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Are we becoming a nation of know-nothings?

July 21st, 2017 by Bob Bly

Is there a basic degree of knowledge one should possess as an (a)
educated, literate human being and (b) to function competently
in one’s chosen field?

Well, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what that level of
knowledge is.

But yes, I do think that there is some body of knowledge that
people must possess to be taken seriously in society in general
as well as in their industry or profession in particular.

And sadly, I see fewer and fewer people at this level of basic
cultural and technical knowledge as the years pass.

For instance, a couple of years ago, Alan Alda was the
commencement speaker at my son’s graduation ceremony at

When I told my personal trainer OL, who is in his 30s, he said:

Alan Alda — played Hawkeye Pierce on TV in M*A*S*H, I said.

Nope, replied OL. Never heard of him.

Until that moment, it never occurred me that there could be
people in this country who aren’t familiar with M*A*S*H.

Writer Harlan Ellison tells how, years ago, when he mentioned
Dachau at a college lecture, a student raised her hand and asked,
“What’s Dachau?”

He was flabbergasted that an educated American would not know
this infamous concentration camp.

Similarly, I find that in marketing, practitioners lack basic
knowledge that I, at least, think they should have.

Early in my career, in the 1980s, when I referred in my
copywriting classes to Claude Hopkins and his classic book
Scientific Advertising, most students nodded their heads in

Today, if I am giving a copywriting lecture to an audience of
several hundred copywriters and marketers, and I ask “Who here
has read Claude Hopkins’ Scientific Advertising?” only one or two
hands in the room go up — if that — which I find almost beyond

Don’t get me wrong: The majority of people I associate with both
in my personal and business life are smart, educated, cultured,
literate, and knowledgeable.

A huge number of them are a lot smarter than I am … and know a
lot more than I do.

On the other hand, the people who fill the Jerry Springer show
studio as his live audience have to come from somewhere, right?

In his book The Closing of the American Mind (Simon & Schuster),
Allan Bloom wrote:

“The failure to read good books both enfeebles the vision and
strengthens our most fatal tendency — the belief that the here
and now is all there is.”


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