Posts Tagged ‘John Seigenthaler’

Leonard Pitts on “truthiness”

February 18, 2012

Almost sent one of my CoPhi classes to hear nationally-syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts the other day, at the first Seigenthaler lecture of the season on our campus. He talked about “Owning What You Know.”

But I didn’t, and we had a good class discussion on Nietzsche, Darwin, & Mill (et al). But I wish we coulda done both. Pitts delivered a timely reminder that “truthiness” (Stephen Colbert’s term for the dishonesty and disinterest in truth– what Harry Frankfurt calls “Bullshit“– that has taken over so much of our public discourse and philosophy) is simply unacceptable. Ahd yet it is one of the most “salient” features of our culture and our time. Pitts:

The issue is not simply that we do not have the facts, it is that we do not want the facts. It is that we refuse to engage them. It is that we actively reject anything that does not comport with what we have already chosen to believe… trying to turn lies into truth by sheer repetition, of hammering lies like nails… echoed and magnified by a network of bloggers, and radio talk show hosts and TV pundits… brazen falsehoods that fly in the face of science, and history, and facts, and decency.

It threatens grave and profound damage to the intellectual life of the nation, to our ability to simply be thinking and responsible members of the American electorate.

Where to, humanity?” Wherever we’re going as a species, it’ll be a bad trip if we’re not even trying to tell the truth about it.

DK, R.I.P.

November 20, 2010

They’re closing down my old store.

Davis-Kidd Booksellers, founded by independent local owners Karen Davis and Thelma Kidd, opened in Nashville in 1980. That was my first year in town too. So you might just as well tell me they’re demolishing the Parthenon or Greer Stadium. (I know, Greer is past its prime. It probably needs to go. I’ll miss it when it does.) I’ve never known this place without it.

I remember my first visit to the original Hillsboro Road location, on a tip from a fellow 1st-year Vandy grad student. I went there after a seminar (probably John Post’s Metaphysics seminar) in the Fall of ’80.

I worked there, at the first mall location and then at Grace’s Plaza in the late ’80’s and a couple years into the ’90s, until it was time to go and teach at East Tennessee State in Johnson City. Started the company softball team. We were awful, and we had a great time. Lost every game, and consoled ourselves afterwards at Dalt’s. Every game. Wonderful people, good times.

I came back years later for my own book reading & signing. That was special.

The Grace’s Plaza location was special too. Taking “meetings” out in the airy atrium, with espresso and “Mr. Cookie Bars” with Jim & Ricky & Carter & Landy & Maria & Jerry & Erik & Suzanne & Donna (those meetings were real) & so many others…  The end was inevitable, in my opinion, when they moved out of there and back into the accursed mall.

There’s a nice Nashville Scene story on DK, concluding with the words of another local institution:

“It’s a self-inflicted wound,” John Seigenthaler says, “and when you lose the linkage that Davis-Kidd had with the customer, there’s a disconnect that follows. The less a community reads, the poorer it is. It’s amazing how books can be a magnet bringing people together, but without it, we fly apart.”

Very sad. I’ve felt that sentiment about flying apart from old DK friends many times through the years. We need a new magnet.

mostly harmless?

November 8, 2010

Jaron Lanier, the old fogey, wants to be put out to pasture. He doesn’t get why kids these days are so smitten with Linux and Wikipedia.

In general he thinks Web 2.0’s culture of  “free & open”  collaboration is “choking off” originality and “eating its own seed stock” by endlessly mashing and recycling old-media content.  What ever happened to real novelty and first-order creativity? As Mr. Emerson challenged, why should we not enjoy our own original relation to the universe? His timid young men hunched over ancient, dusty tomes in libraries have become wired young men and women hunched over keyboards, but the challenge stands. (Wonder what he’d think of this collaborative mashup of his own words, unsourced and de-contextualized?)

Is it really all about the Internet-as-Frankenstein fantasy?.  But the monster was always a freak, albeit a compelling and finally pitiable one. He was not simply the Next Big Thing. He was not the future of life that would render the rest of us obsolete and irrelevant.

Lanier’s problem with the Open Source movement is not that its free and available to all, but that it threatens to turn all into cyphers and drones. He thinks it kills creativity and stifles innovation. I don’t know about that. I’m sure grateful for Open Office  and have been as creative with it as I know how.

I don’t know, either, about the claim that making mashups of old media content “accomplishes nothing.” Those clever Symphony of Science productions brought Carl Sagan’s inspiring cosmic consciousness to a new generation. That’s not nothing.

Speaking as an old fogey, I do agree with his verdict on  the last decade or so of pop music. It does seem pretty derivative and uninspired. Unreal. All too easily represented. Lifeless, disjoint, out of context, not conducive to human connection. But since when were older people expected to like younger people’s music, or even encouraged to listen? Lanier’s charge, though, is that young people don’t really have music of their own anymore. Is he wrong? I can tell you, there’s plenty on my kids’ iPods you won’t catch me listening to.

Then again, there’s Wikipedia and its legion of anonymous mostly-youthful creators. Everyone’s apparently gotten over– or just forgotten?– those early days of reckless, unaccountable slander. I wonder how many of us even remember the Seigenthaler fiasco?

On the other hand, there haven’t been any comparable high-profile hoaxes lately. The anonymous crowd-cloud seems to hold more water than it used to. The New York Times gushed about it yesterday: “Wikipedia is vitally important to the culture…”  Is it really making us smarter, Lanier asks? Or is it just exploiting our laziness?

In any event, Wikipedia’s not nearly as much fun as The Book. Those hitchhikers, whatever else you want to say about them, were distinctive individuals. (Zaphod Beeblebrox, doubly so.) Even Marvin the paranoid android.