Overweening Generalist

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Drift on Dreams

As some sort of mystic-model-agnostic non-monotheistic lover of science and as a reader of literature ("licher-choor" in Ezra Pound-speak), and a plenum of pamphlets/manifestos/crank-and-kook broadsides and all "religious" phenomena and junk mail...just as you too are (roughly?): dreams never fail to elude the interests of my imagination. Of that a few words before one of us goes off to Slumber-Land, the land of multiple cartoonish zzzzzzzzs.

Some writers I admire have talked about the value of writing down dreams as soon as you can, in order to incorporate the material in some way. William S. Burroughs and Robert Anton Wilson come to mind. (The former even used a device called a Dream Machine while "awake" to simulate a dream-state; the latter gave interviews in which he said he kept a dream journal, and I even think he wrote about it in his Cosmic Trigger Vol. 1, but no one I know has seen this/these journals, if indeed they are extant. RAW died in early 2007.) 

James Joyce wrote an entire novel in his own invented dream-language. (Of that, more some other time.)

What I've found difficult is turning on enough light to grab a pen with paper, getting down enough details before the dream traces melt away into the voidstream, all without incurring a chronic insomnia. Guys like Burroughs had to be committed to the dream-thing, and it looks to me like it paid off big-time.
I've habitually logged/diarized/journaled every day since September of 1989, so there are scads of "last dream of the night"s logged in those spiral-bound notebooks. I've recorded my dreams, when I could, not for use in a novel (I have never written one), but simply for my own kicks. You know that last one? The one right before waking? Somnologists looking into the oneiric say EEGs tell us that for most folks the longest dream of the night is that last one before waking. The tell-tale waves are right there on the graph. Your had REM, you shouted out "cookie!," QED.

Sometimes I can only recall fleeting bits. Here's one I had from three nights ago, as I wrote it down upon waking:

"Rainy, dark day and yet I'm out gardening. Someone with a dry hacking cough in the distance on a quiet day, quiet rain. A single jewish mother I don't know asks for directions. Jeff (my dead younger brother) and the blond straight-haired guitar student of long ago who really looked up to me. I could fly - literally - but he couldn't. I kept trying to help him. Too easy to read this dream."

Okay, maybe it's not interesting to you, but that was one that actually gave me some insight. With that one I applied the Jungian thing where you assume every person in the dream is yourself, even though my dead brother and the student were real people. I have no idea who the jewish mother was, or how I knew she was single (or jewish, for that matter), or how she got into my backyard. Anyway...
"I believe it to be true that dreams are the true interpreters of our inclinations; but there is art required to sort and understand them." That's Montaigne, in the late 1500s, in one of his delightful Essays. And since Joseph and his psychedelic dream-coat that his dad gave him in the OT - and earlier, no doubt - we have and probably will continue to seek to read into our dreams for the numinous, or whether mommy really loved us, or whatever. This despite some compelling scientific approaches to dreams, fMRI machines and sleep studies, etc. (I'm thinking of the work of Allan Hobson, and G. William Domhoff and few others.)

This "reading"of ours and others' dreams: I consider it a time-honored aspect of the Poetic Faculty of us, homo sap. I'm "conservative" enough to say, yes, give us the latest science on dreams, but exercising our Poetic Faculty is a blast. I'll take both approaches, and some chewing gum, that girly magazine over there, a bottle of Old Harper...

[What? You're still awake?]

Here's Jerome Feldman, a cognitive scientist at Berkeley, in his wonderful and recent book:

"There is general agreement and considerable evidence that dreaming is important in consolidating memory and involves simulating experiences." - p.80 of Feldman's  From Molecule To Metaphor

Now, I think that's probably "right," but I will go on being overly intrigued by the sheer oddness of my dreams. Why? 'Cuz I wanna, that's why! I see a value in it. I ain't a-hurtin' no one!

Another scientist at Berkeley, Jack Gallant, has been working on a machine that could reproduce dreams. I read that in a science article one desultory day not long ago, and jotted his name down. Sounds impossible and/or ridiculous? Maybe? Here's something on Gallant and his work as of 2008.

I guess Gallant and his team have dared to dream the impossible dream-reading machine. Guys like that can't help but do that stuff, and we can all quickly imagine - on an absurdist level - yet further possible invasions of what we so laffingly used to call "privacy."

But I also hope it yields some good Art.

Finally, I note that the late great Professor George Carlin, in his riveting Napalm and Silly Putty, wondered if movie directors had credits at the end of their dreams.


Monday, May 30, 2011

Forecasting and Futurology on Memorial Day in the U.S.

Today Unistatians (i.e, the People of Unistat, more commonly known as "the United States," and where I happen to have been born and "raised," and within whose borders I currently reside) have a national holiday to drink, fight, watch sports, and air grievances with family and friends - among other things - in memory of people who died while fighting in one of Unistat's military services. For most Unistatians, the "reasons" why those people went to war and died in the first place are naive, embarrassingly wrong,  or opaque. But fuck it! Let's parTAY!

Certain thinkers since, oh, let's say Diderot's Encyclopedia, have been wondering if we can somehow figure out a way to use rational-empirical physicalist methods to forecast the future. This kind of thing really got going with the advent of science fiction and brilliant Generalists such as H.G.Wells and Jules Verne. And it became a sort of cottage industry circa 1950. Futurology!

There seem to be two broad approaches linking physical processes to the acceleration of history and technology: 1.) thermodynamic measurements,  and 2.) information theory and chaos mathematics

The second one interests me more, mostly because, as a non-specialist, I find the Information Theory/Chaos Math folk have more engaging (and therefore plausible) narratives. (In my current state of ignorance it seems that thermodynamics and information intersected around 1944-48, with the work of scientific Illuminati like John Von Neumann, Norbert Wiener, Erwin Schrodinger, and Claude Shannon. More some other day. When I've read up more on it.)

For the nigh-curious, here is a list of some Futurologists.

Info-flow and acceleration of technology (and madness, anxiety and reactionary politics?):
Around 1990, for example, the mathematician Theodore Gordon (for some reason left off the Wiki List) published a paper which demonstrated that chaos increases as information flows throughout society increased, and the two are probably intertwined. What it seems to me now is that Gordon was saying that more and more Black Swan events would happen, but they might be almost impossible to predict. These events should be easier to predict, but because of the cognitive biases of "experts" and "specialists" they are not. The global financial meltdown of 2008 should be the Final Bell to start thinking about World Systems differently, building in more robustness and minimizing fragility, but there is no reason to believe this is happening or will happen, given events since August, 2008. (These "locked-in" cognitive biases of "experts" is a huge hurdle, seems to me.)

