We had mainly regulars last night, plus at least one new person, Jason. Scientists and engineers are underrepresented in the group. For that reason alone we hope you come back, Jason. (Also, thanks to all of you who listened respectfully as Jason made his case for 9-11 “Trutherism.” I can’t imagine another public discussion forum where someone expressing these views would be engaged civilly by people who do not believe any of it. Well done to all.)
Anti-Intellectualism: Darn. It’s too bad we didn’t have this meeting next week, because — h/t to Steve – a very good article on anti-intellectualism in American politics and history has just been published on the liberal blog, Truthout.org. The author, summing up her new book on the subject, makes a fascinating case that the anti-intellectualism we see today is a continuation of the AI that has reared its head throughout American history. In particular, she draws an analogy between Obama and Jefferson, both of whom faced a tidal wave of AI- and conspiracy-mongering both before and after their elections. Check it out.
I also wanted to link last night’s discussion to the one we had a few weeks ago on the failings of the news media. As I said then, I think the media’s worst failing today is the way they try to be “objective:” By letting both sides left/right spout their opinions and state their contradictory view of basic facts without bothering to tell viewers anything that might help them evaluate which side might be closer to the objective truth. They do this even on subjects that are easily subject to fact-checking: Who created the budget deficits, who was using the country’s credit rating as a hostage, how many votes does it take to pass a Senate bill (A: 50, unless one side invokes a once rarely-used procedure to require 60), etc.
I really think this attitude by the media facilitates anti-intellectualism by essentially telling viewers that the truth is unknowable. All is opinion. Both sides get a trophy. Yes, all my examples are conservative untruths; but, a media that refuses to separate truth from falsehood will bite us all in the ass, eventually.
Books I mentioned last night –
- The Age of American Unreason, by Susan Jacoby. Catalogues the history and causes of Americans’ ignorance of the world, politics, etc. the history was great, but I found her lament that today’s young people are the most dumbed-down ever to be unpersuasive.
- The Assault On Reason, by Al Gore. This is half denunciation of the Bush White House and half an explanation of how a degraded civic discourse let them get away with it. Short. A good but not great book, IMO.
Does anybody else have a follow-up thought? Also, what do you want to hear about on next week’s topic, How do TV and movies affect our political opinions?