Tuesday Poem-Alexander Pope

Ode On Solitude

Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
In his own ground.

Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.

Blest! who can unconcern’dly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away,
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day,

Sound sleep by night; study and ease
Together mix’d; sweet recreation,
And innocence, which most does please,
With meditation.

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me die;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.

Alexander Pope

From Roger Sandall-‘A Curious Case Of Censorship’

Original piece from 1976 found here.

Mind you, this is Australia, but there’s probably a lot of overlap:

‘I don’t mean to suggest that every bright-eyed PhD candidate in anthropology today sees himself in a priestly role, or feels inspired by a religious vocation. Most are as sceptical of sorcery as of perdition. But what George Feaver has called the New Tribalism is a proud creed, and its gods are jealous gods. Syncretised with the pride and jealousy of the Old Tribalism the result is a powerful endorsement of totem and taboo…’

‘The Institute had been set up to “do science”, a secular activity. Yet in a curious way it has ended up “doing religion.” In its own eyes the Institute may have seen itself as a producer of scientific records; but in the eyes of Tribalism, both Old and New, its true role was that of a manufacturer of religious artifacts. And having become an archive of sacred objects it was hard to refuse doing priestly duty as the temple guardian as well. In this way a scientific body found itself gradually moving from the world of fact to the world of faith—and from the dull routines of research to the higher excitements of revivalism.’

We’ve got a lot of museum directors and academics I could see sinking into a kind of nebulous, humanist, institutional mysticism, quite frankly.

What many modernists and humanists can ignore are the deep impulses they have to make meaning, and to draw distinctions between the sacred and the profane, which in the West can manifest as a kind of sentimental Romanticization of Nature and Man (religious and anti-religious, truthfully).

Everyone wants to transcend and seek the timeless, the immortal, and the pure, I’m guessing.

There is a particular myth of the ‘Noble Savage,’ alive and well in the Western World, where the local tribesman or displaced native is celebrated as an exotic but worthy adversary, or some kind of anachronistic adornment.

This stuff can be true and inspiring in the arts, synthesized as part of the Romantic school:

Perhaps the native is to be included under the net of secular human idealism or given land, a casino or a museum somewhere on the Western Estate and left to many of his own devices (many further Left likely see a fellow oppressed class of victims with whom to feel solidarity on the way to radical and revolutionary freedom).

But certainly with the triumphs of trade and commerce, the many benefits and successes of Western expansion (the thousand injustices and brutalities of State and privately funded imperialism), comes a lot of doubt, guilt, and shame.

What is true and right?

How should I live and what should I do?

I can say Orwell has caused me to think, reflect, and honestly take a look at myself in the mirror.

——–

Much as the sciences require intellectual rigor, empirical evidence and much skepticism, there are bands of Western anti-science postmodernists in their wake, too, who can sink into a kind of nebulous modern mysticism, building museums as temples.

Just as there are humanists there are anti-humanists.

Perhaps not too much has changed.

Those Germans and their Idealism!: 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…

Update & Repost-Roger Sandall At The American Interest: ‘Tribal Realism’…From Roger Sandall: ‘The Slave Girl and the Professor’


As previously posted:

Full Misguided Nostagia for Our Paleo Past here.

‘The paleofantasy is a fantasy in part because it supposes that we humans, or at least our protohuman forebears, were at some point perfectly adapted to our environments. We apply this erroneous idea of evolution’s producing the ideal mesh between organism and surroundings to other life forms, too, not just to people.’

There’s a lot of confusion out there in the popular mind, apparently.  Fascinating discoveries going on right now in genetics, genome research, and evolutionary biology, to name a few.

Because nobody asked, I tend to be skeptical of the Noble Savage,  Rousseau’s State of Nature, and some products of the Nietzschean, tragic, romantic tradition in Europe.  There are also lots of folks milling around America seeking a kind of collectivist utopian harmony in nature, as well.

It can be a long ways to travel to get from Darwin back to God and organized religion (too far for many people) and this blog remains generally agnostic, defensive of the broad, but fragile, traditions necessary for civil society and individual liberty.

It can also be a long way from Darwin to arrive at Natural Rights, Locke’s life, liberty and property, as well as Roman and classical ideas of law and even to Montesquieu.

Check out Darwinian Conservatism, as Larry Arnhart is dealing with many of these ideas.  Here’s the banner from the site:

‘The Left has traditionally assumed that human nature is so malleable, so perfectible, that it can be shaped in almost any direction. By contrast, a Darwinian science of human nature supports traditionalist conservatives and classical liberals in their realist view of human imperfectibility, and in their commitment to ordered liberty as rooted in natural desires, cultural traditions, and prudential judgments.’