Moving along, ever-accelerating...

Sir Martin Rees has a sobering quasi-prediction for humanity's future, and if ya wanna, give yourself an intellectual thrill-chill and watch his 18 minute talk from July, 2005 on this here:

(Much) more sanguine futurologists such as Ray Kurzweil think we will reach a point of "singularity." And it seems rather soon. Different singularitarians forecast different dates for a whole new ballgame: our genomics, robotics, computer science, nanotechnology, etc, will increase in their acceleration and everything will change so radically they will look back on us at this moment and laugh at how "primitive"we were. This is too big to go into here, but I'll address my personal pixillation over their whole compelling narrative in a future blog-spew. Suffice: when I read the Extropians and Singularitarians, part of me is very excited and enthusiastic if they're right, and another part of me (intuition?) is horrified and tends to encourage a spiral toward the anxiety pole, damn my overweening imagination!

Anyway, something's coming, and pronto! Head's up!

Finally, I leave us with a quote/forecast from Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan and Fooled By Randomness:

"The twentieth century was the bankruptcy of the social utopia; the twenty-first will be that of the technological one." - found on p.31 of Taleb's The Bed of Procrustes.

[Irony? Taleb had a NY Times best seller with The Black Swan, but now when you type those words into your search engine, you get the first three pages covered with information about a film about...ballet? (Just kidding: I saw it and thought it intense and psychedelic-Jungian. But poor Nassim! Was it a black swan event for him?)]

P.S: Have a great Memorial Day! And in memoriam, think about reading General Smedley Butler's short book War Is A Racket; it just may blow your mind while leaving everything else intact.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Reflections on Mathematics

In Eric Temple Bell's classic Men Of Mathematics, first published in 1937, a passage has long puzzled me into wonderment. Near the end of the book, on p.572, Bell writes, "At this point we may glance back over the whole history of mathematics [...] and note two modes of expression which recur constantly in nearly all mathematical exposition." Bell then gives two broad examples of phrases which different mathematicians have used. 

Here's one:
"We can choose a number less than n and greater than n - 2."

The second type of phrase is of this sort:
"There exists a number less than n and greater than n - 2."

Bell insists these two examples are not "merely stereotyped pedantry," and that mathematicians literally mean what they say when they use either formulation, and, even though they may seem different to an inconsequential degree, each phrase is pregnantly revelatory about the kind of philosophical disposition of the thinker. The differences are not "trivial."

Now I quote the section that fills me with a sort of giddy wonder in its implications:

"These two ways of speaking divide mathematicians into two types: the 'we can' men believe (perhaps subconsciously) that mathematics is a purely human invention; the 'there exists' men believe that mathematics has an 'extra-human' existence of its own, and that 'we' merely come upon the 'eternal truths' of mathematics in our journey through life, in much the same way that a man taking a walk in the city comes across a number of streets with whose planning he had nothing whatever to do." - p.573

Far be it for such a horribly rank amateur math enthusiast such as myself to take a side here (and yet just watch as I do take as side: typical? perhaps overweening?); however, the uncanny usefulness of math (I think I'm paraphrasing the great physicist of the quantum Paul Dirac there?) does seem to make one wonder...if, as most of the great mathematicians seemed to think, there exists some sort of Platonic Pure World of math, numbers, form...somewhere? this seems to a person of my own disposition as poetic, romantic, and frankly sort of crazy, math's incredible usefulness notwithstanding. 

What I'm saying is I'm with Bell's "we can"men. I have no proofs that math is a human invention, but I think cognitive scientists like George Lakoff and Rafael Nunez (co-authors of Where Mathematics Comes From) seem probably on the right track. We are incredibly agile symbol-making critters embodied with nervous systems who evolved systems of counting that became more and more diffuse and baroque and abstruse...and wonderful. And aye: useful. At this point in my life, I can't get behind the "there exists" people with their "extra-human existence"s. But I do find it odd in the extreme that so many profoundly great mathematicians have indeed believed in what mathematician-novelist John Casti called "the one true Platonic heaven."

I'd like to be so adept at math that my constructions...sorry!: my findings so enchanted myself that I believed in a Purer World somewhere else. Lord (and Pythagoras?) knows, I'd have great company...

It seems to me that, when I cash out the "we can" vision of how math works, I'm effectively saying what Robert Anton Wilson said of math: it is "pure fiction." 

In this sense, it seems a cousin to the Modernist poet Marianne Moore's definition of poetry: poetry was "imaginary gardens with real toads in them." Because if math is pure fiction, it has functioned as the language that undergirds/underwrites/instantiates all of science and technology, including the magickal gadget you're using to read this right now. 

I find it difficult to wrap my neurons around this weird problem (which is why I return to it in my private thoughts so often: I seem of the temperament of loving NOT being "sure" about anything). Other temperaments surely differ, and I may be too close to this wonderful problem to sort it out adequately, which is truly fine by me. I'm okay with the indeterminacy of it all. I have my guesses, but they may be wrong, or crucially inaccurate in some way. Possibly I lack "imagination" with regard to this vexing and passing strange conundrum (which seems not a conundrum at all for the hard core "we can" and "there exists" folk).

The present blogger-critter has found that any further probes into either basic orientation towards the ontological status of mathematics only yields more uncanny wonderment. Perhaps more on this some other day, but I should like to leave you with this quote from one of the giants of 20th century physics, Paul Dirac (ponder the implications!):

"The steady progress of physics requires for its theoretical formulation a mathematics which get continually more advanced. This is only natural and to be expected. What however was not expected by the scientific workers of the last century was the particular form that the line of advancement of mathematics would take, namely it was expected that mathematics would get more and more complicated, but would rest on a permanent basis of axioms and definitions, while actually the modern physical developments have required a mathematics that continually shifts its foundation and gets more abstract. Non-euclidean geometry and noncommutative algebra, which were at one time were considered to be purely fictions of the mind and pastimes of logical thinkers, have now been found to be very necessary for the description of general facts of the physical world. It seems likely that this process of increasing abstraction will continue in the future and the advance in physics is to be associated with continual modification and generalisation of the axioms at the base of mathematics rather than with a logical development of any one mathematical scheme on a fixed foundation."
Paper on Magnetic Monopoles (1931)

Friday, May 27, 2011

On Scientific Specialization, and How It's Like Cholesterol, With Rant Sandwiched

When I started this blog, in a whimsical mood three or so weeks ago, my first blatherings riffed off of Robert A. Heinlein's oft-repeated line, "Specialization is for insects," which my staff and I (total: 1 person) tracked back to Heinlein's novel Time Enough For Love. For Generalists, it's a line that functions as a rhetorical battle cry, and, while it seems pretty damned argumentative, it's also pithy, eh? Yea, verily, it's got great pith, and has survived in the memetic fitness struggles, with its seeming hermetic dynamics, and I'll leave it at that.

