‘I posted a long thread of passages from Plato’s Republic setting out his account of how a democratic society’s fixation on liberty and equality yields the tyrannical soul. You can read the thread here.’
Should you trust Twitter?: Twitter relies upon compressed messaging (the medium is the message) and reasonably sticky UI (user interface). This promotes a ‘bubbled’ user experience, presumably to capture mid- and lower- range users (reply to your favorite popular node NOW!). As a user, you can gain a lot of access to information you might want. Some people can’t afford not to pay attention.
Such an approach also incentivizes immediate and almost ridiculous misunderstanding in the replies. Deeper ideas aren’t explored particularly well nor is actual human communication and understanding established on Twitter (lots of empty calories). Popularity and knowledge/wisdom seem only tangentially correlated. Political divides deepen.
Add in the difficulty of policing a ridiculously large network (only AI can monitor channels in the aggregate along with incentivized snitching by many of the worst users). Include an inchoate rule set and unclear enforcement, lots of bots, and a pretty well-established Left activist bias, and you have a platform I wouldn’t mind seeing replaced with…
Thanks for reading thus far. You’re patient. And kind.
What I’ve learned about photography as a hobbyist:
-Light is fascinating, The more you observe, the more you learn. Your brain, eye and awareness all change. You begin to visualize more quickly and clearly, anticipating what’s to come in the future.
-People can be fascinating. The more you observe, the more you learn (it isn’t always what you think).
-Snapping photos, one tends to float about outside normal human interaction on the street, camera in tow (the mark of Cain). This can alienate you and it’s not always an honorable way to live. Try to not be an asshole.
-The best photographers have ridiculously good technical and compositional skills (everything in its place and a place for everything). The best photographs have a combination of great composition and great subject (content). A moment comes together, and is rendered in such a way as to seize your imagination.
With your iPhone I suppose you could chance upon a brilliant photograph, but your chances are very slim to none. Like all of us, you could increase your number of decent photographs, then good photographs, then a few excellent ones.
Masterful? Probably not. Technology is usually not going to be any more than you make it.
Via a reader: Saul Leiter’s photographs are well-composed, layered, with excellent use of color. They are like paintings. Abstract Expressionism was hot in the painting world, and it shows. He didn’t pursue too much attention, making some great images with the tools he chose, in search of beauty:
Here’s Sam Harris apparently following the TDS logic where it leads (towards a Left-authoritarian political populism, while using the truth/knowledge claims of the social sciences to justify going great guns against Trump).
Here are some speculative inferences on my part:
People become enmeshed in their medium, their practice, and within the complex feedback loop of maintaining a popular program and an audience. Such folks must become what they do, to some extent. Harris strikes me as more reasonably honest than most, but if you float on a current you’ve helped create long enough…some of your blind spots will surface as well.
Harris is quite iconoclastic and brave in speaking out against many shibboleths of the Left. He also still calls himself a man of the Left (not IDW per se, not ‘classically liberal’ etc.). Emotionally, it would be understandable to try and bridge this gap.
Harris argues that reason can scale (true in some respects), and that religious belief can twist men (true in some respects) into becoming more irrational than they would otherwise be. Personally, it’s not evident that New Atheism and ‘rationality’ scale into governing nor authoritative bodies without what’s obviously happening now: A devolution of the public square into less civility (to which Trump has contributed), potentially justified violence, and a new Statism forming out of radical Self-hood and liberation movements. It’s not clear you get rationality and Left populism without radicals (condoning violence), true-believing activists, well-meaning liberal idealists attacked from the Left, and the New Authority (stifling speech and using the laws to punish political enemies). This tells me the underlying map of human nature is wrong, and that many elements of reality are poorly calibrated.
On this site, see:
To the firm believer in this idea of ‘rationality,’ the spectacle of human behaviour (in himself and in others) departing from its norm may be expected to confirm his suspicion that ‘rational’ conduct of this sort is difficult, but not to shake his faith in its possibility and desirability. He will deplore the unregulated conduct which, because it is externally unregulated, he will think of as ‘irrational.’ But it will always be difficult for him to entertain the notion that what he identified as ‘rational’ conduct is in fact impossible, not because it is liable to be swamped by ‘insane and irrational springs of wickedness in most men,’ but because it involves a misrepresentation of the nature of human conduct.’
