen as
elètist, rather than the ability to wurk out what
needs to be dun. Arthur C. Clarke in 'I remember Babylon'
not ònly fortòld satellites, but also how
glòbal comùnicàtion could be ùsed to
contròl and stùpefì the masses. Political and
comercial interests benefit from mass cultùre that
keeps pèpl ignorant, apathetic, helpless
consùmers, and prevents connected thinking, organized
knoledge and còoperativ action to stop injustices.
down' is 'whatever makes pepl less àbl to
think, speak and act in thair long-term interests.'
However thay may whinge, thay may be unàbl to
consider solùtions exept mor government
Pèpl behave mor stupidly than thair potential when thay act
against thair own interests, in every airèa of life -
vote against thair òn interests; take up
self-destructiv habits and behàvior, inclùding
gullibl greed, gambling, det, and sùperstitions new
and òld. Obsurv how consùmers are
manipùlated; 'blòwing one's brains' as a term
of apprùval; disorderd consiusness deliberatly
indùced; sòcial problems increasing rather
than redùcing, with costly efforts to
remèdiàte, rather than prevent.
indicàtors of life-stile chànges
inclùde what has happend to wimen's magazènes,
the shortend concentration spans in television
entertainment, the limited English of meny teenagers, and
declines in Ùniversity standards. Theodore
Dalrymple's Life at the Bottom describes real lives, even
tho he blames intellectuals for the mind-sets that imprison
them. Political and commercial advertìsing
sucsessfully and now òpenly aims at emòtions
not reason. Reserch fìnds that we are all affected,
èven if we feel immuùne. Frogs in fact jump
out of wauter without waiting to be boild; it is
hùmans who accustom themselvs to destructiv
cultùres, as history shòws.
Much of our
cultùre is harmless when it is balanced and
moderat - but not when it is exessiv and prevents
independent thinking and activ living. The gràtest
energy crìsis today is a crìsis of
hùman energy to fàce and deal with the
crìses that fàce us. But mental energy is
draind bì poor helth habits or divurted from what
needs to be dun - into, for exampl, cults of
sùperstitions, obsessions for cosmetic
bùty, and sporting lìves dedicàted
to mùving fast up and down.
2. WHAT ACTION IS POSSIBL? A
cultùre cannot be legislàted. But cultùre
chànges always begin somwhere and every
individùal can do somthing. We can think outside our
òn boxes. We can connect ìdèas. Much
action needed is obvius.
can resist duming-down attitùdes and behavior,
and encurage alturnativs - as individùals and
as members of grùps - as artists, riters,
jurnalists, teachers, pairents, innovàtors,
ùnionists, bisness operaàtors,
activists, pòets, thinkers and dùers. Be
alurt to what is happening and promote all
DESTRUCTIV MITHS with better concepts, knoledge,
ìdèas, living exampls, scools, films, songs,
the press, and books on current affairs that everyone can
Pepl are being encuraged to believ that it is
hùman natùre to want the wurst, to be
motivàted mainly bì greed or fear, that thay
cannot control themselvs, that thay are helpless, it is no
ùse trìing to du anything, that pepl in public
life are all vènal, that the wurld can ònly
get wurse, that 'the good life' is to consùme and
relax, that knoledge dus not matter because 'u can always
look it up'; that the frontiers of artistic dairing are
sexual rather than mor curageusly revealing what is not
being tòld about what is gòing on in the
wurld. Everyone needs to kno about history, other
cultùres and other pepl, and thair òn
potential for fulfilment as citizens.
can include mor non-TV rèality to contrast with TV
'rèality', and interlùdes of mor meaningful
and gentl entertainment in current-cultùre
shòs and festivals. The miths of 'no happy families'
and 'chìld-rearing is awful' can be counterd
bì real-life shairing and television
demonstràtions mor than bì
- PRECIUS BRAINS. Everyone needs to kno that thair precious brains are thair
greatest resource, and the mòst important part of
helth. Thay need to know thay can make the mòst of
bèing alive bì bèing fully consius,
rather than seeking escape. We can get our thrills from
challenging the frustràtions and trubls of everyday
life, with 'escapes' as a sauce, rather than letting the
cultùre-pushd goal be to escape bì eny means,
from cemicals to passiv entertainment or the obsessions of
problem gambling or internet voyerism. Promote
re-crèation in its literal meaning. Promote action
reserch on the mass experiments on the mìnd that are
bèing made glòbally without our consent and
without contròl grùps that can stay
immùne. Forms of entertainment can affect our powers
of thinking and delight in thinking as seriusly as
thalidomide and asbestos hav affected bodies.
especially like intense stimùlàtion, but
thinking pròcesses may be affected bì repeated
insults to the brain thru intense distortion and
numing of consiusness, hard-impact fisical noiz rather
than multi-dimensional mùsic; epileptogenic and
expèriences;addictions to compùter and
gambling games that stimùlate unreflecting
reaction times; and cultùral and peer
pressùre for self-damaging behàvior
inclùding bingeing. Pepl assume that thair
brains will bounce back from every insult, but
impairments can remain. The less u hav to start with,
the mor u can looz. Èven moderat cannabis is
now found to risk long-term effects on sòcial
judgment, motivàtion and sensitiv higher nervus
reserch is needed on the numing effects on
problem-solving and reflectiv thinking of repeated
expòsùre to unmodùlàted
Simptoms of duming down
inclùde shortening attention spans, preference
for sound-bites, uncontròlled acting out, form
valùed ùver content, toleràting
meaningless inputs in entertainment and the arts,
ìdentifìing with crime, public politics
redùced to personal confrontations and trivia.