The plea for less specialization has been made countless times (or rather, in my limited scope, I have lost count) in the 20th century and on into the 21st. Two of my favorite Generalists, Robert Anton Wilson and Buckminster Fuller, were talking (RAW interviewing Fuller):

"The problem with Fuller's talk, as well as his books, is that he has always been a comprehensivist. 'If nature wanted us to be specialists,' he likes to say, 'we'd be born with one eye and a jeweler's lens attached.' He refuses to discuss any one subject without relating it to other subjects. When asked in an interview in 1980 if he had one most important idea, he snapped, 'Absolutely not. There is no 'one most important thing,' since every system in Universe is plural and at minimum six. No, I have never found one most important thing. I deal in Universe always and only.'" - from pp.109-110 of Robert Anton Wilson's Right Where You Are Sitting Now

Maybe the main "problem" with thinkers like this is: you need to put in a big initial effort to grock their comprehensivist, unified field ideas. It takes "time," that seemingly increasingly tricky taskmaster.
A Quick Rant Sandwich With a Side of Aside?

My circumambient peripheralizations and non-definitions of just what I mean by "Generalist" will be fleshed out more explicitly over time (wot?); however, I would think a reader's gestalting faculty would have given them a sufficient purchase over three weeks of my blogposts, dancing around the idea. Or: if half of all the Humanities students who graduate in 2011 end up with jobs that don't require a degree at all, why do we even teach that stuff any more? Oh, because in a democracy we want well-rounded people, blah, blah, blah? Hey, that sounds great, but what about the $75,000 in student loans they have to pay off? (And the Dubya admin put an end to filing for bankruptcy regarding student loans...)

I smell a Racket. A lot like the Housing Bubble. Not good. The previous paragraph seems overweening (it was), a big non-sequitur (think again), and now I revert to the generalistic:

I recall my college days, talking with fellow students about courses we'd taken, and often hearing something like this formulation: "I've already had Astronomy and American History till 1876; I still need it up to 1976. Have you had Humanities yet?"

As if these fields are innoculations. Have you had your booster of Statistics? (Good. Then you'll never need it again! You're safe!?) Best to take Plato to Spinoza now, so you can stop worrying about getting that in the future. (What about medical students who take a class in Immunology? What if the professor's humor is infectious? Now I'm being flippant.)

To quote 50% of Simon and Garfunkel, "When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school...," it was tacitly implied that Shakespeare had nothing at all to do with Current Events (the class was actually called that); 20th Century History had nothing to do with what you'd be studying 15 minutes later: Biology. Und so weiter...

It was only when I took some time off from school that I learned all that was bullshit; there were no Iron Curtains between anything I studied, and all it took was a little bit of imagination to see how everything impinged upon everything else, seemingly disparate "areas" of thought suddenly were seen as suffusing another branch (grafting?) of knowledge, and it was too easy to mix metaphors because of all of this.

I will say: this feeling one gets when one suddenly sees how the boundaries are artificial, for whatever socially constructed and bureaucratic reasons? For me, it was dizzying-unto-vertigo. And then: fantastic and liberating-unto-euphoria. I realize now that this feeling is not as common as I would have thought. Anyway, I've been stuck "there" ever since...
Did I mention cholesterol? Okay, I'll get on with it:

Not long ago I enjoyed a short essay by a climatologist named Gavin Schmidt called "Why Hasn't Specialization Led To The Balkanization of Science?," as collected in What's Next: Dispatches on the Future of Science, edited by Mr. Third Culture John Brockman's son Max. 

Schmidt says that, like cholesterol, specialization in the hard sciences has a good version and a bad one, and in a minute I'll go over his notion of studies that are "centrifugal" and ones that are "centripetal." But first let me say that Schmidt writes engagingly and gives excellent specific examples in his short essay, based on his area of expertise, climate science, which anyone could imagine, involves quite of lot of knowledge of General Systems as they pertain to the dynamics, chemistry, and composition of the atmosphere, the land, the oceans, and ice fields...and how they all interact.

Now, just within this broad discipline, there are specialists who study sea level changes from satellite data. Others spend years studying El Nino effects in the Pacific and its variability. Ice-core samples taken from sophisticated deep drilling in Antarctica, measuring gases trapped 800,000 years ago? That's another sub-speciality. Others take massive data sets and build models to gain a firmer grasp of various situations.

Schmidt begins his essay by quoting John Ziman: "Scientists are those who know more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing." Catchy, and maybe at one time (circa 1900-1950?), sorta "true," but not now. And why? Why hasn't science kept specializing until most scientists can't understand what any other scientist is talking about?

First off, reductionism has worked marvelously well in the history or science, but there will be periods of diminishing returns, and the way out of the problem is interdisciplinary studies. As for centrifugal and centripetal?

Centrifugal forces in science, Schmidt says, drive increasing divergence, deeper knowledge about narrower and narrower phenomena. Centripetal forces counter the trends of the centrifugal studies. It's easy to see why centrifugal studies are needed, but Schmidt says they can go on too long for reasons that are "institutional, avoidable, and to be deplored."

(When I read this essay I couldn't help but think that Kuhn's period of "normal science" involved a lot of centrifugal-like endeavors.)

The exponential growth of scientific data and specialist publications with their occult-like impenetrable jargon (available only to a select few initiates) creates isolated sub-fields and sub-sub-sub disciplines, and a sad resultant is that no one can stay "on top"of all of "the latest" in the general fields. So what do specialists do to avert a Platonic Cave vision imposed by their specialist everyday realities?

Answer: popularizations, ambassadors and publication in the specialist literature. Edward N. Lorenz wrote some of the seminal papers in Chaos Theory, but more scientists know about it via James Gleick's book. O! The value of a good popularizer of science who really understand the stuff and can write for a large, intelligent lay audience! (Gleick's masterful, difficult-to-put-down work on chaos theory Amazon link is here. It's a thrilling read, and highly recommended for most Generalists. Take it to the bank!)

