Susan Jacoby has just released a book, “The Age of American Unreason“, and contributed to the Opinion page of the Washington Post a couple of Sundays ago.
The Dumbing Of America
Call Me a Snob, but Really, We’re a Nation of Dunces
By Susan Jacoby | Sunday, February 17, 2008; B01
“The mind of this country, taught to aim at low objects, eats upon itself.” Ralph Waldo Emerson offered that observation in 1837, but his words echo with painful prescience in today’s very different United States. Americans are in serious intellectual trouble — in danger of losing our hard-won cultural capital to a virulent mixture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism and low expectations.
Jacoby sees three trends that have converged to create our current low state. The first of course is video, which is supplanting the written word at a furious pace.
And one of the unintended consequences of our video culture is a short attention span. Commercial interruptions every 10 minutes have conditioned us to the ultimate: the galvanizing, 2-minute YouTube extravaganza.
Read a book? I’m sure I don’t have the time (i.e., the ability to concentrate longer than 10 minutes). Of course, it would cut into my seven hours a night of television.
Read a book? Think about its contents? Reflect on its implications? Nope, don’t have time.
The screenwriters go on strike? No problem, we’ll just throw triple episodes of American Idol at them; they won’t miss the writers. [Welcome back, writers, I guess…]
Jacoby’s second ugly trend is the lack of general knowledge. She gives a wonderful example, one that this writer wishes he’d been around to hear, live, Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats. Roosevelt spoke to a different nation, one that wasn’t afraid to get out maps or a globe to better understand the magnitude of the war effort he led.
Today, we let the Decider think for us; why should we be surprised at the sad state of his war, his economy, his deficit?
[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]
And, the final trend Jacoby is so fiercely agitated over is how proud we are of our ignorance.
The problem is not just the things we do not know (consider the one in five American adults who, according to the National Science Foundation, thinks the sun revolves around the Earth); it’s the alarming number of Americans who have smugly concluded that they do not need to know such things in the first place.
Three current examples of our proud ignorance:
- Creation science.
- “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?”
- The proliferation of state lotteries.
Yr (justifiably) humble svt is confounded when he tries to correlate the increasing number of college graduates in the U.S. with this proud anti-intellectualism, but perhaps the obvious impression one gets turns out to be true: most of our recent framed sheepskins represent majors in sex and beer.
Have no fear, faithful reader! This nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© will continue to try to hold the forces of ignorance at bay for another day, with your help.
It’s it for now. Thanks,
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