‘Across all cultures, raising a child is considered one of the most rewarding things a person can do. Yet a chorus of campaigners, scientists, and journalists suggest that everyone should think twice before procreating.’
As I see things, many in the West are replacing belief in a deeper substrate of religious doctrines with belief in a substrate of secular humanist ideals and various flavors of political idealism.
Pursuing one’s professional, political and moral ends is to be expected, of course, according to one’s beliefs and guiding principles.
Mainstreaming secular humanist ideals, however, also has professional, political and moral consequences for everyone. The latest moral idea also has its true-believers, purists, and ecstatics.
Within environmental circles, the logic can lead to no humans at all!
Man will not simply return to his once free, Romantically Primitive state in Nature (no cars, no industry, no pollution…innocence).
There will be no Man!
Mind you, this isn’t even the more placid, flaccid, Shaker dead-end which did leave some behind some good music.
You tossed a blanket from the bed
You lay upon your back, and waited;
You dozed, and watched the night revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;
They flickered against the ceiling.
And when all the world came back
And the light crept up between the shutters
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,
You had such a vision of the street
As the street hardly understands;
Sitting along the bed’s edge, where
You curled the papers from your hair,
Or clasped the yellow soles of feet
In the palms of both soiled hands.
Has there been a better poet writing in English in the past 150 years? Probably not.
The depth of commitment to his metaphysical vision and the breadth of that vision is remarkable. Look at the rhyme and meter! Sinful.
‘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.
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’
‘…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)
***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.
‘Now, the Loomers are in their senescence. Amis has been promising a novel about Saul Bellow, Philip Larkin and Christopher Hitchens, which has created the buzz of a dead housefly. Ian McEwan has produced a series of clever books which have produced diminishing returns. Rushdie’s last novel barely made a dent in the public consciousness. Unpopularity need not reflect quality. Amis might create a masterpiece for all we know. Yet how did a group of writers who were so famous end up with such indifference?’
I picture a belly up, inadvertently praying carapace on the windowsill.
‘Snow did not fully appreciate that humanism was more than a collection of facts. It is, above all, a way of understanding what was valuable about human flourishing. Great literature necessarily has a moral purpose that science lacks. As such, humanism critiques aspects of the world that technology creates, reminding us that the next new thing is not necessarily the next good thing. Snow was wrong in implying that true humanists must join scientists in singing a harmonious anthem of social progress.’
‘When I was a young untenured professor of philosophy, I once received a visit from a colleague from the Comparative Literature Department, an eminent and fashionable literary theorist, who wanted some help from me. I was flattered to be asked, and did my best to oblige, but the drift of his questions about various philosophical topics was strangely perplexing to me. For quite a while we were getting nowhere, until finally he managed to make clear to me what he had come for. He wanted “an epistemology,” he said. An epistemology. Every self-respecting literary theorist had to sport an epistemology that season, it seems, and without one he felt naked, so he had come to me for an epistemology to wear–it was the very next fashion, he was sure, and he wanted the dernier cri in epistemologies. It didn’t matter to him that it be sound, or defensible, or (as one might as well say) true; it just had to be new and different and stylish. Accessorize, my good fellow, or be overlooked at the party’
Worth a read.
The arts and humantities can be given a seriousness of purpose, I’m guessing, but must that purpose necessarily be scientific?
Do creative musical/artistic geniuses really need to understand particularly well how the sciences advance? How much does it matter that a theater major understands how the sciences come to say true things about the world and predict with high accuracy how nature behaves beyond a science course or two?
I could be wrong.
Clearly, one problem is that out of the postmodern malaise comes the nihilism, moral relativism and general desperation where many can be found clinging to the sciences, or some standard of rationalism and reason that doesn’t seem sufficient in answering all the questions religion claims to answer. Nor does it seem sufficient as a platform to understand human nature, history, tradition, the wisdom in our institutions, and the experience past generations can offer beyond its own presumptions.
Lots of people can thus make ideology their guide and political change their purpose, or the State their religion and their own moral failings or moral programs everyone’s moral oughts through the law and politics.
‘Staffed by writer-professors preoccupied with their own work or their failure to produce any; freed from pedagogical urgency by the tenuousness of the link between fiction writing and employment; and populated by ever younger, often immediately postcollegiate students, MFA programs today serve less as hotbeds of fierce stylistic inculcation, or finishing schools for almost-ready writers (in the way of, say, Iowa in the ’70s), and more as an ingenious partial solution to an eminent American problem: how to extend our already protracted adolescence past 22 and toward 30, in order to cope with an oversupplied labor market.’
