'The Age of American Unreason'

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jrose
'The Age of American Unreason'

 

jrose

This [url=http://thetyee.ca/Books/2008/04/29/AmericanUnreason/]book review from the Tyee[/url] asks if Canada (like the United States - as argued in "The Age of American Unreason") is guilty of a "slide to stupidity."

quote:

Of course, Jacoby's point is precisely that intellectual states of mind are connected to regional and national histories and cultures. That would explain such things as relatively less violence, less religious fundamentalism, more tolerance (for same sex marriage and personal choices) and more inclination toward publicly-owned goods in Canada, compared to the U.S. Still, our young people are armed with the same array of mind-distracting gadgets as any other youth population in the world that's economically able to buy the products sold in globalization's toyshop. The pace of dumbing down in Canada may be slightly slower than in the U.S., but it's just as ominous.

... Jacoby reels off a string of statistics indicating that masses of Americans also have problems with everything from whether the sun revolves around the earth to the function of DNA. There's a temptation here to reprise all the gory details and stats of her case, but an "executive summary" of her argument is precisely the opposite of what her book invites, namely, a contemplative reading.


Michael Hardner

I reject that review:

quote:

By the way, if you're interested in knowing how Canada stacks up on various measures of irrationality and ignorance compared to the U.S., the news isn't great, but it isn't all bad, and there are significant differences. For example, on evolution, while nearly half of Americans think that God created humans in a single swoop within the last 10,000 years, only a quarter of Canadians share that false belief.

She throws together a lot of different forms of knowledge and understanding.

I know Orthodox Jews who are brilliant and who believe in their holy texts. Jacoby would lump them in with illiterates, I think.

The problem seems to me that consumerist society strives to satisfy the comforts of the consumer, and maintains a culture of coddling and cooing. We are raised to be a part in an assembly line of consumption and production.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

In the quote you cited, the reviewer charges the 25% of Canadians who don't trust evolution or who take the word of sacred texts over scientific evidence when it comes to the history of the planet with "irrationality and ignorance" not "illiteracy." Certainly such people can read, and probably even do basic arithmetic. This does not absolve them of their ignorance or irrationality.

Michael Hardner

Yes, but do you not see a problem with lumping such people in under a picture of Alfred E Neuman, presumably because they're stupid ?

It certainly isn't very nice.

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

I think you're reading some preconceived ideas of your own into this, Michael.

The 25% of Canadians she's referring to are Young Earth Creationists -- this is a group that specifically rejects reason. In fact, the more you reject reason and fact in favour of a literal, supernatural belief the better a person you are. It's a clear rejection of intellect.

Perhaps the picture of Alfred E. Neuman is not "nice", but neither is the majority YEC view (Christian, anyway) that those of us who don't reject reason, intellect and fact are going to burn eternally in a lake of fire. I think it's probably fair game to use an image that isn't "nice".

Michael Hardner

Thanks for posting back, TB.

quote:

I think you're reading some preconceived ideas of your own into this, Michael.

I don't think so. Here are some terms and phrases she included in her piece:

"that old poster's hiply expressed qualm about the decline of literacy is no joke"

""the inescapable theme of our time is the erosion of memory and knowledge..."

"anti-intellectualism flourish[es]"

"an educational system that does a poor job of teaching not only basic skills"

quote:

The 25% of Canadians she's referring to are Young Earth Creationists -- this is a group that specifically rejects reason.

I think that you're oversimplifying it. I think a better way to put it is to reject reason as the ultimate arbiter of what is true.

Einstein believed in God.

quote:

In fact, the more you reject reason and fact in favour of a literal, supernatural belief the better a person you are. It's a clear rejection of intellect.

Who's opinion is that ? You can't attribute that to every creationist. That's really as indefensible a position as a racial stereotype.

quote:

Perhaps the picture of Alfred E. Neuman is not "nice", but neither is the majority YEC view (Christian, anyway) that those of us who don't reject reason, intellect and fact are going to burn eternally in a lake of fire. I think it's probably fair game to use an image that isn't "nice".


I would say that tolerance includes the idea that others are free to follow their beliefs, and that they're equally deserving of fair treatment and respect, including those that disagree with the origins of the universe.

But, I don't think that tolerance includes the idea that you have to negate the entire basis of your belief system and change your views about the hereafter.

It's an interesting question though. As a Christian, someone believes that only Christ offers salvation. Is that necessarily an 'intolerant' viewpoint ?

DavisMavis

quote:


Originally posted by Michael Hardner:
[b]As a Christian, someone believes that only Christ offers salvation. Is that necessarily an 'intolerant' viewpoint ?[/b]

Yep.

Michael Hardner

It's interesting because it basically says almost all religions are intolerant at a basic level. That means 'tolerance' is almost equivalent to being non-religious, doesn't it ?

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

quote:


I think that you're oversimplifying it. I think a better way to put it is to reject reason as the ultimate arbiter of what is true.

Einstein believed in God.


Um, no, not as such... In fact, Einstein wrote several rebuttals to those who tried to use his quotes to justify their religious beliefs. He was, in fact, quite areligious. He used "god" in a metaphoric sense.

Here, I think, is one aspect of what the author in question is getting at -- we read bits and snippets of things, quotes of Einstein out of context, for example, without reading him extensively in context in order to have full comprehension. This is a trend in our "sound-bite" culture.

When I talk about some of your own preconceptions, I mean that there are some things you are taking as givens -- that the ability to read equates the ability to think critically, for example. The idea that Jacoby is challenging our culture's average or general level of intellect seems very uncomfortable to you. That one might challenge the religious in terms of their reasonability also seems to trouble you.

quote:

Who's opinion is that ? You can't attribute that to every creationist. That's really as indefensible a position as a racial stereotype.

