How Long Do You Hold ‘Em? Who Knows When To Fold ‘Em? Some Monday Links

Tyler Cowen talks with Annie Duke.

As a game that teaches numbers, strategy, discipline and patience, poker ain’t bad, and may be partially analagous to the laws:

‘Another thing that’s really important that poker players think about is, “If I put this policy in that looks like it’s awesome, how can someone come in and find the cracks in it so that it can turn into something bad?” I feel like the top 500 players would definitely be thinking in that way more.

Assuming that they wanted to use their powers for good as opposed to evil, which we’ll assume, I feel, in general, policies would be better, less easy to be advantaged, thinking more long-term, definitely more willing to take risks that were worthwhile.’

Judges and lawyers, in their adversarial discipline, are often thinking like this.  We all do, in some areas of our lives, think like this, be they personal or professional areas, for briefer or longer periods.  It seems we all benefit from unleashing human potential in others like this.

A reservation: I wonder about those who wish to rationalize everything as a norm, however, rather than as an exception.   Where people tend to pile up for lack of luck, talent, ambition, understanding and ability, is often where the future lies, and where new rules emerge.  I’m not exactly persuaded by the idea of ‘markets in everything’, though it strikes me as much less dangerous than the ‘personal is political.’ (a potentially false analogy).

This seems to me more in line with human nature, and might help avoid some of the pitfalls of the reason/anti-reason debate.  Rationalist thinking often invites anti-rationalists, and there are plenty of postmoderns, ‘-Ismologists’ and lost souls joining political movements and causes, creating whole epistemologies out of whole cloth.

Where it gets ugly: As one example of irrationality and groupthink, if you observe what happened to a very bright, very committed Left-of-Center evolutionary biology professor, teaching people how to think with a profound and useful method of arriving at truth, alongside a very committed, ideologically driven ‘media studies‘ professor with a bad epistemology and administrative support in the same university, the results weren’t good.

This is indicative of bad design, and I’d argue insufficient understanding of human nature.

In fact, the same dynamic is arguably now playing out in Seattle at large:  Mayor Jenny Durkan=Dean George Bridges.

There are very bright people working at the boundaries of new truth and new knowledge, who I’d argue often fail to appreciate arguments for how hard it is to maintain legitimate authority, and conserve the wisdom [and truth] in that which already works.

This is a much deeper matter of debate.

Norm Macdonald on Kenny Rogers’ song lyrics is a much funnier:

Repost: Theodore Dalrymple At The City Journal-What The New Atheists Don’t See

Full piece here

Dalrymple claimed that the new round of atheists, (or at least some of the current spokesmen of popular atheism) are glossing over the deep metaphysical questions surrounding the existence of God.

Some atheists seem to be in danger of becoming adherents rather than free thinkers, or being in for a surprise when many adherents appear.

Addition:  More on Roger Sandall’s blog here, as he discusses Roger Scruton.

One question seems to be whether we choose to give religious arguments any quarter at all.  The hard atheist line seems to be no.  Mine is…perhaps…

As found on the Youtubes, a Dalrymple piece read with a Scottish accent:

Another of my very favourite TD essays, this one compares two 19th Century thinkers – Karl Marx and Ivan Turgenev. I believe that the observations, the wisdom, and the thorough takedown of Marx as a human being, are of great value.

~30 minutes. I think that bit about the dog actually made me tear-up.

Ah, the humanity:

Repost-Theodore Dalrymple And Roger Scruton-Don’t Judge Me

Here’s a quote from Eric Vogelin found here, for a friend:

‘Scientism has remained to this day on of the strongest Gnostic movements in Western society; and the immanentist pride in science is so strong that even the special sciences have each left a distinguishable sediment in the variants of salvation through physics, economics, sociology, biology, and psychology.’

More Germans.  Don’t immanentize the eschaton!

Addition: And there are deep theists too.

Related On This Site:  Repost: From The Strasbourg Observers: ‘Remembering Lautsi (And The Cross)’…Sometimes a cross isn’t just a cross, as Stanley Fish notesFrom Law At The End Of The Day: ‘Torn Between Religion And Law In Spain’Thursday Quotation: Bertrand Russell….Via Youtube: Christopher Hitchens On Faith And Virtue

Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…See the comments Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful

Maybe if you’re defending religion, Nietzsche is a problematic reference: Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy…

Repost-From The Spiked Review Of Books Via The A & L Daily: ‘Rescuing The Enlightenment From Its Exploiters’

Happy 4th Of July 2020

“When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation…”

The rest here.

