Thursday Poem-W.H. Auden

Musee des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

W.H. Auden

The Fall Of Icarus

Monday Poem-George Santayana

Cape Cod

The low sandy beach and the thin scrub pine,
The wide reach of bay and the long sky line,—
O, I am sick for home!

The salt, salt smell of the thick sea air,
And the smooth round stones that the ebbtides wear,—
When will the good ship come?

The wretched stumps all charred and burned,
And the deep soft rut where the cartwheel turned,—
Why is the world so old?

The lapping wave, and the broad gray sky
Where the cawing crows and the slow gulls fly,
Where are the dead untold?

The thin, slant willows by the flooded bog,
The huge stranded hulk and the floating log,
Sorrow with life began!

And among the dark pines, and along the flat shore,
O the wind, and the wind, for evermore!
What will become of man?

George Santayana

Repost-Wednesday Quotation: P.G. Wodehouse

You can’t be a successful dictator and design women’s underwear. One or the other. Not both.

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If you have an hour or so, and you want to read one of the funnier short stories ever written, I recommend Uncle Fred Flits By, by Wodehouse.

I could not find it for free, but you can check out the first few pages at the above link.

Also, this piece discusses some of Wodehouse’s darker characters. There’s a polished musicality and a keen ear that leads to superb comic timing and great depth. It’s farcical and moves along nicely, but also a provides a look at a whole society and generation through the goings-on of a lovable fop.

You don’t have to be Anglo, nor an Anglophile, to appreciate such writing I don’t think.

What a ghastly Youtube still:

***I got nuttin’ these days but reposts. This blog doesn’t pay!

Repost-Roger Sandall’s Blog: What Are Right And Left Anyways?

Here’s Roger Sandall’s blog (smart arguments against Romanticism, among other good ideas).  I’ll snag two quotes:

His own description of his essays:

They attack modern decadence, defend science, and laugh at academic follies. Sometimes controversial but never party political, they might praise the Pope in one place and Al Gore in another.”

and…

“His [Sandall’s] guiding philosophy is suggested by the saying that life is a comedy for those who think, and a tragedy for those who feel.”

Reading his blog reminded me of the differences between John Stuart Mill and Thomas Carlyle as expressed in this New Yorker article.

What struck me most is that Mill applies highly rational thinking to liberal principles.  This seems strange in light of our current two-party split, where liberalism is too readily associated with “feeling.”  It’s odd to think that of the two men, Carlyle (who grew more conservative) is the more choleric, intuitive, and less rational in many ways, and Mill the more tempered, logical and rational.

I could be persuaded that investigation into liberal, rational principles wouldn’t hurt right now, and of course, I’m not the first nor last to think such thoughts.

See AlsoChristopher Hitchens’ long arc from committed Trotskyite to anti-religious atheist…but maybe what I’m noticing here is that habit and one’s relation to the passions (artististic or otherwise) die hard.  I was glad that the Independent noticed it too.

Addition:  Review of a new Mill biography here.

My belated condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of Roger Sandall, who passed away on August 11th, 2012.  He was an Australian thinker and critic of cultural relativism, romantic-primitivism and the Noble Savage.  He was a keen observer of the ways in which certain strains of Western thought interact with the non-Western, and often, tribal worlds.

A Clive James Quote On Joseph Conrad

Clive James revisits many quite original, quite accomplished works.

This one’s stuck with me over the last few months:

‘They are, in fact, idealists: and idealism is a cast of mind that Conrad questions even more than he questions radicalism. The logical end of radicalism, in his view, is terrorism; but idealism is the mental aberration that allows terrorism to be brought about. Conrad’s originality was to see that a new tyranny could be generated by people who thought that their rebellion against the old tyranny was rational. Thus his writings seem prescient about what was to happen in the Soviet Union. He didn’t predict the Nazi tyranny because he had underestimated the power of the irrational to organise itself into a state. But then, nobody predicted that except its perpetrators; and anyway, mere prediction was not his business. His business was the psychological analysis made possible by an acute historical awareness. Under Western Eyes is valuable not because it came true but because it rang true even at the time, only now we can better hear the deep, sad note.’

Repost-Roger Scruton At The New Atlantis: ‘Scientism In The Arts & Humanities’

Full piece here

Scruton:

‘It is true that the theory of the meme does not deny the role of culture, nor does it undermine the nineteenth-century view that culture properly understood is as much an activity of the rational mind as is science. But the concept of the meme belongs with other subversive concepts — Marx’s “ideology,” Freud’s unconscious, Foucault’s “discourse” — in being aimed at discrediting common prejudice. It seeks to expose illusions and to explain away our dreams. But the meme is itself a dream, a piece of ideology, accepted not for its truth but for the illusory power that it confers on the one who conjures with it. It has produced some striking arguments, not least those given by Daniel Dennett in Breaking the Spell, in which he explains away religion as a particularly successful but dangerous meme.’

