“Idiot America” and What It Means To You
Just finishing up that great book on the current popular and political climate that is the USA, “Idiot America – How stupidity became a virtue in the Land of the Free” by Charles P Pierce, and I’m seeing some parallels between the USA and Australia. Though many of the initial conditions in America have not been replicated here, Australia being founded from a stance of convenience for the British colonisers, and America from a need to escape from religious, social and political prejudices. This makes a large difference to where we are now in history, but many of the points about what is happening now are equally valid.
Pierce’s “Idiot America” is founded on 3 basic principles:
This rise of stupidity in the USA, as illustrated in several historical and current events, comes from one of the basic founding gestures of America, the idea of freedom; freedom of expression, freedom of belief, freedom of worship. This gave rise to the idea of “the American crank”, an illustration of people’s rights to believe what they want and profess it as fact, regardless of what the facts may be. The “crank” is as much a part of the American culture as is the flag-waving veteran, the homemaking grandmother, and the right to carry a firearm. These folks are loveable for their follies in their own environment, and necessary to add colour to a hugely diverse country, and in some cases a tourist attraction, but are were never taken seriously (the extension of the medicine man and the charlatan in the days of the old west), but give these people a loud enough bullhorn and people start trumpeting the craziness right alongside them.
All it takes is one crazy idea, for instance, that 9/11 was an inside job, publicise it and bring in just enough doubt, and suddenly you have a conspiracy with enough people following it to give it weight under Pierce’s “Premise Three: Fact is that which enough people believe.” Add to this, truth becomes a “fact” once it has been trumpeted loudly enough.
Without spoiling the book for you, I’m going to move forward to show how this is replicated here in Australia to some degree.
In my interview with Lawrence Krauss from November 2010, he said this in relation to the crackpottery which is so rife in America:
And this is true, we see it again and again in our media, and in our pop culture; Meryl Dorey and The Australian Vaccination Network with their tireless chatter about how immunisation is bad for society, while we see a rise in pertussis and measles in areas where vaccination is low; the knee-jerk reactions against “boat people” and how they are apparently invading our shores in their millions, threatening to destroy our way of life; the fallacy of the downtrodden religious, while they still enjoy their privileged position above reproach in politics and society. And there are more. We give these people a soapbox from which to stand and bellow their insanity, and once they reach enough people, their ideas become ingrained as fact, at least within subcultures and groups of the convinced.
This is not constrained to Australia and the USA either, the charlatan and the mystic, the conspiracy theorist and the Nazi apologist, the people who claim the weird and fanciful are everywhere, and in this increasingly connected world, more people hear their howls of indignation when we try to apply empirical truth to their “Third Premise” version of reality. While the American “crank” and the Australian “larrikin” are very important parts of our histories, we must take them with a grain of salt, as history has shown us, and not follow the latest trend of conspiratorial nonsense, at least not on face value.
Pierce’s book, while simply adding to the piles of things wrong with the world, shows us how people can take an idea like creationism, and turn it into Jesus on the back of a velociraptor, and how Dan Brown’s novels become accepted as history by an unquestioning mainstream. It’s a highly entertaining book, and it would be very funny if it weren’t also true.
The fact that the cover features a picture of George Washington astride a tyrannosaurus-rex, holding a sword as if to say “ONWARD HO!” should give you an idea to what awaits you within these pages. Highly recommended reading.
“Idiot America” is available for purchase from my bookstore.