On Soren Kierkegaard’s essay “The Present Age” (1846) and Hubert Dreyfus’s “Nihilism on the Information Highway: Anonymity vs. Commitment in the Present Age” (2004).
What’s wrong with our society? Kierkegaard saw the advent of the press and gossip culture as engendering a systematic passivity and shallowness in his fellows, and Dreyfus thinks this is an even more apt description of the Internet Age, where it’s easy to spout anonymous, not-well-thought-out opinions without risk or commitment.
Guest John Ganz joins Mark, Wes, Seth, and Dylan to explore and evaluate Kierkegaard’s claims. Is it correct to describe this age as “too reflective” as opposed to revolutionary ages when people actually got out of the house and did things, with their full commitment? Were things really better when people were less prudent, more prone to making “a big stupid blunder?” Is his dismissal of “chatter” as opposed to the inwardness of silence, really just another case of sexist Stoicism? Does it make sense for Kierkegaard himself, with his concern for his public reputation, his lack of commitment (especially in his love life), his hyper-reflectivity, and his logorrheic preachiness to be making this critique? Finally, does this critique really apply so well to the Internet, or just to particularly toxic parts of it?
“The Present Age” is actually the conclusion of Two Ages: The Age of Revolution and the Present Age A Literary Review. Here’s an excerpt online. It was a commentary on the novel Two Ages by Thomasine Gyllembourg. You can find the Dreyfus essay in his collection On the Internet or can read an earlier (1997) version of the essay online.
Image by Solomon Grundy.