The flight of the elite: In recent weeks, we've been referring to a state of affairs we regard as a bit of a paradox.
That paradox starts like this:
In a survey of philosophy professors taken in late 1999, Ludwig Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations was selected as the most important (academic) philosophy book of the 20th century
Aside from a handful of academic specialists, no one has the slightest idea what that book is about. (We aren't assuming that those specialists could speak to that point either.)
No one has any idea what this fellow Wittgenstein might have said in that most important book. This most important book of the century was published in 1953, but it has had exactly zero effect on the western world's public discourse.
In the next few days, we expect to continue discussing that apparent paradox. It seems to us that this paradox involves "the flight of the logicians," or of our "philosophy" specialists in general—the complete detachment of that elite from the real affairs of the world.
Perhaps we're being a bit too harsh. Let's consider what one linguist has now said:
We start with an item we encountered in the Washington Post this morning. At 6 o'clock this very morning, this item was listed, on the Post's web site, as the MOST READ item in the entire newspaper.
You can peruse the item here. When the Post listed the item as MOST READ, here's how the paper described it:
How to soften butter quickly, and why it matters for your baking
Butter temperature and consistency are crucial in baking. Here are 5 methods to consider.
According to the Post's web site, that was the MOST READ item on the entire site. Below the listing, included IN a set of DON'T MISS reports, a different item was characterized as shown:
Cottagecore, cluttercore, goblincore—deep down, it’s about who we think we are
We had no idea what that could mean, so we decided to click and find out. As it turned out, the DON'T MISS item came from Style. This is the way it started:
JUDKIS (9/13/21): If you want to chart our slow pandemic descent into madness, just take a look at the aesthetics of our confinement.
The spring of 2020 seems quaint in retrospect: We learned to knit, baked sourdough bread, solved puzzles and sewed handmade masks. Some people moved out of cities to get away from people, and spend more time in nature. This, we decided, was called “cottagecore”—performative cozy nesting, dried flowers, vintage aprons, a sense of optimism.
That gave way to the realization that some of us were going to be stuck in our homes for much longer than we expected. Enter “cluttercore,” a rejection of pre-pandemic Scandi minimalism in favor of bright colors, bold patterns, and eclectic collections, all layered in the same space. If we’re going to be trapped in our houses, we might as well have something cool to look at, right? Messy world, messy us.
And now? It's still ramping up, but the new pandemic "core" is "goblincore." Because that's apparently where the summer surge has taken us. Goblincore is about pure fantasy and escaping humanity to live in the woods: Think homes filled with dark wood and plants, mossy colors, whimsical mushroom prints, earthen homes, tarot cards, extreme isolation, plenty of brown corduroy and tweed.
Not that there's anything wrong with it! That said, it did perhaps seem a bit odd when the essay continued as shown:
JUDKIS (continuing directly): “All three of these movements are about trying to create an ideal,” says Ruth Page, who teaches English and linguistics at the University of Birmingham in England, “which is a way of comforting and alleviating the distress of the reality that is around us.”
So, yeah. That gets to the core of how well we’re coping lately.
How well have we been coping lately? As a nation, we haven't been coping especially well at all.
In fact, we haven't been coping especially well for decades. In our view, the decline has extended so far, and is so deeply entrenched, that it's hard to see a way to reverse the ongoing fall.
For ourselves, we didn't know why someone who teaches linguistics at a major university would be weighing in on the topic of goblincore. It did make us think of all the topics on which the logicians have maintained their total silence as the culture has continued to fail.
The woods are said to be lovely and deep, but no one has the slightest idea concerning the contents of the most important philosophy book of the 20th century. Similarly, you've never seen an academic logician comment on any part of our failing discourse, and you never will.
The logicians have walked off their posts. Arguably, they did so long ago.
Meanwhile, the linguists discuss goblincore. Putting it a different way, our culture is transparently stupid pretty much all the way down.
It's hard to imagine that anyone has failed to notice this fact. It's very, very hard to imagine that this can go on forever, or that there's an obvious way to come back.
Still coming: Thoughts concerning first encounters with that most important book