March 6, 2012

1. The Philosophy of Today

On March 10, I’m giving a talk at a local bookstore, so I’ve been thinking about how to summarize my philosophy. Here’s what I came up with:

The Philosophy of Today has two basic principles:

  1. everything is connected
  2. everything is alive

We see that everything is connected and alive, but we can’t explain how things are connected and alive, so the Philosophy of Today says that we’re surrounded by mysteries, that the world is non-rational, inexplicable. If a man dies and his clock stops at the same time, we suspect that’s more than a coincidence, we suspect there’s some connection between the man and his clock, but we can’t explain how such a connection could exist.

Primitive man believed that everything is connected and alive; primitive man’s worldview is akin to the Philosophy of Today. Likewise, Eastern philosophies saw the world as connected and alive, so Eastern philosophy is akin to the Philosophy of Today. The Chinese, for example, believed that an earthquake would occur in the same year as the death of an emperor; they believed in connections that were difficult to explain. Quantum physics also views the world as connected and perhaps even alive, hence quantum physics is troubling to people with a rational bent, such as Einstein.

We see that everything is connected and alive, but we canít explain how things are connected and alive, so the Philosophy of Today says that weíre surrounded by mysteries, that the world is non-rational, inexplicable. If a man dies and his clock stops at the same time, we suspect thatís more than a coincidence, we suspect thereís some connection between the man and his clock, but we canít explain how such a connection could exist.

One way to understand something is to look at its opposite, so let’s try to understand the Philosophy of Today by looking at its opposite. Isaac Newton’s view of the world is the opposite of the Philosophy of Today. Newton viewed the world as a pool table; the billiard balls affected each other by direct contact. Newton believed in what might be called “direct action,” he rejected the idea of action-at-a-distance.

The Philosophy of Today, on the other hand, believes in action-at-a-distance; it views the world as two pool tables, and the balls on one can affect the balls on the other — everything is connected — but it can’t explain how this is possible. The Philosophy of Today says that we can’t set the boundaries of reality according to our ability to explain things; we should accept reality as it is, whether we can explain it or not. The Philosophy of Today respects the primitive mind because it takes things as they are, it doesn’t insist that reality be rational and explicable.

One of the basic principles of primitive thinking is what Frazer called The Law of Contact. Things that were once in close contact with each other continue to affect each other even after that contact has been severed. If I were in Los Angeles and my mother were in Boston, and I was in a car accident, she would immediately sense that something is wrong with me. Telepathic communication is especially common between people who were once close — such as a mother and child, or twins. Thus, we see primitive man’s Law of Contact at work in the world around us, and we begin to think that primitive man may have a deep understanding of reality.

If we turn to quantum physics, we find that paired particles (particles in close contact) can be separated, and sent in opposite directions, but they still communicate with each other, they still react to each other (if the spin of one is changed, the spin of the other instantly changes, too). Thus, we see primitive man’s Law of Contact confirmed by quantum physics. Everything is connected, everything is alive — even the smallest things, like subatomic particles, even things that are regarded as inanimate objects, lifeless matter.

How is it possible that subatomic particles behave like human beings? How is it possible that the Law of Contact applies to both paired particles and twins?

Let’s begin by asking, Where did human beings come from? Most people subscribe to Darwin’s theory that we came from apes. But where did apes come from? Apes came from other mammals, who came from the first mammals, who came from non-mammals, who came from some sort of amphibians, who came from animals who lived in the ocean. We can trace our ancestry back to the oceans, and back to the first living organism.

But where did the first living organism come from? From air and sunlight and water and chemicals. In other words, the first living organism came from non-living matter, from inanimate “stuff.” If we can trace our ancestry back to the first living organism, then we, too, came from non-living matter. We’re related to matter, to inanimate stuff. Everything is connected, everything is alive. Matter contains the seeds of life, of consciousness, matter contains the seeds of Hamlet and the Mona Lisa.

