24 February 2008

American unreason

Catching up on my podcasts after two weeks dominated by my prelims (I passed!): last week's Bill Moyers Journal features Susan Jacoby, whose new book, The Age of American Unreason contends that much of what is wrong with U.S. politics stems from the rise of anti-intellectualism in American culture. My reaction is pretty much the same as it was to Lynn Truss's grammar manifesto Eats, Shoots & Leaves - I'm always sympathetic to fellow nerds' disgust with the inability of the unwashed masses to comprehend how important [insert my interest here] is, but I worry that complaining about it sounds a little crank-y.

For instance, I could care less about Jacoby's carping over the increasing use of the term "folks" to mean "people" in politicians' speeches. Language and usages change, especially in English. But I do think she makes a valid point about the importance of an informed citizenry for democracy. I often wonder whether the current debates about judicial power, Presidential authority, &c are shaped by public ignorance of the Constitution and the way government is supposed to work. Or maybe I'm just a snotty liberal who assumes that everyone who disagrees with me must be stupid or misinformed or both.

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