Let’s get stupid

Pollsters reach new depths in the search for the lowest common denominator

Photo Illustration by Don Button

It seems the human race is in a nostalgic mood. Beset by the frustrations and trials of the modern world, a great many of us—Christians, Muslims and Jews—hunger for a simpler time. Unfortunately, the simpler time most people seem to have a hankering for is round about the 13th century. The Muslim peoples find that period rather attractive because women were pretty much under absolute male control, in contrast to the present time, in which so many uppity women want to violate religious codes and engage in such wild and crazy behavior as driving automobiles or going out in public. Lots of Christians and Jews seem to like those 13th-century times, too, and for similar reasons.

But, hey, it’s not just the suppression of women that makes the 13th century look so inviting. For one thing, by revisiting the 13th century, we can cast off the tyranny of reason. No longer will we need to be straitjacketed by science or logic or even common sense. The world can be anything we want it to be. Want to be a grown-up who believes in demons or dybbuks or the divine right of kings? You got it.

According to a recent poll, a big chunk of Americans, for example, believe the world just sprang into existence about 6,000 years ago, all of it—from dinosaurs to Adam’s DNA—shaped and made and plopped down in a mere six days. A neat trick, of course.

So, now it’s the 21st century. We inhabit the world’s most powerful nation, and it turns out that nation is divided by an issue most thought was settled by science and by the embarrassing memory of the Scopes trial way back in the 1920s.

This state of affairs has prompted pollsters to begin asking questions they never would have asked just a few brief months ago. And the results they’re getting are rather surprising.

For instance, it turns out that 27 percent of Americans believe the devil can assume human form, and 9 percent of those Americans believe that the human form the devil inhabits belongs to Michael Moore. After all, they reason, the devil is so enormously evil, he would need a human form as commodious as Moore’s to contain all that nastiness. Once the devil had assumed Moore’s shape, it was no surprise that he would take on the task of running down the best, most God-loving country that ever was.

Another large percentage of the populace—29 percent—believes that Isaac Newton’s idea of gravity is nonsense. What keeps us from just floating off into space? The planet is made of Velcro, according to most of the people polled.

Not long ago, a report was circulated that John Ashcroft, the recently departed U.S. attorney general, believes that calico cats are a sign of the devil. Although members of Ashcroft’s staff later denied the rumor, it turns out that 22 percent of Americans polled do believe that calico cats are a sign of the devil. Most of those same people also believe that the devil can be warded off by swinging a beagle by the tail during a full moon. Unfortunately, 12 percent of the population believes that swinging a beagle by the tail during a full moon is likely to throw the Earth off its axis and send the planet careening into the sun.

And on the subject of dogs, it turns out that 18 percent of Americans believe that seeing an ambulance is unlucky, unless you hold your breath until you see a black or a brown dog. Researchers speculate that there used to be many more such people, but some of them died while holding their breath in places where dogs were prohibited.

Polls also show that 29 percent of the population believes that the dried body of a frog worn in a silk bag around the neck averts epilepsy. It has, however, been an uphill fight to get that treatment covered by Medicare.

Thirty-two percent of Americans believe that if you use the same pencil to take a test as you used for studying for the test, the pencil will remember the answers. These same people tended to do very poorly on their SATs, though 19 percent of those polled blamed the pencil.

Finally, 48 percent of the people who voted for George W. Bush don’t believe in evolution. Given their candidate, that would seem to be a fairly logical bit of skepticism.

So, let’s all get stupid. It’s the spirit of the times, after all, and no one in his or her right mind wants to be late to the witch burning.