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Idiot Proof: Deluded Celebrities, Irrational Power Brokers, Media Morons, and the Erosion of Common Sense (Anglais) Relié – 12 mai 2004

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Although 1979 may not have the same historical resonance as 1789, 1848, or 1917, it too marks a moment when the world was jolted by a violent reaction to the complacency of the existing order. Lire la première page
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Couverture | Copyright | Table des matières | Extrait | Index | Quatrième de couverture
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20 internautes sur 20 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
The return of enlightenment 7 juin 2004
Par Harold McFarland - Publié sur
Format: Relié
As a society have we completely lost touch with the reason and enlightenment that brought us out of the dark ages and into modern science? If so have we become so confused that we are headed back to a time when reason is thrown away in favor of what can only be called superstitious belief? Author Francis Wheen examines our world today and how cults, superstition, and the desire to want to believe have caused a veritable epidemic of foolishness often passing as science. In his book "Idiot Proof" he takes on several people who are veritable icons of contemporary society - people like Nancy Reagan, Deepak Chopra, George Bush, Hillary Clinton, and many others. In addition to people he takes on various subjects like UFOs, crystals, psychics, and astrology. This is a book about how people are lead like sheep to the slaughter merrily bleating along the way totally unaware of their folly. While you may not agree with all the assessments, they are logically founded and well argued.
While I enjoyed the book and Mr. Wheen's commentary, I don't personally agree with everything in the book. Still, I recognize the importance of having people like Mr. Wheen occasionally point out the contrasting side of a belief. The way we grow and refine our beliefs requires that we keep an open mind and examine all sides. Mr. Wheen serves this purpose of presenting the opposing viewpoint very well. Then again, if we have learned anything from history it is that science can lead us down the wrong path just as easily as any superstition. There was a time when doctors lost their jobs and were subject to ridicule if they believed in germs. The whole concept was nonsense and against logic and current knowledge.
With plenty of notes and cross-references at the end of the book, "Idiot Proof" is a recommended read and sure to be enlightening to everyone on at least a few fronts.
20 internautes sur 21 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A Guided Tour of Post-Enlightenment Foolishness 31 mai 2004
Par Rob Hardy - Publié sur
Format: Relié
Do you ever find yourself flagging in enthusiasm for the Enlightenment? The Enlightenment of the 18th century, I mean. As Francis Wheen puts it, do you miss values such as insisting on intellectual autonomy, rejecting tradition and authority as the infallible sources of truth, loathing for bigotry and persecution, committing to free inquiry? As you might expect, Wheen's enthusiasm for such ideals is not flagging, nor is his indignation that the ideals are not being upheld in our time. In _Idiot Proof: Deluded Celebrities, Irrational Power Brokers, Media Morons, and the Erosion of Common Sense_ (PublicAffairs), Wheen whines at length about contemporary preposterousness in many forms. The values of the Enlightenment are being betrayed every day, he demonstrates, and he does so with a fiery keyboard, an infectious sardonic laugh, and a huge command of examples.
In fact, the examples often seem so bizarre that they ought to be mere fiction. Mawkish advice from management gurus like "When opportunity knocks, the entrepreneur is always home" or "Remember to expect miracles... because you are one" may be found in volumes insisting that they were conveying management principles from Moses, Aristotle, Elizabeth I, Gandhi, or Star Fleet. Deepak Chopra (a frequent target here) has intoned the Principle of Highest First: "Go first class all the way and the universe will respond by giving you the best." Wheen's book was first issued where he writes, in England (as _How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World_), and has an Anglo bent, but Americans will find much about their own leaders here. President Clinton sought advice from a Hollywood mystic and a "sacred psychologist" who helped Hillary Clinton talk to Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary's "spiritual archetype." The current president Bush was put into office largely by those who agree with his close alliance with Israel, because according to fundamentalists, maintaining the nation of Israel is a necessary condition for the second coming of Jesus (they usually do not emphasize that the nation has to convert to Christianity, too). Anyone expecting Wheen to skewer only one political philosophy, to let the liberals go while blasting conservatives, has only to read a few more pages on. Noam Chomsky, Jerry Falwell, and the Ayatollah all get their turn.
It is all right that Wheen is over and over again just shooting fish in a barrel. These are fish that deserve extinction. Nostradamus, creationism, newspaper horoscopes, Enron, and new age trendies are all here, as is the teaching of the postmodernist Luce Irigaray that E = mc^2 is egregiously a "sexed equation" since it "privileges the speed of light over other less masculine speeds." The Cult of Diana is remembered with acerbity; one of London's airports risked being renamed Diana Airport, for "The People's Princess" and devotee of colonic irrigation. A feng-shui consultant hired by the labor government to improve housing estates gave the invaluable lesson that red and orange flowers would reduce crime, "...and introducing a water feature would reduce poverty." Teachers have noticed that students cite "The X-Files" as a factual source; reminded that it was fiction, they counter that it was _based_ on fact. Wheen knows that the Enlightenment ideals are not perfect. Science only gives partial truths and must always be checked for its own prejudices or adherence to tradition. But it gives a lot better answers than are being dished out by his targets here. Wheen's book is hilarious, but it is the hilarity of a thoughtful man indignantly enjoying the foolishness of his fellows, and enjoying bursting them for the benefit of an audience. Let us hope that the audience is a huge one.
41 internautes sur 48 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
"The sleep of reason brings forth monsters" 20 septembre 2004
Par Dennis Littrell - Publié sur
Format: Relié
I've read a number of books* exposing quackery, fake science, business and political fraud, deluded celebrities, lying politicians, the gullible and superstitious public, and the like, and I've enjoyed almost all of them. What sets this book by Francis Wheen, who is a columnist for the London Guardian, apart from the others is the literary quality of his writing and his sharp cultural insight. Wheen knows how to turn a phrase, he knows how to be expressive in an effective manner and he knows how to delight the reader with exactly the right barb delivered at exactly the right target with panache and style. For example:

