I Certainly Hadn’t Noticed This Attitude-Theodore Dalrymple On Ken Minogue & ‘The Liberal Mind’

See ‘The Liberal Mind‘ here.

Theodore Dalrymple at Law & Liberty:

‘In his autobiography, John Stuart Mill relates the mental crisis that he experienced as a young man when he asked himself whether he would be happy if all the reforms that he thought necessary were granted or achieved. Would they necessarily fulfill him?

and:

In the absence of religious belief, one way of finding such a meaning in life is to attach yourself to a cause, the gaining of which is sufficiently distant to occupy you for years, and yet not totally impossible either. This imparts to you the pleasing glow of righteous transcendence, of doing good and feeling good at the same time.

and:

One of the problems of the liberal mind is that it does not know where to stop. It is always searching for new problems to solve, not because the problems are so great or so important, but because without them it is deprived of its sense of purpose. 

Ken Minogue from the preface to ‘The Liberal Mind

Liberals engage the right mood by contemplating the experiences of those they take to be oppressed, in what I have called “suffering situations.” You might think this an admirable altruism amid the selfish indifference of the mass of mankind, and there is no doubt that it has often been sincere and that it could at times mitigate some real evils. But the crucial word here is “abstract.” The emotions are elicited by an image, as in the craft of advertising. The people who cultivate these feelings are usually not those who actually devote their time and energies to helping the needy around them, but rather a class of person—liberal journalists, politicians, social workers, academics, charity bureaucrats, administrators, etc.—who focus on the global picture.’

Pg xi

I would add that while I have my doubts about the religious true-believer and salvationist, I have particular doubts about the Neo-Romantic Environmentalist, the secular, progressive do-gooder, and the high liberal globalist shuttling between academy and government.

Satire beckons.

‘Contemporary liberalism does not depreciate emotion in the abstract, and in the abstract it sets great store by variousness and possibility. Yet, as is true of any other human entity, the conscious and the unconscious life of liberalism are not always in accord. So far as liberalism is active and positive, so far, that is, as it moves toward organization, it tends to select the emotions and qualities that are most susceptible of organization. As it carries out its active and positive ends it unconsciously limits its view of the world to what it can deal with, and it unconsciously tends to develop theories and principles, particularly in relation to the nature of the human mind, that justify its limitation.’

Trilling, Lionel.  The Liberal Imagination: Essays On Literature And Society.  The Viking Press:  New York, 1950. (preface xiii).

It’s easy to believe that because you know one thing pretty well, or a few things reasonably well, that what you know is known by all, and that this knowledge is universal.  What if what you can know is bound up with your experiences, and is acutely limited?

A 20th century address of such problems:

But my object is not to refute Rationalism: its errors are interesting only in so far as they reveal its character.  We are considering not merely the truth of a doctrine, but the significance of an intellectual fashion in the history of post-Renaissance Europe. And the questions we must try to answer are: What is the generation of this belief in the sovereignty of technique? When springs this supreme confidence in human ‘reason’ thus interpreted? What is the provenance, the context of this intellectual character?  And in what circumstances and with what effect did it come to invade European politics?’

Oakeshott, Michael. Rationalism In Politics“. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Liberty Fund, 1991. Print. (Pg 17).

Repost-From Jaltcoh: ‘Do Addicts Have Self-Control?’

Full post here.

Addiction is a disease?  Our author reviews a few reviews and discusses the following fallacy:

1. A certain behavioral/mental problem — call it “X” — is associated with brain activity in ways that can be observed and predicted.

2. Therefore, the solution to “X” must take the form of psychiatric/medical assistance; the solution cannot be individual free choice. (Indeed, even invoking that concept may be detrimental.)

There are other potential consequences:

‘…Satel also says that the people who came up with the idea that addiction is a disease and is incompatible with self-control were motivated by political and financial concerns (and probably emotional impulses)’

Worth pointing out.

A Potential YouTube Covidocracy & Re-Constituting The Humanities-Two Links & A Few Thoughts

This is coming from a pretty honorable, pretty reasonable guy on the pro-speech, pro-Science Left.

My guesses: Youtube management develops its algorithms with a lion’s share of user data, outsourcing much judgment to AI models and a complex automation process.

Youtube management probably feels pressure, as a company, to direct user attention towards paying clients (existing news outlets and networks just as many such media companies are being hollowed-out by….Youtube). The conflicts of interest in health, the sciences and politics don’t necessarily mean all the truth and getting at the truth.

