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Because I am a product of the Age of American Unreason, I m going to begin reviewing this book before I ve finished reading it Besides, I don t have time to read the entire book I have to watch all the re runs I ve DVRed of America s Biggest Loser and Bachelor, and then I need to fantasize about the end times when everyone who disagrees with me gets theirs, and I ve also got to spend a few minutes irrationally doubting whether macroevolutionary theory is a fully sufficient explanation for the origins of Handel s Messiah At first, I thought I might like this book Jacoby promised to lament the collapse of reason, critical thinking, and nuanced debate in modern American culture among both liberals and conservatives, and I thought I probably had a decent enough dose of intellectual snobbery to enjoy it I knew she was going to lambaste Christian fundamentalists, but, being a traditionalist Christian with my own set of concerns about fundamentalism, I thought I could weather that assault pretty well As it turns out, she only paid lip service to the both liberals and conservatives part she primarily talks about the unreason of the right And her religious targets were considerably broader than fundamentalists they seemed to encompass anyone who sincerely believes anything that cannot be empirically verified For example, she can only shake her head to discover that in America, unlike in other enlightened parts of the globe, four out of five people actually believe in miracles If only the central government had power and we didn t allow localities to govern themselves, we could enforce conformity of thought in this country Or so Jacoby opines in her quest to restore reason to America I agree with Jacoby that there seems to be a real dearth of critical thinking these days I agree that modern technology is conditioning us, at least to some extent, to have shorter attention spans when it comes to processing and analyzing arguments I agree that it is, all other things being equal which they never are , preferable to have a president who is capable of stringing together a complete, grammatically correct sentence using formal rhetorical devices than one who is not With all this I agree Here s where I disagree 1 Jacoby generalizes in her dismissal of modern media She fails to acknowledge that movies and television shows, much like the novel, are art forms capable of containing either trash or greatness, and that this media can, like the novel, be processed, analyzed, considered, and discussed with intellectual rigor or consumed as mere entertainment When the novel first broke on the scene, it was considered by many to be the domain of the intellectually slovenly as well, but it eventually earned the nod of intellectuals as an art form worthy of as much respect as the poem or the play She dismisses the idea of choice in media entertainment as an illusion, but this to me seems unreasonable What possessor of Direct TV or cable can really believe he has no real choice in what he consumes From trash reality television, to historical documentary, to liberal leaning news or conservative leaning news, to period pieces based on classical English literature, to educational children s programming, to I won t go on, but choice, and real choice real differences abound 2 Jacoby sees conservatives as having pulled the wool over the eyes of the public by convincing them that there exist liberal intellectual elites who are out of touch with reality, when conservative intellectual elites exits too, and when we shouldn t be deriding intellectualism the first place What she doesn t adequately address is the reason why this has been possible for conservatives to pull off, despite their own prominent think tanks, and that is because, in the U.S., liberals absolutely dominate the academy Conservatives don t make up the bulk or, in some departments, even a sizeable minority of professors in elite universities Statistics show that in most universities, between 80 97% of liberal arts professors are registered Democrats, which is completely unrepresentative of the population at large And some of the things coming out of the mouths of professors at elite universities do, indeed, seem downright out of touch to the average American Therefore this image of the reality divorced, liberal intellectual surrounded in his ivory tower by other liberal intellectuals is not all that difficult to promulgate If the conservatives controlled the academy as they have in other eras , one would have considerably difficulty associating the out of touch elite intellectual picture with liberals and excusing conservatives from the caricature 3 Despite her support of reason, she has a tendency to make sweeping and unsubstantiated generalizations So, for example, if you re a Christian who thinks Revelation will come true, then you must perforce believe in the massacre of everyone who has not accepted Jesus as the Messiah Never mind that nothing like the phrase accepting Jesus as the Messiah occurs in Revelation, and never mind that those in Revelation against whom the saints are crying out are those in the act of violently persecuting Christians As another example of generalization, take this Part of Don Imus s radio audience, she tells us, was undoubtedly composed of hard core racists and misogynists Undoubtedly Hard core Upon what rational foundation is she basing this blanket statement Did she