My predictions regarding NPR (dear reader, these are hardly groundbreaking): I expect further Leftward political partisanship and general moral suspicion of the laws, civic nationalism and patriotism. There will be ebbs and flows surrounding ‘-Ism’ righteousness and the latest political (C)ause. There will be tactical advances in politics and ‘culture’, followed by retreats into a kind of existential despair of the (S)elf, usually cured by the balm of collectivist and identity-driven movements, fortified by hatred of anything traditional and religious. Sometimes Democrat, sometimes activist, NPR readers will continue to be dully predictable, but now dully predictable, mostly from the Left.
The rapid curve of current technological change will continue apace.
I think it’s pretty obvious what’s happened in universities is happening on a delay throughout many American media institutions.
Just as the ‘Hitler-year-zero-fight-fascism-now’ Left has been co-opting language and many positions within existing institutions and hierarchies, the ‘New Right’ will no longer accept the civility, ‘work-within-the-system’ tactics of the old establishment. I see Donald Trump merely as a vote against that system and those rules, and a signpost on the way into the postmodern landscape.
I’m not counting on the way stations of liberal idealism to necessarily contain points further Left, either. My problem with many elements of the Left are well-established problems. There is justification and rationalization of violence in pursuit of the (C)ause. There is incomplete and utopian conceptualization of human nature, political and economic realities, along with a ‘change-first’ worldview. There is a well-documented focus on collectivist and class-identity politics which squash the individual, backing us into new forms of Statist authority and control.
There will be a liberal stiffening of spines, at times, of course. But, many on the Left harbor a particular hatred for liberal idealists.
Behold my mighty tweet, which mocks and mocks the weakness of many liberal hopes. Of course, this is all the more reason to dig deep in the Humanities! You’ve got to get at the weaknesses, the hatreds, and the foibles of your own heart to realize what is lovable, noble, and possible with your own life.
It’s tough to have much sympathy for those who dig shallow, make the personal political, and help our politics become a jumbled mess, riding the current university model into many an over-leveraged loan mill.
What if their duty was not merely to collect a salary and keep the cruise-members happy, but to try and look from the crow’s nest and keep the ship afloat?
I get it, the Beatles were an excellent band. Dance Hall boys from Liverpool made globally successful and good, with remarkable depth for the popular appeal. ‘Blackbird’ and ‘Yesterday,’ for me, strike deep and stay there (I prefer McCartney as songwriter).
But please stop being such losers!
I couldn’t even type ‘suckling’ correctly, or else it auto-corrected. Further proof that maybe I’m the loser.
Here’s how Wendell Berry put it in his essay “The Joy of Sales Resistance”:
‘Quit talking bad about women, homosexuals, and preferred social minorities, and you can say anything you want about people who haven’t been to college, manual workers, country people, peasants, religious people, unmodern people, old people, and so on.’
Here are some of the pressures to which NPR is subject:
1. Market pressures-It’s easy to go for the lowest common denominator in the marketplace (sex sells). Resisting such tactics requires sticking to principles. NPR does a pretty good job at this, though my problem is with the judgment and principles they’re using; subject to the capture of liberatory radicalism (free your ‘Self’ politically, morally and sexually, replacing beliefs with overwhelmingly Democrat political allegiance, New-Age/Political idealism and State-funded Sex Education). There’s a combination of stiff moralism and weird license at NPR.
2. Technological pressures-I have many bookish and well-read friends who are terrified of technology. They have some good reasons and some ridiculously bad ones for this. NPR is not exactly cutting-edge though they are pretty mainstream. Success requires manipulating the latest technology.
3. The Problems Of Ideological Capture-What you think tends to become who you become regarding habit and character. Where your thoughts go, so go your moral sentiments, beliefs and actions. Liberal idealists argue for some pretty scalable post-Enlightenment ideals (universal humanism, open markets, free speech).
Problems tend to start, however, regarding a deeper base of Selves living in relative isolation; flirting with nihilism, existentialism, anarchy, and Communism/Socialism. Liberal idealists can easily become caught between a tradition or law they personally uphold, while simultaneously supporting the activist who may have no regard whatsoever for any particulary existing tradition or law.
