Tuesday, This is from another conference. James Guest is an Australian party leader and intellectual. You may think of this as a Guest editorial:
Why do intellectuals get things so wrong so often?
September 27, 2005
Leading Australian conservative Owen Harries, in The American Interest, on a poor academic track record
ON political matters, intellectuals tend to share two characteristics: they are slaves to fashion; and, on the big questions, they tend to get things hopelessly wrong.
Intellectuals generally are prone to run together. Beneath their often savage surface differences and scorn for orthodoxy, there is usually a surprising degree of uncritical acceptance of erroneous views concerning the way things are and, in particular, the way things are going.
Thus, if you had been an intellectual living in 1910 or thereabouts, it is more than likely that you would have subscribed to the view, propagated by Norman Angell in The Great Illusion that war was a dying institution (because it did not pay), and that the forces of capitalism - technology, free trade and liberal rationality - were rapidly creating a peaceful and borderless world. You would have been wrong, of course. But the fact that an unprecedentedly bloody war followed soon afterwards did not prevent Angell from being awarded a Nobel prize in due course.
Had you been a typical intellectual 25 years later, on the other hand, you would have believed the exact opposite: that, with the Great Depression, the world was witnessing the death throes of capitalism and liberalism, that the failed system was destroying itself due to its "internal contradictions". To replace it there was a "coming struggle for power", to quote the title of another enormously influential book by John Strachey, a fight to the death between fascism and communism.
Indeed, the belief that capitalism was finished remained intellectual orthodoxy in Europe well into the next decade . . . At the end of the 1940s, the influential editor and man of letters Cyril Connolly was saying . . . "It is closing time in the garden of the West and from now on an artist will be judged only by the resonance of his solitude or the quality of his despair." All this as the West was on the eve of the biggest surge of economic prosperity in human history, brought about by the supposedly terminally ill capitalist system.
Go on another couple of decades and the prevailing intellectual view was that the totalitarian communist system was indestructible, the Soviet Union was winning the Cold War, and the US, defeated by a peasant army in Vietnam, torn by internal dissent, disgraced by Watergate, was losing it.
As late as 1984, the intellectuals' favourite economist, John Kenneth Galbraith, was insisting that "the Soviet system has made great material progress in recent years", and that "the Russian system succeeds because, in contrast with the Western industrial economies, it makes full use of its manpower." Even later, in 1987, a history book Paul Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers made an enormous impact in intellectual circles when it depicted the US as suffering badly from "imperial overstretch" and facing decline. And later still, into the 1990s, it was widely predicted that Japan and perhaps Germany(!) would soon overtake America economically.
Nor should one forget the apocalyptic conclusion of the Club of Rome in the 1970s - that unless prompt and drastic action was taken to limit population and industrial growth, the world would self-destruct by the end of the century - which was enthusiastically seized on by most intellectuals. Before the end of the decade, the club's book, The Limits to Growth, had sold four million copies and become the bible of the enlightened.
And so it goes. Why do intellectuals get things so wrong, so often? . . . Is all this worth bothering about? Probably, yes. We are living at the beginning of an epoch whose essential character still awaits definition. At present, several competing herds of independent minds are careering around, noisily insisting that their preferred label - American hegemony, borderless world, rise of the Asian giants, postmodern world, ecological catastrophe, war on terrorism, etc - does the trick. As we listen to them, it will do no harm, and it might do some good, to bear in mind what an appalling record of prediction intellectuals have had in the past century.
And there was this reply:
It occurs to me, in fact, that the list of major intellectuals who got things RIGHT would be, though short, quite illuminating.
---Burke (and John Adams) on the French Revolution
---Bertrand Russell on the Russian...
Interesting to note that Orwell, now regarded as the sage of his time, was flat wrong about everything. Not one of his predictions came true.
This is a unfair to Norman Angell, who described early in the 20th Century in detail just how horrible a new European War, fought with the full power of industrialization, would be. His argument was that such a war would be a disaster for all sides and that peace and trade made far more sense. He was much more right than all those who went to war in August 1914 assuming they would be victorious by Christmas.
Regarding Orwell being wrong... I don't buy the flat statement that he was completely wrong. Was he wrong, or did he instead shape the future as people made conscious decisions to guide society away from the future he saw? Or is he still right, just not yet?
