LOPEZ: Is that fair when there’s the weight of academia — serious institutions — behind liberalism?
GOLDBLATT: Well, that’s an awkward question because it puts me in the position of speaking ill of the cocoon in which I’ve spent my entire adult life — I’m a tenured larva. But as long as you asked, what the heck? If there was ever a time when “academic” and “intellectual” were synonymous, that time is long gone . . . at least in the humanities. Some of the least serious, and most gullible, people I’ve ever known have been humanities professors. They’re able to maintain their gullibility precisely because they’re cocooned in academia. Only there can you build a career on the self-contradictory premise that objective truth cannot be had, or that “reality” must be set in scare-quotes because it doesn’t exist independently of what’s thought or said about it. There’s a direct if-then line from such thinking to Holocaust denial, but most humanities professors are too dense to realize it. On the other hand, these same humanities professors will insist that man-made global warming is a reality — without scare quotes — because, well, that’s different.
LOPEZ: Is it fair to say that to put a bumper sticker on your car is a sign of the unexamined life? Can it be born of one or lead to one? Anything’s possible, isn’t it?
GOLDBLATT: Not necessarily, though I’m guessing that if you’re riding around with a “We Are the 99%” sticker on your bumper, you’re not packing The Apology in your glove compartment. Or if you are, it’s only for show.
For the record, I’m not against bumper stickers. Some of them are genuinely funny; my all time favorite is, “Honk if you’re Amish.” What I’m against are bumper stickers that substitute for thought. I’m against bad arguments — arguments, again, rooted in catchphrases, anecdotes, and strong feelings. The thesis of my book is that if you peel away those three things, there’s not much left of the political Left. Well, except for a free-floating sense of moral outrage, and the snarky misplaced confidence that comes from taking Maureen Dowd seriously.
LOPEZ: Can conservative bumper stickers be just as bad?
GOLDBLATT: They can be, and, as I mention in my introduction, it wouldn’t be hard to write a book called Bumper Sticker Conservatism. But it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun because conservatives, as a rule, don’t have the same hyper-inflated view of their own intellects as liberals do.
LOPEZ: What do you have against SoHo?
GOLDBLATT: I’ve got nothing against SoHo. There are a couple of places to get a really good slice of pizza on Prince Street. But if you want a sense of the adolescent worldview of the Occupy Wall Street movement, walk the streets of SoHo on a Saturday night. What you’ll find is conspicuous consumption masquerading as nihilism. The only flickers of self-awareness come from the sidewalk vendors and the bums.