Commenting on a satire of self-help books (especially Deepak Chopra's) by comic writers Christopher Buckley and John Tierney ("If God phones, take the call"; "Money is God's way of saying 'Thanks'!"), Wheen observes that their satires "serve only to confirm that the genre is beyond parody..." He goes on to say that their second satirical law, "God loves the poor, but that doesn't mean He wants you to fly coach" is not more "hilariously absurd" than Chopra's "People with wealth consciousness settle only for the best. This is also called the principle of highest first. Go first-class all the way and the universe will respond by giving you the best." (p. 47)

Reacting to "post-modern anti-scientific relativism," Wheen apprehends that "For those who regard rationality itself as a form of oppression...there is no reason why scientific theories and hypotheses should be 'privileged' over alternative interpretations of reality such as religion or astrology." (p. 98) Later he refers to "the enfeebling legacy of post-modernism--a paralysis of reason, a refusal to observe any qualitative difference between reasonable hypotheses and swirling hogwash." (p. 111) This is similar to Bertrand Russell's observation, "Science is at no moment quite right, but it is seldom quite wrong, and has, as a rule, a better chance of being right than the theories of the unscientific" (as quoted on page 98).

If only this truth could be more universally realized!

On the newfangled terminology of the creationists, Wheen notes that they have "adopted a more scientific-sounding phraseology--'abrupt appearance theory,' 'intelligent-design theory'--to disguise the fact that their only textbook was the Old Testament." (p. 100)

Incidentally the quote in my subject line ("The sleep of reason brings forth monsters") is from page seven where Wheen identifies the monsters as both "manifestly sinister" (try Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Osama Bin Laden and other fundamentalists) and "merely comical" (e.g., Nancy and Ronald Reagan and their reliance on astrology). By the way, I lump Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Osama Bin Laden together because of this pronouncement from the TV evangelists just two days after 9/11: "What we saw on Tuesday, as terrible as it is, could be minuscule if, in fact, God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve." So spoke Rev. Falwell. He attributed the mass murders to God's wrath at "the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians...the ACLU, People for the American Way, all...who try to secularize America." Rev. Robertson responded with a forthright, "I totally concur." (p. 177, and widely reported in the media).

Wheen's point is that as rationality goes out the window--and there is increasing evidence, a lot of it presented here, that much of the world has indeed abandoned reason in favor of unreason and religious superstition--monstrous ideas and personages come flying in. It is ironic in an almost cosmic sense that in the modern world, a world equipped with the stupendous tools of science and technology, most people still follow Bronze Age gods and think like the uneducated followers of warlords and tribal chieftains.

