By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Published: March 30, 2008
......."America is now ill with a powerful mutant strain of intertwined ignorance, anti-rationalism, and anti-intellectualism," Susan Jacoby argues in a new book, "The Age of American Unreason." She blames a culture of "infotainment," sound bites, fundamentalist religion and ideological rigidity for impairing thoughtful debate about national policies.
Even insults have degenerated along with other discourse, Ms. Jacoby laments. She contrasts Dick Cheney's obscene instruction to Senator Patrick Leahy with a more elegant evisceration by House Speaker Thomas Reed in the 1890s: "With a few more brains he could be a half-wit."
Her broader point is that we as a nation will have difficulty making crucial decisions if we don't have an intellectual climate that fosters an informed and reasoned debate. How can we decide on embryonic stem cells if we don't understand biology? How can we judge whether to invade Iraq if we don't know a Sunni from a Shiite?
Our competitiveness as a nation in coming decades will be determined not only by our financial accounts but also by our intellectual accounts. In that respect, we're at a disadvantage, particularly vis-à-vis East Asia with its focus on education.
From Singapore to Japan, politicians pretend to be smarter and better- educated than they actually are, because intellect is an asset at the polls. In the United States, almost alone among developed countries, politicians pretend to be less worldly and erudite than they are (Bill Clinton was masterful at hiding a brilliant mind behind folksy Arkansas sayings about pigs).
Alas, when a politician has the double disadvantage of obvious intelligence and an elite education and then on top of that tries to educate the public on a complex issue - as Al Gore did about climate change - then that candidate is derided as arrogant and out of touch.
The dumbing-down of discourse has been particularly striking since the 1970s. Think of the devolution of the emblematic conservative voice from William Buckley to Bill O'Reilly. It's enough to make one doubt Darwin.
There's no simple solution, but the complex and incomplete solution is a greater emphasis on education at every level. And maybe, just maybe, this cycle has run its course, for the last seven years perhaps have discredited the anti-intellectualism movement. President Bush, after all, is the movement's epitome �- and its fruit.
we as a nation will have difficulty making crucial decisions if we don't have an intellectual climate that fosters an informed and reasoned debate.
Was that posted as a classic example of the use of logical fallacies?