Monday, December 23, 2013

Post of December 23. Exercise of Ploughing Through, Frustration With Machine

I recently obtained several bags of discarded books from a school library where I live. I would be tempted not to accept these castoffs of a bygone time and way of approaching knowledge if it were at all clear to me that the new methods are in any way identical, if not superior. However, as my wife actually picked out these books, the haul was pretty good, a lot of high school classics and middle-aged novels that I have heard of but that aren't as famous as they once were. So we kept them, except for one book by the apparently disgraced Greg Mortenson that we have for the time being donated to the camp in Vermont. It is a good-looking hardcover, beautiful jacket, etc, and the idea that it is in some part a fabrication and a scam somehow makes it more interesting to me than when I thought it was about another energetic and determined overachiever accomplishing incredible things and single-handedly bringing light to places where none had penetrated for ages, which naysayers like me did not believe could be done.

The main point of interest about this set of books however is three of them came attached with warning labels that seem mildly ludicrous if one has never seen such a thing before.

On Humans and Animals, a 1980 anthology of magazine articles belonging to a series called The Reference Shelf (contributors included Sir Kenneth Clark and Richard Adams, as well as James Fallows and Nicholas Wade, whom I had not realized were so old, the reader is advised that:

"This book contains information that is between 10 and 20 years old. However it still has value, especially if it is used for comparative purposes."

There is no indication however on what exactly may be outdated, and who is making the determination that the book still has value, and on what grounds.

The next book that required a disclaimer was Franklin D Roosevelt and the Age of Action--ed. Alfred B Rollins, Jr (1960):

"This document contains dated and possibly incorrect information. However it is considered to be an important work in this field. Please use it with care."

This one is a masterpiece. "Possibly" strikes me as the vital word, but "dated" is good too. And the heartfelt urgency of the final admonishment seems almost out of place in this age. Glancing over the book it looks like pretty much a general survey of the period referenced, in the old style, by and about people who had in fact lived through the entire era. The question I guess is, can information be dated but at the same time correct?

My favorite warning was that for Colin M. Turnbull's Man In Africa: From Cairo to the Cape of Good Hope (1976):

"This is considered to be an important, seminal work within the subject area. However, you must (italics not mine) review current literature in order to have an accurate understanding of the issues."

I guess these statements are not wholly contradictory, though they would seem to indicate that Colin M. Turnbull, who was a pretty famous anthropologist, did not possess the accurate understanding of the issues that awaits the high school student who keeps up with the current research. I cannot find much information about what might be wrong with this particular book online, apart from the author's apparent belief in a power unity that binds all African cultures, 'one that may link them to Black Americans'. Turnbull was white (English-born), as well as flamboyantly gay, especially by the standards of his generation, taking part in a marriage ceremony with his partner in the 1950s. I don't know what this has to do with anything, but it is noted in most accounts of him on the internet. My guess is, his books combined a lot of interesting and important observations in the field, along with some theories that are a little too far out, or even mildly kooky by today's standards, to gain a wide acceptance.

Pretty persuasive essay about the decline of college here. The more stuff like this I read, the more I have to concede that maybe it really isn't worth getting that excited about anymore, if you aren't one of the 1,000 or so genuinely brilliant students in the country (I've seen other claims that there are less than 100 high school seniors in any given year in the entire country who are regarded as having meaningful intellectual talent by the colleges, who are of course well aware of who these students are, but even I am a little skeptical of this) or your parents don't have nine-figure net worth. I'm sure all of my children will still go to whatever version of it exists in 10-15 years, and most of them will probably finish and probably a few of them will even acquire professions or skills of some kind. I have an idea of college, and education generally, slowly being disabused, that is stuck in the 1950s or 1960s, with a few concessions to the realities of the 1980s perhaps, to which very few schools that most people attend now bear any resemblance. This includes the way that it is financed.

Now that I have a free hour to try to finish this post which should have taken twenty minutes to begin with, my machine is working slowly, my words appearing at a remove of some seconds after I have typed them.

The same author who wrote the college article above also recently wrote another article, which I cannot now find, in which he chastises supposed progressives for, primarily, not being angrier and bringing some heat to bear in the current national economic debate, or non-debate, as this writer, Frank, sees it. He referred in the piece to generational theory, which he called false, and accused many who longed for a juster order of taking a phony solace in the belief that the passage of time, rather than aggressive opposition to the powerful now, will miraculously produce solutions to our current problems. I suppose it could be said that I belong to the group that puts some stock in the generational theory, mainly because it is obvious that trends which are in some sense subject to volatility, good or bad, cannot go on forever, and especially if such a trend is the cause of widespread dissatisfaction through a society, it seems very likely that only so many years can pass before the matter is brought to some kind of head. This is not to say that a lot of hardship and terrible things will not occur when this happens, or that there is any guarantee that the end result, when the fury of the crisis will have exhausted itself, will not be even greater domination by the financial-cognitive elite and de facto serfdom for everyone else. It is, however, an opportunity for the kinds of corrections and major changes of policy that many desire to be enacted which should come if the desire for it is what it is said to be. I do agree, however, that the intellectual/rhetorical force on behalf of the common man has not been as committed or strong as that of capital, and that it will need to become so if anything is to change...

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