October 6, 2021

Is Stupidity a Dominant Gene?

by Mark Franke

Several weeks ago the Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed column entitled “You Are Living in the Golden Age of Stupidity.” That got my attention, even without my wife’s not-so-subtle hinting I should read it.  

The author, Lance Morrow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, wrote a humorous yet thought-provoking analysis of America’s seeming fascination with being and doing stupid. Forrest Gump was right, according to Morrow. 

Why are we like this?

I blame it on my generation, the baby boomers. What have we not gotten wrong? We were raised in what arguably was the best decade of the twentieth century. Is there anything one can criticize about the 1950’s? OK, there was the Cold War but we school children didn’t live in constant fear of a nuclear bomb exploding over our playground. We did the hide-under-the-desk drills and then went on with our uncomplicated lives.

Doors and automobiles were left unlocked and kids played throughout the neighborhood while understanding the closest mother was in charge. And yes, back in those days mothers stayed home to provide full time parenting for their own and their neighbors’ children. 

We were raised by what is now called the Greatest Generation. I beg to differ. America’s greatest generation included the 55 delegates who gathered in steamy Philadelphia during the summer of 1787 to produce the most noble governance document ever penned. Still, our parents deserve recognition for growing up during the Great Depression and living through the economic and social disruptions caused by World War II.

Then again, they also raised us.

Talking recently with a group of friends my age, we semi-seriously concluded that the world cannot reverse its downward trend until we all die. Morbid perhaps, but there is some truth in that. Just think about the generations that followed us. In other words, raised by us. 

I certainly don’t understand all the generation naming conventions, but it is clear to me that each generation seems more self-absorbed and self-entitled than the previous. Perhaps that is just a 70-year-old curmudgeon blaming everything on the young, but I think I have a case.

My career, for my sins, was spent in higher education as a financial and enrollment executive. I recall one freshman orientation program, the day when incoming students were preached the gospel of successful college life. The speaker told the group that they should expect to study two to three hours outside of class for every hour spent in the classroom. “You’re s—– me!” a voice resounded throughout the lecture hall. This student, one of the most self-directed generations ever if you believe all that nonsense about millennials, probably never had to do any homework or other work outside the classroom. He was a graduate of a no-fail school system which just kept pushing students along, no matter how much they learned.

These are the children and grandchildren of us baby boomers. What have we wrought, to fracture Samuel Morse’s famous line? We should fault ourselves for how dystopian America has become. The child is the father of the man if Wordsworth had it right. Sure, we blame it on our parents who can blame it on theirs and they on theirs, ad infinitum. I hold to my premise that mine is the generation which ruined everything. Well, almost everything. We probably made something better but nothing comes to mind at present. Consumerist toys don’t count.

In spite of my apparent generalizing above, I don’t want to make simplistic assumptions about groups of people who are still individuals even when they appear to be running with the herd. Identity politics is a non-starter in my book and a dangerous one at that. The diversity officer at my university, and we did have one, told me I didn’t need his training because I saw each student as an important individual who deserved my help. It was no coincidence that he and I both were devout Christians who believed in equality before God.

I have spent my life trying my best not to drop people into pre-defined buckets, pre-defined by my or others’ prejudices. I am hardly perfect but I do try. Not watching mind-numbing cable news helps me focus on seeing everyone as an individual rather than as an automaton acting like the zombies in those horror films we all watched as teenagers. Just because you look like someone else, and every generation has its enforced conventions of dress and speech, doesn’t’ mean you have forfeited your individual intellect and will. Is this a generalization of my own conceit?

“All generalizations are false,” wrote Mark Twain, “Including this one.”


Mark Franke, M.B.A., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.


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