Thursday, February 14, 2008

Dumb All Over?

Public displays of stupidity abound (see Jacknut Chronicles, The), but are those anything more than amusing anecdotes? Or are Americans hostile to knowledge and learning? Thats a question brought up by this article in today's New York Times. The article focuses on a new book by Susan Jacoby, who is not optimistic about the culture:

Ms. Jacoby, whose book came out on Tuesday, doesn’t zero in on a particular technology or emotion, but rather on what she feels is a generalized hostility to knowledge. She is well aware that some may tag her a crank. “I expect to get bashed,” said Ms. Jacoby, 62, either as an older person who upbraids the young for plummeting standards and values, or as a secularist whose defense of scientific rationalism is a way to disparage religion.

* * *

But now, Ms. Jacoby said, something different is happening: anti-intellectualism (the attitude that “too much learning can be a dangerous thing”) and anti-rationalism (“the idea that there is no such things as evidence or fact, just opinion”) have fused in a particularly insidious way.

Not only are citizens ignorant about essential scientific, civic and cultural knowledge, she said, but they also don’t think it matters.
It's a troubling assertion, but I'm not altogether convinced. Yes, there are rifts in the popular discourse where a complete ignorance of facts doesn't stop people from holding fast to opinions based on that ignorance. But is it more prevalent today than in the past? Or is it just more pronounced, thanks to the blogosphere, YouTube, and reality TV?

In other words, now that every mouthbreather can spout any babble he wants to a world wide audience, is there more of it or do we just see it more often?

Yes, for the record, I understand the irony of posing that question on a blog.

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