perform a demographic survey of his audience I rather doubt not I m guessing the only reason she needed to muster for that statement is that Imus is considered to be a conservative talk show host, and, as, everyone JUST KNOWS, conservatives are racists and misogynists At least, it s difficult for me to imagine her having said, Part of Jeanie Garafalo s audience is undoubtedly composed of hard core Anti Semites, even though she would have as much rational basis for making such a statement These are but two examples in the opneing pages, but, in general, she does not seem to feel most of her statements require substantiation, which is an odd position for someone who is lamenting the collapse of reason to take She s apparently of the school of debate that believes one should not dignify any counter argument with a response I m right, and it s so OBVIOUS I m right, that I can t be bothered responding to your objections There s also no need to name my sources because, after all, I m right 4 Unlike Jacoby, I don t think conservatives are wrong to point out that intellectualism is potentially problematic and that intellectuals whether conservative or liberal can, in fact, be dangerously divorced from reality While I consider myself to have an intellectual bent, I am well aware of how easy it is for intellectually minded people to become so consumed by ideas that they fail to consider the actual, real life consequences of those ideas Supporting and pursuing the idea becomes, for many intellectuals, worth any price that must be paid It was not the masses hungering for vengeance that led to a mismanaged war in Iraq, but the neo conservative think tanks churning out ideas about American hegemony and theories of domino democratization It was not the generals who did not foresee the complications, but the intellectuals Nazism was bred in the universities and mounted up on the wings of intellectual philosophies such as Nietzscheism Communism was a product of the intellectual class The terrorists of violent jihadism largely hail from the educated classes in their countries The irrational masses give birth to the occasional riot and bad reality television show, but it is largely the educated, intellectual classes who give birth to the ideologies whose real life consequences are widespread, long term, large scale suffering, ideologies eventually filtered down to the masses through an academy that lacks intellectual diversity Does all this mean I believe we shouldn t think That we shouldn t create and defend ideas No, but it means I believe it is not unwise to maintain a healthy dose of skepticism about intellectuals and that it is not necessarily a terrible thing that Americans, unlike the other enlightened peoples of the globe, have a habit of not accepting everything the educated authorities tell them Jacoby speaks of how people are inclined only to read what reinforces their view She s right about this, and I certainly fall into that trap too often myself So, if you want to take up Jacoby s call not to be a part of the Age of American Unreason, and therefore not just read what reinforces her view, you ll want a counterbalance to this book I recommend that anyone who reads this also read Paul Johnson s Intellectuals Intellectuals is a book that explores the lives of ten famous intellectuals But it also talks about the way intellectuals divorce themselves from reality with their ideas, not really caring how those ideas might actually affect the average, real life person It is a portrait, ten portraits really, of the out of touch intellectual Jacoby will tell you that Americans are a pack of ignoramuses for approaching intellectuals and intellectualism with such extreme wariness Paul Johnson, reaching into history, will give you some idea of why that may not be such a bad idea after all.One point The problem with all of these books that pine for the loss of something is that the something, very often, never really existed Were people really reasonable in the past, or was it simply that fewer common people were allowed to participate in things and easily voice their opinions For instance, she laments the dumbing down of political language, but the surest way to prevent that is to get rid of the idea that every Tom, Dick and Harry over the age of 18 should vote and once again make property ownership a condition for voting Is that what she wants to see done And when we stop educating primarily the elite and start educating absolutely everyone, including those who can barely speak the dominate language of the land, isn t it inevitable that the average student will perform at a lower level When the percentage of the population that can read a book jumps from 15% of the population to 90% of the population, isn t inevitable that there will be a lot lower quality literature in production In other words, aren t there other explanations for why things are as they are than that people, on average, are irrational than in previous generations Really, aren t the elites, by definition, a minority in any age But that, I suppose, is not Jacoby s problem Her problem is that today, the peons have influence than ever before Well, you can t have your cake and eat it too Democracy or meritocracy One must choose Most people are happy to choose the meritocracy until they discover that they are not considered to be a part of the elite. If you agree with everything Jacoby says, you re not paying enough attention She s out