Monday, June 16, 2014

Macht makes right

It’s no fun facing a real existential dilemma. Whom should I root for – the team which relies on the most pathetic and obnoxious football/soccer player in living memory; or the team representing (albeit imperfectly) the nation whose leaders twice sank the “world” in bloody conflict last century – and which provided thousands of gleeful executioners for the delusional and murderous Nazi regime? After much soul searching, I opted for the latter. Why? Because they seemed poised to score a rare victory for “civilization” in the early 21st century. And because I could not really suppress my dislike of Ronaldo – no matter how politically incorrect it might seem.

Revenge of the extrovert?

With all due respect, this must be one of the most groundless theories in the social sciences since Keynes famously mis-predicted the 15-hour work week. It is the “brain child” of Jennifer O. Grimes, a “Millennial” prospective psychologist bent on finally cracking the “introvert” walnut. She has developed an “energy theory” according to which introversion and extraversion can be related to fleeting self-representations (“If you think about planning and really putting together something in your mind, that could be argued to be introversion. But unless you act and channel the energy outward, it's not bringing to extroverted observable fruition the introverted plan.”); or the personality traits of introverts (if we take these to be a bit less transient) would place them on (or very close to) the autism spectrum – just dial these qualities up a bit, and you will get into typical Asperger’s symptoms. This is, I must say, a very extroverted way of analyzing introversion.

Don’t worry – ever…

On the Edge web site, Steven Pinker offers a scientific dissection of “writing in the 21st century.” Toward the end of his analysis, he slips in the following obligatory warning:

Another intellectual error we must be suspicious of is the ever-present tendency to demonize the younger generation and the direction in which culture and society are going. In every era there are commentators who say that the kids today are dumbing down the culture and taking human values with them. Today the accusations are often directed at anything having to do with the Web and other electronic technologies—as if the difference between being printed on dead trees and displayed as pixels on a screen is going to determine the content of ideas. We're always being told that young people suck: that they are illiterate and unreflective and un-thoughtful, all of which ignores the fact that every generation had that said about them by the older generation. Yet somehow civilization persists.

As I have noted earlier, someone could have made the same observation in Rome circa 400 A.D., and smirked at the Cassandra’s who fail to see the obvious truth. But the paper-vs.-pixels debate is worth revisiting, too.