Tuesday, March 30, 2004
Modernism v. Post-

Bill Whittle has posted his latest in a series on metaphorical maps, and he makes some fantastic observations:

Intellectualism, as it is practiced today, is a trap.

It is not a palatial hall of great minds looking for answers and then testing them in the real world; it is a basement in your parents house filled with lazy and filthy hippies eating your leftovers and drinking the last of your milk. Intellectualism is certainly not the same as intelligence, and more and more, it is becoming antithetical to intelligence. When well-off people who call themselves intellectuals drive their SUV's to march in support of Marxism, you can see the chasm between intellectualism and intelligence in full flower. When elitists who fancy themselves brighter and more compassionate than the rest of us choose to support the Taliban, with its stoning of women and execution of homosexuals in football stadiums before mandatory audiences, over a representative democracy with unparalleled structural protections of minorities and freedoms of expression; then self-styled intellectuals have abandoned intelligence altogether, as well as morality, reason, compassion and indeed sanity.

Likewise, when coffee-house intellectuals dictate their worldview according to non-existent pipelines or supposed theft of oil revenues where no evidence of such theft can be produced but deposits into Iraqi national accounts can, then one has to ask one's self if this intellectual badge is worth the mud it's printed on.
His entire point is that, as he puts it in his extended metaphor, we need to get out of the bilge water of intellectual squabbling, go up on deck, and look around to find out what's really going on.

Earlier in the chapter, he mentions the danger of reliance upon authority [emphasis in original]:
How many students today believe what they believe because they met someone who knew a guy whose girlfriend turned him on to an article by Noam Chomsky? Noam Chomsky predicted, in his even, intellectual, authoritarian, tenured manner, that if the US went to war in Afghanistan after 9/11 the result would be 3 million Afghan casualties. How many of these students who worship St. Noam independently ask themselves why he has, to date, come up 2,999,500 bodies short? Noam is not wrong by a fact of one or two; Noam is not wrong by an order of magnitude. Noam is not wrong by a factor of a hundred to one. Noam is wrong by more than three orders of magnitude. Noam is wrong by a factor of 6,000 to one. Noam says the reef is ten feet off the port bow; when in fact it is more than three miles away. That?s six thousand to one. Noam says the ocean is six thousand feet deep when in fact the keel has been ripped out and is sitting on the sandbar back yonder: that's a 6,000-to-one error. Extrapolating this accuracy rate, if Noam writes 6,000 pages on the evil of the United States, how many pages of truth might there be in such a twenty-volume set?

Does this mean that everything Noam Chomsky writes is nonsense? Not at all. He is a professor of Linguistics. I am not qualified to say how accurate the work in his field of expertise is. I can however make a stab at how accurate he is in the field of US foreign policy, and if you have a handheld calculator at home, you can make the same comparison and achieve the same results.
Whittle is really arguing (it seems to me) for a kind of modernism in the face of post-modernism. For intelligence in the face of intellectualism (as he puts it). He is outlining the dangers of post-modern thinking, the traps to which it leads, and arguing that it needs to be exchanged, post-haste, for something more in touch with reality.

I'm inclined to agree. There are aspects of post-modernist thinking that I like - the acknowledgement that science cannot see all, the notion that there may be something outside what we can touch and feel - but there are parts that I find greatly disturbing. The idea that the terms 'right' and 'wrong' have no place in today's culture is an example of a very post-modern thought. The idea that 'whatever works for you is good' is frightening in its implications. For all the progress made, we seem to have regressed again, even further back from where we started.

Whittle ends with a call for action that sums up the arguement nicely [emphasis in original]:
Socialist intellectuals will tell you that Cuba is a model nation: universal free health care, near total literacy, and essentially no gap whatsoever between the rich and the poor. They call it an island paradise where brotherhood and compassion reign in stark contrast to the brutal inequalities of the heartless and racist capitalist monster to the North, ruled by it's Imperial Nazi King, who is the devious mastermind of all manner of Conspiratorial Wheels and also a moron.

Capitalist intellectuals - and there are not many, since most of these people have jobs - argue that Cuba is a squalid, corrupt, poverty-ridden basket case, a land of oppression and secret police and torture chambers run by a megalomaniac who practices the most idiotic, inhuman and degrading economic system ever invented.

So here we sit in the chartroom, with our competing maps. What to think?

Well, we can agree that the act of giving up your home, your friends and your family must be traumatic, especially since you will face prison, or worse, if you are caught trying to vote with your feet. And I think all can agree that placing your infant daughter and your aged mother on a raft of inner tubes would be a trifle more traumatic and horrifying than not getting enough whole cane sugar in your grande frappucino at Starbucks.

So, is Socialism a better way to live, or is Capitalism? Leave the armies of experts and intellectuals down in the bilge where they belong.

Go up on deck, get out the telescope, and answer one simple question for me and for yourself:

Which way are the rafts headed?
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A webjournal of ideas, comments, and various other miscellany from a Texan university student (with occasional input from his family) living in Toronto, Ontario. Can you say "culture shock?"

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