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Idiot America (2009)

av Charles P. Pierce

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MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygOmnämnanden
8163127,525 (3.68)47
Politics. Nonfiction. HTML:

The culture wars are over and the idiots have won. This is a veteran journalist's caustically funny, righteously angry lament about the glorification of ignorance in the United States.

The three Great Premises of Idiot America: 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 Pierce has led a career-long quest to separate the smart from the pap, and now it's time to try and salvage the Land of the Enlightened, buried somewhere in this new Home of the Uninformed. With his razor-sharp wit and erudite reasoning, Pierce delivers a gut-wrenching, side-splitting lament about the glorification of ignorance in the United States and how a country founded on intellectual curiosity has deteriorated into a nation of simpletons more apt to vote for an American Idol contestant than a presidential candidate.

With Idiot America, Pierce's thunderous denunciation is also a secret call to action, as he hopes that, somehow, being intelligent will stop being a stigma and that pinheads will once again be pitied, not celebrated.

.
… (mer)
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» Se även 47 omnämnanden

Visa 1-5 av 31 (nästa | visa alla)
There's nothing wrong with this book - it's on point, well-written, and probably a quick read. I just found it easily depressing, filled with things I already know and would rather forget, things I don't necessarily know how to change. I'm still going to lend it to whoever wants it. ( )
  Kiramke | Jun 27, 2023 |
I've had this on my shelves for a while, but hadn't picked it up as I suspected it was more a rant than anything else. That turns out NOT to be the case. The central thesis is that how the marketplace of ideas in the US operates has fundamentally changed - and largely to the detriment of both mainstream society and the crank/fringe elements of the country. These latter elements are an essential part of how we generate notions and ideas here and the marketplace, now broken, no longer 'processes' them in the way is used to.

Having finished this, I can say that it gets even better nearer the end.

While it seems, on the surface, to be a rant against the right, this is because the right has, by its own admission, embraced irrationality and showmanship over reason. Nor are all the examples of idiocy in it confined to the right. There are idiots aplenty on all sides. ( )
  qaphsiel | Feb 20, 2023 |
You can find my review and notes about the book here. ( )
  bloodravenlib | Aug 17, 2020 |
This was published in 2009, seven years before Idiocy reached a new high, to be followed be a mind-boggling four more years of steady climb. It's not done yet, I'm afraid, and I wonder what Mr. Pierce would have to say now (I'm sure I could find out, but I'm behind on other reading...)

Draped in James Madison anecdotes, observations, quotes and opinions, Madison is a hero to Pierce, who uses him and his writings as a foil. Pierce says, "Madison was never a superstar, not even among his contemporaries. His home never became a shrine, not the way Washington’s Mount Vernon did, or Jefferson’s Monticello.",
But he felt something in his heart in this place. (And he did have a heart, the shy little fellow. He never would have won Dolley without it.) He studied and he thought, and he ground away at his books, but it wasn’t all intellect with him. Not all the time. He knew the Gut, as well. He knew it well enough to keep it where it belonged.
"Gut"? Pierce says, "Once you're on television, you become an expert, with or without expertise, because once you're on television, you are speaking to the Gut, and the Gut is a moron, as anyone who's ever tossed a golf club, punbched a wall, or kicked a lawnmower knows. The Gut is the roiling repository of dark and ancient fears. It knows what it knows because it knows how it feels." The Gut is what's behind "facts don't matter".

