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The Age of American Unreason


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On C-SPAN's Book TV, reason's Nick Gillespie recently sat down with Susan Jacoby, author of the new book The Age of American Unreason, to talk about anti-intellectualism on the right and left, trends in popular culture, and what Jacoby sees as a dangerous decline in the level of academic and political discourse.


From C-SPAN's description of the book:


In "The Age of American Unreason," Susan Jacoby offers a critique on American society and says that the combination of anti-intellectualism and anti-rationalism in American culture is becoming a serious problem. In the book she focuses on issues including society's addiction to mass media, ineffective educational systems, and religious fundamentalism.


It's a spirited and intense conversation between a cultural pessimist and a cultural optimist that lasts for about an hour.





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Fantastic. It's come to the point in this country that in order to get elected, not only do you have to prove that you are a Christian, wash in the blood of the lamb, but you have to prove to a large voting block of voters that you are anti intellectual as well. Hillary has to throw back shots in the sports bar, burp and talk of shooting ducks with dad and obliterating Iran from the face of the planet, and Obama has to go to the bowling alley to prove he's just a regular guy.


There is a real catch 22 about raising the issue for debate as this woman is attempting to do with her book. The intellectuals of the country are going to nod their heads in agreement, but the politicians are going to have to shy away from the subject in order to not offend the large group of grunting voters who feed on Britney Spears' watch and who think that smart and educated = ivory tower, pie-in-the-sky liberalism.


Years ago I read an article in the International Tribune which compared European education to American education. The article claimed, quite accurately I think, that American education has been very effective at creating a competent work force, while the Euro model has done a better job at giving its citizens a well-rounded, liberal arts perspective on human knowledge.


This has worked well for Americans as they have built an economic engine that is powerful and, up until recently, efficient. The problem is, it has some very dangerous fallout.


It's a move toward the world of Harrison Bergeron.


It's citizens are now competent workers, but ignorant about life, history, philosophy, the arts, etc… Because of this, they can be taken advantage of. They have proven a willingness to give up their rights because they don't understand them. They have proven their willingness to let the government lead them by simplistic propaganda into wars and militarism that has global consequences.


American society revels in its ignorance and as a block, has become the big dumb, but powerful bully that can be used by those with self interested agendas.


Not to mention the fact that the American people are deprived of the joy that a life of better understanding can offer. A large portion of society settles for bowling and budwieser never learning to appreciate good wine, truly good music, truly good conversation, truly good art; never gaining a sense of wonder that moves beyond goddidit. It's sad.

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The author is brilliant. I need to read her book. The interviewer, however, is a complete dumb shit. She could have built an even stronger case for her position if he would have just shut up and quit arguing with her about trivial, preconceived matters before she could finish a train of thought.


The interviewer seems to me to be an "intellectual" product of the decline the author writes about.

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