"Is persuasion dead? And if so, does it matter?
I'm not the only one who amid this mess wonders if he shouldn't be looking at another line of work. A top conservative thinker called recently, dejected at the sight of Ann Coulter on the cover of Time. What's the point of being substantive, he cried, when all the attention goes to the shrill?
But the embarrassing truth is that we earnest chin-strokers often get it wrong anyway. Take me. I hadn't thought much about Iraq before I read Ken Pollack's book, 'The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq,' a platonic ideal of careful analysis meant to persuade. It worked. I was persuaded! So what should we conclude when a talent like Pollack can convince us - and then the whole thing turns out to be based on a premise (W.M.D.) that is false?
If serious efforts to get it right can lead to tragic errors, why care about a culture of persuasion at all? On one level, everyone needs a good rationalization at the core of his professional life; mine holds that the struggle to think things through, even when we fail, is redeeming.
But beyond this, the gap between the cartoon of public life that the press and political establishment often serve up and the pragmatic open-mindedness of most Americans explains why so many people tune out - and how we might get them to tune back in. Alienation is the only intelligent response to a political culture that insults our intelligence.
Alienation is the only intelligent response to a political culture that insults our intelligence.
That was worth repeating. So is this: "... the struggle to think things through, even when we fail, is redeeming ..."
This is compatible with my basically nihilistic outlook. Little matters outside my own sphere. I do it for myself.
(Nihilism is another of those terms you'd better define when you use it. "Nihilistic" refers, in this instance, to the reality that little or nothing of what I do or think matters outside of my own experience of life. The word is just a description, not a label for some philosophy.)
I think Miller overestimates most of those who are tuned out. A distinction exists between those who never tuned in and those who tune out. I don't think many of the ones Miller refers to care about Paris Hilton. Unfortunately, those who do seem to vastly outnumber the ones in Miller's scope.