Bob Herbert of The New York Times got it almost right today:

Stupidity, from the level of each individual on up to corporations and government, is wrecking our country.  Furthermore, it is my belief that the nature of the American persona is to seek the best, i.e. attain the superlative by any means possible (see my post from 10/08/08 “The Superlative Syndrome”).  The combination of our stupidity and destructive competitiveness spells out only bad consequences for us.

One of America’s founding principles was to provide our new country with the basic principles of freedom so that as individual citizens and as a nation, we could be all that we could be.  The definition of the United States came to include being the biggest, best, strongest, the wealthiest.  Our pioneer “can-do” spirit served us well in the settling of this country, in our industrial development and in producing wealth and prosperity.  However, along the way, we have faltered many times when this independence turned into blind, selfish  ambition.  A premier example is the financial meltdown and accompanying epidemic of fraud and corruption apparent within our borders today.  It is well and good to aspire to higher planes of success.  What is not acceptable is to destroy individuals, society, codes of morality and reason to attain those ends.

On the level of the individual, being the best, having the best, is at first very cute.  This attitude is viewed as an adorable personality quirk.  After a few years, it gets a little annoying.  After many years, it gets downright destructive.  The person striving to be the best can not reach that level because, by constantly raising his own standards to an ultimately dangerous, unattainable level, he places himself in jeopardy of destruction.  So instead, he attacks other people.  It is not enough to be the best; at this point, another person has to be diminished.  This is the major pitfall of  aspiring to be the best.  If you are on the receiving end of a superlative-seeking person, and do not relish being destroyed, the only antidote is to extricate yourself from that situation.

Bob Herbert is correct in his thesis that Americans are their own worst enemy.  Yesterday, the day after Christmas, all I heard on news radio was of the fanaticism of Americans seeking more and better deals at the stores.  The issue never came up as to whether or not these items were needed.  The shopping scene yesterday was a feeding frenzy.  It appeared that bragging rights for the best, cheapest purchase were the order of the day.  The goal was to get there early and shop until you drop;  to get the BEST deal just for the sake of attaining the superlative shopping experience.  One word ran through my mind all day:  gluttony.

Similarly, on a corporate level, being the best is an end in and of itself.  The consequences of  this superlative syndrome has become more widespread, affecting more that just the individual.  Community and society have gotten dragged into the downward spiral.  For the last five years or so, I always wondered why, upon announcing quarterly earning reports, companies had to cite a better quarter than the last one or else their stock price plummeted.   Why wasn’t it acceptable to stay the same?  In light of America’s need to always be on top, greed and corruption became more prevalent.  If  better earnings were just not there, these companies were perfectly willing  to cook the books, lie, steal and cheat their way to a better quarter.  Just yesterday on the front page of  The Washington Post was an article citing  a major accounting oversight organization that changed the rules so that companies would be able to state their earnings in a positive manner, no matter what:

Government policies and actions have been no less stupid than those of individuals and corporations.  The blind adherence of George W. Bush to his one-dimensional outlook on life, no matter the issue at hand, has been almost fairytale-like.  During his tenure, he has stripped us of our Constitutional rights, slammed the door on much needed, innovative science experimentation, and muddied the waters of the founding principle of separation of state and church.  These are merely a few issues that exemplify Bush’s stupidity.  His willful ignorance was criminal.  Above all, George W. Bush has been the number one symbol, the epitome of stupidity, of which Herbert speaks.  Actually, his ignorance is not so surprising given the electorate who put him in office.  Stupidity rules.  Sure beats taking the more difficult high road.  Stupid is as stupid does.  Easy is as easy is.

In our quest to be the best, we have tossed aside any semblance of  honesty and common sense.  Bob Herbert was actually being polite when he wrote of our stupidity.  Our behavior has been indicative not only of stupidity, but also of avarice.  Stupidity connotes a certain innocence and our stupidity of recent years has had a retributive, entitled and malevolent aspect to it.  There is nothing innocent about what we have done to ourselves and others in our  be-all and end-all contest to be the best.

We do need to re-examine and change our goals.  The times are calling for attention to less spending, a vow to pay as we go, a pledge to ethical behavior, an establishment of universal health care, and a commitment to the environment.

Stupidity plus the superlative.  The message of the day seems to be the “STUPID-EST“.


They walk among us and many work retail.

I was at the check-out at a K-Mart.  The clerk rang up a $46.64 charge.  I gave her  $50 bill.  She gave me back $46.64.  I gave the money back to her and told her she made a mistake in MY favor.  She became indignant and informed me that she was educated, knew what she was doing and returned the money again.  I gave her the money back — same scenario!  I departed the store with $46.64.

I walked into a Starbuck’s with s buy-one-get-one-free coupon for a grande latte.  I handed it to the girl and she looked over at a little chalkboard that said, “Buy-one-get-one-free.”  She said, “There is already a buy-one-get-one-free so I guess they are both free.”  She handed me my free lattes and I walked out the door.

They walk among us!

My sister has a life-saving tool in her car designed to cut through the seat belt if she gets trapped.  She keeps it in the trunk.

They walk among us!

One day I was walking down the beach with some friends when one of them shouted, “Look at that dead bird!”  Someone looked up at the sky and said, “Where?”

They walk among us!

While looking at a house my brother asked the real estate agent which direction was north because, he explained, he didn’t want the sun waking him up every morning.  She asked, “Does the sun rise in the north?”  When my brother explained that the sun rises in the east, and has for sometime, she shook her head and said. “Oh, I don’t keep up with all that stuff.”

They walk among us!

I couldn’t find my luggage at the airport baggage area, so I went to the lost luggage office and told the woman there that my bags never showed up.  She smiled and told me not to worry because she was a trained professional and I was in good hands.  “Now,” she asked me, “has your plane arrived yet?”

They walk among us!

While working at a pizza parlor I observed a man ordering a small pizza to go.  He appeared to be alone and the cook asked him if he would like it cut into 4 pieces or 6.  He thought about it for some time before responding.  “Just cut it into 4 pieces; I don’t think I am hungry enough to eat 6.”

They walk among us and they reproduce!

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