Well, it's not really an opinion -- it's one of the tenets of fundamentalist Christianity, many of whom are YECs. Don't take my word for it, though, go look it up. Or visit a Pentacostal church on Sunday. Seriously. I am not making this up.

quote:

I would say that tolerance includes the idea that others are free to follow their beliefs, and that they're equally deserving of fair treatment and respect, including those that disagree with the origins of the universe.

But, I don't think that tolerance includes the idea that you have to negate the entire basis of your belief system and change your views about the hereafter.

It's an interesting question though. As a Christian, someone believes that only Christ offers salvation. Is that necessarily an 'intolerant' viewpoint ?


As DavisMavis pointed out, yes, it is an intolerant viewpoint. Arrogant, even. But I don't question their right to believe something that I think is intolerant, arrogant and thoroughly benighted.

People of faith have every right to believe and say whatever they like. However, I also have the right to think that the rejection of scientific evidence and reason is, well, for lack of a better word... Stupid.

Trevormkidd

quote:


Originally posted by Michael Hardner:
Einstein believed in God.

1) So what.

2) Einstein's belief in "god" - if you could call it that - was entirely natural and not supernatural. "It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal god and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it."

[ 30 April 2008: Message edited by: Trevormkidd ]

Michael Hardner

TB,

quote:

Um, no, not as such... In fact, Einstein wrote several rebuttals to those who tried to use his quotes to justify their religious beliefs. He was, in fact, quite areligious. He used "god" in a metaphoric sense.

Here, I think, is one aspect of what the author in question is getting at -- we read bits and snippets of things, quotes of Einstein out of context, for example, without reading him extensively in context in order to have full comprehension. This is a trend in our "sound-bite" culture.

When I talk about some of your own preconceptions, I mean that there are some things you are taking as givens -- that the ability to read equates the ability to think critically, for example. The idea that Jacoby is challenging our culture's average or general level of intellect seems very uncomfortable to you. That one might challenge the religious in terms of their reasonability also seems to trouble you.


I don't mind that she's challenging our culture's level of intellect, just that she's doing it in such a magaziney way.

I don't think it's correct to group people who believe in a spiritual realm in with illiterates. These are different conditions.

quote:

Well, it's not really an opinion -- it's one of the tenets of fundamentalist Christianity, many of whom are YECs. Don't take my word for it, though, go look it up. Or visit a Pentacostal church on Sunday. Seriously. I am not making this up.


It's not the way you've phrased it here.

quote:

As DavisMavis pointed out, yes, it is an intolerant viewpoint. Arrogant, even. But I don't question their right to believe something that I think is intolerant, arrogant and thoroughly benighted.

People of faith have every right to believe and say whatever they like. However, I also have the right to think that the rejection of scientific evidence and reason is, well, for lack of a better word... Stupid.


Sure, but there are many flavours of stupid. There are fundamentalist Christians who are quite bright. How do you resolve these things ?

Michael Hardner

quote:


1) So what.

2) Einstein's belief in "god" - if you could call it that - was entirely natural and not supernatural. "It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal god and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it."


I also went to Wikipedia after reading TB's post. Yes, it appears that Einstein wasn't as religious as he is generally thought to be, and as I thought he was.

But he wasn't an atheist, just an agnostic which I guess is the least religious position you can take.

Fidel

Apparently Einstein said lots of things, such as:

quote:

[i]"The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity."[/i]

clandestiny

Harlan Ellison once wrote a story 'i have no mouth and i must scream' and that evokes the feeling i sometimes have posting here at Babble. My angle towards almost everything debated here is through hearing talkradio, however that touches on the topics. Toronto talkradio is ...it is...and to say it plain, it, talkradio, drives me mad! Yet there seems to be an indifference to the ignorance and hatred promoted daily by the hirelings one hears espousing the 'politically incorrect' viewpoint (with the self serving unspoken addendum that 'they', the hate radio goons, are defying the powerful, and speaking truth!) Even at babble, this absurd standard operating proceedure is rarely mentioned - it's a given that rightwing idiots own the airwaves, and thems the brakes. But if modern social entities like the 'US' or Canada have gotten stupider, the role played by media was intrinsic to the getting, and it was intentional. For example: Today, Charles Adler on AM640 interviewed 'Doctor' Pat Moore, who co-founded Greenpeace (in his wasted youth, i guess). Moore assured the goofs who listen to Adler etal that 'global warming' is a myth- Suzuki and Al Gore etc have 'no proof' that human activity is causing blah blah blah, or they'd publish it blah blah. In the 10 years or so listening to Toronto callin radio, i have NEVER heard anyone say anything otherwise then that GW is a myth(excepting the CBC, which is another case'o'worms entirely; almost as if the CBC's main purpose was to set up itself as evidence of 'liberal' media to clear the stage for the likes of cfrb/am640 etc ad nazism) Indeed, name any subject and the reactionary rightwing punks will somehow use it to frame their hateful nonsense in a way that makes chin stroking, nods and head shakes of disdain the only sensible recourse, by the select of intelligence, of course. The POSSIBILITY screams out at the two giggling boors that IF they're wrong, and the enviromentalists right, then ....then what? If they're right, otoh, so frigging what! We'll all be engrossed in something else by then anyway, and blah blah blah! The idea that newsmedia is dominated by 'skeptics' and this skepticism is heavily funded by powerful forces with an agenda , and that agenda depends upon lowering the IQ of the voting public- i wish someone would expose the POSSIBILITY that the unreasoning of so much of the population must be linked to the ignorance the mass media produces and provides them, with catastrophe somehow the objective. The MAN is planning a nuke event involving Iran, within next few months, according to ....is that normal?