Primitive man’s view that everything is alive has long been derided as “animism.” But we’re proud to acknowledge our kinship with primitive man, and we see the Philosophy of Today as a new animism.

The Paired Particles experiment is sometimes called The Aspect Experiment or Bell’s Theorem. It made Einstein uncomfortable; he called quantum physics “spooky.” It also violates Einstein’s teaching that nothing is faster than the speed of light. Paired particles, like a mother and child separated by a continent, communicate instantly, that is, they communicate faster than the speed of light.

The Philosophy of Today makes rational thinkers uncomfortable, but we non-rationals find a certain pleasure in being surrounded by mysteries, and we find a certain pleasure in having a worldview that’s shared by primitive men in all corners of the globe, a worldview that’s shared by Eastern philosophy. We believe that the Philosophy of Today is life-affirming and optimistic.

Because of its kinship with non-Western worldviews, the Philosophy of Today can gain adherents throughout the world, it can unite people. Traditional monotheistic religion divides people and fosters conflict. Likewise, Newton’s rational-scientific worldview divided the Western world from the non-Western world. The Philosophy of Today brings people together and instead of fostering conflict, it fosters communication, respect, cooperation.

The Philosophy of Today is not just a new approach to philosophy, it’s also a new approach to religion. The Philosophy of Today is a new religion, or at least it can influence the development of new religions. Likewise, the Philosophy of Today can influence art — movies, novels, etc. It can have an impact on many branches of society, such as medicine. In the medical world, there’s a sharp division between the rational-scientific approach of the establishment, and the non-rational approach of “alternative medicine.” The Philosophy of Today can have an impact on many fields, including medicine, by showing the advantages of the non-rational approach, and the disadvantages of the rational approach.

The Philosophy of Today blurs the distinction between the animate and the inanimate, and also blurs the distinction between thoughts and things. It believes in the power of thoughts to influence things. The power of thought can also be described as the power of intention, or the power of will.

Self-help literature emphasizes the power of positive thinking. The power of positive thinking might be called “white magic,” while the power of negative thinking might be called “black magic.” The power of thought/intention/will is often apparent in literature. According to Wilson Knight’s interpretation of Hamlet, Hamlet’s negative thinking infects the people around him, and eventually results in a pile of corpses. The power of thought is also apparent in the laboratory, and can be demonstrated by experiment. Experiments with a Random Number Generator (RNG) show that a person who sits next to an RNG, and thinks about a particular number, can affect the frequency with which the machine generates that number.

So there are many aspects to the power of thought/intention/will; as the alchemists said, the mind can accomplish many things outside the body. The power of thought is part of the larger principle that everything is connected. Just as living things are connected to “inanimate” objects, so thoughts are connected to things. One might say that things are more thoughtful, and thoughts are more “thing-ish” than we commonly suppose. The legend of the clock stopping when the person dies becomes easier to believe after we’ve learned about RNG experiments. If a person can affect an RNG, why not a clock?

I said above that Newton’s worldview was the opposite of the Philosophy of Today. One could also argue that the approach pioneered by Leo Strauss is the opposite of the Philosophy of Today. Strauss was a Jewish-German philosophy professor who left Germany in the 1930’s as a result of the Nazi threat, and became a professor at the University of Chicago, and later at St. John’s College in Annapolis. Strauss has numerous adherents in academia, especially among conservative academics, and he also had adherents in the administration of George W. Bush.

Strauss believed that modern philosophy was on the wrong track, and had contributed to calamities like Hitler’s Holocaust and Stalin’s Gulag. Strauss traced the decline of philosophy back to the Renaissance, back to philosophers like Machiavelli, who lacked a moral compass, who divorced politics from morality. Strauss recommended that we go back to the ancients, back to Plato and Aristotle, back to philosophers who had a clear notion of good and evil, and applied moral principles to politics as well as private life. Strauss urged his students to study the texts themselves, and not get distracted by historical context. He urged his students to read the texts closely, preferably in the original Greek. (One of his disciples, Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield, set up a special scholarship for students who studied Greek.)

Now imagine going to the streets of Beirut or Beijing, and telling people that they should study Greek, and then read Plato and Aristotle in the original. I doubt you’ll make a single convert. Strauss’s approach has no appeal in the non-Western world. In fact, it has little appeal to the man on the street in the Western world. It only appeals to Western scholars who enjoy studying, who have a pedantic bent, such as Strauss himself had. The Philosophy of Today has a broad appeal, Strauss’s approach a narrow appeal. Strauss’s popularity in academia shows that academia has a proclivity for rational thinking, and an aversion for the non-rational, for the mysterious, for the occult, for the Philosophy of Today. The Philosophy of Today appeals to the man on the street, both in the Western world and in the non-Western world, but it has little appeal to the academic.

The Philosophy of Today doesn’t revere Plato and Aristotle, it’s more interested in Eastern philosophy and in modern psychology, especially Jung. When Jung travelled to the U.S., he met with Pueblo Indians, and found much to respect in their approach. Jung respected the primitive and the non-Western. One of the books that influenced him most was a Chinese alchemical text, The Secret of the Golden Flower. Jung’s theory of synchronicity is about connections, inexplicable connections, acausal connections.

Unlike Jung, Strauss had no use for primitives, and confessed that he was completely ignorant of Eastern philosophy. As far as Strauss is concerned, “philosophy” means Western philosophy. The enormous popularity of Eastern philosophy and Eastern practices (such as karate, yoga, and meditation) shows that the Philosophy of Today has much broader appeal than traditional Western philosophy, much broader appeal than Strauss’s approach.

In Strauss’s view, Greek philosophy is preceded by something lower, namely myth, and Strauss has little interest in myth. But the Philosophy of Today respects the wisdom contained in myths, fairy tales, etc. Joseph Campbell’s interpretation of myths has a deeper wisdom, and a broader appeal, than Strauss’s interpretation of Aristotle.

Strauss was right, though, when he argued that Hitler’s Holocaust and Stalin’s Gulag had philosophical roots, that they were the expressions of philosophical theories. Actions have their roots in thoughts, policies have their roots in philosophies; as Heine said, thought precedes action as lightning precedes thunder. Philosophy molds thinking, and later molds action. Communism arose first as a theory and later became a policy. The American Revolution and the French Revolution were influenced by philosophical ideas (the ideas of Locke, Rousseau, Montesquieu, etc.).

Muslim terrorism, including the 9/11 attacks, can be traced to certain Muslim intellectuals, who were writing about 50 years ago. These Muslim intellectuals found little to admire in Western society, so they advocated violence against infidels and colonial powers. The Philosophy of Today can gain adherents around the world, and slowly begin to influence actions and policies. The best way to deal with Muslim terrorism is to create a philosophy that has broad appeal, that satisfies both heart and mind. It’s often said that the battle against terrorism is a battle for hearts and minds, but we can only win the battle for hearts and minds if we have a philosophy with more appeal, and more truth, than the philosophy of the Muslim fundamentalist.

If the Philosophy of Today gains ground, it will prompt a re-appraisal of earlier periods. For example, it will prompt people to focus less on rational Greek philosophers (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle), and focus more on pre-Socratic thinkers (Heraclitus, etc.) and post-Aristotle thinkers (Gnostics, Apuleius, etc.). It will prompt people to focus less on medieval scholastics, and more on medieval alchemists. It will spark greater interest in Renaissance philosophy — Pico, Bruno, etc. — and greater respect for the Hermetic tradition that begins with the Gnostics, runs through the alchemists, and culminates in Bruno. It will also spark greater interest in underground movements, like the Rosicrucians and Freemasons, which carried on the Hermetic tradition when it was out of favor with the establishment.

