In the NYT article Ms. Jacoby articulates why she was compelled to write this book.
"The author of seven other books, she was a fellow at the library when she first got the idea for this book back in 2001, on 9/11.
Walking home to her Upper East Side apartment, she said, overwhelmed and confused, she stopped at a bar. As she sipped her bloody mary, she quietly listened to two men, neatly dressed in suits. For a second she thought they were going to compare that day’s horrifying attack to the Japanese bombing in 1941 that blew America into World War II:
“This is just like Pearl Harbor,” one of the men said.
The other asked, “What is Pearl Harbor?”
“That was when the Vietnamese dropped bombs in a harbor, and it started the Vietnam War,” the first man replied.
At that moment, Ms. Jacoby said, “I decided to write this book.”
I have been haunted by this anecdote since.Today Ms. Jacoby has an OpEd piece in the WaPo entitled "The Dumbing of America".
I found myself inexplicably thinking about Mao's Cultural Revolution when education and expertise became reasons in and of themselves for people to be suspected of subversion and dragged into the streets to be publicly humiliated or worse.
We're not immune here. This is happening in Canada as well. I no longer make much distinction between our two countries so I'm not being a sanctimonious Canadian about this - we're infected too. How else to explain the embedded antipathy to climate science or the plummeting percentages of voters? How else to explain the Common Sense Revolution of Mike Harris, a failed elementary school teacher and golf course manager? Or Ralph Klein, a bombastic, flush faced radio and TV personality?
It's little wonder that politics today attracts so few top rate minds. The moment they declare their interest in politics or public service they're derided as "elitists" or "ivory tower intellectuals" who lack "real world" experience.
We seem to be much more content with representation and/or political leadership that doesn't challenge our complacencies or our minds.
Ms Jacoby cites the example of FDR, when during his fireside chats in the early days of US involvement in WW2 after Pearl Harbor, he encouraged Americans to spread a map out on the floor so they would have a better idea of the geography and distances he referred to. Maps sold out across the country and 80% of the American population tuned in to listen.
Nothing even remotely like that could happen today.
No one remembers where to buy maps or how to read them.
ps. I subsequently found this interview Susan Jacoby did with Bill Moyers.