Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Fleck on "progress" and a nod to Neal Stephenson

I was surprised by Fleck’s use of the term “progress” (p. 124), which doesn’t seem to jibe with his basic thesis that truth is a function of an historical moment and a given thought collective. So, by progress, is he simply referring to the process of a thought collective’s genesis/development/acceptance of a new fact? “Progress” is just such a loaded term that it gave me pause; I wondered if he subscribed to a more general idea of progress in the sense of an advancement of knowledge, perhaps brought about When Thought Collectives Collide? More generally, there were times when his writing on thought collectives seemed more evaluative than descriptive. E.g., the phrase “harmony of illusions” is used repeatedly; also, there’s that witch hunt paragraph on p. 99: “Heretics who do not share this collective mood and are rated as criminals by the collective willl be burned at the stake until a different mood creates a different thought style and different valuation.” It was a rare glimpse at the violence inherent in the workings of the thought collective, though he didn't adequately address what happens when one thought collective seeks dominance over another.

And now for something completely different: reading Fleck made me want to reread Neal Stephenson’s THE DIAMOND AGE , in which (for those of you are who are not SF readers) the author imagines a future of independently governed “claves” based on ethnic and religious ties, also intellectual interests, hobbies even. Are the “claves” of Stephenson’s novel essentially thought collectives given political boundaries? Are thought collectives a more vital form of identity/identification than the nation-state?


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