As I see things: When institutions are decayed, and stewardship involves addressing systemic problems with short-term incentives, and where technology pushes towards relentless ‘now’ bubbles and ‘moral crusades,’ you can end-up with a mess.
I remember watching the split in the conservative movement between the rising, populist Trump (border issues, economic growth, personal attacks and hucksterism) vs the Republican crowd (pro-Bush, pro-D.C., sometimes never Trump). If you think a small government is better precisely because it helps avoid such issues, you may feel like an individual lost in the wood, or a member of yet another competing faction jostling in a sweaty pit.
It’s mostly gotten worse.
I’m still bracing for a potential surge from the populist Left, against establishment politics. Obama often played the activism cards subtly (rule of law and sometimes anti rule of law with a lot of energy on controlling his image and placating different factions from a minority position). Joe Biden has been in D.C. for a few generations and is perilously old and grubby. We clearly have an institutional structure which likely reached its highest growth with peak Boomer influence (early to mid 70’s). It seems to have been calcifying ever since.
With general movements away from religion towards secularism, away from the family towards (S)elf, and away from Natural Rights/Law towards postmodernism and moral relativism, this wouldn’t be surprising. I figure we’re on currents heading towards a more hierarchical, ‘class-based’, slow-growth politics and economics, in the academy and media especially. The New Left (60’s surge), the New, New Left (identity movements), the dirtbag Left (glamorously nihilist), and the newer pro-speech Left (Weinsteins, Greenwald, Taibbi) are not particularly pro-Boomer.
I’m missing a lot, here, folks, but doing my best with current resources. Thanks, as always, for reading.
The Prospect has a good article here on Parmenides (no longer free). Stanford’s page here.
“By these arguments, Parmenides arrives at his picture of the world as a single, undifferentiated, unchanging unity. Needless to say, scholars have disagreed over exactly what he meant. They have questioned whether he meant that the universe was one thing, or only that it was undifferentiated.”
“According to Hume, the idea of a persisting, self-identical object, distinct from our impressions of it, and the idea of a duration of time, the mere passage of time without change, are mutually supporting “fictions”. Each rests upon a “mistake”, the commingling of “qualities of the imagination” or “impressions of reflection” with “external” impressions (perceptions), and, strictly speaking, we are conceptually and epistemically entitled to neither.“
“Unlike Hume, however, he (Kant) undertakes to establish the legitimacy or objective validity of the schematized category of substance and, correspondingly, of the representation of time as a formal unity with duration as one of its modes.“
Much is politicized into moral crusades: Many in The West have taken up Ukraine as a flag-waving cause (against the oppressor…so very brave), while some others have become vaguely pro-oppressor (are you really for Putin’s conception of Russia as chief mafia boss, oligarch and ex KGB ethno-nationalist?)
It’s a brutal campaign. The Russian military is likely trying to consolidate gains in the East, and they wiped out a city there, where bodies rot on the street. The Georgian/Belorussian playbook has faltered, and been altered. The Ukrainians are in an existential crisis, and fighting to win (though negotiation might still be a possibility).
The European response has been solid, and the border countries are handling this wave of humanity pretty well (the cause is pretty just and the war unnervingly close). Most of the refugees are women and children (nearly all Ukrainian men have been mobilized to win), and about one-quarter of Ukraine’s population of forty million have been displaced.
When people tell you their opponents are evil, that the world is a Messianic battleground, and that speech is violence in the quest for power, you’ve been warned.
You’ve been warned repeatedly. Much of the academy and the media have fallen into this particular trap of secular idealism, undercut by radical activism, captured by purity spirals and endless demands to destroy what has come before (gratitude and humility, Dear Reader).
You can’t count on such ‘leaders’ to not slip into soft and hard forms of authority against their enemies and for their moral lights in the wake of such ideas.
Elon Musk, so far, has said he will try and open up shop on Twitter, and stand for speech. If he maintains this much more tried and true method of maintaining freedom, I’m all for it. Claiming to stand for the most marginalized through sentimental idealism, or cynical radicalism, or ideological purity, is a recipe for further chaos, and further politicizes the new communication channels.
As you may have noticed, we have enough politicization of the personal and bad incentives on Twitter. Let’s figure out what this platform does best, utilize it, and maximize the best of it with clear rules.
