Opinion Fetishism

Twitter might ironically be alerting us to the absurdity and shallowness of intellectual life practiced on its terms.

Too many would-be Twitter contrarians end up sounding like those they critique. They are victims of a Medusan medium—and a Medusan culture as a whole—that petrifies opinions, turning them into poses the moment they are circulated. Twitter, to vary the metaphor, is quicksand, and those who struggle against it tend to be sucked down all the faster.

The lively exchange and development of ideas requires some independence of ideas from the identities, personalities, or backgrounds of those who articulate or advance them. To be sure, personal background can and even should influence our views, but those views, once formed, must stand or fall on their own merits. They can be adopted by others, modified, abandoned, proven, or disproven, regardless of who first advanced them.

How then to resist an increasingly toxic intellectual culture without succumbing either to its dynamics or to despair? Adorno concludes Minima Moralia with a bracing challenge: “The only philosophy which can be responsibly practiced in the face of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of redemption.” Highfalutin as the sentiment may sound, Adorno meant that responsible thinkers should hold themselves somewhat outside their culture, even outside of history—as ultimately impossible as that may be. Adorno had no illusions that redemption would actually come; he just thought it was necessary as a theoretical standpoint. “Perspectives must be fashioned,” he goes on, “that displace and estrange the world, reveal it to be…indigent and distorted.”

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