One of the ultimate projects I want is to assist Niall Ferguson in what he’ll get busy doing after he finishes his last book on Kissinger. He wants to replace himself, find successors and pave some of the road ahead for new historians. I have come to a certain affinity for scholars of history because of the sheer massive amounts of data they must process in order to clarify their communication with the dead. I find this quite impressive as well as a critically important cornerstone in the edifice of civilization.
My gripe is with social media and the zillions it has generated off the aggregation of short attention span theater. My current ventures with academics is showing me how powerless they are in such a scheme of things. The simple fact is that masses of people will spend extraordinary lengths of time perusing online delectable info snacks that will inevitably swamp their well-prepared academic diets over the long haul. Not all will be so vulnerable, but we do face the fact that the current literate mob of 5 billions is the largest population of educated people in human history. Universities and university presses cannot keep up and mainstream broadcast and news publications are hard pressed to perform satisfactorily. My point is not to denigrate them, but they are swordfighting in a machine gun era.
While there are some areas of value, sunshine and mirth best served by the mechanics of crowdsourcing, cat and skateboard fail videos for example, more serious subjects require a bit more discipline and skill than is found in the average smartphone handler. Anyone who has read Neal Stephenson’s Dodge in Hell has heard tell of the future in which the haves have editors and the rest are subject to the predations of the Troll & Disinformation Industrial Complex. If there is one group of people who need to be better served by the potential of the interwebz to rise above, it’s academics. These are people, so I have discovered, who still belong to ‘listservs’ a throwback to 1990s email technology.
Never before I started Substacking did I suspect that the state of the Humanities in the US would become so frightened and destitute, relatively speaking. Yet we have reasons to be optimistic if we take to heart the emerging examples of Andrew Sullivan and Jordan Peterson, two individuals who have done quite well outside of the institutional limitations of traditional universities. Of course there are others including Glenn Greenwald and Yascha Mounk. I may romanticize the era of the original blogosophere, but there was something special about that place and the quality of information one could get by knowing the right authors. In some ways, Substack is bringing that back. However I’m thinking of something a bit more grand.
Right now there are several places for middlebrow readers to get a healthy dose of expertise where the average Joe can write his own paragraphs in response. One of them is Reddit and the other is Quora. Having spent quite some time on Quora, I can certainly attest to its demonstrated potential. My writing over there has netted something on the order of 7 million views, something I desperately wish to replicate here. But here is a tougher crowd, and I understand that. Similarly, LinkedIn and Medium provide good spaces. But while their current audiences behave with civility for the most part, they all use the same measurement system for reputation management. The Thumb.
What is this, gladiatorial combat in ancient Rome? Well, yes that’s what it becomes when your only metric is the simple binary of yay or nay. Smart people put up with it, but it doesn’t really help us along the way to what is needed, which is a system of grading content and editorial feedback that approaches the subtle texture necessary for complex content. The Thumb is the enabler of trash talking, because even though most fora do not allow a ‘thumbs down’ vote, it does enable an easy way to troll. I won’t get into the dynamics. You all know what the ‘Comments Section’ feels like. You also know what it’s like when bots or humans working on opaque rules block and cancel. What we need to do is build a better public square because it’s all beginning to resemble Central Park in 1975.
I have a number of ideas that will move us in that direction, and quite frankly I believe if I build it, they will come. Unfortunately, I still need my day job. But I’m happy to share some of the ideas under the auspices of the Logos Project which I outline here. I have found a few folks who find this interesting and I think there are plenty opportunities to do this kind of work. The infrastructure of an evolved social media has yet to be built.
The true upside of this will be the liberation of thousands of academics and scholars who can contribute to a world of learning that will be absent of the tyranny of micro-aggressed students and departmental star chambers. The rule of gossip is terrorizing professors from coast to coast. While I cannot expect all of the woke dysfunctions to destroy much of our educational infrastructure, I think it is imperative, as does Balaji Srinivasan, to route around these dysfunctions by design. It cannot be a coincidence that having followed Balaji for a few years that in so many ways, our ideas are in sync. So I will put out the conjecture that we are analyzing the same situations and coming to the same conclusions about the decentralization of institutions. I just haven’t been paying so much close attention to blockchain economics as he.