‘Among the other evidences of Rationalism in contemporary politics, may be counted the commonly admitted claim of the ‘scientist, as such (the chemist, the physicist, the economist or the psychologist) to be heard in politics; because, though the knowledge involved in a science is always more than technical knowledge, what it has to offer to politics is never more than a technique.’
Oakeshott, Michael. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991. Print.
Personally, I tend to think of a few nodes of change in a society from which new thinking and ideas emerge.
–Enlightenment Natural Philosophy becoming different branches of science and computing technology: Really smart and driven people contributing to scientific discovery and coming to fruition within these fields of study. There has been a lot of progress here, and the rate of change is affecting all of us every single day (just wait until the next war and the assistive automation that will be deployed).
–Philosophers and idea men in metaphysics: Synthesizers of ideas and sometimes creators of their own. This can also include popularizers of other men’s ideas and idea men leading others where they’d like them to go.
–The arts and artistic movements: A lot of new thinking and thought arises out of artistic innovation and loosely affiliated bands of artistic creators. A lot of what ‘cool’ is regarding popular culture happens here, as well as inspiring generations. Good art speaks to our souls.
All of this can make it harder to appreciate what’s so important to conserve.
Another video sent in from a reader:
A lot of people consider themselves as outside any tradition or practice, or institution, animating against such things. Such ideas and people following them are responsible for how and why the last few generations of humanities have been taught in our institutions, and the failure of many of those institutions.
But radical humanism, or renewed faith in humanism, must still ground itself in claims to knowledge and truth, in rationality, or in some thinking which can maintain civil society and mediate other competing claims according to its lights. Why and how should humanists manage the public square?
Paris has something that Scruton admires. It’s not just an aversion to central planning (and perhaps the political and social philosophies associated with it) that makes Paris special, but also a resistance to modernism, and even postmodernist architecture. Visitors will:
“…quickly see that Paris is miraculous in no small measure because modern architects have not been able to get their hands on it.”
Modernism may even have a lot to do with a certain aesthetic totalitarianism, a desire to grant the architect the ability to see all in his vision, and plan other peoples’ lives accordingly.
“…a later generation rebelled against the totalitarian mind-set of the modernists, rejecting socialist planning, and with it the collectivist approach to urban renewal. They associated the alienating architecture of the postwar period with the statist politics of socialism, and for goodreasons.”
In modernism’s place (souless airports, blank modern facades speaking only to themselves) Scruton suggests Leon Krier’s New Urbanism and a return to more Classical architecture. New England towns might not be a bad place to start, but also:
“The plan should conform to Krier’s “ten-minute rule,” meaning that it should be possible for any resident to walk within ten minutes to the places that are the real reason for his living among strangers.”
So what’s lacking in the humanities? Roger Scruton had some keen insights:
“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”
So forget the recent, and rather desperate, attempts to make the humanities into a science (however…it’s been done before with some success). Scruton suggests it’s been a long slide for the humanities to arrive where they’ve arrived:
“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 now that we’re left with somewhat balkanized and politicized departments of English, these departments have become a target of the political right, dragging many people into a nasty fight that eats up political capital:
“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.”
So how to restore the vision? Scruton advised to restore (and not eschew) judgment:
” Of course, Shakespeare invites judgment, as do all writers of fiction. But it is not political judgment that is relevant. We judge Shakespeare plays in terms of their expressiveness, truth to life, profundity, and beauty.”
This is deep insight and I think the better part of Scruton’s thinking in the article comes when he resisted his own political (anti multi-cultural, pro-conservative, pro-church of England conservatism) impulses. Here are the last few lines:
“It will require a confrontation with the culture of youth, and an insistence that the real purpose of universities is not to flatter the tastes of those who arrive there, but to present them with a rite of passage into something better.”
One could argue that this is necessary though how to arrive there is in doubt.
“The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the old man who will not laugh is a fool.”
On another note: Despite the importance of beauty, the refinement of our experiences through poems and prose, the difficult work of cultivating”taste” for ourselves as well providing a rite of passage for our youth: Aren’t we still attaching the humanities to something else?
We know the humanities will never be a science. Politics is always in conflict with the arts. Much philosophy is indifferent to the humanities at best. In fact, Plato was quite suspicious of their influence on the republic (good overview here).
In his youth, Auden planned to become a mining engineer, and he’s always terrific at depicting industrial landscapes — he gravitates to tram lines and slag heaps — but he can also survey rough terrain through the eyes of a secret agent: “Control of the passes was, he saw, the key” or “Watching with binoculars the movement of the grass for an ambush,/ The pistol cocked, the code-word committed to memory …”
Being set on the idea Of getting to Atlantis, You have discovered of course Only the Ship of Fools is Making the voyage this year, As gales of abnormal force Are predicted, and that you Must therefore be ready to Behave absurdly enough To pass for one of The Boys, At least appearing to love Hard liquor, horseplay and noise.