It will prompt people to have less respect for the rational-scientific thinking that begins around 1600, and includes such names as Descartes and Newton, and less respect for the so-called Age of Reason, which includes Leibniz and others. It will prompt people to have more respect for the Romantic period, which rejected the mechanical worldview of Newton, and rejected the rational approach of Leibniz; Romantic thinkers like Coleridge re-discovered the Hermetic tradition. It will prompt people to have more respect for the Spiritualist movement of the late 1800’s, which was receptive to many forms of the occult, and was supported by William James, Mark Twain, Yeats, and many other leading intellectuals.

Shakespeare represents Renaissance philosophy and the Hermetic tradition. In Shakespeare’s world, everything is connected, and everything is alive. In Macbeth, for example, disturbances in nature (a violent storm, animals behaving strangely) go hand-in-hand with disturbances in human society (the murder of the king). In Shakespeare’s world, everything is connected, and even comets and meteors follow the same tune that humans follow.

Another imaginative writer who represents the Hermetic tradition is Edgar Allan Poe. In his story “The Fall of the House of Usher,” the protagonist dies at the same time that his house collapses; there’s a mysterious rapport, an inexplicable connection, between the protagonist and his house. Earlier, we spoke of a man dying and his clock stopping at the same time; Poe’s story shows the same sort of mysterious rapport between a person and an inanimate object. One might say, “Poe is just writing stories, wild fantasies, he doesn’t represent a philosophical school.” But Poe was a serious thinker who wrote non-fiction works, metaphysical works, as well as fiction. Poe describes the protagonist of “The Fall of the House of Usher” as a student of Hermetic philosophers like Swedenborg, Robert Fludd, and Campanella.

The examples of Shakespeare and Poe show that the Philosophy of Today is compatible with great art, fosters great art. When we say, “Everything is connected, everything is alive,” that opens new territory for the artist, and when we’re receptive to the occult, that encourages the artist to explore the vast realm of occult phenomena. On the other hand, the mechanical worldview of Newton has a chilling effect on art, as does the rational approach of Aristotle, Leibniz, Strauss, etc.

One subject on which the rational worldview disagrees with the non-rational worldview is the subject of death. The rational worldview draws a sharp distinction between life and death, and says, “When you’re dead, you’re dead.” On the other hand, the non-rational worldview says that everything is alive, and sees death not as extinction, but as a change of form. The non-rational worldview is receptive to the idea of life after death, though it isn’t certain about life after death, just as it’s receptive to many forms of the occult, though it isn’t certain about them. But the rational worldview scoffs at the idea of life after death, and regards it as wishful thinking. The rational worldview can’t explain how life after death is possible, so it says it’s impossible. “If I can’t explain it, it’s impossible. If I can’t explain it, it doesn’t exist.”

When a psychic, like John Edward or James van Praagh, goes on TV and appears to communicate with the dead, those who subscribe to the non-rational worldview are receptive, curious, while rationalists say that it must be a fraud. In short, the non-rational worldview says, “Death is a mystery, and life is a mystery, too. We’re surrounded by mysteries.” The rational worldview says, “I can understand and explain death. And if you want me to explain life, I can do that, too.”

2. Blindsight

Saw a film called Blindsight (2006), about an attempt to take a group of blind Tibetan youths to the top of a mountain near Mt. Everest. The man behind the attempt (and also behind the film) was Erik Weihenmayer, the well-known blind climber who was the first blind person to climb Mt. Everest. The film is a good introduction to blindness, and can also teach one about mountain-climbing, and about Tibetan culture.

The blind Tibetan youths lived together at a school for the blind in Lhasa, Tibet. The school was started by Sabriye Tenberken, a blind German woman. After studying Chinese, Tibetan, etc. in college, she applied for the German version of the PeaceCorps, but was told that they didn’t accept blind people. So she travelled through China and Tibet by herself, on horseback, started a school for the blind in Lhasa, developed a Tibetan version of Braille, and co-founded an organization called Braille Without Borders.