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

quote:


I don't mind that she's challenging our culture's level of intellect, just that she's doing it in such a magaziney way.

I don't think it's correct to group people who believe in a spiritual realm in with illiterates. These are different conditions.


What was "magaziney" about it? Jacoby seemed pretty well-spoken where quoted and the reviewer didn't seem to think the book was terrifically superficial (which is as close as I can come to fathoming a meaning for "magaziney" without further clarification). I haven't read the book, but I'm interested -- although this is not a new idea by any means.

quote:

Sure, but there are many flavours of stupid. There are fundamentalist Christians who are quite bright. How do you resolve these things ?


I'm going to quote a line from Forrest Gump: "Stupid is as stupid does." [img]wink.gif" border="0[/img]

I'm not impugning the IQ of literal believers. You may find some highly intelligent members in their ranks, however these will be highly intelligent people who have rejected reason and independent thought in favour of an anti-intellectual philosophy or mode of belief. Sometimes smart, well-educated people do stupid things or behave in stupid ways, too. The only thing worse than genuine stupidity, in my opinion, is willful ignorance -- and, having been connected to a fundamentalist church through marriage, this is something fundamentalist Christianity most certainly promotes.

This line of thought also leads me to believe that you are equating the dumbing down of culture to peoples' inability to think -- I don't think that's what Jacoby's getting at. Rather, we're making the choice to skim the surface rather than truly get into anything.

[ 01 May 2008: Message edited by: Timebandit ]

Michael Hardner

quote:


What was "magaziney" about it? Jacoby seemed pretty well-spoken where quoted and the reviewer didn't seem to think the book was terrifically superficial (which is as close as I can come to fathoming a meaning for "magaziney" without further clarification). I haven't read the book, but I'm interested -- although this is not a new idea by any means.

TB - Sorry, you're right. It's the reviewer, I think, that I have a problem with.

quote:

quote: Sure, but there are many flavours of stupid. There are fundamentalist Christians who are quite bright. How do you resolve these things ?

I'm going to quote a line from Forrest Gump: "Stupid is as stupid does."

I'm not impugning the IQ of literal believers. You may find some highly intelligent members in their ranks, however these will be highly intelligent people who have rejected reason and independent thought in favour of an anti-intellectual philosophy or mode of belief. Sometimes smart, well-educated people do stupid things or behave in stupid ways, too. The only thing worse than genuine stupidity, in my opinion, is willful ignorance -- and, having been connected to a fundamentalist church through marriage, this is something fundamentalist Christianity most certainly promotes.


Ok. So faith, or willful ignorance is 'worse' than being stupid.

And is it stupidity, then ? Or is it just something you don't like ?

And if you're equating something you don't like with "bad" then ... where are we ?

quote:

This line of thought also leads me to believe that you are equating the dumbing down of culture to peoples' inability to think -- I don't think that's what Jacoby's getting at. Rather, we're making the choice to skim the surface rather than truly get into anything.

Maybe that's true, but then again just living in the world today requires more smarts than it did 50 years ago.

I read the review again and Jacoby's book sounds better than I thought the first time, but the theme is tired and well traveled.

B.L. Zeebub LLD

quote:


As a Christian, someone believes that only Christ offers salvation.

I think that's a terrible definition of a Christian.

Michael Hardner

Sorry, I didn't mean to try to define Christianity there. I was just talking about an example.

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

quote:


Ok. So faith, or willful ignorance is 'worse' than being stupid.

And is it stupidity, then ? Or is it just something you don't like ?

And if you're equating something you don't like with "bad" then ... where are we ?


Dismissing facts because they are at odds with an ancient book that has been rewritten and translated many times is willful ignorance. How is it NOT worse than simple stupidity?

No, I don't like ignorance. Ignorance IS bad. We make mistakes, repeat them over and over and never learn from them if we embrace ignorance. It's not about my personal preferences. Just look at all that has been done in the name of that particular brand of unquestioning faith (the sort that demands you dismiss all evidence to its contrary) and tot up the balance sheet. The bad far outweighs the good.

When we can no longer say "This is bad, it's holding us back..." -- Where are we, indeed.

[ 02 May 2008: Message edited by: Timebandit ]

Michael Hardner

TB

quote:

Dismissing facts because they are at odds with an ancient book that has been rewritten and translated many times is willful ignorance. How is it NOT worse than simple stupidity?

No, I don't like ignorance. Ignorance IS bad. We make mistakes, repeat them over and over and never learn from them if we embrace ignorance. It's not about my personal preferences. Just look at all that has been done in the name of that particular brand of unquestioning faith (the sort that demands you dismiss all evidence to its contrary) and tot up the balance sheet. The bad far outweighs the good.

When we can no longer say "This is bad, it's holding us back..." -- Where are we, indeed.


It's not holding ME back. But you sound like you're ready to ban holy books to keep others safe from their beliefs.

Religion didn't invent ignorance any more than Socialism invented totalitarianism. There are ignorant religionists and totalitarian socialists, it seems.

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

quote:


Originally posted by Michael Hardner:
[b]TB

It's not holding ME back. But you sound like you're ready to ban holy books to keep others safe from their beliefs.