Should storms, as may well happen, Drive you to anchor a week In some old harbour-city Of Ionia, then speak With her witty scholars, men Who have proved there cannot be Such a place as Atlantis: Learn their logic, but notice How its subtlety betrays Their enormous simple grief; Thus they shall teach you the ways To doubt that you may believe.
If, later, you run aground Among the headlands of Thrace, Where with torches all night long A naked barbaric race Leaps frenziedly to the sound Of conch and dissonant gong: On that stony savage shore Strip off your clothes and dance, for Unless you are capable Of forgetting completely About Atlantis, you will Never finish your journey.
Again, should you come to gay Carthage or Corinth, take part In their endless gaiety; And if in some bar a tart, As she strokes your hair, should say “This is Atlantis, dearie,” Listen with attentiveness To her life-story: unless You become acquainted now With each refuge that tries to Counterfeit Atlantis, how Will you recognise the true?
Assuming you beach at last Near Atlantis, and begin That terrible trek inland Through squalid woods and frozen Thundras where all are soon lost; If, forsaken then, you stand, Dismissal everywhere, Stone and now, silence and air, O remember the great dead And honour the fate you are, Travelling and tormented, Dialectic and bizarre.
Stagger onward rejoicing; And even then if, perhaps Having actually got To the last col, you collapse With all Atlantis shining Below you yet you cannot Descend, you should still be proud Even to have been allowed Just to peep at Atlantis In a poetic vision: Give thanks and lie down in peace, Having seen your salvation.
All the little household gods Have started crying, but say Good-bye now, and put to sea. Farewell, my dear, farewell: may Hermes, master of the roads, And the four dwarf Kabiri, Protect and serve you always; And may the Ancient of Days Provide for all you must do His invisible guidance, Lifting up, dear, upon you The light of His countenance.
I suspect a lot of wisdom can be found throughout ‘Western Civ 101’ about the problems of the human heart, human nature and political power.
Apparently, though, such wisdom is being lost on a lot of people these days. I humbly submit such people should not merely think their ideas will become more justified, their hearts more pure, simply by organizing coalitions with the purpose of gaining political power.
‘There was a wonderful article by an editor at the magazine, Mary Norris, about commas. Wonderful, that is, until this passage, “That was during the Reagan Administration, when many of us suspected that Reagan had some form of dementia, but no one could do anything about it. The country was running on automatic.”
Such politicization can make for bad stewardship of the arts, certainly.
Perhaps New Yorker features are increasingly flogged to maintain readership in a competitive marketplace, or are being put to use for other purposes, like reaffirming political ideology and identities to signal the right beliefs and in-group/out-group loyalties. Many of the liberal pieties can be found on display at the New Yorker.
Unsolicited advice for The New Yorker: Build a wall around your political stable, don’t bet too much on current trends and politicians, and keep other spaces free for the genuinely ‘avant-garde,’ the strange and beautiful, and biting satire when it shows-up.
For further context:
Here’s one senior New Yorker editor, Hendrik Hertzberg, discussing years ago how to abolish the Electoral College, arrive at a National Vote (to better serve the People, of course) and enact ‘democratic change.’
This strikes me as in-line with much Left and Left-liberal majoritarian populism. activism and softly (ultimately hard) radical change.
He has knowledge, of course, regarding what the People (will, should?) want, and why eroding such checks will lead towards more victims enfranchised voters and the ‘good’ society.
Perhaps some of the publishing decisions at the New Yorker make a little more sense…
As previously posted-A breath of fresh air from George Packer at the New Yorker: ‘Mute Button:‘
‘The problem with free speech is that it’s hard, and self-censorship is the path of least resistance. But, once you learn to keep yourself from voicing unwelcome thoughts, you forget how to think them—how to think freely at all—and ideas perish at conception. Washiqur Rahman and Avijit Roy had more to fear than most of us, but they lived and died as free men.’
Maybe this kind of moral courage will make a comeback…
As for free speech and public sentiment, perhaps we’ll see where a new speech beachhead lies as the tide recedes from the powerful pull of an activist moon.