Her blind students heard about Weihenmayer, so she e-mailed him, and invited him to Lhasa. He accepted the invitation, and proposed a climb with some of Tenberken’s blind students. Six students were chosen to undertake the climb. Weihenmayer brought expert climbers with him, so each student had a guide. The students were affected by the altitude, so the expedition didn’t reach the summit. As they hiked, the blind students often sang; music seems to play an important role in blind life. The film ends with a young blind boy singing a rock-and-roll song.

The film digresses from the trek to give you background information about the people involved. For example, it tells you about a blind student named Tashi. Tashi was from Sichuan, China. His parents apparently felt that Tashi made their life difficult, so they took him to Lhasa, and abandoned him. (It seems that they also abandoned a daughter in Lhasa.) Tashi was left with a couple who said they would use him for begging, then share the begging-profits with his parents. If his begging wasn’t successful, the couple beat him (he had marks on his chest and back that looked like cigarette burns). To avoid the beatings, he decided not to go home, to live on his own. He said that whatever money he managed to obtain was stolen; because he was blind, he couldn’t run after the thieves. Finally a Tibetan woman introduced him to Tenberken’s school for the blind. He learned massage, and started a massage business in Lhasa.

Weihenmayer and Tenberken took Tashi to Sichuan, to see his family — the family that had abandoned him, the family he hadn’t seen for many years. The film shows his mother watching from a distance; apparently she doesn’t want to re-connect with Tashi. Perhaps she thinks, “I took him far away so that he would never come back, and now he’s back.” His father, unwilling to admit that he abandoned Tashi, says that Tashi was lost. When Tashi asks for his sister, his father says that she didn’t come back (she was probably abandoned, too). Apparently Tashi’s parents wanted only healthy boys in their family.

One gets the impression that the blind are treated harshly in China and Tibet. In Tibet, it’s believed that blindness is a punishment for sins committed in a past life. The film shows one blind youth who accepts the notion that his blindness is a punishment for a past sin, but says that his sin probably wasn’t murder, because that would have resulted in an incarnation as an animal, not a human.

Weihenmayer also led a group of blind South American youths on a hike in the Andes. This hike was the basis for a film called Fellowship of the Andes.

3. Restrepo

Saw a film about the Afghanistan war, Restrepo (2010). The subtitle is “One Platoon, One Valley, One Year.” It’s about an American platoon stationed in one of the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan, an area later abandoned by U.S. forces. Restrepo was made by writer Sebastian Junger and photographer Tim Hetherington. Junger and Hetherington spent a dangerous year embedded with the platoon. Junger is known for his bestseller The Perfect Storm (1997); he also wrote War, which deals with the same platoon as Restrepo. Both Junger and Hetherington worked for the magazine Vanity Fair. Hetherington died in 2011, while covering the Libyan conflict.

One of the memorable moments in the film is a soldier returned from the war, saying that he can’t sleep without having nightmares, so he prefers not to sleep. Another memorable moment is a soldier on a dangerous mission, crying at the death of a fellow soldier. Since the enemy mingles with the local people, it’s difficult for the Americans to attack the enemy without killing locals. It’s also difficult for the Americans to persuade the locals of their good intentions.

4. Roger Kimball

In an earlier issue, I discussed an essay by Roger Kimball on Walter Pater. Kimball is the editor of The New Criterion, a monthly journal that might be described as culturally conservative. I recently read Kimball’s polemic against Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, authors of a book called Empire.1 Hardt is a professor in Duke’s literature department; Kimball says that Hardt is in “the most politicized discipline at one of America’s most politicized universities.”2 Negri is an Italian academic who served thirteen years in prison for his involvement with the Red Brigades, a left-wing Italian terror group. Before serving his sentence, Negri lived in France, where he consorted with Foucault, Derrida, etc.

