Friday 22 April, 2022


Found in an old photo archive.

Quote of the Day

”The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

  • George Bernard Shaw

In that context, Elon Musk (see Commonplace Booklet below) is clearly an unreasonable man. The key question therefore, is whether in the end he represents progress, and if so of what kind.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Don McLean | American Pie (Live in Austin)


Long Read of the Day

How to stay optimistic in these dark times

I’m temperamentally an optimist with a fairly sunny disposition. On the other hand, the more I understand about the way our societies are evolving, the bleaker the future begins to look. I often think that what is needed now is a theory of incompetent systems — i.e. systems that cannot fix themselves. The two examples that come immediately to mind are: democracy in America (and possibly elsewhere too); and global warming, but there are probably others. Pessimism seems a logical result of such ‘realistic’ assessments of the state the world is in.

But pessimism if a disabling emotion, and in looking for other ways of thinking about the future I keep coming back to Gramsci’s idea of “pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will”. So you can imagine how pleased I was to come on this thoughtful blog post by Noah Smith in which he explores what adopting that philosophy might mean for us now.

Hope you like it.

On Jonathan Haidt’s essay yesterday…

Graham Minenor-Matheson wrote:

Just wanted to draw your attention to a Twitter thread by the media scholar Daniel Kreiss responding to that article . Essentially Kreiss sees a number of problems with Haidt’s article notably that it is ahistorical and gets a lot wrong about social media and how politics happens through it. Hope you read it!

I did, and it’s good. My hope in highlighting the Haidt essay was that it would spark a productive debate, and that seems to be happening. The Kreiss thread is a much better response than the one I mentioned yesterday. I hope there’ll be more.

The core problem with an essay like Haidt’s is that it’s very difficult to attempt a big-picture or long-sweep view without skating over thin ice to keep the narrative going. Which is why many academics now eschew the essay as a form.

One of my heroes was the late Neil Postman, the great cultural critic. He was always being attacked by scholars on similar grounds. And yet he got some important things right — and in the process shaped the way I think about our information environment.

It’d be interesting to do an annotated version of Haidt’s essay at some stage.

My commonplace booklet

  • The Musk TED interview Link

Live, unedited and revealing. The only historical parallel for Musk that I can think of is Henry Ford. Which is why this interview might be worth an hour of your time.

  • How to survive a ‘tactical’ nuclear explosion.

Never thought I’d see this kind of thing again in my lifetime. Link

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