Minutiae
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"Chuck Norris doesn't read books; he stares them down until he gets the information he wants out of them."
- ChuckNorrisFactsdotcom

Wednesday, October 27, 2004
Well the good ole alma mater has gone and redeemed about 90% of the junkmail they send me. Today I got a publication about their annual scholars retreat. Each year they send a dozen folks off to write for a week. Doesn't really matter what they write, biology articles, fiction, whatever. It's a chance to unplug and focus and hang with peers. I like the idea. I basically took a sabbatical this summer. (Though I haven't been doing this long enough to get "seven year itch.") I think it's absolutely necessary to completely disconnect and reboot once in a while.

One of the articles (by Brian Fogarty, a sociology prof) contained this passage:
"But while liberal learning avoids agreement on what things mean, it requires consensus on how things mean. While we want students to find their own interpretations of the wisdom of the arts and sciences, we must at the same time agree on the right and wrong ways to seek those interpretations. Without such consensus - that is, without some common ideas about how to determine what's true, or good, or beautiful - we become a quarreling Babel, unable to converse and contemptuous of one another's views. Independence of thought without consensus on how to think actually makes us more susceptible to persuasion and propaganda, since we have no basis for rejecting anyone's claims.

This is where the Germans went astray: they so valued consensus on knowledge that they abandoned the idea of reasoned dispute and criticism. People either "believed in" an idea or rejected it, and their choices were influenced more by heroic leaps of inspiration than by critical and self-critical thought. The consequence was the adoption of all sorts of charlatanism: theories of "animal magnetism," miracle cures, insipid art and poetry, bizarre theology and, of course, the most outlandish racial theories to explain everything from economics to landscape design. In short, people took to believing things that seemed like they ought to be true, or that persuasive speakers said were true. Foreigners, leftists, Jews and others were ignored, then harassed, then jailed, not because their methods were flawed but because of who they were or what they concluded. Thinkers and artists like Einstein, Weill, Gropius and many others left Germany in droves. Many were not so lucky."

I'm reminded of some article I read regarding the public's faith in the media. The article made the point that seeing coverage of a subject that the reader knows quite well tends to be very illuminating regarding the kind and frequency of media errors and sloppiness. Or more simply put, 9/11 and the internet has created a whole new segment of the population that is able to see all the flaws in the major media coverage of any event.

For example, Tom Daschle's reelection is very very important to the democrats. I happen to personally know someone deep on the inside of that campaign. He's been quite discrete about saying anything at all revealing, and I haven't said anything at all about knowing him because I'm pretty fond of him, even if he is working just about the sleaziest job in all of politics. (One step up from burying hookers and I'm not sure it's a whole step from some of what I've heard.) He's had his picture on blogs and been demonized for the job he's doing.

This is an absolutely bizarre perspective. I know dirt on this guy. (We all know dirt on anyone we knew in college.) I know what his room looked like. I saw the evolution of this political life. It's absolutely weird to follow the dirt in that campaign from a national, local, and blog perspective, knowing what I know about the guy following the challenger with a video camera. It's beyond dissonance and approaching newspeak. Language has ceased to mean the same thing to everybody. It's really creeping me out.

If I'm reading about it, you're not being censored. Shut Up. You have the right to say whatever you wish. I have the right to walk away or change the channel. That's called the free marketplace of ideas. Corporations exist to make money. If they decide they don't want people to change the channel and decline to trumpet your line, that's not censorship. That's called free association. The desire to make people listen to what you have to say is not compatible with a free society.

See the deep underlying theme in a lot of this is a
contempt for the masses. Joe Sixpack, middle America, flyover country, call it what you will. There's a curious sense that those people won't reach the correct conclusions on their own. That in fact, any conclusion held by the masses must somehow be wrong. Unthinking conformity in either direction is a bad bad thing. I'm a lot more alarmed by the left's conformity than by the right's, simply because we've quite thoroughly explored the perils of the right-wing over the last decade in all of popular culture. So far the left gets it from South Park and blogs. The right thinks that much of the country are hedonistic heathens headed straight to hell. Not news. What does the left think? They think that much of the country are hateful stupid hitler-esque hicks. One side views the other as sinners eroding the moral fiber of the country. The other side sees the other as a malignant malicious threat to them personally.

This is what happens when you venerate the counter-culture. It's all well and good to deconstruct things but can you actually formulate a plan and create something new? I don't see alternatives, I see bitching.

posted by Rachel 10/27/2004
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