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Speaking the Truth when it's Dangerous: A Salute to Writers

Very wise words from Francine Prose in the NYTimes Book Review, July 20, 2014, pg. 35 when asked “What are the last literary taboos?”

“The chance of some worthy books failing to find a publisher doesn’t seem all that drastic compared with what regularly occurs in countries where literary taboos are still taken very seriously indeed. The websites of PEN American Center and the Committee to Protect Journalists documents the fates of writers who are accused of “spreading false rumors” in Ethiopia, or who keep a blog criticizing the Chinese government, or publish a pro-Kurdish article in Turkey, or irritate the kingpin of a Mexican drug cartel. Yet even when writers know the consequences – imprisonment, torture and death – they persist in defying the taboo, especially when the first and last taboo is against telling the truth.

Take, for instance, Mohammed ibn al -Dheeb al-Ajami, sentenced to  Read More 
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Brilliant Critique of Tech in NYTimes

This is one of the finest things I've read in quite a while, and anyone who writes, or is involved with technology in any way may find that this resonates.

“Among the Disrupted” by Leon Wieseltier in the New York Times Book Review, January 18, 2015 at this link: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/18/books/review/among-the-disrupted.html

“Among the bacchanal of disruption, let us pause to honor the disrupted. The streets of American cities are haunted by the ghosts of bookstores and record stores, which have been destroyed by the greatest thugs in the history of the culture industry. Writers hover between a decent poverty and an indecent one; they are expected to render the fruits of their labors for little or even for nothing, and all the miracles of electronic dissemination somehow do not suffice for compensation, either of the fiscal or the spiritual kind. Everyone talks frantically about media, a second -order subject if ever there was one, as content disappears into “content.” What does the understanding of media contribute to the understanding of life? Journalistic institutions slowly transform themselves into silent sweatshops in which ,words cannot wait for thoughts, and first responses are promoted into best responses, and patience is a professional liability. As the frequency of expression grows the force of expression diminishes : Digital expectations of alacrity and terseness cannot confer the highest prestige upon the twittering cacophony of one-liners and promotional announcements. It was always the case that all things must pass, but this is ridiculous.

Meanwhile the discussion of culture is being steadily absorbed into the discussion of business. There are “metrics” for phenomenon that cannot be metrically measured. Numerical values are assigned to things that cannot be captured by numbers. Economic concepts go rampaging through noneconomic realms: economists are our experts on happiness! Where wisdom once was, quantification will now be. Quantification is the most overwhelming influence upon the contemporary American understanding of, well, everything. It is enabled by the idolatry of data, which has itself been enabled by the almost unimaginable data- gathering capabilities of the new technology. The distinction between knowledge and information is a thing of the past, and there is no greater disgrace than to be a thing of the past. Beyond its impact upon culture, the new technology penetrates even deeper levels of identity and experience, to cognition and consciousness. Such transformations embolden certain high priests in the church of tech to espouse the doctrine of “trans-humanism” than to suggest, without any recollection of the bankruptcy of Utopia, without any consideration of the cost to human dignity, that our computational ability will carry us magnificently beyond our humanity and “allow us to transcend these limitations of our biological bodies and brains…”

And even as technologism, which is not the same as technology, asserts itself over more and more precincts of human life, so too does scientism, which is not the same as science. The notion that the nonmaterial dimensions of life must be explained in terms of material dimensions, and that nonscientific understandings must be translated into scientific understandings if they are to qualify as knowledge, is increasingly popular inside and outside the university, where the humanities are disparaged as soft and impractical and insufficiently new… The strongest defense of the humanities  Read More