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The Failed Critique of Technopoly

Alan Jacobs explains why critics of a technological society have failed to find a wide audience
military technology

Good morning. Fifty years ago, a cogent, convincing critique of a technological society emerged in the West. It has been mostly ignored. What happened? Alan Jacobs explains:

“In the 1950s and 1960s, a series of thinkers, beginning with Jacques Ellul and Marshall McLuhan, began to describe the anatomy of our technological society. Then, starting in the 1970s, a generation emerged who articulated a detailed critique of that society. The critique produced by these figures I refer to in the singular because it shares core features, if not a common vocabulary. What Ivan Illich, Ursula Franklin, Albert Borgmann, and a few others have said about technology is powerful, incisive, and remarkably coherent. I am going to call the argument they share the Standard Critique of Technology, or SCT. The one problem with the SCT is that it has had no success in reversing, or even slowing, the momentum of our society’s move toward what one of their number, Neil Postman, called technopoly.”

In other news: Contemporary antiracism is nonsense John McWhorter writes. It is not “a philosophy but a religion.”

Hachette fires Kate Hartson: “If you were a certain kind of distinctly Trumpy public figure — say Donald Trump Jr. or Corey Lewandowski — looking to sell a book over the last four years, there were surprisingly few options. The Big Five publishing companies in New York, and even their dedicated conservative imprints, had become squeamish about the genre known as MAGA books, with its divisive politics and relaxed approach to facts. And small conservative publishers probably couldn’t afford you. So if, like the younger Mr. Trump in 2018, you found yourself rejected by most New York publishers, there was one last stop: a corner cubicle in the fifth-floor offices of the Hachette Book Group in Midtown Manhattan. There, Kate Hartson, the editorial director of the conservative Center Street imprint, was the one mainstream editor who would buy what no one else would — and make a tidy profit for her employer. Ms. Hartson, a fit 67-year-old who once ran a small press specializing in dogs, had all the trappings of a liberal book editor, including an apartment on the Upper East Side and a place in Hampton Bays. But she also seemed to be that rarest of figures in New York media: a true believer in Donald J. Trump, people who worked with her said.”

Turmoil at the Times: “The ‘resignation’ of star New York Times science writer Donald McNeil Jr. has sparked a furious back-and-forth among Times staffers, many of whom are outraged over the Gray Lady’s handling of his departure. The Washington Free Beacon reviewed a series of postings to a Facebook group for current and former Times staffers, where a tense debate is unfolding over McNeil’s exit. One camp argues that his dismissal was justified and another asserts it set a troubling precedent, which the New York Times union should have done more to prevent.”

Tom Stoppard’s double life: “Stoppard is the alchemist who turned Shakespeare into Beckett; he has held audiences rapt at that feat for half a century, and riveted by the work that has followed. ‘What’s it about?’ an audience member once asked him of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, to which he allegedly replied: ‘It’s about to make me very rich.’ Since that play premiered, in 1966, Stoppard’s linguistic hijinks and relish for experimenting have seemed too clever to some and thrillingly ambitious to others. The dichotomy was perhaps inevitable, given the scope of his intellectual appetite: He has fused philosophers with acrobats (Jumpers) and dissidents with footballers (Professional Foul), devised poetic plots from the laws of physics (Arcadia), and rewritten 19th- and 20th-century history until it was antic or aslant (Travesties, The Coast of Utopia). But his virtuosity has been more than gymnastics. The restless author of more than 20 plays for the stage, as many for radio and TV, and several Hollywood screenplays, he has spun more serious ideas into silly jokes than Charlie Chaplin and Richard Feynman combined. He has also said as much about literature and love as Ivan Turgenev.”

James Zug writes about tangents in conversation, life, and reading: “While on a trip to London, I had a free afternoon. It was a surprise. Usually when traveling for work, I found myself overscheduled with a full calendar of meetings, busy rushing around; all the while, like water slowly seeping through your house’s foundation into your basement while you were sleeping, emails leaked into my inbox, drop after drop after drop. Years ago, it was different. When I traveled alone in the pre-digital age, I could disappear for an afternoon when it transpired that I was free. No one who knew me knew where I was. In various cities on various continents, I wandered in cities and towns, drifting through neighborhoods. I circled back. I got lost. I had no map, no guidebook, no expectations or obligations.”

Rob Doyle reviews Roberto Bolaño’s Cowboy Graves: “The executors of the Roberto Bolaño archive have us right where they want us. Like pushers who know we’re hooked enough to keep buying product of diminishing quality, every couple of years they staple together something new from the notebooks, loose papers and computer files Bolaño left behind when he died in 2003 and tack it to the end of his oeuvre. It mightn’t be long before we’re presented with Bolaño: The Complete Shopping Lists or Gauchos at the Forgotten Library: Selected Email Drafts. Not that this scraping of the seemingly bottomless barrel is unwelcome. Like virtually everything the incomparable Chilean wrote, a newly excavated trio of unarguably minor novellas, Cowboy Graves, is companionable, exotic, witty and glamorously suggestive.”

Photos: Underwater Photographer of the Year Contest

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