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One of the live oaks that bless my home

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Who likes to think?

I still cannot get over the interview Mr. Tom Vilsack, the secretary of corn-ethanol agriculture, gave to the Economist.  The stunned reporter observed that Mr. Vilsack's pandering defense of agricultural subsidies was so thoroughly bereft of substance that he began to fear that Mr. Vilsack would be sucked into the vacuum of his mouth and disappear.

I think that Mr. Vilsack has calculated that thinking is an activity foreign to most Americans, and internationally as well. Is Mr. Vilsack correct in his cold political calculation?  I doubt if I know the true answer to this question.

When I talk to the numerous Polish immigrants of my generation, who really should know better, I often cannot believe my ears. How they mindlessly repeat the assorted talking points-of-the-day that were drilled into their heads by the various roaring heads on a TV channel they watch, a talk radio station they listen to, and an internet "source" they scan for a confirmation of their prior beliefs.  I doubt if they ever watch two TV channels and so on, not that it would make much difference in the U.S. these days.

You would think that hardly anyone ever listens to NPR or watches PBS, the last two vestiges of civilization here. The Huns, Vandals and Visigoths, whom we just elected, are about to shut both down, so that the good people here may never have "thoughts" again.  But you would be mistaken in your estimate: 27 million people like you and I listen to NPR daily, more than to any other media outlet in the U.S.  This is why the Vandals want to dispose of it. The same Vandals have nothing against the annual multi-billion dollar subsidies to corporations that deal in corn and ethanol.  Which brings us back to Mr. Vilsack.

Thoughts are dangerous.  I should know. "We are healthy only to the extent our ideas are humane," said Kilgore Trout, and this statement became his epitaph. So what happens when we have no ideas of our own?

I also wonder how much people really read these days?  Not scan in a hurry, but read to digest, check, and ask their own questions.  In the hurried shouting I hear so often there are many proclamations of faith in this or that, but only a few questions are ever asked. What happens when we no longer ask questions?

Here my favorite writer, Kurt Vonnegut, again comes to help.  In Chapter 15 of his Cat's Cradle , Vonnegut describes a visit of the book's narrator to GE's Research Center, where the late Dr. Hoennikker, a physics genius patterned after Langmuir, worked.  On the way to his office the Center Director, Dr. Breed, meets a secretary, Ms. Francine Pefko,  and starts talking to her, while the narrator (a journalist) listens: "You scientists think too much....You all think too much," the secretary blurts out.  Then the narrator sees:
"A winded defeated-looking fat woman in filthy coveralls that trudged beside us, hearing what Miss Pefko said.  She turned to examine Dr. Breed, looking at him with helpless reproach.  She hated people who thought too much.  At that moment she struck me as an appropriate representative of almost all mankind."
Was this what Mr. Vilsack concluded about us?

1 comment:

  1. I was often told, when I was high school math teacher, that I was "too analytical." Too analytical to teach math, eh? This is a huge problem in the US, as you know. Sadly inadequate elementary and secondary education for the majority of citizens, and it is only going to get worse.