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14 February 2008

Curmudgeons and a knowledge society

Is Europe a country? What about Hungry..er..Hungary, and Turkey?

An article in The NYT , Are Americans hostile to knowledge? cites an example from the pouplar TV show -Are you smarter than a fifth grader? (Isn't SRK going to do something similar here?) and in this context, reviews author Susan Jacoby's new book, 'Age of American Unreason'.

It made for a superb read, seen as how much we in India - (I use 'we' here to include a general group of english educated/ speaking/urban /metro residing persons, not others) - are influenced by everything American in the space of media, society, intellectual pursuits, education, thought, knowledge, culture and of course news and television.
I mentioned media earlier, so why I am saying news & television again? pata nahin.

It says,

Ms. Jacoby, whose book came out on Tuesday, doesn’t zero in on a particular technology or emotion, but rather on what she feels is a generalized hostility to knowledge.

She is well aware that some may tag her a crank. “I expect to get bashed,” said Ms. Jacoby, 62, either as an older person who upbraids the young for plummeting standards and values, or as a secularist whose defense of scientific rationalism is a way to disparage religion.

Ms. Jacoby, however, is quick to point out that her indictment is not limited by age or ideology. Yes, she knows that eggheads, nerds, bookworms, longhairs, pointy heads, highbrows and know-it-alls have been mocked and dismissed throughout American history....

...But now, Ms. Jacoby said, something different is happening: anti-intellectualism (the attitude that “too much learning can be a dangerous thing”) and anti-rationalism (“the idea that there is no such things as evidence or fact, just opinion”) have fused in a particularly insidious way.
and, in my view- the clincher,

Not only are citizens ignorant about essential scientific, civic and cultural knowledge, she said, but they also don’t think it matters."

If this was a statement describing India and Indian citizens, which it well could be, then - Truly scary.
The NYT article ends with a particularly insightful comment about the gap between knowing and doing.

For all her scholarly interests, though, Ms. Jacoby said she recognized just how hard it is to tune out the 24/7 entertainment culture. A few years ago she participated in the annual campaign to turn off the television for a week. “I was stunned at how difficult it was for me,” she said.

The surprise at her own dependency on electronic and visual media made her realize just how pervasive the culture of distraction is and how susceptible everyone is — even curmudgeons.'
Though the book is based on the American experience I can see how easily it could be describing the status of knowledge here in India. A few years hence. Soon, Now, Currently, Never? You decide.

Note:

Curmedgeon (definition) n. An ill-tempered person full of resentment and stubborn notions.

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