What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

The Age of American Unreason, Susan Jacoby, Pantheon.

Ignorance is bliss. Or is it? In “The Age of American Unreason” Susan Jacoby—author of “Freethinkers” (2004)—explores the anti-intellectualism (too much learning can be a dangerous thing) and anti-rationalism (there are no facts, just opinions) that increasingly characterize American culture and political discourse.

Among other things, Jacoby explores the erosion of Americans’ knowledge about geography, science and history; the public’s short attention span (fostered by TV, video and other digital media); and the failure of the country’s public education system. 

Jacoby frets that too many Americans are proud of their ignorance and even openly hostile to knowledge, a state of affairs that has corrupted the nation’s political process and, in part, explains George W. Bush’s victory over John Kerry in 2004. With Bush’s last day (1/20/09) now just around the corner Jacoby questions whether the American people have learned their lesson: “It remains to be seen,” she writes, “as the current presidential campaign unfolds, whether Americans are willing to consider what the flight from reason has cost us as a people and whether any candidate has the will or the courage to talk about ignorance as a political issue.”