Pierce says in his Introduction
Idiot America is not the place where people say silly things. It is not the place where people believe in silly things. It is not the place where people go to profit from the fact that people believe in silly things. That America has been with us always—the America of the medicine wagon and the tent revival, the America of the juke joint and the gambling den, the America of lunatic possibility that in its own mad way kept the original revolutionary spirit alive while an establishment began to calcify atop the place.
[...]
The rise of Idiot America, though, is essentially a war on expertise.
The book is about distrust, with derision ... experts and expertise. And it's worse than ever. When the lieutenant governor of Texas says Dr. Fauci, an incredibly educated, accomplished, knowledgeable epidemiologist "doesn't know what he's talking about."... yeah, it's worse. United States of America, where Pierce says, "This is a great country, in no small part because it is the best country ever devised in which to be a public crank." And how? It's part of our national DNA. "Let us be clear. This is still the best country ever in which to peddle complete public lunacy." So Pierce outlines the Three Great Premises of Idiot America:
The First Great Premise: Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units.
The Second Great Premise: Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough.
The Third Great Premise: Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it.

There it is, folks. The whole basis of FoxNews, Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones, talk radio... Oh...and antisocial media. Shouting is harder there, but they do try hard to. Note: Pierce offers no solutions. To be fair, he couldn't. The anti-intellectual inertia and the momentum of their crank-loving propensity (witness the popularity of "reality" TV) are too much.

Some selected flagged observations:
A wrongwing writer named Jonah Goldberg wrote a book titled Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning and Pierce, pierces it with
Apparently written with a paint roller, Goldberg’s book is a lugubrious slog through a history without reliable maps, a pre-Columbian wilderness of the mind where, occasionally, events have to have their hearts ripped out of all context and waved on high to the pagan god of the unblinking sun.
The book is little more than a richly footnoted loogie hawked by Goldberg at every liberal who ever loosely called him a fascist. In that capacity, if not as history, it is completely successful.
Love it! And it happens that Goldberg's and my opinion (and Pierce's) align on one point: Goldberg targets Woodrow Wilson for his own deluded reasons,and Pierce labels Wilson "admittedly, a hopelessly overrated president".

Pierce spends more than a little time with one Ignatius Donnelly, an erudite crank in the 19th century who wrote a few books, one being Ragnarok, of which Pierce said, "Ragnarok is such almost perfect pseudoscience that Donnelly can be said to have helped invent the form. ... It so gleams with the author’s erudition that you don’t notice at first that none of it makes any sense." That's a big problem with cranks - they can baffle even real experts with their stupidity. And by baffle, I mean "where do we even start?" Donnelly had a way with words, saying this of a US Representative colleague (yes, he served there, too):
“If there be in our midst one low, sordid, vulgar soul … one tongue leprous with slander; one mouth which is like unto a den of foul beasts giving forth deadly odors; if there be one character which, while blotched and spotted all over, yet raves and rants and blackguards like a prostitute; if there be one bold, bad, empty, bellowing demagogue, it is the gentleman from Illinois.”
History repeats! Donnelly could have said that today of a certain narcissist.

On Reagan's staff's traitorous selling of arms to Iran and the subsequent diversion of the proceeds (my embellishment):
In fact, Iran-Contra was a remarkable piece of extraconstitutional theater, far beyond anything the Watergate burglars could’ve dreamed up. Arming terrorist states? Using the money to fund a vicious war of dubious legality elsewhere in the world? Government officials flying off to Teheran with a Bible and a cake in the shape of a key? A president whose main defenses against the charge of complicity were neglect and incipient Alzheimer’s disease? Who could make this up? Iran-Contra was a great criminal saga, even up to the fact that it was first revealed not by the lions of the elite American press, but by a tiny newspaper in Beirut.
And the people swallowed it all, hook, line, and sinker.

On political parties, Pierce quotes his muse, Madison, who wrote to James Monroe,
"there seems to be a propensity in free governments which will always find or make subjects on which human opinions and passions may be thrown into conflict. The most perhaps that can be counted on is that … party conflicts in such a country or government as ours will be either so light or so transient as not to threaten any permanent or dangerous consequences to the character or prosperity of the republic.”
Oops. Pierce says he "calamitously misjudged his fellow Americans." Yep.