Many human biases are pushing towards the broad, humanistic goals of equality and ‘democracy’. Ever more freedom, led by Enlightened, benevolent Western sorts.

Freedom is next! Health and Safety first!

For my part, with COVID-19 about, I’m seeing an inconsistent application of rules, bureaucratic authoritarianism, and some clear political corruption and conflicts of interest.

Following the threads of radical liberation doesn’t necessarily weave a strong cloth. In fact, many such threads lead to further institutional decay and ideological capture. The assumption of equality across race, sex, and ability doesn’t necessarily map the terrain.

Many of the wrong people and wrong types of people are ending up in wrong places.

Human nature runs deep. It certainly ain’t all good. Maintaining legitimate authority, our Constitutional constraints, and the consent of the governed ain’t easy.

Addition: I’ve gotten some pushback on: ‘The assumption of equality across race, sex, and ability doesn’t necessarily map the terrain.’

What I mean: I believe basic equality in dealing with another person is a moral obligation, but not one which begins and ends with the laws of men. Civil Rights logic is a major step towards civil recognition and freedom for those oppressed, but is also a massive expansion of State authority which oppressed. Some claiming Civil Rights leadership have devolved into racketeers. Many ideologues reaffirm daily the wish to destroy that which exists. Something like a new belief system, and civic religion, is being formed, likely of necessity. Some minds haven’t (and maybe can’t) necessarily have been persuaded, only coerced.

This is asking a lot of our laws and institutions. Perhaps too much.

Comparing men and women across all domains (personal, biological), while encouraging the many divides between the sexes be remedied by the guiding light of humanistic ideals, and increasingly dense law, does not necessarily mean good law. In fact, it might not accurately map many personal experiences, deepest hopes, nor biological imperatives. Among those charged with highest responsibility in maintaining laws and institutional authority, there is a foundational belief that change comes first. How might such a belief work in practice? Can many current rates of change be sustained?

Individuals aren’t equal in ability, often not even while compared across different days…with themselves. Incentives matter.

These are reasons for deep pessimism, of course. I hope to be proven wrong, or certainly, incomplete, in my thinking.

On that note, re-constituting a good humanities education, speaking to deepest needs, might be a good place to start.

This probably means kicking out many entrenched ideologues, mid-level managers and gravy-trainers, or just letting some folks rot on the vine.

I won’t pretend to have the knowledge in deciding who’s who and how much.

Start anew? Where?

Repost-Catholic Thinking Applied To Modern Political Orders-Edward Feser & Some Links & Sunday Thoughts: It’s Getting Tougher To Defend Quiet Paths

Having a little extra time some Sundays ago, I’d taken Edward Feser’s thinking from his post The Socialist State as an Occasionalist God and added a few links to dictionary definitions of the terms to help myself understand his reasoning (perhaps I’ll be accused of ‘Jesus-smuggling’).

As a layman predisposed to philosophical skepticism, I’m sympathetic to the idea of well, examining ideas with skepticism. I wouldn’t call myself a believer, really. I tend to see myself as walking around the edges of secular humanism, liberal idealism and American pragmatism. Additionally, I’m trying to put the current American political landscape into some context, as well as the unfolding logic found within much Romantic, Modern, & Postmodern schools of thought.

I prefer conservation and slow change as regards many current legal and social battles (closer to Constitutionalism), but am a pretty live-and-let-live guy.

Here’s Feser logic as best as I’ve understood it in about an hour or so (I’m bound to get some things wrong).

Feser borrows from this paper:

The linked parts are what I’ve filled in, coming directly from dictionary definitions, and the rest comes from Feser’s post. I basically just swapped out ‘God’ for ‘The State’ to extend Feser’s analogy in the bottom portion:

Pantheism: Pantheism is the belief that reality is identical with divinity, or that all-things compose an all-encompassing, transcendent god. Pantheist belief does not recognize a distinct personal God.

Occasionalism: God alone has causal efficacy, and the apparent causal power of created things is illusory.

Concurrentism: God not only conserves things in existence, but also must concur or cooperate with their activity if they are to have any efficacy.

Conservationism: Created things not only have causal power, but exercise it completely independently of God.

Atheism: Atheism is, in the broadest sense, an absence of belief in the existence of deities. Less broadly, atheism is a rejection of the belief that any deities exist. In an even narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities.

Now Feser applies these concepts to certain political orders (more or less, swapping out ((God(s))) for ((The State)) or ((God)) for ((Modern Concepts of Political Order)), to extend his analogy.

Totalitarian Socialism: The belief that reality is identical with Statism, or that all-things compose an all-encompassing, transcendent State. Totalitarian socialist belief would not recognize a distinct personal State.

Occasionalism (Socialism): The State alone has causal efficacy, and the apparent causal power of created things is illusory.

Concurrentism (Natural Law): The State not only conserves things in existence, but also must concur or cooperate with (individuals’, things’?) activity if it is to have any efficacy.

Conservationism (Libertarianism): Created things (individuals?) not only have causal power, but exercise it completely independently of The State.

Anarcho-Capitalism: Anarcho-capitalism is, in the broadest sense, an absence of belief in the existence of States. Less broadly, anarcho-capitalism is a rejection of the belief that any States exist. In an even narrower sense, anarcho-capitalism is specifically the position that there are no States.

Let me know what I may have gotten wrong, or what you think Feser may be getting wrong.

Please be advised that what follows is a rat’s maze of gathered links and thoughts. Enter at your own risk.

I’ve always loved this Ralph Waldo Emerson quote (or my idea of the quote, anyways):

‘I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.

This morning I had the thought that the minimalist/deflationist response might be:

‘About what?’

Simon Blackburn, discusses getting at the truth:

From a previous video:

‘Along comes someone like Pilate, Pontius Pilate, and says something like: ‘What is truth?’ and everybody goes sort of dizzy, and you look to the philosopher to provide a suitably abstract and highfalutin answer. The minimalist says you shouldn’t answer Pilate, or rather, if you answer Pilate, you answer should take the form of a question…which is “What are you interested in?’

So basically, you throw the question ‘What is truth?’ back until the person who’s interlocuting you… gives you an example and says ‘Well, I’m interested in whether penguins fly’ and you say ‘Okay well the truth there…the truth would consist in penguins flying…’

…that’s very disappointing:’

Blackburn on Richard Rorty here.

From Kelley Ross, who takes a step back from moral relativism and good ‘ol American Pragmatism:

‘It is characteristic of all forms of relativism that they wish to preserve for themselves the very principles that they seek to deny to others. Thus, relativism basically presents itself as a true doctrine, which means that it will logically exclude its opposites (absolutism or objectivism), but what it actually says is that no doctrines can logically exclude their opposites. It wants for itself the very thing (objectivity) that it denies exists. Logically this is called “self-referential inconsistency,” which means that you are inconsistent when it comes to considering what you are actually doing yourself. More familiarly, that is called wanting to “have your cake and eat it too.” Someone who advocates relativism, then, may just have a problem recognizing how their doctrine applies to themselves’

And on Richard Rorty:

‘Pragmatism is really just a kind of relativism; and, as with Protagoras’s own strategy, it is a smoke screen for the questions that ultimately must be asked about what it means that something is “better,” or now that something “works.” Something “works,” indeed, if it gets us what we want — or what Richard Rorty wants. But why should we want that? Again, the smoke screen puts off the fatal moment when we have to consider what is true about what is actually good, desirable, worthy, beneficial, etc. All these responses are diversions that attempt to obscure and prevent the examination of the assumptions that stand behind the views of people like Rorty. It is easier to believe what you believe if it is never even called into question, and that is just as true of academic philosophers like Rorty as it is for anybody else. Being intelligent or well educated does not mean that you are necessarily more aware of yourself, what you do, or the implications of what you believe. That is why the Delphic Precept, “Know Thyself” (Gnôthi seautón) is just as important now as ever.’

This Wendell Berry quote, from on “tolerance and multiculturalism,” from his essay “The Joy of Sales Resistance”, has stayed with me:

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.’

Please do keep in mind Wendell Berry is NOT going to buy a computer.

Hmmm….he’s a little out there, but Alexander Stoddart’s a classicist, working in a medium with less immediacy but long pedigree:

Related On This Site:

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

Repost-Ah, Look At All The Lonely People-‘Jeff Koons Is Back’ Via Vanity Fair

-Banksy’s website here. Newsweek’s piece: ‘See You Banksy, Hello Invader.

Via C-SPAN-The Historical Context Of Allan Bloom

Thanks to a reader.

Quite a varied discussion on Bloom’s surprise 1987 bestseller: ‘The Closing Of The American Mind

Does rock/popular music corrupt the souls of youth in preventing them from evening-out the passions; from pursuing higher things that a quality humanities education can offer?

Might such a lack allow political ideology to offer young people something to do, something to be, and something of which to be a part?