Clive James revisits many quite original, quite accomplished works of Joseph Conrad.
This quote has stuck with me over the last few months:
‘They are, in fact, idealists: and idealism is a cast of mind that Conrad questions even more than he questions radicalism. The logical end of radicalism, in his view, is terrorism; but idealism is the mental aberration that allows terrorism to be brought about. Conrad’s originality was to see that a new tyranny could be generated by people who thought that their rebellion against the old tyranny was rational. Thus his writings seem prescient about what was to happen in the Soviet Union. He didn’t predict the Nazi tyranny because he had underestimated the power of the irrational to organise itself into a state. But then, nobody predicted that except its perpetrators; and anyway, mere prediction was not his business. His business was the psychological analysis made possible by an acute historical awareness. Under Western Eyes is valuable not because it came true but because it rang true even at the time, only now we can better hear the deep, sad note.’
Personally, I am persuaded such pressures orginate in insufficiently deep maps of human nature, Nature, and how hard it can be to maintain legitimate authority.
(S)cience, Social (S)cience and Free Speech & Assembly: As we can see with true radicals and revolutionaries, the ideological capture within our institutions comes from a presumed moral authority; a moral authority drafting off of the truth and knowledge claims made by the Sciences, the Social Sciences, and ‘The Expert.’
Listening to the Beatles, watching episodes of Nature with David Attenborough, and supporting the latest moral cause may placate radicals for a while, but only for a while. Often such habits make liberals easier targets.
This is, I believe, how we’ve arrived at many conservatives, libertarians, some broader disaffected moderates and a Newer Left (the Weinsteins, much of the ‘Dark Web’) suddenly having to defend the truth and knowledge claims of the Sciences, the Social Sciences, free assembly and free speech.
Thanks for looking:
What He Thought
We were supposed to do a job in Italy
and, full of our feeling for
ourselves (our sense of being
Poets from America) we went
from Rome to Fano, met
the mayor, mulled
a couple matters over (what’s
a cheap date, they asked us; what’s
flat drink). Among Italian literati
we could recognize our counterparts:
the academic, the apologist,
the arrogant, the amorous,
the brazen and the glib — and there was one
administrator (the conservative), in suit
of regulation gray, who like a good tour guide
with measured pace and uninflected tone narrated
sights and histories the hired van hauled us past.
Of all, he was most politic and least poetic,
so it seemed. Our last few days in Rome
(when all but three of the New World Bards had flown)
I found a book of poems this
unprepossessing one had written: it was there
in the pensione room (a room he’d recommended)
where it must have been abandoned by
the German visitor (was there a bus of them?)
to whom he had inscribed and dated it a month before.
I couldn’t read Italian, either, so I put the book
back into the wardrobe’s dark. We last Americans
were due to leave tomorrow. For our parting evening then
our host chose something in a family restaurant, and there
we sat and chatted, sat and chewed,
till, sensible it was our last
big chance to be poetic, make
our mark, one of us asked
Is it the fruits and vegetables and
marketplace of Campo dei Fiori, or
the statue there?” Because I was
the glib one, I identified the answer
instantly, I didn’t have to think — “The truth
is both, it’s both,” I blurted out. But that
was easy. That was easiest to say. What followed
taught me something about difficulty,
for our underestimated host spoke out,
all of a sudden, with a rising passion, and he said:
The statue represents Giordano Bruno,
brought to be burned in the public square
because of his offense against
authority, which is to say
the Church. His crime was his belief
the universe does not revolve around
the human being: God is no
fixed point or central government, but rather is
poured in waves through all things. All things
move. “If God is not the soul itself, He is
the soul of the soul of the world.” Such was
his heresy. The day they brought him
forth to die, they feared he might
incite the crowd (the man was famous
for his eloquence). And so his captors
placed upon his face
an iron mask, in which
he could not speak. That’s
how they burned him. That is how
he died: without a word, in front
And poetry —
put down our forks by now, to listen to
the man in gray; he went on
poetry is what
he thought, but did not say.
Heather MacDonald pits the goals of diversity and equality (pursued zealously within many an administrative hierarchy) against the quest for knowledge in the sciences.