to diagnose all the reasons why Americans are falling behind the rest of the world intellectually I think she s right about a lot of what she says, but she blames quite a bit on conservatives and on religion that I don t agree can be laid on those particular doorsteps At the same time, it s fascinating to read her take on the 60 s particularly given that my in laws were definitely part of the counter counterculture i.e they re conservative boomers who worked hard to make a lot of money, and still see liberals and intellectuals basically lazy thus, their constant teasing of my long haired husband for his early retirement to academia.The main weakness of this book for me is that it s a 350 page rant directed toward liberal intellectuals who already agree with Jacoby I think what she s saying about our culture is important, especially when she talks about the influence of the media and of celebrity culture on our intellectual life After reading this book I am convinced than ever that we as a nation need to have a conversation about intellectualism and education, and how to encourage true learning and critical thought in our children, and I had high hopes this book would serve as a starting place for that conversation Unfortunately, I don t think it will, precisely because Jacoby, like the conservatives she pillories, isn t talking to anyone who doesn t already agree with her I wish the book were written in a way that it were accessible to those who disagree politically with Jacoby Her underlying message is definitely one all Americans should hear, not just those who are democrats, and I think it highly unfortunate this is written in such a way anyone of a different political stripe will likely dismiss the good points of her argument because of her politics I would suggest this to everyone to read, but I will warn those of you who are LDS that she sees the Mormon church as a fundamentalist cult, and says so repeatedly. Once upon a time, and a very good time it was indeed, there was an America that proudly stood as the intellectual beacon of the world, the light on the hill which shone and illuminated even down into those darkest of places the light of reason and hope Because reason and hope are sisters and hand in hand they can transform the world.Then one day one of these sisters got lost in the woods, lost in the dark and impenetrable woods of ignorance and stupidity and aggressive ignorance And hope called for her sister, but called in vain.Perhaps I m pitching this review at too low a level for my audience Hard to say after reading this one Christ, how depressing this book is It is full of those sorts of statistics that it is best not to remember, you know, one in five biology teachers in the US believe people and dinosaurs co habited the earth Surely not In my lighter moods I just assume all of these statistics are made up with the sole intent to frighten me And so I would like to make up a statistic now that might even be true 84% of Americans believe Charles Darwin was a Communist Now, I ve told you I ve just made that up, but God, if it isn t true, it really ought to be.There were parts of this book that I didn t agree with Frankly, I m very fond of email, it is one of my chief pleasures in the world, and so I won t hear of anyone criticising it Yes, it is different to letters, but that doesn t make it worse than letters A well composed email and a well composed letter have two words in common, and much else, and depend on the quantity and quality of thought that went into them Bill Gates has enough to answer for, email is not one of those things.As to the rest of the book, oh dear God It makes me too depressed Her fundamental premise is that there was a time in American history when there were effectively three cultures, high brow, low brow and middle brow The middle brow was associated with the middle class, that great amorphous mass of humanity, and they would dutifully read their book of the month and buy reproductions of famous paintings and this was what sustained American intellectual life But come the era of television with its inevitable obsession with the image and sound bite over analysis, the middle has been squeezed to the point where it now hardly exists.I have weaned myself off most television, about the only things I watch now are Chaser s War on Everything and Quite Interesting with my mate Stephen Fry Chaser are handy to mention here as they do Vox Pops on the streets of America like these this is one of the things Jacoby gets most upset about rather than be humiliated by this, she claims most Americans are actually proud In this, the last few chapters of her book are the most disturbing A long time ago I watched a television show called Judge Judy, and then I saw she wrote a book called something like, Beauty fades, dumb is forever, and this from a woman who makes a living from the dumbest medium in history I guess that is one of my main problems with this stuff, the wanton lack of shame these idiots possess.A large part of this book talks about biology and god two of my favourite topics Naturally, these are related in the USA, although, the USA is about the only place in the world where these subjects are related There is a price to pay for deciding to be thick when it comes to theories of biology Lysenko proved that in the Soviet Union when he plunged Soviet science into a dark age for decades with his version of ideologically palatable genetics Having