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عنوان: The Age of American Unreason
مؤلف: Susan Jacoby
مترجم: -
ناشر: Paradox Press
سال انتشار: 2008
امتیاز آمازون:
تعداد صفحات: 384
شابک: 375423745
شابک(13): 9780375423741
مشخصات: xx, 356 p. ; 25 cm.
رده بندی کنگره: E169
دیویی: 973.91
دیویی نرمال: 973.91
نوع فایل: PDF
حجم فایل: 5.44 مگابایت
قیمت پشت جلد: $17.16
قیمت خرید:

2000 تومان

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چکیده
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 public.

Jacoby 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 opinion.

At this critical political juncture, nothing could be more 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.
 
نظرات
 
Incisive jeremiad about Americ


This is a stimulating tour of the history of ideas that shaped the United States' intellectual heritage and the social forces that continue to influence it. Susan Jacoby's expansive, provocative book is both personal and exceptionally refreshing. She shows the links among several, major intangible drivers of human behavior - religion, politics, ideology and fundamentalism - and uses them to explain why U.S. society came to devalue reason itself. Her culprits include rising fundamentalism and antiscientific thinking, and an onslaught of superficial stimuli. She doesn't think much of some political leaders, either, for that matter. getAbstract recommends this book to those who care about the U.S.'s intellectual life and the ideas that will shape its future.
 
2009/02/27

pedantic, and depressingly com


I don't know what I was expecting. I'm aware of the dumbing down of America -- and I've seen it getting worse. The author tells about the history of "unreason" in America -- cycles in the past, and why she thinks the current cycle is different. Unfortunately, she describes the problem and gives many examples of the problem from the worst of the Bush era, which, for me, was an extraordinary time of surprise at how low we could go. She describes example upon example of how the dumbest and most emotionally irrational among Americans have gained the upper hand at nearly every level of government -- from school boards fighting over teaching Christian Mythology as "fact" in schools, to national standards to focus only on passing a test suitable for challenging those with an 80-IQ. Unfortunately, it does nothing to challenge or focus higher standards for the average 100 IQ child nor the very important higher 120+ IQ children who likely will be the business leaders and engineering creators in the next generation.

The book, for me, just went on and on, about how low we had fallen, and I kept hoping for a ray of light. Given the book was published in the sunset years of Bush-II's reign, I can understand the sense of hopelessness and despair.

I felt too much weight was given to historical examples of America dumbing down -- even though the author thought she was providing a needed historical perspective to show why the current phase of dumbing down was more pernicious than any previous stage. I didn't need the convincing. I don't think anyone who chooses to read this book will need so much convincing. I can't imaging anyone reading this book who would not also be part of the choir in the first place. Given that, I'd hope for some words about how to change, or something more positive.
But this book really describes a desperate state of American cultural dumbing down that's simply depressing and doesn't seem to offer anything in terms of solutions.

It might be valuable if you are new to the concept of American dumbing down and want an exhaustive history up to the current (later Bush years), but for anyone who has tried to maintain their intellectual attention with reading and education over the years (long past the required formal training and outside of any formal job-required training), most of this will be unsurprising and will tell you that things are as bad or worse than you thought they were and there is no end in site.

Even now, under a new presidency, many educational stimulus bill sections were cut by order of the republicans (most of whom voted against the final bill anyway). In a similar way it was sad to see Obama's stimulus package pared down to cater to the Republicans just to avoid a Filibuster on their part -- but still win virtually none of their votes. It's like they watered it down enough not to Filibuster it, but they still won't support any stimulus package with Obama's name on it -- even if the setup and need for the package came out of their own "holy leader's" (Bush's) actions and legislation.

It was hard to finish the book -- I admit... I started skimming the pages through some of the driest historic portions, as well as the elaborate re-tellings of examples from the Bush era... The later, maybe because they were too fresh in my mind, and the former because it's so depressing to see not only how American just doesn't seem to learn. We continue to repeat lessons of history and it doesn't look like the future will be any brighter. In fact, if recent experience on seeing repeated scientific studies performed over multiple years and re-released as "new" each time, it's like there is no memory of work or studies that has come before. At some point during the Bush years, people stopped reading about new advances and seemed to go about reproducing the same knowledge and same studies multiple times with no references to previous studies -- sadly indicating that much publication of knowledge happening today is being recorded into a "write-only" media of some giant internet archive. But no one doing the work has time to read or comprehend the information being produced.

So I see only an acceleration of non-growth -- almost a stopping of growth, as those capable of understanding the causes and doing research can no longer build on what has come before.

The author complains that people of differing views don't read each others works, but it's worse than that -- even people of similar views don't have time to read works of those with similar views. It's only publication that is rewarded, not processing and tying together knowledge. So I think the author misses the sadder connection that knowledge that would benefit given "intellectuals" isn't even getting attention from the audiences that would receive the benefits.

Low stars, because it was overall depressingly informative with no hope for the future.

 
2009/02/23

Strident but with good points


This book isn't perfect: Jacoby's tone is somewhat arrogant and strident and it becomes tedious after about 150 pages. But she does make a lot of good arguments: Americans are becoming more ignorant, the election of a nitwit like Bush was disgraceful, and the rise of pseudoscience, anti-intellectualism and religious fundamentalism are scary. (And this was written before Sarah Palin became a national figure!) To me, the best part of the book is when Jacoby explores the phony vaccine-causes-autism "debate", a key example of demagoguery and ignorance leading to the triumph of junk science. For all its faults, this is a book worth reading.
 
2009/02/09

Solid and interesting cultural


I was quite excited to read this book, as I've been a fan of Jacoby's writing in the past, and find the topic to be timely and important. The discussions about elitism, intellectuals, and class divisions that were prominent over the past year in the political landscape made me consider the book with a hopeful perspective - while Obama was widely criticized for his intellectualism, we did, as a people united, elect him into office.