There are of course still storytellers, geniuses honing their craft that will hold up a mirror and lens for humanity within their creative imaginations. Maybe they can be found at MFA programs, but I’m guessing they’re more likely doing other things: getting crippled on a naval campaign, spending their days in an attic, learning to navigate the Mississippi by steamboat, or acting and writing for a theater troupe.
Addition: And as a reader points out: learning how to communicate during the current technological revolution.
How much good are all these museums, foundations, and institutions actually doing for the arts and humanities?
Recently, a visitor from beyond our solar sytem passed pretty closely to Earth.
With the observed and limited data, Oumuamua was clearly anomalous. It likely had a 10/1 length to width ratio and was reflecting a lot of light, data which suggests a wobbling oblong or something nearly pancake-shaped (perhaps containing iron or other metals because it’s more reflective of the red, longer wavelengths on the visible light spectrum and it’s got to be of durable enough material to be so thin while surviving the roughness of interstellar space).
Our solar system is a fairly flat disk which is moving in relation to other star systems, all of which are traveling very quickly relative to Oumuamua, which was relatively stationary to these other systems when it came in at an angle to ours; speeding up again on its way out (perhaps not due to outgassing).
Dr. Avi Loeb has been working on lightsails, or thinking about how a civilization might travel and explore space and/or create something like a message in a bottle. Below, he is interviewed on Event Horizon.
His not-ruled-out hypothesis will probably attract some UFO and alien public interest, but it seems, in my limited understanding, that as an anomaly, this is a discussion with a first-rate astronomer performing an interesting exercise in taking past experience, current knowledge and conventional explanations to their limits in trying to creatively identify something new.
It’s a big universe out there after all, and we’re just starting to get some better tools with which to view and understand it:
Some of you may know that I previously worked as Communications Director for Peace Pavilion West (Putting The Namaste In Your Day) before I was unceremoniously ‘life’-banished’ from The Human Pagoda (none of the previous sentence may be true).
Nevertheless, I like to keep up with past communiques.
‘Worship with me at the feet of Our Lady Of The Global Village. Cry with me in the Hall of Environmental Sorrows. Shiver with me as we lock arms in protest, becoming fully human.’ -Dale Lonagan, 1949, founder of Peace Pavilion West.
Learn more about the early life of Dale Lonagan, and his vision for a global community of ecologically-aware, empathetic humans serving the good of (M)ankind. Data showed that regular readers of The New Yorker and NPR, and increasingly the Atlantic, were particularly open to the message(s) of Community, Empathy, and Global Awareness under strong, central authority.
Unify against anything traditional, existing, local, quotidian, and oppressive. Embrace the world to come.
Dale Lonagan was born in a translator's booth at the U.N., first learning an Esperanto/Bureaucratese admixture. Now he is spiritual leader to thousands.. Come get a free brain-scan and a tote. Politics/Ethics/Beauty done right.
‘Hoffer said: “The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause.”
People who are fulfilled in their own lives and careers are not the ones attracted to mass movements: “A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding,” Hoffer said. “When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business.”
What Hoffer was describing was the political busybody, the zealot for a cause — the “true believer,” who filled the ranks of ideological movements that created the totalitarian tyrannies of the 20th century.’
The piece contains liberal pushback (the search for a center?) against what’s argued to be Kagan’s proselytizing neo-conservatism:
‘That is precisely what today’s moment cries out for: Kennan’s humility rather than a new crusade against a new Evil Empire. It cries out for a skeptical liberalism that sees the world as it is rather than going looking for new monsters to destroy.’
Our ideological troubles spring, I have argued before, from liberalism’s lack of perceived legitimacy. Authoritarianism emerges as a symptom either where the liberal approach to organizing society has failed to take root, or where an established liberalism is seen to be overreaching unopposed. We ought to be on the lookout for these failures of liberalism—for “the appeals to core elements of human nature that liberalism does not always satisfy,”
There’s lots of stuff in the piece for regular readers of this blog (Mention of Edmund Burke, Isaiah Berlin etc.).
The author finishes with the area of most shared agreement [between himself] and Kagan (a view of ‘teleological’ progressivism as dangerously narrow and very authoritarian itself; delegitimizing and destabilizing Western liberalism from within).
It’s going to be harder to deal with the rest of the world when these core elements of debate rage within Western hearts, minds and institutions:
‘The Jungle Grows Back is an important book insofar as it contains all the debates outlined above within it. And Kagan opens the space for these ideas to breathe a little by rightly dismissing teleological progressivism in his book’s opening pages—a great service that makes reading the book a richer experience than it otherwise might have been. But a more moderate, and therefore much wiser, conclusion is passed over by an author whose commitment to his priors prevents him from seeing what a gem he might have had on his hands. It’s too bad.’
Kagan discusses the book here with what I’d describe as an evolutionary psychologist/soft-ish Marxist: