Doing It In Public

I read Jeffrey Di Leo’s article on “Public Intellectuals” over at Inside Higher Education, and — although I disagree with him vigorously at a number of points — I was interested enough to read to the end of a lengthy argument. I think Di Leo’s train takes a very wrong track in the last section on “corporate intellectuals,” but much of the preceding analysis strikes a chord.
Rather than bemoaning the bad times for “public intellectuals” or cheerleading the advent of (shudder) “corporate intellectuals,” I’d suggest studying the hard times on which subtlety has fallen. Subtelty and its companions nuance and distinction pay great long-term benefits, though it’s not always clear at a given moment where the benefits will lie. They are non-partisan in the best sense: they speak for the truth, which is almost always more complicated than facile sloganeers make it out. They defer to no celebrity, no power, no hipness.
I don’t know enough about accounting practices or stock-picking or other high-financial enterprises, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that over the past decades, the laws concerning corporate value and the culture’s continuing hysterical fear of death (and concomitant desperate sucking for the utmost temporal profit every minute) have eroded the sense that it’s in anyone’s interest to build toward long-term value. On the corporate side, that leads to transactions-for-transactions’ sake, Enron, tulip crazes, and so on; on the cultural side, that encourages partisanship of various sorts, the efficient superficiality that keeps one maximally free to adopt whatever new trend arises, echo chambers, and so on.
I have the strong feeling that I’ve just driven firmly through the barricade that might prevent me from speaking beyond my ken, so I’ll leave it at that. Corporate intellectual? No, thank you.

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