Mead writes in an essay that discusses why American society seems so committed to restraining the full power of the information revolution to transform itself:
“Almost everywhere one looks in American intellectual institutions there is a hypertrophy of the theoretical, galloping credentialism and a withering of the real. In literature, critics and theoreticians erect increasingly complex structures of interpretation and reflection – while the general audience for good literature diminishes from year to year. We are moving towards a society in which a tiny but very well credentialed minority obsessively produces arcane and self referential (but carefully peer reviewed) theory about texts that nobody reads. Political science is becoming more mathematical and dogmatic – while fewer and fewer Americans understand the political foundations and ideas behind American institutions. Similar problems unfortunately exist in many disciplines. Academic discourse becomes more self-referential and remote from public concerns; the public discussion suffers from the absence of the intellectual rigor and historical perspective that serious students and thinkers can bring to it. (The natural sciences are in much less bad shape as the process of empirical verification imposes a certain necessary honesty on the intellectual process, but those who try to connect the sciences to the world of philosophy, policy, theology and politics suffer many of the same problems as intellectuals in the humanities and social sciences.) At the same time, the edifice of academic studies is becoming so expensive and top heavy that except at a relative handful of very wealthy institutions the whole system of tenured teaching appointments looks steadily less sustainable.
We can see the same unhappy pattern in knowledge-based American institutions beyond the groves of academe. The mainline Protestant churches have a hyperdeveloped theology, an over-professionalized clergy – and shrinking congregations. The typical American foundation is similarly hyperdeveloped in terms of social and political theory, over professionalized in its staff – and perhaps thankfully has a declining impact on American society because its approaches are increasingly out of touch. With the New York Times in the lead, American journalism was moving in this direction until the rapid onset of financial problems began to force change.”
Read the full article here.
He also makes the point that the exiting governmental models of the American intellectual skew too strongly toward using the corporation as a model for “good management” – which leads us almost inevitably toward a stifling bureaucracy.
Do read the whole thing. It’s one of the best discussions I’ve come across of the emerging inadequacy of government (and church) to break out of the current conflicted models that characterize common life in the US today. He doesn’t really suggest what the solution will look like – though he points to a lowering of the barriers to entry for people who want to join the conversation that will lead to finding a solution.