If the title of Marty Beckerman’s latest book doesn’t clue you in on where he’s coming from, he erases any doubt with the first sentence. “Opinions are like genitals: if you force others to swallow yours, something is seriously wrong with you.”
Since Dumbocracy: Adventures with the Loony Left, the Rabid Right, and Other American Idiots lays out plenty of opinions, Beckerman may well be saying there’s also something seriously wrong with him. To describe the book as snarky would be an understatement. A self-described “professional asshole,” Beckerman’s tone brings to mind more war-oriented phrases, like search and destroy or scorched earth policy. All this, of course, with a heavy dose of sardonic humor.
Beckerman’s attack isn’t on the mainstream. The people and organizations most often in his sights are the true believers, the hard core on both the left and right, the extremists. In search and destroy mode, Dumbocracy explores how dyed-in-the-wool believers see only black and white and then pinpoints facts and statistics showing the fallacies and dangers of many absolutist positions. Beckerman’s detailed marshaling of facts — the book contains more than 800 endnotes documenting the sources of his factual statements — helps justify his tone.
The 25-year-old Beckerman is an equal opportunity insurrectionist, blasting away at both left and right. For example, President Bush is invariably called “King Retard” while former President Clinton is “President Blow Job.” And Beckerman is apparently as audacious in person. When he overhears former Education Secretary William Bennett, who lost millions gambling in Las Vegas, say he is rooting for a particular college basketball team in an upcoming game, Beckerman asks Bennett if he wants to bet on it. That’s just the tip of his scorched earth approach, which permeates both his empirical and satirical attacks.
Beckerman’s point is that following true believers can lead to truly inane and asinine positions and laws, moving us from a democracy into the titular dumbocracy. He contends we are better off finding and following a rational middle ground and that while the vocal extreme tends to dominate political discourse, they do not represent what most of us think and believe.
Just as war is graphically brutal, some may take offense at some of Beckerman’s humor. It is often explicit and can border on raunchy. At times it moves the book from satirical to bawdy, perhaps undercutting the points he’s making. Yet it is part and parcel of the overall tone and the book’s take on the U.S. becoming “Prohibition Nation.”
Dumbocracy also suffers from a feeling that the three sections into which it is divided are parts of three different books (although the acknowledgments suggest why). The first section is aimed at outlining and attacking the unreasonableness of those who seem to see the world and current political hot buttons in black and white terms. The second examines what Beckerman considers the puritanism of American culture. In assessing national debates on pornography, marijuana, alcohol, cigarettes and fast food, Dumbocracy displays a palpable Libertarian bent. Finally, although the title refers to “American Idiots,” the third section is largely devoted to Beckerman’s travels in Israel during and after a July 2007 “Global Summit for Young Jewish Innovators.” In fact, throughout the book Beckerman cites laws and events in other countries to illustrate how extremist positions impact reason.
Dumbocracy may not place Beckerman in the upper tier of today’s political satirists but he certainly is another trenchant voice for the politically disaffected.
I’m proud that I don’t give a shit about politics, because people who do give a shit cause ninety-nine percent of the world’s problems.
Marty Beckerman, Dumbocracy