- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 23, 2006

‘Dumbing down’ American culture

To read William Murchison’s recent review of our new book “Renewing American Culture: The Pursuit of Happiness,” one would think we had jumped off the deep end of the pool (“Weighty words about society’s purpose,” Books, Sept. 10). The actual ideas of the book are great, according to Mr. Murchison, but “oh, the prose, the prose!”

If indeed we have gone off the deep end, it’s because we are tired of hitting our heads against the shallow end of the pool where American culture has for years been stranded.

Let’s face it. Our culture has been dumbed down by so many for so long that any complex thinking produces irritation or boredom. From the monosyllables of the Bush administration, to the shrill rhetoric of Howard Dean on the other side, to the bottomless prose of postmodernism in the academy, to the incessant shouting of journalists and talking heads, there is little to stimulate thought or inspire our vision.

The irony, if that’s not too intellectual a term, is that this dumbing down of American culture is happening at one of the most intellectually exciting, challenging, and expansive periods in human history. But we are throwing away this golden moment.

David Brooks recently reported that looking at old Time magazines from the 1950s and 1960s while cleaning his garage, he found lengthy articles on theology, astrophysics and new symphonic music, as well as a densely packed three-page analysis of William Faulkner’s prose style. This heady stuff was thought appropriate fare for a general audience in its day. How far we have traveled from that state of culture.

Today’s bland journalists, like Mr. Murchison, who is a professor of the subject at Baylor, would no doubt find this very tedious. Today editors give us rage, sex and push-button ideas auto-stated over and over, without nuance or variation. New York Times policy decisions and pubic debate are critiqued from the viewpoint that anyone who frames an issue is using language to seize power, rather than from the view that someone is stating ideas tied to real consequences and choices. Yes, today, prose has become the issue.

A real prose of thought, as contrasted with language freed from the constraint of ideas, will likely strike today’s readers as difficult. It may not yield to the same thoughtless scan as a John Grisham novel. Some passages might require a second read, or some time to think, even digest. In a short book, we try to outline some of the exciting ways economics, culture, science, religion, technology, and globalization make new ways of thinking possible. These new ideas run counter to most prevailing assumptions. But the very value of the ideas consists in the need to dig more deeply, take more time and savor deeper tastes.

Although neither of us are members of a think tank, as Murchison reports, we do believe this is a good time to think, and to think outside the tank. The water in the deep end of the pool is just fine. It’s safe to leave the kiddy pool and join us. Come on in.


President and CEO

Indiana Humanities Council

Indianapolis, Indiana



Roosevelt Group

Juniper, Fl.

Capitol security

It is interesting to note the sudden concern about safety at the U. S. Capitol in light of the armed man who crashed his car into a barricade and quickly accessed the building (“Senator seeks Capitol security changes,” Metropolitan, Friday). Sen. Wayne Allard, Colorado Republican, has reacted and already done some security assessment test runs. He has scheduled an oversight hearing.

Security has always been an issue at the U.S. Capitol. However, what Mr. Allard and others in Congress should now realize is that security was best addressed by former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer. Perhaps Mr. Allard was not aware of the fact that there was a concerted political effort to oust Mr. Gainer from his job that was supported by Rep. James Moran Jr., Virginia Democrat, and other political cohorts who at every turn ridiculed Mr. Gainer’s strategies and undermined his efforts.

Mr. Gainer, a skilled law-enforcement official, was always fully cognizant of the dangers and security breaches that could occur at the Capitol. He was perceptive and had the foresight to establish a productive horse-mounted unit that was a highly effective law-enforcement tool. But thanks to the determined efforts of a few congressmen, the unit was disbanded after only 14 months in existence.

Mr. Gainer knew what had to be done and he tried to do it. But politicians on the Hill — who know significantly less about law-enforcement strategies — constantly thwarted him. They were seemingly ignorant of the fact that they had the best man to lead the agency and protect the Capitol. Instead of permitting the chief to be a real chief and the effective leader that he tried to be, Congress tried to run the agency from behind the scenes, calling the shots and treating Mr. Gainer like a puppet on a string. He did not deserve that; nor did the public that he tried to protect.

Mr. Gainer’s departure in March has already had disastrous repercussions, as evidenced by this incident. Morale among the troops has been low since he left. Acting chief Christopher McGaffin, who currently is in charge, is likely the victim of the same type of political manipulation and control that Mr. Gainer was subjected to. The U.S. Capitol Police are a fine group of professional officers who merely want to do their job as it should be done. It is time for a public outcry to allow them to do so.


Adjunct Professor

Department of Criminal Justice

George Mason University


The pope’s unnecessary apology

I find it hard to believe that the leader of the Holy Roman Church, of which I am not a member, would offer an apology for revisiting documented history before a group of academics (“Pope ‘deeply sorry’ about Muslim fury,” Page 1, Monday).

Now, if the pope had made up facts concerning the quote by the emperor of Byzantium or had slandered the Prophet Mohammed, “blessings and peace be upon him,” I could see where an apology is in order.

However, the quote by the emperor in question is fully documented and the prophets’ proclamations to “spread the religion of Islam by the sword” have been documented for hundreds of years. I see no apology from Islam about the violence and murder of their own people and anyone else, for that matter. Yes, we also have done violent deeds in the name of religion, but we do not murder someone if they bring up a fact and we feel uncomfortable. Avoiding the truth will not get anyone into heaven.

The problem is that we in the 21st century are dealing with a mentality of radical Islam set firmly in the 12th century. If those radical Muslims are so insecure in their faith that they protest even after the apology was offered, it only goes to prove that the pope’s discussion in Germany was completely factual. Why should the West continue to pander to radical Islam?

When radical Islam finally evolves into the 21st Century and becomes a peaceful movement, as the Koran teaches, and then we can talk.





Click to Read More

Click to Hide