Tell all the truth but tell it slant — Success in Circuit lies Too bright for our infirm Delight The Truth’s superb surprise As Lightning to the Children eased With explanation kind The Truth must dazzle gradually Or every man be blind —
Sometimes, poetry is the most efficient, carbon-neutral vehicle to the soul:
From The Pardoner’s Tale, by Geoffrey Chaucer:
...But, sires, o word forgat I in my tale: But, sirs, one word I forgot in my tale: 920 I have relikes and pardoun in my male, I have relics and pardons in my bag, 921 As faire as any man in Engelond, As fine as any man in England, 922 Whiche were me yeven by the popes hond. Which were given to me by the pope’s hand. 923 If any of yow wole, of devocion, If any of you will, of devotion, 924 Offren and han myn absolucion, Offer and have my absolution, 925 Com forth anon, and kneleth heere adoun, Come forth straightway, and kneel down here, 926 And mekely receyveth my pardoun; And meekly receive my pardon;
As I see things, secular humanism acts at the level of belief. There are as many and as various strands of belief as you can find.
I’ve explored a bit of Romantic Collectivism as I’ve experienced it (Back To Earth, back to the postmodern Body, back to feminine and feelings first movements against the masculine and the rational, back or out to a deeper universalism which includes animals, plants and microbes etc.).
With community comes irony. In the world, there are always people in dire need of a (M)oral (C)ause.
As with human things, wisdom is ripe for folly; knowledge for foolishness. Passion can become intimately linked with ignorance and conformity, as much as it might be with intelligence and courage.
There’s plenty of middle-brow environmentalism to go around, too, pushing a PBS-style vision for the public (Saganites) while sanctioning Righteous Activism (Socially Just…the goal is to change the World)
And there are increasingly means to gain (S)elf-Knowledge and (S)elf-Esteem when times get rough (therapists as analogous to priests, with knowledge enough to explain our interior lives, our social lives and our ‘oughts’ to us and guide us to light if only someone pays for their bread).
Surely, they can’t all be right?
For God’s Sake, there is no shortage of lethal ignorance, hypocrisy, self-denial and manipulative indoctrination in the Catholic Church, either. I’m guessing this is why the message of Christ is endlessly debated and re-booted (if you’re looking for what’s true, what’s good, and what’s beautiful, you can not necessarily expect it in this life).
Many of the same people (and types) would have just gone into a nunnery/the priesthood about 150 years ago.
We’re all made of this stuff, of course. Some good thoughts and impulses; some bad, selfish, and destructive thoughts and impulses.
Upon hearing “Gaia” you might be thinking mystic, earth-worshippers (green religion at its worst) but our author uses the theory put forward by James Lovelock over 40 years ago as an interesting philosophical meditation.
“Perhaps in the end, Plato had it right: We need both perspectives, Heraclitean and Parmenidean, to get the whole picture. At our peril, and at our children’s peril, we ignore the messages of those seminal Greek thinkers.”
One evening, my family found ourselves around a communal table (for lack of space) in a small-town Irish pub. With two red-faced British couples, also on vacation, in their fifties or so, we made conversation. Surrounded by locals, one of the Brits began to wax philosophic: ‘What do we think of the Irish?’ ‘Well…let’s say the Irish are really just British who’ve wandered off a bit’, gesturing to everyone around.
I remember…being quite shocked. I looked towards the face of the older tweed-coated gentleman, elbow to elbow next to me.
His eyes were blank, slightly downcast.
I then remember thinking: ‘Them’s fightin’ words, yessiree bob, or enough to get yourself into a real pickle back home.’ (my inner narrator is an old hobo/prospector).
Some interesting takeaways from the interview above (Kissinger was a young man whose family fled the Nazis and who not long after served in the American military, helping to free a concentration camp).
-According to Ferguson, this still tends to make Kissinger an idealist on the idealist/realist foreign policy axis, but it also likely means he’s breaking with the doctrines which animate many on the political Left, hence his often heretical status.
***I’d add that unlike many thinkers in the German philosophical and political traditions, the Anglosphere has economic idealists and various systematists battling other systematists, yes, but there are looser networks of free, civic association and more avoidance of top-down organization and fewer internalized habits of order.
Perhaps such looser civic associations, broad geography and rougher, cruder practices of freedom help keep power and authority dispersed. Kissinger came closer to being ‘America’s Metternich‘ than have all but a few other actors, and Kant was quite serious in the scope of his metaphysics.
‘The most original and interesting aspect of the biography is Ferguson’s ability to engage with and analyze Kissinger’s ideas as set forth in the voluminous letters, papers, articles, and books written by Kissinger as a student, academic, and policy adviser. According to Ferguson, Kissinger the political philosopher was closer to Kant than Machiavelli. While he admired the brilliance of Metternich and Bismarck, his ideal statesmen (e.g., Castlereagh) sought to construct international orders that did not depend upon a guiding genius for their stability.
He was not, however, a Wilsonian idealist—idealism based on abstraction instead of experience, he believed, was a “prescription for inaction.” “The insistence on pure morality,” Kissinger once told a colleague, “is in itself the most immoral of postures.” Statesmen must act under a cloud of uncertainty and often their decisions reflect a choice among evils.’
‘Over the years, I have written a long series of posts on whether evolutionary science can adjudicate the debate between Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau over whether our earliest human ancestors were naturally violent (as Hobbes argued) or naturally peaceful (as Rousseau argued). Many social scientists have been vehement in taking one side or the other in this debate. But I have argued that John Locke took a third position that is closest to the truth–that our foraging ancestors lived in a state of peace that tended to become a state of war. Hobbes is partly right. Rousseau is mostly wrong. And Locke is mostly right.’
Much depends on where you start, for in seeking a definition of man’s State in Nature, enough to claim a moral and legal foundation for the justification of authority, this definition matters a lot. Much modern political philosophy has been engaged in trying to define who has the moral legitimacy to be in charge (I personally find myself attracted to the government having a role to secure life, liberty, and property…and little else).
It’s easy to understand why the Rousseaueans love the bonobos–there’re the hippie apes who make love not war.
On the other hand, it’s also easy to understand why the Hobbesians love the chimps and not the bonobos, because the chimps are closer to Hobbesian expectations for a evolutionarily close human relative. Frances White once observed…’
Darwinian science can explain quite a bit about our behavior, both individually and in the aggregate, yielding insights grounded in data and close observations of how we actually behave, and how our closest ancestors in the wild also actually behave.
Yet, this field will also interact with what we already know of our natures based on the political, civil and religious institutions we see around us every day which I presume also reflect much of who we are and how we behave…especially with power (and why the separation of powers is so important).
This blog is concerned with a fundamental problem in the West since the Enlightenment: Some people are seeking to mold human nature and smash civil society and its laws (to be replaced with something else, often the remnants of failed authoritarian/totalitarian rationalist systems or…nothing).
Other folks are seeking inclusion into civil society from previous injustice and oppression by vast expansions of Federal authority. This has had important consequences for the moral claims to authority which currently justify that authority.
Still others are claiming legitimate moral authority from the Sciences and Human Reason which can easily outstrip the ability of the Sciences and our Reason to justify such claims. I often find myself retreating to a position of Skepticism regarding many such claims.
As has been pointed out to me, Lockean liberty does correct for Hobbes’ Leviathan, but when did individuals consent to such authority in the first place?