Wednesday Photo And A Poem By J.V. Cunningham

If you like the photo, click here.  More on the poet and poem and the link below.  Not too cheery, but looking for place in the American West.
MT-3 Storm Breaking-3
Montana Pastoral
I am no shepherd of a child’s surmises.
I have seen fear where the coiled serpent rises,

Thirst where the grasses burn in early May
And thistle, mustard and the wild oat stay.

There is dust in this air. I saw in the heat
Grasshoppers busy in the threshing wheat.

So to this hour. Through the warm dusk I drove
To blizzards sifting on the hissing stove,

And found no images of pastoral will,
But fear, thirst, hunger, and this huddled chill.

Repost-Surely The Left Hand Knows What The Right Hand Is Doing, And Vice-Versa-George Packer At The New Yorker: ‘Why Leftists Go Right’

Full piece here.

I have to confess, there’s a fair amount of meat in the article, as Packer reviews “Exit Right: The People Who Left the Left and Reshaped the American Century.”

Whittaker Chambers, David Horowitz, and other heretics having fled from the radical ideologies of the Left are explained as part of a movement that helped define a century in which, for Packer, the American right has come to dominate.

In fact, he finishes with:

‘The downward slide from Chambers and Reagan to Coulter and Trump has surely swept along a few young idealists who thought they were joining the side of freedom and truth, then realized too late that they had signed on for junk science and white identity politics. Ted Cruz’s vision would require the toppling of just about every pillar of the country’s social and economic structure. You don’t have to look elsewhere for the destructive utopianism that turns believers into apostates. In a few years’ time, we’ll be reading the chilling inside story, written by a campaign aide who barely got out alive.’

I can imagine the view from the New Yorker office in Manhattan might be magnifying the various and sundry evangelicals, mouth-breathing gun-nuts, racist xenophobes and ‘junk-scientists’ gathering at the Black Gate Of Mordor.  These are simple folk, really.

We all know that even if ideal human societies with ever more freedom and equality aren’t possible, we should still try and make them a reality, right?  Many people’s hearts are in the right place, after all.

Or do ‘The People’ possess one big heart they all have to share?

Do ‘real-scientists’ all read the New Yorker for the latest scientific discoveries explained in 2,000 word long-form essays?

***Yes, angry emailers, these are attempts at satire. Post has been updated to fix an errant quote and some grammatical errors.

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Of course, while there is a special kind of concern-trolling on display in Packer’s piece, there is also a fair amount of truth:  It is the heretics ‘mugged by reality’ who’ve helped to lead the conservative movement in the U.S.

Irving Kristol is just one example.

Longer-term, I suspect it’s bound to happen that more ‘neoconservatives’ fall-out of the intellectual grace of worldviews like those often found at the New Yorker, where liberal-Left democratic and secular humanism rule the roost.  There’s plenty of soft-collectivism on display, (with its own attendant hippie and post-hippie utopian idealism), safe-spaces for feminism and environmentalism (alarming levels of enviro-dread, lately), along with much post 68′ civil-rights radicalism and what I call ‘brownstone activism.’

I don’t know if such observations make me conservative (surely, they do to some), but I often find myself wondering where such ideals lead, exactly? What responsibilities do they impose upon me?

How much equality is enough?  How will you know when it is enough? What kinds of moral authority do these ideals rely upon and what kind of institutions do they actually produce in the real world?

Which freedoms and opportunities have they brought me?  Are these worth the trade-offs?

If such arguments are well-made, they always have a chance of convincing me.

A reasonably open mind is a good thing to maintain, after all, and I suppose I could become more Leftist, or liberal, depending on circumstances.

In the meantime, however, there’s Packer’s piece, where at least there’s some recognition of the following:

‘In the twentieth century, the void left by the loss of religion was sometimes filled by totalizing political systems, and the result was a literary genre of confession that is as powerful and probing as the Augustinian kind.’

Addition: Nice wild swing at Augustinians, there.


Let me know what I’ve got wrong, as so much depends upon where you start:

Technology: It might well be possible to have one trucker and a technician leading a convoy in 10-20 years time.  Many jobs now done by people will simply be automated.  It’s quite easy to have a mobile device and choose the kinds of people, jobs and places people become a part of in America; much more than ever before.  People are expecting a lot more choice in their lives, and are self-selecting based on their current preferences (most of us are doing this, to some extent).

