***Dave Hill's Reviews > Dumbocracy: Adventures with the Loony Left, the Rabid Right, and Other American Idiots

Dumbocracy by Marty Beckerman
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's review
Dec 14, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: text, non-fiction
Read in December, 2008

(Original Review: http://hill-kleerup.org/blog/2008/12/...)

Overall: Good
Writing: Good
Re-Readability: Fair
Info: Good

The subtitle of the book is “Adventures with the Loony Left, the Rabid Right, and Other American Idiots,” and in keeping with that Beckerman proposes and entertainingly demonstrates how the fringe of both the Left and the Right have more in common with each other than with folks in the center: True Believers who Know Better than You Do what You Should Be Allowed to Do, Think, or Believe. Whether lambasting Rick Santorum or Andrea Dworkin, there’s almost always a chuckle every paragraph or three.

In different chapters, he takes on extemist ideologues over abortion, gay rights, foreign policy, the Middle East, politics, women’s rights, pornography, pot, and alcohol. In each case, he shows how the folks shouting the loudest tend to have the least concern for individual freedom, instead viewing their ideological ends as justifying any means, and the cause of their personal culture war brooking no Geneva Conventions. Brainwashing children, banning speech, and criminalizing dissent aren’t tools of just one wing of the nuttery.

Unfortunately, Beckerman’s work suffers from two significant flaws, and one lesser.

First, philosophically, his assertion that there are no principles that must never be compromised is somewhat sketchy (or at least open to more serious debate than he’s willing to entertain here). Most of the specific criticisms he offers up are about the symptoms of the extremist ideological thinking, not the issues underlying the extremes. I suspect Beckerman would suggest that, given that most non-extreme people have a realpolitik ability to accept or ignore or maintain cognitive dissonance over most such issues, e.g., abortion, the extremists in the matters ought to do the same, or at least have a stiff drink and STFU about it more often. For myself, I wonder if the centrist majority is willing to allow the extremists to natter on simply to externalize (and thus ignore) their own internal debates on the subjects.

More importantly, to demonstrate how whack-job folks at either end of the spectrum are, Beckerman tends to simplify and over-summarize their positions beyond fairness, sacrificing nuance for humorous or rhetorical effect, and, in so doing, falling prey to the same black-and-white thinking that he’s lampooning. As someone who recognized (and blogged about) some of the instances he mentions, it does make a difference. Though highly footnoted, the tirades against the Left have the same sound-bite attack quality as if they came from Rush or Hugh or Michelle; the ones against the Right are similarly nuggetized and stripped of important (indeed any) context.

A third, weaker critique is that while Beckerman certainly finds folks on the Left to poke fun / scorn at, his natural inclination seems more toward lambasting the Right. This is paralleled by his observations on the Middle East and Israel where, as a Jew, he feels more iconoclastically comfortable ridiculing (at length) aspects of Orthodox Judaism and Israeli Jingoism than in his less pointed criticisms of Islam and anti-Israeli terror.

All that said, it’s a generally entertaining book that most people will enjoy reading, especially if they don’t mind seeing a few of their own oxen gored, and are willing to console themselves with a large drink or other irresponsible pastime. Which Beckerman would argue is how more people ought to spend their hours rather than trying to enforce rules of ideological and moral virtue on each other.

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