Ken Myers, editor of the brilliant Mars Hill Audio Journal (on whose board I serve, I should add), essentially offers something of an implicit critique of phenomena like FPR, not to mention individual blogs and the like, here. He makes a good point:

When everyone can self-publish by putting up a few bucks for a website, they don’t have to face the humiliation of rejection slips. And when a critical mass of people spend more time reading self-published (and often mediocre) writing, and self-produced videos, less time is spent in the company of credentialed creativity. And that translates into declining revenue for established voices and their intermediaries.

On the other hand, DIY movements can also be ways of undermining the very mediocrity Ken detests, in that mediocrity is exactly what the cultural institutions of mass society are so good at providing. I’m in favor of cultural authority, but what do you do when most cultural authorities are corrupt? At any rate, I think that Ken’s argument is very much worth thinking about, especially if, like many of the contributors to this site, you are ambivalent about the kinds of unmediated communication that the Web, Twitter, Facebook, and the rest are making so ubiquitous.

In any case, I second his conclusion:

Twenty or so years ago, cultural conservatives were up in arms about higher education’s demotion of the canon of great literature. They attributed this abandonment to the anti-Western bias of campus leftists. But surely the ecosystem of ideas and sentiments encouraged by uncritical use of the Web, energized by its defining myth of the democratization of knowledge and culture, poses a much greater threat than all those tenured radicals.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. One could pen a pretty catalog of all the risks, drawbacks, and detrimental effects internet publishing brings about. They weigh heavily enough that participation in a venture like FPR really does give one pause. And yet, I’ve always been a bit perturbed by those arguments which try to tie intellectual merit to the “testing ground” of the marketplace. One has to presume a flourishing culture already in existence before one can seriously consider the vote of the marketplace as a salutary ratification of that culture’s judgment.

    Our culture is, at the moment, one of pornography, imbecility, and violence; if anything, one ought to experience trepidation if one feels at financial ease in its marketplace.

  2. Considering the sort of self-congratulatory garbage put out by the gatekeepers we may all be thankful that the gates have been torn down and it matters not a whit what Ken Myers and his ilk think. The dustbin of history awaits them.

  3. I like this blog and I hope it succeeds. I think, however, we would all be better off if we read more books and wrote more letters, spending less time blogging and emailing.

  4. Three points: One, the publishing industry has institutionalized mediocrity; two, the journals have become gatekeepers of the status quo, filtering out any real thought, and; three, why is the editor of an on-line journal offering this critique?

  5. What the internet takes away, it also gives.

    The canon is now accessible instantly by anyone who wants to homeschool instead of having to try to construct it and find the various pieces.

    The complaint might be that it allows people to ascend to whatever height they want. And they prefer to excel in mediocrity.

    It isn’t technically democracy – in the sense of Milton Friedman’s example where everyone gets either red or blue ties based on a vote. You can access trashy novels or the works of intellectual giants equally and individually.

    The cultural authority is in places like the one here. I can choose based on quality. Instead of worrying about corruption, I can see if they are corrupt.

    I CAN change the channel, from dreck to something substantial. And that is a very good thing.

    It isn’t the bifactional ruling party, or the handful of networks that regurgitate their press releases. I can find, aggregate, and even create what I think is truth, and be measured based on what I’ve posted. Not on what is PC, acceptable, or whatever.

  6. Sooner or later we all have to accept the fact that we live in the twenty-first century. And that means taking the useful and good (sites like this, for instance) and leaving the wasteful and worthless.

    The internet, properly used, can be more useful than harmful to the budding Distributist movement.

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