Monday, 6 December 2010

The Marching Morons


One of the first emails I opened this morning at work was from the H.R. Department. Someone had gone to a fair amount of trouble with the HTML on this one, and it was presented beautifully. Then I read it.
The most hideous grammar it has been my misfortune to try to read at 6:30 in the morning fairly leapt at me from the screen. With all the English language skills of a four year old, the author had either been too lazy or too pig-ignorant to catch the mistake - which was in Italicised capitals, to top it all off. "What kind of university-educated idiots do I work with?", I remember asking myself in horror.

But that, as they say, is not all. Bad spelling, invisible punctuation and painfully bad grammar are common amongst us now, as anyone who spends more than five minutes on a cellphone or the internet will readily recognise. I hasten to add that I don't have so much of a problem with folks whose native tongue is not English. Neither do I kick up a fuss about using the vernacular, in the interests of better communication. But this - oh come on, people. You're a bunch of highly paid e-Commerce experts, are you not? ( I refer now to the morning's email, and, come to think of it, to many equally excruciating examples of piss-poor language skills I have been forced to wade through at work). And I'm a computer coder, for heavens' sake, not a wordsmith.

But the most alarming thing about our laziness or ineptitude is not so much how often it shows up these days, but how widely spread it is. Do you remember a time when computer programmers were smart people with razor-sharp minds, whose applications ran like the proverbial dream and rarely broke down? I do. I'm old enough to recall the care and dedication which research scientists put into their daily work - both of my parents were great examples of working scientists.

But now - gods help us - we seem to have fallen into a seething vat of stupid humanity. For, while I do see the occasional shining mind (less often the shining soul, but that's a subject for another post), they are increasingly in the minority. People struggle to communicate effectively, they seem to have difficulty thinking clearly and even more trouble working efficiently. More and more, a mindset of of getting in and out - of a job, a contract, a promise, a work - with as little labour and as much money as possible is the order of the day. I cringe at every new technological 'system' put into place - for traffic violation tracking, for document archiving, for building simple structures for Pete's sake! - which snarls up and breaks down within days of implementation.

This doesn't apply only in the fields of technology or English language, mind you. The other day I heard someone having to spell the anglicised name of the deity Osiris to someone on the phone - and realised that I've often had to do the same thing. Two generations ago, I would have been considered semi-literate, as I understand Latin and Greek only with difficulty. Now most people don't understand their mother tongues correctly. History? Mythology? The Classics? Forget it.

Every day it seems I see more indications that the general IQ is dropping. But what is causing it? Could it be the trend towards faster and more acquisitive lifestyles? Greed gone rampant? There's an element of that, certainly. The semi-literate mass media we all soak up twenty-four-seven? Ah, getting warmer, perhaps. I mean, have you ever tried to actually read some of the drivel that is successfully marketed as literature? The Dune extension books come to mind strongly, here - I found myself running for the shelter of such places as Jacurutu for a soothing balm of intelligent conversation on Frank Herbert's original works, to give just one example.

But what if the media is just a symptom of the moronic malaise? What is causing us to become, in actuality, stupider as a species?
Well, being the daughter of a microbiologist I have a way of looking at what's going on here. You know how, when a virus invades your body, you burn with fever, produce unpleasant smells and ache everywhere? Well, the human race seems to me to be behaving much like a virus itself. As we burn our world, toxify the water and the air and the soil, poison the food and all the other species which coexist with us, we are aping the viral life form - which lives its short glorious day upon its host, despoils that host, and then drowns itself in its own toxins.

Dr Malthus, you weren't far wrong.