13.1.11

NEITHER MENCKEN NOR MISES. There is much to ponder about the persistence in prosperous, technology based division of labor societies of ancient superstitions and belief in the implausible. It was with that in mind that I purchased Charles P. Pierce's Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free. The back cover was provocative enough. Herewith the Three Great Premises of Idiot America:
  • Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units.
  • Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it.
  • Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough.
Ah, perhaps we get, in this slim volume, a deconstruction of the fundamental tenets of social constructivist theories, which, stripped of the sesquipedalian words, scare quotes, and run-on sentences postulates precisely as above.

I suppose, given that the book was on offer in a railroad station bookstore, it might have been of the same heft as the business-fad paperbacks snapped up by on-the-make sales managers in the airports. The introduction, however, is intriguing enough.
The foundations of Idiot America had been laid long before. A confrontation with medievalism intensified a distressing patience with medievalism in response, and that patience reached beyond the politics of war and peace and accelerated a momentum in the culture away from the values of the Enlightenment and toward a dangerous denial of the consequences of believing nonsense.
So, perhaps we will have an elaboration on the consequences of losing the good of the intellect, or of the denial of coherent beliefs of any kind. Perhaps so. That puts us in the realm of Mises's Human Action, albeit in fewer pages and without the challenges of rendering in English thoughts laid out in German.

Nope. We get some free association, in which the follies of James Madison (yes, he might have been instrumental in ordaining and establishing the Constitution of the United States, but he also picked an unnecessary fight with King George and got the People's House burned in the bargain), the proto-new-agey writings of Ignatius Loyola Donnelly, sometime politician and town planner (Nininger, Minnesota never rated a Hiawatha stop), and the commercial success of a Creation Museum in which club-wielding cavemen herd dinosaurs in the best Fred Flintstone style become the basis for a lament about the success of the Tea Party or the popularity of Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck's television ratings or George W. Bush winning re-election, or something.

Thus it's not Mencken either, nor will it help wonks win elections. It did, however, make for a quick Book Review No. 2, as I was able to read it in the course of a frustrating quest for hobby shops and have time for a nap on the train home.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

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