Tuesday, December 4, 2018

After the swans and tipping points – – a few quick and half-assed thoughts on post-relevancy.

I think I've made this point before, one of the advantages of a blog like this is that – – due to the flexibility of the form, the ability to respond to events in real time, the small and generally supportive audience who often provide (either through the comment section, off-line exchanges, or online multi-blog debates) useful feedback, and both the freedom and the pressure that come with having to fill all the space – – it can be and ideal place to collect your thoughts and try things out.

Post-relevancy is a topic we might want to come back to. It's interesting on at least a couple of levels. First, there are the individual responses to the realization that they are no long an important part of the discussion. Some simply keep rolling out their greatest hits, at some point descending into self-parody and essentially becoming their own tribute band. Others (though there is considerable overlap here) become bitter and desperately seek out validation for their new or often "new" material.

[I'm mainly thinking of public intellectuals in this post, but there are certainly comparable examples in other fields of entertainment. Dennis Miller is probably the first name to come to mind but certainly not the last.]

I saw a couple of things online recently that got me thinking about this subject. One was a nasty Twitter exchange between Nate Silver and Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Here's a taste.

I might be a bit more measured in my tone (Silver has a way of going off on twitter), but, if anything, I'm inclined toward even harsher criticism. Maybe what we should take away from this is not that Taleb has gotten less interesting, but that perhaps he was never all that interesting to begin with. Maybe the ideas that made him famous were never especially original or profound, merely repackaged in a facile way to impress gullible and shallow journalists.

Speaking of Malcolm Gladwell. This article from Giri Nathan of Deadspin pulls no punches (given the context, I'm obligated to use at least one sports metaphor) when describing just how tired Gladwell's shtick has become.
Again, these are just a few selected highlights. The conversation went on for a very long time, and any person who spent any of the last decade gassing up Gladwell’s pseudo-intellectual yammering should be forced to listen to it. Tune in next time to hear the phrenology takes of a hopped-up thinkovator barely suppressing his self-satisfied laughter.

A couple of songs came to mind while I was writing this. The first while I was dictating the title. The first few words suggested a vaguely remembered tune. The rest of the line doesn't work with the rhythm. I could have tweaked it to make it scan (after the swans have flown past, after the points have tipped), but that would've been too obscure even for me.

The second, from the great and still relevant Joe Jackson, obviously came to mind when talking about greatest hits.

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