A nice way to sum up Wheen's thesis is this quote from Salman Rushdie: "In one pan of the scales we now have General Relativity, the Hubble Telescope and all the imperfect but painstakingly accumulated learning of the human race, and, in the other, the Book of Genesis." (p. 101)

Needless to say this book will not sit well with a lot of people. Wheen not only slaughters sacred cows, but attacks the bozos on both sides of the political aisle. His critique of idiocy in the Bush and Blair administrations (in addition to his frequent recall of the voodoo delusions of Maggie Thatcher and Ronnie Reagan) is to be expected of course, but his devastating devaluation of Bill Clinton comes as something of a surprise. Here he is on the man who would redefine the meaning of "is": "...a man of no discernible moral scruples who in 1992 interrupted his primary campaign and hastened back to Arkansas to execute a brain-damaged black man, Rickey Ray Rector, solely to forestall any suspicion that he was soft." (p. 191)

Add this to the delight that Wheen takes in going after beloved cultural icons like Princess Diana and one sees why some reviewers do not like this book. Ignore them. True, Wheen wanders about in idiot land indiscriminately at times, and indeed has pasted together his anti-enthusiasms in places like a patchwork quilt; but his keen lambasting of the spouters of what Bob Dylan called "the idiot wind" is well worth the price. Bottom line: this book is a lot of fun to read.

20 internautes sur 23 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Shooting fish in a barrell... 30 juillet 2004
Par - Publié sur
Format: Relié
...can actually be harder than it looks. Welcome to Francis Wheen, amusing columnist for the eminently sensible Guardian. Wheen's last book was a surprisingly informative and sympathetic biography of Karl Marx. Now he devotes his attention to the many idiocies that curse our modern life. He starts off with the coincidence that Margaret Thatcher and the Ayatollah Khomeini both came to power in 1979. We then get a discussion of the complacency and foolishness of the Reagan years. We get into a discussion of the fatuity of self-help gurus, advice manuals and ilk like Deepak Chopra. We then look at foolish realist intellectuals, with Francis Fukuyama and Samuel Huntington taking pride of place. Then we go into the foolishness of postmodernism, which then segues into the surge of creationism, and how it is indulged by Gore, Bush II and Blair. Then we learn about other assorted New Age crackpottery, and we see Wheen worry about belief in UFOs, the popularlity of the X-Files, and how Reagan and the Clintons have met astrologers. There is a discussion of blowback from the CIA, then Wheen defends the Enlightenment from Postmodernists and the Frankfurt School, which then merges into a discussion of how Wheen disliked the hysteria over the death of Princess Diana. Then we get a caustic look at the cult of globalization, a return of the fatuity of the last economic boom, and finally criticism of those leftists who opposed the war against Afghanistan.

Well looking over this summary, there are no shortage of worthy targets. And Wheen occasionally provides some useful details to go along with his disgust. For example during the eighties people earning over $500,000 dropped their charitable givings by 65%. We learn about Thatcherite heroes of the Free Market who ended up in jail. We see Martin Walker give the "Alien Autopsy" Hoax a ridiculously free pass. We learn that Enron was criticized by both Amnesty International and the IMF for the same dubious Indian plant. On the other hand, much of this will not be new or insightful to anyone who has a good memory. And the book is as scattershot and ill organized as my summary implies. There is also a certain polemical desparation to the book. I was never terribly interested in Princess Diana, and I was always inclined to think that most of her marital problems were self-inflicted. But there is little point in sneering at her appearance, which is presumably Wheen's point when he compares her to a Bulgarian airline hostess. And praising himself and Dissent magazine for being among a brave minority of pro-war supporters does not quite read the same after Tony Blair's decision to invade Iraq.

There are other problems as well. Against Deepak Chopra, Wheen is suitably vitriolic. Against Alistair McIntyre or "The Dialectic of Enlightenment," he is out of his depth. (Saying that Nietzsche was really a Romantic figure, not an Enlightenment one, is of questionable accuracy for a start.) And while Francis Fukuyama is a clearly less a serious thinker than a cunning opportunist in the right time and the right place, it is of importance whether his statement that liberal democracy is the last stage of human civilization is falsified in years, decades, or centuries. Wheen doesn't get this. He criticizes "The X-Files" for always supporting the supernatural solution, but that is sort of like criticizing H.P. Lovecraft for not being Agatha Christie. And, really, how many articles have there been about Derrida and Foucault in the American media since 1991 that did not sneer and spit at the mention of their names, AND preen itself on its courage in criticizing them? Wheen's account is different for using Terry Eagleton and Barbara Ehrenreich to support his criticisms and this is useful as far as it goes.