‘Brownstone is a word used both to refer to a type of building material and structures built or sheathed in it. While it is most closely associated with the Eastern United States, this material was at one point used all over the world in construction, particularly in upper class regions. A distinctive architectural style using brownstone is very familiar to many residents of industrialized nations. Its popularity as a building material waned when builders began to realize that it weathered poorly, and that other materials might be more suitable.’
‘A strong dislike of pretension, accompanied by a happy delight in puncturing it through satire and parody, is also a major element in his literary criticism. His demolition of Ezra Pound is especially effective because, as a classical scholar and linguist, he is able to establish that many of Pound’s most admired technical effects are in reality simple errors of grammar or translation.’
“Those teach who can’t do” runs the dictum,
But for some even that’s out of reach:
They can’t even teach—so they’ve picked ’em
To teach other people to teach.
Then alas for the next generation,
For the pots fairly crackle with thorn.
Where psychology meets education
A terrible bullshit is born.’
Many people still can’t handle how bad Communism was on the ground, and fewer these days are looking to keep the ideology up in the air, partly thanks to Conquest and his labors:
My two cents: There are many stripes of Western liberal, from the quite reasonable secular humanist, data-driven political liberal and laissez-faire type, to somewhat less reasonable lifetime protesters, pie-in-the-sky idealists, and professional activists (feminists, environmentalists etc.). There are also further Left radicals, ideologues and revolutionaries.
This blog generally agrees the aim of social revolutionaries is to create anarchy, destabilizing civil society and implementing some variant of totalitarian ideological conformity and/or authoritarian rules and laws into the breach.
One had better believe that true-belief, and the moral judgments attached to animating political ideals, mean business, even if that business is anti-business (whatever you’re for, Mr./Mrs Bourgeois, they’re against).
If I am persuaded to be liberal in one matter or another, it is usually because the liberal point-of-view arises out of respect for the individual, is sufficiently grounded in knowledge and truth claims, and chooses not to use revolutionaries as a battering ram against ‘the bad guys’ now; the political liberal later.
The above, to me, has been one of the great errors of many Boomers, Hippies, and those political liberals on watch during the generation of 1968: The failure to recognize what the wages of radical social change, in many cases, actually are.
Insitutional instability and political disarray have many causes, but I’d argue that insufficient curation of the arts and sciences, institutional rules, and the civil ties keeping a nation of laws together, are clearly important causes worth watching.
There has been a lot of change, quickly.
Below are some quotations still helping me make sense of the world:
‘Olympianism is the characteristic belief system of today’s secularist, and it has itself many of the features of a religion. For one thing, the fusion of political conviction and moral superiority into a single package resembles the way in which religions (outside liberal states) constitute comprehensive ways of life supplying all that is necessary (in the eyes of believers) for salvation. Again, the religions with which we are familiar are monotheistic and refer everything to a single center. In traditional religions, this is usually God; with Olympianism, it is society, understood ultimately as including the whole of humanity. And Olympianism, like many religions, is keen to proselytize. Its characteristic mode of missionary activity is journalism and the media.’
‘Progress, Communism, and Olympianism: these are three versions of the grand Western project. The first rumbles along in the background of our thought, the second is obviously a complete failure, but Olympianism is not only alive but a positively vibrant force in the way we think now. Above all, it determines the Western moral posture towards the rest of the world. It affirms democracy as an ideal, but carefully manipulates attitudes in a nervous attempt to control opinions hostile to Olympianism, such as beliefs in capital or corporal punishment, racial, and otherforms of prejudice, national self-assertion—and indeed, religion‘
‘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.’
Added bonus if you act now in the face of no possible objective knowledge.
Part of Bryan Magee’s series:
Nietzsche directed his thought against Christian morality, secular morality (Kantian and utilitarian), was quite anti-democratic, and anti-Socratic.
‘The truth was, as Arnold Hauser had gone to great pains to demonstrate in The Social History of Art, the intelligentsia have always had contempt for the realistic novel—a form that wallows so enthusiastically in the dirt of everyday life and the dirty secrets of class envy and that, still worse, is so easily understood and obviously relished by the mob, i.e., the middle class. In Victorian England, the intelligentsia regarded Dickens as “the author of the uneducated, undiscriminating public.” It required a chasm of time—eighty years, in fact—to separate his work from its vulgar milieu so that Dickens might be canonized in British literary circles. The intelligentsia have always preferred more refined forms of fiction, such as that longtime French intellectual favorite, the psychological novel.‘
Let’s not get too French: Theodore Dalrymple on prostitution during COVID19:
‘The spokeswoman for the Union of Sex Workers in France, Anaïs de Lenclos (a pseudonym, one wonders?), eloquently pointed out the difficulties that prostitutes, male and female, now face.
