April 16, 2004,
EDITOR'S NOTE: All you need to know is this an Igno is a "Duh" with a college education. For a better, and funnier, explanation of this fact read this July 26, 2001 classic curmudgeonly NR column by the Queen of Spleen, Miss Florence King.
Of course, this column, and all of Miss King's delightful back-page oeuvre for National Review, can be found, and enjoyed, in STET, Damnit, The Misanthrope's Corner, 1991 to 2002, which is available only from NR. Order it securely here.
An Igno is a Duh with a college education. There's nothing wrong with their gray matter, it's just that it remains virgin soil. They sow it not, and neither do they reap it. It just lies there undisturbed, as fallow as the day it was born, until at last, like other overdue virginities, it loses all capacity for response and you can't do a thing with it.
Ignos are the chief crop of Diversity Ed, what sprouts when Western Civ's Dead White Males are eliminated from college curricula and replaced with African oral historians, Aztec vivisectionists, and the diaries of Ana´s Nin.
Columnists have made hay with dumbed-down curricula. I've written my share of polemics, but I made the mistake of confining myself to arguments against multiculturalism per se. The narrower but more intriguing subject of Igno psychology is one that I left unexplored until two recent incidents convinced me that we are witnessing the spread of a new kind of stupidity that developed nations have never before had to deal with.
The first incident came about when I had to correct a public record involving my Social Security number. I dealt with an administrative assistant, a cordial, seemingly competent woman in her early thirties. She assured me that my problem was all straightened out, but given my natural pessimism, I automatically said, "I can see the handwriting on the wall." That's when she looked at the wall. Turned around and gave it the old up-and-down once-over. Looked back at me with eyes as big as saucers. "It's just a figure of speech," I mumbled.
The second incident involved a group of Gen-Xers who moved into, and then out of, my apartment complex. I never talked to them and I'm not even sure how many there were, but I do know one thing about them the whole place knew it: They had a red light over their door. Each apartment has a faux Gay Nineties gas lantern for use as an entry light and they put a red bulb in theirs. It was not why they moved out; that had to do with unforeseen financial problems when one of the group lost her job. They weren't really operating a brothel, so all was innocent.
Was it ever. After they left, a neighbor told me that they didn't know what a red light over a door meant. "I told them and they were dumbfounded," she said. "I don't think they believed me."
At first I found it incredible that these heirs of the sexual revolution did not know what a red light symbolized, but then it hit me: I had run into the first principle of the New Stupidity the inter-generational idiom was dead.
When you grow up, as I did, hearing about "houses of ill repute" and "ladies of the evening" from older members of an extended family, you not only find out what a red light means, but you sign up for an ongoing course in the brand of informal history known as "lore," or, what "everybody knows."
Like the extended family that watered it, America's lore pool has dried up. What "everybody knows" has gone the way of every other certainty because we can't even agree on who "everybody" is. Our obsessive commitments to diversity and radical individualism have encouraged Ignos to practice a self-segregation of the intellect governed by the credo "Everybody's gotta right to his own everybody." The mind of the Igno resembles the tables in their college cafeterias where races and ethnicities voluntarily huddle with their own kind. The typical Igno can seem intelligent and informed as long as he doesn't budge from his educational salt lick, but let him stray and there's no telling what will go over his head.
What happened with the red light promises to engulf the phrase "bully pulpit," which comes from the same era. Ignos have only a foggy idea, if that, of who Teddy Roosevelt was, so they can hardly be expected to know that in TR's day "bully" was an expression of enthusiasm comparable to "cool." It won't be long now before the Ignos get it all mixed up with day-care aggression and conclude that bullying is a presidential perk.
The woman who searched the wall for the handwriting I saw thereon personifies the Igno condition from the religious conservative's point of view: People who don't read the Bible will believe anything.
I'll concede that Diversity Ed imperils the Igno's soul, but I'm more interested in what else it does to him, and by extension, to all of us.
When people stop reading the Bible and Shakespeare they cut themselves off from an enormous number of figures of speech used in the English language. Growing up without these models, they never develop the habit of using simile and metaphor themselves. Eventually they develop a fear and loathing of all such literary conventions and a conviction that anyone who uses them is being somehow "insincere." No wonder ringing political oratory is dead. No candidate would dare.
The uneducated have always been prone to paranoia because so much that they don't understand is always swirling around them. One "whom" and they think they are being snubbed; a speaker who alternates "if it was" and "if it were" is tricky; and people who use "big words" are making fun of them. Uneducated people with college degrees are even more touchy, and their numbers are steadily increasing.
The American way of solving problems like these is to turn everybody into an Igno so that nobody will know the difference. Moviemakers are doing their part by promoting Igno literal-mindedness, replacing subtlety, indirection, and symbolism with writhing nude bodies and oceans of blood.
It was bound to happen. When there are no imaginations left, nothing is left to the imagination.