Addition:  From Maverick Philosopher:  The Difference Between Patriotism And Jingoism.

***I see myself, partly, as a steward of a larger project, a set of responsibilities and freedoms, given to each us. How we live and what we think about has a lot to do with that project.

Happy 4th!

On The CHOP-ping Block-It’s Not All Peace, Love and Empathy: Which Moral Lights?

My two cents: It is, to some extent, the logic of ’68 continued, but now the more radical elements have come to the surface.  Just as CHAZ/CHOP started out with some legitimate grievance and healthier protest instincts, devolving into factional anarchy, chaos, thuggery and desperation, so too have many Left coalitions become more openly visible.

Drama on the high Seattle seas.

My guess is, Mayor Jenny Durkan believes (to some extent) in the tenets of the Church Of High Secular Protest and ‘-Ismology’:  Morally committed people, counter-culturally and collectively inclined, can keep things together (the rich and ‘corporations’ are morally suspect, males are unnecessarily aggressive, racism and sexism are everywhere, the police oppress while peace, love and empathy are next).

I’d like to think that CHAZ/CHOP was proven utopian at best.

Human nature and reality caught up.

Nobly, oh-so nobly, our fair Mayor invoked law enforcement when the action showed up on her doorstep.

Is she changing her tune?  Will most voters in Seattle suddenly rethink their moral commitments?

Don’t hold your breath.

Aside from Seattle, I think it should be obvious that our own institutional weakness is a major contributing factor to many current states of affairs.  Whichever model you may be using to view human political organization (some of my favorites include our American Framers, the Platonic, the Aristotelian and Montesquieu), our political parties are increadibly weak, our universities over-built and WAY over-administered with many second and third-raters).

It is very taboo to say so these days:  One need not base all their moral commitments in truth and knowledge claims put forth by those who believe society must radically change, nor even merely even the Civil Rights coalitions.   Movements tend to devolve into rackets, though many ideals may remain deep and true.

I’d like to keep one foot in and one foot out of such visions of (H)umanity.

As posted

Repost: Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Correspondence here.

Link sent in by a reader.

Without a stronger moral core, will liberalism necessarily corrode into the soft tyranny of an ever-expanding State?

Since the 60’s, and with a lot of postmodern nihilism making advances in our society, is a liberal politics of consent possible given the dangers of cultivating a kind of majoritarian politics: Dirty, easily corrupt, with everyone fighting for a piece of the pie?

As an example, Civil Rights activists showed moral courage and high idealism, to be sure, but we’ve also seen a devolution of the Civil Rights crowd into squabbling factions, many of whom seem more interested in money, self-promotion, influence, and political power.

The 60’s protest model, too, washed over our universities, demanding freedom against injustice, but it has since devolved into a kind of politically correct farce, with comically illiberal and intolerant people claiming they seek liberty and tolerance for all in the name of similar ideals.

Who are they to decide what’s best for everyone? How ‘liberal’ were they ever, really?

Kelley Ross responds to a correspondent on Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism, while discussing John Gray as well:

‘Now, I do not regard Berlin’s value pluralism as objectionable or even as wrong, except to the extend that it is irrelevant to the MORAL issue and so proves nothing for or against liberalism. Liberalism will indeed recommend itself if one wishes to have a regime that will respect, within limits, a value pluralism. I have no doubt that respecting a considerable value pluralism in society is a good thing and that a nomocratic regime that, mostly, leaves people alone is morally superior to a teleocratic regime that specifies and engineers the kinds of values that people should have. However, the project of showing that such a regime IS a good thing and IS morally superior is precisely the kind of thing that Gray decided was a failure.

Thus, I believe Gray himself sees clearly enough that a thoroughgoing “value pluralism” would mean that the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini is just as morally justified as the regime of Thomas Jefferson. Gray prefers liberalism (or its wreckage) for the very same reason that the deconstructionist philosopher Richard Rorty prefers his leftism: it is “ours” and “we” like it better. Why Gray, or Rorty, should think that they speak for the rest of “us” is a good question. ‘

and about providing a core to liberalism:

‘Why should the state need a “sufficient rational justificaton” to impose a certain set of values? The whole project of “rational justification” is what Gray, and earlier philosophers like Hume, gave up on as hopeless. All the state need do, which it has often done, is claim that its values are favored by the majority, by the General Will, by the Blood of the Volk, or by God, and it is in business.’

