Thursday, March 06, 2008

Susan Jacoby-Age of American Unreason

I finished Susan Jacoby's Age of American Unreason and although I mentioned it previously, her book bears revisiting because she did something wonderful near it's end.
After laying out her case that the death of print culture and the lowered expectations built in over time around the American educational system and elsewhere, threaten the very nature of democracy; she eschews comforting her audience with a glimpse at the sun after laying out her thesis.
Jacoby writes,
"It has become something of a literary convention for an author, at the end of a nonfiction book with an essentially pessimistic outlook, to propose solutions that, at least in theory, offer some basis for hope. But America's current cultural predicament resists amelioration precisely because so many of the customarily proffered remedies have themselves become formidable problems.
She worries quite rightly, that when most Americans, who can't find Iraq on a map, are being governed by those who don't know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite Muslim, well it makes for an ugly, and yet easily sell-able, war.
Jacoby contrasts George W Bush's adventures in Iraq with Franklin D. Roosevelt's fireside chats during the darkest days of World War Two, when maps sold out everywhere because Americans bought them all up to follow along with FDR, as he explained to his radio listeners the scope of battle.
Roosevelt "told his speech writers that he was certain if Americans understood the immensity of the distances over which supplies must travel to the armed forces, "if they understand the problem and what we are driving at, I am sure that they can take any kind of bad news right on the chin.""
In a proverbial nutshell the difference between then and now Jacoby believes, is an engaged body politic with a shared and adequate amount of basic knowledge is simply essential; and once it's lost it's likely gone for good. Hence, the lack of any life preserver at the end of the book.

It's grim, but one appreciates not being patronized.
The Age of America Unreason ought to be read by everyone who votes.

Posted by Dave

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