I’m fairly certain that many people, in pursuit of their religious beliefs and in holding sacred the metaphysical doctrines which frame those beliefs, can and do bear hostility to the natural sciences, free-thinkers, and any challenge to those beliefs. The truth of such a statement seems self-evident.
But often in many educated circles, the ‘Grand Inquisitor‘ scene from the Brothers Karamazov seems to be playing on an endless loop, and all the darkness within the human heart, all the potential for stupidity, corruption, and incompetence within human organizations (the incredible difficulty of design and stability), is still directed against the Church (not the Mosque, of course) or some barely recognizable conception of authority.
Many current dangers are conveniently ignored, misunderstood, and/or tacitly supported under an umbrella of political idealism. Movements which support radical and revolutionary freedom tend to shift the beliefs and moral sentiments beneath the umbrella and within our institutions, but with little discussion of the costs involved.
Question the telos at the end of the rainbow, for which the umbrella will one day be shed, and all the old human problems return.
Timothy Fuller On Ken Minogue’s take on this endless quest, and its dangers:
‘For Minogue, freedom led to “oppositionality,” a topic he explores in “The Conditions of Freedom and the Condition of Freedom.” Oppositionality is the idea that citizens may exercise an independent judgement on questions of their obligations that were once off-limits for discussion; everyone simply accepted them. Opposition and is seen both as a “disruptive and dynamic” part of freedom but also a threat to it – “fundamentally parasitic” on society and often praising dissent for its own sake.
This leads naturally to “The Modern Liberal’s Casebook,” which contains Minogue’s well-known comparison of liberalism to the legend of St George and the Dragon. In his telling, St. George didn’t know when to stop fighting battles and grew breathless in pursuit of smaller and smaller dragons, as big dragons were harder to come by. In this Minogue is quite correct. Taking his analogy further, there must come a time when dragons become extinct and younger versions of St. George are misguided into pursuing chickens and other desirable species instead.’
It also seems individuals tend to come in out and of belief, whatever their experiences, choices, genetic and biological proclivities. We constantly negotiate personal commitments and obligations, needs and wants. This is to say nothing of basic self-interest. There are too many variables to count and I can’t proclaim to count nor understand them all (I doubt the social sciences can either, and I’m wary of the belief they can and/or should, at least in the context of popular culture as they incorporate more data science, mathematics and empirical evidence.
I can say that trying to criticize and contextualize many modern and postmodern movements and thinkers seems a lonelier task at the moment, as is casting a skeptical eye upon many liberal political ideals currently reigning within many Western institutions.
Here’s another take, building upon an anti-Hegelian, pro-Kantian, pro-Popperian metaphysical platform:
‘Although Anglo-American philosophy tended to worship at the feet of science, the drift of academia to the left has led to characteristically totalitarian political attacks on science itself — this despite the leftist program to use “climate science” to impose a Sovietized command economy on energy and the tactic to smear climate skeptics, i.e. “Deniers,” through associaton with Creationism or Neo-Nazi Holocaust denial. None of that has stopped the “post-modern” move, which may even be called the “post-Copernican” move, where the “de-centering” of meaning and objectivity, returns the “marginalized” literary critic or theorist to the Ptolemaic center of the universe, whence modern science, now demystified and unmasked as an instrument of white, male, homophobic, Euro-centric oppression, had proudly thought to have dislodged an arrogant humanity. This has given new meaning to the words “obscurantism” and “sophistry.” Where the arrogance (let alone the intolerance and “extremism”) has settled now is all too plain to those familiar with American academic life, where a majority of American colleges have “speech codes” or equivalent regulations that openly violate the First Amendment.’
Thanks for looking. Will try some different F-stops in the future to balance light reflecting upon objects and upon objects reflected in glass.
‘Perhaps the core of rational behavior is the idea of flexibility or resilience. The rational man, seeing his world collapse, will never turn his face to the wall (like a tragic hero) if there is the slightest possibility of accommodation with the force which has overwhelmed him. Hobbes, the uncompromising rationalist, deals with this possibility without attempting to disguise it. Overwhelming force determines the will of the rational man whose primary aim is to stay alive; there is no place for honor or heroism. The importance of flexibility also comes out in the hostility of rational thinkers to the social institution of the oath. One cannot rationally make a promise binding beyond the point where one gains from it, a point which Spinoza, for example, brings out  clearly. The oath, in fact, is a feudal institution which seemed to liberal thinkers an attempt to impose more on the human flux than it could bear.’
