Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Believe None of What you Read?

Something fishy may be going on in Robert F. Worth's article, "The Pillars of Arab Despotism," in the latest issue of The New York Review. This piece is, in part, a review of Juan Cole's latest book, The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East. Worth clearly does not buy Cole's arguments, but I have to wonder whether he is more interested in grinding axes, rather than defeating propositions. For one thing he describes Cole as "a prominent liberal blogger and scholar of the Middle East." Worth himself is currently a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, writing his own book about the Arab Spring and its aftermath. This is a sufficiently reputable establishment that one wonders whether or not Cole's description was intended as a swipe at Cole for not having more legitimate credentials. Worth's biographical statement also describes him as "a frequent contributor to The New York Times Magazine." At the very least there is a distinctive odor of one writer whose work holds up through the editing process disparaging another who lives in the world of unedited blog posts.

This is the new world the Internet has made. Back when I was part of the evangelical promotion of "knowledge management," I remember that one of the slogans was, "We are drowning in information and thirsty for knowledge." Actually, we are drowning in opinions; and we lack any kind of "life preserver" for determining which of those opinions have any warranted substance.

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