Religion didn't invent ignorance any more than Socialism invented totalitarianism. There are ignorant religionists and totalitarian socialists, it seems.[/b]


Don't be so obtuse. Ignorance holds us back as a culture. I did not suggest banning holy books, but it would make me no end of happy to see people treat them like the myths they are. They may have symbolic significance, but this "living word of GAWD" business and the majority of things people do based on it are destructive. And it does not escape me that you haven't made an argument to the contrary.

Michael Hardner

TB

quote:

Don't be so obtuse. Ignorance holds us back as a culture. I did not suggest banning holy books, but it would make me no end of happy to see people treat them like the myths they are. They may have symbolic significance, but this "living word of GAWD" business and the majority of things people do based on it are destructive. And it does not escape me that you haven't made an argument to the contrary.

You have no basis to say that the majority of things people do on it are destructive, nor do you have any way of even beginning to evaluate that.

There's no argument to the contrary. There's just no argument.

It's impossible to summarize the effect that religion had on our world today. The fact that you think it's bad, is based on your religious anti-religion viewpoint. You just have 'faith' that religion is bad.

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

quote:


You have no basis to say that the majority of things people do on it are destructive, nor do you have any way of even beginning to evaluate that.

[img]confused.gif" border="0[/img] Are you kidding me?

We can start with such historical goodies as the Inquisition and witch burnings, various wars and genocides. We can look at many senseless acts of violence from the past and present. Gynecologists gunned down for providing abortion services, honour killings, female circumcision, beating children because an old book somewhere says "spare the rod and spoil the child", forced marriage of child brides... I could go on and on here.

Read, my friend. Think. There is a basis in fact for my argument.

quote:

There's no argument to the contrary. There's just no argument.

There I will agree with you. There is no argument that unquestioning religious faith is benign. None whatsoever.

quote:

It's impossible to summarize the effect that religion had on our world today. The fact that you think it's bad, is based on your religious anti-religion viewpoint. You just have 'faith' that religion is bad.

No. As I've mentioned above, I've read and learned and thought. I was involved in a fundamentalist church for a period of time and I was raised in a liberal Christian faith. I have questioned and come to a conclusion.

You, on the other hand, seem to be going on faith that unquestioned faith is a good thing, although you seem incapable of providing any argument to support your assertion. If anybody's going on faith here, I suggest it is you.

Unless you're willing to take a stab at an actual, you know, argument. But I won't hold my breath.

Michael Hardner

TB,

quote:

Are you kidding me?

We can start with such historical goodies as the Inquisition and witch burnings, various wars and genocides. We can look at many senseless acts of violence from the past and present. Gynecologists gunned down for providing abortion services, honour killings, female circumcision, beating children because an old book somewhere says "spare the rod and spoil the child", forced marriage of child brides... I could go on and on here.


Please don't.

The examples that you give were done under the guise of religion but to say religion is the cause is quite another thing.

Evil will manifest itself anywhere, and there are hypocrites everywhere too.

quote:

Read, my friend. Think. There is a basis in fact for my argument.


There is a basis in fact for almost every argument under the sun.

quote:

There I will agree with you. There is no argument that unquestioning religious faith is benign. None whatsoever.

I also agree.

quote:

No. As I've mentioned above, I've read and learned and thought. I was involved in a fundamentalist church for a period of time and I was raised in a liberal Christian faith. I have questioned and come to a conclusion.


It sounds to me that you could never be objective on this topic due to your personal bias.


quote:

You, on the other hand, seem to be going on faith that unquestioned faith is a good thing, although you seem incapable of providing any argument to support your assertion. If anybody's going on faith here, I suggest it is you.

I think that all faith should be questioned, but I don't agree that one's world view needs to be tied to materialism, or physics.

quote:


Unless you're willing to take a stab at an actual, you know, argument. But I won't hold my breath.

I prefer taking potshots at others, thanks...

There's very little in this life you can hang your hat on, aside from trying to personally do your best to make this world a better place.

And the person I knew who did the best job at that did so out of religious inspiration, so what do you do with that ?

The harm that religion did through the years - sure enough, that's a big idea. But there were plenty of places that had no religion either, and some of them were pretty crappy too.

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

quote:


The examples that you give were done under the guise of religion but to say religion is the cause is quite another thing.

Evil will manifest itself anywhere, and there are hypocrites everywhere too.


That's just a little too pat. Everybody who does something violent in the name of religion is a hypocrite, or they'd do it anyway? Bullshit. [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Charles_Kopp]James Charles Kopp[/url] murdered Dr. Barnett Slepian because of, not in spite of, religion. [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Inquisition]The Spanish Inquisition[/url] was religious in nature. These were people of FAITH, not hypocrites. In their minds, the defence of faith and morality was at stake -- God meant for them to do these horrible things.

Sure, there's the odd person who does "the right thing" out of faith... I mean, the people who ran the residential schools only did it for the well-being of their charges... I'm sure they meant well, too.

These things were not done under the "guise" of religion. They were religiously motivated.

Funny thing, this manifestation of evil is so much more common when some god or other rubber-stamps it by providing some ancient and moral writing to back it up.

quote:

I think that all faith should be questioned, but I don't agree that one's world view needs to be tied to materialism, or physics.

Where did I say it had to be?

quote:

I prefer taking potshots at others, thanks...

There's very little in this life you can hang your hat on, aside from trying to personally do your best to make this world a better place.

And the person I knew who did the best job at that did so out of religious inspiration, so what do you do with that ?

The harm that religion did through the years - sure enough, that's a big idea. But there were plenty of places that had no religion either, and some of them were pretty crappy too.


Really? I don't think there is anywhere on earth that is devoid of the effects of some form of religion. Where would that be?

