Thursday, August 20, 2009

Idiot America

Well I finally finished reading Charlie Pierce’s Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free. Life got in the way of my reading schedule and in spite of how good the book was I had a hard time fitting it into my schedule.
After the first introductory chapters Pierce really got in stride and set aside much of the humor in favor of just a realistic portrayal of several different examples of America surrendering to emotion and what feels right rather than what actually was right. Whether it’s a dinosaur museum with saddles on the dinosaurs so they would be Biblically correct, a room full of terrorism experts whose opinion on Iraq was completely ignored because it didn’t fit the politics, an Island in Alaska that is literally disappearing because of global warming, a Supreme Court Justice referencing a fictitious T.V. character as evidence to support his position on torture, etc, etc, Pierce shows that somehow we’ve gotten things all screwed up. We’ve been mistaking religion for science, science for politics, and politics for entertainment.
This book really hit a nerve with me because I like to look at all issues objectively. I try to look at both sides of the issue before I take position. And even once I take a position I try stay flexible enough to change that position if more evidence arises. Lately I’ve been in a few internet and email discussions about politics and in every case the hardest people to have a rational discussion with were those that had put things in the wrong order. Just like in any conversation you have o at least agree on which language we are going to speak. You can’t have a science discussion is one party wants to use the language of religion, on the language of politics and the other the language of science. It would be just as hard if the three parties were speaking French German and Japanese. Yet time and time again you see exactly these arguments being made. Pierce effectively demonstrates the problem with this type of reasoning.
The scariest parts of the book are when experts in a certain field are called in for initial consultation and then quickly ignored when their advice conflicts with the conclusion that they had already made. The most dramatic example of this was when Al Qaeda experts we asked to provide justification for invading Iraq and they told the Pentagon that Iraq would be the wrong target. They were dismissed and their opinion was not sought again.
My biggest criticism with the book was that it did have a strong liberal slant. Much of this was unavoidable since any critique of government would be dominated by the party that is in charge. Although I do believe that the Republicans have been most guilty of forcing the evidence to fit their pre-drawn conclusion there is also plenty of blame to throw around. I can think of several examples of politicians on the other side of the aisle making similar errors in reasoning, many times on the same issues that Pierce describes. Anytime an author comes across overly sympathetic for one side and overly critical of the other he looses a little bit of credibility in my opinion. To be fair he did criticize some liberals, Jesse Jackson for instance, but the bulk of the criticism was at conservatives. I would have also liked for him to have examined the cult of the celebrety. Jenny McCarthy is a prime example. Her autism activism is seriously diverting attention away from those who really do know what they're talking about and peolpe are dying becasue of it.
I’d recommend this book to anybody who wants to better understand some of the flawed decision making that goes on in our country. Parts of it will have you laughing, parts will have you crying, and parts will have you fuming made. And sometimes all this happens in the same paragraph.

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