And that business can quickly lead to ever-greater intrusion into our lives:

‘J.S. Mill, etc., continue to be better philosophers than Berlin or Gray because they understand that there must be an absolute moral claim in the end to fundamental rights and negative liberty, however it is thought, or not thought, to be justified. Surrendering the rational case does not even mean accepting the overall “value pluralism” thesis, since Hume himself did not do so. ‘

Are libertarians the true classical liberals? Much closer to our founding fathers?

Related On This Site: From The NY Times Book Review-Thomas Nagel On John Gray’s New ‘Silence Of Animals’From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

John Gray Reviews Jonathan Haidt’s New Book At The New Republic: ‘The Knowns And The Unknowns’

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

What about black people held in bondage by the laws..the liberation theology of Rev Wright…the progressive vision and the folks over at the Nation gathered piously around John Brown’s body?: Milton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’……Robert George And Cornel West At Bloggingheads: “The Scandal Of The Cross”

Race And Free Speech-From Volokh: ‘Philadelphia Mayor Suggests Magazine Article on Race Relations Isn’t Protected by the First Amendment’

Repost-Eugene Volokh At The National Review: ‘Multiculturalism: For or Against?’

A broader point I’ve been trying pin down, is how, with the unspooling of Enlightenment thinking, there has also unspooled an individualism becoming nihilist, postmodern and deeply alone; artfully and glamourously trashy. Out of such an environment, where many hip, avant-garde birds are flying, (S)elves flirt with Romantically primitive collectivism, epistemological faddishness, modern and failed theories of (H)istory like Marxism.

American egalitarianism, based in our founding documents, even as recently as two generations ago, was more able to effectively resist the rather unimaginative class-war critiques of Marxism.

Which kind of center would I like to see hold?

Some previously posted links:

The arts can be one lens with which to look at these problems and places…

Repost-Ah, Look At All The Lonely People-‘Jeff Koons Is Back’ Via Vanity Fair

-Banksy’s website here. Newsweek’s piece: ‘See You Banksy, Hello Invader.

I’d argue that it’s possible, especially with the constant cries of modernism to ‘make it new,‘ I think this is one way we’ve arrived at pop art, and the desire to blend conceptual art and popular music together. This is in evidence from The Talking Heads to Lady Gaga to Jay Z promoting his new album alongside Marina Abramovic at MOMA.

Update & Repost-From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Haidt’s Vindication of Fusionist Conservatism and Aristotelian Liberalism’

Jonathan Haidt At Minding The Campus: ‘Campus Turmoil Begins In High School’

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

Via A Reader-Isaiah Berlin’s Lectures On The Roots Of Romanticism. Romanticism–>Modernism–>Postmodernism–>Wherever We’re Heading Now

Maybe it all started with Beethoven: Everyone’s a (S)elf.

Update & Repost-Ken Minogue’s ‘Christophobia’ and the West

Full piece here.

Essay here.

There’s something almost religious about the way some people go about pursuing their non-religious ideas.

Minogue framed it thusly:

‘Olympianism is the characteristic belief system of today’s secularist, and it has itself many of the features of a religion. For one thing, the fusion of political conviction and moral superiority into a single package resembles the way in which religions (outside liberal states) constitute comprehensive ways of life supplying all that is necessary (in the eyes of believers) for salvation. Again, the religions with which we are familiar are monotheistic and refer everything to a single center. In traditional religions, this is usually God; with Olympianism, it is society, understood ultimately as including the whole of humanity. And Olympianism, like many religions, is keen to proselytize. Its characteristic mode of missionary activity is journalism and the media.’

And:

‘Progress, Communism, and Olympianism: these are three versions of the grand Western project. The first rumbles along in the background of our thought, the second is obviously a complete failure, but Olympianism is not only alive but a positively vibrant force in the way we think now. Above all, it determines the Western moral posture towards the rest of the world. It affirms democracy as an ideal, but carefully manipulates attitudes in a nervous attempt to control opinions hostile to Olympianism, such as beliefs in capital or corporal punishment, racial, and other forms of prejudice, national self-assertion—and indeed, religion

As previously posted, Minogue discussed ideology (Marxist ideology in particular), and modern promises of radical and revolutionary freedom: To go deeper and replace Science and Religion, Economics and Politics, on the way to some knowable end-point to human affairs.

