Apr 25, 2008

Susan Jacoby: Age of American Unreason

In "Talking To Ourselves", Susan Jacoby (author of "The Age of American Unreason") says Americans are increasingly close-minded and unwilling to listen to opposing views:
As dumbness has been defined downward in American public life during the last two decades, one of the most important and frequently overlooked culprits is the public's increasing reluctance to give a fair hearing -- or any hearing at all -- to opposing points of view. A few years ago, I delivered a lecture at Eastern Kentucky University on the history of American secularism, and was pleased, in the heart of the Bible Belt, to have attracted an audience of about 150. The response inside the hall was enthusiastic because everyone there, with the exception of a few bored students whose professors had made attendance a requirement, agreed with me before I opened my mouth. Around the corner, hundreds more students were packing an auditorium to hear a speaker sponsored by the Campus Crusade for Christ, a conservative organization that "counter-programs" secular lectures at many colleges. The star of the evening was a self-described recovering pedophile who claimed to have overcome his proclivities by being "born again." (And yes, it is a blow to the ego to find oneself less of a draw than a penitent pedophile.) It is safe to say that almost no one who attended either lecture on the Kentucky campus that night was exposed to a new or disturbing idea. Indeed, virtually everywhere I speak, 95% of the audience shares my political and cultural views -- and serious conservatives report exactly the same experience on the lecture circuit.
In critiquing the media, she goes on:
Genuine fairness does not mean the kind of bogus objectivity that always locates truth equidistant from two points, but it does demand that divergent views be understood and taken into account in approaching public issues.
If you read the comments on her article, pay special attention to 16, 43, 55, 56. Frugal Ben says: Her points about bogus objectivity and divergent views are especially important in discourse about personal finance. In business reportage, it's common to find reporters failing to strike the appropriate balance. Reporters with tunnel vision overlook divergent points of view which should be represented. Just as commonly, pusillanimous reporters present divergent points of view as equally valid when inspection of underlying evidence clearly indicates some opinions are worth far more than others. Inattention to evidence makes stories about opinions and the opinions themselves worthless to investors, no matter whether the opinions come from the left or the right. When it comes time for a smart investor to take action, the action better be shaped by evidence, not feelings or empty opinions or ideologies.

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