Monday, January 3, 2011

Idiot America: A review

It's been some time since my last post, mostly due to the business of holidays and extra work, but I'm happy to announce that all went well over the Christmas season, and I'm back into the blogosphere with a new book I want to tout to anyone who bothers to read this.

One of the books I received for Christmas was Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free by Charles P. Pierce. The book discusses the rise of what other authors and activists, mainly Robert McChesney, have called rational ignorance. Instead of focusing primarily on media, as with McChesney, Pierce discusses specific points of controversy in our modern times, how they were related by media and projected to the masses, and how disinformation, distortion, and lies have perpetuated the idea that stupidity and ignorance are prized and that professionals and experts are not to be trusted.

The idea is central to the conservative notion that media in general has a liberal left-wing bias, which arises from the fact that right-wing media has drifted even further into conservative obscurity. The book explains how the media heads have taken it upon themselves to be experts on everything, and have essentially shunned good, real facts for opinion and outright falsehood. The interesting thing about this development is that it has come of very well with American citizens because it plays to "the Gut" as Pierce regularly notes in his book, the center of emotional, and often exaggerated, expression.

At first, I wasn't too keen on the book, mostly due to the style of writing. However, I came to revere the message that Pierce was trying to convey: that we as Americans have settled for a system of gross incompetence, that sells us trivial bits of information so we form the opinions and beliefs that are expected of us, and that teaches us not to question the expertise of the face we see behind the news desk but the one that appears on the back of the textbook or on the panel of experts.

Perhaps the most powerful thing about this book is how Pierce uses some of the most well-known controversies of our modern times (Terri Schiavo is a prime example, as is global warming) to make the point that, we as consumers of the American mainstream media system were and continue to be grossly misinformed about such events. In the case of Terri Schiavo, for example, Congress itself was so misinformed that they subpoenaed Terri to come and testify about whether she wanted to live or not; the irony is that Terri was completely incapable of movement, blinking, or swallowing, let alone speaking or getting up in front of Congress and testifying. This is just one example of how our media painted a false picture of a given story or situation in order to curve the public opinion into a predictable and thus marketable vein.

Overall, I strongly recommend this book to anyone. It is well thought-out and researched, and presents the words of President Madison as a view of what America is meant to be. Pierce does not denounce crazy beliefs at all, as evidenced by the many stories of "American Cranks", but believes that such beliefs are meant to remain on the fringes of our society and shouldn't be brought into the mainstream as they have been. It is a fairly quick read, is packed with information, and in the end gives the reader a sense that not all is lost, that there are still intellectual renegades out there who refuse to be marginalized, and that there is a foreseeable remedy to our current media environment. Check it out if you can.

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