There may be some who do good out of faith, but denying reality does no one any good. Sadly, these individuals are so few and far between that it does little to offset the totals at the bottom of the balance sheet.

Michael Hardner

TB,

quote:

That's just a little too pat. Everybody who does something violent in the name of religion is a hypocrite, or they'd do it anyway? Bullshit. James Charles Kopp murdered Dr. Barnett Slepian because of, not in spite of, religion. The Spanish Inquisition was religious in nature. These were people of FAITH, not hypocrites. In their minds, the defence of faith and morality was at stake -- God meant for them to do these horrible things.


Those are good examples, but still examples of people who misunderstood their faith.

I will say that they weren't hypocrites, but people who killed for what they believed to be a good cause.

But again, there are plenty of good causes worth killing for and religion is just one of those...

quote:

Sure, there's the odd person who does "the right thing" out of faith... I mean, the people who ran the residential schools only did it for the well-being of their charges... I'm sure they meant well, too.

You can't POSSIBLY quantify how many people we're taking about.

quote:

These things were not done under the "guise" of religion. They were religiously motivated.

Funny thing, this manifestation of evil is so much more common when some god or other rubber-stamps it by providing some ancient and moral writing to back it up.


Just because something is old, doesn't mean it's bad. If it was, then the Pythagorean theorem would be useless now.

quote:

quote: I think that all faith should be questioned, but I don't agree that one's world view needs to be tied to materialism, or physics.

Where did I say it had to be?


You didn't. But ... well there are those that question their faith and then stick with it.

At least they asked themselves the question.

quote:

quote: I prefer taking potshots at others, thanks...

There's very little in this life you can hang your hat on, aside from trying to personally do your best to make this world a better place.

And the person I knew who did the best job at that did so out of religious inspiration, so what do you do with that ?

The harm that religion did through the years - sure enough, that's a big idea. But there were plenty of places that had no religion either, and some of them were pretty crappy too.

Really? I don't think there is anywhere on earth that is devoid of the effects of some form of religion. Where would that be?


I dunno... the Soviet Union pretty much exterminated it...

There are pagan peoples... sun worshippers...

I guess you could call them religious...

quote:

There may be some who do good out of faith, but denying reality does no one any good. Sadly, these individuals are so few and far between that it does little to offset the totals at the bottom of the balance sheet.

Well, my reality says that there is no benefit in helping anybody else. If I accept an irrational view that helping a stranger is just ... better ... then that kind of denying reality is good.

And, again, you can't say definitively that these individuals are few and far between.

I would think that a basic code of right and wrong, adopted by an individual, would tend to make them a net positive to society.

Unionist

quote:


Originally posted by Michael Hardner:
[b]But again, there are plenty of good causes worth killing for and religion is just one of those...[/b]

Thank goodness there are so many different religions, too. It would be so hard to pump oneself up to murder if there were only one.

George Victor

I'm first on the list for a boo at Susan Jacoby's work, now available from the public library here. The Tyee's review also invites the read.

I expect it will make some of the same arguments as Al Gore's The Assault on Reason (2007), which he began by showing how the U.S. administration took America into Iraq without serious challenges.

Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Gore explains, was a lonely, challenging voice on the floor of the Senate, asking why the Senate was silent. "There is no debate, no discussion, no attempt to lay out for the nation the pros and cons of this particular war. There is nothing."

I look forward to reading Jacoby for some explanation, and from that, some idea of the silence of Canada's lambs.

Why do four out of five Canadian twenty somethings stay at home on election day?

Why are they involved primarily in yack lines, rather than public discourse in newspapers?

Why did John English, "Tad" Homer-Dixon and a younger Richler last year find themselves addressing a Waterloo audience (two major universities in town) containing not one person below the age of 40, discussing a biography of P.E.Trudeau's early years, the possibility of an environmental answer to threatening species extinction (ours), and the ideas of Canadian authors, coast to coast? In 1968, students would have dominated the evening's question period.

To wind up with knotted knickers about the implications of religion for a couple of individuals rather than taking up the marvelous invitation by jrose to look at objective answers to that "silence" - and not just in the U.S. Senate - is to underline Jacoby's (and Gore's) point: "Why do reason, logic and truth seem to play a sharply diminished role" in decision-making. And, of course, one has only to look at government in Steve's parliament, as well as the U.S. senate, to understand these writers speak for us all.

Is such reduction to introspection in literary review the product of postmodernism's excuse for analysis?

Einstein on religion? Isaacson's biography explains in depth his subject's humorous take on a belief system that looks for personal salvation - while also personally refusing to accept the uncertainty of quantum machanics in a universe that looks like the product of something more certain, more god-inspired.

I can't wait to read Jacoby, who apparently makes the point that books should be central to our collective intellectual life, and then review the reviews, A.Newman illustrations aside. Thanks jrose!

[ 06 May 2008: Message edited by: George Victor ]

remind remind's picture

Thanks for the heads up george am going to look for it.

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

Einstein did not believe in God. The religionists are always attempting to misrepresent him and his words.

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture
George Victor

Thanks FM.  No, Albert did not believe in a personal God interceding on his behalf, but the question of "where it all began" he left open to speculation, of course....didn't consider himself smart enough to get into specifics . :D       Read Isaacson.

George Victor

Ian Brown's column in Saturday's Globe presents Jaron Lanier's book You Are Not a Gadget. Lanier is the computer scientist who gave us the concept "virtual reality" (my ed. not "cyberspace) He "won't use social media such as Twitter or Facebook, because they force people to describe themselves in reduced, multiple-choice formats. Their primary purpose is not convivial, as we imagine, but capitalistic - to harvest marketing data. You may not feel like a gadget reading You Are Not a Gadget, but you sure can feel like a dupe."