recently read books like The Botany of Desire the US probably can t afford to be too smug about these Soviet failings.This is not a great book, but it is a good book and a necessary book It offers little hope and even less reason to believe things will not get worse and they can get much, much worse but perhaps pointing out repeatedly that the vast majority of Americans have no idea about such basic notions about how they are governed as the separation of powers or how many Senators there are or that the language is Spanish Mr Bush not Mexican a language he even speaks, for Christ sake someone, just maybe, will be shamed into finding out that your founding fathers actually made a conscious effort not to include references to God in any of your core documents for a very good reason.Now, before I get flamed here in Australia we also use, as a key idea of our mode of government, the separation of powers We had a politician here when I was growing up who effectively gave himself a knighthood, back in the days when knighthoods were still available to Australians He decided to give himself one for his contributions to the Westminster system of Government so a journalist asked him to explain the separation of powers It was one of the truly great moments in the history of television, if not in the history of our young nation That there are three powers, the administrative, the legislative and the legal, in government and that these are held separate as a bulwark against corruption and the abuse of power is such a central feature of our parliamentary system that even a Premier even one from Queensland should be able to give a definition off the cuff that he proved completely incapable of answering at all made remarkable television It is a fact that one could all too easily replicate the Chaser videos above on the streets of Melbourne We need to be afraid of that fact We can t be content with a world increasingly populated and run by people who are pig ignorantchokengtitiktitikchokengs.Sorry, I forgot to mention one of the really interesting things about this book, and one of the main reasons I would recommend it, is what it says about slavery Part of her contention is that the South is still paying the price for slavery The idea, and I will need to think about this some , is that any system that is not based on merit tends to reinforce itself by appeals to systems of ideas other than reason as reason would tend to reject such foolishness as racism, white superiority, sexism, genderism, ageism and other such nonsense for what it is Marx says somewhere that the white man will never be free until he frees his black cousin, and of course Marx was wrong It is actually much worse than this It is not just freedom that is denied, but even the rationalism that would enable us to conceive a better life that is denied all of us.Reason, intelligence, equality they actually are that important. Society is going to Hell in a handbasket That seems to be the general consensus regardless of one s political leaning In Susan Jacoby s immensely fascinating book The Age of American Unreason , Jacoby explains the history of how and why we arrived at this sad state of affairs It is a fascinating history that starts with a group of extraordinary gentlemen who, in 1776, were able to put aside their differences and collaborate on the creation of an extraordinary document, one that still continues to amaze, confuse, anger, and console us in equal measures It is a history that demonstrates the steady rise of an anti intellectual movement that has become so pervasive that even our previous president joked about only ever having read two books in his lifetime and admitted to not reading newspapers or news magazines for fear that they would give him opinions It is a history in which religious fundamentalists have become so powerful that they are shaping public policy to ensure that our children are being inculcated with ridiculous pseudo scientific garbage like Intelligent Design Theory in schools, while legitimate scientific theories such as evolution, the big bang theory, and global climate change are being forced out of the classroom It is a history which displays a frightening increase in aliteracy as opposed to illiteracy, the inability to read Aliteracy is knowing how to read but refusing to do so, a disturbing trend among our nation s youth and a good portion of the adult population due to an ever expanding source of infotainment sources such as TV, the Internet, video games, iPods, iPads, etc., in which reading has apparently become obsolete and irrelevant It is also a history in which the great idea of public education has become a horrible failure, thanks to a cultural mentality that de values education, takes pride in ignorance, and angrily insults and demeans anyone who shows any attempt at intelligent discussion Jacoby gives a detailed and well researched description of the events, movements, theories, and ideologies from the 18th century to the present that have shaped our American culture Her book should be required reading for anyone who has seen, in their lifetime, a divisiveness between political parties, the socio economic classes, the secular and the religious develop that is so strong and virulent that neither side of any argument is even willing to listen to the other side It should be required reading for anyone frightened by not only the lack of intellectual curiosity of our nation s political and