——————–

Perhaps the flip-side to liberal secular humanist faith is a lack of faith. Surely some deep, liberal thinker out there has become thoroughly convinced that people are no good, after all, and can’t be trusted with their freedoms apart from his/her thinking or ideological commitments. Perhaps there’s a secular humanist political leader somewhere thoroughly sick of humanity for the time being, simply accruing more political power and influence because they can.

As far as satire or mockery goes, they would be just as worthy, no?

Via David Thompson: ‘Don’t Oppress My People With Your White Devil Science

As a Straussian might see it: Once you set up (S)cience on the positivist definition, as the only arbiter of facts, one can very easily invite the anti-(S)cience response in kind, which manifests itself here as the retreat into a victimhood/oppressor ideology.

‘(S)cience’ was only a tool of the white oppressor, anyways, don’t you know (and no one actually has to do the hard work the sciences require…how convenient):

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As to these more radical groups splintering and applying pressure upwards upon institutions of learning (or at least remaining very vocal and demanding voices within them), I remain skeptical of merely relying upon an adaptable and healthy post-Enlightenment humanism to push back against them in the long-run.

It seems groups of post-Enlightenment individuals gathering to solve commonly defined problems is a risky business, indeed, or at least subject to the same old schisms and problems religious institutions underwent and continue to undergo regarding human nature. I think it’s fair to say people and institutions are often requiring of constraints, especially when it comes to political power and lawmaking; especially when it comes to the challenges our civilization faces from within and without in maintaining institutional authority.

I’d like to think that secularly liberal leadership, more broadly, including the people who want to be in charge of all of us (at their best operating from within moral communities of not too great a solipsism and self-regard) can resist such pressures. For there certainly are those who would fracture our institutions into rafts of post-Enlightenment ‘-isms’ and politicized movements often driven by illiberal ideologies; movements relying on the presumed self-sufficiency of reason while behaving quite irrationally.

I’m looking around and not seeing too much decency in American politics, lately.

A.C. Grayling makes one of the better cases for morality without religious doctrine, I’ve heard of late, but I’m not entirely sold these particular problems can be addressed sufficiently:

—–

Jonathan Haidt has infused the more modern field of moral psychology with some of David Hume’s empiricist theory of mind, the idea that intuitions come first, and our reasons for them are usually trotted out afterwards (when was the last time you walked away from an argument/debate/discussion totally converted and persuaded by the reasoning of the other guy?

Yet, how, exactly, did our institutions of higher-learning get to the point of catering to the loudest, often most naive, and often illiberal student-groups claiming their feelings and ideas deserve special treatment?

Isn’t this already a failure of leadership, to some extent?:

Related: A definition of humanism:

“‘…a morally concerned style of intellectual atheism openly avowed by only a small minority of individuals (for example, those who are members of the British Humanist Association) but tacitly accepted by a wide spectrum of educated people in all parts of the Western world.”

Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’

Related On This Site: From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.… Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Roger Scruton In The American Spectator: The New Humanism…From Nigel Warburton’s Site: A Definition of Humanism?…From The City Journal Via Arts And Letters Daily: Andre Glucksman On “The Postmodern Financial Crisis”

One way out of multiculturalism and cultural relativism:

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Repost-The Duran Duran Phenomenon, High And Low Art In The Modern Anglosphere

For you kids out there, Duran Duran are a band from Birmingham, England who made it big in the 80’s. They succeeded with genuine musical talent, technical and marketing prowess, a new-romantic visual-style, and presumably, somewhat deeper artistic aspirations.

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There are, no doubt, trade-offs people in the Anglosphere make, living with our particular Anglo-focus upon government, law, trade, and generally speaking, more open markets. There are reasons English is spoken so widely, after all, while the food has remained so bad.

Traveling abroad while younger, I often observed the American genius as a kind of egalitarian gathering of talent; general and specialized, ambitious and organized.

Such ‘Americanness’ can be shrewd, though it often comes with a certain optimism and idealism, for which Americans are known.

This is the stuff of American diplomacy, international lawyering, and business management. American advertising techniques, Hollywood movies, franchises like Starbucks and Apple, all can earn almost instant global recognition (if you’re not too far off the beaten path).

——————

That said, deeper artistic aspirations also tend to seek nourishment apart from such commercial populism and American egalitarianism in particular.

