By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by Cassandra Campbell
“The Age of American Unreason” interests baby boomers because it capsules events of the “pig in a python” era (babies born from 1946 to1964). Susan Jacoby’s characterization of this era as “The Age of American Unreason” is a failure because of over generalization. Over generalization leads to knowing less about more. Jacoby free falls into a blind canyon of liberal bias; beginning with an inference that the word “folks” in speeches rather than the word “people” suggests demise in American intellectualism. An avowed liberal gags at Susan Jacoby’s “sky is falling” diatribe.
Jacoby writes about conflict between conservative’ belief in creationism and evolution while most Americans either meld religious belief with evolution, are agnostic, skeptical, or atheistic; how many current books are written that question the existence of God? (For example, Steven Pinker’s book about human nature, Michael Shermer’s book about the believing brain, or Christopher Hitchen’s renown atheism?) She sites statistical studies that reinforce her opinion without conceptualizing the evolution of religious and philosophical thought. Change in religious belief is not revolutionary; it is gradual and evolutionary based on the advance of science. One is more likely to prove accelerating scientific human understanding of creation than regression to mythical or spiritual human explanation of the beginning of mankind.
Jacoby insists that television, the internet, and the information age are rotting American minds through distraction and substitution. She believes intellectualism is vilified and popular opinion is more influential and intellectually barren today than in times past. She dwells on American education system’s failure to reject creationism with exclusive scientific explanation of natural events. Reality is that proving millennial religious beliefs as a mythology is not going to occur in a few generations, if ever. Jacoby cherry picks information, snippets of questionable studies, speech factoids, and apocryphal stories to support her idea of a growing “…Age of Unreason”. Her argument is unconvincing.
Literary education is unquestionably different today than when Ms. Jacoby graduated from college but different is neither good nor bad; i.e. literary education from Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Faulkner, Charlotte Bronte, Pearl Buck and other literary giants is still being consumed by the public. New authors like Katherine Stockett, Salman Rushdie, Yann Martel, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, or Aravind Adiga, are possible future literary giants. The medium may be different but the message is the same (after all, Jacoby’s book is available through audio books and e books). To suggest that the classics are not being read, understood, or appreciated today is a distortion of reality. How many literary themes have been replayed on the stage and screen? Where did the playwright or filmmaker get his or her idea?
Who would argue that science is not advancing? The intellectual advance of quantum mechanics, cosmology, and the science of man is astounding. Philosophy is grounded on advances in Science; with continued scientific advance there will be future philosophical intellectuals like Plato, Spinoza, and William James; in fact, they are probably here now but not with history’s perspective. The frightful truth of 21st century is that there is so much knowledge available that the biggest threat to intellectualism is knowing less and less about more and more.
Susan Jacoby is a highly sought after writer and speaker. One admires her reputation as a liberal but liberality is not a license to write junk thought.