Are You Dumber than an American?
By Ann-Charlotte Marteus
Translated By Grace Olaison
7 November 2012
Edited by Natalie Clager
Sweden - Expressen - Original Article (Swedish)
Sometimes one is a little afraid of the United States. Not because it possesses nuclear weapons or anything along those lines, but because many Americans, beside the brilliant elite, seem so… well… foolish.
How can 46 percent of the population reject the theory of evolution? How can half the people want a rogue like Mitt Romney as president? How can Sarah Palin even exist? How could doubt about Obama's citizenship and religion become a perpetual point of mobilization, despite the total lack of common sense and evidence?
The deep distrust of reason, science and facts that many Americans wallow in today, is purely detrimental to society. You cannot raise a democratic discussion when preposterous lies are given the same credence as truths.
And never have politicians gotten away with so many lies as during the 2012 election campaign. The exaggerated distrust seems paradoxically to have made people so misguided that they have become gullible.
There are of course many unique reasons why the United States is what it is: historically grounded skepticism of political power holders, religion’s deep roots and a sprawling media landscape where requirements of objectivity have been cast overboard.
But how do marketing reasoning and advertising aesthetics play a role in Americans' galloping suspicion? It is an interesting question, because these are features which Sweden has increasingly embraced.
Americans are real veterans in terms of market thinking. And they have learned what counts: "Caveat emptor", i.e. "Let the buyer beware." In short, capitalism has given us wealth and diversity, but we should not be stupid enough to let ourselves be duped.
The question is: how are people affected in the long run by living chronically in "Watch out, do not be fooled" mode?
Is there increased distrust between people in general? Does one finally reflexively become suspicious of the researcher – and believe that she also tries to deceive us – just like the sales assistant who wants to sell banana wrinkle rejuvenation cream?
Sweden has lagged behind the U.S. in terms of commercialization, but in recent decades, we have in some respects surpassed the U.S. Our lives have been invaded not only by advertising posters, movies and banners, but even school-welfare has been subjected to market logic. In an increasing number of areas, we have become customers rather than citizens. The reasoning behind this systematic change is attractive: We have the power and may choose, instead of elected representatives choosing for us.
However, all systems have advantages and disadvantages, that’s just the way it is.
If the benefit of the customer role is choice and empowerment, then the disadvantages are that in very many situations in life, we must be on guard against people who want to use us to make money. And it’s all the same if the sellers have goods and services that may be of great benefit and enjoyment for me, as, "Caveat emptor!" I would be a fool if I believed in every promotional brochure or flashy mission statement that crossed my path. I need to wear my critical glasses.
Sweden has traditionally had much more social capital than the U.S. That is, people have had much more confidence in each other. And we have, to a relatively high degree, trusted our politicians, officials and scientists. On the whole, this trust has served us well. It is a capital that must not be squandered.
CLICK HERE FOR