Wednesday, September 24, 2008

America’s Anti-Intellectualism

I got this post from Economist's View and I think it's a great post to share.

From Jeffrey D. Sachs in Today's Zaman:

"In recent years, the United States has been more a source of global instability than a source of global problem-solving.

Examples include the war in Iraq, launched by the US on false premises, obstructionism on efforts to curb climate change, meager development assistance and the violation of international treaties such as the Geneva Conventions. While many factors contributed to America's destabilizing actions, a powerful one is anti-intellectualism, exemplified recently by Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin's surging popularity.

By anti-intellectualism, I mean especially an aggressively anti-scientific perspective, backed by disdain for those who adhere to science and evidence. The challenges faced by a major power like the US require rigorous analysis of information according to the best scientific principles."

I believe that the author is pretty spot on, really: America's deliberately steered itself away from "book learning" and really embraced "street smarts." Am I taking it too far to say that this is why gangsta rap and gangster movies and jackass-type movies are so popular? Don't get me wrong: I like gangsta rap and I really enjoyed American Gangster (although I laughed really hard at the part where the Fed agent yelled at Russell Crowe, "No black person in the history of America has come close to what the Italians have done," how was that for race-baiting?)

And here's where I feel Philosophy, once again, is overlooked. In 1979 Jean-Francois Lyotard wrote "The Postmodern Condition - A Report on Knowledge" addressing the rise of just this way of thinking. Lyotard sees this world view shifting during the 1950s in the wake of the rebuilding of Europe's devastation during WWII. Of course, ultimately Lyotard would probably see this as the inexorable result of the pursuit of Enlightenment Ideals, and I have to agree.

Earlier, at the University of Memphis, I had discussed some of what this conflict over Enlightenment Ideals looked like and I owe a great deal to Zizek and Roger T. Ames for how I would situate this problem.

Perhaps I will skip the juicy parts and leave it bluntly like this: all rational discourse in the West are suspect today because at the core of this discourse are the seeds of their own demise and these core assumptions must be overcome, as Nietzsche said, or we will forever be caught in this fatal tail-spin between rationalism and spiritualism, as Thomas Mann describes in his novel, The Magic Mountain.

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