Charles P. Pierce: Idiot America

Charles P. Pierce: Idiot America

 

The first 10 pages of Idiot America: How Stupidity Became A Virtue In The Land Of The Free say a lot about the book itself, and inform the central argument of Esquire writer Charles P. Pierce. In 2005, Pierce visited the Creation Museum, a place that depicts Adam and Eve chillin’ in the Garden Of Eden with the dinosaurs, one of which is wearing a saddle, for the perfect photo-op with the kiddies. The place was mobbed during the museum’s opening weekend, and among those in attendance was Ken Ham, the museum’s mastermind. “We are taking the dinosaurs back from the evolutionists!” he proclaimed. But the real surprise comes a few pages later, when Pierce gets into specifics about Intelligent Design. Seems one Pastor Ray Mummert said, in the height of an ID debate in Dover, Pennsylvania, “We’ve been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of our culture.”

That staggering reaction is what serves Pierce’s book best. The ensuing pages outline Pierce’s premises for “Idiot America”—theories are valid if they sell; volume equals truth level; if enough people fervently believe something, it’s true—and apply them to familiar scenarios. Global warming, the war in Iraq, Intelligent Design, and Terri Schiavo all get their due. But aside from a few anecdotal additions (the people of Shishmaref, a tiny Alaskan village, offer their own undeniable proof of global warming), these stories, and the respective explanations of how logic fails to prevail in America, will ring all too familiar to the left-leaning Daily Show viewers this book is ostensibly targeting. Pierce tackles “Idiot America” much more successfully when he touches on unexpected topics and introduces little-known historical cranks like crackpot Ignatius Donnelly and his “theories” about Atlantis; his strongest chapter by far deals in talk radio and its dangerous tendency to anoint anyone with half a vocal cord an expert. There’s plenty here to chew on, but overall the meals are unevenly filling.

However, for all the page space Pierce devotes to lambasting pure gut reactions, this book’s gut level is high; it’s hard to read about a September 11 memorial derailed by some paranoid loudmouth and not want to pull hair out by the handful. Those who can’t watch the news without banging their heads against the wall have found their own pet crank—albeit a logical, reasoned one.

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