The Social Network of Detached Ruminators of Life

The very smart, and philosophically informed, film critic Richard Brody comes out against the teaching of philosophy in high school. Recalling Plato’s recommendation that only the experienced should study philosophy, Brody argues that philosophy will turn kids into cold-eyed technocrats, like Mark Zuckerberg as portrayed in The Social Network.

It’s no surprise, given the nature and power of Zuckerberg’s ideas, that he should (as depicted in the movie) have trouble dealing with people as individuals; but then, he’s the exceptional case, the genius. Whereas lifting ordinary kids outside their ordinary sphere to the plane of philosophical contemplations runs the risk of turning them all, to some degree, into detached ruminators of life, not even spectators but theorists, critics, or—to use the word on which both “The Social Network” and Lena Dunham’s “Tiny Furniture” turn—assholes.

Brody could be on to something. Immediately after ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy I’d like to see Congress pass a law forbidding the study of Nietzsche for anyone under the age of 30. Then again, in his own youth Walter Benjamin was completely besotted by German Romanticism. For him, youth wasn’t possible without philosophy, that without it young people were doomed to fall prey to corrosive influences in mass culture. Here is the twenty-two-year-old Benjamin in “The Life of Students” (published 1915):

[T]he German student body does not exist as such. Not because it refuses to join in the latest “modern” movements, but because, as a student body, it constantly drifts in the wake of public opinion; it becomes courted and spoiled by every party and alliance, is flattered by everyone, and submits to all.

Substitute “mass marketers” for “every party and alliance” and you pretty much have the same conditions today.


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