The Frontal Cortex

The Irrelevent Public Intellectual

What ever happened to the public intellectual? Yesterday, Tom Wolfe expended a few thousand breathless words on the New York Times editorial page bemoaning the construction of another condo on the Upper East Side. Wolfe will no longer have an unobstructed view of Central Park. The whole world weeps.

Today in the Times, Jonathan Safran-Foer comments on the fact that the New York City Board of Health might force dog owners to leash their dog from 9 P.M. to 9 A.M. in city parks. (Dogs can currently run off their leash at night.) Now, I’m sure this is an important issue if you own a dog in Park Slope, or on the Upper East Side, but it’s hard to get quite as excited as Foer does. By the middle of the fifth paragraph he begins to ruminate on the sheer wonder of looking at one’s dog in an urban environment:

It is even a kind of compensation for language. Why does watching a dog be a dog fill one with happiness? And why does it make one feel, in the best sense of the word, human?

I have no doubt that, if a condo was going up outside my front door, I’d be pretty upset. And if walking the dog was “often the highlight of my day,” as it is for Mr. Safran-Foer, then I’d be upset by the mere possibility of a changed leash law. But I would never dream of inflicting my bourgeois concerns onto the entire NY Times readership. (And why is the Times even publishing these trite editorials? Outside of a very small slice of the New York city rich, does anybody really care about these issues?) There’s something deflating about our public intellectuals squandering their soapbox on luxury condos and dog leashes. Needless to say, there are many important issues to write about. These aren’t them.

(Where have you gone John Dewey? Or Lionel Trilling? Or Isaiah Berlin? Is Christopher Hitchens really the best we get? If so, oh vey.)


  1. #1 John Lynch
    November 27, 2006


    Richard Posner made an extended argument that there are really no “public intellectuals” any more in his book Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline (2nd edn, 2003). Typical of Posner, he takes an economic approach, but the book is a worthwhile read none-the-less 🙂

  2. #2 Caledonian
    November 29, 2006

    Why is a person who made a blog post about the auctioning off of one of Britney Spears’ junior high essays complaining about trite editorials? You’d think you had more important things to talk about that could’ve used that space.

  3. #3 Theresa Ryan
    November 30, 2006

    The best part of that Op-Ed is where Mr. Safran-Foer writes, “She mounts guests, eats my son?s toys (and occasionally tries to eat my son), is obsessed with squirrels, lunges at skateboarders and Hasids.” Yet the writer believes this animal should be allowed unleashed in public parks.

  4. #4 Bob from Middle Village
    November 30, 2006

    Both the NY Times and Mr. Safran-Foer, in their childish obsession with unleashing dogs on an unsuspecting public, are another example of fearless stupidity.

  5. #5 Voice of Reason
    November 30, 2006

    My Dear Bob H. from Middle Village (aka the beleagured Juniper Park Civic Association Pres):

    I suppose the NYS Supreme Court judge who shot down your lawsuit today and who ruled in favor of the Parks Commissioner’s authority to maintain the successful 20-year Offleash Hours policy also suffers from fearless stupidity. N’est-ce pas? Also a childish obession?

    I submit that you have a childish obsession with harassing your neighbors and elevating your narcissism above your own community and the City. It’s time for you to stop the name calling. Take a good hard look at yourself.

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