Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Voltaire and culture

This question was raised in my class on the History of the Book:

"1.Voltaire argued that democratic ideals (which are married to the ideals of the public library) are invalid . Ideals like equal access to knowledge for all would propagate the inherent idiocy of the masses. Only a select few could be bettered by education. Thus libraries according to Voltaire are not essential. Can you argue for this point? Can you argue against this point?"

With the growth of Internet services, and educational-like materials being beamed directly into one's lap, perhaps libraries are not necessary bc ideas are now able to be googled. One could argue that ideas, via algorithms, pure mass and pay per click programs, don't have equal access to be heard but they are available far and beyond the amount of information that could be contained in the physical realm of a library building.
I think Voltaire is right though with a slight twist. Only a few will seek to be bettered by education. The rest are looking for entertainment and controlling/editing their own interaction with culture. Historically when individuals would look to outside influences (the opera house, the public library, the town hall) to guide their interactions and thinking, we are now focused on how to give users their own customizable portals.
Where the library might have focused/guided culture/ideas in a particular area individuals can now create custom, personalized interactions with their personal and desired culture. Those individuals who want to be educated will seek to encounter educational experiences outside of their personal culture but the libraries will not remain available/open for just the few. At this point I'm not sure how we will raise the awareness of the many bc they are currently sated. They have no reason to change their methods bc they have no reason to "encounter the other". (Buber) Encountering the other/education is an uncomfortable experience. It is a formal experience and in an increasingly informal society formally uncomfortable experiences are shunned and generally whined about.

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