The accomplished artist probably had a lot of natural talent to begin with, but also joins in conversation with serious past talent and endures critique of his development, spends years of life engaged in hard work, and perhaps profits from greater tilt in the culture towards admiration for artists in general.

See: ‘Tradition And The Individual Talent’

This can send many American artists out on a mission to gain technique and skills elsewhere. This can fill many American cultural critics with a sense of European yearning and envy, and this can leave some Americans indulging in rather cheap, unimaginative commercialist America-bashing that usually lines-up with preconceived political/ideological commitments.

It’s here in the modern to postmodern to wherever-we’re-heading-now that, as an American, I find much of my daily life being lived.

For me and many of my fellows, the latest shows, pop-music, games and movies are the culture, even though we all have deeper ambitions and aspirations, and even if much of that culture has deeper roots of which we remain unaware.

————–

Here’s Robert Hughes from The Guardian on Damien Hirst: ‘Day Of The Dead’

‘If there is anything special about this event, it lies in the extreme disproportion between Hirst’s expected prices and his actual talent. Hirst is basically a pirate, and his skill is shown by the way in which he has managed to bluff so many art-related people, from museum personnel such as Tate’s Nicholas Serota to billionaires in the New York real-estate trade, into giving credence to his originality and the importance of his “ideas”. This skill at manipulation is his real success as an artist. He has manoeuvred himself into the sweet spot where wannabe collectors, no matter how dumb (indeed, the dumber the better), feel somehow ignorable without a Hirst or two.’.

I’m guessing Hughes loathed such confusion over money, art, fame, and our deepest aspirations, and thought such an approach prevents everyday people from entering into conversations with the everyday in great works of art. I find myself attracted to his marriage of Anglo-tradition and more ‘high’ European art-criticism.

For my part, I’d simply argue that more open markets in the Anglo-sphere offer a lower bar to reach a larger audience with one’s artistic ambitions. Such a marriage of art + market may be less likely to happen, in, say, Spain or France.

Perhaps this is true of Duran Duran, Damien Hirst, and various others with some natural talent and access to a wider audience through a global supply-chain.

This lower bar, in turn, can allow for perhaps more questionable art and marketing jargon; postmodern concept-shilling and various bullshit promising freedom within stale ideology and often poorly-executed art.

Or, at least, the above comes with its own Anglo-character.

(Addition: I should add that it gives more people easier access to make and gain exposure to the arts, which benefits a lot more people, but also puts the artist, and modernists, especially, in tension with the really hard task of making something beautiful which can last. Does good art have to be hard, and be made free of ‘The People?,’ or at least the passing fads, genres and styles that come and go?)

————————

Thanks to a reader for the link:

From The Daily Beast: ‘Get Into Bed With Tracey Emin For $2 million: The Sale Of A British Art Icon.’

“My Bed” will be sold at auction at Christie’s on July 1, and has been given an estimate price of between £800,000 and £1.2m (approximately $1.35 million to $2 million), which seems astonishingly low given the piece’s cultural impact. Indeed, David Maupin, Emin’s dealer in New York who sold the bed to Saatchi in 2000 for £150,000 (about $252,000), has said he thinks the Christie’s estimate is too low. “It’s historic. It’s priceless.”

———————–

‘Cultural impact.’ So, a lot of people noticed it? It took a lot of technical skill? People were shocked by it? People had a strong reaction after seeing it in person?

It made her a celebrity?

I generally prefer the art dealer’s self-interested marketing bulls**t to a journalist’s ‘cultural impact’ claptrap.

Quote found here at friesian.com:

‘Oddly enough, it is the intellectual snobbery and elitism of many of the literati that politically correct egalitarianism appeals to; their partiality to literary Marxism is based not on its economic theory but on its hostility to business and the middle class. The character of this anti-bourgeois sentiment therefore has more in common with its origin in aristocratic disdain for the lower orders than with egalitarianism.’

Related: From Darwinian Conservatism: Nietzsche-Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?

Another pomo quote from Dr. Stephen Hicks:

‘In the shorter term, postmodernism has caused an impoverishment of much of the academic humanities, both in the quality of the work being done and the civility of the debates. The sciences have been less affected and are relatively healthy. The social sciences are mixed.

