Via GonePublic, "Who is a public intellectual?" ponders whether the public intellectual is in decline in these anti-intellectual times. Answer: no, but don't count specialized New York Intellectuals. Do count generalists who make thoughtful problems interesting in history, politics, literature, and science. Barbara Ehrenreich, Garry Wills. I would add Bill McKibben--I don't think it's the academic or journalistic affiliation that makes someone a public intellectual but the type of problem and the level of interest they get for it.
History, science, literature: astronomers have used events in Homer's Odyssey to identify the date that Odysseus returned from the Trojan War--April 16, 1178 B.C. Their crucial assumption is that Homer knew what he was talking about when he mentioned celestial events--when Venus was on the rise, when constellations were setting. And surely he did--no "security" floodlights to block the view back then.
An article on neigborhoods, from my neighborhood. I taught Robert Putnam's article on social capital in my critical thinking class this year. Most people got the message that close communities raise quality of life. But a few students claimed that because they were "naturally" loners, they would not benefit from making social ties, in spite of Putnam's research findings that, for instance, people who get together with friends are less likely to die in the next year. These few students were also the ones who were struggling in the class, struggled to even get to class, weren't washing, and just plain weren't having fun. The story they were telling themselves about their exceptional natural inclination was not doing them any favors!
When males do it, it's biology...when females do it, it's "promiscuity."
I used to read books, but now I read reviews. I used to read novels, but now I read magazines. I used to read journal articles, but now I can get most of what I need to fill that buzzing need for intellectual stimulation online. And I'm not the only one (fair warning: a Nietzsche reference in this one).
Bruce Friedman, who blogs regularly about the use of computers in medicine, also has described how the Internet has altered his mental habits. “I now have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the web or in print,” he wrote earlier this year...His thinking, he said, has taken on a “staccato” quality, reflecting the way he quickly scans short passages of text from many sources online. “I can’t read War and Peace anymore,” he admitted. “I’ve lost the ability to do that. Even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb. I skim it.”