Thursday, August 19, 2004

The Decline of Good Reading

A friend directs Viewpoint to a troubling report about the decline of reading in America. Here's an excerpt:

A new report from the National Endowment for the Arts supplies statistics that demonstrate that the number of readers in America is declining. The report is introduced in an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education titled "Literary Reading Is Declining Faster Than Before, Arts Endowment's New Report Says." As the article explains, the report portrays a steep decline in "literary reading" (described as the reading of any type of fiction, poetry, and plays) over the past two decades; it also describes some reactions to the report's findings.

"Reading at Risk: a Survey of Literary Reading in America" reports data gathered from 17,000 adults across major demographic groups categorized by age, gender, education, income, religion, race, and ethnicity. It addresses what and how much those sampled read, other civic activities in which they participate, factors and trends in literature participation, and includes a summary and conclusions. It comprises a preface and executive summary, five chapters, and appendices.

If this is true it has the potential to be a cultural catastrophe. Immersing oneself in literature is one of the most effective ways to be introduced to the big ideas of religion, politics, philosophy, and even science. It's a great way to learn history. A society which stops reading is much less likely to develop depth in any of these areas of their intellectual life. If we truly are no longer exposing ourselves to the literary heritage handed down to us by former generations we are impoverishing our minds by a kind of intellectual depression which does to a nation culturally what an economic depression does to it financially.

Perhaps the decline in good reading is partly responsible for the superficiality of so many young people who live like intellectual water-striders, gliding across the surface of life, never breaking through to experience the depths below.

Not a few young women, for example, seem interested in little more than shopping, their social life, the celebrities they read about in People magazine, and their romantic interests, not necessarily in that order. The preoccupations of many young men, on the other hand, go no deeper than sports, cars, beer, and sex.

Literature raises us above this brutishness. It sharpens our minds and attunes them to an awareness that there is more to life than merely gratifying impulses and appetites. It enriches us in ways that money and physical satisfactions never can. A man or woman may be economically poor but spiritually and intellectually rich. Such people's lives are noble despite their poverty.

And that is what we're losing, if indeed we are losing our appreciation for literature. We're losing our nobility.

World War IV

Peter Schramm at No Left Turns discusses an interview with two English educated Muslims he saw last night on CNN. Here's what he wrote:

Last night, on CNN's Headline News, I saw a two minute clip on a meeting/demonstration in London put on by British Muslims. The whole thing was generically anti-Western, but the effect became especially powerful when two Muslims were interviewed. Both were intelligent, well-dressed and well-spoken, with educated English accents. Here is the gist of what they said (a near quote): "You Westerners don't understand that your understanding of democracy, freedom, human rights, capitalism, and all those things you hold dear are nothing more than figments of your imagination. There is no freedom, no democracy, no human rights, except in Islam. And we mean this and you will lose. Islam will rule." I was looking into the eyes of an ideologue, of a fanatic, of a tyrant. Such scenes, and such graphic and and clear voices, will be replayed over the next many years, and we should be reminded of not only who they are, and what they stand for, but also of who we are, and why they hate us. It was shocking. More such interviews should be done and shown. I looked for it on CNN's web site, and couldn't find it.

Maybe, if there are more such airings, the West will gradually come to realize that it's in what Norman Podhoretz describes as World War IV, a long struggle to the death with people who are not at all interested in peaceful coexistence. They're interested only in spreading Islam throughout the globe. They will not be content until every person in the world is either a Muslim or dead.

Meanwhile, our news programs cannot escape their fascination with the Scott Peterson murder trial. Come to think of it maybe the Muslims are right. Maybe Western culture isn't worth saving.

Kerry's Non-Response

Senator Kerry has once again delivered himself of a resounding nullity. His speech this morning to a gathering of firefighters was all outrage and no substance. Like a boxer in the ring all by himself, he comes out swinging, but accomplishes nothing.

His speech has been billed as a response to the charges of the Swift Boat vets that he didn't do what he claimed he did in Vietnam, but Kerry's response didn't settle anything. Speaking of the organization airing the ads that challenge his war record, Kerry said, "Of course, this group isn't interested in the truth and they're not telling the truth.

Okay. What reason does the senator give us for not believing the Swift Boat vets?

"But here's what you really need to know about them. They're funded by hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Republican contributor out of Texas. They're a front for the Bush campaign. And the fact that the President won't denounce what they're up to tells you everything you need to know. He wants them to do his dirty work."

In other words:

They're liars because 1) they're funded by a wealthy Republican Texan.

They're liars because 2) they're a front for the Bush campaign.

They're liars because 3) the President won't denounce them.

What does 1) have to do with anything? Does Kerry think that being wealthy or being a Republican negate their credibility? Are Texans not Americans? Why does the source of funding make the Swiftees liars? What is the source of Kerry's funding? Is it not a wealthy Hungarian named George Soros and a wealthy Madagascaran named Teresa Heinz? Does the source of Kerry's funding make him and his supporters liars?

How does Kerry know that 2) is true? Even if it were true that these vets were somehow working for the Bush re-election campaign that would still not be an argument for the falsity of what they allege.

Finally, why should the President denounce an independent group whose allegations he is not in any position to judge? If Kerry wants the President to denounce the Swift Boat ads and charges he should first demonstrate why their accusations are false, and then he should denounce George Soros, Michael Moore and Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, and all the books written by people who support Kerry which rip George Bush. Otherwise, Bush has no reason at all to denounce anything. Why should he do what Kerry himself refuses to do?

Kerry said in his speech to the firefighters, "Of course, the president keeps telling people he would never question my service to our country. Instead, he watches as a Republican-funded attack group does just that."

Perhaps, but under the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law which Kerry supported it is illegal for a candidate or a campaign to interfere with what the "527" groups do. Bush could, if he wished, dissociate himself from the ads, but he cannot order that the ads be pulled.

How can Kerry settle this matter? He can release all of his records, for starters. It would be interesting to see exactly how he was commended for his citations. That would be a beginning, but Kerry refuses to do it. Why?