A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan.  Five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday, I present one of McLuhan’s observations and talk about its relevance today.  300 ideas. 300 days.  300 posts.

The bad of good and bad

Marshall McLuhan (Summer 1968, age 57). You can lead a Mailer to water but you can’t make him drink

This morning I had a chat with Norman Mailer on the CBC’s TV program “The Summer Way,” hosted by Warren Davis and Ken Lefolii.  The program was called a meeting of minds, which is half right, minds were present, but not much meeting was going on.

Mailer was good on the give and take of conversation.  He gave a lot compliments and then proceeded to take them away.  For example, he described my ideas as “fascinating ad repellent, no not repellent, stimulating.”  Can’t use that on a dust jacket blurb, can I?  Mailer also said he agreed with almost everything I have said but only up to a particular point.  For example, he said he agreed with the idea that electronic media are changing the planet, but thinks I err by not declaring this change a bad thing or a good thing.  I suggested that declaring value judgments about things of this magnitude is both impossible and injurious to the critical faculties, but he didn’t see the value of the point.  I wonder why?

Me (December 2009, age 57). Marshall McLuhan on objectivity

In only one of his books does McLuhan embrace the making of value judgments – The Mechanical Bride (1951).  In that book, for example, He says about Professor Mortimer Adler and Dr Hutchins’ advertisement of their great books experiment at the University of Chicago that they have “come to bury and not praise Plato and other great men.”  That the purpose of public opinion polls is not to discover facts but change people’s minds about themselves, and for the most part this is only a good thing for companies who want to change minds in order to sell people more of what they produce.    Emily Post? For the “socially immature.”  Reader’s Digest?  For the “mentally exempt.” Mailer would have loved the this is good, that is bad Mechanical-Bride McLuhan.

McLuhan’s big idea is that calling things good and bad interferes with one’s ability to view the world objectively, to see the world as it is, rather than as you would like it to be or not to be.  This is an idea worth pursuing even if Mailer did not want to pursue it.  (More on the Mailer-McLuhan unmeeting of minds tomorrow.)

On what aspects of the world do you find yourself most quickly leaping to judgement?  Politics? Religion? Sex? Money?  If you’ve already made up your mind why bother looking?   Isn’t it far more comfortable to praise or condemn rather than have to change your life if you discover the world is not how you thought it was?

Cordially, Marshall and Me


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Michael Hinton Tuesday, December 15th, 2009
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Vol. 1 No Comments

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