One of the fascinating, and often disturbing parts about history is how often it is repeated; maybe not exactly the same way – but certainly with enough similarities to provide ample warning or pained resignation.
In this case, a commentary on news of the day by noted broadcaster and essayist Walter Kiernan from July 1, 1947 in which he reveals, much to his somewhat jaundiced amazement, that recent studies concluded fully 1/3 of Americans were considered less-than-intelligent/easily conned and painfully unaware of the world around them. One-Third. In 1947 America that was some 44 million people.
Lest you think this is because education was out of reach for many, this also included University graduates, which ironically also showed a surprising boost in honor students since 1945; regular kids, most of whom were taking advantage of the GI Bill and getting a free college education. It’s interesting when you consider, in the 1940s and later, College was considered the bastion and sole property of the wealthy, and those sons and daughters of the “elite ruling class” were the predominate enrollees who earned the titles of Rich and Dumb.
All that aside, the main concern by Kiernan was that this “one-third of a nation bordering on the illiterate” was truly alarming, because it meant people were susceptible to cons, fake news, rumors and scare tactics. A bit like now, when you think about it. But this was 1947; seventy-one years ago.
1947 and we were gearing up for a world shuddering under the terrible influence of the Atomic Bomb and the dystopian view of a world under Communist domination, heightened by the threat of a perceived “terror from within” and the era of Joe McCarthy, which brought about a level of extremism in thought and action, but which unfortunately ruined the lives of many innocent people in the process.
These days, those with an education and a curiosity of life, who have the ability to reason and see through shams are chastised as being “elitist” – mostly by those who view knowledge and a world view with contempt – strange, how scorn is heaped in reversals and is muddled over time, even though most of those students are not of the “wealthy class” but are kids wanting something better out of life and are paying dearly for it with crippling Student loans.
But also in the report and commentary, we were not alone – even in 1947. Seems lack of intelligence knew no borders – perhaps a comfort in 1947, it’s more of an anomaly today.
There are other reports and comments about the days news in this broadcast – sadly, the sound of the original transcription discs was less-than-ideal, due primarily to being badly damaged – but the importance of the topic and the era in which it was presented, make wading through surface noise not such a bad thing. It clears up after a while.
One day we’ll stop making the same mistakes over and over – or maybe not. Either way, I doubt we’ll know.
Here’s what they were talking about on July 1, 1947.