Saturday, June 10, 2017

Book Review: 'Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue' by Charles Pierce

Review by Terry Pinder
If there ever was a book that explained why your neighbors, who may be otherwise intelligent thinking individuals, can devolve into a screaming pack of howler monkeys, this is the one to do it.
Charles Pierce's Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue is almost hilariously written. By that, I mean, it's so funny that I'd better laugh because I might scream. The book is built around the following central theme, the themes that define Idiot America:
  1. Any theory is valid if it moves units (rating, and making money).
  1. Anything can be true if it is said loudly enough.
  1. Fact is what enough people believe (the Truth is what you believe).
Sound painfully familiar?
There's more, below the jump!
There's not a day that goes by that we Kossacks lament the raging cacaphony of stupid that surrounds us. Pierce shows in Idiot America that this cacaphony is nothing all that new under the sun. Let's be realistic here: as much as many of us would hate to admit it, anti-intellectualism is a beloved American Value. He describes one  Ignatius Donnelly--he who more or less invented Atlantis.

Said the wiki place:
After leaving the Minnesota State Senate during 1878, Donnelly returned to his law practice and writing. During 1882, he published Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, his best known work, detailing his theories concerning the mythical lost continent of Atlantis. The latter volume sold well, and is widely credited with initiating the Atlantis theme that became such a feature of popular literature during the 20th century and contributed to the emergence of Mayanism.
It's a shame he lived and died almost a century ago. With his ideas he'd have his own network, also known as the History Channel (and if there ever was, save a small handful of programs, an example of Idiot America, The History Channel would be it). The ideas that got Donnelly discredited would be vocifercously debated. He could be just like Dan Brown, for example.
Much of the book is like this, although it takes the Culture War head on and full force because it is sadly the logical conclusion of centuries of Idiotcy.
He spares no expense with the Intelligent Design debate that utterly divided a town not far from me. Said one of the proponents when that trial began: "We’ve been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of our culture." [Pastor Ray Mummert].
Really? Yeah, he said that.
He discusses Sarah Palin (queen of the Idiots) at length but I suspect the reason Glen BecKkk and the Teabagger Brigade aren't in the book is merely due to when the book was due to the publisher. One could write five whole editions about that squad of Idiots, who all on their own have created a black hole of stupid that threatens to suck everything and everyone in around its event horizon of dumb. This is the kind of Idiocy that can kill.
The chapter that made me angry: the Terri Schiavo chapter, which he discusses in angering detail. It made me angry because of how close the Idiots came to running people with sense and brains out of town on a rail, all to save a woman whose skull contents had turned into a kind of soup years prior.
Now, I didn't take the entire book to be an attack on conservative idiocy although it quite fairly and rightly leaves few stones unturned on that movement. Far from it. I took the book to serve as a warning of what happens when cranks and conspiracy theorists, who are more or less harmless and amusing and in some regards somewhat healthy to keep around on the fringe, become mainstream, as they have in the modern GOP. (and to a tinier extent, it is bipartisan. 9/11 Truther movement? NAFTA Swine Flu? The raging cacaphony of stupid that is the 2012 Phenomenon? All of these meet the book's central theme  to a tee.)
And it's probably not that other nations don't have their squads of Idiots. The Swiss just voted to ban minarets. And I'm sure there's Idiot Japan, Idiot Austrailia (although they seem to export them to the US--see Richard Murdoch and that lunatic that created the Creation Museum in Kentucky) Idiot France, Britain, Germany and Sudan. Ours just get a disproportionate share of the global media, who feed the idiocy because it moves units and creates profit.
All in all- this was a really good read, so I highly recommend it.

Editor's note: This review was originally published at the Daily Kos, which notes that its "content may be used for any purpose without explicit permission unless otherwise specified." The original page can be found here. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right. 

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