Ah, the joys of libel…

…let’s play how many problems can you spot with this:

However, a more intricate criticism is offered by the followers of Leo Strauss, who also believe in a hermeneutics of culture, and often echo many of Adorno’s criticisms of accessibility and art. Their critique rests on the anti-capitalist nature of Adorno’s orientation, arguing that while mass culture may consist of bread and circuses, these are essential for social function and their removal or reduction in importance as “useful lies” would threaten the continued operation of the market and society, as well as higher philosophical truth…

– from Wikipedia, “Theodor W. Adorno” 10:10 pm EST on 1/29/09

One major problem with the Internet is that it is run by 12 year olds. They’re smart 12 year olds, but they’re still 12. The idea of “mass culture” alone being a lie doesn’t make any sense at all. I mean, there’s a reason why the “noble lie” is called “noble” – it preserves something higher that all may not fully apprehend immediately.

The other thing that just makes absolutely no sense is “mass culture” being composed of “bread and circuses.” I mean, for all the complaints about US imperialism, it ain’t Rome. I don’t think there was any plan in the White House to create “American Idol” or the Super Bowl. In Rome, bloody violent spectacle was part of convincing people that Empire is a good thing. Straussian critiques of contemporary culture are a bit more subtle than that: Michael Platt, following Allan Bloom, once argued that you could see the devolution of mores regarding marriage in dancing. Nearly every dance, including the waltz, started out as a scandal. Then for a few centuries, some became things couples did, or things that performed a social function for a community. Now, one goes to clubs, does some blow, and gyrates in place alone. You can argue with Dr. Platt, sure, but I don’t think there’s any declaring of “mass culture” as “bread and circuses” or “useful lies.”

I don’t usually take time out to correct nonsense like this, but I’ll say this: if you point me to an article that actually says the things the Wikipedia article claims above, I’ll show you an article written less by a Straussian than by an idiot.


  1. I didn’t look in your direction… *whistles*

    Wikipedia can be very accurate when they want to be. They’re being sloppy to an extraordinary degree here: the argument sounds sinister, but actually says less than nothing.

  2. I don’t know enough about Strauss to write much about him- but I’d say one thing about Wikipedia in my experience it is good on tecchie things, and scientific things and pretty hopeless say on historical things (its article on the topic of my thesis is appalling). I think that might partly be to do with the kind of people who write on it- in general they are the kind of people happy with the internet and often those aren’t historians or philosophers!

    What you might be looking at here is a sociological issue.

  3. @ Gracchi – you’re absolutely right. I wonder what it would mean if Wikipedia editors could just ask around a bit before they publish stuff. I mean, there are a million people willing to contribute resources of all sorts.

  4. Wikipedia will end up being a reflection of the minds of its contributors rather than a document of historical or even technological accuracy. We seem to be losing the ability to distinguish between what is and wishful thinking or even pure propaganda. When lies begin to be accepted as gospel, we’re all in for a world of hurt (e.g. Human produced Global Warming or “Al Gore invented the internet” ;>) ).

    Nevertheless, I do go there to find out stuff. I think it’s safer to stick to this when referencing matters “for entertainment purposes only,” being careful to try to confirm facts elsewhere, too.

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