An eloquent recent essay, “Among the Disrupted
” by Leon Wieseltier (pointed to by a Brooks Op-Ed piece
), is worth your attention. It opens with a screed on the how journalism has degenerated into a “twittering cacophony of one-liners and promotional announcements” with its force of expression diminishing as its frequency grows, and how culture is being degraded by “the idolatry of metrics and quantification applied to things that cannot be captured by numbers.“ Below are a few clips...
Here is a core sentiment:
The notion that the nonmaterial dimensions of life must be explained in terms of the material dimensions, and that nonscientific understandings must be translated into scientific understandings if they are to qualify as knowledge, is increasingly popular inside and outside the university, where the humanities are disparaged as soft and impractical and insufficiently new. The contrary insistence that the glories of art and thought are not evolutionary adaptations, or that the mind is not the brain, or that love is not just biology’s bait for sex, now amounts to a kind of heresy. So, too, does the view that the strongest defense of the humanities lies not in the appeal to their utility — that literature majors may find good jobs, that theaters may economically revitalize neighborhoods — but rather in the appeal to their defiantly nonutilitarian character, so that individuals can know more than how things work, and develop their powers of discernment and judgment, their competence in matters of truth and goodness and beauty, to equip themselves adequately for the choices and the crucibles of private and public life.
Actually, I think the sentiments in the above paragraph are misguided (is Wieseltier really a classical vitalist?), but that's possible grist for another post. Continuing....
...the worldview that is ascendant may be described as posthumanism.
…what is humanism?…The most common understanding of humanism is that it denotes a pedagogy and a worldview. ..The worldview takes many forms: a philosophical claim about the centrality of humankind to the universe, and about the irreducibility of the human difference to any aspect of our animality; a methodological claim about the most illuminating way to explain history and human affairs, and about the essential inability of the natural sciences to offer a satisfactory explanation; a moral claim about the priority, and the universal nature, of certain values, not least tolerance and compassion.
Here is a humanist proposition for the age of Google: The processing of information is not the highest aim to which the human spirit can aspire, and neither is competitiveness in a global economy. The character of our society cannot be determined by engineers.
…machines may be more neutral about their uses than the propagandists and the advertisers want us to believe. We can leave aside the ideology of digitality and its aggressions, and regard the devices as simply new means for old ends. Tradition “travels” in many ways. It has already flourished in many technologies — but only when its flourishing has been the objective. I will give an example from the humanities. The day is approaching when the dream of the democratization of knowledge — Borges’s fantasy of “the total library” — will be realized. Soon all the collections in all the libraries and all the archives in the world will be available to everyone with a screen. Who would not welcome such a vast enfranchisement? But universal accessibility is not the end of the story, it is the beginning. The humanistic methods that were practiced before digitalization will be even more urgent after digitalization, because we will need help in navigating the unprecedented welter. Searches for keywords will not provide contexts for keywords. Patterns that are revealed by searches will not identify their own causes and reasons. The new order will not relieve us of the old burdens, and the old pleasures, of erudition and interpretation.
The persistence of humanism through the centuries, in the face of formidable intellectual and social obstacles, has been owed to the truth of its representations of our complexly beating hearts, and to the guidance that it has offered, in its variegated and conflicting versions, for a soulful and sensitive existence…In a society rife with theories and practices that flatten and shrink and chill the human subject, the humanist is the dissenter. Never mind the platforms. Our solemn responsibility is for the substance.
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