August 18th, 2011


Post Enlightenment

It is no secret, especially here in America, that we live in a post-Enlightenment age in which rationality, science, evidence, logical argument and debate have lost the battle in many sectors, and perhaps even in society generally, to superstition, faith, opinion and orthodoxy. While we continue to make giant technological advances, we may be the first generation to have turned back the epochal clock — to have gone backward intellectually from advanced modes of thinking into old modes of belief. But post-Enlightenment and post-idea, while related, are not exactly the same.

Post-Enlightenment refers to a style of thinking that no longer deploys the techniques of rational thought.

I have a mixed response to this article by Neal Gabler. Perhaps because the author of a book entitled Walt Disney: the Triumph of American Imagination shouldn't really be hassling people for not being thoughtful enough anymore.

Yet, there were parts I did agree with. I do think that we are living in an anti-intellectual society, wherein there is such a thing as being too intelligent, and that a lot of people view this as a valid criticism of work (I don't, but I'll spare you the rant). It's not uncommon to see men and women who are intellectuals, be they scientists or philosophers, marginalised by groups and organisations that view these opinions to be in a war against their profits or faith. The 'debate' on global warming, for example, is one, but there's a long history of it. Tobacco companies organising studies to prove that smoking doesn't harm your health, is another. Without to much work, each one of us could find an example.

However, I don't think that social media is to blame, or has even a part of the lack of 'big thoughts' that Gabler laments. When he turns on twitter, he sounds like an old man, trying to get the kids off the lawn, and comes across as someone who hasn't had a serious experience with social media. Big thoughts, as he should well know, can be conveyed in 140 letters, should the person behind such ideas wish to put them in such a position. Sure, a lot of that big thought--the explanation, workings, detail--is kept elsewhere, in the head of the person responsible for the idea, but so what? It also ignores the fact that, while Gabler talks a lot about individuals, that there is a lot of communal big thinking. That, to be honest, a lot of big ideals and big theorists are aware of and influenced by, anyway. Nothing is born out of a vacuum.

Still, it was food for thought, and I do agree that sadly we give too much credit to unfounded and unreasoned and irresponsible information in the world.