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Susan Jacoby - The Age of American Unreason | Point of Inquiry
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- The Age of American Unreason - Book - Review - The New York Times.
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Why Knowledge and Logic Are Political Dirty Words
The Security Principle. Frederic Gros. Edward Said. Dominique Edde. This disfunction—and it is a deep disfunction according to Jacoby—has led to a range of outrageous permutations in American society. She cites chapter and verse the subverting of the political system to express a near contempt for science or any type of knowledge gained through study and reason, experimentation and testing.
She documents the manner in which rigorous logic and reasoned philosophy have been replaced with opinion, and an acceptance that all opinions are valid regardless of on what they might be predicated. The first is a quite reasoned historical account of the intellectual life of the United States in the last half of the twentieth century. This is a very satisfying investigation, drawn from strong research in a range of sources and ably discussing a broad array of elements making up American cultural history.
Jacoby is not the first person to make this case, but her discussion of how the conservative element in American society took aim on earlier eras to forever brand them as good or bad, and to play off them for political purposes proved compelling.
For instance, the s became shrouded in nostalgia as a time in which America was triumphant in the world, a time when society was both stable and viable, and that politics, economics, and other elements of modern strife were held in creative balance. This was a myth, of course, and so too was the branding of the s as a time of radical upheaval, instability, and bad fortunes.
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Both myths served, and continue to serve, a specific political agenda of conservatism and we see them deployed regularly as an historical explanation of why things are unhinged, at least as far as the political right is concerned. But she also criticizes the left for its revering of the s social revolution.
From there, she contends, it has been all downhill.
She finds everywhere a dearth of intellectual rigor, a rise of slovenliness in analysis, a failure to appreciate knowledge, and a desire for instant gratification. I agree with her on many of these complaints but I also felt that she tended to overemphasize this aspect of the story.
This is where she sounded more like Roman moralists than a modern scholar. The Age of American Unreason is an evocative, provocative, and invocative discussion of modern American intellectual life. It forces one to ponder—there may not be any higher calling for a serious nonfiction writer—the current state of society. Joining us to explore the relationships between digital culture, anti-intellectualism, fundamentalism, and American education is Susan Jacoby , the author of The Age of American Unreason , and Nicholas Carr , a former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review who writes and speaks on technology, business, and culture.
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