Sunday, September 20, 2009

Warding Off the Stupid

Tomorrow, I’m scheduled to see an advance screening of Michael Moore’s no doubt inflammatory and ludicrous new documentary Capitalism: A Love Story. But of course, one ought to gauge ideas by their best and most nuanced defenders, not by their most clownish ones. Sometimes, like a lot of people, I feel guilty about even paying attention to Michael Moore — not to mention distractions like LOLCats, sci-fi movies, pundits, and until recently comic books.

But where does one go for brainier culture fare? The site (Arts & Letters Daily) is some solace. But here’s the weird thing. Much as I love that site, I worry that I might be deluding myself (like a PBS subscriber) if I think I’m really getting a near-random influx of new ideas from it.

On the contrary, if you read it long enough — especially if you just scan a few months worth of their little teaser descriptions of the linked articles — you start to notice certain familiar figures recurring with such regularity — Jacques Barzun, Darwin, Nietzsche, Orwell — that the familiarity almost becomes a soothing lullaby after a while, like knowing classical music radio stations will be playing the same composers ad infinitum.

Like the strange attractors in chaos theory, ALDaily will keep somehow leading you back to read one more surprisingly scandalous thing about the biography of some ostensibly staid writer from the nineteenth century, hear one more argument from cognitive science or behavioral economics for people being stupider (or smarter) than they appear, and enjoy one more strained metaphor from chaos theory written by a former English major. I guess there are worse mental fates.


Richard Ryan said...

Precisely! It could be called the Orwell-Darwin Daily page. Obviously one or more of the editors there have some very predictable mental loops!

cb said...

You may partly be tracking your personal response to the editor who selects things that most draw your own attention, even (or perhaps especially) in “scanning mode”. This is one of those effects where a more careful post-by-post analysis would almost surely yield a greater subjective assessment of entropy than either a long-term reflective or fast scan.

That being said, I very much agree with the lullaby gestalt generated by the “stoical passive observer” style. I think it owes more to the style than topic or metaphor.

Maintaining readership probably requires some levels of consistency of any of the above possibilities, though. There’s some kind of behavio-cognito-web-econ article about higher-educated folk being stupider than they appear in there… ;-) ;-)

Todd Seavey said...


W.C. Varones said...

I’m actually very favorably disposed to the move based on its trailer.

Moore is right — those Wall Street banksters are crooks and scumbags and should be getting prison instead of taxpayer bailouts.

But Moore takes it too far in pretending that the Wall Street – Washington mercantilist complex equals capitalism, and therefore capitalism is a bad thing.

pulp said...

Nice site, Todd– thanks for the link. I’m always looking out for intelligent reportage and commentary, ALD may not be perfect, but it seems a hell of a lot more intelligent and diverse than a lot of the stuff that passes for cultural commentary.

pulp said...

WC– I have some sympathies for Moore’s films as well–as much as I am reluctant to say it and as much as I think he is a disingenuous boob. He is an effective propagandist for his views and he makes good documentaries– otherwise, he would have no audience.

Obviously (and I am sure I’m telling you nothing new here), in a just society, we have laws against fraud and laws supportive of mutually contracted agreements. This is one basic nuance of the market system–in conjunction with limited governance–which Moore and his ilk completely overlook. He ought to be making an anti-monopolism or anti-mercantilism film. Who said the banking system was any more free and open than oil or gas? Of course, therein lies his failure. He couldn’t make that mental leap, because the next step would be to be anti-big government. He would be like a lifelong good Catholic having a crushing deathbed realization of Atheism.

“Control the coinage and the courts, let the rabble have the rest”– Frank Herbert