Down the Slide of The Bell Curve


There’s a You Tube video going around featuring some pretty young thing from the South on the game show “Are you Smarter Than A Fifth Grader” grappling with the question of whether or not Europe is a country. She doesn’t know if France is a country or not. She has never heard of Budapest, the country capital she is being asked about, nor Hungary, the answer. The worst thing about this is not that she doesn’t know (I concede that there are probably questions on that show I wouldn’t know either); it’s that she’s unaffected about not knowing. She boldly announces, as if it is pretty common to not know if Europe is a country or not, that she has no idea. She screws up her face and says the word Hungary like the answer to the question was as unexpected and obscure as “cat doo doo” would have been.

Here’s something else: I heard on the news recently that we are trailing quite a few countries in our childhood literacy rates. Amazing, huh? With all this blogging and texting, we don’t appear to be able to read and comprehend any better. I don’t have the numbers, but it appears that girls fare much better in the literacy category all around. US girls carry the US over other countries only because our girls’ reading levels are higher than average. And I just read something the other day about Ian McKewan handing out novels, in a little social experiment, to eager and excited women in London while the men turned up their noses in suspicion.

Why am I posting this? I’ll tell you. It’s one part confession, and one part record keeping. It’s a little self aggrandizing and probably smacks of “I Told You So”, but I’ll say it anyway. When the shish hits the fan, and it will, I want the world to know I was a witness.

I was there when gas prices crept up from record lows to record highs. I was there when people complained and talked about the magical boycott of the big oil companies that would happen if it ever reached such and such a price. It never did.

I was there when children shot other children in their schools and we blamed things like music and the Internet for their disturbing behavior. I was there when we called the victims heroes and installed police officers and metal detectors in our learning institutions.

I was there when our junk mail folders were filled for ads for male enhancement drugs but we couldn’t say “fuck” over the airwaves. I was there when we banned insurance coverage for women’s contraceptives, and bombed abortion clinics. I was there when gays were not given the same civil rights as heterosexuals.

I was there when our magazines were filled with ads for plastic surgeons and we hated ourselves and each other so much, we cut off pieces of our bodies and filled them with agents to plump and distort them so often, we considered this normal and created TV shows around it.

I was there when one in three women had been sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. One in three. One in three. One in three. One in three. Our mothers, our sisters, our lovers. One in three. One in three. One in three.

I was there when big box stores replaced independently owned stores and these stores became the places where most people shopped most of the time. I was there when people loved their low low prices but did not understand where their jobs and their sense of community had gone.

I was there when we launched a campaign to crack down on illegal immigration and people installed themselves on the borders of our country to shoot at people trying to get in. I was there when the idea was tossed around to build a wall, a security fence, around our country.

I was there when we were told that a terrorist threat was imminent. I was there for the imprisonment of people without charges at Guantanamo.

I was there when people went bankrupt paying for medical bills and insurance could not be provided for free for all from taxpayers’ dollars. I was there when insurance rates went up every few years while the insurance companies cited reasons like “more diabetes”. I was there when energy drinks, packed full of caffeine and high fructose corn syrup, were available in every convenience store. I was there when we took our kids to coffeeshops and allowed them to drink “coffee drinks” in plastic cups. I was there when we threw these cups away, at a rate of thousands per day, into the garbage. I was there when we still couldn’t decide what to do about global warming.

I was there and watched it all happen. I took notes. I smelled our demise coming. I felt hopeless. I felt I had to survive. I slid down the slope of the bell curve knowing what was at the bottom and I went anyway.