Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Simic's Study of Ignorance

While I was basically sympathetic with the jeremiad posted by Charles Simic to NYRBlog yesterday, I would like to take issue with one of his turns of phrase:

It took years of indifference and stupidity to make us as ignorant as we are today.

This seems to presume that the blame for what Simic calls the “Age of Ignorance” can be spread equally across the entire American population.  In the context of Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s theory of a “consciousness industry,” however, I would suggest that pervasive ignorance is the result of a highly calculated effort diligently pursued by those who could appreciate how it would benefit their own self-interests.  That effort began with the rise of consumerism following the Second World War;  and the first boy to cry “wolf,” so to speak, may have been Newton Minnow, when he observed that the domination of advertising over content had turned television into a “vast wasteland.”

What Simic calls “years of indifference and stupidity” may actually be the product of deliberate debilitation of mental capacities brought about by the addictive nature of consumerism that became the most successful product of American industry.  Indeed, it has been through such addiction that Simic’s observation that “deceiving Americans is one of the few growing home industries we still have in this country” emerges as a corollary.  Unfortunately, those running the consciousness industry became so enamored of it that they assumed they could use it to addict the rest of the world, not realizing that most other countries out there had their own consciousness industries better attuned to their respective “customer bases.”  We thus now stand on the brink of being a country that no longer produces anything of value to any other country;  and that is where the “indifference and stupidity” that our own consciousness industry worked so hard to cultivate will turn out to be our undoing.

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