‘The first time I visited New York, between 40 and 50 years ago, it was a place of ill repute, at least among foreigners. Rumor and report made the city sound like a low-intensity war zone, and you would find yourself regaled with advice on how to stay safe there, un-mugged and un-shot.’
‘Just under a half-century later, the level of civility in the two cities has switched: New York now feels safer than London.’
It was the really pretty girls, and the tall, ambitious guys, among my cohort, who made made their way to Manhattan.
Touring the city, I was shown a dream, gazing down from Midtown; a forest of skyscrapers on a clamorous loading-dock. I saw people easily dead within a week, and people trying to write their names in marble or maybe a concrete cornerstone.
We all have ambitions.
The recently deceased Clive James (England via Australia) visited New York in the 1980’s for his Postcards series. He seems very worried about getting mugged a second time.
Everybody knows you take a classy, beautiful lady on a classy movie date, down in Times Square:
I don’t know about all these Brits roaming around.
Here’s Sting singing his classic ‘British Guy In The Five Boroughs’
In fact, what people with a longer history can teach us about history is that people might forgive, but they rarely forget:
Ambitious Southern Gentleman makes his way to New York and gets hip to The Arts & Journalism, fact and fiction:
There is a gold light in certain old paintings That represents a diffusion of sunlight. It is like happiness, when we are happy. It comes from everywhere and from nowhere at once, this light, And the poor soldiers sprawled at the foot of the cross Share in its charity equally with the cross.
Orpheus hesitated beside the black river. With so much to look forward to he looked back. We think he sang then, but the song is lost. At least he had seen once more the beloved back. I say the song went this way: O prolong Now the sorrow if that is all there is to prolong.
The world is very dusty, uncle. Let us work. One day the sickness shall pass from the earth for good. The orchard will bloom; someone will play the guitar. Our work will be seen as strong and clean and good. And all that we suffered through having existed Shall be forgotten as though it had never existed.
All out of doors looked darkly in at him Through the thin frost, almost in separate stars, That gathers on the pane in empty rooms. What kept his eyes from giving back the gaze Was the lamp tilted near them in his hand. What kept him from remembering what it was That brought him to that creaking room was age. He stood with barrels round him — at a loss. And having scared the cellar under him In clomping there, he scared it once again In clomping off; — and scared the outer night, Which has its sounds, familiar, like the roar Of trees and crack of branches, common things, But nothing so like beating on a box. A light he was to no one but himself Where now he sat, concerned with he knew what, A quiet light, and then not even that. He consigned to the moon, such as she was, So late-arising, to the broken moon As better than the sun in any case For such a charge, his snow upon the roof, His icicles along the wall to keep; And slept. The log that shifted with a jolt Once in the stove, disturbed him and he shifted, And eased his heavy breathing, but still slept. One aged man — one man — can’t keep a house, A farm, a countryside, or if he can, It’s thus he does it of a winter night.
It’s possible that liberatory movements (sexual, moral, political) aren’t always what they appear at first glance.
The pursuit of truth can become lost in vaguely theological, ideologically driven witch-hunts like the one Bret Weinstein experienced at Evergreen State (racist/non-racist, oppressor/oppressed). Ideologues can be ridiculously incapable of dealing with human nature (their own, especially). The institutions harboring ideologues can become taken over from within.
The search for the good can become attached to abstract doctrines of (M)an or ideologies promising collective liberation over individual responsibility and Free Will. The search for the good can become full of moral scolds enforcing the new, emergent rules they might not even follow themselves.
The pursuit of beauty can become constrained by the both of the above: Narrow ideological thinking and/or the familiar modern cycles of utopia/dystopia, idealism/materialism and postmodernism’s relentless focus on the (S)elf.
Roger Scruton tried to tackle a rag-bag of postmodern thinkers:
It’s also possible that many people supporting (R)eason, scientific inquiry, and who value free thought are a little naive when it comes to making one’s primary value change over conservation.
There are dangers:
The Weinsteins discuss how reasonable people committed to progressive social and political causes, both biologists, got driven out of a public university dedicated to similar progressive social and political causes.