Globalization: Both India and China are producing hundreds of thousands of high IQ, specially trained, hard-working software and hardware engineers competing for slots in American higher Ed and the American tech sector.  There is global competition in many sectors of the economy.

Past and current trade deals are trying to address the inherent dislocation that comes when capital chases cheap labor, when industry dies out in one area and blooms in another.

America has an aging population, and many hopelessly insolvent social programs based on somewhat Ponzi-like projections that can’t be maintained as they currently exist.

The American university and current government models are bloated, with a lot of waste and poor incentives, producing a lot of people with unforgivable student-loan debt and degrees of questionable value in current job markets.   Our public sector is woefully unable to handle such change.

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As previously posted-A breath of fresh air from George Packer at the New Yorker: ‘Mute Button:

‘The problem with free speech is that it’s hard, and self-censorship is the path of least resistance. But, once you learn to keep yourself from voicing unwelcome thoughts, you forget how to think them—how to think freely at all—and ideas perish at conception. Washiqur Rahman and Avijit Roy had more to fear than most of us, but they lived and died as free men.’

Maybe this kind of moral courage will make a comeback…

Repost-Quotation From Charles Kesler And A Few Thoughts on Conservatism…Charles Murray is trying to get virtue back with the social sciences: Charles Murray At The New Criterion: ‘Belmont & Fishtown’Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People

Christopher Hitchens at Slate: Yale Surrenders

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  

Free For Me, But Not For Thee-Some Links On Speech

It might be useful to tease-out the actual historical legacy of suffering, injustice and grievance from the ideology, victimhood and ’empowerment’ of some people pursuing their interests in endless protest. When political ideology foments and amplifies injustice into ‘free speech for me, but not for thee,’ it’s not hard to see there will be problems with the speech of everyone (or at least problem enough with more established Constitutional protections on speech).

In my estimation, the incentives for activist rabble-rousing (addition: less truth and fact, more mob-sustained anger) will only be diminished when the current political-cycle changes, and when enough Americans decide they can be decent, moral people while quietly rejecting the softly radical activism, anti-establishmentarianism, and yes, moral exploitation of guilt by their political leaders into policies with which they might disagree.

From my perspective, many media outlets and academic institutions are hip-deep in tacit approval of such radical and semi-radical ideas (it’s always 1968 somewhere), so there’s a lot of core identity, pride, conviction, political power, and money on the line.

In fact, with all the technological and economic forces at work on our lives at the moment, I don’t expect our political debates to be reasonably civil anytime soon, aside from these dynamics.

Walter Russell Mead:

‘In a 2013, the Office for Civil Rights in Education—a federal agency formally charged with protecting students from unlawful harassment, but which appears to have effectively gone rogue under new, far-left leadership over the last five years—declared that universities needed to investigate and possibly punish students for making comments that other students find “unwelcome,” even if those comments were protected by the First Amendment.’

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Two older, but likely worthwhile links:

Brendan O’Neill 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’.

Back to Yale with Christopher Hitchens:

Full post here.

Reason post here.

NY Times piece here.

Old news I know, but it seems that the Yale Press was genuinely afraid that publishing this book could potentially lead to violence, and that they are responsible for the consequences of such potential violence.

Hitchens:

“…Yale had consulted a range of experts before making its decision and that “[a]ll confirmed that the republication of the cartoons by the Yale University Press ran a serious risk of instigating violence.”

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  

Via Readers-Two North Korea Links

From Mick Hartley: ‘At The Mausoleum Of The Dear Leader

Take a trip to the Hermit Kingdom:


Via another reader-

Christopher Hitchens on North Korea: ‘Visit To A Small Planet

What about value pluralism…positive and negative liberty?: 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”

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

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

Postmodern Body Talk-A ‘Narrative’ To Which You Might Want To Pay Some Attention

From The Seattle Times-‘Art, Crime And Survival: ‘Awaiting Oblivion’ Seeks Hope In Hopelessness:’

‘After his arrest at Occupy Seattle, a local actor and youth-homelessness worker corresponded with “AO” — a mysterious graffiti/street artist or artists who mailed him art-based “temporary solutions” to stave off despair. The result, “Awaiting Oblivion,” opens at On the Boards.’