That sounds pretty French.
In fact, let’s go to Charles Baudelaire, live on the street:
Behold the sweet evening, friend of the criminal; It comes like an accomplice, stealthily; the sky Closes slowly like an immense alcove, And impatient man turns into a beast of prey. O evening, kind evening, desired by him Whose arms can say, without lying: “Today We labored!” — It is the evening that comforts Those minds that are consumed by a savage sorrow, The obstinate scholar whose head bends with fatigue And the bowed laborer who returns to his bed.
Meanwhile in the atmosphere malefic demons Awaken sluggishly, like businessmen, And take flight, bumping against porch roofs and shutters. Among the gas flames worried by the wind Prostitution catches alight in the streets; Like an ant-hill she lets her workers out; Everywhere she blazes a secret path, Like an enemy who plans a surprise attack; She moves in the heart of the city of mire Like a worm that steals from Man what he eats. Here and there one hears food sizzle in the kitchens, The theaters yell, the orchestras moan;
The gambling dens, where games of chance delight, Fill up with whores and cardsharps, their accomplices; The burglars, who know neither respite nor mercy, Are soon going to begin their work, they also, And quietly force open cash-boxes and doors To enjoy life awhile and dress their mistresses.
Meditate, O my soul, in this solemn moment, And close your ears to this uproar; It is now that the pains of the sick grow sharper! Somber Night grabs them by the throat; they reach the end Of their destinies and go to the common pit; The hospitals are filled with their sighs. — More than one Will come no more to get his fragrant soup By the fireside, in the evening, with a loved one.
However, most of them have never known The sweetness of a home, have never lived!
— William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)
Shelby Steele weaves Gustave Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary‘ into his insights about the world, coming to realize the Black Panthers in North Africa..had problems:
How (B)lack should you become when reality intrudes, and reality doesn’t have much good to say?
Which are the rules all of us should follow when it comes to right and wrong?
‘The purpose of today’s civil-rights establishment is not to seek justice, but to seek power for blacks in American life based on the presumption that they are still, in a thousand subtle ways, victimized by white racism. This idea of victimization is an example of what I call a “poetic truth.” Like poetic license, it bends the actual truth in order to put forward a larger and more essential truth—one that, of course, serves one’s cause. Poetic truths succeed by casting themselves as perfectly obvious: “America is a racist nation”; “the immigration debate is driven by racism”; “Zimmerman racially stereotyped Trayvon.” And we say, “Yes, of course,” lest we seem to be racist. Poetic truths work by moral intimidation, not reason.’
‘There were eccentric characters in the hotel. The Paris slums are a gathering-place for eccentric people—people who have fallen into solitary, half-mad grooves of life and given up trying to be normal or decent. Poverty frees them from ordinary standards of behaviour, just as money frees people from work. Some of the lodgers in our hotel lived lives that were curious beyond words.’
I have my doubts all will be made well, in human affairs, by simply including the oldest profession within the latest politico-moral doctrines.
Someone tell the French ladies of the night: Technology has made it possible for people to sell the lowest and highest of things online. There might be…options. Let’s expect the same old problems, however, in new venues (a few moments of beauty, grace and kindness but mostly pimps, drug abuse, robbery, extortion etc).
There’s absolutely nothing funny about Telly Savalas playing Kojak as reported by Norm MacDonald to Jerry Seinfeld, shattering naive fictions in solving a T.V. crime-drama:
On French problems of liberte: Theodore Dalrymple on Michel Houellebecq here:
‘Houellebecq has been accused of being a nihilist and cynic, but far from that, his work is an extended protest against nihilism and cynicism. It is true that he offers no solution to the problem, but it is not the purpose of novels, but rather of tracts, to offer solutions to such problems. For him to tell his readers to take up basket-weaving or some such as the answer to existential emptiness would in fact be an instance of that very existential emptiness.’
I’m not much of a feminist nor a Main Line (Philadelphia) liberal myself:
Martha Nussbaum writes:
“Spitzer’s offense was an offense against his family. It was not an offense against the public. If he broke any laws, these are laws that never should have existed and that have been repudiated by sensible nations.”
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.
The world will stain you, and it is a fallen, modern world, rendered profoundly and exquisitely.