Hey, What’s the Big Idea? Pubs Play Blame Game About the Brain Drain

Rest in peace, you guys. (via New York Times)

It’s not just us! The New York Times agrees: everything has just gotten really stupid lately.

According to Neal Gabler’s lead essay in this week’s New York Times Sunday Review, the Age of Information has killed off big ideas. The pipsqueak notions floated by our sorry excuses for geniuses (Richard Dawkins, seriously?) simply don’t hold a candle to the Big Bang Theory, the Feminine Mystique or the End of History, he wrote, no matter what The Atlantic’s annual ideas cover package says.

Taking a swing at the venerable monthly, Mr. Gabler added, “None of [The Atlantic’s] ideas seem particularly breathtaking. In fact, none of them are ideas. They are more on the order of observations.”

Oh, yes he did.

But according to Atlantic editor James Bennet, Mr. Gabler missed the point.

The special feature “qualifies as beach reading for Atlantic readers,” Mr. Bennet told Off the Record from Maine, where he was on vacation. “Our readers know to look elsewhere in the magazine for the kind of articles Mr. Gabler mourns.”

Mr. Bennet is not at all convinced we’re getting dumber. “Whether the culture has been talking to itself in increasingly stupid ways is a recurrent preoccupation,” he said, “but it doesn’t mean it’s actually happening.”

In part, he added, Mr. Gabler’s essay “amounts to the same harrumphing about Twitter.”

Indeed, although Mr. Gabler blamed the rise of the pundit and decline of the general interest magazine, he wagged his finger hardest at the microblogging site.

“It is largely useless,” he wrote. “The gab of social networking tends to shrink one’s universe to oneself and one’s friends.” It is, he added, “a form of distraction or anti-thinking.”

Score one for Twitter-hater Bill Keller!

Meanwhile, The New Yorker’s chief literary critic James Wood pins the Triumph of Stupididy on another culprit. We’re trapped in an intellectual slide into “old modes of belief,” as Mr. Gabler called them, thanks to—wait for it—newspaper opinion columns!

Especially those by writers “who argue that we are happiest living in suburbs and voting Republican because neuroscience has proved that a certain bit of our brain lights up upon seeing Chevy Chase or Greenwich; or that we all like novels because stories must have taught us, millennia ago, how to negotiate our confusing hunter-gatherer society,” he wrote on Monday. (Mr. Wood doesn’t name names, but that sure sounds like the Times’s social animal David Brooks.) All that psychology is sucking the life out of big secular ideas, Mr. Woods argued.

Whatever the cause, it seems, neither Mr. Wood nor Mr. Gabler will have the Times Magazine’s annual “Year in Ideas” issue to kick around come December. After a decade, the special issue has been spiked by editor Hugo Lindgren.

“It was so good at first,” Mr. Lindgren told Off the Record, “but it’s just one of those things that had run its course.”

What will take its place? We have no idea.


Hey, What’s the Big Idea? Pubs Play Blame Game About the Brain Drain