Disbelief, dismay, anger, depression, numbness. I felt the same as many of you. And wondered what possessed so many Americans to vote for Bush against the better interests of the rest of the planet, the United States, and even of the Republicans in the bottom 98% income bracket. Aside from all questions of software manipulation, discarded ballots, challenged registrations, and divinely wrought chad hanging, quite a few voters did choose the Cowboy. Why?
There’s been no shortage of explanations in these posts and elsewhere—fundamentalist Christians, biased media, appeals to fear and xenophobia, simplicity of message—probably all of these are true to some extent, along with other factors, but they beg the question: Why are Americans so stupid? Why do they fall for these transparent ploys?
Now, don’t get me wrong: First of all, everyone’s stupid when it comes to politics and Americans are in good company there. And I don’t think Americans are genetically stupider than Europeans, or Africans, or anyone else. Jared Diamond does make a good case in Guns, Germs, and Steel for the superior intellect of the few surviving hunter-gatherers (he has worked for years in Papua New Guinea) who have been rigorously selected up to the present, unlike us well fed agriculturalist/couch potatoes, but probably the important differences are environmental.
Most Americans today do seem different from most Europeans, broadly speaking, Americans are more isolationist, less well-informed about politics and science, less interested in the fate of other nations, and more likely to hold absurd beliefs (astrology, alien abduction, virgin birth, Uri Geller…). The difference is not pronounced—people here (I live in Vienna) swallow all kinds of nonsense too—but no one I know here, from the Greens through the Socialist to the Freedom Party (sort of a neonazi neocon group), likes Bush and everyone (not just my Muslim friend) thinks the war in Iraq is an unmitigated disaster. Why the difference?
My suspicions: First of all, European countries are small, the US is big. Europeans have had to cope with many different neighbors, languages, and cultures for centuries. It’s easier for Americans to think that their nation is the whole world. Second, television. The average American watches more than four hours of TV a day, the average European about an hour less. Television sucks out your brain, especially the simplistic pap that passes for entertainment in the States. Third, Europeans walk more. Many of my friends, like myself, don’t even have cars. Driving around in a metal box and seeing the world through safety glass can lead one to think that it’s all just another TV program.
On the other hand, maybe the main difference is that the US is a major military power, and power corrupts. Americans are manipulated to support stupid wars because the powers that be need the oil, and can get it, through force of arms.
My comparison, anecdotal and undocumented as it is, is between the US and Europe because the standards of living and access to information are comparable—who can blame the Kokovoko Islanders for being superstitious?
Anyway, I’d like to hear your opinions on this.