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.)