Thursday, June 16, 2011

Review: More Money than Brains: Why Schools Suck, College is Crap & Idiots Think They're Right, by Laura Penny

Published: April 2010

Finally got around to it: June 2011

Efforts to paint Ignatieff as a tourist, a mere visitor in his own land, play on the idea that intellectuals are always foreigners, outsiders from some theoretical fairyland. We see an even more extreme version of this notion in the Birther conspiracies that allege Obama was not born in America.

The small-town values message—on both sides of the forty-ninth parallel—is clear. Real patriots stay wherever Jesus and their mama’s cooter drop ‘em.


Laura Penny’s second book is a sometimes scathing, often hilarious, and all-too sobering condemnation of the war our society is currently waging against intellectuals—the unknown quantities with breadth to their vocabularies and ambition for change. Targeting the public, private and post-secondary educational systems, as well as the continued perversion of media and the political process, Penny takes aim at the myths employed by the hard right to instil fear and uncertainty in the hearts of the common man. The goal? To train the gullible that someone with a degree to their name and a multi-syllabic approach to communication is not one of them and never will be. They are a threat, left-wing insurgents dedicated to wrestling away all control of life and livelihood for the average man, woman, and 2.5 children per household.

None of this is particularly new—the divide between the left and the right, especially in the American two-party system (because you’re either with us, or your against us!), has been growing to near satirical proportions since Bush Junior’s back-to-back elections and subsequent layers of dumb fuckery. The middle ground in North America has vanished like freshman’s bathing habits. The result of these growing extremes is a volatility that can no longer be contained. With so much vitriol spewing forth without the filter of journalistic integrity, our conversations slip into nonsensical extremes, which we have little hope of reigning in. One only has to look to the still-bleating lips of Sarah Palin and Donald Trump to understand that what people want is not intelligence, but simple, basic commonality. And if they can’t get it on a financial level, they’ll take it through the rote transference of hate-filled ideas that even the most uneducated mind can grasp: “That black guy in Washington's saying something I don’t understand, so it must be bad.”

What Penny does so effectively is to boil the multi-tentacled, stream-of-consciousness vulgarity employed by the loudest mouthpieces of the right to their core arguments. What’s most disturbing is that, more often than not, it comes down to what has been previously mentioned: fear of the unknown, fear of stepping beyond ones borders to see the world as a whole, and fear of anything approaching that most frightening of words—change.

Penny’s writing is vicious. She employs nerd rage with educated restraint, never letting her cynicism or sarcasm overwhelm the studied voice of opposition she presents. Her arguments are definitely biased towards the values of the left, but her methods of attack finds a broader and more prescient footing when they include the occasionally ridiculous need that the left has to swing the pendulum in the other direction, reacting to the spiteful frustrations exhibited by the right with as much grandeur and camera mugging as possible. Case in point: chart the emotional ranges of Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann and see if it’s even possible to find a shred of middle ground between them. Restraint might as well be a four-letter word…

More Money than Brains isn’t a book for someone looking to be swayed one way or the other. It’s a right-brained, left-focussed love letter to the benefits and possibilities of education and the arts, and a call for some sense of humility to return to the political and social media spectrums. Penny has written a down-to-earth call to arms for the return of common sense and cultural diversity to public forums that also happens to be equal parts depressing and hysterical.

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