16 February 2016

An Interesting Take

Leon Wieseltier:
The interest of Scott’s book lies not in its contribution to the solution of the problems it treats, but in its exemplification of our moment in American culture and American cultural journalism. It is an accurate document of the discourse of “takes.” This movie, that book, this poem, that painting, this record, that show: Make a smart remark and move on. A take is an opinion that has no aspiration to a belief, an impression that never hardens into a position. Its lightness is its appeal. It is provisional, evanescent, a move in a game, an accredited shallowness, a bulwark against a pause in the conversation. A take is expected not to be true but to be interesting, and even when it is interesting it makes no troublesome claim upon anybody’s attention. Another take will quickly follow, and the silence that is a mark of perplexity, of research and reflection, will be mercifully kept at bay. A take asks for no affiliation. It requires no commitment. [Emphasis added.]
Here is another thing that I wish to add to a litany of complaints about modernism:  the only vice is being boring.*  Put another way, the only virtue is being interesting.

It doesn’t matter if an argument or criticism is true—though plausibility helps—what matters is its novelty.  Saying that Americans blacks are, on average, poorer than American whites because they are more likely to behave like poor people (i.e. act lazy, act impulsive, have short economic time-preferences, be undisciplined with money, etc.) is a banal observation.  Coming up with an impressive theory of institutional and governmental oppression is at least novel, which is why it’s approved.  In short, stating the obvious truth is repulsive to modernists not because it is true, but because it’s obvious.

The modernist embraces a mysticism of terrestrial complexity.  Because he denies the metaphysical realm but, like all humans, wishes to revel in mystery, he must therefore believe that the physical realm is far more mysterious and inexplicable than it actually is.  Thus, the physical truths that are obvious spiritually alive are viewed lies by the materialist.  The true reality is a vast conspiracy of shadowy actors who manipulate various people, events and institutions to their advantage.

Because the materialist modernist needs the world to be a mystery, he looks up to those who can shroud the obvious in a mist of complexity.  His priests, as it were, are academics and scientists.  He reveres economists and physicists, among others, for they make complex, highly elaborate models of reality. In truth, it doesn’t matter if these models are accurate, in the predictive sense.  What matters is that they are complex, for their complexity provides a mystery.  Moreover, their predictive inaccuracy provides yet even more mystery, and thus an accurate model would be a very boring thing indeed, and so it is perfectly acceptable, and perhaps even expected, for the complex sciences to be constantly wrong.

Simple rules and heuristics, and simple systems are chided as the crutches of an inferior mind.  It is complexity above all else.  But, because that which is complex is predicated on a denial of reality, it is often prone to catastrophic failure.  The housing bubble collapse of 2008 is a perfect example of this.  Antifragile by Nassim Taleb expounds on this concept at length.


Making the obvious into a mystery is both tragedy and farce.  Likewise, discarding simple truth for complex lies turns a man into something subhuman altogether, rendering him blind to the beauty before his eyes and makes him a fool who believes himself wise.

* Cue Family Guy

1 comment:

  1. Things that are simple are more resistant to entropic forces.

    ReplyDelete