Author: James Polk, Ph.D
American scholar James Polk and author of Pathologies of Public America: The Triumph of Ignorance and Bliss draws heavily on his vast amount of research to build a strong argument that Americans are more interested in their materialistic possessions as cell phones, videogames, computers, and pop stars than thinking and doing something about the conservative-corporate power apparatus that stymies dissent, hinders as much as possible potential counteraction, and destroys the public sphere.
In addition, as he points out, there is a loss of global perspectives which causes us to have a closed system of reference and interpretation that for the most part is based on short media sound bites that do a great job of twisting reality with the objective of stifling critique and silencing potential opposition.
When I interviewed Polk I asked him who would benefit from his book and his short reply was that “the word ‘benefit’ causes me to choke, I have to say because of its utilitarian undertones. My purpose in writing the book was to provoke, or to paraphrase Kant, to wake people up from their dogmatic slumber of ignorance and bliss.”
Polk’s portrait of America that, although at times can be described as somewhat cynical, is nonetheless riveting as he presents microscopic examinations of such topics as suburbia, where he contends that living in the suburbs is not really the path towards gratification, but rather a delusion. Unfortunately, as Polk notes, America is to a great extent shaped and defined by those who have clung to a dream that has become a never-ending path to nowhere.
The next stop on Polk’s excursion is his analysis of the Starbuck phenomenon, where he provides us with an interesting recap of the evolution of the coffeehouse and he compares and contrasts its original purpose and functionality with our present day version. However, as we learn, today’s coffeehouse, as exemplified in a Starbucks, is a trend that has only succeeded due to some slick marketing. Unlike the coffeehouses of Europe, you would be hard pressed to find in a Starbucks the same clientèle who frequented these European establishments such as the writers, poets, artists, politicians, refugees and public intellectuals, where human interaction, meaningful discussion and debate were the norm rather than the exception. According to Polk, today’s Starbucks experience is basically a reflection of a society in which curiosity has died.
Polk does not leave out religion and goes on to deliver a scathing indictment of evangelical Christianity which he paints as a system of morals in its received form that currently is bankrupt for it falls short in providing a moral codex of conduct that would, or could, allow humans to live peacefully with one another and in benevolent harmony, with other forms of life in their natural environment.
Moreover, Polk refers to evangelical Christianity as “America’s own Taliban” and although the big- name evangelists of the revival era have come and gone, these have been replaced with TV evangelists as James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Tony Perkins and Pat Robertson. What is noteworthy today, as he declares, is the expanded scope of religious opposition to such issues as abortion, embryonic stem cell research, genetic engineering and gay rights.
And not to be omitted are Polk’s examination of questionable and greedy behavior patterns of American business enterprises that are more interested in the bottom line rather than the health and safety of their employees or the consumers that purchase their products and services. It is here where we visit the dirty secrets of some of America’s car manufacturers that have been examined through countless writings in the past.
As for the state of American politics and politicians, Polk reminds us that we must not forget about the lunacy where a sitting president is impeached by the lower house of congress because of allegedly perjurious testimony about a sex affair in the White House, but the most flagrant acts of violence against the entire planet carried out by the administration is swept under the rug.
Even more disturbing is the lack of opposition when a president comes to power in a way similar to a coup état as Gore Vidal so aptly described it. It seems, as Polk states, Americans are more interested in J. Lo’s new hair cut than who is running government and why. And lets not forget the GOP or as Polk cleverly terms it “God’s Own People,” as he dissects some of the more contentious events of the Regan years, the Clinton-Gore administration and finally with George W. Bush’s presidency. The final stop of the journey is a discussion of the evil of banality, corporate greed and George W. Bush.
Polk’s book can be at times ponderous to read and he has a tendency to veer off the track with extensive references to past events, however, his arguments are sound and convincing. Furthermore, he has done some rigorous research and this is in evidence with the reams of footnotes that appear at the end of every chapter.
When I mentioned to Polk during our interview that he wasn’t afraid to step on anyone’s toes, his retort was, “I wish I could have stepped on more than toes, or to paraphrase Brecht, outrage at injustice harshens speech, but those in power are less secure because of me I hope.”
This is an important and fascinating book written with a strong message.
Will it wake up enough people to act- let us hope so, although I have no doubt that in view of the many hornet nests Polk has opened up, he may be in for a rough ride.
The above review was contrbuted by: NORM GOLDMAN: Retired Title Attorney: Editor & Publisher of Bookpleasures. Here are Norm Goldman's Reviews
To read Norm's Interview With James Polk CLICK HERE