Related On This Site: What happens when you romanticize the aboriginal? Romantic primitivism: Roger Sandall: Marveling At The Aborigines, But Not Really Helping?Repost-Roger Sandall At The American Interest: ‘Tribal Realism ….Roger Sandall At The New Criterion Via The A & L Daily: ‘Aboriginal Sin’

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’

Some Links On That ‘Community Of Nations’-North Korea And The Use Of Force

From Millenial Transmissions-‘John Stuart Mill Predicts Soviet Communism’

Well, predictions are hard, especially about the future…:

I’ll just pull part of the quote:

‘The worth of a State, in the long run, is the worth of the individuals composing it; and a State which postpones the interests of their mental expansion and elevation, to a little more of administrative skill, or of that semblance of it which practice gives, in the details of business; a State which dwarfs its men, in order that they may be more docile instruments in its hands even for beneficial purposes, will find that with small men no great thing can really be accomplished; and that the perfection of machinery to which it has sacrificed everything, will in the end avail it nothing, for want of the vital power which, in order that the machine might work more smoothly, it has preferred to banish.”

Mill provided a fairly comprehensive underlying moral philosophy as to why to individual liberty should be championed; deep reasons as to how you should live and what you should do towards these ends.

It’s odd that some in the West look upon the post-ish-Communist landscape (China, Russia, North Korea) and merely see States not sufficiently included within ‘the community of nations.’  This, rather than seeing States with vastly different, and often competing traditions and interests than oursand who are still often crushing individual liberty underfoot.

It must be said that such folks in the West harbor deep sympathies with Communist collectivist ideological constructs themselves, or at least a kind of one-world secular idealism which sees any use of force as illegitimate (often on the way to radical and revolutionary freedom, or perhaps…something more like a global collective).

As you’ve noticed, there’s still a thoroughly bankrupt, totalitarian regime on the path to deliverable nukes in North Korea (yes it still possesses a reasonably competent military seeking all aspects of nuclear delivery…for all the worst reasons).

Force and the threat of force are still on the table, but now there appear to be fewer good options in the halls of American power.

From The Atlantic (complete with a standard underlying suspicion of all ideas realist and nationalist):

‘Kim Jong Un must be made to understand that, under no uncertain terms, can he ever use his nuclear weapons; doing so would mean the end of North Korea. Whether the United States likes it or not, the country now poses a clear strategic threat, and it must be treated as such.’

America has a soft and hard power game to play in the Asian theater in order to foster the kinds of freedom that lead to greater trade, understanding and knowledge, as I see it.  Self-interest is often a reasonably honest, and reliable guide.

For even if we apply Mill’s thinking to the South Koreans, the Japanese, and the Chinese, depending on circumstances, individuals with whom we deal may not return the favor, especially with their own interests and obligations to the traditions, governments, and institutions of which they are a part.

In the meantime, the mess that is North Korea sits on their doorsteps, after all, and seeks to increase its scope to our shores.

A previous piece here.

Via Readers-Two North Korea Links

What are some things China might have to gain and lose from a still-existing North Korean regime?

Some people have a lot of experience with this problem:


Even if there were a global collective and community of nations honoring every single human-rights bill and charter it would still use force and the threat of force…I should think.

So much for ideals of peace and harmony promised? (delivery from history and much of our own natures).

Where are we headed, here?

As previously posted:  Richard Epstein ‘Barack vs. Bibi:’ takes the classical liberal, non anti-war libertarian position (regarding Obama):

‘In the end, it is critical to understand that the current weaknesses in American foreign policy stem from the President’s adamant reluctance to commit to the use of American force in international relations, whether with Israel, Iran or with ISIS. Starting from that position, the President has to make huge unilateral concessions, and force his allies to do the same thing. Right now his only expertise is leading from behind.  The President has to learn to be tough in negotiations with his enemies. Right now, sadly, he has demonstrated that toughness only in his relationships with America’s friends and allies.’

From Malcolm Greenhill: ‘I believe my good friend, Jeff Hummel, has made the best attempt so far at solving the public goods problem of national defense:’

http://mises.org/document/274/National-Goods-versus-Public-Goods-Defense-Disarmament-and-Free-Riders

On this site, see: George Shultz & Henry Kissinger At The Hoover Institution: ‘What A Final Iran Deal Must Do’

Tyler Cowen At Bloomberg On Automation And Displacement

In A Robot Economy, All Humans Will Be Marketers

Cowen:

‘This shift toward marketing, in the broad sense of that term, isn’t just about bank tellers. More legal work is done by smart software, but cultivating client relationships has never been more important. Some functions of medical assistants are being automated, but hospitals and doctors are still trying to improve the patient experience and reach new customers. Amazon Inc. warehouses use robots to pull goods down off the shelves, but someone has to persuade consumers to buy the stuff.’

I’m sure this will strike some people as deeply unfulfilling, others as threatening, and others as just fine.

I think automation is the key word, here.  Many tasks you do are repetitive, and the hardware and software is being developed to automate many of these tasks depending on complexity, feasibility and profitability where big business and technology meet (current revenue streams are directed by big players into areas where it’s too expensive and too costly not to compete (or try), and by start-ups trying to enter markets and disrupt).

This innovation shows up in our daily lives bit by bit, as consumers, as users, and as employees, but also in more personal and intimate ways (finding love online, suddenly having access to a book that changes your life etc.)

We already live within thousands of years of good and bad design all around us, and that is continuing, just perhaps more rapidly at the moment.

