A friend sent me the following YouTube link.  WARNING:  Parts of the video are offensive, and if you go to YouTube and read the comments, many of them are extremely offensive.  Nonetheless, both are part of the point I want to make.  Since my commentary contains some spoilers, you have to click on the "more" link to read it.

My friend headed the link with "This nation's school system has created a nation of morons."  I couldn't agree more with her statement, but the video does nothing to prove it.  Selective editing can show anything, especially when combined with preconceived notions of what you want to prove.

It's the comments that are truly disturbing.  If the film was no doubt edited to show the stupidest responses, I'm pretty sure the comments are a random sample—though the group of people willing to comment on YouTube is not exactly representative of the world's population.  At least I hope not.  The venomous, virulent disgust and hatred they spew—often in the form of extremely foul language—is more disturbing to me than ignorance, though they display that as well.  Not that I've read all the comments, which numbered over 4000 as of this morning; a hundred or so was all I could stomach.

In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens proclaimed Ignorance most to be feared, "for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased."  Ignorance of facts about the world is bad enough, but ignorance of other peoples and cultures is appalling, and I find that there's as much ignorance of America in other countries as there is of other countries here.

The only hope I see for either side is more and more cultural exchange programs.  And everyone should read Why the Rest Hates the West, too.

A few comments on the questions and answers:   My first reaction to the challenge of naming a country that begins with "U" was "Uganda."  Most people would say our country begins with "A."  I doubt most of the French, which asked what letter their country's name begins with, would respond, "R" ("Republique francaise").  No matter how official "United States" is, and no matter how frustrating it is to Canadians, Mexicans, and South and Central Americans, "America" is too well entrenched as a name for our country for anyone to expect otherwise.  Though I did think "Yugoslavia" was a cute answer.

I also missed the KFC question, though I maintain that "Utah" as an answer is only partly right.  The first franchise may have been in Utah, but Kentucky really deserves credit as its homeland.

And I totally understand the guy who said Germany was part of the Axis of Evil.  He, perhaps more than anyone, shows that our school system has provided Pope's "a little learning."  He remembers "Axis" vaguely from his studies of World War II, and he knows Germany was our enemy then, so....
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, March 21, 2007 at 8:07 am | Edit
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Okay, my first thought was Uganda, as well. I wonder why. If I have to name my country I would call it the United States, not America, so I don't have that as an excuse. I wonder what people in the UK would say? Do they call their country the United Kingdom or do they say England, Scotland, etc. (I bet if they live in Scotland, they say Scotland) At first I didn't notice that they had actually mislabeled the map they were showing the people, but come on! Adults who don't know one of the seven continents! I will admit that I did not know what the Coalition of the Willing was. Also, my first thoughts for the Axis of Evil did involve the Axis powers during WWII, but I recognized that Iraq and Iran were really among the countries they were looking for. I cringe when I hear people make the insensitive comments about other cultures on the video. No wonder people in other countries view us the way they do. The comments made about the video are sad. Can't people make their point without resorting to foul language and bashing other people and cultures? Many of the people making comments had a running dialog going. Perhaps their time would be better spent on more intellectual pursuits including studying geography.

Posted by dstb on Wednesday, March 21, 2007 at 3:52 pm
I just found Jeff Stein's December 2006 Congressional Quarterly interview with then soon-to-be Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Silvestre Reyes. That's ignorance orders of magnitude more frightening than this video.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, March 21, 2007 at 5:23 pm
This doesn't have to do with how Americans are viewed but about the ability to post vitriolic comments anonymously.  From the AP:  Online Anonymity Lets Users Get Nasty.

Posted by dstb on Thursday, March 22, 2007 at 8:30 am
Too true. I realize anonymity is important in some situations, but too often it's just a cover up for the failure to behave responsibly. The explosion of online pornography is another example, sadly revealing that it was only the fear of being caught sneaking into a dirty bookstore that kept many people away from it before. Fear of being caught isn't the best motivation for avoiding bad behavior, but it may be that civilization depends on just that.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, March 22, 2007 at 8:44 am
What struck me most about the video was how it illuminated how most people are trained to think of questions. In school we are trained to answer the question without regard to our qualifications. The hope is to please the questioner, not discover truth. In that case, a bad guess is better than none. In real life, it is of utmost important to realize our qualifications and to ask the necessary questions before attempting to offer an answer. Ignorance is not half so scary as apathy. These people displayed no interest in the questions, only in pleasing the questioner. I am saying "I don't know" a great deal here in Europe, and I've never had such interesting classes and discussions. Why are we taught that "I don't know" is the worst possible answer?

Posted by IrishOboe on Thursday, March 22, 2007 at 5:39 pm
A teacher I had at St. Paul's said that, "I don't know" wasn't a good answer, but that, "I don't know yet" was a great answer.

Posted by Jon Daley on Monday, March 26, 2007 at 4:36 pm
Good point. When did you go to St. Paul's?

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, March 26, 2007 at 4:43 pm
Students go to ASP the summer before their senior year of high school, so 1994 for me.

Posted by Jon Daley on Monday, March 26, 2007 at 5:04 pm
Ah, a special program. I thought I remembered that you'd gone to the public high school.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, March 26, 2007 at 5:09 pm
Correct. I think you have to have a name like George Edward Roberts IV in order to go to St. Paul's during the normal school year. Or have a dad who is the governor of Massachusetts or something.

Posted by Jon Daley on Tuesday, March 27, 2007 at 7:35 am
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