September 16, 2010

Why So Many Americans Hate Liberals, Science and Reason – Two Book Reviews

Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free, by Charles P. Pierce, 2009, New York: Anchor Books, 307 pages
Veteran journalist Charles Pierce explains how the glorification of ignorance in modern America came about and how it is sustained through what he calls the “Three Great Premises of Idiot America:  1) Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units; 2) Fact is that which enough people believe.  Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it; and, 3) Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough." Pierce also points to the American public’s high regard for “The Gut” where “if something feels right, it must be treated with the same respect given something that actually is right.”  Pierce begins each segment of his book by contrasting events in recent American history that encourage and exploit ignorance with the thoughts of James Madison (1751-1836), fourth President and one of the Founding Fathers of the US, on how an enlightened democracy could survive by protecting itself from threatening ideas and movements from within.  These events include the establishment of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky (2007) that claims Noah had two of every animal, including all the dinosaurs (very young ones), on the ark ; Ignatius Donnelly, the “Prince of Cranks”, who re-found Atlantis in 1882; the tobacco industry’s assault on the credibility of science; TV and radio talk shows and their anti-elitist distrust of expertise; religion’s recent incursions into politics; the false controversy of “intelligent design” vs. evolutionary science, including the textbook fiasco in Dover, PA (2005); Terri Schiavo; global warming; the pre-emptive war in Iraq, “Idiot America’s purest product”; the rise of the Republican party-led “movement conservatism” from Goldwater (1964) to Reagan (1981-89) and ultimately to George W. Bush (2000-08) (A 2007 Gallup poll showed that 68 percent of Republicans surveyed did not believe in evolution at all.); the Iran-Contra affair; Sarah Palin; and more.  For Pierce “the problem is not that America has dumbed itself down, as many people believe.  It’s that America’s gotten all of itself out of order, selling off what ought never to be rendered a product, exchanging (rather than mistaking) fact for fiction, and faith for reason, and believing itself shrewd to have made a good bargain with itself.”  A well-written book on how political ambition, religious zeal and paranoia, and bald-faced capitalism have turned many of the minds of the American public against reason.

Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War, by Joe Bageant, 2007, New York: Crown Publishers, 273 pages
From the back cover:  Deer Hunting with Jesus is web columnist Joe Bageant’s report on what he learned when he moved back to his hometown of Winchester, Virginia, which – like countless American small towns – is fast becoming the bedrock of a permanent underclass.  By turns brutal, tender, incendiary, and seriously funny, this book is a call to arms for fellow progressives with little real understanding of ‘the great beery, NASCAR-loving, church-going, gun-owning America that has never set foot in a Starbucks.’”  The single most important contribution this book makes is its explanation of how America became as it is described in Idiot America.  That is, through the exploitation of the working class by ruling class conservative Republicans in their pursuit of power at any cost – allying themselves with religion; attacking science and the educated as out of touch with the common man; and putting the blame for the decline of the American middle class on liberal Democrats.  How can a class of increasingly impoverished people, poor under-educated whites in particular, come to support and elect those whose policies and actions are the very cause of their increasing poverty?  Give the Republicans credit – they are good at what they do.  Why do most of the working poor in the country distrust liberals, Democrats and the educated?  Why don’t educated liberal Democrats involve and identify themselves more with the problems and concerns of the working poor?  Bageant answers these questions and more.


kmgraham99 said...

I am mystified by the American public.
We are like the child tied to the whiping post asking for more lashes.
When apathy and ignorance are combined in Americans it makes manipulation and control easy for the corporate and governmental baffoons.
Many more could be added to "The Three Great Premises of Idiot America"
We are the ugly step children of the founding fathers. I do not hink they invisioned the congress of today subugating the citizens.
By hook or by crook, from the lobbyist on capital hill to the mind benders on the pulpit we have been sold a bill of goods.
To much to get into now...
Politics, religion, sex, lions and tigers and bears oh my.
I will take a look at the books in the book store with a cup of starbucks and watch the world go round like a nascar track and be ashamed and embarressed of our politics and social consciousness

Jim Lassiter said...

Kevin, I agree, it is all a bit mind-numbing. One writer, Sam Harris, claims we need to get a grip, sooner rather than later, and begin electing leaders who act on the basis of factual, evidence-supported knowledge, not God-inspired revelation.... You can get a very good, clean used copy of Harris's book The End of Faith: Religion, Terrorism and the Future of Reason on for $2.32 - He also has one coming out next month - The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values - Thanks for weighing on this subject, one crucial to our country's and humanity's future. Jim

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