George F. Will asks “Are You Better Off?”

The people asking and those answering the “better off” question seem to assume that the only facts that matter are those that can be expressed as economic statistics. Statistics are fine as far as they go, but they do not go very far in measuring life as actually lived.

We do, unfortunately, live, as Edmund Burke lamented, in an age of “economists and calculators” who are eager to reduce all things to the dust of numeracy, neglecting what Burke called “the decent drapery of life.” In this supposedly rational and scientific age, the thirst for simple metrics seduces people into a preoccupation with things that lend themselves to quantification.

Self-consciously “modern” people have an urge to reduce assessments of their lives to things that can be presented in tables, charts and graphs — personal and national economic statistics. This sharpens their minds by narrowing them. Such people might as well measure out their lives in coffee spoons.

In 1934, long before mankind strode jauntily into what it contentedly calls “the information age,” T.S. Eliot asked:

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

So, are you better off than you were four years ago? That depends. On what? That, too, depends.

Burke and Eliot! Will isn’t always right, but when he’s on, he, most definitely, is on. Simply beautiful. Read the whole piece here, in today’s Post

The always charming, and far more intellectually capable than I, Helen disagrees with my praise. She’s probably right.

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On the coat-tails of the lament of the death of pub culture, the W.S.J. reminds us of further cultural debasement.

It may be hard to imagine — given our current obsessions with television shows, movies, instant-messaging, Facebook and blogs — but literature was once at the center of American cultural life. In the middle of the 20th century, novels and poems, of varying quality and aspiration, were widely read and widely talked about. And literary merit was discussed and hotly debated by critics whose essays, in Garrick Davis’s words, “courted the educated public with their elegant prose.”

James Seaton reviews Praising it New: The Best of the New Criticism. He offers a very lucid appraisal of the book, with some commentary on the New Criticism and the differences the distinguish it from the Trilling-Wilson camp — and, perhaps, surprising, the similarities between the two. Read it.