Future, Present, & Past:

~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.

Oυδεὶς άμουσος εἰσίτω

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bryant & Wolfendale: the internet as philosophy gym

Before I carry on with my posts on Owen Barfield, a brief notice to urge everyone to look to Deontologistics, where Pete "the Relentless" Wolfendale has put up a preface and parts 1 & 2 [update: now 3] of an enormous and detailed response to Levi Bryant's position (the first part will also point you to some of the background). Levi has made some rejoinders as well.

It is nice to see such a debate occur online. I am a fan of this medium, all things considered--in particular I like the way hyperlinks can dramatize a sort of metalepsis, and like Amod I think there are some precedents of a sort--but I agree with Harman that the internet can be problematic for philosophy. (Of course, Plato felt, so could the writing of scrolls.) (For another take on why the web is less than ideal for some of these purposes, see this post of Ian Bogost's).

As Harman points out, openness and connectivity is double-edged. The internet is diffuse. Hyperlinks enact the very stuff of networks and dramatize the unity of knowledge (though they certainly do not deliver this, they can spark a realization); but this connectivity can tend to pool outward, becoming wide but not deep. At worst, arguments get ever more meta-commentarious, tangled and confusing, yielding not an ecstatic aha! but a bewildering bleh.

On the plus side, most obviously, a kind of meritocracy can emerge online, thanks to the real access to each other that thinkers and writers have now, outside "normal channels." If there is a downside to this, a "decay of standards," I have to admit this doesn't have me so worried.

As to the speed and notorious flame-wars of online culture, there are even philosophical upsides to this as well. Ancient philosophy is connected to the gymnasium, and such online sparring can be a sort of training. While the speed with which online arguments transpire, so that last week sometimes feels like last century, is in some ways unconducive to the work of the philosopher (which Simon Critchley recently characterized as taking ones time), such banter, when posts and comments flash back-&-forth, can also be as close as the internet can get to speech, and this is after all Plato's gold standard. (I know of course that "as close as you might come" is still simulacra-- and might still be seen as having all the "bad" sides of writing ["it always says the same thing"] and no "real presence;" but I'm a writer too, for all my Platonism--and so was Plato.)

To be sure, speed does often turns into a sort of emotional heat. While this is also dangerous--one often encounters (in others and in oneself) reactiveness, not response, and a pandering to the irritable and irascible nature of the soul--I believe that it can also be a condition for real insight, and indeed insight that goes deep. If I can put it this way, philosophy is a kind of cool handling of hot matter. Pete and Levi seem to be getting this mostly right. No K.O.'s so far, but they've come out fighting--and it's a clean fight.

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