I may not be politically Left, nor sympathetic to many progressive causes, but I support the attempt at truth and understanding
One notes it’s not progressive nor even ‘mainstream’ publications offering a platform for the Weinsteins to speak-out, partially due to what I consider the Brockman effect (sugar caves):
Wouldn’t a ‘canoe meeting’ qualify as ‘cultural appropriation?’:
‘And then came the canoe. First, senior administrators were called by name, invited to walk down to the stage, and to step into a large and imaginary canoe. Then, everyone in the room was invited to come aboard, en masse. Finally, everyone walked in a line, as if in a canoe, out of the building together, on a fantastical voyage toward campus equity. An Indian drum beat and the recorded sound of crashing surf were in the background.’
Who needs the arts, science, social science when you’ve got righteous certainty, ideology, and grievance on your side?
I’m not sure the intellectual provenance of such ideas, nor even if they form any kind of coherent doctrine, but they strike me as a melange of Christian principles, liberal idealism and radical activist causes.
I still don’t see the greatest threats to political liberty coming from the political right at the moment:
“7. What is meant by enthusiasm. This I take to be properly enthusiasm, which, though founded neither on reason nor divine revelation, but rising from the conceits of a warmed or overweening brain, works yet, where it once gets footing, more powerfully on the persuasions and actions of men than either of those two, or both together: men being most forwardly obedient to the impulses they receive from themselves; and the whole man is sure to act more vigorously where the whole man is carried by a natural motion. For strong conceit, like a new principle, carries all easily with it, when got above common sense, and freed from all restraint of reason and check of reflection, it is heightened into a divine authority, in concurrence with our own temper and inclination.”
‘Oakeshott connected his perceptive account of tacit knowledge with a larger conception of modally distinct worlds of discourse, and, in this way, his account differed from Ryle’s. However, both thinkers contributed to the re-emergence of a kind of traditionalist and pluralist epistemology which rejects the reductionism of scientism and acknowledges the multitudinous ways in which human beings know things. For both writers, authentic knowledge always involves a capacity which cannot be reduced to articulable explicit propositions. Knowledge depends upon being capable of using it in some way.’
‘Modes, then, are provisionally coherent and distinguishable kinds or categories of understanding and inquiry. In Experience and Its Modes, Oakeshott aims to identify the presuppositions in terms of which a mode can be made coherent and distinguished from other modes. In philosophy, categorial distinctions are distinctions of kind rather than degree and what are called categories are often thought of as the most fundamental classes to which things can belong. But philosophers differ on whether the identified kinds are natural or real (ontological) or conceptual (epistemological). The former are categories of being (Aristotle), the latter categories of understanding (Kant). Philosophers also disagree about whether a categorial scheme must be exhaustive and fixed or, alternatively, can be open and mutable. The modes that Oakeshott identifies in Experience and Its Modes—history, science, and practice, to which he later added “poetry” (art)—are epistemological categories, not ontological ones. And although the modes are mutually exclusive, they do not form a closed set. They are constructions that have emerged over time in human experience. They could change or even disappear and other modes might yet appear.’
‘The idea of a hierarchy of modes is not particular to Idealism. Where there are different understandings, it can occur to someone interested in reconciling them to imagine that they represent different levels of understanding. In contrast to unifying philosophies, including philosophical Idealism, Oakeshott’s position is pluralist and anti-hierarchical. In this respect he has more in common with Wilhelm Dilthey, who struggled with the issue of relativity in metaphysics and how to distinguish the human from the natural sciences, than with the British Idealists—Bradley, Bosanquet, and McTaggart among others—with whom he is often associated (Boucher 2012). For Oakeshott, all knowledge is tentative and conditional. Theorizing is “an engagement of arrivals and departures” in which “the notion of an unconditional or definitive understanding may hover in the background, but … has no part in the adventure” (OHC 2–3). In attempting to construct a coherent view of the world the philosopher “puts out to sea” (OHC 40) and is perpetually en voyage: there are no “final solutions” in philosophy any more than in practical affairs.’
I’m guessing Oakeshott would NOT have taken the case of monarchy up, nor the divine right of kings via Robert Filmer. Nor, likely, would he have taken up Thomas Hobbes’s case for the Leviathan based on a synthesis of the burgeoning practice of the natural sciences of the time. This isn’t an empiricist account of the world either (all knowledge arises in experience, sensation is separated from its object).