As to personal, social and political consequences, I’m reminded that old ideas die hard.  Many I see as worth conserving.

It’d be nice if Americans were competing more robustly with India and China in producing people ready to hit the ground running in STEM fields, but we’re doing alright.

It’d be really nice if American universities’ humanities and social science departments weren’t dealing with the postmodern and ideological problems of radical liberation politics.

Ah, well.

Hold on, keep learning, and don’t lose sight of the important things.

 

An Oh-So-Modern Wednesday Poem: James Tate

The Definition Of Gardening

Jim just loves to garden, yes he does.
He likes nothing better than to put on
his little overalls and his straw hat.
He says, “Let’s go get those tools, Jim.”
But then doubt begins to set in.
He says, “What is a garden, anyway?”
And thoughts about a “modernistic” garden
begin to trouble him, eat away at his resolve.
He stands in the driveway a long time.
“Horticulture is a groping in the dark
into the obscure and unfamiliar,
kneeling before a disinterested secret,
slapping it, punching it like a Chinese puzzle,
birdbrained, babbling gibberish, dig and
destroy, pull out and apply salt,
hoe and spray, before it spreads, burn roots,
where not desired, with gloved hands, poisonous,
the self-sacrifice of it, the self-love,
into the interior, thunderclap, excruciating,
through the nose, the earsplitting necrology
of it, the withering, shriveling,
the handy hose holder and Persian insect powder
and smut fungi, the enemies of the iris,
wireworms are worse than their parents,
there is no way out, flowers as big as heads,
pock-marked, disfigured, blinking insolently
at me, the me who so loves to garden
because it prevents the heaving of the ground
and the untimely death of porch furniture,
and dark, murky days in a large city
and the dream home under a permanent storm
is also a factor to keep in mind.”

James Tate

For a reader…

As previously posted, The Critic Laughs, by Hamilton:

The modern doubt, ironic detachment and profound unease:

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

Repost-A Concrete Wonderland In D.C.

From Buzzfeed: The 7 Ugliest Government Buildings In Washington D.C. (Via Althouse)

The author of that post fired for plagiarism. Let’s hope those are real photos!

The modern art that’s often been left to roam the lobbies and courtyards of large bureaucracies is often curiously bad, and some is on display at the link.

A reader sends a link to a bad public art blog.

Perhaps you’ve caught a glimpse of the strangely familiar in a favorite work of art; being moved deeply, comforted, given some pleasure, frightened. Maybe for a moment some deeper truth seemed to reveal itself to you, and you were free to follow it for awhile, wherever it lead, along some thread of intuition.

Now, why would you want to do that in the lobby of the Department Of Housing & Urban Development?

We should be comforted when corporate/bureaucratic art is bland, bad, and uncommunicative. After all, do you think you’d trust a bank more or less if it had a shocking modern/pop art sculpture in the lobby?

More broadly, sometimes I worry about the attempt to seek collective purpose and postmodern meaning in modern art, music and even cartoons etc. The flirtations with nihilism can encourage more desperate collectivist/ideological impulses to fill the void. The excesses are many.

As for a critique of Albany Plaza, another modernist/bureaucratic concrete wonderland, here’s Robert Hughes:


Richard Serra was commissioned to put a piece in Federal Plaza, paid for the public, and some people didn’t like it.

It was removed. Serra felt railroaded. There was a lot of press and drama.

Now, New York City is a different town (trade, finance, money, tech, real estate etc.), but this was in a Federal building.

Pretty relevant, I’d say:

Some snippets of previous posts:

James Lileks responds to an Atlantic piece which reflects upon the modernist influence. From the Atlantic piece.

‘At their best, the Schiffs can be models for renewing the unquenched aspiration of a century ago, to place art and its imaginative demands at the center of an effort to build a more humane future’

Humane. Human. Human rights. Make it new. Break with the past. Shape man’s destiny upon new foundations of knowledge, explore new possibilities, and perhaps shape men themselves.

Why, there’s a whole philosophy under there. Not a religion necessarily, and not always moral claims to knowledge, but a whole framework nonetheless.

Well, some of it, anyways.

A previous head of the Social Security Administration was also a pretty good poet.

See Also On This Site: Trying to stick something against his poems: Wednesday Poem: Wallace Stevens-Anecdote of The JarWednesday Poem: Wallace Stevens, The Snow ManFriday Poem: Wallace Stevens And A Quote By David Hume

They designed a city in the heart of Brazil that really doesn’t work for people: Brasilia: A Planned City

No thanks to living in planned communities upon someone else’s overall vision.: Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?Repost-Via Reason: ‘Salvador Allende’s Cybersocialist Command Center’From Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’… some people don’t want you to have the economic freedom to live in the suburbs: From Foreign Policy: ‘Urban Legends, Why Suburbs, Not Cities, Are The Answer’

A structure in the desert…not even a city Update On LACMA, Michael Heizer And The ‘Levitated Mass’-Modern Art And The Public;..where is modernism headed? Via Youtube: Justin, The Horse That Could Paint

Denis Dutton suggested art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth…the money and the fame) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

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”