It’s entertaining and keeping me occupied on the bus rides to and from work which I’m doing until this weekend when I can head home and buy a car off my parents. Yesterday I called a tow truck to haul my old one away and the guy took a look at the engine and said, “If you’d told me it was this bad on the phone I wouldn’t have come.” I felt like telling him, “Well, your ‘We’ll take it, running or not’ ad didn’t specify ‘engine must be in tact or you’re SOL’ so pay me the money you said you’d give me for it and haul it away.” Instead I just stood there, looking girlishly car-stupid and he relented.
Speaking of stupid (you see what I did there? I can get back to the book now), Charles P. Pierce’s book has a bit more title: How stupidity became a virtue in the land of the free. I see it started out as an essay for Esquire Magazine before expanding into a book format (the essay is included as the introduction). How easy for quoting:
Idiot America is not the place where people say silly things. It’s not the place where people believe in silly things. It is not the place where people go to profit from the fact that people believe in silly things. Idiot America is not even those people who believe that Adam named the dinosaurs. Those people pay attention. They take notes. They take the time and the considerable mental effort to construct a worldview that is round and complete. The rise of Idiot America is essentially a war on expertise.
He breaks it down into three “Great Premises” by which this works (and I pull from the book now, in Chapter 2).
The First Great Premise is, “Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units.” Units being profit, usually. There’s a lot of money to be made by making crank ideas into mainstream ideas. He writes about the daft buggers in American history who had to work really hard at being cranks. They didn’t have television news anchors willing to give them five minutes, or Talk Radio stations that would hire them to be deliberately inflammatory and abrasive.
The Second Great Premise is, “Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough.” He brings up the history of a memorial designed to honour the passengers who died on Flight 93. Apparently there were all kinds of bizarre stories floating around about the real motives behind the memorial, like the design was a secret Muslim message or whatever. He also brings up some superhighway idea in Texas that started out as misinformation and wound up being a political minefield.
This leads to the Third Great Premise, “Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it.”
He lists a lot of examples of this, like the various conspiracies around Mason involvement in things, the Templars and their history, and the JFK assassination. He lists some examples out of media, like the original Scopes Monkey Trial over evolution in a classroom and the more recent Dover School Board’s intelligent design debacle.
That’s where I’m at in the book right now, about half way. There’s a lot of history in the book, some stuff about events I know nothing about (what the hell was this Iran-Contra thing?) but it’s all quite interesting.
I have another book lined up for after this one: Invented Knowledge: false history, fake science and pseudo-religions by Ronald H. Fritze. A post or two about that might happen. The book has a lot in it.
And, a couple earlier posts I did about other books about knowledge and its dark-side clone:
Counterknowledge is Counter Productive and Michael Cremo & the Cover-Ups which I have to quote because I used to be brilliant and funny:
His claim to fame, (at least in terms of Atlantis Rising, the publication Kenyon edits) appears to be his theory that academic scientists have “cooked the books” in a cover-up oven. What comes out looks and smells authentic but underneath? It’s only the eyeballs and entrails of something else, something that died for a lie. I guess this means they have to serve it up with one hell of a dinner theatre so everybody looks toward the show instead of their plates.
These days, Pierce would likely say it’s all dinner theatre and what we’ve chosen to live on while we watch the show never was good for us but we’ve either lost the ability to realize it, or we never had the ability in the first place.
Anyone can turn up on TV or radio. Anyone can say whatever comes into their minds. And anyone can hear it. Whether it will be believed will depend on the audience and their willingness to buy it. And judging by all that is out there to read and watch and hear, we’re inundated by a perplexing amount of choice without ever considering the need to choose wisely. Or we’re drowning in the deluge of words uttered by these “experts” who claim they are the wise choice and we just ache with the need to believe them.