Minogue, Kenneth. The Liberal Mind. Liberty Fund, 2001. Print.
‘Long before the Revolution, then, the disposition of mind of the American colonists, the prevailing intellectual character and habit of politics, were rationalistic. And this is clearly reflected in the constitutional documents and history of the individual colonies. And when these colonies came ‘to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,’ and to declare their independence, the only fresh inspiration that this habit of politics received from the outside was one which confirmed its native character in every particular. For the inspiration of Jefferson and the other founders of American independence was the ideology which Locke had distilled from the English political tradition.’
Oakeshott, Michael. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991. Print. Pg 31.
I have trouble imagining Oakeshott having much sympathy with our founders’ direct experience and developing practice alongside and against King George III and the Redcoats; the slow-rolling revolution these men found themselves within.
‘I’ve noticed that Darwinism seems to support one of the fundamental claims of classical liberalism: natural rights emerge in human history as those conditions for human life that cannot be denied without eventually provoking a natural human tendency to violent resistance against exploitation.’
Using quite a bit of German idealism (Hegelian) to get at the problem:
‘While I am complaining, I will also note that Scruton has nothing to say about how several of these figures—especially Žižek and Alain Badiou, along with Jacques Derrida, who is barely mentioned here—have played a role in the so-called “religious turn” of humanistic studies, in which various movements generally called “postmodern” find a significant place for religion in their reflections, if not in their beliefs or practices. This marks a significant departure from the relentless secularism of most earlier forms of European leftism, and that deserves note. Nor does Scruton account fully for Jürgen Habermas’s reputation as a centrist figure in the German and more generally the European context. (Habermas too has spoken more warmly of religion in recent years.’
So, what is all this Nothing-ness about? ‘My view’, says Scruton, ‘is that what’s underlying all of this is a kind of nihilistic vision that masks itself as a moving toward the enlightened future, but never pauses to describe what that society will be like. It simply loses itself in negatives about the existing things – institutional relations like marriage, for instance – but never asks itself if those existing things are actually part of what human beings are. Always in Zizek there’s an assumption of the right to dismiss them as standing in the way of something else, but that something else turns out to be Nothing.’
Who has the moral legitimacy to be in charge?
‘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.’
John M. Ellis, Literature Lost [Yale University Press, 1997, p. 214]
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”
Lament Of The Middle Man
In late October in the park
the autumn’s faults begin to show:
the houses suddenly go stark
beyond a thinning poplar row;
the edges of the leaves go brown
on every chestnut tree in town.
The honking birds go south again
where I have gone in better times;
the hardy ones, perhaps, remain
to nestle in the snowy pines.
I think of one bold, raucous bird
whose wintry song I’ve often heard.
I live among so many things
that flash and fade, that come and go.
One never knows what season brings
relief and which will merely show
how difficult it is to span
a life, given the Fall of Man.
The old ones dawdle on a bench,
and young ones drool into their bibs;
an idle boffer, quite a mensch,
moves fast among the crowd with fibs.
A painted lady hangs upon
his word as if his sword was drawn.
Among so many falling fast
I sometimes wonder why I care;
the first, as ever, shall be last;
the last are always hard to bear.
I never know if I should stay
to see what ails the livelong day.
I never quite know how to ask
why some men wear bright, silver wings
while others, equal to the task,
must play the role of underlings.
“It’s what you know, not who,” they swore.
I should have known what to ignore.
I started early, did my bit
for freedom and the right to pray.
I leaned a little on my wit,
and learned the sort of thing to say,
yet here I am, unsatisfied
and certain all my elders lied.
A middle man in middle way
between the darkness and the dark,
the seasons have tremendous sway:
I change like chestnuts in the park.
Come winter, I’ll be branches, bones;
come spring, a wetness over stones.
A Larkinesque quality?
A redo. The same place with new focus.