Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Postman Fails to Deliver

Over at The Evangelical Outpost, I criticize the worse "graduation speech" ever (not) given.

Due to Bar Review and a work situation from hell, I've gotten 2.5 hours of sleep in the past 40 hours. But that didn't stop me from (and may have even aided me in) expressing my disgust over Prof. Postman's cerebral masturbation. I gave the following comment:

Horsecrap! (If I may borrow a "visigoth" term)

You must be an Athenian or a Visigoth. Some philosopher Postman is. His entire speech is based on a logical fallacy--false dilemma/excluded middle. Furthermore, it reeks of the unctiousness that I and many other former college students have come to hate about academia "I'm better than you because I'm smarter. It doesn't matter if you do more or have more."

Oh the glorious Athenians! Never mind the ups and downs of their mob rule, regularly morphing into and out of tyranny. Never mind their popular persecution of the same great thinkers Postman lionizes. Never mind their chauvinistic and perpetual wars, their mass slavery, their sexual perversion, their thoughtless idol worship, and a host of other social ills.

And all the social ills of Athens, and the Greco-Roman world, would eventually ossify into the decrepit, pyramidal, hundreds-years tyranny of the Roman Emperors. This was the most static period of human civilization; there's virtually no technological/artistic/scientific differences between 100BC and 400AD. The only thing that changed was how they prayed. It was this tyranny which was so easily brought down by the plucky Visigoth frontier dwellers who became the equal, then superior, of the Romans.

More fundamental wrong with Postman's speech is his thinly-veiled hatred of success and false hope in nouomenal fulfillment.

To contemplate, to reason, to experiment, to question-these are, to an Athenian, the most exalted activities a person can perform. To a Visigoth, the quest for knowledge is useless unless it can help you to earn money. Why shouldn't the quest for self-fulling theoretical knowledge be superior to materialistic utilitarian knowledge? Are the two mutually exclusive? In fact, can knowledge really be knowledge if it doesn't apply in the real world, or just a complex hallucination?

And a good noble Athenian values social bonds while a mean ole' Visigoth only wants power over other people? What's the real difference? Both are seeking validation from the opinions of other people rather than a reasoned analysis and esteem of their own condition. At least the Visigoths were proactive in getting that opinion.

The northern barbarians, with their materialistic view toward life, now enjoy unprecedented prosperity and knowledge. The Greco-Roman world, with its solipsistic view toward life, peaked with the cruxificion of Christ.

UPDATE: Some people think I'm too tough on the old boy, to which I respond

All you compliments of Postman are valid, but the speech is still B to B- work, not the speech of a great intellect of our time.

He's simplistic. There is the false dilemma he presents, but more ineptly, there is the "package dealing" (to borrow an Objectivist phrase) of some key concepts.

He equates seeking fame to seeking money; but one provides slavery to other people's whims while the other creates independence.

He equates privacy with isolation and solipsism, and social activism to being virtuous and giving. I'd prefer a Communist who kepts to himself and is self-sufficient than to a Conservative Christian who thinks it his life's goal to make me as "conservative" and "Christian" as he is.

In other words, he splits concepts which should be split, and combines concepts which should be combined. And he does so because its a popular archetype to do so, and he fails to think through the premises behind that archetype.

Also, the entire speech reeks of the philosopher's will to power: Postman creates a worldview which puts someone like Postman on top. Yet the janitor who never finished high school, but now runs a multi-million dollar custodial enterprise, is on the bottom. That's not right.

I've read Postman's work before and have not been impressed. Technopoly was a quasi-luddite screed filled with little more than worry to justify his broad conclusions--with a healthy dose of arrogance towards religion thrown in. In a book discussion we had about it back in college, a Chemistry professor said "Your will not find any anthropological evidence of a species--which we would recognize as human--that did not use tools," and thus blasted away the lion's share of what Postman had to say.

Speaking of objectivists, if you want to read a really good graduation speech, check out what Ayn Rand said to the West Point Class of '74. She expressed, with much more thoughtfullness, the ideas which Postman was grasping for.

A philosophic system is an integrated view of existence. As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define you philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation--or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified whishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance, but integrated by your subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into a single, solid weight: self-doubt, like a ball and chain in the place where your mind’s wings should have grown.

(Perhaps the silliest scenario for a graduation speech was this
sixty-something icon of anti-authoritarism giving a speech, with a
thick Russian accent, to hundreds of young American cadets.
Nevertheless, probably one of the best ones ever given.)


Post a Comment

<< Home