I have to thank P.Z. Meyers at Pharyngula for tipping me off about this brilliant, savage and depressing analysis of American society in the early years of the 21st century by Charles P. Pierce. It's worth reading, rereading, and framing. Read the whole thing . . . but here's the nut of it:
It is a long way from Jefferson's observatory and Franklin's kite to George W. Bush, in an interview in 2005, suggesting that intelligent design be taught alongside the theory of evolution in the nation's science classes. "Both sides ought to be properly taught," said the president, "so people can understand what the debate is about."
The "debate," of course, is nothing of the sort, because two sides are required for a debate. Nevertheless, the very notion of it is a measure of how scientific discourse and the way the country educates itself, has slipped through lassitude and inattention across the border into Idiot America—where fact is merely that which enough people believe, and truth is measured only by how fervently they believe it.
The academics of the left created the philosophical foundation for Idiot America. Post-modern lit-crit holds that the written word is just a text that is susceptible of multiple but equally valid interpretations. The post-modern history of science holds that science itself does not reveal truth, but is simply a hegemonic gender-biased western-world means of discourse. Intellectual toys like this are just fun and games until someone loses an eye--and that's what's happening now to science, to politics, to religion, to education, to the news media, and to the culture in general. People trying to see their way to truth, knowledge and progress have had one eye poked out by a deconstructionist stick.
Here's a personal, recent example. I was talking with a new Writing Center colleague of mine last week. I characterized some student writing I have seen as "bad." My interlocutor was much miffed. At the institution where she was trained, she told me, she was taught that there is no such thing as bad writing, and that the primary goal of writing mentors was to help students write in their authentic voice.
That's Idiot America for you. The rules of grammar, the meaning of words, and the principles of style are just textual constructs in a universe where all other constructs are equally valid. Inauthenticity is the only cardinal sin. We don't need no stinkin' Strunk & White.
I take some comfort from my observation that the community college students I teach are generally more rooted in common sense--if not reality--than some of their teachers. I've never yet had a student ask how he can make his voice more authentic; most of them are desperate to know if their sentences are grammatical, if their organization is logical, if their word choice is sound, if their punctuation is accurate. They know there are things like right and wrong, truth and untruth, reason and unreason, even if some of their teachers don't. They know that the rules of good writing can't be voted off the island.
Those liberals who esteem tolerance as the preeminent virtue have done their part to prepare the soil in which Idiot America has grown. They tolerate bad writing, bad science, bad history, bad argument: hey, everyone's entitled to a point of view, right? As I've noted before in a discussion of Chris Hedges' new book, there's a paradox at work here: tolerating the intolerant leads to the destruction of tolerance. The problem is that tolerance is so damn comfortable. It's like a warm sweater and a well-worn pair of jeans. Who wants to change into a stiff, scratchy uniform and go fight for objective truth? Thus we are conditioned to ignore the strident voices that call for theocracy (Muslim or Christian) and the smooth anchorman voices that report on fictitious controversies over evolution, public health, and pollution.
Phil Ochs captured this kind of comfortable complacency in his acidly sarcastic song, Outside of a Small Circle of Friends:
Oh look outside the window, there's a woman being grabbed
They've dragged her to the bushes and now she's being stabbed
Maybe we should call the cops and try to stop the pain
But Monopoly is so much fun, I'd hate to blow the game
And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody
Outside of a small circle of friends.
Liberals are standing around tut-tutting while history, science, religion and enlightenment are being mugged--and then they wonder why they are outnumbered and outgunned when yahoos want to teach their kids creationism, when kooks deny the adverse effects of pollution, and when chickenhawks send our troops into Baghdad with the assurance that they will be greeted with flowers and chocolate. They pine for intelligent discourse, and Idiot America only laughs in their faces.