Those concepts according to Scruton, are not science, but rather scientism.

And he focuses back-in on judgment, or the capacity for judgment attached to ‘I,’ and an ‘I’ which looks towards transcendence:

‘Surely human beings can do better than this — by the pursuit of genuine scientific explanation on the one hand, and by the study of high culture on the other. A culture does not comprise works of art only, nor is it directed solely to aesthetic interests. It is the sphere of intrinsically interesting artifacts, linked by the faculty of judgment to our aspirations and ideals. We appreciate works of art, arguments, works of history and literature, manners, dress, jokes, and forms of behavior. And all these things are shaped through judgment. But what kind of judgment, and to what does that judgment lead?

Interesting quote by Scruton in a debate about Islam, at min 6:35 of video 4/4:

‘Universal values only make sense in a very specific context…the attempt to universalize them, or project or impose them…just leads to their appropriation by sinister forces.”

Worth a read.

-Steven Pinker, Harvard experimental psychologist and cognitive scientist wrote a piece in the New Republic, entitled: ‘Science Is Not Your Enemy

-Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of the New Republic since the 60′s, responded at The New Republic: ‘No, Science Doesn’t Have All The Answers.

-Ross Douthat, conservative Catholic columnist at the Times jumped in the fray: ‘The Scientism Of Steve Pinker’

-Jerry Coyne, evolutionary biologist, responded to Douthat.

-Wieseltier jumped back in with: ‘Crimes Against Humanities: Now science wants to invade the humanities. Don’t let it happen.

-Now Daniel Dennett, philosopher, cognitive scientist, one of the New Atheists and Boston-based secularist responds to Wieseltier:

‘Pomposity can be amusing, but pomposity sitting like an oversized hat on top of fear is hilarious. Wieseltier is afraid that the humanities are being overrun by thinkers from outside, who dare to tackle their precious problems—or “problematics” to use the, um, technical term favored by many in the humanities. He is right to be afraid. It is true that there is a crowd of often overconfident scientists impatiently addressing the big questions with scant appreciation of the subtleties unearthed by philosophers and others in the humanities, but the way to deal constructively with this awkward influx is to join forces and educate them, not declare them out of bounds.’

So, how do you teach the arts and tilt the culture? Camille Paglia has some ideas, including the idea that George Lucas has taken root in more 20th-century minds than anyone else with his space opera:

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Related On This Site: Repost-Adam Kirsch At The New Republic: ‘Art Over Biology’…From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’

Evolutionary psychology and moral thinking: Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’From The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy: Charles Sanders Peirce

Larry Arnhart At Darwinian Conservatism Reviews E.O. Wilson’s ‘The Social Conquest Of Earth’Heather McDonald At The WSJ: ‘ The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity’

From Nigel Warburton’s Site: A Definition of Humanism?…A Debate: Would We Better Off Without Religion?…Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?From YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism

Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’

Larry Arnhart at Darwinian Conservatism:  ‘Roger Scruton, 1944-2020: The Romantic Conservatism of Atheistic Religiosity:’

As is often true of the traditionalist conservative thinkers today, his thought was shaped by the Kantian Romantic tradition of the Nineteenth Century that saw a religious attitude as essential for a healthy moral order, so that traditional religious experience needed to be defended against a Darwinian science that claims to explain the place of human beings in the natural world without any reference to a transcendent realm beyond nature. And yet–again like many traditionalist conservatives–Scruton did not believe in the literal truth of Christianity or any other religion.’

Kelley Ross at Friesian.com, discussing ‘Scruton’s treatment of Wittgenstein:’

‘At the same time, there is the irony and paradox of this treatment that Scruton is “considered to be one of the world’s leading conservative philosophers” — which is what it says on the cover of his own book. Now I see Scruton called “Our greatest living conservative thinker,” by Daniel Hannan (an “author, journalist, and politician”), and “One of the most eminent philosophers in the world,” by Robert P. George (a Princeton University professor of jurisprudence). But “conservative” thinkers are not generally happy with the cognitive and moral relativism, if not nihilism, that follows from anything like Wittgenstein’s thought, and even from, as we shall see, Scruton’s own analysis of Wittgenstein’s thought. This is particularly surprising given the devastating critique in Scruton’s Fools, Frauds and Firebrands, Thinkers of the New Left [Bloomsbury, 2015], which exposes the irrational “nonsense machine” of “post-modernism” and “Critical Theory” Marxism. But even in that book, and in the passage I have just quoted, there is a clue to what is going on and to what kind of “conservative” Scruton may be. And that is, in the former, his benign and complacent attritude towards Hegel, and, in the latter, the impression he gives that the “ambition” of Kant and Hegel is comparable or even equivalent.’