The two pictures at the link probably tell more than my words ever could.

Nevertheless, here’s a brief write-up: Lost, desperate souls wander hopelessly through and around the world’s woes, ground-down and alone, bedraggled and suicidal, finally…perhaps finally, discovering some meaning and purpose by engaging in (A)rt as salvation and (A)rt as therapy.

One voice, a candle-flame flickering in the darkness, provides hope and succor, solidarity and structure, across the meaningless void.  Perhaps, here, bodies of innocence and bodies of decadence spontaneously and rhythmically erupt in joy against systems of oppression and cold, uncaring authority.

Gender becomes fluid, intersectional; bodies heat-up, juxtaposed within many competing narratives of time and space.

Anti-Capitalist ‘Occupy’-style political activism and identitarian political ideology provide some replacement glow of family and friendship.


Enough of that, already.

Yet, dear reader, you might want to pay attention to how this thinking so easily can make its way up through many news and media outlets, seeping down from institutions of higher-ed into the popular culture, forming reefs of public sentiment and ‘right-thinking’ public opinion.

In fact, I’d say it will likely coalesce around a broader, more popular political middle (women’s marches) in a few years time, [that, in turn] cooling into more somewhat-reasoned anti-Trumpism.

On that note, more (A)rt as politics and protest: ‘In Protest of Trump’s Travel Ban, Davis Museum Will Remove All Art Made or Donated by Immigrants.’

‘From tomorrow, February 16, to Tuesday, February 21, 20 percent of the permanent collection galleries at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College will be shrouded or removed’

‘We’re a nation of immigrants’, not of laws, seems to have become the ‘dominant narrative,’ in many quarters these days.

Donald Pittenger, at Art Contrarian, and formerly of 2 Blowhards, has been looking at modernism. From the banner of his blog:

‘The point-of-view is that modernism in art is an idea that has, after a century or more, been thoroughly tested and found wanting. Not to say that it should be abolished — just put in its proper, diminished place’


Tom Wolfe on Max Weber on one conspicuous use of art in the ‘modern’ world:

‘…aesthetics is going to replace ethics, art is going to replace religion, as the means through which educated people express their spiritual worthiness…

Maybe anti-commercialism is kind of commercial after all, and ‘ironically’ ends-up becoming a spiritual prosthetic in many lives (update: Well, at least to hangers-on following artists around like cult-leaders, but more broadly, such influence is not hard to find in popular culture)

David Thompson offers satire on such matters.

Postmodern generator here, via David Thompson.

Simon Blackburn revisits the Sokal hoax.

Do you remember the Sokal hoax?

Some Updated Links On Postmodernism

Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

I have a soft spot for contrarian social scientists, like Charles Murray and Jonathan Haidt, pushing against what can so easily become an orthodoxy: Repost-Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People…

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?’

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

***My own anecdote: After a fruitful Town Hall discussion here in Seattle, celebrated British mathematician Roger Penrose did some Q & A afterwards. Most questions were from math majors, physicists, engineers and hobbyists in the crowd (many were over my head…but I tried to catch a few).

One question came from a youngish man in a beret, a little unkempt, who asked (in a possibly affected, but in a very serious tone):

‘Mr. Penrose, what is meaning in a moribund universe?

‘Eh…sorry…I didn’t catch that?’

‘What is meaning in a mo-ri-bund universe?’

‘Well, that is a different kind of question…I mean, here’s what I can offer you…’

***That’s roughly how I remember it, and Penrose was gracious, but brisk, in moving onto the kinds of questions he might be able to answer, or for which he could provide some insight.

Megan McArdle At Bloomberg: ‘A Sign That Obamacare Exchanges Are Failing’

Full piece here.

‘Molina’s losses suggest that instead of stabilizing, the exchanges are getting worse. There is no way to fix Obamacare without fixing the pool so that younger, healthier people buy insurance.’

For the most part, there’s no way to induce younger, healthier people into a system working against so many of their interests except by force of law and punishment; force which was barely concealed by particularly daft and short-lived political promises.