As an epigraph for his review, Kimball uses a quote from Orwell: “In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning.” Kimball says that Hardt and Negri write “crit-speak.” Kimball says that Orwell “surely did not anticipate authors who would be able to keep up the unintelligibility for nearly five-hundred pages” (Empire is 478 pages long). Kimball then gives us a sample of Empire: “In the logic of colonialist representations, the construction of a separate colonized other and the segregation of identity and alterity turns out paradoxically to be at once absolute and extremely intimate.”

Kimball is appalled by the chorus of praise that Hardt and Negri received. The New York Times called their work the “Next Big Idea,” and published a Hardt-Negri piece on its op-ed page. Harvard University Press saw fit to publish Empire.

Hardt and Negri followed Empire with a book called Multitude, which Kimball calls “the same amalgam of menacing Marxist rhetoric, reader-proof prose, and political fantasy.”

Hardt and Negri speak stirringly about the advent of “global democracy”.... They predict the advent of “new weapons” that will shatter the dominance of “imperial command”.... “Consider,” they write in the book’s concluding passage, “as an experiment with new weapons, the kiss-ins conducted by Queer Nation in which men would kiss men and women women in a public place to shock people who are homophobic”.... What does it tell us that such infantile maunderings are not merely published but taken seriously as political thought?

Kimball’s review is written with force and wit.

In a recent issue of the Weekly Standard, Kimball wrote a piece called “The Great American Novel: Will There Ever Be Another?” It’s a dull piece, perhaps because the subject didn’t rouse him in the way that Hardt and Negri did. One suspects that Kimball didn’t choose the topic, one suspects that someone (Bill Kristol? Philip Terzian?) suggested the topic to him. The piece consists of quotations from Henry James, Lionel Trilling, Schopenhauer, and others, along with Kimball’s own scattered thoughts and witticisms. Kimball says, “My own suspicion is that the novel’s heyday is past.” Kimball’s piece isn’t as good as Joseph Bottum’s shorter piece on the same subject, which we discussed in an earlier issue.

5. Coming Apart

A recent New York Times article discussed out-of-wedlock births. The article notes that, in 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan ignited a lively debate when he pointed out that a quarter of black children were born out of wedlock; Moynihan said that this would lead to a variety of social problems. Since 1965, the percentage of children born out of wedlock has risen steadily, and now 73% of black children, 53% of Latino children, and 29% of white children are born out of wedlock. Among college-educated people, however, the situation is dramatically different: “About 92 percent of college-educated women are married when they give birth, compared with 62 percent of women with some post-secondary schooling and 43 percent of women with a high school diploma or less.”

The rising number of out-of-wedlock births has received attention lately because of the publication of Charles Murray’s Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. The long-term implications of this phenomenon are serious, since “children born outside marriage face elevated risks of falling into poverty, failing in school or suffering emotional and behavioral problems.”

It should be pointed out, though, that a substantial percentage of out-of-wedlock births are to couples who live together but aren’t married. The effect on a child is probably less severe when he lives with both his parents, even if they aren’t married. If an unmarried couple were married “their official household income would rise, which could cost them government benefits like food stamps and child care,” so there may be little economic incentive to marry. Men without a college degree are often economically unattractive to women, since blue-collar jobs have become scarce: “Among men with some college but no degrees, earnings have fallen 8 percent in the past 30 years... while the earnings of their female counterparts have risen by 8 percent.”

6. Tocqueville and Public Opinion

The local GreatBooks group recently read a chapter of Tocqueville, “Concerning the Principal Source of Beliefs Among Democratic Peoples.”3 Tocqueville begins by saying that we must accept some truths on trust, we can’t examine everything. “If man were forced to demonstrate for himself all the truths of which he makes daily use, his task would never end.” But we don’t live by “truths,” we live by feelings; a large part of our mind is unconscious. Tocqueville over-emphasizes conscious thinking (beliefs, opinions, truths), and doesn’t appreciate the importance of unconscious and semi-conscious factors. Many of our actions are spontaneous, not guided by conscious thoughts or decisions. Tocqueville’s view of human nature needs modification, adjustment.

