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Idiot America

Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free is a 2010 book by Charles P. Pierce about the dumbing down of America. It talks about cranks and conspiracy theorists, arguing that they have a rightful place, but when they become “respectable” it’s a problem.

Pierce identifies three principles in modern culture that helps get cranks respectability, and thereby contribute to national stupidity:

  1. Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units.
  2. Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough
  3. Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it.

There’s nothing about Obama conspiracy theories in this book, although Jerome Corsi gets a shout out. However, these three premises come to mind as I read some of the recent comments about presidential eligibility here on the Obama Conspiracy Theories site.

The fact that Jerome Corsi is a best-selling author carries a cachet, no matter how lousy his books are.

The sheer number of birther web sites and birther comments on neutral web sites is no doubt one reason there as many birthers as there are. I think that one major reason that the birther movement basically stuck at low percentages (beyond the fact that it’s nonsense) is that birthers have been abysmal failures in gathering a crowd.

Birther notions about presidential eligibility are nothing if not fervently believed. I still marvel after two and a half years at the number of people who imagine that they have always known US Presidents had to have US citizen parents, when in fact there’s not a trace in the US Civics curriculum to support the notion. All they really need to do is ask a fifth grader.

Idiot America is challenging my cultivation of an attitude of bemusement towards the birthers. After all, nobody wants the lunatics running the asylum (except, well, the lunatics – and maybe not even them).

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24 Responses to Idiot America

  1. avatar
    misha September 1, 2011 at 11:54 pm #

    I’ll repeat this: in the States we ridicule school teachers, and revere clergymen.

    It’s that simple. See Bachmann, Palin and Perry.

    Don’t forget this from Shrub: God told me to invade Iraq. Did he use a short wave radio, or does he have a special phone line?

  2. avatar
    richCares September 2, 2011 at 12:29 am #

    God may have talked to Bush, but God does not listen to Perry, during the Texas draught, Perry prayed for rain, the draught got worse, we need a candidate that God listens to and it ain’t Perry.

  3. avatar
    The Magic M September 2, 2011 at 3:56 am #

    misha: I’ll repeat this: in the States we ridicule school teachers, and revere clergymen.

    Or, alternatively, treat science as just another religion, facts as just another opinion and, in general, pay more attention to the messenger than to the message.

  4. avatar
    US Citizen September 2, 2011 at 4:16 am #

    “Any theory is valid of it sells books”

    of? if?

    🙂

  5. avatar
    Lupin September 2, 2011 at 5:05 am #

    “It talks about cranks and conspiracy theorists, arguing that they have a rightful place, but when they become “respectable” it’s a problem.”

    I couldn’t put it better myself.

    We have cranks here (in France), God knows we do, but they’re either ignored or ridiculed by the media, and our legal system allows the Government to step on them when they become too heinous or dangerous.

  6. avatar
    misha September 2, 2011 at 5:18 am #

    Lupin: We have cranks here (in France), God knows we do, but they’re either ignored or ridiculed by the media

    Here in the States, they become presidential candidates, and are sometimes elected. Russia, for all they went through, produced Gorbachev.

    We produced Reagan, Shrub and Cheney.

    Here’s John Hagee in action. He loves Israel, but talks smack about us. My favorite is how he explains to his congregation, how Jews control the world’s monetary supply. Oh, and did you know Jesus had a Bar Mitzvah? I’m going to give Angel a Bark Mitzvah, and send the tape to Hagee.

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=7706179979766534830&hl=en#

  7. avatar
    misha September 2, 2011 at 5:41 am #

    Hagee also talks about the anti-Christ will be a Jewish male, whose last name has the numerical equivalent of 666.

    How do we know that the Antichrist is not a Jew? If he were, 666 would be marked down to 495.

    Thank you. I’ll be here all week.

  8. avatar
    Lupin September 2, 2011 at 5:42 am #

    misha: Here in the States, they become presidential candidates, and are sometimes elected. Russia, for all they went through, produced Gorbachev.

    We produced Reagan, Shrub and Cheney.

    An interesting thought. I’m inclined to think that anyone who rises to supreme executive power must have some smarts (and a sword given to him by a watery trollop), although I’ll admit GWB stretched that belief somewhat. In any event I don’t think of them as “cranks”. I don’t even think of our right-wing star Marine Le Pen as a “crank” (although her dad was/is a bit off his meds). That’s part and parcels of politics I suppose.

  9. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy September 2, 2011 at 7:34 am #

    TXE.

    US Citizen: “Any theory is valid of it sells books”

    of? if?

  10. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy September 2, 2011 at 7:39 am #

    You came to mind immediately when I started reading this book, as someone whose views would resonate with some of the ideas and concerns it put forth.

