Gregg's Reviews > Just How Stupid Are We?: Facing the Truth About the American Voter

Just How Stupid Are We? by Rick Shenkman
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Mar 08, 2009

it was amazing
Recommended for: Tso
Read in February, 2009

We're quite dumb, as it turns out. Shenkman trots out an impressive array of facts and figures to underscore the fact that Vox Populi is largely meaningless when the populi's vox is ill-informed. Of course, this is an old argument, as far as I know--Socrates and Aristotle were largely declaiming the general population's ignorance while democracy was still in its swaddling clothes. I know that, as I roll my eyes upon learning that my journalism students complain about having to follow the Iraq war and Obama's fiscal policy, and as I waste time in class explaining common historical references so that a few lines of Shakespeare, or Steinbeck, or an essay in Harper's magazine takes meaning ("Why can't they just use The Simpsons?" one student complained once. "They've got plenty of references"), my eye-rolling and irritation is generations old. Nothing new under the sun. The tree of man was never quiet. So my students don't know how many senators are in the Senate. Did I at their age? Did I have any idea how a bill became a law, or where the Persian Gulf was, or any of that? Who am I to criticize?

The one main difference (and Shenkman does not spell this out, though he comes close) is attitude: I was embarassed by my ignorane, and eventually took the trouble to try and rectify it. Today's generation, while having access to more information than anyone ever would have thought possible, is adamant and assertive about its ignorance. They think many matters divorced from their immediate surroundings are immaterial. And it's not just the 18 to 34 year old audience he takes to task.

So, reading this book was like one long validation of all the contempt I harbor, however ill-advised, for the dumbing-down so easy to find these days. His book is one long I-told-you-so. Short on solution, long on pronouncement. Now I'm depressed. Next up: a deconstruction of the modern media.
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