Model Mad, Enlightened


The true élite of modern societies is composed of engineers, mechanics, and artisans—masters of reality, not big thinkers. Illustration by Leigh Guldig

One of our favorite essayists (for exemplary reasons, see here, and here, and here) makes a compelling case for our taking a good look at the foundation of our assumptions, in this age of model mad.

His several essays in the months preceding and following the 2016 Brexit referendum and the USA election were impassioned, but this one in the form of a triple-book-review hits the mark the best, reminding us of the basic premises of the Enlightenment and how that matters now more than ever:

Of all the prejudices of pundits, presentism is the strongest. It is the assumption that what is happening now is going to keep on happening, without anything happening to stop it. If the West has broken down the Berlin Wall and McDonald’s opens in St. Petersburg, then history is over and Thomas Friedman is content. If, by a margin so small that in a voice vote you would have no idea who won, Brexit happens; or if, by a trick of an antique electoral system designed to give country people more power than city people, a Donald Trump is elected, then pluralist constitutional democracy is finished. The liberal millennium was upon us as the year 2000 dawned; fifteen years later, the autocratic apocalypse is at hand. Thomas Friedman is concerned. Continue reading

Saving Rhyme and Reason

For me, reading has always been a route out of a chaotic world.  That doesn’t mean that I read “fluff”. Far from it.  (Anyone familiar with The Iliad  or Beowulf, knows that neither Sam Peckinpah nor Akira Kurosawa invented the specificity or depiction of violence.)  But whether sitting with my children and reading aloud, or better still, sitting with my children while we all read individually, books bring an intangible into our lives by opening doors that remain available to us indefinitely.

Frequently the educational systems in many parts of the world pressure students into making choices that seem almost binary; the “science track” or “business track” for example, setting them on an educational road that is fundamentally an express lane highway, with little chance of turn offs and detours.  These systems produce very smart people in their fields, but it doesn’t easily provide opportunities for reaching full potential. Continue reading