'Dumb' Americans

Are Americans dumber than we used to be? 

Susan Jacoby thinks so, and continually uses conservatives as her illustrations.

The “dumbing down” of American culture, as evidenced by America's obsession with reality television and the barrage of celebrity “news” coverage, is a worthy topic of discussion.  But it's hard to have a reasoned discussion with an author who is contributing to the problem by gratuitously bashing conservatives and religious believers.  

NBC's Matt Lauer sat down with Jacoby to discuss her book, The Age of American Unreason, during the February 19 broadcast of the Today Show, and asked her about the role the media play in “dumbing down” Americans.  Jacoby responded:

Dumbness is us.  Yes I think the media has a lot to do with it.  It's not an original observation.  This is the first time we've been able to have 24/7 entertainment coming into our ears if we want it. But just as politicians will say to voters, you were lied to, rather than -- the more fundamental question is why did we let ourselves be so stupid that we're so easy targets for lies?

And who is lying to us?  Jacoby tips her hand with numerous jabs at conservatives and a few at religion. 

In a February 17 Washington Post article, Jacoby contrasted President Bush to Franklin Roosevelt, saying “People accustomed to hearing their president explain complicated policy choices by snapping "I'm the decider" may find it almost impossible to imagine the pains that Franklin D. Roosevelt took, in the grim months after Pearl Harbor, to explain why U.S. armed forces were suffering one defeat after another in the Pacific.”

When questioned about “media elites” mocking intellectuals during a February 19 Washington Post online chat, Jacoby said, “of course, there's nothing wrong with making fun of stupid intellectuals, and there are plenty of them.  But what's wrong with them (say, the right-wing intellectuals who brought us the Iraq war) is not that they're intellectuals, but that their [sic] blinded by ideology to evidence.” 

Jacoby also stated during the chat that “People who are so convinced of the rightness of a position that they simply ignore countervailing evidence can be found among Harvard business graduates (George W. Bush) and among fourth-graders.  The fourth-graders have an excuse.” 

Jacoby's bias isn't solely political. A New York Times article stated that she “blames religious fundamentalism's antipathy toward science, as she grieves over surveys that show that nearly two thirds of Americans want creationism to be taught along with evolution.”   She confirmed this in the Post chat by saying “religious fundamentalism – belief in the literal truth of every word in the Bible – is part of [the] anti-rationalist contempt for science and evidence.” 

Sparking conversation about how to increase the level of discourse is an admirable endeavor.  But if the conversation is as crucial as Jacoby makes it out to be, why sink to the level of mudslinging?  Why not just let the book speak for itself?