Pools of risk must deal with reality, and if you start from the idea of health-care as a right to be promised and guaranteed by a group of people in charge of government (claiming to speak for all People), rather than starting from the idea of health-care as a resource to best be distributed by price signals and market forces; by individuals making hard choices and sacrifices for themselves and their loved ones, then you’re more likely to get worse outcomes.

There’s also probably no way to really get the people who designed this law, the people who have pretty high IQ’s, trained at many of the best schools, to ever really examine the beliefs and principles that likely led to such failures, because that’s not how most people, most of the time, really operate.

More politics, and more people fighting over more politics to come…

Epstein on Obamacare’s Moral Blindness, the Obamacare Quagmire, and Watching Obamacare Unravel.

Still Looking For Alternatives-Charlie Martin At PJ Media: ‘Obamacare vs. Arithmetic’

Avik Roy At Forbes: ‘Democrats’ New Argument: It’s A Good Thing That Obamacare Doubles Individual Health Insurance Premiums’Megan McArdle At Bloomberg: ‘Health-Care Costs Are Driven By Technology, Not Presidents’

Repost-’Kenneth Anderson At Volokh: ‘The Fragmenting of the New Class Elites, Or, Downward Mobility’

Full post here.

Anderson had his own theory of the Occupy movements and the recession:

‘In social theory, OWS is best understood not as a populist movement against the bankers, but instead as the breakdown of the New Class into its two increasingly disconnected parts.  The upper tier, the bankers-government bankers-super credentialed elites.  But also the lower tier, those who saw themselves entitled to a white collar job in the Virtue Industries of government and non-profits — the helping professions, the culture industry, the virtueocracies, the industries of therapeutic social control, as Christopher Lasch pointed out in his final book, The Revolt of the Elites.’

Related On This Site:   Ken Burns makes a good documentary, but he’s also arguing he absolutely needs your tax dollars in service of what he assumes to be a shared definition of the “common good” as he pursues that art.  The market just can’t support it otherwise. Repost-From ReasonTV Via Youtube: ‘Ken Burns on PBS Funding, Being a “Yellow-Dog Democrat,” & Missing Walter Cronkite’

Steven Pinker curiously goes Hobbesian and mentions an ‘international Leviathan’:   At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas Hobbes

A Few Thoughts On Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest: “Why Blue Can’t Save The Inner Cities Part I”

The market will make people better off, but always leaves them wanting more and in a state of spiritual malaise, which invites constant meddling.  Can economic freedom and free markets reconcile the moral depth of progressive big-State human freedom:  Milton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’A Few Quotations From F.A. Hayek’s: ‘Why I Am Not A Conservative’A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Repost-Gathered Over The Years: Some Quotes On Multiculturalism

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Salman Rushdie at about minute 57:00:  ‘This idea of separate treatment for separate cultures…I think essentially if we follow that to its conclusion…destroys our ability to have a really moral framework for society.’

From Theodore Dalrymple:

‘The doctrine of multiculturalism arose, at least in Holland, as a response to the immigration influx, believed initially to be temporary. The original purpose of multiculturalism was to preserve the culture of European “guest workers” so that when they returned home, having completed their labor contracts, they would not feel dislocated by their time away. The doctrine became a shibboleth of the Left, a useful tool of cultural dismantlement, only after family reunion in the name of humanitarianism became normal policy during the 1960s and the guest workers transformed into permanent residents.’

Full interview here with Simon Blackburn.

“Nigel: Has relativism had its day as an influential philosophical position?

Simon: No – and I don’t think it should ever die. The danger is that it gets replaced by some kind of complacent dogmatism, which is at least equally unhealthy. The Greek sceptics thought that confronting a plurality of perspectives is the beginning of wisdom, and I think they were right. It is certainly the beginning of historiography and anthropology, and if we think, for instance, of the Copernican revolution, of self-conscious science. The trick is to benefit from an imaginative awareness of diversity, without falling into a kind of “anything goes” wishy-washy nihilism or scepticism….”

Click through for some of Eugene Volokh’s thoughts. He finishes with the following:

It’s a mistake, I think, to condemn multiculturalism in general, just as it’s a mistake to praise multiculturalism in general. Rather, we should think about which forms of toleration, accommodation, and embrace of differing cultural values and behaviors are good for America — in the light of American legal and social traditions — and which are bad.

