Thursday, July 31, 2008

I had a more cutting, more glib, version of this up. I probably should have left it.

Atrios: "I Roll My Eyes. Nothing else to do."
In response to this:
"Uniformity of style is one of the depressing aspects of globalization, and nowhere more so than in the [...] business."
I'd agree that wine isn't the most important example, but connoisseurship is not simply refined taste -or even refined taste in inessentials- its refined awareness and the ability to communicate that awareness to others: it's both awareness and description. Written with a capital "C" it implies snobbery, but otherwise it's simply the most complex manifestation of social engagement we have: not simply a record of preferences, but of the enjoyment of sharing them, and of refining or altering them through discussion. It's a form of observation that reflects back on us as self-awareness, beginning with a very simple question simultaneously about the world and oneself. "Why do I like X? " "Why do I like Tolstoy?" "Why do I like blondes?." Fandom or unquestioning enthusiasm by comparison is little more than narcissistic (passive) self-obliteration.

Expertise of course is not based on self-reflection at all. It's an interest in externalities in which the very notion of preference is elided. I'll repost this from a few days ago:
There's a mode of argument that renders one passive and irresponsible before an ideology. If one assumes American exceptionalism one doesn't even have to argue for it, and in arguments on foreign policy one then becomes merely a calculator, objective and neutral, or just indifferent. Arguing for what you believe rather than from it makes you human: reengages you and reminds you that you're responsible for your choices. We're all capable of sliding into unreason. Those who imagine themselves -who analogize themselves- as calculating machines are capable of greater errors, and greater crimes, because they've insulated themselves from doubt.
Connoisseurship is the foundation of intellectualism. Expertise without it is just itself (or even less: a symptom). Anyone is capable of sliding into arguments for or from unreason. But of the two anti-social unreason is far more dangerous.

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