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Bitewise pop-philosophy, satisifying to the whimsically curious but not the serious thinker
on 19 October 2012
Most of the interesting points come from various philosophers and psychologists of the past and these classical thinkers had some of the best ideas but unfortunately this isn't likely to offer anything new to those already well read in philosophy even if their application to the present day is interesting at times. The book doesn't really try to combine its points into a central accusation and isn't particularly well organized but stays interesting by not over lingering on any particular issue before moving on to the next.
I'm confused at times over the purpose of the book. Does it want to present accurate observations? Or is it more about cathartic whining with just enough intellectualization to make you feel smart without really having to think? I'm worried it might be the latter. When I had to describe the book to a friend the term pop-philosophy came to me. I've never heard the term pop-philosophy used (I'm aware of pop-psychology only) but it certainly seems appropriate for this book and that should tell you something.
When the author isn't presenting ideas from the great thinkers of the past he makes his own observations about the zeitgeist. I found these frequently unconvincing. I would often wonder "Is this a recent phenomenon?" or "Hasn't this has happened many times before in history?" also "Is that really the case unilaterally?" and occasionally "But I've heard social commentary to the exact contrary". The world is a complex place but Foley seems happy to box it up with simple trends and disapproving labels. There are scarcely any statistics nor many actual examples for his points.
His most frequent blunder is to overextend his observations, drawing connections between things that aren't really related. This serves a purpose of making his points seem much more reasoned and significant but actually represents a lack of good reason and a clamoring for significance. For instance he talks about digital screens being a damaging force and seemed to conflate just about everything that you could use a digital screen for (TV, Internet, school work, office work, video games, programming, art, everything) and then cite some of the worst aspects of TV and passive consumption of Internet media to attack the whole idea of screens.
I don't want to sound too damning here. I can be highly critical even of books that I think are excellent. There are some genuinely fascinating ideas presented--I may have to read some Albert Ellis now--and the first five chapters are very good. But I don't feel the book succeeds in its goal of providing a convincing explanation of what is wrong with the world.