The Elusive Big Idea

Neal Gabler’s essay on “The Elusive Big Ideas” ([Link to NYT][1]) has been sitting on my desk for a while now, and I think I am going to link to it in my folklore theory seminar. I’m not sure I buy all his arguments: that we are a society that prefers knowing to thinking, but there is enough provocation in it, I think, to get a discussion started:

> It is no secret, especially here in America, that we live in a post-Enlightenment age in which rationality, science, evidence, logical argument and debate have lost the battle in many sectors, and perhaps even in society generally, to superstition, faith, opinion and orthodoxy. While we continue to make giant technological advances, we may be the first generation to have turned back the epochal clock — to have gone backward intellectually from advanced modes of thinking into old modes of belief. But post-Enlightenment and post-idea, while related, are not exactly the same.

> Post-Enlightenment refers to a style of thinking that no longer deploys the techniques of rational thought. Post-idea refers to thinking that is no longer done, regardless of the style.

> The post-idea world has been a long time coming, and many factors have contributed to it. There is the retreat in universities from the real world, and an encouragement of and reward for the narrowest specialization rather than for daring — for tending potted plants rather than planting forests.