‘These endless deconstructive debates might not have done our art much good, but it was sure setting us up to take part in the approved modes of the establishment art world. They think if they pile enough words together, they can justify anything. However, they are profoundly wrong. Real art is self evident, and does not need to be propped up with a bunch of meaningless art speak.’
What I noticed in literature: Most of the old-guard had higher standards and more rigorous methods. They wanted closer readings and had clearer expectations. I suspect most thought they actually possessed both knowledge and wisdom and, frankly, they were there to impart both their knowledge and wisdom to us, the students.
‘What happened between them and me?’, I would find myself wondering.
As for the canon, there was the vague notion that it had been, no, still is, being dismantled. Some deeper epistemic questions tended to hang in the air, put to students straightaway (how does anyone know anything, man? What does a Self do against Nothingness and the Void? how should I be a Creative Self?).
***As for my own self-indulgent, amateur photos. Thanks for looking. I do it because that’s what keeps me interested. Most require words; associated with a lot of own experiences and attempts at getting better (you don’t really get better unless you’re your own worst critic).
I won’t really get you noticed, and I won’t likely bring you fame nor readership. But I really do thank you for stopping by.
I agree that students, when facing a syllabus, shouldn’t also have to face the great books mediated, nor their young minds circumscribed, by overt political ideologies.
‘In other words, the UCLA faculty was now officially indifferent to whether an English major had ever read a word of Chaucer, Milton or Shakespeare, but the department was determined to expose students, according to the course catalog, to “alternative rubrics of gender, sexuality, race, and class.”
Upon hearing “gender, sexuality, race, and class,” I confess my head hangs down a bit and a sigh escapes my lips. Such a lack of imagination does great disservice to works of such powerful imagination.
Then again, I remember my last trip to Southern California (zing).
Of course, there still needs to be an intellectual framework and curriculum for the humanities.
“The works of Shakespeare contain important knowledge. But it is not scientific knowledge, nor could it ever be built into a theory. It is knowledge of the human heart”
“…in the days when the humanities involved knowledge of classical languages and an acquaintance with German scholarship, there was no doubt that they required real mental discipline, even if their point could reasonably be doubted. But once subjects like English were admitted to a central place in the curriculum, the question of their validity became urgent. And then, in the wake of English came the pseudo-humanities—women’s studies, gay studies and the like—which were based on the assumption that, if English is a discipline, so too are they.”
“And since there is no cogent justification for women’s studies that does not dwell upon the subject’s ideological purpose, the entire curriculum in the humanities began to be seen in ideological terms.”
Terry Eagleton, British Marxist and professor in the humanities, debates Scruton below.
Will Marxism & continental philosophy become further guiding lights for the humanities here in America as we find much more so in Britain?
Are we really that thick into the postmodern weeds?:
Judgment, as Scruton points out, shouldn’t necessarily be subsumed to political ideology. I would agree, and I generally default in assuming that each one of us is the ultimate arbiter of our own judgment.
But, no man is an island.
Does Scruton’s thinking eventually lead us back to the problems that religion can have with artists and writers?
Is there anybody whom you trust to decide what you should and shouldn’t read?
Parents? Great authors? Public intellectuals? Professors? God? Laws and lawmakers? Religious leaders? A school-board? A democratic majority? People who think like you? A Council of Cultural Marxists?
I suppose we’ll see what the French body politic decides to prioritize in conserving and changing:
‘Emmanuel Macron is running for his second term of five years. He is a political centrist. Five years ago, he won easily in a runoff against the far right Marine Le Pen. Until recently, it was assumed that Macron in this election would repeat that easy victory over Le Pen.‘
‘Funny word, “tribe”. Karl Popper used it a lot but you don’t hear it much today.
‘As Popper told the historical story, in the 5th and 6th centuries BC the tribal world of the old-time Greeks was breaking down. Everywhere there was change and decay—or change that looked like decay. And it is the anxiety and distress felt by men and women in this situation that leads them to try and freeze all change and return to the tribal past. He thought Plato’s thinking exemplified this.‘
‘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.’
I’ve heard Scruton’s rather sober vision of the good society referred to as ‘Scrutopia’ by dissenters:
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.’