I want to continue publishing comments I wrote to friends and family this summer as I was reading. This is summary number two:
I’m following up on my response to reading Susan Jacoby’s book, The Age of American Unreason. Last time I wrote I had just started it and was looking forward to learning a lot. Sad to say it, but I cannot recommend wading through this academic tome. Dry. Convoluted. And not all that accurate. For instance, she thinks it ludicrous that anyone would question the safety of medical vaccines or that newspapers would treat such concerns with objective coverage. I suppose Susan Jacoby has not read about the cancer-contaminated polio vaccine that most all youngsters received in the 50’s and 60’s… [and some say up into the 90’s before all the tainted serums were depleted? ] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10472327 http://www.enotalone.com/article/10714.html
She also continuously criticizes conservatives and republicans, but rarely finds sloppy thinking among democrats or liberals? (I find both sides equally biased in their arguments, and their blindness to their opponents’ stances, or in their willingness to engage in a sincere search for truth together.)
Jacoby doesn’t like new age belief any better than fundamentalist Christian beliefs. I’m not particularly fond of fundamentalism, but having grown up in fundamentalism, I think her conclusions about why people develop fundamentalist thinking lack understanding or appreciation; nor does she allow for the numbers of people who mature out of fundamentalism through the course of living and growing.
And of course, I, being a new-ager, am not really very patient when people lump all new age thinking in one foggy clump. Also, she pooh-poohs prayer or mind / observation having effects upon people or events, and ignores advances in new physics and entanglement theory and the effect of the observer on events.
I thought it funny that she made great efforts to belittle Dan Brown’s novels, like The Da Vince Code, and the book I recently read, The Lost Symbol, because she is dismayed Mr. Brown does not do enough research worthy of historical novels, contrasting his work with the biographical novel, The Agony and the Ecstasy that exemplifies good research in her view. I may have misinterpreted Dan Brown’s intent, but I don’t think his books are written to provide a historical treatise but rather a historical conundrum, to get people to develop more curiosity and interest in history, spirituality, symbology and mythology. And they are fun fiction! Not meant to be matter of fact, but rather a challenge. He throws down a gauntlet to the accepted beliefs of the times.
Susan Jacoby, Catholic-raised, (and I am not clear if she is atheist now?) has a healthy disregard for irrational thinking, but shows a dismal lack of curiosity and no use for metaphor, serendipity, wonderment or the like. She has little room to stretch her imagination, play, or turn something inside out to see if she can learn another viewpoint or test a viewpoint she holds. She may snort at Dan Brown’s novels, but I don’t think she can tell anyone, having read The Lost Symbol, that going to the United States Capitol Rotunda and looking at the ceiling to see Washington’s Apotheosis does not give them a new appreciation of our Founding Fathers, and and a new appreciation and wonderment about all the symbology of Washington D.C.
On the other hand, she does say that most historians and narrators of the 60’s are incorrect about using the boomers as a whipping post. And that I am glad to hear, as I am also very tired of everything wrong in America being laid at the feet of the hippie generation. She claims the main transformation the 60 generation did bring was the social impact of youth/celebrity/media as a cultural mix. That I suppose is true; and not particularly healthy. And, come to think of it, did the boomers themselves create it or did the older generations take it to their board rooms for monetizing? I think the boomers failed to persist to change things, to challenge the status quo; we boomers gave up too easily.
There are some good reasons to read Jacoby, if nothing else than for getting a refresher of events and movements in America’s history since the second world war; but you must be someone who appreciates repetitive and laborious dissection of abstract thought — and that is not me. I suppose I would fail Jacoby’s test of the rational, thoughtful adult. There were 12 discs in the book on CD. I made it through 8 and one-half of them. I’m moving on to something else.
By the way, I did listen, in the interim, to In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, by Michael Pollan. Recommended to me by one of you. And it is terrific! Wry, entertaining, and informative. I’m becoming subversive — planting my own food. Shopping for the raw, real foods. This is a great book (or CD version) and it is worth every moment of your time. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”