My rating: 3 of 5 stars
When did being an expert on a subject turn into a liability in public debate? Why are Americans more likely to listen to a political pundit or a television show host than a person who has made it her life work to study the matter up for discussion? How is this dumbing down of America and Americans affecting our public policies?
- Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units.
- Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough.
- Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it.
Charles P. Pierce doesn’t like a culture that considers experts to be elitists and is more concerned about who you’d rather have a beer with than who has a firm grasp on the issues. He states that America has always been a good place for people who see things a bit strangely but it has never been so easy to make a living at it.
“The United States is an easy country to love because you can take it on faith that at some point in every waking hour of the day there is among your fellow citizens a vast exultation of opinions that test the outer boundary of the crazoid….
…. Let us be clear. This is still the best country ever in which to peddle complete public lunacy.”
He starts with a visit to the Creation Museum. I’ve been there and wrote about my sadness over the whole thing here. Pierce was there about two years before me and describes the entry to the museum that must have been changed before I got there or I’d have probably passed out. There was a dinosaur with a saddle on it.
“It was an English saddle, hornless and battered. Apparently this was a dinosaur that performed in dressage competitions and stakes races. Any dinosaur accustomed to the rigors of ranch work and herding other dinosaurs along the dusty trail almost certainly would have worn a sturdy western saddle. This, obviously, was very much a show dinosaur.”
That might just be my favorite book quote of all time.
The book moves on to discuss the impact on a small town that became the center of a debate about teaching creationism.
He discusses the prolonged death of Terry Schiavo, which was debated all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. She was even ordered to appear and testify before Congress because no one believed the people treating her when they said that she had been brain dead for years. Doctors are
experts elitist, after all.
He discusses climate change deniers in the context of a small Alaskan town that is melting into the sea and then moves into the War on Terror.
A good companion to this book would be The Science of Fear. It also discusses why we believe outrageous things if they “feel true” enough.
To sum up Idiot America we can quote Pastor Ray Mummert defending the Dover, PA school board’s attempt to get “intelligent design” taught in high school biology classes –
“We’ve been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of our culture.“