What ill omen is this?

Is this somebody’s idea of a joke? 

First, let me remind you — at least one more time this week — that I’m taking a class. 

One of our assignments for the week is to look for public intellectual references in the world wide web and reflect on what we find. 

Google’s first reference is to Richard A. Posner’s Public Intellectuals:  A Study of Decline.  Really?  Is this what I’m getting myself into?  A declining field?  Clearly this is a book I’m going to have to pick up, but the review alone — “Posner tracks these two trends to their inevitable intersection: a proliferation of modern academics commenting on topics outside their ken. The resulting scene–one of off-the-cuff pronouncements, erroneous predictions, and ignorant policy proposals–compares poorly with the performance of earlier public intellectuals, largely nonacademics whose erudition and breadth of knowledge were well suited to public discourse” — is a challenge.  Do I comment only on my occupation at potential risk to my career, or am I a qualifying non-academic with a large enough breadth of knowledge to be able to speak intelligently about a wide range of topics?  I’m no Socrates, but I’ve read, taught and understood The Republic.     

The next link that catches my eye suggests further doom in its title:  “Did blogging kill the public intellectual?”  Oh, dear God, let’s hope not.  (Note to self:  must read  the Russell Jacoby piece cited by Alex Halavais, for another piece by Jacoby is mentioned by Siva Vaidhyanathan.)  Halavais explores this question about blogging and the death of public intellectuals.  The criticism that blogs — to paraphrase Ray Bradbury — say nothing and say it loud, loud, loud is a notion that Halavais disagrees with.  Come to think of it so does Ozick. 

If, for instance, tomorrow I were to write about my son’s problems with pre-school and explore how his little three and a half year old mind works, does that make my blog less useful?  Halavais asks it in this way:  “Why should the ways in which we arrive at our final ideas be hidden from public critique, involvement, and discussion?”  Writing about three or four year old bullies in pre-school and how to raise a boy in our world today may not be the stuff of Socrates, but as Ozick wrote:  “Contemplation in public is what political intellectuals commonly do, and what the quieter private thinkers on occasion slip into doing. . . The private thinkers have the advantage of being written off as bunglers when they do speak out, or as cowards when they don’t.  But for the public thinkers, who are always audible in the forum, the risk is far more perilous.”      

There is another interesting issue  Halavais raises, and it is an issue mentioned by Dunlop, and that is the idea that the fad of the blog has peaked, but Halavais suggests that even as blogs disappear, it does not mean the end of the public intellectual.   

We’re around.  We care about things.  We worry about our peers and colleagues and what we witness.  Because of our worry, we say something.  We may not always be heard, but we have to make our thinking public, because I’d much rather speak out like M. Frederick Voorhees than stay silent and wait for the Brotherhood to send me a razor blade like Winston Smith

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