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Jewish World Review May 10, 2002 / 28 Iyar, 5762

Mark Goldblatt

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America's newest victims: Persons of Density | No society has ever been more aware of its victims than ours. Even at the dawn of the new millennium, though, there is one group that continues to endure abuse and contempt at the hands of the general culture. I speak of the Stupid: I know because I am one of them.

It's only recently that Stupid People, or "Persons of Density" as some of us prefer to be called, have come to recognize our systematic oppression at the hands of the intelligent majority. Yet the statistics are overwhelming. Stupid People earn 23 percent less per capita than intelligent people, yet we put in an average of 7.1 more hours every week. Moreover, a Stupid Person is 66 percent more likely to be turned down for a bank loan, a figure that doesn't even take into account those who give up when we cannot fill out all the forms. Insurance companies grow fat off us: We pay on average 14 percent more for term-life benefits, 67 percent more for automobile coverage, and a whopping 111 percent more for accidental death and dismemberment policies.

Numbers, though, tell only part of the story. The un-leveling of the playing field begins with childhood and remains pervasive throughout a lifetime. Historically, academic standards have been created by intelligent people and, therefore, reflect a cultural bias against stupidity. How else account for the absence of a single profanity on the Scholastic Aptitude Test? Whereas intelligent people are squeamish about such language, a Stupid Person realizes that a good curse can function as noun, verb, adjective, or even adverb in any given sentence; we utilize obscenities the way our neighbors use punctuation. We clarify, delimit, and reinforce our thoughts with reference to the five or six expressions which, tellingly, this very website will not even print. By whose decision, I ask, is our grammar marginalized?

Indeed, the stigma of stupidity is inescapable. Stupid People remain, in many ways, in the closet. The shelves in our homes are still divided between books, for which we have no use, and stuffed animals. We scatter our walls with abstract, rather than representational art . . . knowing that if called on to explain a piece we can shrug and seem intelligent. Such denial is part of the problem. A friend who recently "came out" sledgehammered a bust of Beethoven on his front lawn, then air-guitared around the rubble. This was his protest against Cerebrocentrism, his announcement to the world: "I'm here! I'm stupid! Get used to it!"

For every case like my friend's, however, there are hundreds who silently submit to all manner of assaults upon their dignity and constitutional rights. Witness, for example, the widening restrictions on cigarette smoking. Since Stupid People make up a substantial portion of those who smoke, these bans are a thinly veiled attack upon stupidity itself. Even in the privacy of our homes, we are confronted by smoke detectors — not to mention window guards, grounded outlets, and childproof caps. What, I ask, has become of individual liberty?

In public, in private, even in transit, the dogs of acumen nip at our heels: Several car manufacturers now install automatic seatbelts. Obnoxious buzzers were bad enough — at least we could buckle the belts behind us. But these new contraptions descend upon us against our wills, harness us (as it were) within the grasp of intelligence. We are, in effect, denied the freedom to express ourselves; we are denied the freedom to be.

Still, our time draws near.

Already, our votes are being courted by political candidates who structure their remarks into ever-shorter sound bites. Soon, perhaps, our influence here will match the sway we've long exercised, by sheer consumerism, over advertising — for whom do you think the "jingle" was invented? Look around! That's us, that studio audience howling at double entendres as the man and woman describe their first date. And that fellow on the corner, pointing his finger and asking, "Who are you to tell me?" . . . he's one of ours.

Today, the media.


Meanwhile, we turn to familiar consolations. Tractor pulls. French philosophy. Unprotected sex with strangers. It is only among ourselves that we can let out hair down. (We are, by and large, a hirsute lot.) But be forewarned. Our patience is not inexhaustible. We will not suffer forever on the margins.

JWR contributor Mark Goldblatt's novel, Africa Speaks , will be published this month. Comment by clicking here.

04/25/02: On Being Whiteballed: Why my novel is nowhere near your bookstore
04/11/02: Why profs fear testing
03/31/02: If you cannot attack a position on "straightforward logical grounds," what grounds remain? Welcome to Columbia U
03/21/02: Last week, in case you missed it, was a banner week for cheese
03/01/02: Black History Month distorts accomplishments

© 2002, Mark Goldblatt