Keepin’ it real with packaged ideas and burgers

Here is a gimmicky piece in the Economist about US public intellectuals and how far ahead they are of their European counterparts. It is kind of embarrassing to read. It cites Swift, but doesn’t really know what to do with him. It talks about ideas as if they were burgers. It is like saying that America has better food than Europe because they are the most innovative burger producers in the world.

In this review in the New Statesman, soi-disant radical Terry Eagleton notes the following about what it means to talk about intellectuals if you are British:

When they use the word “intellectual” they usually preface it with “so-called” or “soi-disant“, just in case they might be unwittingly paying their enemies the compliment of believing they are clever.

If I had to spend all day reading intellectuals, I’d look for the ones who said funny things. Not the ones who spout guff that leads the Economist writer to say this:

And America’s policy intellectuals have a talent for packaging their ideas in provocative ways—for declaring not just that the cold war is winding down but that history is ending, not just that regional tensions are rising but that the world is entering a clash of civilisations.

Yeah, me hole. Gimme five more examples then. (The ‘Americans are from Mars, Europeans from Venus one’, or whatever that Robert Kagan one was didn’t really hit home. And it’s becoming pretty clear that history isn’t ending. The clash of civilisations one is a bit more complex, because it seems that there are quite a few people quite interested in willing this particular packaged idea into a reality. Same way as people got into the way of shouting Whasssaawwpp? over the intercom.)

Another bit from Eagleton:

The role of the intellectual, so it is said, is to speak truth to power. Noam Chomsky has dismissed this pious tag on two grounds. For one thing, power knows the truth already; it is just busy trying to conceal it. For another, it is not those in power who need the truth, but those they oppress.

Perhaps this explains Chomsky’s appearance in Tower Records among the oppressed of Dublin a couple of months back as I went hunting for a copy of I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight by Richard and Linda Thompson. Cracking album. Cracking guitarist. Richard Thompson I mean. There he was, the world’s most public intellectual. At least I think he was there, there were a crowd of non-office workers surrounding a desk holding copies of Hegemony or Survival.

Anyway, Chomsky has a point here. I hate it when people talk about speaking truth to power. They sound awful prissy. They might as well be talking about ‘keeping it real’, or some other nonsense.

I’m bored.

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