The Ambassadors are specialists who like to talk with scientists in other fields; they tend to bring about more collaborations. They would be a species of "Connector" in the Malcolm Gladwell sense of the term.

Specialist publications are usually impenetrable, not only to the lay public but to scientists outside of that discipline. But every now and then some specialist article is so interesting because it's about something "really big," like the Alvarez's 1978 finding about the asteroid impact at the end of the Cretaceous. Another type of specialist paper that arrests Balkanization is something that appears with data that could potentially impact a variety of subdisciplines, like "the possible human role in the extinction of large mammals at the end of the last ice age."

The third and most important specialist article that moves this Centrifugal-Centripetal Dialectic forward is the kind of robust, meta-analysis study of new large-scale models. These are works of intricate synthesis and encourage new cross-disciplinary research.

Schmidt's fascinating article ends with this:

"Fundamentally, the drivers of interdisciplinary science lie in our desire to explain what we see and in recognizing that the answers we seek are not tied to individual scientific disciplines or specific tools or methodologies. Those are human constructs, and they are simply no match for the forces of nature."

And I will sum up thus: bureaucratic excessive specialization = "bad" LDL cholesterol; synthetic centripetal, productive interdisciplinary work = HDL or "good" cholesterol. Errr..something like that.

At any rate, as of this date: Balkanization in science: staved off!
This has been a stab at an article about specialization within the physical sciences for a reader who's interested in being a Generalist, if not an overweening one. We must say, when we look at the role of specialization in the physical sciences, that, if indeed specialization is for insects, we appreciate the insect-work! A colony of digger-ants and their Hive Mind architecture and division of labor is truly a marvelous thing to behold. And insects don't do synthesizing, centripetal work. (That we know of?) We appreciate (almost) ALL ways of employing the grey matter. Hat's off to the not-insect and quite-human specialists (and synthesists) in the physical sciences! Huzzah!

I hope my attempt to enlighten about a species of non-Generalist didn't bore you to tears, and thanks for reading! I see my prolixity got the better of me and will try to write more pithily subsequently, but hey, blog posts are cheap.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Recent Article on Virtuoso Geeks and Something of Alvin Gouldner; On a "Moral Stance" Towards Media

I've mentioned I admire the Geeks but feel quite alienated from their visions, and a lot of that - cut to the chase - has to do with my frankly fuddy-duddy bookish slant. Books of all sorts, on a gleaming vast welter of topics, are my main squeeze. And I'm paranoid about Kindle and associated gadgets. (Come to think of it, my asthma has been acting up again, too. And we're out of fabric softener? Will it ever end?) I feel my Book Culture sliding away in the ever-acceleration of info and technology. Please tell me I'm merely being paranoid, and this time they are decidedly not out to get me? Anyway: The Geeks fascinate me, especially virtuoso ones like the M.I.T. people as featured in this recent article...

As lost in my own Cloud-Cuckooland with my books as I am, I have to admire these types. And my envy of their success is quite great...

In general, I think the renegade Socratic Marxist sociologist Alvin Gouldner was right about the "New Class": it's made up of two parts, and this is from my memory of reading Gouldner:

  • The old "humanist" intellectuals, and they probably go back to the literate priests who kept literacy for themselves. Today they include historians, theologians, poets, literary critics, most social "scientists," musicologists, philosophers...you get the drift. They tend to be politically liberal or "radical"and try to make cultural change through their use of various rhetorics, usually conducted through writing and verbal/oral skills. Their impact has become less and less politically powerful, especially during the Roaring 20th c.
  • The more recent technical intelligentsia, who rose mightily since around 1600. These are the Geeks who use the language of mathematics. They're physical scientists (physicists, chemists, biologists) and technological innovators and maintainers of the technical infrastucture. Throw in doctors, lawyers, and engineers here. Certain types of high-level bureaucrats and C.E.Os who don't own stock in their own company too...They tend to be more conservative, but their impact on society has been radical. The Third Culture types have made a somewhat convivial bridge between the Two Cultures, but to my eyes they are still rooted in the technical intelligentsia.
Both groups compete for funding, the older class making a spectacular loss to the newer tech-intelligentsia, especially since 1945.

Both groups have an overweening sense of entitlement, are jealous of their prerogatives, and, basically, the Platonic Philosopher King Complex holds in both courts. Both groups have together been wrestling with the Old Money class for cultural power. Think of the characters and values of, say, the National Association of Manufacturers, longtime backers of the Republican Party in the U.S.

The major difference, for Gouldner, between the two intellectual groups versus the Old Monied class is the former's insistence on CCD: the Culture of Critical Discourse, which means, among other aspects, that it doesn't matter if you're wearing jeans with holes in them, or you have tattoos, and and Rastafarian hair and it's well-known your father is a drug dealer: if you have a good idea and you're articulate, they will listen. Rational, critical, careful discourse knows nothing of Inherited Privilege. To dismiss any idea because it's not from a wealthy upper classman is the height of idiocy for the New Class. Good ideas can come from anywhere. (All of this a thumbnail sketch from Alvin Gouldner's fascinating and slim 1979 volume, The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class. )

One more thing that sticks out in my memory of this amazing book (time to read it again!) is this: despite the aforesaid overweening sense of its own entitlements, this New Class (both the old humanist and the new technical intellectuals together) is the best card History has dealt yet.

[Note: I'd give an Amazon link to the Gouldner book, but the prices were ridiculous! Get thee to your local library for it! For people interested in ideas about how intellectuals see themselves, this book is an absolute must-read.]
Regarding a moral stance toward dazzling electronic gadgetry and its social networking possibilities and what it all "does to" our nervous systems: I am like Marshall McLuhan, who personally preferred books and conversation to radio, TV, films, and...everything since. But unlike the Bard of Media Ecology, I love some of the stuff: some TV, a great many movies. I use a cell phone as a portable telephone booth and would rather not talk on it. I love compact discs, but they're on their way out, and I've never downloaded music from Internet, nor do I know how to do MP3s or podcasts.