    One interesting point the book made in my reading last night was that conspiracy theories maintain a place in popular thought, for example the JFK assassination was almost 40 years ago and conspiracy theories about it are still growing; however, real conspiracies such as Iran-Contra have no such staying power — people seem to tire quickly and lose interest in actual conspiracies.

    Lupin: We have cranks here (in France), God knows we do, but they’re either ignored or ridiculed by the media, and our legal system allows the Government to step on them when they become too heinous or dangerous.

  11. avatar
    Keith September 2, 2011 at 7:49 am #

    Dr. Conspiracy: One interesting point the book made in my reading last night was that conspiracy theories maintain a place in popular thought, for example the JFK assassination was almost 40 years ago and conspiracy theories about it are still growing; however, real conspiracies such as Iran-Contra have no such staying power — people seem to tire quickly and lose interest in actual conspiracies.

    An interesting and telling thought.

  12. avatar
    The Magic M September 2, 2011 at 7:51 am #

    Dr. Conspiracy: people seem to tire quickly and lose interest in actual conspiracies

    Which is why more people watch mystery movies than documentaries on Mongolian wood choppers. Conspiracy theories are much more interesting simply because *not* everything is known. Iran-Contra was uncovered, there’s not much left that intrigues people.

  13. avatar
    misha September 2, 2011 at 7:57 am #

    Lupin: I’ll admit GWB stretched that belief somewhat. In any event I don’t think of them as “cranks”.

    Remember this: God told me to invade Iraq. I’d say crank.

    Or this gem from Rep. Joe Wilson (Z-Mars) (R-SC): In September 2009, Wilson received international attention when he interrupted a speech by U.S. President Barack Obama to a joint session of Congress by shouting “You lie!” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Wilson_(U.S._politician)

    Did anyone shout “you lie” to Bush, when he said this: In his January 2003 State of the Union speech, U.S. President George W. Bush said, “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” This single sentence is known now as “Sixteen Words”. The administration later conceded that evidence in support of the claim was inconclusive and stated, “These sixteen words should never have been included.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/16_words

    Only in the US or Nazi Germany, could someone get elected on an anti-science, anti-progress, anti-liberal arts platform, consisting mainly of fairy tales presented as facts.

  14. avatar
    Phil Cave September 2, 2011 at 9:40 am #

    misha: I’ll repeat this: in the States we ridicule school teachers, and revere clergymen.

    1. Yes, and IMHO, this is America’s form of sharia law. This opening statement from Wikipedia on SL seems to say it all, just substitute the appropriate words:

    Sharīʿah (Arabic: ´ريعة‎ šarīʿah, IPA: [ʃaˈriːʕa], “way” or “path”) is the code of conduct or religious law of christianity (Islam). Most Christians (Muslims) believe Sharia is derived from two primary sources of Christian (Islamic) law: the precepts set forth in the Bible (Qur’an), and the example set by the Christian (Islamic) prophet Jesus, or [name one] (Muhammad) in the Sunnah.

    2. And Lewis Carroll wrote the “book” in his “Tale of the Huniting of the Snark.” Again from Wikipedia:

    The Hunting of the Snark (An Agony in 8 Fits) is usually thought of as a nonsense poem written by Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) in 1874, when he was 42 years old. It describes “with infinite humour the impossible voyage of an improbable crew to find an inconceivable creature.” http://goo.gl/uCqJP

    [Based on personal knowledge, reading, and research, these areas would be reasonably accurate on Wikipedia IMV.]

  15. avatar
    Sef September 2, 2011 at 9:50 am #

    misha: How do we know that the Antichrist is not a Jew? If he were, 666 would be marked down to 495.

    ROTFLOL! Thanks 4 the laf!

  16. avatar
    misha September 2, 2011 at 9:57 am #

    misha: I’ll repeat this: in the States we ridicule school teachers, and revere clergymen. It’s that simple. See Bachmann, Palin and Perry.

    Phil Cave: Yes, and IMHO, this is America’s form of sharia law.

    From Slate: Does the Texas governor believe his idiotic religious rhetoric, or is he just pandering for votes? By Christopher Hitchens

    Rick Perry, announced that he was using the authority vested in him to call for prayers for rain. These incantations and beseechments, carrying the imprimatur of government, were duly offered to the heavens. The heavens responded by remaining, along with the parched lands below, obstinately dry.

    Perry did not, of course, suffer politically for making an idiot of himself in this way. In 2006 he said that he believed the Bible to be inerrant. He also said that those who did not accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior would be going to hell. Pressed a little on the sheer wickedness and stupidity of that last claim, the governor did allow that he himself wasn’t omniscient enough to be sure on such doctrinal matters. He tells us that he is a “firm believer” in the “intelligent design” formulation that is creationism’s latest rhetorical disguise. Perry can be reasonably sure that the voting base of the theocratic right has picked up his intended message.