Unfortunately, I found one aspect of the book to be quite disappointing. While I think that she made a number of important points, I found her arguments undermined by a broad, un-nuanced generalization of the conservative intellectual establishment. Her unwillingness to engage in a straightforward discussion of how the conservative and liberal groups actually pursue and promote intellectualism made it difficult for me to take some of her arguments seriously. An excerpt provides an example of how she engaged this topic:

"By 1980 popular identification of intellectualism with the left was such that the right-wing intellectuals who provided much of the ideology for the Reagan administration were able to advance the fiction - so important first o Reagan and....to the election of Bush the younger - that the so-called elites consist entirely of liberals opposed to old-fashioned American values of traditional religion, unquestioning patriotism, and pulling oneself up by one's own bootstraps. Conservative intellectuals mastered an art that liberals never did : they somehow managed to present themselves as an aggrieved minority even while feasting, as liberals had during the Kennedy administration, at the government trough."

I find this to be an inaccurate, and a gross exaggeration. I don't believe that anyone could actually make the argument that The Heritage Foundation, or the American Enterprise Institute, are not obviously intellectually comparatives to the Brookings Institution. She consistently used aggressive language that did not, in my mind, present a fair characterization of both sides of the intellectual/political divide.

However, in her discussion of politics and intellectualism, I do think that she makes an important point. Leaving aside the intelligence of President George W. Bush, as I don't wish to engage on that topic here, I'd like to include the entire quote here:

"If Bush's election was not a measure of conscious anti-intellectualism on the part of voters, it was certainly a measure of the public's indifference to demonstrable mental acuity and knowledge as standards for the presidency. In this context, it is important to note that most members of the media rarely raise questions, even in a roundabout way, about the intellect of a major party presidential candidate - much less about a man who actually occupies the Oval Office. A president may be described as stubborn, or as impatient, or as a sexual libertine - even, on rare occasions, as a liar - but it would be unthinkable for "objective" reporters, in print or on television, to bluntly raise the question: 'Is this man smart enough to be in charge of the country?' It is a question that ought to be asked openly about every man and woman who seeks high office...This is not to say that the smartest boy or girl in the class would necessarily make the best president, but that there ought to be a higher threshold of intellect, as well as a higher standard of cultural and scientific literacy, than that currently required for political candidates." (Jacoby, p. 285-286).

Two items stand out for me: first, that the American people can be described as indifferent to the capabilities and qualities of their primary leader and representative; and secondly, that the presidency demands not only intelligence, but cultural and scientific literacy. To ground this discussion in a timely issue, let us consider the debate between evolution and creationism.

A scientifically literate President could be expected to be familiar with the underpinnings of the scientific argument (evolution) - to understand the fundamentals of the theory, how it has been developed, a general sense of the current state of related research, and the overall scientific background to be able to engage with the topic in a meaningful way.

On the other hand, a culturally literate President could be expected to have studied the history of the debate; to know about the Scopes trial, its main participants, and its outcome(s); to understand the importance of creationism to those who accept it as a primary explanation for their world; and to see how this fits into the cultural landscape of America - both for those who support teaching evolution and creationism side by side, and for the individuals who adamantly oppose such a structure.

Finally, we could expect our President to understand how any action, promotion, or legislation regarding this issue could impact our global relationships and the future of our society. Do we think it is too much to ask this type of literacy from our selected leader? Jacoby seems to argue that, compared to our parents and grandparents, we do - and instead of aspiring to the best, we aim for the "lowest common denominator".

Aside from the political discussion, I found that Jacoby provided a solid history of intellectualism in America over the past century - from the development of a "middlebrow culture" which made fine art, literature, and music accessible to a greater part of the American population; to the impact of television and the internet on our attention spans and communities. It makes me sad to learn, as she states, that 40% of Americans do not read books; parents only read to their children an average of 40 minutes a day; that Americans have such poor esteem for geography, foreign languages, and global news; etc. I was also fascinated to read all of the negative studies on the "Baby Einstein" and other such products (obviously I'm not a parent yet).

I don't think that I would recommend this highly for the general reader. Much of what she says seems fairly self-evident, and I particularly find that she does not contribute much that is new to the discussion of technological advances and how these engage the intellect. In fact, I find her negative perception of technology a weak component of her entire argument, as I believe that it indicates an incomplete understanding of the web-based world. She argues early on that in the first half of the 20th century, Americans aspired to a higher standard, wishing to imitate and bring to a more accessible level those intellectual luxuries formerly enjoyed by the rich: fine art, music, literature, etc. How is the use of the internet as a delivery mechanism different than the Book of the Month Club that first launched literature into the homes of many middle-class Americans? If I am able, via the internet, to listen to a podcast or view a video of a performance that I would otherwise not have access to, how then can we throw the baby out with the bathwater and proclaim that technology is leading to the destruction of intellectual engagement?

3/5 stars for a solid read, but not highly recommended.
 
2009/01/27

An Embarrassing Diatribe


During her discussion of the history of religion in America, Ms. Jocoby writes,

"It seems more likely that poorly educated settlers on the frontier were drawn to religious creeds and preachers who provided emotional comfort without making the intellectual demands of older, more intellectually rigorous Protestant denominations--whether liberal Quakerism and Unitarianism or conservative Episcopalianism and Congregationalism."

What evidence does she present that those living in the American frontier were poorly educated vis a vis those in New England? None.

And so it goes throughout this silly book.

Ms. Jacoby presents nice little tales--myths really--about American history and cites absolutely no evidence to support his questionable assertions.

Ms. Jacoby is an intellectual fraud, and Pantheon Books should be ashamed of itself for publishing his bilious drivel.
 
2008/12/22

 
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