The Internet would've blown McLuhan's mind, and in many ways MM is one of its Patron Saints. Internet has blown my mind, most assuredly. I don't Tweet or Facebook, although friends and family have urged me to do so. I love email. I could go on and on, but suffice: McLuhan is wildly and erroneously thought of as LIKING all the electronic media he famously wrote about, and nothing could be further from the truth. As Douglas Coupland writes in his recent book on MM, "He hated, loathed, abhorred it." The point is, McLuhan had a professionally amoral stance towards all of it. He thought a moral stance got in the way of understanding it, because in "probing" the new media, there were ideas to mine that, artfully, gave a sort of anthropological perspective on humans. And what did Marshall like more than ideas? (A: probably nothing.)

I'm more or less a piece with him on this. And I often wonder just how weird this "makes" me, because McLuhan was a very wonderfully weird guy. We have different politics, and I actually like-unto-love some of the 20th century media that (supposedly) is re-tribalizing us in the Global Village, whilst always beating a hasty retreat back to my books.

Back to the marvelous Geeks:

Here's the Wiki about the M.I.T. Media Lab.

Something recent (as of the above date) from the Media Lab that seems to argue for a Jonah Lehrer (-ish?) Fourth Culture going on there (10 mins):

Here's a video about the M.I.T. Media Lab (note the 8 other equally freaky science-fiction-y vids available after this one):

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Threats of Intellectuals and Perceived Thinkers and Other Potential Dangerous Types: Another Angle

For our purposes, from the time Arnold Toynbee wrote about this very-real "problem" for the State in his magisterial and multivolume A Study of History (12 vols written between 1934-61, a stupendous work), there have been warnings about unemployed intellectuals and other types of resentful thinker-types from other writers as well, ever since.

Well, come to think, there were a few warnings before Toynbee...(Actually, they go very far back, but I will stick with the Roaring 20th Century...)

Walter Kotschnig published Unemployment In The Learned Professions in 1937, arguing, among other things, that the rise of Nazism was due to the expansion of German university enrollment after what is commonly referred to as "World War I." The enrollment expansion - according to Kotschnig - was a short-term solution to post-war unemployment (sort of like the G.I. Bill in the U.S. after 1945). The problem? The Germans created a "mob" of well-educated volk with no jobs to turn to after matriculation, and what they did and said and wrote about the State when they were out of work led to a rapid fall of the Weimar Republic, and a vacuum was created for the guy with the funny little mustache. Things did not turn out well.

Daniel Bell, one of the New York intellectuals who rose to national prominence as a public thinker as the Cold War got up to speed, wrote about a similar problem for The New Republic in the U.S. in 1953 here, and he cites Kotschnig and Karl Mannheim in an interesting context.

Interestingly, the ox-dumb stupidity of the Republican party plays a similar cut-off-my-nose-to-spite-the-country's-face role as it did during the Reign of King Boy George W: under Dumya, if a translator of Arabic or Pashto was found to be homosexual, he got the boot, right at the moment the U.S. needed as many good translators as possible. In the early Eisenhower administration, just the fact you had the scarlet letter "D" (for Democrat) after your name and had studied the Russians meant you were going to be canned, despite your experience. And then they added on top of that the inquisition period led by an alcoholic jingo from Wisconsin named McCarthy. And J. Edgar Hoover and his boy-friend Roy Cohn... and OY VEY! how do so many mean, sick and outright psychopathic people perennially rise to power in the U.S? (No, seriously: gimme your take on this. I have my theories.)


1961: Harvard prof Robert Ulrich publishes a book with a snooze-worthy title, Philosophy of Education. To nudge us awake, though: "We are producing more and more people who will be dissatisfied because the artificially prolonged time of formal schooling arose in them hopes which society cannot fulfill...These men and women will form the avant-garde of the disgruntled. It is no exaggeration to say [people like these] were responsible for World War II." (Thanks here to the maverick writer on Education and one of my intellectual heroes, John Taylor Gatto, who points out that the idea of universal education would be always be a potential sword pointed at the State [or current Ruling Class/Families] existed from the time of the Tudors!)

Ahhhh...sooo....not only do Great Thinkers throughout history get the Platonic Complex (wanting to seize State power for themselves as Philosopher Kings), but the State seems in (rarely openly stated) perpetual fear of its own disaffected intellectuals, or people who earned their degrees and can only wait tables or drive cabs...

Noam Chomsky in particular has done yeoman work in revealing this under-employed and under-utilized Class as "enemy territory" in declassified State Department Baldspeak. Yes, its own citizens are thought of as "enemy territory." I would cite my sources, but would rather, as Ring Lardner said, "You could look it up."

One wonders, with the economy as bad as its been since The Depression and scads of stories like this, what is in store for the Americans who owe $40K in student loans and work at Best Buy or McDonald's now? Has the order of things - including our nervous systems by dazzling electronic gadgetry - changed enough to keep this educated rabble mollified with their couch surfing, involvement in The Spectacle, and drugs? We shall see...

This issue of "problem" intellectuals and other educated people has by no means been confined to the U.S. or the West. Let's revisit Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, mid-1970s, shall we? (I know, I know: must we? It'll only take a few seconds of your time, I promise!)

Pol Pot was educated at the Sorbonne (!), but, like other revolutionary leaders, he had a Platonic Complex: "communism" would only work, he believed, if you purged the other smarty-pants as a good start. They just cause problems, because they have been educated to question authority. And so, to quote a basic article on that time and place:

"The Khmer Rouge believed that their biggest threats were intellectuals because they had the intelligence to question authority and possibly overthrow the regime. Thus, teachers, doctors, lawyers and even members of the army were immediately killed. Even wearing glasses was enough reason for the Khmer Rouge to murder civilians. They took eliminating intellectuals so seriously that even extended families were killed; for example, the second cousin of a doctor could be killed for his relations." (entire short article here.) 

One further wonders how many lives would have been saved had the Cambodians had access to Lasik. Or even: contact lenses? (Gallows humor has its place, friends!)


In the early 1950s, the Chinese regime - steeped in at least a thousand years of cultural suspicion toward egg-heads - began a massive "registry" of intellectuals. The People's Republic of China in particular were suspicious of smart people (never mind that Mao was trained as a teacher!), and the "problem" was too many potential troublemakers concentrated in urban areas. There was going to be tension between the smart people and the new commisars of the PRC. 

So, on with the registration of shiye zhishifenzi, or "unemployed intellectuals." The problem: just about anyone who could read was a problem: former Kuomintang agents, state employees who had previously been fired, smart people who were seen as "non-specialists," housewives (!), "legally unqualified individuals," (whatever that means), and my favorite, "social deviants." This last group hits home for me...

