Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Brain Drain?

I hitched a ride with a vending machine repairman
He said he's been down this road more than twice
He was high on intellectualism
I've never been there, but the brochure looks nice
- Sheryl Crow

In the past years the independent Journals have been tryingly frantically to figure out what is happening to the Intellectuals of the world.
Comment magazine had an article on the death of the New York intelligentsia. While based more on the the specific tradition of the Jewish Intellectuals, they see the vanishing of that movement to lie in its inability to bequeath itself to to any heirs. Instead, they argue, the New York Intellectual movement was taken up by more global interests Leading to the next article...

Now the New Statesman reviews a new book called Where Have All The Intellectuals Gone? The author of Where, Frank Ferudi seems to tilt his lance at the windmills of leftist culture which seem to stress, more and more, the openess of interpretation.

In other words, if we keep acknowledging that the world is too large and contains too many cultures for us to be objective, then what happens to the critical intellectual:

"Once society is considered too complex to be known as a whole, however, the idea of truth yields to both specialism and relativism."

The article then goes on to say that intellectualism, always concerned with truth, is then enslaved under the rigors of utilitarianism:

"With the decline of the critical intellectual, the thinker gives way to the expert, politics yields to technocracy, and culture and education lapse into forms of social therapy. The promotion of ideas plays second fiddle to the provision of services. Art and culture become substitute forms of cohesion, participation and self-esteem in a deeply divided society. Culture is deployed to make us feel good about ourselves, rather than to tackle the causes of those divisions, implying that social exclusion is simply a psychological affair. That to feel bad about ourselves is the first step towards transforming our situation is thus neatly sidestepped. What matters is not the quality of the activity, but whether it gets people off the streets. Extravagant justifications for culture are piously touted: it can cure crime, promote social bonding, pump up self-assurance, even tackle Aids. It helps to heal conflict and create community - a case, ironically, dear to the heart of that bogeyman of the anti-elitists, Matthew Arnold. As Furedi points out, art can indeed have profound social effects; but it rarely does so when its value as art is so airily set aside."

But the actual money shot of the argument is this:

"The feel-good factor flourishes in education as well. University academics are discouraged from fostering adversarial debate, in case it should hurt someone's feelings."

The idea that everybody is right, necessarily disqualifies argument or "talk," which the New York intellectuals of the Comment article seemed to treasure so highly.

Having somewhat of an inferiority complex I am fascinated with these highbrow concepts and I guess I view them with a wary eye because I find that the modern Highbrow standards can inevitably turn to credentialing. In other words, "What right do you have to make artistic or intellectual judgements?" Is there a certain time in service? Is it your degree? Is it your ability?


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