Dumbing Down

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DUMBING DOWN: Culture, Politics and the Mass Media.

Published by Imprint Academic, April 2000.

Some Critical Reactions to DUMBING DOWN:

‘At last! A guide to the moronic inferno!’ Laurence Coupe, PN Review.
‘If there is hope at all, it lies in the existence of books like this’ Geoffrey Wheatcroft, the Daily Mail.
‘The lively intelligence of the essays cannot and must not be dismissed… to be read and enjoyed by all’ Chris Woodhead, the Sunday Telegraph.
‘An entertaining and informative read’ Septimus Waugh, The Literary Review.
‘Well-selected and serious’, Contemporary Review.
‘Bold, straight-talking polemic; Dumbing Down tackles the necessary questions of our time’ Marina Warner.

CONTENTS:

The word ‘culture’ has been re-defined. It used to signify high moral standards demanded by membership of a group. Now it refers to whatever habits prevail, as in cultures of mould or yoghurt.

In DUMBING DOWN, a diverse group of people explore the implications of the world-wide shedding of cultures in the old sense, and the ascendancy of a global mono-culture in the new.

Section 1: Dumbocracy in Government

Tam Dalyell: ‘On Decline in Intelligent Government’. A look at how government has changed: spin displacing democracy.
Ivo Mosley: ‘Dumbing Down Democracy’. Efforts to increase the influence of government dumb us all down and are a threat to freedom, democracy and civilization.
Michael Oakeshott: ‘The Masses and Representative Democracy’. History since the middle ages as a conflict between two human types, the individual and ‘mass man’.
Redmond Mullin: ‘States, Dissent and Constructive Disorder’. A critique of the State as purveyor of charity.
Michael Johnson: ‘”Dumbing Up: The Consequences of Permanent Revolution in the Civil Service’. Job insecurity in the civil service, and intelligent government.
Dominic Hobson: Government as Business: “Let’s Play Shops!” The state as an extension of business.

Section 2: Dumbocracy and Culture

Ravi Shankar: Interview. The betrayal of young people by the commercialisation of culture (et al.).
Philip Rieff: ‘The Impossible Culture’. The impossibility of a culture based upon outrage of itself.
Robert Brustein: ‘When PC becomes Dumbocracy’. The assault by political interests on serious culture in America.
Anne Glyn-Jones: ‘Sensationalism in Modern Entertainment’. Declines in civilization through the prism of theatre.
Roger Deakin: ‘Stupidity’. Is it appropriate for the State to patronise contemporary art?

Section 3: Dumbocracy and the Media

Adam Boulton: Dumbing-Down And Its Critics: Democracy Under Threat? The political editor of Sky TV gives his opinion.
Oliver O’Donovan: Publicity. ‘The media are not the product of a conspiracy. They are the sign of the universal corruptibility of man’s communications, of which theology has always known.’

Section 4: Dumbocracy in the Visual Arts

Laura Gascoigne: ‘Mumbo-Dumbo’. The unholy marriage between the establishment and ‘Conceptual Art’.
David Lee: ‘What Contemporary Art Means To Me’. The editor of ‘Art Review’ ponders on the visual arts.
Peter Randall-Page: ‘Form, Transformation and a Common Humanity’. The sculptor muses on art’s role for humanity.
Bill Hare: ‘Glasgow Belongs to Whom?’ A tale of two cities; Glasgow and its self-reinvention.

Section 5: Dumbocracy in Education

Michael Polanyi: ‘The Eclipse of Thought’. How a decline in respect for pure thought led to totalitarianism, barbarity and loss of intellectual freedom.
Claire Fox: Education as Social Inclusion. When education is used for political ends.
Andrew Williams: The Dumbing Down of the Young Consumer. Young people treated as consumers; can educators compete?

Section 6: Dumbocracy and Science

John Ziman: ‘Heeding Voices’. Upon public expecations of science.
Jaron Lanier: ‘Agents of Alienation’. Commercial attempts to exploit information technology threaten the very essence of what it is to be human.
Walter Freeman: Happiness in a Bottle? Attempts to find chemical solutions to life’s problems are inherently flawed, argues an eminent neuroscientist.
‘Science: The Stuff of Dreams or Nightmares?’ Is science still the benefactor to humanity that it once was?

Section 7: Dumbocracy and Religion

Helen Oppenheimer: ‘The Truth-Telling Animal’. The importance of truth.
Nicholas Mosley: ‘Dumbing Down/Dumbing Up in Religion’. On language in religion.

Section 8: Dumbocracy and ‘The Environment’

C.D. Darlington: The Impact of Man on Nature. A historical overview.
Demelza Spargo: Food, Agriculture and Mass Markets. The future of the countryside, and of man as a natural animal.

From the Introduction:
Never before in human history has so much cleverness been used to such stupid ends. The cleverness is in the creation and satisfaction of new needs, and in the manipulation of markets, media and power; the stupid ends are the destruction of community, responsibility, morality, art, religion and the natural world.

As a result, a kind of numbness has taken over. In the face of an uncertain and alarming future, which holds little inspiration for present living, people fight off gloom and stupefaction by withdrawing into trivia, sensation-seeking, or addictions to money, drugs, or power.

This is Dumbing Down, a phenomenon observable in almost all walks of life; politics, culture, civil administration, the media, science, education, even the law. It is so widespread that a new term has been coined; dumbocracy.

Dumbocracy is the rule of cleverness without wisdom. It looks always for the short-term gain, forgetting that we could be around on this planet for a long time – provided dumbocracy does not get out of hand.

Some insist that dumbing-down does not exist; it is an illusion created by an elite to shore up its own waning power. But elites are a necessity in the human affairs of any great civilization. We should try to get the best elites we can, for when one elite is got rid of, another – often worse – takes its place; those who promise to rid us of one elite are bent on replacing it with themselves. As Franz Kafka wrote, ‘Revolutions come and go, leaving nothing behind them but the slime of a new bureaucracy.’

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