Neo-Luddite Quasi-Mandarins

by Henry Farrell on June 21, 2007

I’d started to write a short post responding to the first of Michael Gorman’s “essays”: on the _Encyclopedia Britannica_ blog about the Eclipse of Reason in the Age of the Internet, but given up. However enjoyable the shoddiness of Gorman’s reasoning and grotesque luxuriance of his metaphors (the new digital barbarians are associated in succession with creationists, global warming deniers, Maoists, hive mind wannabes, dirty Haight-Ashbury hippies, and some sinister Borg-like collective), it was hard to get into it with a piece of which nearly a quarter was an extended rejoinder to our old friend, Some Dude in a Comments Section Somewhere. Thankfully, Scott has “taken up”: the grim task of responding from his berth at _Inside Higher Ed_. This bit towards the end seems to sum it up nicely:

The tone of Gorman’s remedial lecture implies that educators now devote the better part of their day to teaching students to shove pencils up their nose while Googling for pornography. … But the idea that new forms of media require training in new kinds of literacy hardly counts as an evasion of the obligation to cultivate critical intelligence. Today the work of acquiring knowledge on a given subject often includes the burden of evaluating digital material…. let’s not pretend that such nostalgia is anything but escapism at best. What really bothers the neo-Luddite quasi-Mandarin is not the rise of digitality, as such. The problem actually comes from “the diminished sacredness of authority,” as Edward Shils once put it, “the reduction in the awe it evokes and in the charisma attributed to it.”

I can see why the _Encyclopedia Britannica_ has an urgent interest in pushing this line, but I don’t understand why the intellectual standards of argument among its appointed critics is so low (and they aren’t an aberration; I understand that they’ve made somewhat of an effort to publicize these pieces and get them talked about). There’s a quite reasonable and serious case to be made about the flaws of Web 2.0 type technologies (I tend meself to think that these flaws are greatly outweighed by the advantages, but I certainly recognize that they exist and can be quite important). However, I’m not aware of anyone, apart from the odd blogger in the odd blogpost who is making that case in a compelling and sophisticated way (I’d be grateful to be pointed towards any counterexamples by commenters).

A Bluffer’s Guide to the Treaty Negotiations

by Henry Farrell on June 21, 2007

As mentioned below, the member states of the EU are starting a new round of negotiations on a replacement for the constitutional treaty that went down in flames thanks to referendum defeats in 2005. Below the break my own doubtless idiosyncratic take as to what is at stake and what is important. [click to continue…]


by John Holbo on June 21, 2007

From school vouchers to stem cell research to racial preferences to torture, the American right bubbles with debate and disagreement, while the left, for all its talk about “diversity,” rarely seems to show any. As National Review’s Jonah Goldberg points out, that may be because “liberals define diversity by skin color and sex, not by ideas, which makes it difficult to have really good arguments.”

This from a Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe op-ed. The thread that runs through these ‘the left doesn’t even know what debate is’ pieces (they pop up every couple months, lo the last several years) is that the authors consistently fail to exhibit any awareness of what debate is. The fact that the Republican base is fragmented and tearing itself apart in various ways is not ‘debate’, per se. Jacoby specifically cites the fact that the Republican party contains both John McCain and Tom “build a wall on the Canadian border” Tancredo as evidence of debate on immigration. I’m supposed to be impressed that the Republicans have a guy who wants to wall off Canada? Not to mention: turning the fact that Republicans can’t agree that torture is wrong into an intellectual virtue is a lame attempt to lipstick the pig. We’re supposed to take the fact that one of the two major parties is addicted to chest-thumping about ticking timebomb scenarios as evidence of its comparative intellectual vibrancy? Why? [click to continue…]