Are Data-Driven, Lean Approaches Impeding American Innovation?

Political leaders and captains of industry in the U.S. like to paint America as a land of opportunity based on a simple premise: work hard, be somewhat ingenious, and you will have the chance to do well. Easy as all-American pie. Of course, things are more complicated in practice, but the straightforwardness of this simple message points to a penchant for individualism that underlies many aspects of our society, and which evolved into its present state far more recently than many Americans suspect. At its best, the cultivation of this quality entails a sense of responsibility and self-awareness that are not as natural to many other cultures. At its worst, putting the individual above all else has resulted in forms of self-interest—and a misguided belief that any policies helping those faced with challenges we do not share verge on socialism—that go against many of the founding fathers’ reasoned principles. The second facet of this phenomenon is a relatively new interpretation of American values that may in fact have been encouraged by a form of active engagement that has had unforeseen consequences. … Read More Are Data-Driven, Lean Approaches Impeding American Innovation?

Forward-Thinking Organizations Value the Humanities

I recently considered the fate of public intellectuals in the digital era, concluding that their evolution was closely tied to a number of societal shifts. One of these is the perceived, and oft discussed, crisis in the study of the humanities. Are the humanities still relevant? Do they matter, outside of a purely theoretical context and beyond the confines of the college classroom? These sorts of doubts are reflective of broader tendencies in the way we view our world, such as the rather primitive question of what qualities we consider essential for the workforce that allows society to function. In the knowledge economy, observers of the job market for college graduates and even seasoned professionals will have noticed a pattern emerging at the most basic level: where employers once sought well-rounded candidates with strong ethics and critical thinking skills, terms like “results-driven,” “entrepreneurial” and “quantitative” have now become commonplace in job descriptions. Not so frightening on their own, these words are part of a linguistic choice that reflects the competitive demands of the marketplace, and some of the resulting shortsighted choices that tend to underestimate the advantages of an education grounded in the humanities.

Society can easily understand the benefits of learning financial accounting, statistical software manipulation and business modeling, but is less comfortable with what it regards as the more intangible qualities cultivated by the humanities and, to some extent, the social sciences. … Read More Forward-Thinking Organizations Value the Humanities

Donald Trump, Making America Anxious Again

It was only a matter of time before the obvious comparison between Donald Trump and France’s Marine Le Pen was drawn. With Trump’s continued success in the polls leading to the Republican 2016 presidential primary election, even the American press has gotten in on the game. However, at its core, the juxtaposition is flawed.

Trump has nowhere near the intelligence, credentials or political chops of Le Pen. Nor does he have the family baggage. (Among other things, Marine Le Pen’s father and predecessor as head of the Front National party, Jean-Marie, wore his racism as a public badge of honor and was convicted of holocaust denial.) Even the characteristic that, leaving aside racially-charged discourse, most seems to bring together the two public figures—their seemingly unabashed willingness to speak their minds—is in fact a further indicator of their difference: thus far in his campaign, Trump has been brash and eager to give unfiltered, off-the-cuff speeches (though often retroactively retracing his steps), while Le Pen’s success as a politician and a strategist is in part due to her uncanny ability to make vague statements that sound grand and always patriotic, but are in fact cunningly calculated to elicit the broadest possible appeal by speaking to her audience on several levels. When she is in her best form, Le Pen allows her supporters to infer her support of their most radical views, while leaving her opponents hard pressed to find concrete statements to attack. Trump, on the other hand, has all the subtlety of an enormous tank. … Read More Donald Trump, Making America Anxious Again

Where Have the Intellectuals Gone, and Do We Need Them?

Almost every generation suffers from a certain sense of pride and vanity—or “exceptionalism,” to borrow a popular neologism of the moment—whereby its particular civilization is seen as having arrived at a summit of human achievement. Ours is no exception: our athletes routinely obliterate previous records, modern science and medicine have leapt forward by unfathomable bounds, and living standards in the developed world are beyond compare. Sometimes these beliefs are tempered by a sense of nostalgia for golden eras past, but there is nevertheless an overwhelming agreement that we have built on previous progress to take every field of human activity further than ever before.

However arrogant it may be, the sentiment is of course justified on a number of levels. It is therefore all the more curious to come across an area where society appears to have stagnated or, indeed, even engaged on a reverse course. In the U.S., anti-intellectualism has been bemoaned by many for decades (and could be seen as a fundamental constituent of the narrow definition of “exceptionalism” as an American brand of progress that relies on a pioneering spirit and the relentless pursuit of prosperity—doing, not thinking), but even in the land of the free there once existed a particular cast of thinker that has been waning of late: the public intellectual. … Read More Where Have the Intellectuals Gone, and Do We Need Them?

Introducing Excursus Verses, or Huh? Excursa-What?

What’s an excursus, and why should you care? You probably shouldn’t, but you can nevertheless get the answer to these questions and find out more about Excursus Verses on—surprise!—the About page. As for who might actually be foolhardy enough to be interested in what we have planned for this website, if you’ve read this far, it just might be you. So, what can you expect to find on the site? … Read More Introducing Excursus Verses, or Huh? Excursa-What?