It’s, of course, easy to find everywhere on the web a kind of sophisticated fascination with BIG DATA. The idea of BIG DATA has become allegedly DISRUPTIVE and TRANSFORMATIVE scientism. Again, I’m too lazy to link: But I’ve even read a little article suggesting that colleges use BIG DATA to track each student’s progress through the institution, guaranteeing their success both in college and in life.

Another cultural sign: I heard a commercial this morning that began “data shows.” And so from now on I’m saying “data shows” instead of “studies show” when I’m just making stuff up.

As I’ve said, SCIENTISM is and always has been a bigger threat to the humanities than RELATIVISM. So, as Ivan the K reminded us in the thread, we should all read Sally Satel’s book on neuroscience as a hyped ideology that has offered not much so far in terms of understanding, much less prediction and control. So give me Stanley Fish any day over some NEUROTHEOLOGIAN or NEUROHUMANIST. But better, of course, is the 21st century Thomist who follows Walker Percy, MD in being able to distinguish between science and scientism. Another option we know and love, of course, is Leon Kass, PhD (chemistry) and MD.

We postmodern conservatives do attend to what data actually shows. That’s why we knew that Nate Silver’s very unsophisticated method of attending to and averaging state polls was probably the best data actually available. We also knew the polls (which as data goes, aren’t that big) were surely mostly on the money. And so we said gently in the days before the election that only a bleepin’ moron could think Romney was going to win. Unfortunately, Romney—with his big, bad data and computer programs that didn’t work etc.—was one of those morons, as were Rove, the Koch brothers, and so forth.

We postmodern conservatives also know that Obama’s BIG DATA—and its use to motivate some voters and discourage others—wasn’t the main reason he won. As turnout operations go, data shows that they old machines were actually more reliable, because they were more personal. The most amazing thing is that Romney left the evangelical turnout largely to chance, because he didn’t give responsibility for it to people who were personally loyal to (and being paid by and would be rewarded later by) him. As Mr. Ceaser points out, Romney lost because he lacked the BIG MESSAGE, one that couldn’t be generated for him, in fact, by BRANDERS relying on BIG DATA.

Another cultural sign: Sales of 1984 have hyper-skyrocketed lately. I think fears of surveillance and the government/Silicon Valley complex (with the valley taking the lead) are, as we Straussians say, salutary. But they’re often misplaced. The big issue is how to protect your personal identity (your soul) from being distorted beyond recognition by all those techno-driven diversions. That, of course, is the big idea of liberal education, not to mention Christian theology.

Another cultural sign: Two REAL POLITICAL SCIENTISTS contacted me last night reveling in the astonishing news that I actually cared about BIG DATA. One—the real political scientist I respect the most—told me she had ideas about BIG DATA AND REPRESENTATION and maybe we could organize a symposium on it. So anyone who knows stuff along those lines should contact me.

Articles by Peter Lawler

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