Repost: Some People Have Had Grand Plans For The Future-Technocratic Utopianism Runs Deep

Michael Lewis at The New Criterion: ‘The Architect Of The Reich:’

‘Albert Speer (1905–1981) was born in Mannheim, Germany, the son and grandson of architects. Pushed by his father to study architecture, he studied first in Karlsruhe, then Munich, but he only became serious after he transferred to Berlin. There he applied to study with Hans Poelzig, the brilliant expressionist architect of Weimar Germany, who rejected Speer as an inferior draftsman. Disappointed, he turned to the man who was Poelzig’s polar opposite, Heinrich Tessenow, a reform-minded architect with a love of simple, clear volumes and neoclassical clarity—the ultimate basis of Nazi architecture. Speer, who all his life knew how to ingratiate himself, sufficiently impressed Tessenow to become his teaching assistant.’

From the looks of it, there’s some serious neo-classicism going on; deep Greco-Roman influence. The thing likely would have been built if it weren’t for WWII:

So, what about neo-classicism mixed with ‘technocratic utopianism,’ or the rather suspicious desire to centrally plan, control, and organize everyone’s lives on the way the Glorious Future?:

Robert Hughes saw echoes of this technocratic modern utopianism in Albany, New York. It really may not be that far from Mussolini to the bland bureaucratic corporatism found elsewhere in the West:

‘…classicism with a pastry-cutter,’

And as for the fascists having:

…a jackboot in either camp, one in the myth of ancient Rome, one in the vision of a technocratic future.

Some photos of Albany here (from Althouse). It doesn’t exactly blend-in with the neighborhood.

Should you disagree, you are worse than Hitler:

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As previously posted:

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

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

From an article in Der Spiegel on the Bauhaus, where modernism got its start:

‘The real feat achieved by Gropius and his cohorts was to have recognized and exposed the sociopolitical and moral power of architecture and design. They wanted to exert “effective influence” on “general conditions,” fashion a more just world and turn all of this into a “vital concern of the entire people.”‘

I’m always a little skeptical of such grand visions. Utopianism runs deep.

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What if there was a Wisconsin motor court/supper club with global ambitions? What if you fused a local motel with the U.N. internationalist style, you ask?

Click here to experience ‘The Gobbler.

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.

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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’

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

Check out the ‘Socialist Cybernetics‘ of Salvador Allende.

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.

Dogs, Snakes & Alas, Words

In the moment: There’s mention of Roger Scruton and some other interesting thoughts: ‘The ways of dog to Mann.’

Having had many dogs, I’m pretty sure I could infer what they were thinking a lot of the time (where are we going now? can I eat that? I’m gonna eat that), but I’m pretty sure I’ll never know what it’s like to be a dog.

Speaking of which, what’s it’s like to imagine oneself a snake and write about that? What have you done with your I/Eye, dear Reader?

From Paul Bowles Allal, found within this collection of short stories.

‘Moments passed with no movement but then the snake suddenly made a move towards Allal. It then began to slither across Allal’s body and then rested next to his head. He was very calm at this moment and looked right into the snake’s eyes and felt almost one with the snake. Soon his eyes closed and he fell asleep in this position.’

Long experience, but none yet yours?

 XXIV

A narrow fellow in the grass
Occasionally rides;
You may have met him, — did you not,
His notice sudden is.

The grass divides as with a comb,
A spotted shaft is seen;
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on.

He likes a boggy acre,
A floor too cool for corn.
Yet when a child, and barefoot,
I more than once, at morn,

Have passed, I thought, a whip-lash
Unbraiding in the sun, —
When, stooping to secure it,
It wrinkled, and was gone.

Several of nature’s people
I know, and they know me;
I feel for them a transport
Of cordiality;

But never met this fellow,
Attended or alone,
Without a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone

Emily Dickinson

It’s not so much the social science knowledge claims which worry, though there are epistemological problems of accuracy and reproducibility.  More often, it’s the hopes and moral sentiments which can follow into institutional rules, group-think, policy, and law.

Many people are quite reasonable, but some people need to be right because they can’t be anything else (watch out for this part of yourself).  Deeper problems within the latest published paper can be mere loose-ends, whereas getting funding to meet payroll and printing-out motivational mantras for the next meeting are what really matters.  Or worse yet, making the personal political and punishing political enemies.

Still, it’s interesting to get some data from longitudinal studies.  Tyler Cowen links to this book.