An Oakeshotian might see technical manuals everywhere, and few practitioners. He might see a lot of category errors, especially amongst those who mistake their own brilliance, method and scope as being enough to design political systems, laws and rules for the rest of us. Especially when such folks have little to no experience of those political systems, laws and rules.
‘The “hidden spring” of rationalism, as Oakeshott explains, is a belief in technical knowledge–which, by its very nature, is “susceptible of precise formulation”–as the sufficient or even the sole form of knowledge. This goes with a ‘preoccupation with certainty’ and an obsession with method, of the sort that can be expounded in a book; what it excludes is the kind of practical knowledge that is acquired only through prolonged contact with an experienced practitioner (RP, 11-17). Here one is reminded of Hobbes’s frequent insistence that true “science,” which yields certain knowledge, is different from “prudence,” which merely extracts probabilities from experience. Hobbes believed that geometry was the prototype of a true science, and that his own civil science was modeled on it;…’
And now for someting mildly different:
During my humanities education, I developed an increasing suspicion of the postmodern rejection of tradition, rules, laws, rituals and beliefs, at least with regard to reading, writing and thinking. In engaging with some dull, and other absolutely mesmerizing, works of the creative imagination, I realized many of my own rituals and beliefs were being challenged. There are many experiences, and views, and ways to understand both myself and the world.
This is a good reason to get a good education!
It also slowly dawned on me that the lack of pedagogy, endless deconstructionist academic discussions, canon-less syllabi and increasing identitarian drift (is this person a professor because he/she’s the best poet/teacher or because he/she’s black/female or some mix of both?) were taking up valuable time.
I aimed to be open-minded, but not so much as to notice my brains falling out.
Honestly, I didn’t come across too many radicals and wasn’t particularly radical myself, though I went deep enough to see how people can become animated by some cause or injustice, often deep within their own lives (a bad childhood, homosexuality, social isolation, legal injustice, rejected prodigal talent etc).
It’s tough to say what conspires to make great artists and observers of life and their own experiences; but maybe it’s a little less tough to understand how some people forego the difficulty of creation in favor of political activism, religious certainty and belief, ideological certainty and second-rate moral scolding.
Oh, there are reasons.
Maybe I was just aging out or wasn’t so creative myself, anyways.
For many Westerners, perhaps there is no longer a God revealing Himself to Man, but there are expanding fields of knowledge and human endeavors able to light the way forwards onto a future of hope and progress; backwards onto human origins.
In the popular media (such as in the publications displaying the photo above), perhaps this knowledge can align with current popular sentiment and belief. An imprimatur, of sorts.
Such thinking can also coincide with a rather Romantic Idealization of Nature; a vision of Man without dominion over Nature, necessarily, but rather men, women, children and an ever growing list of humans (and animals, even) living both frustratingly apart, but also interconnected within Nature, following Nature’s lead alone and with each other.
Most people, I suspect, often without such specialized knowledge (not specifically trained in the sciences), require a lot of moral oughts and shoulds regarding how to live and what to do.
Furthermore, people tend to organize into groups united by shared principles and beliefs, and so often, in the modern world, beneath political ideals and political ideologies. Even if these political ideals and ideologies aren’t explict moral philosophies, necessarily, they can certainly end-up engaging the moral sentiments, basic human desires and motivations of the people within them.
Such movements are certainly understood by many of their members as posessing truth and knowledge enough to write the laws and rules we all must follow, prescribing our own personal moral behavior enough to align us with the people who ought to be in charge of us.
Perhaps the poet or Romantic genius can help guide Man (into the Self and the Self into Nature). The poet/thinker’s example can be full of grief, anguish and Nature’s brutality, indeed, but it can also offer moments of self-actualization, beauty, consolation and transcendence. It can be taught as part of a civilizing hierarchy or canon, a reef of traditions and structure enough to develop seriously good artists and produce quite a few educated citizens.
I suspect there’s always been a tension between the poet/artist and the Man of Science and Mathematics; people generally more concerned in seeking the underlying order and patterns within Nature, discovering the probabilistic and mathematical laws able to accurately describe and predict the strange world in which we seem to find ourselves. Such laws can be beautiful, and symmetrical, and true just for their own sake, sure, but like a good poem, a mathematical law remains curiously silent about how to live and what to do.