I am optimistic, though, for a couple of reasons. One is that pomo was able to entrench itself in the second half of the twentieth century in large part because first-rate intellectuals were mostly dismissive of it and focused on their own projects. But over the last ten years, after pomo’s excesses became blatant, there has been a vigorous counter-attack and pomo is now on the defensive. Another reason for optimism is that, as a species of skepticism, pomo is ultimately empty and becomes boring. Eventually intellectually-alert individuals get tired of the same old lines and move on. It is one thing, as the pomo can do well, to critique other theories and tear them down. But that merely clears the field for the next new and intriguing theory and for the next generation of energetic young intellectuals.

So while the postmodernism has had its generation or two, I think we’re ready for the next new thing – a strong, fresh, and positive approach to the big issues, one that of course takes into account the critical weapons the pomo have used well over the last while’

 

Tuesday Poem-Matthew Arnold

Dover Beach

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Agaean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night
.

Matthew Arnold

Repost-The Time To Stand Up For Free Speech Is Every Time It Comes Under Attack

Nature can be just as harsh and unforgiving as ever, death is still waiting (making life all the sweeter), and human nature can still be as capable of great evil or passing indifference and cruelty.

Given the darknesses of the human heart, the existence of great evils, and the tremendous problem of creating contraints and proper incentives for authority, I see a lot of liberal idealism as not having accounted for the wages of social change.

Wanting to control what other people think, feel, say and write, even if dressed up in the clothing of righteousness, is still wanting to control what other people think, feel, say and write.

Broad humanistic ideals have much truth to them, often scaling and framing clear thinking and good behavior, but such ideals will also form the structure for authority, rule-making and rule-following.

I continue to skeptically observe many claims of universal secular humanism; especially the claims of people using universal secular humanism for their own ends (the more enduring real-world test being which kind of people and institutions are, in-fact, being produced under such ideals).

I see the speech issue as an important barometer for such ideals.

Rod Dreher on a George Packer piece:

Packer on Christopher Hitchens:

‘The ability to be brutal in print and decent in person was a quality I very much admired in Christopher. It went to the heart of his values as a writer and a human being. It belonged to an old-fashioned code, and for all his radicalism, he was old-fashioned.’

Dreher takes it a little further:

Interestingly, on book-publishing and success:

That, I feel sure, is at the core of this controversy: resentment. If the publishing industry is “broken” because it throws big money at mediocre books, and those books get a lot of pop culture hype, then the publishing industry has always been broken, and so have the movies. This happens all the time. It is a total cliche that bad blockbuster movies and bad bestselling novels pay the bills so that smaller, better books with a more limited readership can exist. Life is unfair. What can we do?

We’ve got some bad code running at many important institutions.

The political Left seems to be fracturing too, around new, radical chic old-school Marxism, and a more short-term failing identity politics. I’m guessing it will be less cool to be seen as an out-of-touch high liberal idealist (‘neo-liberal,’ meritocratic, stodgy, traditional) in the eyes of radicals and wherever the new cool will be.

Brendan O’Neill (an old-school Marxist) At Spiked: ‘Why We Must Fight For Free Speech For People We Loathe:

‘A true devotee of freedom of speech says, ‘Let everyone speak, because it is important that all sides are heard and that the public has the right to use their moral muscles and decide who they trust and who they don’t’. The new, partial campaigners for friends’ speech effectively say, ‘Let my friend speak. She is interesting. She will tell the public what they need to hear.’ These are profoundly different positions, the former built on liberty and humanism, the latter motored by a desire to protect oneself, and oneself alone, from censorship. The former is free speech; the latter ‘me speech’.

It’d be nice if many secularists and political liberals said something like the following: ‘If we continue to secularize society, we will entrench many postmoderns, activists, radicals, people steeped in resentment, and narrow socialist ideologues, but the gains in liberty will be worth it.

We might even inspire a return to old-timey religion. If this happens, we will freak-out about this turn of events.’

—-

You’d make me feel a whole lot better if you showed some backbone when it comes to speech, as Lionel Shriver does below.

I’ll write what I damned well please:’

I’d also add, ‘now if you can’t even read the book nor respond to what I’m actually saying, fuck-off.

Such a brave stance to take: Six writers apparently know what is acceptable speech and what isn’t, and thus didn’t think the folks at Charlie Hebdo engaged in acceptable speech.

