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logo    A Nation of Dummies

The Dallas Morning News printed a piece by Susan Jacoby who recently published The Age of American Unreason. She writes that, Americans are in serious intellectual troublein danger of losing our hard-won cultural capital to a virulent mixture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism, and low expectations. Her specific bte noir is video, and although there is much evidence to suggest that she is correct, her analysis is shallow.

There is little doubt that technology has contributed to the dumbing-down of America. The first assault may have come with the hand-held calculator which has almost extinguished Americans' knowledge of arithmetic, not to mention higher mathematical disciplines. But technology in itself is not the monster. When technology becomes commercial, it becomes available to everyone--saints and sinners, decent people and scoundrels. It's the old story about guns which don't kill people; the people who use them do. And so it is with all technology.

What can we do to stop people from using guns to kill other people? Some suggest that we take the guns away, which if feasible, might work, but it isn't. Some unscrupulous people will find ways to get guns to other unscrupulous people and the killing will go on. Smuggling and black markets are, after all, common forms of economic activity.

The only alternative is to reform people. What's needed is serious and comprehensive moral and civility training. But societies today have abandoned that task.

It was once assumed that the place for such training was the family at home. But the institution of the family has been weakened if not destroyed by economic conditions and cultural changes. Today, parents themselves are just as apt to be scoundrels as others, and scoundrels cannot be expected to teach morality and civility.

The churches sometimes like to claim the moral arena, but they have not seriously promoted morality and civility either. In a Christian society, the morality is not a priority of churches, salvation is. And as someone once said, the promise of forgiveness and salvation guarantees bad behavior.

The upshot of all of this is that morality and civility are taught nowhere anymore, and people everywhere have become uncivilized and immoral. When we put guns and any other kind of technology in the hands of such people, the result cannot be other than bad.

The advance of technology cannot be stopped, not even retarded, and unless we get serious about morality, there is little hope for America or anywhere else.

Dumbing people down is easy; the hard part is smartening them up, and unfortunately beating the technology beast will not help, because that ass does not respond to whipping. (3/11/2008)