Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Bit More on America's Historical Amnesia

I am currently reading a book by Susan Jacoby entitled, The Age of American Unreason (which, by the way, I would reccommend to you all), which deals primarily with America's lack of historical knowledge and its apathy towards sincere learning. I bring this up on our blog because one of the central claims in her books is that the ideals of the 18th century Enlightenment have been replaced with modern ignorance and narcissism, which she claims is self-inflicted. In her introduction, Jacoby writes:

During the past four decades, America's endemic anti-intellectual tendencies have been grievously exacerbated by a new species of semiconscious anti-rationalism, feeding on and fed by an ignorant popular culture of video images and unremitting noise that leaves no room for contemplation or logic. This new form of anti-rationalism, at odds not only with the nation's heritage of eighteenth-century Enlightenment reason but with modern scientific knowledge, has propelled a surge of anti-intellectualism capable of inflicting vastly greater damage than its historical predecessors inflicted on American culture and politics.
Jacoby then goes on to quote Thomas Jefferson, who stated "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."

Jacoby's claims, comined with what we have discussed earlier, have caused me to wonder if our post-modern civilization is better off than that of our 18th century ancestors. Is it possible that we have actually lost more than we've gained? Is this problem of America's collective "amnesia" really that serious, or are we just blowing things out of proportion?

Your thoughts...

8 comments:

Perfumes said...
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Brad said...

I believe that our modern society enjoys the luxuries of superior medicine, technology and comfort, but I also agree with you about our society having lost something. The lack of rationalism along with the expansion of extremism and totalitarianism in our "modern" world has been a HUGE step backwards from what the Enlightenment gave us.

Sherry said...

It's a good book. I reviewed it about a week ago. You can find my review at http://afeatheradrift.blogspot.com

I visit your blog every day if you have posted, and link to you a couple times a week usually. Nice job as usual.

David Mabry said...

In this modern world I believe that we just do not listen to ourselves anymore. Between mp3 players. Ipods, I phones, 24 hour news cycles, YouTube, we always have some input going out. We need time for this "self-talk". Personal reflection, thinking, about ourselves, the world around us, our own voices are being lost in the daily course of life. I challenge my students to turn off their cell phone, the TV, radios and any personal electronic devices. Just read, think, reflect. Our conscience voice is being lost in the cacophony of the modern media driven world.

Lori Stokes said...

This complaint about our society dumbing down because of too much distracting entertainment technology has been around, with justice, since the Civil War. The thing is, it's always true! We must always fight to maintain people's awareness of the fact that their daily choices do impact the quality of democracy in America.

So the problem is not new. What is new, perhaps, is the apparent devotion of our government to worsening the problem. No Child Left Behind hinders schools from teaching (history is usually not included on these tests until high school). The government is giving Americans a subsidy to buy new TVs when the old ones become obsolete next February, but refuses to fund Head Start. The list goes on.

So it's up to us to pick up the torch and the argument and keep fighting. It would be great if one day this battle was won!

Brad said...

Lori:

I agree (at least in part) with what you are saying. The "dumbing' of America is nothing new. However, I do believe that this generation's "dumbing" is far greater than at any other period. There are just too many distractions and too little of an emphasis on this.

Steve said...

Did any of you catch Susan Jacoby (the author of this book) on "The Colbert Report" last night? It was pretty good. I hear she will be on Charlie Rose next week. I'll try and post the time.

Lindsey Shuman said...

It drives me nuts to see how Americans today will only read, learn, and research from sources that support their original notions. There is NO critical thinking or sincere inquiry anymore.