On the ubiquitous, pervasive, wrongwing underbelly that is talk radio:
According to a 2007 joint study by the Free Press and the Center for American Progress, on the 257 stations owned by the five largest owners of commercial stations, 91 percent of weekday talk programming is conservative. On an average weekday, the study found, 2,570 hours and 15 minutes of conservative talk is broadcast, but just 254 hours of what the study called “progressive” talk.
I know I don’t listen to “progressive” talk - I'm the individualist sort, rather than the flock of sheep type that the "conservatives" attract. And Pierce says Washington University (St. Louis) Professor Andrew Cline studied talk radio and television argument shows: "Television is an emotional medium,” Cline explains. “It doesn’t do reason well. This is entertainment, not analysis or reasoned discourse. Never employ a tightly reasoned argument where a flaming sound bite will do." And Pierce says "You can learn a great deal about how to talk on the radio, but very little about anything you might be talking about." Yep, again.

Hannity gets more than a little page time. On insisting long after they were debunked that Iraq had WMDs: "In any other job in the communications industry, such (and let us be kind) bungling would end a career. In his chosen field, it has made Hannity a multimedia force." Poor Alan Colmes, gets sympathy: "Colmes’s attempt to graft an intellectual conscience onto an industry based on profitable ignorance was exhausting. It was like watching someone try to explain that his hippo could conjugate verbs."

On religion (wrapped into a section on "faith-based" BS), Pierce says Madison knew "To invite religion into government is to invite discord and to establish the tyranny of the righteous." Further,
Mr. Madison went out of his way to wave red flags, most vigorously in Federalist 10, in which he cautions that “the latent causes of faction are [thus] sown in every man, and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points … have in turn divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for the common good.”
Note which factious entity he listed first. He did know his stuff.

Global warming:
The echoes of Clarence Little are quite clear when Chris Mooney describes how, in 2002, a Republican consultant named Frank Luntz sent out a memo describing how Luntz believed the crisis of global warming should be handled within a political context. “The most important principle in any discussion of global warming is sound science,” wrote Luntz. “The scientific debate is closing [against the skeptics] but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science.” In short, it doesn’t matter what the facts actually are, all that matters is how you can make people feel about them.


On the W Bush presidency
Expertise, always, was beside the point, and the consequence had been both hilarious and dire: a disordered nation that applied the rules of successful fiction to the reality around it, and that no longer could distinguish very well the truth of something from its popularity. This election, which was said to be one that could reorder the country in many important ways, did not begin promisingly.
Oh, how expert by contrast that was to what came in 2017.

More soundbite quotables:
"Of course, if everyone is an expert, then nobody is." (Lots of YouTube financial and epidemiological experts now.)

"The founders wanted a nation of educated people: this, they believed, was essential to self-government." ... Oh well.

"Commercial idiocy is the mechanism through which political idiocy (among other things) thrives."

"Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a truly glorious place and science leads you to killing people.” Yes, Ben Stein, Ferris Bueller Idiot, said science leads you to killing people.

"In the months and years after September 11, the worst possible thing was to know what you were talking about."

We've lost. It's so much worse now than in 2009. I'll use this to close this review. Richard Hofstadter gets quoted a lot (but unfortunately, the sources aren't clear; I think this came from Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, which I'm going to read):
The case against intellect is founded on a set of fictional and wholly abstract antagonisms. Intellect is pitted against feeling, on the ground that it is somehow inconsistent with warm emotion.
It is pitted against character, because it is widely believed that intellect stands for mere cleverness, which transmutes easily into the sly and diabolical. It is pitted against practicality, since theory is held to be opposed to practice. It is pitted against democracy, since intellect is felt to be a form of distinction that defies egalitarianism…. Once the validity of these antagonisms is accepted, then the case for intellect … is lost.


Embarrassing, that adjective in front of America. But unfortunately...accurate. ( )
  Razinha | Jul 3, 2020 |
I'm sure that when "Idiot America" was released in 2009, its thesis on the dumbing down of America, particularly in combination with the presidency of George W. Bush, no doubt saw it integrating with the zeitgeist. However, reading "Idiot America" in 2017 just makes you nostalgic for Bush.

