Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Sunday, June 19, 2011

IN PRAISE OF HACKING [NOT IAN], OR DER UNTERGANG DES ABENDLANDES

Several days ago, Philip Green emailed me a link to a long, thoughtful, knowledgeable, deeply depressing essay that he has published in Logos called "Farewell to Democracy?" You can find it here:



http://logosjournal.com/2011/farewell-to-democracy/



Some of you may know Green as a longtime forceful voice on the Left, a member of the editorial board of Dissent, now Professor Emeritus of Political Science from Smith College. I have known Phil for perhaps seventy-five years. When we were eleven, we went to Camp Taconic in the Berkshires [I have a picture of the two of us perched high on two very large horses, taking a riding lesson.] Earlier still, when we were both two, it is said that on occasion we shared a baby carriage during outings in Sunnyside, New York. So, give or take, three-quarters of a century. I read Phil's essay quickly, growing more gloomy with each page. Essentially, he argues that historical forces are at work that are inexorably bringing to a close a three and a half century long "democratic moment" in the Western world, with the consequence that the best we can hope for, if indeed "hope" is the right word, is temporary ameliorations and defensive accommodations. When I read the piece, my first thought was of Oswald Spengler's famous book, THE DECLINE OF THE WEST [hence the second part of the title of this post.] Now, I am by nature an optimist, as some of my more lugubrious friends take a certain delight in pointing out, as though it were a character flaw. And I simply do not want to spend what few years I have left on earth angry and depressed all the time.



Yesterday morning, I spent some time courtesy of Netflix watching on my computer the 1995 movie HACKERS, with the ever lubricious Angelina Jolie. I have always liked the anti-authoritarian, countercultural, intellectualist sensibility of that movie. Later on, my son Tobias, the law professor, showed up for an overnight visit. [Old Jewish joke: Mrs. Shapiro is taking a walk in Brooklyn Heights with her three year old and one year old in a stroller. She meets Mrs. Goldstein, who coos, and asks "And whom have we here?" Mrs. Shapiro replies proudly, "The one on the left is the doctor. The one on the right is the lawyer."] After dinner, Susie, Tobias, and I were sitting around, and I remarked that I could not figure out how to get free movies on my IPad. Tobias allowed as how he had downloaded a dozen or more books onto his IPhone [including the Critique of Pure Reason and Locke's Second Treatise!], and told me to get my IPad. He then proceeded to show me how to access thousands of free books, speaking slowly and distinctly in that way one talks when explaining things to a little child. [Tobias is forty-one, and at the top of his game, professionally, but we shall always be father and son.]



Which got me thinking. For the first one hundred and fifty thousand years or so of homo sapiens sapiens, the old people in each generation have explained to the young people how things work. That is how the knowledge of the species accumulates and expands. But we are living in the first human generation in which young people regularly explain to old people how things work. Want to stop your DVD player from blinking "12:00 12:00 12:00? Find an eleven year old.



This development is so new, and so completely contrary to the inherited wisdom of the entire species, that we have not yet begun to adjust ourselves to it and incorporate it into our collective understanding of the social world. Oh, we are all familiar with twenty-something billionaires who have managed to transform our experiences almost before they are old enough to vote. But we still assume that when it comes to the big things -- politics, religion, war, international finance -- the old will tell the young what to do.



Is it possible that I have managed to hang on just long enough to see the beginning of an entirely new era in human history? Will my grandchildren Samuel and Athena, now five and almost three, live in a world that I cannot imagine? And might that world be better in countless ways than the godawful mess we see around us now?



I choose to think so.



4 comments:

Derek said...

In this sort of situation, I always recalls how, when people complain about the youth don't have the values of their elders, Socrates supposedly made the exact same complaint 2400 years ago, lesson being that nothing important really changes. But it does seem like things simply are changing, and faster at that. For centuries, the life of a family over generations would be largely the same; what the elders did, the children would grow up to do. But now, each new generation is a "new generation," not only with different aspirations, but different environments, different technologies, and overall a different world of possibilities. At this rate, even generations are disappearing: I am a grad student, but growing up I was not in touch with a world of instant communication brought by cellphones; what is it like for kids in middle school now! With change so fast, I can't predict where it will go, but it's certainly going somewhere, and picking up pace.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

You make a very important point, about growing up expecting to do pretty much what one's parents did. Erik Erikson has some very deep things to say about they way in which the child-rearing practices of a society prepare children psychologically for the particular combination of gratification deferrals and satisfactions they will encounter in adult roles. One of the causes of contemporary reactionary hysteria, I am convinced, is the fact that the world they find themselves in is not the world they were emotionally prepared for by thir childhoods. There is nothing more terrifying than that.

Chris said...

I have nothing serious to add, merely an anecdote. I remember seeing that movie in 5th grade around the same time my father purchased AOL for the home. I of course made me username Dr Nikon, after one of the characters in hackers, and have probably seen the film two dozen times since.

Debbylee said...

Optimism is indeed the way forward. At 52, I see no other option! My 14 and 16 year old children teach me new things every day!