Overweening Generalist

Saturday, June 25, 2011

"Free-Floating Intellectuals" and Their Enemies: Scattershot Take

One thing the relatively unattached free-floating intellectual (FFUI) is not is a specialist "expert." There now exists an entire shelf of books on Expertology (my current favorite is titled The Experts Speak), and I find them funny, then lamentable (not the books, the so-called "experts"), then galling. Galling because our culture is still so authoritarian that anyone with a modicum of knowledge and some chutzpah or maybe some sociopathy going on...can call themselves an "expert" and be paraded on TV "news" shows, interviewed by a failed actor/actress who was assured by the producers they themselves are "journalists" who aren't supposed to have an informed opinion anyway. And these "experts" get asked all the questions I would not have asked...and then, apparently, no one in the TV news media bothers to keep a track record of these so-called "experts." Because often, you and I could have prognosticated as well as the "experts."

Rather than "experts" it's more like "Here's someone to fill space in our broadcast, and the graphics you read right there on your screen and the books behind the space-filler say 'You can trust me to know something you're too lazy to have tried to find out for yourself. Trust me. I know.' Now relax and calmly tell yourself over and over, repeat after me: I am being informed...I am being informed...I am being informed.'"

Yea, apparently the TV "news" (nuzak?) -watching crowd needs to be told what to think by an "expert." I find this embarrassing. For one, their expertise usually isn't worth much, but worse: what's wrong with trying to figure things out for yourself? Hey all you citizens who watch Face The Nation: have you ever spent a few days trying to figure out, from the ground up, how the Finance Capital system really works?

Naw, didn't think so. Relax. Breathe deeply, exhale slowly, the serious white men will inform you.

Recently Daniel Bell died. He was a Man of Knowledge who was thought of as an expert and who didn't go out of his way to dispel the idea. In 1960 he published a book called The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties;with "The Resumption of History in the New Century", this linked book being his way of covering for himself. (Anytime you see a book called "The End of an abstract word," you can be sure you're looking at a book that will be an embarrassment to the author in ten years. Hello, Francis Fukuyama! How are your Neo-Con pals? Oh? They won't have you because you disagreed with them on some tenet? Sounds Stalinist to me...Oh? Oh! I see: you quit them.)

Get a load of Daniel Bell in an article in Commentary in 1964. He claimed - in 1964! - we had achieved, "The egalitarian and socially mobile society which the 'free-floating intellectuals' associated with the Marxist tradition have been calling for during the last hundred years."

First off, thanks for the longer pedigree. And what made you think we had achieved such a thing? And that it would apparently remain? Your reading of Hegel? (Here's an interview with Bell, probably his last before his death; it gives the flavor, in my opinion, of someone who was brilliant but too cozy with institutions - Bell was nothing close to free-floating - that supported him, and he seems incapable of saying, "Boy, did I get that wrong!" This is one of the reasons the 40-50 year reign of the New York Intellectuals as self-appointed Philosopher Kings was a world well-lost. Still, of all the New York Intellectuals, Bell was probably the best generalist and maybe the smartest of them all. Still: Welcome, Third Culture.)
But even more welcome: the FFUIs and polymaths, synthesizers, flaneurs, multi-interdisciplinarians, systems thinkers, holistic versatile divergently-thinking cultural creatives, diligent magpie researchers, promiscuous and inveterate readers of fiction/ non-fiction/and everything else and your practiced syntopicalist methods of thought and writing, you brilliant cranky autodidacts with compendious minds, you historically-informed poets. Welcome, you homo ludens erudites and organic intellectuals with nonviolent stealthy methods for community, creativity, liberty, and love!
I end with a sermon for the FFUI, from one Friedrich Nietzsche. The FFUI and any free-thinker's mind must contend with the mind-deadening act of the priest in an organized religion. (I realize there seem to be some very interesting exceptions.) He is a shepherd of his flock of sheep. He spreads his oral pox via the Word from on high...or so his act goes. Gosh, Father...thanks a lot! videlicet:

"I have been understood. The beginning of the Bible contains the whole psychology of the priest. The priest knows only one great danger: that is science, the sound conception of cause and effect. But on the whole science prospers only under happy circumstances - there must be a surplus of time, of spirit, to make 'knowledge' possible. 'Consequently man must be made unhappy' - that was the logic of the priest in every age.

"It will now be clear what was introduced into the world for the first time, in accordance with this logic: 'sin.' The concept of guilt and punishment, the whole 'moral world order,' was invented against science, against the emancipation of man from the priest. Man shall not look outside; he shall look into himself; he shall not look into things cleverly and cautiously, like a learner, he shall not look at all - he shall suffer. And he shall suffer in such a way that he has need of the priest at all times. Away with physicians! A Savior is needed. The concept of guilt and punishment, including the doctrine of 'grace,' of 'redemption,' of 'forgiveness' - lies through and through, and without any psychological reality - were invented to destroy man's causal sense: they are an attempt to assassinate cause and effect. And not an attempt to assassinate with the fist, with the knife, with honesty in hatred and love! But born of the most cowardly, most cunning, lowest instincts. A priestly attempt! A parasite's attempt! A vampirism of pale, subterranean bloodsuckers!

"When the natural consequences of a deed are no longer 'natural," but thought of as caused by the conceptual specters of superstition, by 'God,' by 'spirits,' by 'souls,' as if they were merely 'moral' consequences, as reward, punishment, hint, means of education, then the presupposition of knowledge has been destroyed - then the greatest crime against humanity has been committed. Sin, to repeat it once more, this form of man's self-violation par excellence, was invented to make science, culture, every elevation and nobility of man, impossible. The priest rules through the invention of sin."
-section #49 of The Antichrist
Wow! You don't get to hear a firebrand like that every day, do ya? I have some qualms with Fred's points here, but reading stuff like this is a tonic for the FFUI: sometimes we're just glad that someone said that, in that way, with that...style... even if maybe we don't go along with it 100%. (Or maybe you do? Really? Forgiveness is part of the priest's con? How "free-floating" are we?)

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