There is Nepalese saying “The emptier the vessel the louder a noise it makes”. This is a saying that would best be heeded by the “critic class”. Everyone from the local restaurant reviewer to Noam Chomsky (perhaps especially Noam Chomsky) to yours truly. Although in my defense, I have never claimed to posses some intellectual or moral high ground. I just like the sound of my own voice and occasionally, when the moon and stars are in alignment with some distant galaxy, I actually make something that passes as a sentence.
The truth is most critics are no more educated in their given subject than you and I are. They just package it better. They get a tricycle, put in a box, and write Ferrari on the box. However, it is not a Ferrari , it is still a tricycle. Their ability to introduce buzzwords into our language and their penchant for black turtle neck and glasses that are too small to be any use does not make them smarter than you or I. The only difference at the end of the day is not the tricycle. The difference is they look more silly than we do. And they have a box.
So why do we listen to critics. The answer is fear tinged with laziness. We fear that by not reading about the latest review of a Stephen King book,we may buy a bad book. We fear without the wit and insightful thoughts of Roger Ebert, we may lose two hours of our life to a bad movie. We fear that Thomas Friedman will dispense some valuable information about the war in Iraq that will leave us looking stupid during a dinner conversation if we do not know it or worse yet may result in war in Iraq not ending. One has to ask, if people like Noam Chomsky, Thomas Friedman and their ilk are so smart how come they aren't running the country. How come there is no best sellers written by book critics? Where are the gastronomical wonders that are created by food critics?
A great example of this is the late Samuel Huntington's book the “Clash of Civilizations” . His theory was that the next major war will be because of religious, not political, ideology. I wonder how many hours it took for him to realize this. The truth is religious conflicts raged all through the time that Huntington claims were dominated by political ideology. The Protestants and Catholics were slaughtering each other on the streets of Belfast. The Mujaheddin from Afghanistan were in a holy way against the secular (in theory) communists from the old Soviet Union because they viewed the communists as being godless and an abomination. Even though the forces of Iraq and Egypt were in theory “socialist” as they used religious overtones to justify attacks on Israel. Maoists rebels around the world are devout anti-religionists and usually started their wars against the state by attacking religious institutions. And if those wars were not sectarian in nature, then neither are the ones we see today. He peddles intellectual pornography.
Intellectual pornography is much like the much more exciting version except with far more words and far fewer pictures. Just like real pornography displays a fantasy world that none of us will ever live in unless we are from a rock band, intellectual pornography gives its readers the illusion that they are becoming smarter, when in fact they are not. The fact that he was able to predict what people have done for thousands of years, under the conditions that any first year political science student can realize is the perfect condition for a war, is not impressive.
He, like Thomas Friedman and Noam Chomsky and all the others on the left and right side of politics, claim to do it for love of humanity. Does he love humanity so much that he would donate all his money to a foundation that would work to stop all wars. Of course not. If had not been making money he would have done something else.
He is no different than the book critics. Book critics, most of them at least, cannot write books. So they try to make their name based on the success or failure of another person's work. They cannot write a book that has been translated in probably every known language on the face of the planet, for example like Harry Potter, so they latch on to Harry Potter and find everything good and bad about it. They claim they are doing a service for the people. My guess is most of the people who are capable of reading a newspaper review are also quite capable of reading the book itself and deciding on their own.
Your average person might not go to a restaurant and try the new menu because they are afraid it might not be good. Or more likely they are to lazy to risk the time it would take to eat a meal, or see an art exhibit, or see a movie or read a book. But this is not about your average person.
This is about the purveyors of intellectual smut that we have bestowed the title of “critic” upon. This is about the group of people who limit creativity and make complaints that the movers of mountains are not moving the mountains fast enough, and the mountain needs to be moved to a prettier spot, and could they move the mountain a bit more quietly? Seriously it is ruining the ambiance in their ivory tower
It is a sad commentary on the world of critics when the best criticism of critics comes not from their own ranks, but rather from an animated movie. In the movie Ratatouille the chief antagonist , food critic Anton Ego, has a revelation about the relative usefulness of critics he says:
“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”