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Author says anti-rationalism, anti-intellectualism to blame for American ignorance

Tuesday, October 28, 2008 | 9:46 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — It didn't take long for Susan Jacoby, a New York Times best-selling author, to get her point acrossTuesday when she spoke at Columbia College. She blamed the media, schools and the religious right for the "dumbing down of America."

Jacoby launched a rebuke on what she said were the "twin pillars of American unreason: anti-rationalism and anti-intellectualism."

Jacoby was a guest lecturer for the Schiffman Lecture in Religious Studies series at Columbia College, which has previously featured authors, theologians and famed reporters. The series, now chaired by Anthony Alioto, is intended to draw attention to how religion influences issues personally and in the community.

A self-proclaimed cultural conservationist and atheist, Jacoby cited what she considers to be the three most destructive influences on American intellectualism.

"The irrationalism of far-right religion, the triumph of video culture over print, and our own intellectual laziness" are the reasons Americans have set their minds on low objects and why inconsistencies exist between knowledge and beliefs, she said.

Scott Svagera, a sophomore at MU, attended the lecture to hear more about Jacoby's view on religious irrationalism. 

"The (religious) right is so enamored by evangelicals not willing to budge on certain topics," said Svagera. "The government is even so far polarized to only what is right for their interest."

Jacoby offers a remedy for what she deems a current lapse in rational judgment naming parents and "infotainment" as root causes. Most of the pressure can be laid upon parents who control their children's access to "poisonous infotainment and food," she said. She suggested families should spend time reading books and consuming educational resources instead of gathering around the television.

"Anyone who values self-reliance will limit screen time," said Jacoby.

For John Taylor, Jacoby's words struck a chord and were both fair and assertive. As a retired chemist for the city power plant, Taylor said he agrees that America needs to become more educated but is reluctant to see Jacoby's point that religious fundamentalists are to blame for irrationalism.

"I don't think they are the big fear here," said Taylor. "I see kids buying comic books instead of classics, and that is what is terribly sad to me."


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