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A Depressing But True Polemic on American Society Today
on June 8, 2011
In "Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free," journalist Charles P. Pierce does a fine job of bringing together the various components (ideology-driven government that had no use for facts; the unique American trait of assuming that since everyone is equal, my completely unfounded opinions on any given topic are as valid as those of experts who have studied the given topic for 40 years; and the rise of the Internet, a world of instantaneous communication where anybody can, and does, proclaim his/her beliefs at FULL CAPITALIZED FURY all the time) which resulted in the tremendously deep abyss in which the US now finds itself economically, morally and politically. This was published after Obama became the Democratic nominee for President but before the 2008 elections, and it focuses primarily, not surprisingly, on the Bush years. Pierce makes a case for America having always had its cranks and crackpots, people who enjoyed a full hearing and who even sometimes persuaded others that their crazy ideas had merit, but he notes that these were always fringe people, and now they have are center-stage. As just one example, he spends some time talking about the case in Dover, Pennsylvania, where the school board was taken over by creationists in around 2003/2004 and began insisting that "intelligent design" be taught in biology classes alongside evolution; this situation ended up in court, where the arguments put forth by the school board were thoroughly debunked (my favourite line comes from one of the creationists, a pastor named Mummert, who actually said, straight-faced, "we've been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of our culture"!). And of course Pierce has a field day concerning Iraq and the WMD hoax, particularly as he includes interviews with real experts who were asked for their opinions and then, when they didn't give Bush the "reality" he wanted, were completely ignored and in some cases fired from their government jobs. Because, you know, the reality they described didn't match the ideology of the neocons. Pierce also goes back, discussing historical situations in the States to some degree, but also to a large degree turning to James Madison and the Federalist Papers, which indicate that Madison and the other Founding Fathers were absolutely certain that the only way this experiment in democracy could work would be if the electorate was intelligent and educated. These frequent referrals to the historical characters of the Enlightenment serve to contrast what the US has become in recent decades (Pierce goes back to Reagan and his idiotic "trickle-down" voodoo economics) versus what it was hoped, 200+ years ago, it would be. A very well-written and researched book, and one well worth reading, even though ultimately it's just incredibly depressing fare.