Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Indifference

I have been thinking lately that it may be rational to be indifferent to what other people find important. Perhaps this sounds cynical, but I believe that the ideas in circulation don't necessarily provide a path either to a better understanding of the world or to a better understanding of the self. This view comes partly from the observation that every group in the U.S., from politicians to intellectuals, is generally a failure at proposing and advancing ideas that would be beneficial to mankind. It also relates to the fact that when I was growing up I assumed, incorrectly it turns out, that the world was orderly, and that adults have everything figured out. They don't. If you look into it, you will find that your parents, grandparents and great grandparents didn't. Basically, everyone was winging it, and they still are. You are.

If you look closely at the major opinion leaders in society, they generally don't know what they're talking about. Did Barack Obama have the slightest idea what he was doing when he ran for president? I don't think so. Do Paul Ryan or Rand Paul have a deeper understanding of the world than you do? No. Extend this thought out to people who are supposed to be smart. In reality, they're not much better.

Let's take Paul Krugman, the economist, as an example. Economists play a significant role in the formation of government policy. Krugman is an intelligent, well-educated person. However, even if he is right about certain aspects of economic thinking, such as using the government to provide economic stimulus when the economy is very weak (which, by the way, is a no-brainer), he doesn't understand the ways in which capitalism is inherently a destructive force that is designed to create winners and losers, such that the more capitalism succeeds, the more wealth inequality there will be. Furthermore, he has no objections to consumerism, which I happen to consider one of the banes of mankind.

Another group of intellectuals consists of the literary types. Unfortunately, after observing them for more than 20 years, I've concluded that they have nothing to offer. When was the last time you read an American novel or poem that provided you with a better understanding of how people, individually or collectively, might live better lives? I would sum up by saying that fiction and poetry are written primarily for entertainment. It's obvious in the case of bestsellers, but I don't think literary fiction or poetry are fundamentally different. They are simply written for a subset of the consumer market that consists mainly of upper-middle-class people who seek to differentiate themselves by purchasing upscale products. I see no evidence that this group is truly aesthetically discerning, and they're just being duped into buying upscale name brands - the Armanis of fiction. The writers who cater to them are carefully disguised hacks.

My most recent foray has been into the world of science and philosophy. One would think that, with an emphasis on objectivity and clarity, this group would be better than all the others.  I haven't given up on them yet, but I've noticed a few problems. After a brief exposure, it appears that scientists tend to be either small thinkers who like accurate measurements and have a weak understanding of humanity, or big thinkers who get carried away with their own visions and become futurologists. Unsurprisingly, some futurologists foresee a future with new products in which they have a stake. Somewhere in the mix there are the philosophers, but there isn't such a thing as a philosopher any more. Philosophy is now an obscure academic subject that is of no interest to anyone, though a few academic philosophers like to pose as wise men - without actually gaining public credibility.

The conclusion that I draw from these observations is that I am better off ignoring most of what goes on in the world.  If there is something that I find interesting, I will pursue it. Beyond that, the world will go on in its merry way, regardless of what I think.

2 comments:

  1. I'd say that fiction and poetry are written exclusively for entertainment and that there's no shame in that. Furthermore, I'd be sure to give any entertainment that was "beneficial to mankind" (other than as an entertainment, of course) or offered an understanding of how to live a better life a very wide berth!

    I do agree, however, with your assessment of the manufacture and consumption of American literary-fiction product, and for that reason I have more respect for such out-and-out hacks as Dan Brown or James Patterson than I do for many a peddler of the supposedly refined stuff.

    John

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    1. Although, in most instances you're right - fiction and poetry should not be prescriptive - occasionally they can broaden horizons without being too pedagogic. My complaint is with the failure of the intellectual elite to transcend crass economic self-interest. I'm currently working on my next post, in which I propose a basic outline for a positive futuristic novel.

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