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Esquire and Idiot America

Phenomenal article from Esquire about the increasing contempt in our society for intelligence in general, and science specifically. A few selected quotes from the article:

LET’S TAKE A TOUR, shall we? For the sake of time, we’ll just cover the last year or so. A federally funded abstinence program suggests that HIV can be transmitted through tears. An Alabama legislator proposes a bill to ban all books by gay authors. The Texas House passes a bill banning suggestive cheerleading. And nobody laughs at any of it, or even points out that, in the latter case, having Texas ban suggestive cheerleading is like having Nebraska ban corn. James Dobson, a prominent conservative Christian spokesman, compares the Supreme Court to the Ku Klux Klan. Pat Robertson, another prominent conservative preacher, says that federal judges are a more serious threat to the country than is Al Qaeda and, apparently taking his text from the Book of Gambino, later sermonizes that the United States should get with it and snuff the democratically elected president of Venezuela.

The Congress of the United States intervenes to extend into a televised spectacle the prolonged death of a woman in Florida. The majority leader of the Senate, a physician, pronounces a diagnosis based on heavily edited videotape. The majority leader of the House of Representatives argues against cutting-edge research into the use of human stem cells by saying that “an embryo is a person. . . . We were all at one time embryos ourselves. So was Abraham. So was Muhammad. So was Jesus of Nazareth.” Nobody laughs at him or points out that the same could be said of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, or whoever invented the baby-back rib.

…and later in the article….

The rise of Idiot America is essentially a war on expertise. It’s not so much antimodernism or the distrust of intellectual elites that Richard Hofstadter deftly teased out of the national DNA forty years ago. Both of those things are part of it. However, the rise of Idiot America today represents—for profit mainly, but also, and more cynically, for political advantage and in the pursuit of power—the breakdown of a consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good. It also represents the ascendancy of the notion that the people whom we should trust the least are the people who best know what they’re talking about. In the new media age, everybody is a historian, or a preacher, or a scientist, or a sage. And if everyone is an expert, then nobody is, and the worst thing you can be in a society where everybody is an expert is, well, an actual expert.

Now…those of you that actually follow this blog may have issue with my love of this paragraph in light of my open distain for appeals to authority when questions of truth come into play. This is, as I see it, not in disagreement with that position. I don’t mind experts…hell, I strive to BE an expert on a lot of issues. The purpose of being an expert, however, is not so that people believe you without thought. I expect that, even if I know more about a subject than anyone else on earth, that to be intellectually honest is to verify my positions when they are stated, and not take them at face value because I’m an authority.

Finally, we saw the apotheosis of the end of expertise, when New Orleans was virtually obliterated as a functional habitat for human beings, and the country discovered that the primary responsibility for dealing with the calamity lay with a man who’d been dismissed as an incompetent from his previous job as the director of a luxury-show-horse organization.

And the president went on television and said that nobody could have anticipated the collapse of the unfortunate city’s levees. In God’s sweet name, engineers anticipated it. Politicians anticipated it. The poor in the Ninth Ward certainly anticipated it. Hell, four generations of folksingers anticipated it.

Indeed.

Fights over evolution—and its faddish new camouflage, intelligent design, a pseudoscience that posits without proof or method that science is inadequate to explain existence and that supernatural causes must be considered—roil up school districts across the country. The president of the United States announces that he believes ID ought to be taught in the public schools on an equal footing with the theory of evolution. And in Dover, Pennsylvania, during one of these many controversies, a pastor named Ray Mummert delivers the line that both ends our tour and, in every real sense, sums it up:

“We’ve been attacked,” he says, “by the intelligent, educated segment of the culture.”

Indeed. I say it’s time that we attacked a bit more forcefully. ID is the poster child for Idiot America as a “fight” to be “won.” There is no fighting fact, and science is not the opposition of faith. Whether it’s global warming, the energy crisis, genetic engineering, stem cell research, evolution, or a dozen other scientific concepts that this country is unwilling to accept: we need to get with the rest of the world, or learn to speak Chinese. Cause if we fall behind, they will pick up the pieces.

One reply on “Esquire and Idiot America”

There is a wonderfully complementary article in December’s Vanity Fair called “American Rapture.” (As far as I can tell, it’s not online.) It details America’s descent into Evangelicalism, and takes it as far as visiting Temple Mount in Jerusalem and what it means for American politics and culture. It also spends a lot of time subtlely (and not-so-subtlely) pointing the finger at Jerry Falwell and the guy who writes those “Left Behind” novels that are such hot sellers. It’s an interesting article and you can tell the author is as concerned as we are.

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