There is a lot of publicity this week around Susan Jacoby’s new book, The Age of American Unreason. The new work fits into the tradition of Richard Hofstadter’s 1963 classic, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. And it seemingly moves in the same orbit as Al Gore’s The Assault on Reason (2007). The upshot of Jacoby’s argument is that “Americans are in serious intellectual trouble — in danger of losing our hard-won cultural capital to a virulent mixture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism and low expectations.” As she goes on to say in this op-ed appearing in The Washington Post, we’re now living in a moment when Americans are reading fewer books than ever, and they know staggeringly little about the world: Only 23 percent of Americans with some college education can identify Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel on a map, even though the US has a tremendous amount at stake there. (Source: NY Times book review.) And one fifth of American adults think that the sun revolves around the Earth. This is all pretty bad. But what makes matters worse is the “alarming number of Americans who have smugly concluded that they do not need to know such things in the first place.” Ignorance has somehow strangely gone from vice to virtue.
What are the solutions? I guess you’ll have to get the book, or get millions of your friends to read Open Culture (wink).