Links for 12/11/20
Confronting modernity means overcoming humanism (Palladium, 2020) Why don’t people trust institutions? Why do experts seem so often to get things wrong? Why does society seem so complex? If Robert Kegan’s In Over our Heads describes the problems of modern society from the perspective of individual psychology, and Jeffrey Friedman’s Power without Knowledge: A Critique of Technocracy describes the problem from the perspective of institutions and governance, then this essay takes the 400-year view and looks at the problem from the perspective of humanist and Enlightenment philosophy.
How to think for yourself (Paul Graham, 2020)
Naval Academy English professor sends shirtless pics; offends women, minorities (The Washingtonian, 2020) I never took one of his classes and was always ambivalent about his antics. But on net, I think I’m glad he exists.
Farm-to-table is a Farce! (Tampa Bay Times, 2016)
Programmer and creator of the encryption software on which TrueCrypt was based becomes international drug smuggler, arms dealer, and all-around criminal king-pin (Atavist, 2016) The Wikipedia article is crazy too.
Why do Millennials keep painting everything in their house white and gray? (Hyperallergic, 2020) Pretentious, but I’ve been trying to solve this mystery for a while now. Good to see someone else getting to the bottom of this madness.
A eulogy for RadioShack, the panicked and half-dead retail empire (SB Nation, 2015) Funny, but maybe pre-mature. I think RadioShack still exists.
What to Make of Rod McKuen? (The Neglected Books Page, 2020) Before my time, but apparently the world’s best-selling poet in the 60s and 70s. Described as “A guy who wrote poetry and then read it in a quiet, gravelly voice ([…] rock critic Greil Marcus once said it had “the force of a squirrel’s”) over a soft musical accompaniment. That was it.” Also, apparently hated by the real poets, who described his oeuvre as: “scraps of maudlin meditation masquerading as emotion deeply felt,” “ersatz anguish, carefully sifted to pablum for easy consumption,” and “lumpish impressions of places and people, flashes of cheap surrealism and clumsy gropings at the numinous.” But I wonder how many records the real poets sold?
Papyrus (Ryan Gosling, Saturday Night Live)
Folgers Coffee Crystals (Christ Farley, Saturday Night Live) From the comments: “The look on his face as if he was just told he's been eating human flesh, the dramatic horror music, his unwarranted and hilariously over-the-top anger, him punching the waiter in the stomach, the chef peeking out from the kitchen and then hitting him over the head with bottles, the pies thrown at the couple, the restaurant descending into chaos all while an Asian couple can be seen quietly eating their food, his wife hysterically pleading for him to stop, his maniacal promises of revenge, that he has to be restrained and repeatedly hit with a frying pan. This entire skit is perfection, and whoever came up with it is a genius.”
Books I’ve recently finished
The Corrections (Jonathan Franzen, 2001) Though hailed shortly after its release as one of the best novels of the 21st Century, this doesn’t seem like the biggest compliment as we’re only 20 years in. I don’t read much fiction these days and sometimes wonder why. I read this because it seems to be Franzen following-up on his 1996 essay “Why Bother?” where he talks at length about why novels don’t matter any more and no one reads them. That article was in turn a response to Thomas Wolfe’s 1989 essay "Stalking the Billion-Footed Beast" on the cowardice of novelists and their retreat from realism. Overall, I liked the book, and the writing is great. But the characters have few redeeming qualities, and his critique of America seemed a little shallow. But maybe I’m the shallow one.
All Things Shining (Hubert Dreyfus): Related to my interest in society becoming too complex for us to manage. I think he accurately diagnoses the problem (nihilism and a lack of meaning in modern life). I’m not sure if he’s right about the cause and the remedy. But still great. And a good survey of Western literature.
Books I’m reading
The three-body problem (Cixin Liu) Popular science-fiction novel by Chinese author. Includes aliens and the Cultural Revolution. Good so far.
Being-in-the-World: A Commentary on Heidegger's Being and Time (Hubert Dreyfus) I’m told that Heidegger is famous for being “the most obscure, voluminous, and anti-intellectual philosopher of all time,” so I won’t bother trying to read the original. This commentary is supposedly the best of the lot, but it is also difficult. No comment at the moment. Interested because I read that Heidegger’s philosophy motivated some critical advances in artificial intelligence research in the 1980s. I’d never heard of Continental philosophy actually doing anything practical. Hubert Dreyfus also wrote What Computers Can’t Do.