A questioning of premises, with varied disagreement, including that from an Emersonian.

Heather McDonald At The WSJ: ‘ The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity’

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

Repost-From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Nietzsche–Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?’

-Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

Various Products Of Radical Reason And Reactions To Them- John Gray At The New Statesman

Repost-Postmodern Conservatism, Celebrity As Currency, Protest Art, Politics And Some Bad Prose

Dear Reader, lately I’ve been lurking in the shadows, strolling from streetlight to streetlight, leaning and loitering. I feel like the character you confront while skirting the edge of the park, dimly established, on your way home.

Well, no, not really. Life is often boring, full of work and loved ones, and what’s good.

True tales from my twenties, while on brief vacation: I remember lying on a hotel bed in Vienna, restless with the euphoria of travel, the sounds of a foreign city alive in my ears. I remember arising, standing at the window and staring at the moon and the mansard rooves across the street.

I had seen the same rooftops in the changing light of late afternoon and dusk; the clotheslines swaying and the water stains on the walls, my eyes darting from small detail to facade to vast, unfamiliar horizon.

Life is so strange!

Now, in the middle of the night, I was with unlit cigarette (one or two a day for a year as I was very, very, cool). I remember striking the lighter and my eyes catching a flash of light from across the street. From the mansard rooves.

I flashed the lighter again. One flash.

One flash in return came from the mansard rooves. Fourth floor. Dormer window.

I gave two flashes.

Two flashes came from the window.

I held my flame for about five seconds, about chest-level. I heard the sounds of a few cars down below.

I finally saw a light and the face of girl with dark hair, much younger, bigger nose, nice eyes, olive skin.

Was she alone? Was she a Muslim immigrant? Why is she awake? Is she too young? Am I a creep? Should I try morse code?

If I have drawn your interest, I will say I remember that after a few more flashes and some rather innocent, thrilling moments of communication across the darkness under a strange moon in a strange city, I eventually found my way back to bed and to sleep.

I hope she’s well, and now too has a happy life.

As I’ve been called a ‘postmodern conservative’ (not so sure about that…), here’s an interesting piece from Matt McManus at Quillette: ‘Understanding Postmodern Conservatism: A Response To Aaron Hanlon:

‘…I do not believe postmodern conservatism emerged in a historical or ideological vacuum. It is not just the product of contemporary postmodern culture, which provided the necessary but not sufficient conditions for postmodern conservatism’s emergence. Rather, certain strands of conservative thinking that—while not in themselves postmodern—have nevertheless recently mutated into postmodern form. The two most prominent of these are Burkean historicism and De Maistrean irrationalism.’

and:

‘Theorists of postmodern culture…argue that the emergence of postmodern skepticism indicates a broader cultural shift within developed societies. What Jameson calls ‘postmodern culture’ is characterized by growing social skepticism about the stability of truth claims in general, but particularly truth claims related to identity and values.’

Personally, I remain open to much skepticism and many critiques of many parts of the ‘modern’ project. I find myself interested in people providing reasons to support various traditions (music, art), religious faith (wouldn’t call myself a believer), patriotism (haven’t served, but necessary to the survival of our Republic) and rule of law (even more necessary to the survival of our Republic).

I think all of the above deserve a fair hearing.

On that note, Jesus Christ already...

Yes, there’s nudity, and it’s not nearly so unappealing as a lot of art-activist-nudity out there.

The shock for shock’s sake, childishness, and resemblance to political protest arguably demean without much reward. I doubt this ‘artist’ has reached the sensibilities of any pilgrims nor nuns (the foolish and childish, the mature and wise). In fact, this isn’t really art, nor even political protest nor does it reasonably address the various matters of deep disagreement for which people can end up killing each other.

Go learn how to sketch, draw and paint. Appeal to truth, pleasure, or beauty.

Or get paid for being naked and become an artist’s model.

‘In a statement to Hyperallergic, the artist has questioned Christianity’s exploitation of female figures like the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene, who are often portrayed on opposite sides of the stereotypical spectrum of female chasteness: virgin or whore.’

Admittedly, I don’t think the Virgin Mary above displays as shamelessly little talent as did ‘Mattress Girl,’ who after the hysteria and histrionics of lugging a mattress around Columbia campus, eventually did ‘classy’ pornography a disservice.

Thanks for the memories, Mattress Girl:

I do think that nowadays, art pieces can include whatever the artist desires, and in this performance art piece, it utilizes elements of protest, because that is what’s relevant to my life right now.’

