I’m digging a further into elite theory and uncovering a rich history of material that makes me feel both inadequate and intensely interested in learning more. I’m currently working my way through The Power Elite by C. Wright Mills published in 1956. The book is a great snapshot of mid 20c sociology of elites. Mills describes three levels of American mid-century society, the masses, a middle level, and the power elite.
Chris Hayes appeared on Point of Inquiry to pitch his new book The Twilight of the Elites. Chris Mooney and he discussed the difference between science and Wall Street, two areas of human activity that appear to value intelligence above all other qualities, and both of which claim to be meritocracies. Hayes argues that meritocracy has failed because it has devolved into a system of ‘inequality in, inequality out.’ Could science suffer from the same problem?
Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy, a new book by Chris Hayes, calls for massive reform and wealth redistribution to balance the scales in American politics. The sad thing is that the book appears to retell many of the arguments Christopher Lasch made in Revolt of the Elites, published in 1995. At the start of the twentieth century the big political fear were the ‘masses.’ Jose Ortega y Gasset and Walter Lippman told us that the masses were too entitled or too stupid to be trusted with power; that they were losing faith in the democratic ideals of the Western world and turning toward the radical politics of communism.
A recent post by Douglas Rushkoff on government built computer viruses used in cyberwarfare makes me wonder if there have been any really great histories written about computer viruses. Even a really good history of hacker/cracker culture could be interesting, something on the more ethnographic side.
A quick scan of Amazon turned up Digital Contagions by Jussi Parikka.
I’ve been watching a lot of television and movies over the past few weeks, mostly as a thought avoidance tactic. But no matter how hard I try there are always some signifying items that cross my view and threaten to expand into lifelong, or at least week-long, thought obsessions. Two recent movies illustrate this contrasting reaction. The first is In the Loop, a biting satire of the politics that led to the Iraq war a scant ten years ago.
Two interesting articles passed the transom recently. Bruce Sterling started it all with a post on the NewAesthetic - a tumblr that has been collecting visual examples of our current age under the non-manifesto title the “New Aesthetic.” Most of these images are inspired by computer imagery, data mining, and new GIS technologies. Part of what they have in common is recording the breakdown of the digital and the unexpected appearence of the digital in the analog world.
John Brownlee started a bit of storm on March 30 when he posted a story about Girls Around Me, an app for the iPhone. The idea behind the app is relatively simple - you turn it on, it finds your current location, and then it locates all of the people (men or women) who are currently nearby. The information is taken from public Facebook profiles and Foursquare check-ins. Brownlee tells a great story about the reaction of friends to whom he showed the app; they gradually move from fascination to a tingly ickiness and finally outright worry.
Today the White House held a press conference announcing a new “big data” initiative pledging $200 million dollars to new efforts. Agencies involved include the National Science Foundation, Department of Defense, National Institutes of Health, Department of Energy, and US Geological Survey.
One of the reasons I’m interested in studying the interactions between experts and non-experts is my own perception that the respect we have for experts has declined, even over the 40 years of my own lifetime. There are many potential factors that have contributed to this decline, from the internecine fighting of postmodernism to the triumphant march of the market through the lifeworld, but today I’m interested in trying to find an approximate time to date this change.
I’ve been reading some Habermas the last few days and am particularly struck by the appendix of Knowledge and Human Interests. The appendix is called “Knowledge and Human Interests: A General Perspective.” Habermas begins with the purpose of theory. The study of theory is directly connected to action because theory provides action with energy and ethical significance. The Greeks believed that the study of theory, which was the contemplation of the cosmos, brought the external and internal parts of the world together.