Brown says Lanier's "main conclusiion is undeniable: Society is being bossed around by a band of 'cybernetic totalists' or 'digital Maoists' who believe their beloved engineering system is more valuable than the humans it's supposed to serve. (Cue the political process enacted on YouTube.) If that sound totalitarian, it's because it is."

Quoting Lanier: "The mere possibility of there being something ineffable about personhood is what drives many technologists to reject the notion of quality."

I have often wondered at the changes in communication that prompted the writing of Jacoby's book, and at the reaction to the message in the book.  I've placed You Are Not a Gadget as a note in juxtaposition to the review by jrose way back in the spring of '08,  because I believe it holds some answers.

p.s.  After reading the comments in the Jacoby review one can only hope that one out of 10 comments on You Are Not a Gadget are prompted by a reading of the work. I'm third on the library waiting list...other Globe readers got there first.

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

Albert, as George knows him:

I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it. 

 

George Victor

Frustrated Mess wrote:

Albert, as George knows him:

I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it. 

 

That was from his "letter to an atheist" (1954)  FM   (Gaia I'm gonna find my way around this digitized infernal machine yet.

al-Qa'bong

Quote:

To wind up with knotted knickers about the implications of religion for a couple of individuals rather than taking up the marvelous invitation by jrose to look at objective answers to that "silence" - and not just in the U.S. Senate - is to underline Jacoby's (and Gore's) point: "Why do reason, logic and truth seem to play a sharply diminished role" in decision-making.

 

I'm still in the midst of reading the book, haven't yet hit the dénouement, and so don't know why exactly the USA is in an age of unreason. One theme that has been popping up, though, is that a suspicion of intellectual "elites" - be they doctors, journalists, Communists, or academics - has grown in the USA throughout the 20th century. I haven't come across Jacoby's explanation for why this has happened, but one of its symptoms is trusting in the "folk-wisdom" of just plain folks. When the elites are running around, casting doubt on what we know with their damn-fool rationalism, "just folks" are able to find certainty in faith in God. Their faith gives them power in the face of those forces that employ the witchcraft of logic and reason to oppress them.

Fidel

I think we live in an analog world not a digital one. Oh sure we have internet and iTunes and cell phones. Can't transmit a digital signal without an analog carrier though. At least not over the air. And wireless comms will be everywhere in the world soon, People are analog beings not digital. We don't think in binary terms either. And I think computer technology will eventually be using something other than digital logic. The Matrix sci-fi movie scares me a little. We won't ever have that kind of tech. But I do think there is more for virtual reality baloney on the horizon. I think people will someday soon be spending a lot of hours per week with VR as a cheap escape from analog reality. I think people will eventually make personal choices to be dumb and entertained. The cost of education though! That's a biggy. Money isn't as cheap as it once was before the Stalinization of economic theory occurred in North America. Will it be VR for the poor and classic education for sons and daughters of the ruling class? I get the strong impression we're already headed down that road. There will be significant changes through the next five to ten years.

Ah!

[url=http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=14416]Ignorance in America[/url] by Prof. John Kozy

Quote:
The American educational system won’t be improved by producing more teachers, building more classrooms to reduce class size, or creating programs such as head start and no child left behind. It can only be improved by a fundamental change in our cultural values.

Imagine what American athletics would be like if bats and balls of all types and the broadcast of athletic events were as rare in American homes as books. Americans need to recognize that no nation was ever made great by its entertainers, athletes, and shopkeepers; yet a nation of entertainers, athletes, and shopkeepers is what America has become. None of these is an intellectual pursuit.

America’s ruling oligarchs may believe that the public can be kept ignorant while they and their children can be learned, but they’re wrong. Ignorance is pervasive; it affects the rich as well as the poor, the powerful and the powerless, the famous as well as the obscure. It’s prevalent in the suites of our nation’s CEOs, the Congress, the military, and even our universities. It defines this nation.

Kozy says America does a good job of educating a few, and theyve done a good job of awarding advanced degrees and mostly to students who are nationals of other countries. I think Canada also has done a good job of educating the best and brightest. It's not nearly enough though. We still need educated people to handle the technology and the advanced ideas of present and future economies, whether they are in demand by big business or publicly owned and operated enterprises. Conservatives can provide all kinds of tax incentives for businesses to buy advanced equipment, but if there aren't enough workers educated and trained to use the tech, most of the fancy stuff doesn't work all by itself. They are slowly creating an underclass of lowly skilled and lowly educated workers whose jobs are being offshoredm phased out and obsolete. There will be shortages of skilled and educated people in the future, and I think this is typical of non-planning in capitalist economies. What kind of an economy is it where a Taco Bell manager earns more income than a pilot? What kind of an economy is it where a real estate broker makes more money than an engineer? A sick economy, that's what kind.

al-Qa'bong

Quote:

Anyway, from the review, it seems like the book makes the basic humanist, anti-tech point (cf, eg, Sven Birkerts): technology diminishes the human.

 

The review might make that suggestion, but The Age of Unreason doesn't.  While technology plays a role in anti-intellectualism, it isn't the prime mover.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Which book are you talking about, Al-Q? Jacoby's or Lanier's?