Here’s a quote from a previous post, at the request of a friend:

“As Strauss understood it, the principle of liberal democracy in the natural freedom and equality of all human beings, and the bond of liberal society is a universal morality that links human beings regardless of religion. Liberalism understands religion to be a primary source of divisiveness in society, but it also regards liberty of religious worship to be a fundamental expression of the autonomy of the individual. To safeguard religion and to safeguard society from conflicts over religion, liberalism pushes religion to the private sphere where it is protected by law. The liberal state also strictly prohibits public laws that discriminate on the basis of religion. What the liberal state cannot do without ceasing to be liberal is to use the law to root out and entirely eliminate discrimination, religious and otherwise, on the part of private individuals and groups.”

A matter of deep debate.

See Also On This Site:  Can you maintain the virtues of religion without the church…?:  From The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”…Are we going soft and “European”… do we need to protect our religious idealism enshrined in the Constitution….with the social sciences?…Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People

Kenan Malik In The Spiked Review Of Books: ‘Twenty Years On: Internalizing The Fatwa’-Salman Rushdie

Also On This Site:  Morality away from a transcendent God, but back toward Hume through the cognitive sciences?: Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

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 Virtual Philosophy: A Brief Interview With Simon BlackburnFrom The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Here Is Hard To See-A Discussion Of Foreign Policy And Some Possibilities For Trump: Eliot Cohen On ‘The Big Stick’


by no3rdw

Eliot Cohen discusses his book ‘The Big Stick‘ alongside an interesting panel at Johns Hopkins School Of International Studies.

Here are some interesting points brought up throughout the hour-long discussion:

Cohen makes the case for re-energization of the post WWII international order America has created and for which it has set the ground rules; to continue the liberal international order and fund it with our blood and treasure (by Cohen’s lights, the benefits still outweigh the costs).

America ought to keep tending to fragile alliances, working hard to maintain them, and keep preparing itself to back them up Teddy Roosevelt-style:  There’s a place for American hard-power, and will likely be to defend this liberal order as Cohen sees it.

Much American thought and institutional strategic planning hasn’t necessarily pivoted since the end of the Cold War.

American ‘big-picture’ thinking has perhaps been in decline, giving way to a lot of high-level discussions about theoretical disputes (not necessarily a good indicator of institutional strength…but you probably already knew that).  In my experience, the less there is or there appears to be, the more people tend to fight over it.

Regional disputes are more dominant right now (Russia in Ukraine and the Baltics…China in the South China sea) and unfortunately, America doesn’t necessarily have the hard power to set rules in more than one region, even if it’s just deploying military force to back up the liberal order in one region at a time.

This means we could be headed for a very bumpy ride (not just here at home).

***For what it’s worth: I’ve become annoyed at frequent emotional and establishment anti-Trumpism (which Cohen displays) for a few reasons:

I feel loyalty and sympathy for Tea-Party-esque populism, and I see it as a vital corrective against institutional decay and potential abuse of power (I think of this as a Constitutional Republic with a functioning democracy…and I often find myself sharing the local sentiment of people who sacrifice the blood and treasure for the liberal order to run…and who often get little in return).

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to criticize Trump:  He’s opportunistic and probably not all that principled and may well be taking advantage of Tea-Party populism.  He’s a shrewd NYC real-estate developer offering many reasons to wonder if his character is fit for the office (the woman-chasing and self-promotion).

He could easily blunder us into conflict, and expose us all to serious risk.

He could well fuse a cruder, authoritarian populist nationalism {into the American political DNA} based on his experience as a NYC real-estate developer, gravitating towards what he knows: Strong unions + ruthless competition + big money + slickly navigating regulatory mazes + bravado and showmanship.

But, boy, he sure is galvanizing a lot of people who channel their own anger and righteous indignation onto him, having beaten many at their own game, highlighting just how much institutional and political decay there is in American life these days, and just how many people are willing to take advantage of it.

As Cohen points out:  Here we are.

But…enough already.  You’ve got your own thoughts.  Building-up is a lot easier than tearing-down.

Robert Kagan At Brookings: ‘The Twilight Of the Liberal World Order’

Some thoughts on Fukuyama and Leo Strauss: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’