Sunday, March 21, 2010

Foxes And Hedgehogs

I have blogged about the dearth of enthralling works of fiction or non-fiction despite the mind boggling number of publications these days. A lot of people have things to say and they are all clamoring to be heard. Only a couple of problems - no one is really saying anything astonishingly new and too many are not even saying what they have to say exceptionally well.

Then there are those who publish online - applying the rule of a million monkeys at as many keyboards, it is easy enough to find essays, opinion and commentary that is very well crafted. It may be the only one piece of writing in someone's voluminous output, but it is good enough to hold it's own among the best. If one knows where to look and what to seek, it is not too hard to find a lot of writing that is of high quality and being produced by non-writers. This article by Ben McIntrye considers how the information torrent that the internet is, impacts our way of thinking. He writes :

In 1953, when the internet was not even a technological twinkle in the eye, the philosopher Isaiah Berlin famously divided thinkers into two categories: the hedgehog and the fox: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

Hedgehog writers, argued Berlin, see the world through the prism of a single overriding idea, whereas foxes dart hither and thither, gathering inspiration from the widest variety of experiences and sources. Marx, Nietzsche and Plato were hedgehogs; Aristotle, Shakespeare and Berlin himself were foxes.

Today, feasting on the anarchic, ubiquitous, limitless and uncontrolled information cornucopia that is the web, we are all foxes. We browse and scavenge thoughts and influences, picking up what we want, discarding the rest, collecting, linking, hunting and gathering our information, social life and entertainment. 

With the foxes far outnumbering the hedgehogs in the world today, it is probably getting harder and harder to find a book that takes one idea takes it to its full, logical conclusion.