Yes, my television isn't (yet) reporting back my conversations but my cable box is not only reporting what I watch, it contains industry mandated and government supported circuitry that dictates what content I can watch, what I can do with such content even after it makes it inside my house, I can go to jail for circumventing electronics in a device I purchased, and I can go to jail for even longer for telling others how to do the same.
So how wrong was Orwell again?
Victor Hanson has some stinging words in the Wall Street Journal:
"In a world of intellectual integrity, Robert Birgeneau would ask, 'Why are Asians excelling, and what can Berkeley do to encourage emulation of their success by other ethnic groups?' Denice Denton might wonder whether open hiring, monitored by affirmative action officers, applies to university staff or only those who are not associates of the president. President Hoffman would decry Ward Churchill's crass behavior and order a complete review of affirmative action and the politicized nature of hiring, retention, and tenure practices at Colorado. And Larry Summers? In the old world of the campus, he would defend free inquiry and expression, and remind faculty that all questions are up for discussion at Harvard."
I work at Caltech, which is somewhat buffered from the trends Hanson declaims. But the U.S. can't function solely on places like Caltech; it needs well-run liberal-arts university programs (and universities) as well. This worries me.
On another matter entirely:
Jerry, I just read and enjoyed your latest column. On the issue of codec, please check out: http://www.k-litecodecpack.com/ . I recommend the full version. Their executable examines the codecs on your system, upgrades where necessary, adds new ones and just keeps your system up-to-date. It leaves any standard codecs untouched. During installation, select 'decode only' and make sure to add the Indeo drivers which are not checked by default. It just works.
Cheers, Fred Collington
Thanks. I will have to try that.
On electronic publishing:
As you know, I have a little experiment going called Francis Hamit Electronic Publishing. So called because it distributes my previously published magazine articles (mostly). To do this, I had to characterize them as e-books. So it ain't rocket science. Anyone can do it. Register your copyrights before you publish. Details at the Copyright Office web site,
Step number one is to have a clean copy of your text prepared in whatever format you are going to publish it in. If you convert it from another format (such as Wordperfect to Word) you will have to re-edit it to detect and correct unintended artifacts and odd paragraphing and word wraps. Then determine which format you want to publish it in (I use Adobe Reader and MS Reader). You will have to re-edit for the same problems. (Hint: you have to print it out at every stage to be sure and really examine it closely for errors.) If you want to control customer copying then I recommend you use a high security level and never use HTML, which is designed not just to be copied, but rewritten easily.If you value your work, you must retain control of it. Using HTML is giving it away.
Step number two is to buy a group of International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) from R.R. Bowker, the ISBN agent for this nation. You will need a separate one for every version of every title. So, if you have an e-book in Palm, Adobe and MS Reader, that's three ISBNs, not one. Further information at the Bowker web site, including prices.
Step number three is to contact Lightning Source, Inc at their web site. They distribute e-books and e-documents to the online bookstore trade. The discount from the retail price is 55%, but you set the price. This will get you on Amazon, Powells, El;ibron, Fictionwise, Diesel E-books, and dozens of affiliated sites, and not just here, but in the UK, Australia, France, Canada, Germany and Japan. Amazon alone has 50 million potential customers.
Lightning Source also does Print on Demand books in various formats, so you can republish hard copies which are produced as customers buy them. Perfect for out-of-print books.
Part of this process is creating or hiring someone to create designs for book covers. These are done as JPEG images and can be done with MS Paint or a similar program Leigh does all of mine. These get uploaded on Lightning Source along with the text of your products.
Lightning Source pays ninety days after the sale, once a month. They send the money to your bank account. Once you have everything set up, you just collect the money. They have been waiving the set-up fee for e-books for some time now and that offer is good until the end of the year, at least. I also recommend that you read The Long Tail web site to better understand how online niche markets work.
Now of course, there are little quirks and a learning curve, but if you want to take your out of print work and get it out electronically you can do it. I've been promising a handbook on all this, but we are still figuring it out and are not quite ready for that yet. Anyone who wants to see what a finished e-document looks like can go online at Amazon or one of the other sites and buy one of mine.