Term Paper: American Culture and Sage Institutionalization

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[. . .] The result is a culture of fear and confusion, where, in Foucaultian language, the rarified discourses of power and technical vocabulary, smothers full understanding and debate, and languages obscures rather than illuminates.

Unfortunately, there are no simple answers to the complex solutions that Fischer's analysis provokes. Society is growing increasingly specialized. In the idealized Jeffersonian vision of the republic, for instance, farmers would provide their own food, clothing, and means, and occasionally come to govern for a short time, to keep the meager means of democracy working. Now, ordinary individuals in highly specialized occupations sit upon juries and make decisions about subjects ranging from DNA to insider trading -- and listen to highly paid experts on the stand, as well as on the television after the judicial process has been terminated, pontificate about issues of the moment at a level of discourse experts have been trained for years to interpret and understand.

These same experts are paid hired guns, paid to have biases and present their issues with a slant for their very lives and livelihoods. Even the senators elected to represent the populace do not have full expertise in all the issues they must discuss.

Thus the need for a disinterested public sage. This function should be ideally filled by academics, but the modern crisis over educational funding seems to suggest that academics may be equally biased in their points-of-view, or so inculcated within the community of the university, that they do not fully understand the reference and framework of understanding of the average American. So who will fulfill the function of the sage, if not politicians, the media, academics, or technically literate people whom are uncertain of the full ethical ramifications of much of their research?

In his book Confronting the Experts, Brian Martin offers the point-of-view of six critics, whistle blowers, and victims of the world's political systems, suggesting that it is possible for ordinary individuals, lacking in expertise of the academy or technical data to question both what is often termed 'the conventional wisdom' of the day as well as the calcified advice of experts. Martin's analysis is interesting, because as he hails from another nation, that of Australia, he offers points-of-view and characters that are unfamiliar to many an American eye. However, like Fischer he centers upon scientific examples surrounding the environment and medicine, because they are so crucial to the ways individuals live their daily lives.

One of his most potent and poignant examples is that of a woman named Sharon Beder. On her own, she conducted research on sewage and how it helped to undermine the credibility of the Sydney Water Board. Regardless of one's personal views of fluoridation, Mark Diesendorf's scientific and social critique the process as overly intrusive into one's personal sphere and choice on the part of the government is provocative in its scope, and Edward Herman's exposition of the flaws in the establishment perspective on terrorism is terrifying, in like of recent events. Even Harold Hillman, who questioned of standard methods used in biology, is a reminder that one need not be an expert, much less a philosophical sage, to have a valid opinion. Martin shows how perhaps it is not sages that we need, but that ordinary individuals must take on the responsibility and role of such so-called sages for the American political community.

These individuals chronicled by Martin were not geniuses. Rather they were simply willing to work hard to understand. Again, rather than the need to look to one who knows best, which seems to go contrary to the American political condition, there may be a greater need to take greater public responsibility to comprehend the complex issues of the day. Ordinary farmers, not experts, read the Federalist Papers yet their language often stymies a modern reader.

People become self-educated experts on the Internet in everything from classic television shows to extraterrestrial speculation, but when it comes to issues that can affect the entire country, and nature as a whole, the American nation seems to be falling short. Perhaps ordinary Americans simply must take responsibility to become experts or sages of their own formulation in ways that touch the lives of others, rather than merely their own pleasures of the moment.

Works Cited

Fischer, Frank. Citizens, Experts and the Environment. Durham: Duke University Press, 2000.

Martin, Brian. Confronting the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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