Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Romanticism 2.0

This post was inspired by an advert, I tend to try and ignore adverts as they have a habit of making me angry this one was exceptional only in the amount of anger produced. The new diesel advertising campaign (seen here on diesel.com or here for the ads themselves on million looks) is simple "Smart does X stupid does Y. Be stupid" (eg "Smart critiques, stupid creates") this annoys me no end. Partly it is because I consider myself smart and like to think of myself as creative but mainly because of the message: "being smart doesn't achieve anything so don't bother, just act on impulse and you'll be wonderful". This is the romantic philosophy writ large and in neon: reject rationalism, thought and technology in order to embrace spontaneity, passion and living as a "noble savage".

There are many things wrong with this not least in that by being smart you don't have to stop being spontaneous or passionate (just think about the typical mad-scientist: there are people like this). While the romantic movement has been gone for a long time it's children are apparently making a huge effort to come back. If it's not Prince Charles saying something stupid (“I was accused once of being the enemy of the Enlightenment, I felt proud of that” via The Times), Diesel adverts (diesel.com), its the Government sacking  people for doing their job (ie being a scientist, via the BBC) or even more simply the rise and rise of woo (homeopathy, or chiropractic for your headache, they're ancient traditions and natural you know!).

There seems to be a growing feeling in the public that intellectuals live in ivory towers and don't connect with 'real' people or their concerns, leaving aside the fact that we are 'real' people with 'real' concerns, we need to combat this. This is not even about bringing science to the masses (itself a concept that is likely to reinforce the ivory tower idea). It's about removing the idea of the geek, the expert and the specialist. In this age of information anyone can be an expert or a specialist (google 'health care' and look at all the so-called "experts"). Just as with all other industries why should academia expect to not have to change its business model with the new age we live in?

We need to move from being repositories of knowledge to gatherers, disseminators and educators on evidence. This is a very important distinction: we need to help lobby, educate and aid people in understanding the evidence that we supply, that they can now access, not just tell them that we have it and that it tells us X. This isn't just limited to science, it needs to encompass everything. People need to be reminded that the geeks, experts, specialists and techies are real people too; that we share their concerns and that we are not people to be feared (or looked down on for having no 'expierence', 'connection to reality' or 'common sense') we are people. People with jobs and hobbies and lives.  We just also happen to be the people who gather and interpret evidence for a job: just like everyone does all the time.

This is the only way we can stop the rising strength of 'Romanticism 2.0': by bringing ourselves back into the fold; by being human again. The alternative is that "intuition", or as it should be known "belief and superstition", will win and we'll all be worse off for it.

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