Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Let's talk stupider

A few more thoughts on our national dumbing down.

My friend Bawb the Revelator sent me an editorial by my new hero Susan Jacoby the other day. (By the way--Bawb is new to blogging, so go check out his place.) The piece appeared in the Washington Post on Sunday:

The Dumbing of America

Here's a taste:

The mind of this country, taught to aim at low objects, eats upon itself." Ralph Waldo Emerson offered that observation in 1837, but his words echo with painful prescience in today's very different United States. Americans are in serious intellectual trouble -- in danger of losing our hard-won cultural capital to a virulent mixture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism and low expectations.

This is the last subject that any candidate would dare raise on the long and winding road to the White House. It is almost impossible to talk about the manner in which public ignorance contributes to grave national problems without being labeled an "elitist," one of the most powerful pejoratives that can be applied to anyone aspiring to high office. Instead, our politicians repeatedly assure Americans that they are just "folks," a patronizing term that you will search for in vain in important presidential speeches before 1980. (Just imagine: "We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain . . . and that government of the folks, by the folks, for the folks, shall not perish from the earth.") Such exaltations of ordinariness are among the distinguishing traits of anti-intellectualism in any era. (*Note from Bubs: Think of Ms. Pickler's performance on Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?)

She identifies three issues:
  • The decline of reading and the rise of video
  • The erosion of general knowledge
  • Arrogance about our lack of knowledge
There's a lot to work with in Jacoby's opinion piece. Did you know that, between 1968 and 1988, the average sound bite for a presidential candidate declined from 42.3 seconds to 9.8 seconds? And by 2000 it dropped even more, to an average 7.8 seconds! There's a sad contrast between the presidencies (and the citizenry who elected them) of "I'm the decider" Bush and FDR, who encouraged Americans to buy maps so that they could understand the geography of war in the early, frightening days of WWII.

Go read this thing.

Speaking of George W. Bush, did you know he's explained why our economy is a little rocky right now? My mom called me yesterday to tell me about this and asked if I could find the clip on the interwebs.

During an interview with Ann Curry on the Today Show, Bush was asked about the economy. The first thing that got me was his dismissive "yeah, well" when Curry said some Americans believe they're suffering economically because of the war. It's right at the beginning of the video.

The POTUS goes on to say that he thinks war spending is creating jobs. So, Mr. President, what's wrong with the economy?

"I think this economy is down because we built too many houses."

Yep. That's what he said:


Erik Donald France said...

Had a good chuckle when Bush says 'now that Castro is stepping down there's a chance for a fair election.' Rich, that.

If people want to exchange one moronic dick for another, they'll vote McCain.

Mnmom said...

I hate that man, I really really hate that man. What a clueless dink. "Yeah, well, poor slobs and their whining don't bother me. I've got plenty-o-money". Meanwhile, Laura just sits there like an unplugged toaster waiting for her afternoon nap.

Johnny Yen said...

I just woke up about half an hour ago to discover Castro had resigned. I thought about it for a while and realized that he probably feels safe resigning during W's presidency, realizing that the idiot couldn't organize an invasion of Baltimore, let alone Cuba.

The lack of general knowledge is disturbing. I find myself having to tell about major historical events to people in explaining things.

SkylersDad said...

Nice post Bubs, and we wonder why NASCAR is the now the most popular sport in America...

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

I are be a reader! I am being the heads of the Spring Reading Challunge. Is you are going to be joining us?

Tenacious S said...

Well, that was depressing and yet completely expected. OK, that makes it even more depressing.

Warren Beatty said...

Can you believe this clown?

justacoolcat said...

I wonder if his momma ever told him life is like a box of chocolates?

Jess Wundrun said...

At least Kelly Pickler is a reality show contestant and not the Press Secretary for the White House who did not know what the Bay of Pigs was.

Maybe, in addition to Mr. Yen's theory, that's why Castro felt safe in stepping down.

Mathman6293 said...

How did Bush get out of the House with his list of answers to any question he may be asked?

dguzman said...

When I taught college English, I knew many students (both college-age and older) who had never read a book.

The scariest of Jacoby's points is the one about Americans' arrogance about their ignorance. Why read? Why study history? Why care about poor people? Why not torture them damned turrists? Just steal all the money you can. It worked for Bush.

Anonymous said...

He forgot to mention that people die because we build too many coffins and he's a drunk because Johnny Walker is such a pushy motherfucker.

'Bubbles' said...

Duh, uh, o.k., uh, thank, now I get it. We built too many houses, so folks kept buying them, and even though they were all selling faster than they could be built back then, they just built too many.

WTF? Gee Dimwit, could it be that you and your cronies have been robbing us blind for eight years? Hmmm, fuel for our cars to get to work, if we still have a job, is rapidly heading to $4 a gallon, and you "outsourced" the war in Iraq...

No, it isn't the war, it's those damn contractors that built too many houses.