The amazing thing, the take-away message: the Elite PRC had included all of these as "intellectuals" of the wrong sort, housewives and social deviants alike, as some class of competition (then-designated as "mental workers") that must be vanquished if the One True Best State were to be achieved! (For further insight into this broad historical problem, see Popper, Karl: The Open Society and Its Enemies

So anyway, I find these endless stories of people like the shiye zhishifenzi of morbid fascination. Don't mind me; maybe I'm just "weird" that way. 

But let no one mistake the clear message: "intellectuals" (however broadly you define them) are almost always seen as the "dangerous class" by those who have seized State power, and with very few exceptions, State power is run on the neural networks of intellectuals themselves. 

(A crucial exception to "intellectuals" as used the first time in the above paragraph, in the broad sense: the State actively courts technical intelligentsia: social "scientists" who know how to handle mob psychology, and the physicists/chemists/biologist "geeks" who stoke the technical imperatives of the Military-Industrial-Academic-Entertainment Complex. Must we have an increasingly hi-tech Bread and Circus world? I guess so...)

Anyway, what I guess I was trying to say is; go out and have some FUN this weekend! (Or what the hell: right now?)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Brief Excursion Through the "Dangerous" Land of the "Intellectuals"

Sir Karl Raimund Popper, one of the Titans of 20th c. High Culture thought, and Generalistic enough to have made significant contributions to the philosophy of science and the history of philosophy, is notable in these spaces for his massive The Open Society and Its Enemies. It's usually found in two volumes: 1.) The Spell of Plato, and 2.) The High Tide of Prophecy: Hegel, Marx and the Aftermath. 

Written during what is commonly called "World War II" it's still a bombshell of a book, and, while famous, seems to me criminally under-read (because fat and difficult?), and worse: unheeded. NB the Wiki link I have there for the book(s) and the presence of Leo Strauss and his typically baroque critique of Popper. Ironic: Strauss is the Godfather (and I mean that in at least two common semantic senses) of the Neo-Conservatives. Listen to the ministers in the George W. Bush cabal about why they went into Iraq. Bush's cabinet and ministers were loaded with Neo-Cons, and they got the U.S. into a $3,000,000,000 Iraq "war" - untold death on both "sides" - that will, I think, prove almost fruitless, and possibly to have made the overall situation worse. And Strauss and his cabal (more on them is some future rant) illustrate Popper's thesis (based on my reading): it has always been socially and politically dangerous to follow great intellectuals as if they had the One True Key to reading history, a path to some teleological breakthrough (AKA "historicism" in the Academy) that would lead to things like "The End of History," the "end of ideology," finally, the utopia in which things turn out - as one prominent American fascist popularly put it, "the way things ought to be."

There seems a horrific irony to Straussians and their dismissal of Popper (and they don't like the idea of an open society, from what I can tell) and what happened under the reign of King George the Turd.

I have gone on too long about Popper's massive volume, and really haven't said much, except that he has a crucial point we should heed in our thinking on political matters. There is much room for discussion around Popper's thesis, and I hope to address some particular aspects later. Suffice: intellectuals and their ideas have had some massively unpleasant consequences when played out in what we so laffingly call "the real world."

Anyone want the Amazon link to Popper's book(s) for more info, etc? They're here and here. Or better yet: be (unfortunately) the first person in seven years to check out one of these volumes from your local public library!

An elaboration from a slightly different angle: Ian Buruma, on "Why Is Intellectualism Met With Suspicion In the U.S."


This talk about famous philosophers, their weighty tomes, their extraordinary erudition, etc, reminds me of a golden passage in William James's Eight Lectures On Pragmatism. He's been discussing his idea of the role of individual philosophers and their basic personal temperaments that give rise to massive systems of thought (and is it possible that their systems - whether "tough-minded" and empirical, or "tender-minded" and rationalistic, are merely extreme examples of...autobiography?), and that, for us more slightly down-to-earth types trying to make our way in the absurd dense thicket of philosophical thought, we are correct when we read, say, Hegel, and think foremost, "What an odd egg this Hegel is for writing such a dense book of ideas such as this!" 

The idea applies to all the Great thinkers, probably.

Here's William James, addressing a large popular crowd in 1906, at the Lowell Institute in Boston, in his talk, "The Present Dilemma in Philosophy":

"Few people have definitely articulated philosophies of their own. But almost every one has his own peculiar sense of a certain total character in the universe, and of the inadequacy fully to match it of the peculiar systems that he knows. They don't just cover his world. One will be too dapper, another too pedantic, a third too much of a job-lot of opinions, a fourth too morbid, and a fifth too artificial, or what not. At any rate he and we know off-hand that such philosophies are out of plumb and out of key and out of 'whack,' and have no business to speak up in the universe's name. Plato, Locke, Spinoza, Mill, Caird, Hegel - I prudently avoid names nearer home! - I am sure that to many of you, my hearers, these names are little more than reminders of as many curious personal ways of falling short. It would be an obvious absurdity if such ways of taking the universe were actually true."

After the 20th century worldwide bloodbath, well-grounded thinkers might want to ground themselves further, if they haven't already, in Popper and James. They complement each other. I mention them here in the spirit of a basic plea for more sanity on Earth, and to remind philosophers and/or intellectuals in all possible social standings: your ideas have consequences, your articulations reverberate and ripple outward and what you do and say MATTERS.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

23 Quotes, Strategically Arranged, From The Files (Perspective From Incongruity?)

1. "Before judging any proposition as true or false, you should not only ask if it might better be called indeterminate or meaningless or self-reflexive of a 'local' Game Rule, but also if it is part of a Strange Loop that may make you appear crazy if you try to live with it." - Robert Anton Wilson, found in The Fringes of Reason, p.173

2. "How we organize our world reflects not only the world but also our interests, our passions, our needs, our dreams." - David Weinberger, Everything Is Miscellaneous, p.40

3. "It must be recognized that here we are dealing with a purely symbolic procedure...Hence our whole space-time view of physical phenomena depends ultimately upon these abstractions." - Niels Bohr, articulating part of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, in his Atomic Theory and the Description of Nature, p.77

4. "The more things you know, or pretend to know, the more powerful you are. It doesn't matter if the things are true. What counts, remember, is to possess a secret." - Umberto Eco (I forget where I found this.)

5. "Discoveries are made by gluttons and addicts. The man who forgets to eat and sleep has an appetite for fact, for interrelations among causes." - Ezra Pound, Guide To Kulchur, p.100

6. "I tell you, freedom and human rights in America are doomed. The U.S. government will lead the American people - and the West in general - into an unbearable hell and a choking life." - Osama bin Laden, CNN, February 5, 2002

7. "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." - Upton Sinclair (source?)