Recently, British popular thinker Alain De Botton floated the idea of building an ‘atheist temple’ in the heart of London. He recommends combing through religious practices for useful organizing principles in response to the New Atheists. You can read more about it here, which includes a radio interview/podcast.

Did the Unitarian Universalists get there first, with a mishmash of faith and secular humanism?

Towards a theme: Perhaps you’ve also heard of the Rothko chapel, in Houston, Texas:

‘The Rothko Chapel, founded by Houston philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil, was dedicated in 1971 as an intimate sanctuary available to people of every belief. A tranquil meditative environment inspired by the mural canvases of Russian born American painter Mark Rothko (1903-1970), the Chapel welcomes over 60,000 visitors each year, people of every faith and from all parts of the world.’

There’s even a suite of music by Morton Feldman, entitled ‘Rothko Chapel’

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Related: A definition of humanism:

“‘…a morally concerned style of intellectual atheism openly avowed by only a small minority of individuals (for example, those who are members of the British Humanist Association) but tacitly accepted by a wide spectrum of educated people in all parts of the Western world.”

Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’

Related On This Site: From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’

John Gray Reviews Jonathan Haidt’s New Book At The New Republic: ‘The Knowns And The Unknowns’

Steven Pinker somewhat focused on the idea of freedom from violence, which tends to be libertarian. Yet, he’s also skeptical of the more liberal human rights and also religious natural rights. What about a World Leviathan?: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas HobbesFrom Reason.TV Via YouTube: ‘Steven Pinker on The Decline of Violence & “The Better Angels of Our Nature”‘Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department

Evolutionary psychology and moral thinking: Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

Timothy Snyder Responds To Steven Pinker’s New Book At Foreign Policy: ‘War No More: Why The World Has Become More Peaceful’

Charles Murray At The New Criterion: ‘Belmont & Fishtown’

From The Liberal Bastions-James Baldwin, Often

See Also: If you thought the cartoons were bad, more on the Fitna movie here. From The NY Times: Review Of Christopher Caldwell’s Book “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West” Libertarians love this issue: Repost-A Canadian Libertarian Making Noise: Ezra Levant

Weekend Poems Around A Theme-Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens & Robert Frost

Luck is not chance (1350)

Luck is not chance—
It’s Toil—
Fortune’s expensive smile
Is earned—
The Father of the Mine
Is that old-fashioned Coin
We spurned—

Emily Dickinson

To A High-Toned Old Christian Woman

Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame.
Take the moral law and make a nave of it
And from the nave build haunted heaven. Thus,
The conscience is converted into palms,
Like windy citherns hankering for hymns.
We agree in principle. That’s clear. But take
The opposing law and make a peristyle,
And from the peristyle project a masque
Beyond the planets. Thus, our bawdiness,
Unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last,
Is equally converted into palms,
Squiggling like saxophones. And palm for palm,
Madame, we are where we began. Allow,
Therefore, that in the planetary scene
Your disaffected flagellants, well-stuffed,
Smacking their muzzy bellies in parade,
Proud of such novelties of the sublime,
Such tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk,
May, merely may, madame, whip from themselves
A jovial hullabaloo among the spheres.
This will make widows wince. But fictive things
Wink as they will. Wink most when widows wince.

Wallace Stevens

Design

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth–
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth–
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?–
If design govern in a thing so small.

Some City By City Photography Links, Some Questionable Philosophy, Some Reason/Anti-Reason Recycled Links Touching Along The Edges Of Postmodern Problems

-Via Mick Hartley, Lu Wenpeng photos of Paris Colors & Shadows.  People.  Light and shade.  Colors and shapes.

-As posted: Beauty, ugliness, youth, strength, and decay: Via Mick Hartley Bruce Davidson at Magnum’s ‘Subway (NYC subway during the 1980’s).

-Cool 5:38 video at the link. Mick Victor walks down the streets and alleyways of L.A. with camera in tow, his focus eventually drawn to some forms, shapes, colors or configuration. Some of those abstract photos here.

-Vivian Maier, the mystery street photographer from Chicago.

-It’s Vice (oh how tiresome the radical pose and how soon dull those who gather), but there’s earnest artistic ambition and innocence.

Bruce Gilden is mostly self-taught, and the accent couldn’t be any more Brooklyn.  Street photography can become muggy and full of kitsch, but I imagine it’s really hard to get right.

Coney Island!

For those especially drawn to observe, and be alone amongst a crowd, seeking moments of beauty, grace, and transcendence.  Where have you put your hopes?