Fight the causal factors that damage public mental
helth, and that affect us all, as well as the specific
factors that are harmful in chìldrearing and
- FORMS OF PLESURE are learnd. Thay vairy in different cultùres and
times. We might as well lern plesures and skills for
fisical, mental, esthetic and social enjoyment that du not
harm ourselvs or others and that du not wàst the
erth. Thay will ùsùally not be commurcially
promòted, because thay du not make
- GENDER AND
CIVILISÀTION. Socìeties hav been most
civilised when crèàtiv mascùlin and
feminin caracteristics are combined and valùed in
bòth men and wimen. Socìeties hav been
mòst brùtal when thay giv prìority to
pathological extremes of 'masculinity' and 'femininity -
male aggression and female helplessness. Wimen can looz
èven what we hav gaind unless we stop on the one
hand, the pressùre from wimen's magazènes to
trivialise female mìnds with absorption in gossip,
cosmetic appearances, and bèing sexùal
bunnies, and on the other hand, permitting misoginist
practices in the name of eny religion or cultùre.
IS PRÌMARILY OUTSIDE SCOOLS today. The mass
mèdia and advertìsing seek mass markets
bì targeting the largest and most gullibl sector of
the popùlàtion, at the cost of debàsing
the rest, who could respond to better. Boycott products when
advertisments ùse irrational òver rational
persuàsion, and interrupt prògrams at clòser
than 20 minut intervals. Promote meaningful and innovativ
fetùres, that extend cùriosity into neglected
airèas such as sòcial imprùvement.
Constantly re-state the function of taxpayer-supported
national braudcasting, to encurage thinking and knoledge,
innovàting and setting standards, dùing what
commurcial channels du not du, and not repeating what thay
du. A three percent ràting for Ràdio National
thinking and information prògrams is a comment on the
state of national intelligence and cùriosity rather
than an argùment for extinction of this rair sorce.
- RADIO has
essential functions. It can provide informàtion
that dus not require visùals (a reason why TV news
has such a narro rànge); giv acsess for community
voices; its programs can convay thinking thru language.
Kindergartens of the Air are as valùabl for
chìld development and language as TV Playscools,
and could replace the ABC's cost-cutting adult
story-readings, èven if ònly re-runs wer
- THE PRESS defeats its
own fùtùre bì duming-down to chase
declìning readerships. It could develop the
attractions and ùtility of reading,
inclùding for the yung, èven in details
such as 'social inventing' on the puzzl pages, and
publishing responses to readers' questions for
information about current affairs. Èven obituaries
of goodies can giv the yung knoledge of better role
models in wonderful lìves, however flawd, to
contrast with the criminals and celebs on page 1. 'Serius
Pursùts' and qizzes can omit efemeral celebrity
- SCOOLS can sho
duming-down trends to be wairy about, especially when
policy docùments sound like Don Watson's Weasel
Words, but miss out on ìdeas about goodness,
bùty, trùth or practical life-skills and
goals. Mony, tecnology and constant curricùlum
chànge are not panacèas. Scools should be
where stùdents lern what thay cannot lern outside
scool, to bild on what thay du kno, and not merely
rèinforce the cultùre that immurses them.
Lerners desurv to tàste the rànge of
mùsic, art, story and other wurlds in time and
space, in envìronments that are bùtiful,
with teachers unhassld and undistracted. Curricùla
should respect children's development and childhood's
need to acquire knoledge bàses and scemata,
practical skills, and ways to find roots that are
familial, lòcal, national and glòbal, with
heroes mor admirabl than the mèdia offer. To
discover adult goals and what 'adult' should really mean.
When bins are filld daily with throwaway 'activities',
what message and effects there are for children's
- LITERACY skills giv
power to kno and to communicate; Reading books can be a
màor developer of intelligence as well as thirst for
knoledge, and thinking as a plesure. Check out the mental
age of children's books - tuw years old? If children read
ònly a littl, what thay read should be wurth reading
and re-reading. Classrooms even in Year 1 need new and
òld books for browsing, above as well as belò
the children's mental age, to inspire adult goals and act as
advance-organìsers, - such as Arthur Mee's
'Children's Encyclopedia' (new costly version needed) and
Peter Spier's 'People' pictùre-book (Pan Macmillan,
I hav 2
dreams to help bring down barriers to literacy. That
everyone everywhere has the right to free acsess to a
short internet/DVD/video that givs them a quick overvew
of the rìting sistem, an advance organìzer
for beginners and clues for clearing up confùsions
for failing lerners, with grafics made bì the very
best artistic talent and production. Secondly, cut out
the unnecessary difficulties in English spelling, the
gràt barrier to English literacy wurld-wide. This
is feasibl today. See also 'Classroom
barriers to literacy'
about sòcial reforms and political policies. Where is
it? Make it happen, for teenagers, adult-literacy
stùdents, average pepl, and primary-scoolers.
Èven ritten in Spelling 'without Traps'. Books for
Everyone, and how Everyone could read them is a field for
Ph.Ds in English, Politics, Commerce, Commùnication
THESE SHORT PAGES may seem to connect
too meny ìdèas - but it thay ar mor than a
shopping list, and still hav not mentiond essentials
such as chìd-cair to raise the next generation as thinkers and
dùers. We are being conditiond to cope with
ònly one ìdea at a time. But if readers
take away èven one thaut, that thaut is: There
can be no real democracy unless all the pepl are freed
to be activ citizens - Down with Duming-Down!
REFERENCES: Look around u. Enjoy bookshops and
ORGANÌZÀTIONS - Wurk with all the
contacts and the activist issùes u hav.
Ùse and contribùte to websites such as
and http://home.vicnet.net.au/~ozideas (not www) with
links to pages such as /concepts.htm
Back to Ozideas Home Page