The material and moral progress made possible by the Enlightenment is evident across a wide range of metrics, from human rights to life expectancy. But today’s political leaders seem inadequate to the task of managing the Enlightenment’s more troubling legacies.
In his 2017 book Taste, the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben digs up the roots of the word. Historically, it is defined as a form of knowledge through pleasure, from perceiving the flavour of food to judging the quality of an object. Taste is an essentially human capacity, to the point that it is almost subconscious: We know whether we like something or not before we understand why. “Taste enjoys beauty, without being able to explain it,” Agamben writes. Algorithms are meant to provide surprise, showing us what we didn’t realise we’d always wanted, and yet we are never quite surprised because we know to expect it.
From new Silicon Valley-funded startups in the thicket of Calcutta slums to ramen shops in Kansas City, globalism as both concept and an everyday fact of life is embraced by today’s well-minded liberal body. So if that’s the case, if the argument for globalism is so water-tight and damn-near irreproachable, why in the area of literature does one find so many supposedly progressive voices constantly bashing the very books that come out of the cauldron of heterogeneity?
Think tanks are odd institutions. Experts solemnly line up, often to defend a specific political or economic cause, and whether they represent the Heritage Foundation or the Brookings Institution, and no matter how fine the expert, his or her findings will, most likely, be in line with the ideological leanings of the institution.