From: Billy on
In article
walt tonne <tonnewalt487(a)> wrote:
The Dumbing Of America
By Susan Jacoby
Sunday, February 17, 2008; Page 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.

The classic work on this subject by Columbia University historian
Richard Hofstadter, "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life," was
published in early 1963, between the anti-communist crusades of the
McCarthy era and the social convulsions of the late 1960s. Hofstadter
saw American anti-intellectualism as a basically cyclical phenomenon
that often manifested itself as the dark side of the country's
democratic impulses in religion and education. But today's brand of
anti-intellectualism is less a cycle than a flood. If Hofstadter (who
died of leukemia in 1970 at age 54) had lived long enough to write a
modern-day sequel, he would have found that our era of 24/7 infotainment
has outstripped his most apocalyptic predictions about the future of
American culture.

Dumbness, to paraphrase the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, has
been steadily defined downward for several decades, by a combination of
heretofore irresistible forces. These include the triumph of video
culture over print culture (and by video, I mean every form of digital
media, as well as older electronic ones); a disjunction between
Americans' rising level of formal education and their shaky grasp of
basic geography, science and history; and the fusion of anti-rationalism
with anti-intellectualism.

First and foremost among the vectors of the new anti-intellectualism is
video. The decline of book, newspaper and magazine reading is by now an
old story. The drop-off is most pronounced among the young, but it
continues to accelerate and afflict Americans of all ages and education

The shrinking public attention span fostered by video is closely tied to
the second important anti-intellectual force in American culture: the
erosion of general knowledge.

People accustomed to hearing their president explain complicated policy
choices by snapping "I'm the decider" may find it almost impossible to
imagine the pains that Franklin D. Roosevelt took, in the grim months
after Pearl Harbor, to explain why U.S. armed forces were suffering one
defeat after another in the Pacific. In February 1942, Roosevelt urged
Americans to spread out a map during his radio "fireside chat" so that
they might better understand the geography of battle. In stores
throughout the country, maps sold out; about 80 percent of American
adults tuned in to hear the president. FDR had told his speechwriters
that he was certain that if Americans understood the immensity of the
distances over which supplies had to travel to the armed forces, "they
can take any kind of bad news right on the chin."

This is a portrait not only of a different presidency and president but
also of a different country and citizenry, one that lacked access to
satellite-enhanced Google maps but was far more receptive to learning
and complexity than today's public. According to a 2006 survey by
National Geographic-Roper, nearly half of Americans between ages 18 and
24 do not think it necessary to know the location of other countries in
which important news is being made. More than a third consider it "not
at all important" to know a foreign language, and only 14 percent
consider it "very important."

That leads us to the third and final factor behind the new American
dumbness: not lack of knowledge per se but arrogance about that lack of
knowledge. 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. Call this anti-rationalism -- a
syndrome that is particularly dangerous to our public institutions and
discourse. Not knowing a foreign language or the location of an
important country is a manifestation of ignorance; denying that such
knowledge matters is pure anti-rationalism. The toxic brew of
anti-rationalism and ignorance hurts discussions of U.S. public policy
on topics from health care to taxation.

There is no quick cure for this epidemic of arrogant anti-rationalism
and anti-intellectualism; rote efforts to raise standardized test scores
by stuffing students with specific answers to specific questions on
specific tests will not do the job. Moreover, the people who exemplify
the problem are usually oblivious to it. ("Hardly anyone believes
himself to be against thought and culture," Hofstadter noted.) It is
past time for a serious national discussion about whether, as a nation,
we truly value intellect and rationality. If this indeed turns out to be
a "change election," the low level of discourse in a country with a mind
taught to aim at low objects ought to be the first item on the change
> Interesting post.
- Billy
"Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the
merger of state and corporate power." - Benito Mussolini.