Addition: Perhaps, I might add, but perhaps not. Perhaps it’s worth thinking about just which dangers accompany such lights, and which problems endure.
How does the West interact with the non-West, and vice versa. What common assumptions do Westerners often assume and project onto other civilizations? The late Roger Sandall, here:
‘The claim that “open societies” are now increasingly threatened would probably meet with little argument. But what is the nature of the threat, and what are its roots? Here less agreement might be found. Some would say an essentially religious clash of civilizations is the main cause, and point to the growing struggle between Islam and the West.
Others might point to Russia under President Putin, finding evidence of a long-standing political tradition that owes relatively little to the Russian Orthodox Church, but has always found liberty odious.
And then there’s a third and troubling possibility — that from an evolutionary perspective, taking a long view of our historic and prehistoric origins, open societies where voluntaristic principles prevail are new forms of human association only recently arrived from the distant tribal past, and in the more violent trouble spots around the world they never arrived at all.’
The late Ken Minogue:
On the many dangers of political idealism, and using political theory as the limits of your field of vision:
‘We may sum this up by saying that the more the style of what used to be called politics becomes theorized, the more political problems come to be reintrepreted as managerial. Working out the least oppressive laws under which different and sometimes conflicting groups may live peaceably together is being replaced by manipulation and management of the attitudes different groups take towards each other, with the hope that this will ultimately bring harmony. In other words, in the new form of society, human beings are becoming the matter which is to be shaped according to the latest moral idea.’
-Minogue, Kenneth. Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. (Pg 111).
“‘…a morally concerned style of intellectual atheism openly avowed by only a small minority of individuals (for example, those who are members of the British Humanist Association) but tacitly accepted by a wide spectrum of educated people in all parts of the Western world.”
Roger Sandall, Australian critic of romantic primitivism and the Western’s Left’s penchant for the Noble Savage: His home page where his essays can be found. Here’s “The Rise Of The Anthropologues“ and…
Robert Hughes, Australian and often fierce critic of modernism and post-modernism.
‘It is not that the average person is not concerned about the environment. Everyone weighs the balance of economic gain against a respect for nature. It is only the truly affluent, however, who can be concerned about the environment to the exclusion of everything else.‘
On this analysis, It’s the people who’ve benefitted most from industrial activity that are using their wealth and leisure to promote an ideology that is ultimately harmful to industrial activity, and the people who live by it. Tucker has been following how such ideas actually translate into public policy and political organization for a while. Tucker also invokes Thorstein Veblen, and highlights how environmentalism can make for strange political bedfellows:
‘But the Keystone Pipeline has brought all this into focus. As Joel Kotkin writes in Forbes, Keystone is the dividing line of the “two Americas,” the knowledge-based elites of the East and West Coasts in their media, non-profit and academic homelands (where Obama learned his environmentalism) and the blue-collar workers of the Great In- Between laboring in agriculture, mining, manufacturing, power production and the exigencies of material life.’
Aside from the political and sociological analysis, I would offer that there are many to whom environmentalism serves as a kind of religion (or at least a political and organizational entity offering purpose and membership, as a religion has a pretty particular definition).
On this view, man has fallen away from Nature, and built civilized society atop it through harmful, unsustainable means. He must atone, and get back in harmony with Nature, as he has alienated himself from his once graceful state (tribal? romantically primitive? collectively just? equal and fair? healthy? “spiritually aware?” morally good?). This obviously gives meaning to people’s lives, a purpose, belonging and group identity as well as a political and secularly moral political platform. A majority of these folks are almost always anti-industrial, and it’s worthy of note how environmentalism has grown in our schools, marketplace, and in the public mind.
It’s often tough to tell where the sciences end (and they are often invoked to declare knowledge that is certain, or near-certain, and worthy of action) and where a certain political philosophy (usually more communal, politically Left, Statist…regulatory, centrally planned economically) begins.
What say you?
Nuclear makes a lot of sense, but so does recognizing all the rather lost souls looking for some purpose in their lives, and making activism their purpose.
“Only when humans are again permitted to build authentic urbanism — those cities, towns, and villages that nurture us by their comforts and delights — will we cease the despoiling of Nature by escaping to sprawl.”