religious leaders but the apparent pride these people have in their intellectual shortcomings and their seeming unwillingness to even want to learn. I know I vowed in my previous reviews not to read any of these particular sorts of books, liberals explaining the mind of those crazy conservatives, and how unsatisfied I inevitably am with their explanations Yet surely Susan Jacoby will be different, considering how much I loved her Freethinkers A History of American Secularism Sadly, no While the book starts out on the right track towards the end it veers wildly off course Perhaps my two star rating is me taking my frustration with the whole genre out on this poor author.Jacoby excels at providing the history and context of anti intellectualism in America and the role fundamentalist religion has played over the years, and this should have been the focus of her book Instead the second half focuses on the role of television and the internet and this is where the book heads downhill Surely the fact The Learning Channel produces such highly educational television chronicling the lives of pageant moms and their soon to be exotically dancing daughters is a symptom not the cause of the decline in culture Jacoby sorely laments And it is somewhat ironic that two of her many concerns, the use of language by politicians and the media to dumb down complex issues and the decline of middlebrow publications are arguments I ve heard before and convincingly made from a TV show ok it was Toni Morrison on Book TV, but that still counts and from an online article I m too lazy to goolge now Perhaps I m letting the last few chapters which I found off base, even na ve, overshadow the numerous early chapters that were somewhat enlightening Perhaps I would do her justice to skim back through those early chapter and mention the arguments I did find convincing, but instead I m going to watch a repeat of Futurama which in its newest incarnation is just god awful, but not awful enough that I m not going to watch it while I scour Goodreads for books with funny and offensive titles Ah, touch Ms Jacoby, touch. How did America get to this point, a point of hubristic anti intellectualism, of a mocking dismissal of science, a point at which Karl Rove, President George W Bush s main advisor, could say in all seriousness to author Ron Suskind, as he did in 2004, that guys like me were in what we call the reality based community, which he defined as people who believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality That s not the way the world really works any, he continued We re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality And while you re studying that reality judiciously, as you will we ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that s how things will sort out We re history s actors and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do Author Susan Jacoby provides the answer of how the death of middlebrow culture and the rise of television, politically motivated think tanks, the new fundamentalism, pseudoscientists of the Left and Right, and the Internet created the perfect storm that brought about The Age of American Unreason This excellent, fact laced imagine that and fair appraisal of the American intellectual condition in history, particularly since the turn of the 20th century, should be required reading for anyone appalled by what Jacoby calls junk thought and the abandonment of critical thinking and intellectual rigor. |Download ♊ The Age of American Unreason ☼ Combining Historical Analysis With Contemporary Observation, Susan Jacoby Dissects A New American Cultural Phenomenon One That Is At Odds With Our Heritage Of Enlightenment Reason And With Modern, Secular Knowledge And Science With Mordant Wit, She Surveys An Anti Rationalist Landscape Extending From Pop Culture To A Pseudo Intellectual Universe Of Junk Thought Disdain For Logic And Evidence Defines A Pervasive Malaise Fostered By The Mass Media, Triumphalist Religious Fundamentalism, Mediocre Public Education, A Dearth Of Fair Minded Public Intellectuals On The Right And The Left, And, Above All, A Lazy And Credulous PublicJacoby Offers An Unsparing Indictment Of The American Addiction To Infotainment From Television To The Web And Cites This Toxic Dependency As The Major Element Distinguishing Our Current Age Of Unreason From Earlier Outbreaks Of American Anti Intellectualism And Anti Rationalism With Reading On The Decline And Scientific And Historical Illiteracy On The Rise, An Increasingly Ignorant Public Square Is Dominated By Debased Media Driven Language And Received OpinionAt This Critical Political Juncture, Nothing Could Be Important Than Recognizing The Overarching Crisis Of Memory And Knowledge Described In This Impassioned, Tough Minded Book, Which Challenges Americans To Face The Painful Truth About What The Flights From Reason Has Cost Us As Individuals And As A Nation This book is thoroughly researched, logically organized, eloquently written, and incredibly significant for the real problem it points out the severe dumbing down of America that has occurred in the past forty years With wit and wisdom, the author puts this troubling phenomenon in the larger historical context of the history of this country, and traces the strong and virulent forces that coalesced to set us on the path toward the bleak future sardonically portrayed in the 2006 film Idiocracy that s my allusion, not hers one gets the sense