This Is What Happens When You Forget Your Shakespeare
I've been a fan of Richard Hanania's for a couple of years now. I think he's written some really good essays, especially on wokeness, and his new book is very good (so far, just started it). But I think his Twitter troll personality has only intensified since Elon started paying people for driving traffic. He was always a hell of a troll, but now he seems to just throw shit against the wall and see what sticks. I actually couldn't even understand the Shakespeare argument—you laid it out well here—I don't believe he believes that. I just can't, lol.
The rest of your essay is spot on as well; Takeism is killing us. Lebron James doesn't have to tell me what he thinks about Israel. I really don't care. Nobody really cares. They just want to crucify him when he gets it wrong.
Also, condolences on the targeted prostate ads—the Internet's no country for old men.
Hey, I largely agree with your sentiment, but let me offer a couple of counter points.
First, and I realize this may be a rhetorical thing on your part, but I don't think we can just pronounce the death of six centuries of humanism over the cultural trends of barely 20 years, no matter how appalling they may be. I don't have a classical education, but I've slowly learned to really appreciate everything that humanism stands for - depth of empathy for one another's joys and sorrows, an understanding of the emotional complexity and tragic side of the human predicament, but also humor, generosity, gracefulness and the like. My take is that humanism as a concept had to be invented, but what really stands behind it is timeless - which in modern rationalist terms might be reduced to "is as old as the human species itself" - but that's not a little thing!
So, yes, the modern internet's cultural dynamics are very powerful, and not in a good way. I'm starting to entertain the idea that the best thing the EU could possibly still do is to ban all algorithmic feeds altogether. Letting our main mechanism of interpersonal interaction be fine tuned for maximum reaction by each user (which means fine tuned for negativity, human psychology being what it is), with content drawn from the entire pool (instead of just from one's friends and joined groups), basically amounts to spreading maximum toxicity over the entire user population. It's like building a huge poison factory, letting it run wild, and wondering why people get sick around it. I tend to think of myself as anti-authoritarian, but at this point I'd support a full ban on what amounts to digital crack. Open dialogue and direct communication are the internet's strength, but weaponized automatic discovery need not be part of it.
> And outside of academia, where are the intellectuals? Who, among the Americans, could possibly count as an intellectual? Matthew Yglesias? Matt Bruenig? Some other Matt?
I'm not going to defend Hanania, because when I've come across his writings I tend to close the tab rather quickly. But apparently now he's on a crusade against the identity-mongers. Maybe with a bit of luck they can cancel each other.
More seriously though, I'm going to raise a hand for the internet rationalists, or at least some of them. I've been reading Scott Alexander's blog(s) for over a decade now, and I wouldn't hesitate to nominate him a worthy intellectual outside of academia. Yes, he can occasionally do pie charts for/against NIMBY-ism, get into pointless word fights with people not really worth the time, and treat "the coming AI-apocalypse" way more seriously than I would care to. But he's also consistently shown a unique combination of graciousness, clarity of expression, curiosity in all tings human, and willingness to go the extra mile, that I've rarely seen elsewhere, and inspired a whole cohort of aspirants to write some remarkable book reviews and start their own substacks.
To broaden the point... as much as I admire a well rounded and grounded education in the humanities, the reality is that many of us on the internet, and most of the younger generation, got a scientific-technical education instead. We've been taught to value clarity over nuance, and causal structures over emotional depth. So as much as I can see your point about Shakespeare, I also have to admit that I don't find the classics enjoyable to read - it feels awkward, foreign. Little by little however, people like us are finding and putting together our little canon of modern thinkers who can help open up and explain the human. We're the kind of people who have read Dawkins, Haidt, Harari and Henrich, but have probably not read, say, William James, Kant or Freud, or for that matter Flaubert. And make of it what you will, but a surprising many of us have seriously engaged with Buddhism.
People will label themselves "rationalist" or "post-rat", or who knows what. I think the label is a bit unfortunate, but I've been happy to find this group online.
This was great. I know you're moving away from these temporal articles, but they are still very moving, if not for the simple fact that I don't think I would have ever mixed the words 9/11 and performance art in the same conceptual space. This kind of philosophical serendipity is still needed.
Hi Justin, as usual so much to appreciate in your writing (substance and form). Schiller’s claim, “no doubt the artist is a child of his time but woe be unto him if he is its disciple or even its favorite” comes to my mind. Always artists (as Schiller conceives) are rare but I feel never more rare than they are today and that disheartens me to no end. FWIW I find you absolutely an artist.
I think the downfall of the public intellectual is partially a phenomenon of our 'take-professionals' needing to publish more and more different items in order to stay financially afloat. The days of national geographic paying someone enough to live so that they could travel to far-off locales and write 5-6 articles for the magazine are far over. As someone who has arrived to this world after that time, I'd be interested to know what people think is a 'model' of the public intellectual. What is the role? Who were/are the exemplars?
Enjoyed this as well as the James piece, although I was dismayed about your proposed moratorium - Americans in Europe is one of my favorite topics. I think I know the kind of writing you're referring to, however. The classification of different American types reminded me of James Baldwin's essay, "A Question of Identity," in which he categorizes Americans in Paris into three different types. I recommend it to anyone interested in this topic.
Israel invest? Seriously?
I rather enjoyed this recent "take" from the Onion, but it does kind of reinforce your point -
‘The Onion’ Stands With Israel Because It Seems Like You Get In Less Trouble For That
When I first heard Stockhausen's remark my reaction was - well I always thought his alleged music was crap so I have no respect for him anyway. If he had said “the greatest spectacle that ever existed” he might have been correct, but I hold art to a higher standard than spectacle. Maybe that counts as humanism?
"Now, what I want is, Takes. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Takes. Takes alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of twittering animals upon Takes: nothing else will ever be of any service to them."
> Something happens in the world, and everyone who is in on the game is compelled to position themselves in relation to it: that positioning is a “take”.
I hate writing this, Justin, as you have been a sort of big brother figure to me for more than 15 years as I have loyally read your stuff, and you’re much smarter and more clever than I am, and I am ten thousand percent your ally on the Shakespeare issue, but: are you not the self-same Justin Erik Halldor Smith (as you styled yourself at the time) who published, on July 25, 2016, a blog post entitled “Trump is an Agent of Putin”? Because sometimes you make criticisms of other writers that seem at odds with the persona you displayed in that piece, and I wonder if you ever feel silly for having written it, or if in your mind these two personas can be reconciled.
I imagine some future super AI intended to reconnect us to lost treasures - after all, we recorded the entire divorce! Let's just rewind - only for us to discover that Shakespeare is dead and we have murdered him.