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Ch. 11 - Public Life: Defining Dumbness Downward 
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Post Ch. 11 - Public Life: Defining Dumbness Downward
Ch. 11 - Public Life: Defining Dumbness Downward

Please use this thread for discussing Chapter 11. :)



Tue Feb 26, 2008 2:07 am
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Thinks Abridged Editions are an Abomination

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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Thu Feb 28, 2008 7:24 am, edited 1 time in total.



Thu Feb 28, 2008 7:06 am
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Hi Chris
This looks like a really good book from the reviews and discussion at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0375423745?tag ... k_code=as3 I won't be able to get a copy in Australia for a few weeks, but will order it. However, not having read the book, I don't mind plunging fearlessly ahead with some comments on the themes as they are so important. Just tell me to get back in my box if I miss the point. I liked the title of this chapter, so here we go.

The thing that strikes me about the US from my antipodean perspective is that it suffers from a willingness to allow commercial interests to exploit instinctive desires which were functional for hunter-gatherer times but are rather disfunctional in a modern global world. Primitive societies benefit from increased fat and leisure, and from adrenalin buzzes and protective weaponry, so these are now delivered as mass commodities despite the observation that they are often harmful. The adrenal rush of horror movies may be exciting, but the price is a severe desensitisation. Some one once said to me that good things make us more sensitive, while bad things make us less sensitive. I agree with that. I get the impression that the horror industry needs to get steadily more horrific to deal with the desensitisation it has caused, so that a sensitive petal like me is completely grossed out by their obnoxious product like an overdose. My impression is that horror actually prevents people from engaging with ideas as it renders them suspiciously paranoid - dumb. There is money to be made in 'defining dumbness downward' and I suspect that this commercial syndrome has considerable way to go yet. Nobody ever went broke by underestimating the intelligence of the American public.* The Matrix presents an archetype of this dumbness syndrome, plugged in like an Ipod...

*Some more quotes from HL Mencken
"It is inaccurate to say that I hate everything. I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for public office."
"The demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots."
"The men the American public admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth. "
"The most common of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind."
"The government consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office."
"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. "



Thu Feb 28, 2008 7:08 am
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I can get way further off the track than Robert Tulip. (I agree entirely about the horror industry, and at some point I wonder whether we'll have to discuss our absolutes about freedom of expression in the same context as some, such as Sam Harris, discuss the absolute about freedom of religious belief.) William F. Buckley, Jr. died yesterday. What this may have to do with the topic is that, whatever we might deplore about the man's role in creating the modern conservative movement, if we want to align ourselves with thoughtful public discourse, we may need to see certain ideological foes as brothers and sisters, in some sense. Buckley, I think, would be a candidate worthy of regard for the high level he attained in his own discourse. Whatever iterm is the opposite of dumbing down, seems to apply to him.



Thu Feb 28, 2008 8:54 am
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Hello Robert,


I agree with you that the titles of this book are appealing in themselves.
I see nothing wrong with reacting to the titles themselves before we read the book (I intend to read it too.)

First, of course what you write about politics and the American public applies to other countries.
Perhaps one question that can be raised is whether the Americann public is more gullible than the public in other countries, having for some reasons not lost as much faith in their leaders as we have. It seems that it takes something like a war that won't be won for opinion polls about the president to go down in the States. The function itself still brings a sort of aura to the person who is elected.

Quote:
"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. "


This is what was so superbly brought to life in George Orwell's 1984.

But it seems to me that the situation is sometimes more complex in twenty first century politics. The government creates confusion by lying and using other means than create fears.
For example, in France, the National Front will use actual facts to exaggerate and make people believe absurd stories about how much we have to fear.
The government will then fabricate their own lies and slogans to show us that that everyhting is in control and there is nothing to fear.
People will be angry for being lied to, and sometimes they remember at the next election and vote for the opposition-- but then they don't get no lies, they get lies about different topics, those which interest the new party in power.

Quote:
The men the American public admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth


The concept of admiring the most daring liars is again, unfortunately, not limited to the US.
In France there seems to be a grudging sense of admiration of people who have the audacity to lie so openly.
I think it comes form the sense that in business those are the people who are successful and will crush their competition. Who, after all, will make money by selling insurence policies that correspond to the needs of their customers?

Nowadays, being good at inventing a straightforward lie becomes a prerequisite for being accepted for interviews for postions of authority-- such as being a headmaster: they regularly tell candidates that they failed because they had no answer to a practical question (somehting like "What's the percentage of ?): they should have made up the answer, this is the attitude that is being promoted from the top down.

So if you pass the test, you can be admired for your aptitude of lying your way out of any situation. Obviously it doesn't matter that the people who work with you (in the case of a headmaster, his teachers) know that you lie about facts that can easily be checked and will not respect you.
Losing respect is felt to be much less important than always having an answer, and being admired by parents, who are the people who matter here and can't check the facts very easily.


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Thu Feb 28, 2008 9:17 am
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My book just arrived this afternoon from Amazon.com. :)


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Wed Mar 05, 2008 3:40 am
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Ophelia and Robert, if you want to take a look at my BookTalk blog lawrenceindestin I explain in more depth how we got to "here" by want of government and organized religion. I'm not ready to address government in my essay but it is mostly driven by mindlessness. I call the world an insane asylum because the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results. Election? Nothing has changed in 7,000 years. Something else has to happen. That is what my blog is about. I hope you can check it out and leave a comment. Thanks, Lawrenceindestin



Mon Mar 24, 2008 3:26 pm
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This was another one of my favorite chapters - looks like it's also the reason she decided to write the book.
Quote:
(Susan Jacoby) was a fellow at the library when she first got the idea for this book back in 2001, on 9/11.

Walking home to her Upper East Side apartment, she said, overwhelmed and confused, she stopped at a bar. As she sipped her bloody mary, she quietly listened to two men, neatly dressed in suits. For a second she thought they were going to compare that day's horrifying attack to the Japanese bombing in 1941 that blew America into World War II:

"This is just like Pearl Harbor," one of the men said.

The other asked, "What is Pearl Harbor?"

"That was when the Vietnamese dropped bombs in a harbor, and it started the Vietnam War," the first man replied.

At that moment, Ms. Jacoby said, "I decided to write this book."

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/14/books/14dumb.html



Fri Apr 18, 2008 3:57 pm
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