8. "Nor is the guilt entirely with the warmongers, plutocrats and demagogues. If people permit exploitation and regimentation in any name, they deserve their slavery. A tyrant does not make his tyranny possible. It is made by the people and not otherwise." - John Whiteside Parsons, Freedom Is A Two-Edged Sword

9. "Whoever has known himself has known God." - Hajji Bektash, Sufi

10. "Every minute, every second, the pattern of genes being expressed in your brain changes, often in direct or indirect response to events outside the body. Genes are the mechanisms of experience." - Matt Ridley

11. "I believe with Schopenhauer that one of the strongest motives that lead men to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, from the fetters of one's own ever-shifting desires. A finely-tempered nature longs to escape from the personal life into the world of objective perception and thought." - Albert Einstein

12. "Our country is now geared to an arms economy which was bred in an artificially induced psychosis of war hysteria and nurtured upon an incessant propaganda of fear." - not Noam Chomsky, but Gen. Douglas MacArthur

13. "Einstein pronounced the doom of continuous or 'rational' space, and the way was made clear for Picasso and the Marx Brothers and Mad magazine." - McLuhan

14. "Someone will always want to mobilize
       Death on a massive scale for economic
       Domination or revenge. And the task, taken
       As a task, appeals to the imagination.
       The military is an engineering profession." - Robert Hass, "Bush's War,"
       Time and Materials: Poems 1997-2005

15. "We have certain preconceived notions about location in space and which have come down to us from ape-like ancestors." - Sir Arthur Eddington, Space, Time and Gravitation

16. "One of the reasons that politics lets us down is that we keep comparing it to our ideal narratives, to politics on TV or in the movies, which is tidier and better fits such structures." - George Lakoff, The Political Mind, p. 27

17. "Hitler repeatedly stressed that one could not get at the masses with arguments, proofs, and knowledge, but only with feelings and beliefs." - Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism, p.83

18. "for want of correspondence/with the imagination/the rich have become richer/the poor poorer/from an unmitigated exercise of the calculating faculty." - P.B. Shelley, repeated by W.B. Yeats, found p.196 of Peter Dale Scott's Minding The Darkness

19. "It seems evident that everything which exists in nature, is natural, no matter how simple or complicated a phenomenon it is; and on no occasion can the so-called 'supernatural' be anything else than a completely natural law, though it may, at the moment, be above and beyond the present understanding." - Alfred Korzybski, Manhood of Humanity, pp.228-229

20. "Another bad effect of commerce is that the minds of men are contracted and rendered incapable of elevation. Education is despised, or at least neglected." - Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

21. "Every profession is a conspiracy against the laity." - George Bernard Shaw

22. "A magician is only an actor - an actor pretending to be a magician." - Houdini

23. "The fact that something is quoted from someone else or somewhere else gives it a magical gloss, the portentous found-object." - William S. Burroughs, Last Words, p.224

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Robert Sapolsky On Us And Our Cousins

This is one of the most eloquent talks I've ever seen on humans and how they are alike and different from their other-animal cousins. By the end your socks ought to have been knocked off, out the window and never to be worn again. Sapolsky is probably the funniest of all the Third Culture thinkers, and I cherish all of his books. I hope you enjoy it. It's less than 38 minutes long, and pretty darned spellbinding, to my eyes/ears. 2009 graduation at Stanford. The dean talks for about five minutes. Sapolsky is introduced around 4:50. (If you've ever wanted to study neurobiology via audio or DVD, Sapolsky has a knockout course available here.)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Books, Reading, Memory

When Timothy Leary first began to be hounded for his advocation of "internal freedom" he was asked about the dangers of hallucinogenic drugs for some young people, and don't you think we should keep them from such drugs?

Leary, playing out (basically) the same cultural script Giordano Bruno played in the late 16th century and Socrates twenty centuries before Bruno said yes, we should keep kids from finding out about their own nervous systems. And furthermore, close all the libraries! Because books have caused far more damage than drugs! Look at the crazy - even murderous - things done in the name of some ideas someone read in a book! Aye, Leary was flippant. But isn't there a kernel of truth there? Or more than a kernel?

I say yes! To the unprepared mind, or the mentally unbalanced, books are freakin' dangerous things! And I call History to the stand as my first witness!

 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

While openly admitting my life of inveterate-unto-stupefying reading has produced quasi-psychedelic moments, I think on the whole my reading has lead me to understand the "Lotus Eaters" section of Homer's The Odyssey quite deeply. Because books are more opioid (or narcotic?) for me than any other drug. Marshall McLuhan ingeniously wrote about different media as distinct environments. The fact that I was holding a "book" and decoding 26 letters in their combinations as "words," with adjunct punctuations, eyes moving left to right, left to right, decoding and visualizing, decoding and left to right, silent subvocalizations as I read, an abecedarian heretic of the worst sort, left to right, left to right, decoding and glossing abstract printed letters, words, left to right, left to right (psst! you're doing it right now!!!)....THAT was an "environment!" THAT was "the message." The "content" of the book was minor, compared to the historical fact of me (and you) doing those mental gymnastics that were now second nature to us.

And millions of people doing that since Gutenberg? The fallout was tremendous, and not entirely healthy. (Wanna blow your mind? Check out McLuhan's Gutenberg Galaxy. There you'll be, sitting quietly reading McLuhan's incredibly abstracted-from-actual-experience 26 letters plus peripheral marks and he'll be telling you what that very thing did to the Mind of Europe, over a period of 400 years. You gotta hand it to Irony. She gets the upper hand in the gol-derndest ways.) 

McLuhan once wrote about the environment of the morning newspaper. I'll never forget it: the newspaper was an avant-garde collage! The way it absurdly juxtaposed stories of war and bankruptcy with an ad for an elegant lady's evening dress and dimestore baldness cures. And yet, Daddy got into it like he got into his warm bath...Actually, that's a lot like what books were/are for me: opiate, but my mind is buzzing, alive. My interiority is jumpin'. I want to be enchanted, even by some book on semiotics, or a few pages of Hegel, or even a history of mathematics. Fiction? That's mainlining the good stuff. This enchantment is like a return to the opiate amniotic fluid-existence, and I'm safe and warm...But enough about me. Tell me a bit about yourself?