Notes from the Bowen Library
I am still at the orbital level in my investigation of the prospects of and threats to the democratization of the philosophy of science. So I’m still slogging it through Karl Popper and David Deutsch. But as Deutsch backtraces to Popper, I am reassured. Whatever the IDW may or may not become, acknowledgement of the threat to knowledge and rationality is clear in organizations like FIRE. So my work at the Foundation for Free Black Thought is a part of the same vector. To that end I am going to add a small bit here following the format footsteps of The Dish and excerpt a bit from my catalog of the Robert T. Bowen, Sr. Library. My aim in this is to repurpose some of the 20th century black literature in contrast with what CRT advocates are trying to obviate.
The following is from the back cover of White Man Listen! by Richard Wright:
“This is not a political book. It is not an ideological book. It’s a book dealing with the emotional reactions of people. The problem that I seek to expose in this book is addressed to the white men of the West, but it is not basically a racial problem. It is a human problem and it is this aspect of it that I stress.
“This book involves you, your children, and your children’s children. Yet it is not preaching… it is an attempt to widen your vision and sympathy. It is a book which says: In spite of all the perils a head, in spite of the difficulties, we must find ways and means of remaining human being, regardless of race, color or creed.” — Richard Wright
The other book I’d like to excerpt is from:
Kardiner, Abram & Lionel Ovesey. The Mark of Oppression: Explorations in the Personality of the American Negro. Cleveland: World Publishing Company ,1962.
This book is conceived and written as an inquiry, not as a polemic. It is conceived and written on the premise that group characteristics and adaptive in nature and therefore not inborn, but acquired. A great mass of published material drawn from a wide variety of cultures aptly substantiates this premise, The material in the book is arranged in a sequence that supports this thesis. The conclusions flow form the weight of evidence. Hence, the book does not describe Negro racial characteristics; it describes the personality he acquired while being obliged to adapt to extremely difficult social conditions. Anyone who wishes to quote from the conclusions of this book to uphold any other thesis risks doing injustice to the material in the book, to the intentions of the authors, and to the Negro people. The authors will give no comfort or support to those who wish to use some part of this work out of its conceptual and sequential context in order to hurt the interests of the Negro people.
The scientific position of the authors has been well stated by other social scientists with whom they concur. This position is clearly defined in the following quotations:
The prospect of a continuing inferior status is essentially unacceptable to any group of people. For this and other reasons, neither colonial exploitation nor oppression of minorities within a nation is in the long run compatible with peace. As social scientists we know of no evidence that any ethnic group is inherently inferior.” — From Tensions That Cause Wars, Edited by Hadley Cantril, University of Illinois Press, 1950.
Gordon W. Allport. Arue Naess
Gilberto Freyre. John Rickman
Georges Gurvitch. Harry S. Sullivan
Max Horkheimer. Alexander Szalai
Lastly, biological studies lend support to the ethic of universal brotherhood; for man is born with drives toward cooperation, and unless these drives are satisfied man and nations alike fall ill. Man is born a social being who can reach his fullest development only through interaction with his fellows. The denial at any point of this social bond between man and man brings with it disintegration. In this sense, every man is his brother’s keeper. For every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main, because he is involved in mankind.” — The concluding point of the UNESCO “Statement on Race,” July 18, 1950.
What I have maintained is that the nature of social and political movements under the category of ‘black’ have declined in significance and effect, not because the same racism is taking the same demonic toll on African America. Rather I posit that we are generating no new Thurgood Marshalls because ordinary black Americans in the post- Civil Rights era have simply not been subjected to the same level of racist oppression, and in fact what is racist in contemporary America no longer poses the existential threat and widespread psychological harm of what was more common in the mid 20th century America. So I aim (slowly) to excerpt from the Bowen Library what was said during the period of my father’s attraction to Black Nationalism and put it in context to those surviving threads of protest. The bottom line is that black Americans, now numbering 46 million are not all Negroes facing the same Negro Problem, although much of the rhetoric and indeed some of the thinking has not changed and is purported to apply to all.
Indeed what takes place in the South Side of Chicago or Ferguson, MO and is portrayed as a ‘black’ problem, is not and can only be addressed by dealing with the sociological damage local to that area and its actual history. Thus the mark of the oppressed is discoverable in their individual psyches, something that is not shared in any equal measures through the 46 million. If what happened in Jena, Louisiana can be called ‘lived experience’, then let it. But it is not racial and it is not national. It is not authentic in any broad representation of this or any ethnic group.
So if any new racial theory arises to give credibility to double standards and a one-sided effort to achieve some special form of ‘social justice’ that is anything other than equal in principle, then we mock and disable them. That is the specific context of my aims of rescuing rationality through the efforts of the Foundation.
Lord help me, I’m reading academic papers and debugging code. At least the headaches will be similar.