Susan Jacoby (Susan Jacoby), one of the directors of the Research Center The Center for Inquiry, the author of eight books, including "freedom Thinkers: A History of American Secularism» (Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism), «The era of American causeless» (The Age of American Unreason) and others, believes that the United States is gradually "tupeyut" and, furthermore, this trend threatens varied intellectual life so essential for an effective democracy.
Question: In the book "The Age of the American cause" you reflect that in the United States, a period of "anti-intellectualism and anti-rationalism." What do you understand by that?
Susan Jacoby: … In the U.S. today, at one point begin to converge ignorance, anti-intellectualism and anti-rationalism. This is particularly disturbing given the fact that scientific knowledge now are at such a high level. Even more surprisingly, in the U.S. the percentage of people who believe that the Earth was created by God in six days, has hardly changed over the past half century. As is known, in the U.S. a lot of religious fundamentalists — I mean people who understand the Bible literally. However, there is another culprit of anti-rationalism — the invasion of infotainment media videokultury.
Question: You say that the U.S. is gradually "tupeyut." However, there are also other phenomena, such as U.S. universities continue to be considered the best in the world …
Susan Jacoby: For starters, American universities are not always considered the best in the world in all directions. The fact that a large number of foreigners come here for education has more to do with economic factors that provide a good environment for scientific work. On the other hand, our 15-year-olds are almost in last place in the world in terms of mathematical knowledge. The fact that now the number of students applying for entry to elite universities in the U.S., is more related to demographic factors, as well as the economic and social trends. It says nothing about the quality of education at elite universities, and has nothing to do with a long-term cultural and intellectual trends.
More indicative of the fact that the Americans no longer read. The National Endowment for the Arts published a study whose authors found that less than half of Americans under 44 years of age read one book in the past year. This is a disaster!
And the fact that many people read on the Internet, does not correct the situation. On the Internet, we behave like predators. We are looking for fast information needed for a particular purpose. It is not comparable to what a person gets while reading non-fiction books or literary works, to understand that you need to concentrate completely for a while.
Q: But in all Western countries there is such a trend …
Susan Jacoby: Yes, because the empire of infotainment media culture has no boundaries. However, I can not imagine that the people in a country such as France, have also become a little reading, both in the United States. Americans have always loved technology, they have always tried to first put into circulation something new — Asian Americans are now catching up in this area. Americans have long considered the best way of technology solutions to all problems.
In Europe and other developed countries in Asia and America, there is an important deterrent. Their school systems are nationwide standards. In Italy, for example, no matter where you are learning — in Milan or Sicily, as you will be taught the same material in biology, history, mathematics … For historical reasons, the situation is different in the United States. School programs are highly dependent on decisions made at the local level.
I live in New York. At the end of each school year, newspapers publish lists of names of the top graduate schools — I have them with great interest check. Every year, I see a lot of lists of foreign names — a lot of Russian, Ukrainian, Slavic, Asian, even Haitian. If you look at the biographies of these graduates, it turns out that many of them came to the U.S. at the age of 10-13 years. For them, the United States public schools are so far behind on those schools where they learned earlier that these kids were able to concentrate on learning the English language and in the next 4-5 years to become the first students in their classes. It says something about the quality of the education system in the United States.
Q: Often, the problems of school education due to economic factors. And how intelligent life flows higher strata of American society?
Susan Jacoby: There is a "stupor" in all sectors of society. Even people with higher education today are reading less.
You know, some people call me a technophobe, and say that my ideas just do not take into account the current realities. These same people believe that computers make us smarter. In the U.S., generally prevalent idea that the Internet is godlike, omnipotent provider of information. Of course, the Internet has a lot of good. The World Wide Web can be an hour to find something that was sought earlier days in the library. However, the Internet is much more garbage, and the children often climb to rave sites and playing computer games rather than looking for quality information.
I have a blog On Faith, which is sponsored by the Washington Post newspaper and magazine Newsweek. It surprises me how many people are engaged in blogging for hours. This kind of communication is not necessarily anti-intellectual, but he so often is. Internet provides people with a huge selection, but, ironically, helps to ensure that people have access to only those sites and read those blogs, which is written what they already think. It characterizes the American intellectual life in general: people are looking for the sources of information to which they already believe.
I lecture all over the country, and I see that 95% of my audience is people who already agree with me. Previously, this was not. In the XIX century, the lectures were very popular kinds of entertainment, for example, the debate about the theory of evolution were the leading scientists and philosophers, which attracted tens of thousands of people in towns and cities. People come to the debate to hear the views of opponents. Who could imagine that the debate about the theory of evolution will continue in the XXI century?
Question: How do you assess the intellectual component in the current presidential elections in the U.S.?
Susan Jacoby: Politics, of course, reflects the overall culture of the country. All candidates — very intelligent people. However, the Clintons in the past three months have criticized Barack Obama for what he is "too cleverly says," that he should not be trusted. Candidates are constantly turning to the voters, instead of using the word Folks People. It entered the political lexicon recently, about a quarter of a century ago, before the political speech, it would be considered incorrect. Presidential candidates who use this word, reminds parents that are trying to use teenage slang when talking to children, trying to show that they understand their problems. Hillary Clinton before its release into the political arena, perhaps it was never used.
Despite the fact that the candidates — intelligent, no intelligent discussion on the main issues, as this requires intelligent audience. For example, it is striking that, despite the fact that the majority of Americans oppose the war in Iraq, only 23% know how many Americans have died there. This shows how quickly dissipated public attention. Nine months ago, the war in Iraq was a major problem the U.S., today the newspapers write only about the economy. However, to carry out a full public debate, it is necessary to be able to think of two problems at once.
Question: What should be done to improve the situation?
Susan Jacoby: In order to change the situation, if possible, you need to think about how we spend our time and how they spend their time, our children. I was inspired, as readers have taken my book. It is among the best-seller list, a newspaper published by the New York Times, I get thousands of letters from young parents. It seems that many Americans began to worry about this issue.
Q: What would be the consequences of anti-intellectualism and anti-rationalism?
Susan Jacoby: We are already seeing the consequences. U.S. is losing its lead in certain areas of technology, economy and industry. We are already seeing how because of the limitations of studies "stem" cells that have been taken under the pressure of religious fundamentalists, money for research and scientists are beginning to leave the United States.
We see this by the example of our health care system. Despite the fact that most Americans are convinced that in the U.S. there is the most efficient system, it really is not. To critically reflect on our problems in health care, Americans need to understand percentages, fractions, and these boring details.
If all goes as it is now, the U.S. will lose its position in the world. Of course, the same can be said for Russia, because it degrades and the education system …