Edited to address your edit: I was talking about Lanier's book You Are Not a Gadget, which George saw fit to put in this thread. I don't know much about Jacoby's book. I'll edit my post to make that clear.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

I don't really know what George's book review of Lanier's You Are Not a Gadget is doing in this thread, except for maybe he believes it to be yet another augury of the fall of civilization. Anyway, from the review, it seems like the book makes the basic humanist, anti-tech point (cf, eg, Sven Birkerts): technology diminishes the human. In many ways, this critique is quite correct: technology is partnered with the latest stage of capitalism which reifies every minutiae of human relations, and transmutes the capital earned by real human labour into imaginary and fantastical "data." But, of course, this critique ultimately has no teeth, because it is rooted in nostalgia: things were better before the internet (fyi: you can't "invent" culture, even if it is digital) and the best response is to bury our heads in the sand (i.e. dead tree media) and wait for the fad to pass. Well, that ain't gonna happen.

A far better response is to recognize the capitalist (and militaristic) genesis of the internet while acknowledging the role it plays in our life. As I like to say, technology affords us the opportunity to change the world that is changing us.

Quote:
No longer structured by the polarity of public and private, the cyborg defines a technological polis based partly on a revolution of social relations in the oikos, the household. Nature and culture are reworked; the one can no longer be the resource for appropriation or incorporation by the other. The relationships for forming wholes from parts, including those of polarity and hierarchical domination, are at issue in the cyborg world. Unlike the hopes of Frankenstein's monster, the cyborg does not expect its father to save it through a restoration of the garden; that is, through the fabrication of a heterosexual mate, through its completion in a finished whole, a city and cosmos. The cyborg does not dream of community on the model of the organic family, this time without the oedipal project. The cyborg would not recognize the Garden of Eden; it is not made of mud and cannot dream of returning to dust....The main trouble with cyborgs, of course, is that they are the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism, not to mention state socialism. But illegitimate offspring are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins. Their fathers, after all, are inessential.

--Donna Haraway, "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century." (1991)

Edited to clarify which book review I was referring to.

George Victor

George Victor wrote:

Ian Brown's column in Saturday's Globe presents Jaron Lanier's book You Are Not a Gadget. Lanier is the computer scientist who gave us the concept "virtual reality" (my ed. not "cyberspace) He "won't use social media such as Twitter or Facebook, because they force people to describe themselves in reduced, multiple-choice formats. Their primary purpose is not convivial, as we imagine, but capitalistic - to harvest marketing data. You may not feel like a gadget reading You Are Not a Gadget, but you sure can feel like a dupe."

Brown says Lanier's "main conclusiion is undeniable: Society is being bossed around by a band of 'cybernetic totalists' or 'digital Maoists' who believe their beloved engineering system is more valuable than the humans it's supposed to serve. (Cue the political process enacted on YouTube.) If that sound totalitarian, it's because it is."

Quoting Lanier: "The mere possibility of there being something ineffable about personhood is what drives many technologists to reject the notion of quality."

I have often wondered at the changes in communication that prompted the writing of Jacoby's book, and at the reaction to the message in the book.  I've placed You Are Not a Gadget as a note in juxtaposition to the review by jrose way back in the spring of '08,  because I believe it holds some answers.

p.s.  After reading the comments in the Jacoby review one can only hope that one out of 10 comments on You Are Not a Gadget are prompted by a reading of the work. I'm third on the library waiting list...other Globe readers got there first.

Take the time to read my thoughts on this, Catchfire, and then I can reply to your smartass comment (made, obviously, without having bothered to read my explanation).

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

You're right, George, I treated your reasoning a bit glibly--I was trying to joke and I guess it came off as a "smartass comment." Sorry. I read that the "answers" Lanier's book holds simple explain why we are on a "slide to stupidity." It's actually an argument that has a proud tradition in the English language, at least in the Modern period. That's why I was a bit glib, but I meant no offence.

Perhaps you'd like to explain the connection a bit more thoroughly?

George Victor

To repeat:

I have often wondered at the changes in communication that prompted the writing of Jacoby's book, and at the reaction to the message in the book.  I've placed You Are Not a Gadget as a note in juxtaposition to the review by jrose way back in the spring of '08,  because I believe it holds some answers."

 

I was born in 1938, and have watched with great interest the change in reading habits of Canadians around me. I reported for the old Peterborough Examiner, gifted to Robertson DAvies by his dad. And when old Rupert died, Robertson sold out (the paper and the community to Thomson of Fleet - with excuses that included the unfair labour action by the typographers so he didn't owe them anything, etc. As though the reactionary old bastard ever felt anything for labour at any time)....Whew. See what you've started? Anyway, continuing in a kind of stream of consciousness vein..I have watched people come to accept the shallowness of news reporting out of the idiot box and wondered... how can they claim citizenship, purport to act as citizens, at municipal election time? And, of course, since turnout at municipal elections has sunken to 30 per cent hereabouts, the answer is, only people of property bother. I now also begin to understand the charge of "hedonism" directed at those youngsters in the 60s (the first of the baby boomers) whose reformist spirit had all the depth of pee on a platter. As Jacoby points out, the avid readers of the immediate postwar years, the working class included - I did a study of reading habits of workers in two factories in 1973 as part of my undergraduate work, and found 9 out of 10 reading the local newspaper but only 1 in 10 reading MacLeans or Time - had begun to decline early on.

 

The Age of American Unreason, and Al Gore's The Assault on Reason both help to explain the condition of the wingnut GOP following. Hereabouts, I find that reference to the Great Unread meets with charges of "snotty elitism", even though it is an accurate description of people made vulnerable by their inability to challenge the hate-filled propaganda of the media. Anyway, Susan Jacoby has nicely prepared me for the knuckle-dragging antics of tea-baggers and other GOP camp followers over the past several months.

 

And Jaron Lanier? I think he's talking about the "information sources" that folks went over to in their flight from print media. I'll know better when having read him. He was interviewed on CBC radio 1 the other day and comes across as your quintessential geek, describing the world that McLuhan was getting at, eccentricity itself, but perhaps will be helpful in my understanding why he says the ineffable quality of "personhood" is perhaps in danger. And from that may come some understanding as to why people would not revolt at the danger - cannot see it coming at them down the pike.

Fidel

I think that technology controlled by the wrong people is like an economy run according to a flawed ideology. The results are going to be less than ideal. The internet is what it is. It's a telephone system of the future and will only expand in the coming years. We can work to democratize the internet and toward net neutrality, like we do with health care, or we can let the inet be controlled by private interests and big money, too. I can't imagine a more scandalous scenario than a few dozen or few hundred high tech Joe Goebbels owning all of the communications media. We can have great concentration of internet and cable in the hands of a few or democracy. But we can't have both. The problem is not technology and gadgets. It's something else. The monetary system is out of whack for one thing. Higher education and debt aren't the only things that are over-priced today. The western world is experiencing an unprecedented debt crisis, and Canadian students are somewhere more than $13 billion dollars in debt. Demon interest and debt go hand in hand with decay and rot.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Bingo, Fidel. Technology is a human creation. How could it be anything other than an expression of human conflict and contradiction? While I sympathize with George's position, History actually teaches us that the scenario he details is simply the latest permutation of the same relationship to media development and technology. Magazines and newspapers were supposed to afford readers with simplistic analyses at best, snake-oil propoganda for certain, and light-headed pop consumption at worst. Sound familiar? The novel was castigated as feminized, a perverse pretender to the old classics (Epic, Lyric, Drama) and a get-rich quick scheme by the printing-press owners. All of this is probably true. But it turns out that the novel, newspapers, magazines, radio, film, television all eventually had something good to offer radical politics.

This is not to say that George's concerns are misguided, of course--but that the blame is misplaced. There's a whole load of state apparatus to reclaim: education, publishing, tech development, economy, to name a few--and new technologies cannot help but figure massively in that project.

al-Qa'bong

The problem isn't the gadgets themselves, I don't think, but an ethos that believes in gadgetry or privileges gizmos over applied thought.

Last week, during a discussion among tradesmen on how to fill out work orders, I mentioned how it won't be long before anyone going to a worksite will have a hand-held electronic device with some "app" (I hadn't ever heard that term  three months ago - now I hear it every day) that will replace the paper work order/invoice.  Some shops use such devices already.  Then, as we got into how language itself is devolving, one guy mentioned Idiocracy.

 

What a perfect reference; a film that depicts the logical outcome of the trend Jacoby describes.  An especially memorable scene is one in which someone goes to a hospital and has his ailment diagnosed by someone pushing buttons on a screen that is identical to one found in a fast-food cash register.  [Youtube has blocked the scene because of copyright infringement.]

 

 

The "It's got electrolytes" quip that permeates the film could have been taken right out of Jacoby's chapter on "Junk Thought."

Fidel

I think that George is on to something though, and it's rooted in capitalist theories for private property and pursuit of happiness. John Locke's treatise for government listed life, liberty and property as natural rights to be protected and by full force of the state if necessary. US Constitutional framers saw a problem with Locke's rights for commoners. The poor and especially Catholics in England owned no property by the end of enclosure period. So land was out of the question as a natural right for commoners in America unless they paid market prices in exchange for ownership. Natural rights in American then became, life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

Gadgets and plastic widgets the poor and underclasses are in no short supply of. Gadgets and widgets have represented a modern opiate for the underclasses. I've heard conservatives say before, Oh theyre not poor if they have microwave ovens and colour TVs. What nonsense! It's property and decent housing that were on FDR's list of things to attain for Americans among health care and rights to a full education. FDR died about a year after presenting his second bill of rights to Americans. And since WW II, most all Europeans and Japanese have gained every one of FDR's citizens' rights. Not Americans though. And our so-called leaders in Ottawa have worked hard to destroy access to the necessities of life for Canadians since the neoliberalorama began 30 years ago or more. Keep your eyes on the real prizes, lefties. They won't fool us into accepting trinkets and baubles in echange for what matters.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Fidel wrote:
Gadgets and plastic widgets the poor and underclasses are in no short supply of. Gadgets and widgets have represented a modern opiate for the underclasses. I've heard conservatives say before, Oh theyre not poor if they have microwave ovens and colour TVs. What nonsense! It's property and decent housing that were on FDR's list of things to attain for Americans among health care and rights to a full education.

What a great point!

al-Qa'bong

I don't think capitalism's to blame, since western Europe is just as capitalist as the USA.  There's something else going on in the states - something to do with more people believing in the virgin birth of Jesus than in evolution.

George Victor

al-Qa'bong wrote:

I don't think capitalism's to blame, since western Europe is just as capitalist as the USA.  There's something else going on in the states - something to do with more people believing in the virgin birth of Jesus than in evolution.

That is central, al-Q. But what has also made them happy in their ignorance? Are they now accommodated in that ignorance by the communal media...comfort is given by Sarah up there sayin'just what one thought...and dang it, she ain't dumb. And isn't this comfort more difficult to come by on the printed page ? And why would people cop out on a basic civic responsibility like going to the polls?  Whre are the young? And why don't people follow the questions in a depth available only in print? (And misplaced concerns are probably better than misguided, yes...even though attempting to communicate in this very limiting medium leaves one open to the miscontrued phrase.

In fact I used to go bonkers trying to control for all the variables, and decided, finally, that the novel was the only route to somewhat complete explanations.

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