Tocqueville says that, in a democratic age, an egalitarian age, the power of the Great Man is small, while the power of public opinion is great. “At periods of equality men have no faith in one another, by reason of their common resemblance; but this very resemblance gives them almost unbounded confidence in the judgment of the public.” In the U.S., Tocqueville says, the majority provides individuals with “ready-made opinions” on many subjects, and even religion is a “public opinion” rather than a revelation.

During the discussion, I pointed out that academia is a bastion of uniform thinking, since academics choose the next generation of academics, and tend to choose people akin to themselves. Whether you consider political views or views on Shakespeare, academia speaks with one voice. As I said in an earlier issue,

The mantra of today’s universities is Diversity, but their faculties are composed almost entirely of liberals; they preach Diversity, but practice Uniformity. As a recent New York Times column said, “There is less intellectual diversity in academia than in any other profession. All but 1 percent of the campaign donations made by employees of William & Mary College went to Democrats. In the Harvard crowd, Democrats got 96 percent of the dollars.”

Conservatives have long complained that the media, like academia, has a liberal bias. But with the proliferation of cable TV stations, talk radio, blogs, etc., the media isn’t a bastion of uniformity, as academia is.4

Public opinion is molded by the media, and expressed by the media. But the media doesn’t enjoy unrestricted freedom of thought. If a newsman voiced unpopular views, his own popularity would suffer, so the newsman must stay within publicly-approved channels. While he molds public opinion, he’s also molded by it.

7. “The Age of Big Data”

In the last issue, I mentioned CompStat, a computer system that collects crime data, and maps crimes, and has helped New York and other cities to reduce their crime rates. A recent New York Times article says that CompStat is part of a larger trend: data analysis and number crunching is affecting many aspects of society. In baseball, for example, simple statistics like ERA are being replaced by much more elaborate number crunching (as described in the book Moneyball). Researchers sift through millions of Google searches, trying to spot trends. If lots of people are googling “flu symptoms,” that may be an early indication of an epidemic.

Google searches, Facebook posts and Twitter messages... make it possible to measure behavior and sentiment in fine detail and as it happens.... The march of quantification, made possible by enormous new sources of data, will sweep through academia, business and government. There is no area that is going to be untouched.... Big Data has the potential to be “humanity’s dashboard,” an intelligent tool that can help combat poverty, crime and pollution.... Police departments across the country, led by New York’s, use computerized mapping and analysis of variables like historical arrest patterns, paydays, sporting events, rainfall and holidays to try to predict likely crime “hot spots” and deploy officers there in advance.

A leader in the field of data mining is IBM, whose market cap recently surpassed Microsoft’s.

© L. James Hammond 2012
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1. Kimball’s piece is in the October 2001 issue of The New Criterion, pp. 17-22 back
2. The New Criterion, September 2004, p. 76 back
3. Vol. II, Part 1, ch. 2 back
4. Orwell complained about group-think in the old media: “At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was ‘not done’ to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.” About thirty years later, Solzhenitsyn noticed the same tendency: “One discovers a common trend of preferences within the Western press as a whole (the spirit of the time) [and] generally accepted patterns of judgment.... Fashionable trends of thought and ideas are fastidiously separated from those that are not fashionable, and the latter, without ever being forbidden, have little chance of finding their way into periodicals or books or being heard in colleges.” Tocqueville also discussed the power of public opinion in Volume I of Democracy in America: “In America the majority has enclosed thought within a formidable fence. A writer is free inside that area, but woe to the man who goes beyond it. Not that he stands in fear of an auto-da-fť, but he must face all kinds of unpleasantness and everyday persecution.... There is no freedom of the spirit in America.”(part 2, ch. 7) back