This is my all-time number one favorite quote from Marshall McLuhan.
Last week was the centennial of his birth, and so there were a lot of tributes and reflections published. I did my masters thesis on McLuhan and came across this remark in a 1967 collection, McLuhan, hot & cool, edited by Gerald Emanuel Stearn. It’s from an interview with McLuhan, in which he was asked about some of the high brow critics who had taken shots at him for (in their view) celebrating new media when so few people were encountering the deep values of literature by reading serious books.
So this is what McLuhan said:
To start announcing your own preferences for old values when your world is collapsing and everything is changing at a furious pitch: this is not the act of a serious person. It is frivolous, fatuous. If you were to knock on the door of one of these critics and say “Sir, there are flames leaping out of your roof, your house is burning,” under these conditions he would then say to you, “That’s a very interesting point of view. Personally, I couldn’t disagree with you more.”
That’s all these critics are saying. Their house is burning and they’re saying, “Don’t you have any sense of values, simply telling people about fire when you should be thinking about the serious content, the noble works of the mind?”
“You know nothing of my work” is good. It’s funny. I enjoy. it. But…
“Sir your house is on fire.”
“That’s a very interesting point of view. Personally, I couldn’t disagree with you more.”
… that’s better.