 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The older I get the more I find I'm perturbed by how much I've read that I know I've read, and some of it made a major emotional impression upon me, but I can't tell you the title sometimes. Oh, it'll come to me in a minute. What were the main ideas? What was that guy's name? Well, it was mostly about how we respond emotionally to philosophical...no, that's not it: it was how I responded to it. But I wish I could tell you more. 

And yet I go on and on about books and ideas and a friend will say, "How can you remember so much of what you read?" I have no idea. It seems like the more I've read the dumber I've gotten! It seems like....no, I think it "is" true: the more I read the more I realize how ignorant I am! 

I never thought it would be that way when I was a kid. 

Noam Chomsky cheered me when I read an interview with him once. He said that when he was a kid he remembered...Oh wait I'll go find it in my stacks...

Ah, here it is:

James Peck: You once said, "It is not unlikely that literature will forever give far deeper insight into what is sometimes called 'the full human person' than any modes of scientific inquiry may hope to do."

Chomsky: That's perfectly true and I believe that. I would go on to say it's not only not unlikely, but it's almost certain. But still, if I want to understand, let's say, the nature of China and its revolution, I ought to be cautious about literary renditions. Look, there's no question  that as a child, when I read about China, this influenced my attitudes - Rickshaw Boy, for example. That had a powerful effect when I read it. It was so long ago I don't remember a thing about it, except the impact. (The Chomsky Reader, p.4)

This was Plato's big attack on this hot new medium of writing. It would degrade the old, pure medium: speech and memory. And we would lose our grip on the Real. Speech would become coarse, people would go out in the Agora and spout out things they had READ! (Television, anyone?) And I have a lot of problems with Plato, especially his proto-fascist utopian State, The RepublicBut he may have had a point about that, like, ya know? That writing thing. Or did he have a good point? And what really was that point? Because, ya know...I forget.

Soooo...what have you been readin'? Anything good?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Some Further Notes on the "Free Floating Intellectual"

It occurs to me that a further definition of oneself here may derive from its similarity of structure to Antonio Gramsci's "organic intellectual." In contrast to the intellectual class that serves to perpetuate the hegemony of the current order, Gramsci's organic intellectual is a working-class thinker who is able to articulate the feelings of the situation for other workers, and encourage a recognition of the order of things and how a resistance might be made. I am not talking about some Balzac-ish idea of a too-smart anarchist "plotting revolution in a garret," although that seems to be an enduring romantic notion...

(What do some of us relatively free-floating unattached intelligentsia hope to accomplish? A meme that goes viral? Some writing that pays the bills? That's not too much to ask. I hope there are no little Lenins or Neo-Cons reading this, hoping to seize State power for themselves, because they know the One True Course History Must Take...)

Gramsci (1891-1937) spent the last 11 years of his life languishing in Italian prisons, writing, and watching his health deteriorate. A short life, but one that proved enormously influential upon subsequent critics of the State. Supposedly, the Fascists gave him a sham trial and a prosecutor said, "For twenty years we must stop this brain from functioning." Check out his Prison Notebooks.

While a leader of an opposing political party when arrested by Mussolini's thugs and so not exactly "unattached," Gramsci nevertheless seems to fit the Mannheim ideal fairly well...

I ran across a quote not long ago, originally printed in a 1984 issue of Magazin Litteraire, by the towering French historiographer Fernand Braudel, who died in 1985 at the age of 83. He influenced the macro-study of World Systems Theory. Anyway, he said this there:

"For me, there is only a unitary interscience...If one tries to marry history with geography, or history and economics, one is wasting one's time. One must do everything, at the same time...Interdisciplinarity is the legal marriage of two neighboring disciplines. I myself am in favor of generalized promiscuity. The devotees who do interscience by marrying one science with another are too prudent. It is bad morals that must prevail: let us mix together all of the sciences, including the traditional ones, philosophy, philology, etc, which are not as dead as we claim." (found in Immanuel Wallerstein's The Uncertainties of Knowledge.)

What's not to like about a guy like Braudel, eh? I have the "bad morals" thing down already! And I have always tried for "promiscuity." (I said "tried.") Those of us who fancy ourselves as some species of free-floating unattached intellectuals (which I will now abbrev. as FFUIs and see if it flies) want this kind of carte blanche. At the same time, "One must do everything, at the same time..." will tend to make demands on our social lives. (Do we have social lives, by the way? I ask that rhetorically.)

In recent years, in the U.S, the itinerant academic Morris Berman has advocated for a class which he calls "New Monastic Individuals," or NMIs. Some of us FFUIs may fit in with this NMI stuff.

Berman is not exactly bullish on the fate of the U.S, especially after eight years of George W. Bush. The U.S. tortures, starts phony wars and gets away with it, the financial wizard-crooks who wrecked the economy get bailed out; no one goes to prison. But for the rest of the beleaguered citizenry without Wall Street connections, the U.S. imprisons at a higher per-capita rate than any other country in world, the rich have gotten much richer since Reagan, everyone else poorer, and the right wing has bought most of the corporate media and has many Americans convinced Obama is a secret Muslim Nazi socialist who is after their guns and "keep your filthy government hands off my Medicare!" It's over for the U.S, Berman is convinced. (see, for example, his Twilight of American Culture and Dark Ages America for a very well-reasoned and robust argument to give up almost all hope of any decent "recovery." See esp. pp.135-136 of Twilight and note how his subset of NMIs sound very much like early 21st century FFUIs.) 

For Berman, it doesn't get better. And he has too too many reasons why. I hope he's wrong, but he might not be...

But then what is the function of the NMI? Well, you refuse to participate in the sinking of the country as much as possible, and hunker down and prepare to do what some scholars did up to the beginning of the Renaissance: you preserve what was good in the culture, so that later, when a new, saner order arises (if it does), all will not be lost for them. Sounds bleak? I think so, but Berman is a serious thinker to contend with. 

Here are some of the values of Berman's NMIs in the 21st c:

  • craftsmanship
  • care
  • integrity
  • preservation of the canons of scholarship
  • critical thinking in the Enlightenment tradition
  • combatting forces of environmental degradation and encouraging social equality
  • valuing individual achievement and individual thought
  • a thorough rejection of a life based on kitsch, consumerism, profit, power, fame, and self-promotion
Finally, for an very colorful example of a Gramscian organic intellectual, definitely a FFUI in late 20th century America who is having a difficult time making it, see Jim Goad's The Redneck Manifesto. Just a thought...     (Amazon link to Goad's book here.)