Guests on Volume 40
• JOSEPH EPSTEIN on writing essays and education through magazines
• JOHN GRAY on the cultural contradictions of global capitalism
• KENNETH R. CRAYCRAFT, JR. on why the First Amendment doesn't really protect Christian liberty
• WILLIAM T. PIZZI on Trials without Truth: Why Our System of Criminal Trials Has Become an Expensive Failure and What We Need to Do to Rebuild It
• PAMELA WALKER LAIRD on how nineteenth-century advertising promoted progress
• ALBERT BORGMANN on how technology disengages us from experiencing reality
• NEAL STEPHENSON on the "eureka" moments with codes and computers
• ALAN JACOBS on why Harry Potter's magic shouldn't trouble Christians
Joseph Epstein, essayist and editor, speaks about the art of writing. Epstein briefly tells of finding the form of the essay while in college while reading the intellectual magazines. He comments on the role of editors in the writing process. He criticizes writing on the Internet for its lack of style and notes the difference between writing on the computer versus writing for the computer. The interview concludes with comments on the educational value of magazines and the difference between editor and writer-driven composition in magazines.
John Gray, author of False Dawn, argues that the globalization of the world economies according to the model of free market capitalism will have unseen and unfavorable effects on the social and political orders of the world's various nation-states. Gray argues that free markets depend on the laws and habits of a civil society; however, the relationship is parasitic because the demands of the free market deplete the foundation of those laws and habits. The demands of the free market should be tempered and understood in order to restrain this depletion. Gray fears that if cultural restraints do not curtail free market economic ideals, nations will react with large scale protectionism.
Kenneth R. Craycraft, Jr., author of The American Myth of Religious Freedom, discusses the four myths of American religious freedom which he sees in the culture. One of his fundamental beliefs is that a theologically rich definition of religious liberty is at odds with the American definition of religious liberty. During the interview he details the myths which are so commonly held by American Christians and analyzes their fallacies.
William T. Pizzi comments on the defects in America's legal system. He postulates that many of the problems of the system come from values which the system embodies: a desire for procedure and a fixation on the rules. Pizzi argues that the many rules get in the way of delivering justice. The question that exposes the flaws in the system is "What is the object of the system?" It is not a game nor an exhibition of brilliance but rather a search for the truth. The complications of litigation obfuscate the search for truth. The rich can manipulate the system, while the poor often plea-bargain to avoid the cost of a trial. Pizzi compares the American system with others regarding the role of lawyers. Other systems do not closely identify a lawyer with his client. Thus, the defendant is more active and the trial more spontaneous and interactive.
Pamela Walker Laird, author of Advertising Progress: American Business and the Rise of Consumer Marketing, speaks about the theme of progress in advertising in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Ads in this age were a toast to the progress that producers had made. Thus, ads featured the wonders of factories running on electricity or a factory owner in his finely furnished home. For consumers who were enthusiastic about the fine products produced by progressive technology, products from a modern factory, or that arrived on new transportation technologies, had a sacramental nature that could link them with progress. Laird explains that ads reflect, even now, the values of their creators, who were originally the advertisers themselves, before advertising agents intervened in the process. Advertisers portrayed life as easier, more wholesome, and more prestigious if only consumers possessed the correct and progressive new products.
Albert Borgmann, most recently author of Holding onto Reality: The Nature of Information at the Turn of the Millennium, speaks briefly about the history of technology and the ephemeral rewards new technology brings. Borgmann notes that Pre-modern technology required people with skill to produce a product where modern technology requires skill only for its construction not its use. Thus, in pre-modern times music required skilled musicians whereas now it only requires the flip of a switch. Borgmann gives three reasons for the promise of greater information and says that the combination of these accounts for our disappointment. He also dismisses the techno-utopia proposed by many and concludes that technology tends to detach people from a true experience of life.
Neal Stephenson, author of Cryptonomicon, talks about the context of his novel: the subculture of those who work to "crack" computer codes. Often, those who crack these codes have a feeling that they have touched something deeper than the problem. At times, the solutions come to the thinkers in an almost intuitive way. Thus, many often have a platonic sense that they are discovering the nature of things.
Alan Jacobs interprets the magic aspect of the Harry Potter novels by J. K. Rowling. Jacob argues that framing the magic in these children's novels in the believable, coherent, yet alternative world of the novel should calm the fears of those concerned about their children reading about wizards and magic. In this world, magic is not innately evil but, like technology in ours, must be judged by the end to which it is put to use.