Having been interested in cultural perceptions of progress and decline and how they affect eschatological views, I found this an interesting essay. Lots of things to ponder. This paragraph on books and thinking (especially for many of my students) seems largely spot on:

The habits of the incomplete have adversely affected the book as a unit of knowledge, for the book’s unique characteristic is to present an “extended argument.” By now, several generations of students have been conditioned to read books by way of fragmentation, which subverts any real book’s purpose. The consequences include the demise of bookstores, a form of textocide brought about not only by online price-cutting but also by the denigration of extended argument itself. This does grave damage to intellectual serendipity, for the richest value of a bookstore—as well as a large, open-shelf library—is to reveal via softly structured browsing what you were not looking for, or had no idea even existed. Now we are corralled by Google’s “big-data” efficiency into finding only that which we already know is there to be found. To Edmund Burke’s disgust at a time of “sophisters, economists, and calculators” we might now add “researchers.”

There are further thoughts on things like entertainment culture and its displacement of art, the reversal of moral values (“The Great Virtue Shift”), social science, and government – and more.


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