How to separate reasonable environmentalism from the totalitarian impulses, the Malthusians and various other people who “know” how many people is enough? Now that environmentalism is a primary focus in our schools, it’s probably worth thinking about.
If you visit my Twitter feed, you’ll quickly realize the genius of Peace Pavilion West, a global peace raft overseen by a strong authority. Join us, fellow human (this is very serious business):
Who shall hear our cries? Gaia, Gaia. Who shall heal her wounds? We shall. We shall. Who shall clean our air? The Western Wind. -Community Morning Prayer from The Human Pagoda. Namaste, NPR.
Rorty’s embrace of a kind of moral relativism within the tradition of American pragmatism is viewed with a critical eye.
It ain’t ‘revolutionary praxis’ on the way to post-Enlightenment utopia and failed theories of history, but it’s got serious problems.
‘Justifying something to your peers is not the same thing as getting it right. It is a political achievement to make sure that wherever it matters, in science, history, law, politics, or ethics, the people to whom you need to justify yourself have their gaze pointed in the right direction, and so will only accept something when it is likely to be true. Like any political achievement, it needs careful protection. This explains why the words went onto the school gate in the first place.
Sometimes Rorty seems to recognize this, though it seems to clash with his ambition to demolish. At any rate, he remains fond of saying that if we look after freedom, truth will look after itself. In a free world, he seems to think, only the people with the library tickets and the microscopes eventually get into the coffee house. This might sound like Mill’s belief in the invincibility of truth_but Mill is much more the kind of stalwart who wrote the words on the school gate in the first place. Without those words it seems romantically optimistic to expect the achievement to sustain itself. Rorty has this optimism. He has a soft spot for Deweyan visions of the psalm of the people, as muscular workers stride shoulder-to-shoulder down limitless vistas into ever more glorious sunrises, which they greet with ever more creative vocabularies.
Lost in this Whitmanesque glow, it is easy to forget that there is no reason whatever to believe that by itself freedom makes for truth, any more than there is to suppose that labour makes one free. Freedom includes the freedom to blur history and fiction, or the freedom to spiral into a climate of myth, carelessness, incompetence, or active corruption. It includes the freedom to sentimentalize the past, or to demonize the others, or to bury the bodies and manipulate the record. It is not only totalitarian societies that find truth slipping away from them: the emotionalists of contemporary populism, or the moguls of the media and the entertainment industries, can make it happen just as effectively. That is why Plato felt that he had to forge the vocabulary of reason and truth in opposition to democratic politics; and it is why it remains vandalism to rub the words off the school gates. Orwell thought this, and anybody worried about such things as the ideology of those who own the press, or the Disneyfication of history, should think it, too.’
Some other quotations on the same topic as found on this site:
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’
“So read Rorty, Popper and Berlin. Read L.T. Hobhouse if you want and pretend to have read T.H.Green if you must. But above all read the Mill of On Liberty. Then you will see how wrongheaded it is to plead his name in aid of attempts to curb our liberty. Mill’s is the most powerful voice ever raised in support of the expansion of liberty.”
“…and if there could be such a thing as socialism combined with individual liberty, I would be a socialist still. For nothing could be better than living a modest, simple, and free life in an egalitarian society. It took some time before I recognized this as no more than a beautiful dream; that freedom is more important that equality; that the attempt to realize equality endangers freedom; and that, if freedom is lost, there will not even be equality among the unfree.”
Or just take a look at the historical record, or the current regimes in Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, the post-Soviet kleptocracy…
After taking the photo tour, I remain convinced that ‘The Gobbler’ exists in its own realm of awesome badness. Such a shag-covered, abandoned love-child of the late 60′s and early 70′s is challenging just what I thought I knew about American culture.
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’
In working towards a theme, check out Buzludzha, the abandoned communist monument in Bulgaria’s Balkan mountains, which still draws up to 50,000 Bulgarian Socialists for a yearly pilgrimage. Human Planet’s Timothy Allen visited the structure in the snow and took some haunting photos. You will think you’ve stepped into a Bond film and one of Blofeld’s modernist lairs, but with somewhat Eastern Orthodox tile frescos of Lenin and Marx gazing out at you, abandoned to time, the elements and to nature.