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The Age of American Unreason Hardcover – February 12, 2008
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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.
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Well -- if you haven't read this fine (if deeply unsettling) book yet, there's no better time for it. Jacoby is smart, witty, and passionate about the dead-end direction so many Americans are taking today. As for the complaints about her use of anecdotal evidence, this is as much cri de coeur as it is thoroughly researched study. It's meant to make you feel as well as think, and then think some more. Civilization can be a thin & fragile veneer, all too easily lost when not enough people uphold & defend it. Start here -- most highly recommended!
This book touches on that phenomenon, as well as many other subjects that relate to the dumbing down of our culture, including the rise of pseudoscience, the evolution vs creationism debates for science classes, the inequity of education because we have no national education standards as other modern countries do, and so many more subjects of historical interest.
Jacoby does hit the conservatives, even intellectuals, rather hard, but the careful reader will pick up the criticisms against the failures of the intellectual liberals, as well. She seems to have hope that with the realization of economic and foreign policy failures, perhaps a uniting of conservative and liberal intellectual effort can have a positive effect on the future of the nation as a whole.
Our anti-intellectual and anti-rational culture is even more surprising considering our country's roots with the Enlightenment, founded by strongly intellectual men. Even in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, people had a tendency to desire education and even listen to speakers they knew they would disagree with, because they were much more curious about different trains of thought, and were committed to inquiry much more than today.
Susan Jacoby does a great job with this volume, and I recommend it to all the frustrated so-called Luddites that are truly today's great thinkers.
One theme is that there is a strong element of unreason or anti-intellectualism in America. I concur and I think she makes the point very well
Her other theme is that this is getting worse. I am not so sure. There have been ignoramusses at all times.