There is a certain lack of depth in this account. (The uncritical praise of Mencken is not a good sign.) So what that a solitary academic has wrote a book that is indulgent about alien abduction claims? To believe in creationism means rejecting not merely biology, but also geology and many other modern sciences as well. Belief in alien abduction implies the Earth faces the gravest and most serious threat in its history, and so does belief in the final days. Yet there is a patent disconnect between the indulgence of superstition and foolishness and how Americans and Britons actually act. Modern science is well funded and its dominion is not seriously challenged. People go about day to day notwithstanding their waiting for the rapture. That people look at a horoscope instead of flipping a coin is not the end of the world. This disconnect is disturbing and should not be viewed complacently, but the problem is larger, and more subtle than Wheen presents it.
22 internautes sur 27 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
No Proof in IDIOT PROOF 16 juin 2004
Par Steve Koss - Publié sur
Format: Relié
The dust jacket depicts cartoonish figures of Princess Diana, Deepak Chopra, Noam Chomsky, Hillary Clinton, Pat Buchanan, and Ayatollah Khomeini, accompanied by carnival-print phrases like "Deluded Celebrities" and "Media Morons." The back cover offers a testimonial that IDIOT PROOF is a companion to Michael Moore's STUPID WHITE MEN. Whatever this book is, it decidedly does not belong with anything by Michael Moore. Furthermore, the contents of this book are rather substantially different than the expose-style cover would suggest. Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher, and Francis Fukuyama, and Alan Sokal occupy far more of this book's content than Hillary Clinton and Pat Buchanan. The latter have clearly and misleadingly been pasted onto the cover to attract American buyers. Then again, how many Americans would buy this book if its cover was plastered with head shots of Diana, Tony, and Margaret surrounded by Immanuel Kant, Jacques Derrida, Noam Chomsky, Tom Friedman, and Jacques Lacan?
IDIOT PROOF is an extraordinarily difficult book to categorize, in part because it feels like it was written by an ADHD sufferer. The book skips wildly from philosophy to economics to pop culture to globalization to Marxism to Islamic fundamentalism to the bubble to the sins of left-wing liberalism and the IMF to Enron. In the end, it is difficult to know who the idiots are and what their delusions are, since the only common thread seems to arise out of a specious argument that Margaret Thatcher led a revolt against the rational principles of the Age of Enlightment. So Americans can apparently blame Dame Maggie for everything from irrational exuberance to Paris Hilton, from aromatherapy to UFO sightings at Area 51.
Following an opening discourse on Immanuel Kant, Chapter 1 traces the new Victorianism of Margaret Thatcher's ministry. The next chapter deals with the inflated importance of gurus from Tom Peters, Stephen Covey and Deepak Chopra to Anthony Robbins, John Gray, and Jeffrey Robbins, a subject that seems consistent with the book's title and cover depictions.
The next chapter jumps to a bizarre discourse on Francis Fukuyama and Samuel Huntington, followed by a chapter on structuralism, deconstructionism and the post-modernist critics from Derrida to Lacan to Stanley Fish, wrapped up with a riff on creationism in Kansas.
Chapter 5 gets seemingly back on point with an amusing discussion of popular delusions and quackery, ranging from Nostradamus to homeopathy to UFO's and the Book of Revelation. Much of the remainder of the book wanders through religious fundamentalism, the military-industrial complex, Al Gore's tobacco farm, Lady Diana worship,Thomas Friedman, the East India Company, the World Bank, Enron, Islamic fundamentalism, and finally to Pol Pot and Noam Chomsky. The wrap-up says it all -- those who reject rationalism and the Enlightenment live in darkness and threaten to take the rest of us with them.
Individual chapters in IDIOT PROOF are generally interesting in themselves, but the whole is less than the sum of its parts. In the end, this book lacks a strong enough connecting thread to tie together such wildly disparate topics and their odd juxtapositions. It hardly seems necessary to use 287 pages to make the point that rationalism is more rational than religious fundamentalism and New Age mumbo-jumbo, and in the end, there appears to little notion as to what to do about it. The author offers little hope, and the dust jacket lamely suggests that "we might just think a little more and believe a little less." Yeah, I guess that pretty well solves the problem, doesn't it?
IDIOT PROOF is less than its cover suggests, but also more than the puffery displayed in the cover design. Buy this book for its depth of thought on some complex intellectual topics and its deft puncturing of cults, spiritualism, self-help, and a host of left-wing shibboleths. But don't buy this book as a trashing of pop culture, and definitely don't buy it as a companion piece to Michael Moore.
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