Cultural Flattery

April 25, 2006

When I first read the first 50 or so pages of The Third Culture, I was pretty in-tuned with what some of the scientists had to say about having to "dumb down" their scientific writing in order for it to be comprehensible by a non-scientifically inclined public. I thought there is no point in using florid language when really all you are trying to convey is a simplistic concept. The key to communication is brevity, not beauty of language through overly-academic writting. However, after reading some arguments put forth in the book Where have all the Intellectuals Gone? this dumbing down of not just science, but all intellectually engaging concepts, is simply appealing to the public's ignorance. Frank Furedi makes a pretty compelling argument that "cultural sensitivity" policies adhere to cultural ignorance and in a way, encourage it. We're not supposed to have examples in SAT testbooks which could be irrelevent to the test taker. We can't have something like "Jack, an upper-class white male Harvard graduate" in an example given to students in lower-class non-white kids in New Mexico. Either the example has to be so amazingly neutral and generic that it is completely devoid of cultural memes or it panders to the culture it is relevant to. Either way, it doesn't expand any of the student's cultural perspectives.

Another way, Furedi explains, is they way voting has tried to become as little of a burden on society. Which is a horrific statement about society. Businesses have tried to make voting as easy as possible and as much of a symbol of Americanism that it has become so deflated as an individualistic power that it's essentially just become one of the routine things Americans do as part of a democratic society. People apparently pissed and moaned about how "confusing" the paper-ballots were, the lines at voting centers. So people responded with electronic voting. This boils down the entire voting process into point-and-click democracy. It's ridiculous. About or less than 50% of the registered voters elected Bush Sr, and Jr. and Clinton. Society isn't even using the only power it has.

All of this has in one way or another created a vast mentality that "the public" is uneducated in reason, irresponsible and must be shielded from itself (Trusted Computing), and isn't expected to ammount to anything of substance. I simply can't write an uplifting paper/post on the power of the individual in society if the individual is already looked at with powerful contempt. It used to be "The Customer is always right." Now it's "the customer doesn't know what right is, doesn't know what he/she truly wants, and is essentially nothing more than an over-aged child."

But this is mostly done through cultural flattery. Instead of making math text books and curriculum more difficult as our society progressed, we've made them easier; so students can just feel accomplished, feel excellent and smart. Instead of rewarding results, we've practiced rewarding efforts. "At least you tried." This is another form of cultural flattery prevalent in American institutions. Instead of urging students with higher standards, or simply expecting more of them, we lower our expectations and standards in order for the student to feel included and accepted which in turn validates the student's actual failures.

But to go back to the Third Culture's suggestion that there is nothing wrong with dumbing down science so it can actually educate an already undermined public, I think this is rather acceptable. Yes it's dumbing down, which Furedi pretty much proves as being completely ccounter-progressive, but it nonetheless opens a door for the public to go through. The dumb-downed public already have a hesitancy towards science, mathematics, and philosophy (other than political philosophy), so if ending that hesitancy requires the dumbing down of science so be it. It's not science's fault that society has been dumbed down. It's the fault of whoever enforced an ideology which catered to student ignorance.

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