What kind of relationship might you be in with such abstractions as that of human nature (your own deep impulses, passing thoughts, and possible motivations, as well as those of the people around you)?

What kind of relationship might you be in with such abstractions as nature and reality (the world your senses perceive, those laws and patterns likely enduring thought, the old knowledge become practice and the new knowledge on the edge of understanding, the truths which seem to little give nor receive, forgive nor remember)?

Are you really that alone?

Via a Reader via Scientific American: ‘An Update On C.P. Snow’s “Two Cultures:”

Essay here (PDF).

‘Earlier this summer marked the 50th anniversary of C. P. Snow’s famous “Two Cultures” essay, in which he lamented the great cultural divide that separates two great areas of human intellectual activity, “science” and “the arts.” Snow argued that practitioners in both areas should build bridges, to further the progress of human knowledge and to benefit society.’

My two cents: This blog tends to worry about modern ‘one culture’ visions, too.

On the one hand, you’ve got your ‘scientific socialism;’ the clear dead-end, totalizing Marxist theories of history and various neo-Marxist movements having since colonized many faculty-lounges, HR departments, and media pulpits across America.

Deep, bad ideas tend to live on once plugged into many deep, human desires and dreams. The radical pose will be with us for a while.

Of course, it’s rather sad to witness the sheepish, suburban apologetics of identity amongst the chattering classes; the moment of surprise and fear when a previously insulated writer (leaning upon traditions) realizes today just might be their day in the barrel.

Sooner or later you’re going to have to stand up for your principles.

You’ve also got many modern ‘-Ist’ movements, which, whatever truth and knowledge claims they may contain (some quite important ones, I think), are often quick to conflate the means of science with the ends of politics. ‘Join us,’ they say, and become a part of the modern world. The mission of ‘Education’ is easily mistaken for knowledge, learning with wisdom, collective group action with individual achievement.

There is a kind of a high middlebrow drift towards….I’m not sure where, exactly.

Alas, if you’re still with me, here are some links:

M.H. Abrams here.

“…in the days when, to get a Ph.D., you had to study Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, Old French, and linguistics, on the notion that they served as a kind of hard-core scientific basis for literary study.”

and of the New Criticism he says:

I’ve been skeptical from the beginning of attempts to show that for hundreds of years people have missed the real point,”

Did literature professors at one point have something more substantive to teach?

In a broader context, hasn’t the Western mind has shifted to “science,” instead of God as a deepest idea, and so too isn’t literature a part of this shift?

Does this necessarily lead to the Reason/Anti-Reason debate we seem to be falling into?  The postmodern problems?

Interesting quotation from Quora, on Richard Feynman’s discussion of light in ‘QED: The Strange Theory Of Light And Matter’:

‘Mirrors and pools of water work pretty much the same way. Light interacts with electrons on the surface. Under the laws of quantum mechanics, each photon interacts with ALL of the electrons on the surface, and the net result is the sum of all possible pathways. If the surface is perfectly smooth, then most of the pathways cancel each other out, except for the one where the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection. ‘

Click through for the illustrations to help explain Feynman’s theory, which fascinated me when I first came across it; much as I understand of it.

Have you ever seen sunlight reflecting off a body of water from a few thousand feet up in a plane?  A rainbow in a puddle with some oil in it?  A laser reflecting off a smooth surface like a mirror?

As Richard Rorty sees it, no standard objective for truth exists but for the interpretation of a few philosophers interpreting whatever of philosophy they’ve read. It’s all just an author’s “stuff.” Here’s an excerpt discussing the debate between him and Hilary Putnam:

Addition: Western mind shifted to “science?”…well as for poetry T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens had some fairly profound religious influences.

See Also: Should You Bother To Get A Liberal Arts Education? From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Repost-Heather McDonald At The WSJ: ‘ The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity’

***Whom do you trust for discussions of the arts and culture, and would you just rather publications be up front about their ideological bents and loyalties?

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Beauty is no quality in things themselves, it exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.

David Hume

Goya, that modern, had to make a living from the royal family: Goya’s ColossusGoya’s Fight With CudgelsGoethe’s Color Theory: Artists And ThinkersNASA Composite Image Of The Earth At Night…Beauty?Garrett Mattingly On Machiavelli-The Prince: Political Science Or Political Satire?

Repost-From The NY Times: Schlieren Photography