Our theme is cultural decline and what to do about it. We talk with cultural critic Susan Jacoby about THE AGE OF AMERICAN UNREASON. And former New Republic editor and author Lee Siegel talks about the unintended consequences of the digital age. His book is AGAINST THE MACHINE: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob.
My guests this hour both point to technology as culprits in the decline of critical thinking and cultural literacy. Susan Jacoby says America has long had a tradition of anti-intellectualism vying with the Enlightenment rationalism of the founding fathers. But she argues the advent of television and now visual media in general has accelerated the process, overwhelming reasoned discourse and threatening democracy itself.
Lee Siegel got into trouble with the blogosphere in 2006 when he was editor of the New Republic’s online culture blog. When confronted with the electronic thuggery that Web anonymity allows, he responded first with direct comments under his own name — and then thought he’d try to give the culprits some of their own medicine. He posed as a reader himself under the moniker “Sprezzatura” and went on the attack. It caused a scandal that got him temporarily suspended from his job and subjected him to ridicule from the digiterati of the blogosphere. But it also spurred him to write AGAINST THE MACHINE: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob. It’s a critique of the ugly underbelly of the Internet and what it’s doing to our culture.