Cowen:

The traits of being “undercontrolled” or “inhibited,” as a toddler are the traits most likely to persist up through age eighteen. The undercontrolled tend to end up as danger-seeking or impulsive. Those same individuals were most likely to have gambling disorders at age 32. Girls with an undercontrolled temperament, however, ran into much less later danger than did the boys, including for gambling.’

Just thought I’d Throw This In There:

An interesting take from Slate Star Codex-‘The APA Meeting: A Photo-Essay:’

There’s a popular narrative that drug companies have stolen the soul of psychiatry. That they’ve reduced everything to chemical imbalances. The people who talk about this usually go on to argue that the true causes of mental illness are capitalism and racism. Have doctors forgotten that the real solution isn’t a pill, but structural change that challenges the systems of exploitation and domination that create suffering in the first place?

No. Nobody has forgotten that. Because the third thing you notice at the American Psychiatric Association meeting is that everyone is very, very woke.

This reminds me of a poem by Robert Pinsky, entitled ‘Essay On Psychiatrists’

V. Physical Comparison With Professors And Others

Pink and a bit soft-bodied, with a somewhat jazzy
Middle-class bathing suit and sandy sideburns, to me
He looked from the back like one more professor.

And from the front, too—the boyish, unformed carriage
Which foreigners always note in American men, combined
As in a professor with that liberal, quizzical,

Articulate gaze so unlike the more focused, more
Tolerant expression worn by a man of action (surgeon,
Salesman, athlete). On closer inspection was there,

Perhaps, a self-satisfied benign air, a too studied
Gentleness toward the child whose hand he held loosely?
Absurd to speculate; but then—the woman saw something

Maintaining a healthy skepticism:

Previous ‘elite’ links on this site, arriving at some yet predictable, unrealized truths:  Via Marginal Revolution via American Affairs: ‘The Western Elite From A Chinese Perspective:’

Kenneth Anderson At Volokh: ‘The Fragmenting of the New Class Elites, Or, Downward Mobility

Two Kinds Of Elite Cities in America?

There are people with careers writing about elites, becoming somewhat elite themselves, which haven’t fared too well

Wednesday Poem By Wallace Stevens And A Quote By Hume

Not Ideas About The Thing But The Thing Itself

At the earliest ending of winter,
In March, a scrawny cry from outside
Seemed like a sound in his mind.

He knew that he heard it,
A bird’s cry, at daylight or before,
In the early March wind.

The sun was rising at six,
No longer a battered panache above snow…
It would have been outside.

It was not from the vast ventriloquism
Of sleep’s faded papier-mache…
The sun was coming from the outside.

That scrawny cry–It was
A chorister whose c preceded the choir.
It was part of the colossal sun,

Surrounded by its choral rings,
Still far away. It was like
A new knowledge of reality.

Wallace Stevens

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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

You Can’t Step In The Same River Twice, I Suppose

If you view the modern project as sailing the gulf between Nature (wonderful spring days, happy babies, Pompei, The Plague), and human nature (love, mercy, humility, hatred, cruelty, egoism), then a certain depressive realism seems reasonable.

Part of my journey has involved being interested in the arts, making my way to Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, Leo Strauss and Plato early on.  After giving the arts a go, I made an attempt to broaden my scope, trying to better understand a particular set of problems.

While attending Penn State, I sat-in on a lecture by Jacques Derrida.  He discussed his work on the work of Romanian Jewish poet Paul Celan.  Listening to the arch-deconstructionist spending an hour discussing Ashglory was interesting, if a bit baffling.  There was a lot of brilliance, gibberish, insight, ambition, and hubris in that room.  Looking back, if I’m honest, I suppose some of it was mine.

I didn’t take notes and kept wondering why so many did.

In bearing witness to the modern quest of wringing every last drop of meaning from the Self (Self-Help books, confessionals, gurus), I get worried.  When I look around and see so much energy spent ‘deconstructing’ comedy, cartoons, pop-culture and political ideals, I worry deeper trends are playing out (see the confessional postmodern poets of the 1950’s).

It’s not so much (R)eason, but the attempts to define Man’s (R)ational Ends within political doctrines I worry about. The less people have in their lives about which to feel purpose, the more many will look to political movements.

I worry that trying to synthesize the arts and sciences in popular fashion will not halt the turn towards postmodern anti-reason and irrational modern mysticism.

It’s not so much neuroscience and psychology as expanding fields of knowledge which worry, but the oft smug certainty of many institutionalized folks justifying personal and political interests in the wake of such thinking. It’s all too easy to mistake the edges of one’s thinking for the edges of the world.

It may be meritocrats all the way down.

It’s not so much progress which bothers me, but progressivism writ large (and so many other ‘-Isms’) uniting in-groups against out-group enemies insisting change ought to be the default position.

Where your thoughts are, your actions and hopes tend to follow