Recently I read well know British writer A.N. Wilson’s 600 page tome “After the Victorians” basically a world history of the extraordinarily eventful first half of the 20th century. Of New Zealand, Ed Hilary got a single mention, albeit as part of the British Everest team.

What surprised me was the amount of fawning adulation Ernest Rutherford received. Wilson according him a substantial account and many other praising references elsewhere in the book, including photographs. No other Kiwi was mentioned which is hardly surprising.

Despite that reflecting Wilson’s views I’d offer good odds that at least 60% of say our 15 year olds today have never heard of Rutherford. In contrast, at state schools back in the 1950s, even the dullest kid could have explained his achievement.

Frankly I’m staggered at the general ignorance of young people today. Why should that be?

For a start, when I was young literally everyone read the newspaper. Nowadays few under 30 would so much have held one, let alone any other news publications.

The most telling evidence of today’s young disinterest in the wider world is in their failure to vote. This is a western world phenomenon. It certainly wasn’t the case in my young days, but we didn’t have today’s distractions. Smart phones and social networking now reign supreme. Curiosity about the world and events of moment seems non-existent. Does it matter?

Probably not but it certainly leaves the door wide open for young folk who are curious and keen to excel, given lack of competition.


Couldn’t agree more The culture of reading books is dying For. Information, the young look up Wikipedia, which is very vague in substance to be polite
It’s the dumbing down of society .College education teaches nothing of history,unless it’s suites the political agenda of today, and even common knowledge On basic subjects, seem to have completely escaped today’s young educated people
It makes sense now , how easily the government duped the wider population into an unnecessary, hard ,lockdown, and the economic consequences that so few of us see coming

When I was in school a decade ago Rutherford was still taught in NZ schools and I learnt about him at 16 years old. I suspect he is still taught about because his experiment is a useful way to demonstrate the scientific method.


The catholic priest describing Rex Mottram. 1920s

‘But yesterday I got a regular eye-opener. The trouble with modern education is you never know how ignorant people are. With anyone over fifty you can be fairly confident what’s been taught and what’s been left out. But these young people have such an intelligent, knowledgeable surface, and then the crust suddenly breaks and you look down into the depths of confusion you didn’t know existed.’

In the 1950s the news told you what happened and you made up your own mind what you thought about it. Today, the news tells you what you are allowed to think about an event and you have to decide if it actually happened.

The other annoying thing in todays society.
Few people write. Its all video clips and the tragically wasted podcast….
What is it that makes people think I want to sit thru a long podcast to find out what its about?
(Yep bit deaf as well which doesnt help).
With all the technology around, why dont these woke stupids get the think transcribed.
In my mind it is just bloody lazy to talk and not write.

I too have read 1000’s of books in my younger life (though little in recent times due to rise of internet). My view is that relevant and useful information changes over time. Up to the 1960’s there was a corpus of knowledge – a few hundred books and small subset of world political history that passing familiarity with (and ability to pick Shibboleths from) could buy you permanent entrance into the educated elites, a legacy now persisting only in increasingly irrelevant english lit departments. 21st Century sees a world swamped in information, with vanishingly few universally acclaimed authorities, a general loss of respect for elites and an incredible number of new books published yearly with no hope of covering even a tiny corner of the breadth of human knowledge. As a result that 20th Century elitist common knowledge base has largely lost its cachet – there is no social or economic benefit in devoting time to its study, so sensible adolescents and their advisers instead put time into developing other skills with greater immediate social/advancement benefit to themselves. Pop culture and saleable technical skills are where it’s at.

    There’s nuggets of wisdom in the nuance of what you say. The thing I hear often is ‘if it matters I’ll hear about it, if it doesn’t I won’t’, there’s so much noise now I can sympathise.

    “To be completely cured of newspapers, spend a year reading the previous week’s newspapers.”

There’s nothing wrong with people not voting, so long as we don’t encourage them to vote. Because a blind vote from a non-interested peon is not power to the people – it’s power to the propagandist.

In fact, I don’t think anyone should be allowed to vote unless they complete an online course on the basic economic and political facts, requiring about 50 hours of video watching or reading, with a test in controlled conditions, so they can then be classed as ‘essentially competent’ to vote. It would be the political death of Jacinda Ardern’s all-powerful smile, and the Green party, and diversity politics, etc, but that’s a wonderful thing. All those abominations are products of severe electoral ignorance.

    How about just charge everyone 0.1% of their income or two hours of social service to vote. Eliminate the disinterested

    There is an old saying Andrew
    ” Be careful what you wish for ”
    One man’s “Eureka” moment is another man’s ” What the hell was he thinking ? “

It’s absurd to attack Wikipedia as it’s the single best thing on the Internet. It was inconceivable 30 years ago that you could gain up to date information on any topic instantly like this. Encyclopaedias were laughably inadequate by comparison.

Teasing aside, while elder generations have always complained about the younger, from as far back as Aristophanes to Cato (and probably further, and overlooking by one line of argument who is responsible for succeeding generations), I wonder sometimes if part of it is not the ultimate consequence of specialisation. A factor which plays into this is the hand-wringing about credentialism. Meanwhile many of the greatest contributors to humanity where scholars yet not academics.

But distraction is certainly a big part of it, given some of smartest technological and business minds have designed everything to hook our attention. My relative freedom from such things makes me rare but mostly disconnected from a certain layer, at least socially. So while I may land one way, there are harms and benefits to either, so it can depend on what one thinks is the bigger trade off.

Here a few quotes about a famous political leader. Can you guess who it is?

“She seemed kindly. She did not speak very much. She just smiled and smiled… And her words were light, not strong. In general, you would estimate that ABC was a kindly person, simple, with a mass view.”

“She had never been noted for intellectual brilliance. But what about her powers of persuasion? Which many were to comment on later? That infectious smile and her charisma with small groups?”

“What do we know about her, except that she smiles? Oh, that smile of hers!”

One final clue – she wanted to create a classless society where there were no rich people, no poor people, and no exploitation.

Okay, I tricked you. I changed the gender in the quotes above.

The beatific smiler, kindly and simple, was Saloth Sâr – later known as Pol Pot. He was one of the worst monsters in history.

Of course, I don’t think Ms Ardern will send all the Aucklanders to the fields to starve (although if she did suggest it, I suspect that the sheep who support her would probably go).

Nonetheless, history bequeaths us a great inheritance – experiences, both good and bad from the past, that we should learn from.

I find it concerning that most voters are ignorant about the great lessons of history – particularly with regards to socialism.

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