Monday, November 11, 2013

More about Caro

I continue to make my way through Caro's bio of LBJ, coming to the end of volume 1, when our hero is about to lose his first senatorial campaign. One of the most striking thing about Caro's modus operandi is the sheer thoroughness of it.  Talking about the extension of electricity under the Rural Electrification Administration, Caro doesn't just tell us about how it's gonna be a big deal, he spends maybe 20 or 30 pages describing how Texas hill country people lived before they had electricity.  Particularly the women.  The sheer volume of water that had to be carried by hand from streams typically 50-100 yards away from the house, bucket after bucket, for lack of electric pumps. The cooking all day over hot stoves in the sweltering heat of summer.  The backbreaking labor of laundering on Mondays, followed by a full day of ironing on Tuesdays.  It's exhausting just to read about it, and astonishing they could get through the week at all.

And then he tells us at length about LBJs affairs, and the incredible composure and diligence of Lady Bird in the face of a wandering jackass of a husband, a dinner-party boor and narcoleptic.  And whatever else seems pertinent.

More than anything, Caro gives the lie to the whole mantra of "critical thinking."  Humanists are, to a person, up in arms about how "critical thinking" will suffer under the coming neo-functionalist regime of goal-oriented MOOC-enabled content delivery.  And don't get me wrong, critical thinking will suffer, as it has suffered for some time, but not in the way many fear.  People fear the loss of a tenured soapbox from which to peddle their own flattened versions of reality, their single angle that makes them feel smart.

But, by digging in deep to whatever seems pertinent, and by keeping on digging, Caro shows us what critical thinking really is. It's a matter of keeping going beyond the obvious points where one could stop and find something to confirm one's way of viewing the world. Embracing the layers of contradiction.

In so doing, Caro brings the reader as close to the life of others as one is likely to get.  The only problem is, it gets exhausting at times, and we have our own lives to live, now don't we?

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