From the Creationist museum (founded by an Australian) with its saddled dinosaurs, to the Terri Schiavo case, climate change and unnecessary wars, to mention a few issues, I just became increasingly depressed, and since I don't need a book to make me feel depressed, reading "Idiot America" became quite a drudge.

There are some effective sections within "Idiot America" (the Terri Schiavo case was both particularly educational and depressing) but with about 50 pages still to go I was looking forward to finishing this and turning to lighter fare, which is probably part of Pierce's argument; we just don't want to know about the problems of the world. ( )
  MiaCulpa | Oct 11, 2017 |
Visa 1-5 av 31 (nästa | visa alla)
[The book gives] the impression that Pierce is trying to stitch together a crazy quilt of a book with scraps of unused or already published material. Still, that material is enjoyable, and the book is loaded with poignant observations, such as the uncanny resemblance of A.M. talk radio to its television analogue, professional wrestling.
tillagd av Shortride | ändraPopMatters, Josh Indar (Aug 14, 2009)
 
[The] book is a diatribe against everything that galls Jon Stewart and Al Franken. It sings to the liberal chorus but is unlikely to rouse those of a different persuasion.

What saves Pierce’s book from being so much warmed-over Pablum are his lyrical riffs and raucously mocking gibes. At his lampooning, outlandish best, Pierce invites comparison to H.L. Mencken.
 
Charles Pierce’s Idiot America is a lively and, dare I say, intelligent study of this ongoing assault on gray matter. “We’ve chosen up sides on everything,” he asserts, “fashioning our public lives as though we were making up a fantasy baseball team.”
 

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Pinchot, BronsonBerättaremedförfattarevissa utgåvorbekräftat
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Where can a heretic,

Where can a heretic,

Where can a heretic call home?

—Chris Whitley
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To the memory of John Doris, Ph.D., lifelong teacher, lifelong student
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Introduction
There is some art—you might even say design—in the way southern Ohio rolls itself into the hills of northern Kentucky.
Ralph Ketcham sits on the porch of his little house tucked away on a dirt lane that runs down toward a lake, pouring soda for his guest and listening to the thrum of the rain on his roof.
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We entertain ourselves with skepticism or, at worst, cynicism. But we govern ourselves with apathy or, at worst, credulity.
The facts are what they believe, and the truth depends on how fervently they believe it.
The Gut is democratic. It is the repository of fears so dark and ancient and general that we reflexively dress up the Gut as good ol’ common sense, which we define as “whatever the Gut tells us.” The Gut inevitably tells so many different people so many different things at so many different times that it causes them to choose up sides.
It’s not that there is less information on television than there once was. (Whether there is less actual news is another question entirely.) In fact, there is so much information that “fact” is now defined as something that so many people believe that television notices it.
The great thing about living vicariously is that you only take on yourself the admirable aspects of the person through whom you are living vicariously. Their flaws don’t exist in you; therefore, their flaws don’t exist at all.
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Wikipedia på engelska (1)

Politics. Nonfiction. HTML:

The culture wars are over and the idiots have won. This is a veteran journalist's caustically funny, righteously angry lament about the glorification of ignorance in the United States.

The three Great Premises of Idiot America: 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 Pierce has led a career-long quest to separate the smart from the pap, and now it's time to try and salvage the Land of the Enlightened, buried somewhere in this new Home of the Uninformed. With his razor-sharp wit and erudite reasoning, Pierce delivers a gut-wrenching, side-splitting lament about the glorification of ignorance in the United States and how a country founded on intellectual curiosity has deteriorated into a nation of simpletons more apt to vote for an American Idol contestant than a presidential candidate.

With Idiot America, Pierce's thunderous denunciation is also a secret call to action, as he hopes that, somehow, being intelligent will stop being a stigma and that pinheads will once again be pitied, not celebrated.

.

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