Why should I, you, he, she it or they care?: ‘Mattress Girl’ got a ticket punched to the State of The Union by Kirsten Gillibrand, a U.S. Senator from the state of New York. It seems worth asking what the people making our laws believe and what they are saying they believe.

What do they do? How do they behave?

Liberation is next!

Previously on this site,

Interesting piece here.

What is modernism, exactly?

This blog is still trying to work towards a definition:

‘Like many scholars of modernism, I’m often asked two questions: What is modernism? And why is modernist studies, it seems, all the rage right now? I don’t have a good, succinct answer to either question — and I’ve no doubt frustrated plenty of friends because of that — but the reasons why I don’t are pretty telling.’

From the comments:

‘The most useful definition of modernist fiction I’ve encountered comes from Brian McHale’s Postmodernist Fiction. He says modernist fiction tends to “foreground epistemological questions” such as “How can I interpret the world I’m part of? What is there to be known?Who knows it? What are the limits of that knowledge?” In contrast, postmodernist fiction tends to “foreground ontological questions” such as “What is a world? What kinds of worlds are there and how are they constituted? What happens when…boundaries between worlds are violated?’

As previously posted:

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

Repost-‘Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?’

Land Art Links Along A With A Quite Modernist W.S. Merwin Poem

William Logan At The New Criterion: ‘Pound’s Metro’…Monday Poem: ‘A Pact’ By Ezra Pound

Of some note:

James Lileks responds to an Atlantic piece

‘There is no morality in art. There is morality in religion; there are philosophical objectives embedded in politics. The two are intertwined in a society and reflected in its art. When you sever art from its cultural moorings and make “newness” the overriding criterion by which the merits of a work are judged, then anything is possible. This results in crap. Not always’

James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Ezra Pound, the Bauhaus, the imagists, the futurists etc. Some of those influences have morphed into post-modernism or where such currents have flowed and keep flowing. Were they the best models, or has much been lost in translation?

Lileks’ take:

‘The primary urge of the revolutionary and the modernist and the adolescent: impatience.’

So, do we aim for maturity? Reverence? Good old Longfellow? Sonnets? Rhyming couplets delivered by higher powers to monks in haylofts?

Perhaps there is a growing body of intellectual and cultural pushback against the ‘-Isms’ (environmentalism, feminism, utopian political idealism) as these ideals and idealists continue their contact with current institutions, Nature and human nature.

It’s tough to get an education in the arts and humanities these days, moving through the postmodern landscape, without running into pockets of ‘-Isms.’

Results vary:

It’s not that the sciences, nor even the social sciences, don’t contain valid truth and knowledge claims.

This isn’t worrying so much as the cults of rationality and irrationality out and about; the reefs of radical discontent and group-thought hardening into new rules.

It’s not that change doesn’t need to happen, nor that what’s true remains even if we don’t want it to be so, rather, it’s the inability of many moderns to provide deep enough wisdom, truth and understanding so as not not slip into the same old problems with authority and hierarchy.

I think for some people, there’s an appealing critique of liberal rationalism contained within nihilism, but also something deeper which draws folks to seek out other ideas: An instinctive defense of the arts, myth, music, and tradition; the complexities of the human heart and mind, the long sweep of history, the wisdom contained within religious texts.

Defending tradition, even perhaps having been influenced by Nietzsche to some extent, has become heretical in parts of the academy and the media.

Merely pushing back against the influence of Foucault and Lacan in the academy, or perhaps questioning the motives of student radicals during Paris ’68, can be enough to torpedo an academic career:

Before modernism, there was the Romantic break of the individual artistic genius driving all this change forward on his own. Isaiah Berlin had some thoughts about this (as well as the horrendous totalitarianism which emerges when you start-out thinking the Ends Of Man are already known).

Thanks, reader. Probably worth revisiting:

Related On This Site:Appeasement Won’t Do-Via A Reader, ‘Michael Ignatieff Interview With Isaiah Berlin’

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”…

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

Anyways, let’s enjoy a poem:

Cousin Nancy

Miss Nancy Ellicott
Strode across the hills and broke them,
Rode across the hills and broke them—
The barren New England hills—
Riding to hounds
Over the cow-pasture.

Miss Nancy Ellicott smoked
And danced all the modern dances;
And her aunts were not quite sure how they felt about it,
But they knew that it was modern.

Upon the glazen shelves kept watch
Matthew and Waldo, guardians of the faith,
The army of unalterable law.

T.S. Eliot