she would never watch such a lowbrow movie These forces have led to the rise of anti rationalism, which is sustained by disinterest in perspectives different from one s own, lack of basic critical thinking and statistical evaluation skills, inability to distinguish between facts and opinions, and a culture of distraction The political power rise of the fundamentalists, a celebrity culture spread through infotainment, mediocre at best public education, and the general abandonment of both reading for pleasure and engaged conversations have thrown fuel on the fire I might quibble with a small point here and there I would suggest we can and should learn useful things by analyzing the impact and meaning of pop culture artifacts, for instance , but I find her argument extremely persuasive the very way we think and retain or remember knowledge and what knowledge the masses of society choose never to acquire is at the crux of most of our other problems She provides some very scary statistics of just how ignorant most of us are about basic geography, math, history, science, etc The irony is, those suffering from the problems delineated in this book will never take the time or trouble to read it, and will dismiss it as egghead intellectualism that disregard being one of the American cultural traditions she traces in the book But such disregard for critical thinking combined with not only lack of general knowledge but often an openly proud disavowal of the need to know such information has had dire consequences for our culture already, and it will likely get worse This is a book American people who still read books should definitely read and discuss This was a very well written book It was very well thought out and researched I recommend it to all It explains how the American culture is going down the tubes Enjoy and Be Blessed If you already think civilization is going to hell in a handbasket, this book will not change your mind Anti intellectualism in the United States is not a new phenomenon, as the author shows However, it used to be held in check by economic and social forces, so that prideful dumbassery stayed on the fringes of society Not any The crazies are front and center and are running the show.There are multiple explanations for what happened, but in essence the previous culture of deliberative, objective thought gave way to the instant gratification of soundbites, social media, and pre packaged opinions Life, after all, is so much easier when you let others do your thinking for you They will be happy to tell you who to admire and emulate, and who to mock, who to hate, and who deserves to die And all you have to give them in return is everything.The most intriguing part of this book is the discussion of high, middle, and low brow culture The highbrows always existed, but they were, for the most part, remote from everyday people Their ideas and opinions might have had a major impact on the artistic and political spheres, but they were not understood, much less discussed, in the average workplace or social gathering It was there that the middlebrows, consciously or not, were able to influence the people who otherwise might have gone off the rails They were educated enough, and well read enough, to show the different side of issues, and advocate for tolerance and inclusiveness The John Bircher types always existed, but they were perceived as loonies and mostly kept their opinions to themselves in order to avoid ostracism.And then, this bulwark against the craziness started to slip TV was easier than reading, and social media is easier than TV, since you can cocoon yourself into a self referential bubble where you never have to hear any opinions except the ones you already agree with With parents less engaged in the life of the mind, students began entering schools less well prepared and less inclined to do hard work, so schools made classes easier and started showing concern for the little darlings self esteem than their academic success At the same time the conditions that had maintained middlebrow culture were starting to unravel, and the middle class began to hollow out Jobs were lost, and those that remained were less secure and saw their wages stagnate The middle class had formerly been aspirational, and middlebrow culture was seen as part of upward mobility Now life began to seem like a cruel zero sum game, where any benefits given to minorities, or the poor, or immigrants were perceived as threats to people who felt their formerly safe middle class lives were eroding and they were spiraling down into the lower classes.Along came right wing politicians and media, eager to stoke the fires of ignorance and prejudice Not that they gave a rat s ass about the people they inflamed, but they did find their votes useful And now, for many millions of people, all truth is contingent and any appeals to objective reality are seen as cynical ploys The Bible says to take in the immigrant and feed the poor, but in a zero sum world that is inconvenient, and it s easier to throw out the foreigners and let the hungry starve, all with the church s approval, since that it is of course what Jesus would have done.I don t think there is going to be a happy ending here The forces of entropy have grown too strong, schools are too weak, and, after all, it s just easier to forget about it all and spend your time on Facebook and Youtube Ignore that handbasket we are in, and the direction it is headed.