    Michele Bachmann, if she is still seriously considered as being in the race, can also only lose from the comparison: Her religious positions are so weird, and so weirdly held, that they have already made her look like a crackpot. (Or revealed her as such: the distinction is a negligible one.)

    Read on: http://www.slate.com/id/2302661/

  17. avatar
    ASK Esq September 2, 2011 at 10:15 am #

    Part of the problem in the US is that we’ve become afraid to tell anybody that they’re wrong, no matter how wrong they are. When you treat everything as having equal validity, you lose the ability to effectively put down what should be put down. Look at what is still happening with evolution. ID fanatics say that all theories should be taught, and to few are willing to stand up and say there is only one theory. We still have a sizeable number who don’t accept climate change, simply because other people don’t accept it.

    I don’t know if this is related to out of control political correctness, the trend of giving kids trophies for showing up, or if we’ve just become scared of confrontation, but it is clearly a problem.

  18. avatar
    The Magic M September 2, 2011 at 10:57 am #

    ASK Esq: I don’t know if this is related to out of control political correctness

    It can also be seen as a perversion of the 1st amendment – the right to free speech became more and more interpreted as the right to have all kinds of speech treated equally, even outside the mere speech context.
    “If evolution is taught, ID needs to be taught as well.”
    “If a politician can say “God is above the Constitution”, he should have the right to turn that into law.”
    It’s not just “not PC” to tell these people they’re wrong, it’s “1st amendment infringement”. It’s become the “race card” of today.

    > ID fanatics say that all theories should be taught

    I’m so having fun with the latest WND article on ID. I keep telling these people, if all creationist theories are equivalent, as they claim, why can’t I teach their children the world was sneezed out by a rabid gay unicorn? Drives them furious. 😉

  19. avatar
    Daniel September 2, 2011 at 8:01 pm #

    ASK Esq: Part of the problem in the US is that we’ve become afraid to tell anybody that they’re wrong, no matter how wrong they are.

    I’m sorry but you’re quite mistaken. In fact I’d go so far as to say you’re completely and utterly wrong.

  20. avatar
    Robi September 3, 2011 at 1:24 am #

    I’m just going to say that I bought that book last year and enjoyed it thoroughly. The chapters concerning intelligent design and the Terri Schiavo case are especially good.

  21. avatar
    katahdin September 3, 2011 at 1:49 am #

    Daniel: I’m sorry but you’re quite mistaken. In fact I’d go so far as to say you’re completely and utterly wrong.

    And you are wrong to claim that he’s wrong. Completely, irrevocably wrong. So there.

  22. avatar
    Keith September 3, 2011 at 3:01 am #

    The Magic M: It’s not just “not PC” to tell these people they’re wrong, it’s “1st amendment infringement”. It’s become the “race card” of today.

    I agree, people have to get over that.

    The First Amendment says that the GOVERNMENT cannot deny the right to free speech. It doesn’t say that you or I, as a private persons, have to tolerate lies and filth.

  23. avatar
    misha September 3, 2011 at 5:26 am #

    Lupin: In any event I don’t think of them as “cranks”.

    Hitchens calls Michele Bachmann ‘a crackpot’: http://www.slate.com/id/2302661/

  24. avatar
    misha September 3, 2011 at 10:39 am #

    misha: I’ll repeat this: in the States we ridicule school teachers, and revere clergymen.

    I know this man; he is in my photography workshop:

    Teacher’s Neck Broken in Attack: Two students accused of attacking a teacher in a hallway of Germantown High School on Friday morning are now behind bars.

    The teens allegedly pushed Burd, who struck his head on a locker. Schools CEO Paul Vallas said Burd broke his neck in two places.

    17-year-old Donte Boykin was taken to Northwest Detectives in handcuffs on Friday evening, shortly after arresting the 14-year-old.

    Both students have a checkered past. They were both previously expelled, but they were allowed to return to school after a year. School officials say the kids were in the process of being expelled again when they assaulted Burd.

    They are behind bars in the process of being slapped with serious charges. They will be charged as adults.

    Burd, a popular math and photography teacher, is recovering in intensive care at Einstein Medical Center.
    http://abclocal.go.com/wpvi/story?section=news/local&id=5062501

    Education is a threatening thing to conservatives. They depend on the dispirited and the ignorant to put them into office, and every educated person represents one less vote. You see it in their suspicion of the science of global warming, of the disparagement of evolution, and in the embrace of fundamentalist religious dogma. You see it in the simple minded, lock step mentality of the Republican candidates for president, signing pledges never to change their minds about taxes or women’s reproductive rights, regardless of circumstances. You see it in the shameless hijacking of political discourse, trying to convince the uneducated, the elderly, and the sick that they don’t need education, retirement security, or Medicare.

    http://community.nytimes.com/comments/www.nytimes.com/2011/09/03/opinion/blow-an-ode-to-teachers.html?permid=6#comment6