The Times, They are a Changin’: As Usual

A few days ago, John O. Mcginnis, writing in The Online Library of Law and Liberty, had some refuting thoughts to Leon Wieseltier’s polemic in the NY Times Book Review.

It starts this way:

Old Complaints about New Technology

In this Sunday’s New York Times Book Review Leon Wieseltier has polemicized against the digital age. While beautifully written, its major propositions are either wrong or not wholly coherent.  All have been heard before in previous ages of technological change. While it is difficult to isolate all the sources of Wieseltier’s distemper, here are four in ascending order of their claim to be taken seriously.

1. Wieseltier claims that “the greatest thugs in the history of the cultural industry” (by which he means Amazon and the like) have destroyed bookstores and record shops. Similarly, journalists now earn less money because of competition from digital platforms. These complaints are the whining of producers displaced by competition that helps consumers. […]

Wieseltier’s complaint resembles nothing so much as those of French publishers of the late eighteenth century who complained to the National Assembly about competitors with cheaper means of production:

We request, sir, that you glance over it and lend all your influence to our demands. From these abuses of the freedom  of the press, yet greater abuses have resulted. Countless persons who can barely read have established and maintain shops in every quarter of the capital, hanging over their door their name and the title of Bookseller, which they have no scruple about usurping. We dare to hope, sir, . . . the National Assembly will take the book trade in hand . . . in view of the abuses and thefts as well as the sale of bad books with which France will soon be infected if everyone is free to do business as a bookseller.

Old Complaints about New Technology | Online Library of Law & Liberty.

He goes on to discuss Wieseltier’s apparent ignorance of the definitions of information, data, knowledge, and hypothesis, and perhaps even opinion. He also does a fair amount of complaining about economists, blaming them for quantifying everything in sight. In history I’m a bit sympathetic to the view but I believe it’s not due to the fact that a lot of things have been quantifiable, it’s due to the fact that a lot of historians wouldn’t know a narrative if it bit them on their backside. They’re just lousy writers, and we’re the poorer for it.

He also asserts that ‘Global Competiveness’ shouldn’t be the highest value of humanity. Well, he’s right and that’s the wonder of our communication systems; we can handle much more information much more efficiently, and thus do more in less time than ever before. That some people lose sight of the fact that this is not the highest role of humanity is essentially irrelevant. It’s also something that each generation has to learn for itself, to protect itself.

McGinnis ends with this:

It is a confusion to claim that the better knowledge offered by natural science or the greater leisure made possible by markets and technology mean that the enduring issues of honor, of responsibility, of love for others disappear. The nineteenth century Romantic Rebellion against the rise of natural science was wrong about many things, but it was right about this.  Even as our technology becomes more powerful, we can continue to “wander lonely as clouds.” Our inner life and moral choices are ever billowing and not able to be captured by digitization, however capacious the cloud of computation becomes.

I  think he is exactly right about that. All of these technologies are tools, to extend man’s power, knowledge, and strength. Like all tools, going back to fire, itself, they can be used for good or ill. And so the question becomes:

How will you use them?

 

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About NEO
Lineman, Electrician, Industrial Control technician, Staking Engineer, Inspector, Quality Assurance Manager, Chief Operations Officer

5 Responses to The Times, They are a Changin’: As Usual

  1. Ike Jakson says:

    Nebraska

    Great Post with deep respect and gratitude for all the little things that make up the human being. I love it.

    IkeJ

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Thanks Ike. For me lately I thought it pretty good, as well. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. the unit says:

    Mr. Obama would add to the title…”but the more they stay the same.”
    He said to remember…”remember that during the Crusades and Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”
    He forgot this…Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 5/1/2013 …
    “Let’s be clear,” said Carney. “Benghazi happened a long time ago.”
    So the same they would say about the Constitution as well and demonstrate by their actions.

    But to my simple way of thinking, what the fellow was saying there was a certain humanity that despised the demise of the buggy whip and hated the invention of the hand crank. The new now…”how will you use them?” Thank the Lord for today and hope to wake up tomorrow and use them to enhance good and deflategate the evil.

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Yep, that’s my point as well. I can do much more sitting here today than I could of if I owned the NYT when I was a kid. We’ve built an entire new world for ourselves, 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • the unit says:

        I do much more sitting here than I should too. 🙂 I have to start using my treadmill again.

        Liked by 1 person

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