‘Earlier this summer marked the 50th anniversary of C. P. Snow’s famous “Two Cultures” essay, in which he lamented the great cultural divide that separates two great areas of human intellectual activity, “science” and “the arts.” Snow argued that practitioners in both areas should build bridges, to further the progress of human knowledge and to benefit society.’
My two cents: This blog tends to worry about modern ‘one culture’ visions, too.
On the one hand, you’ve got your ‘scientific socialism;’ the clear dead-end, totalizing Marxist theories of history and various neo-Marxist movements having since colonized many faculty-lounges, HR departments, and media pulpits across America.
Deep, bad ideas tend to live on once plugged into many deep, human desires and dreams. The radical pose will be with us for a while.
Of course, it’s rather sad to witness the sheepish, suburban apologetics of identity amongst the chattering classes; the moment of surprise and fear when a previously insulated writer (leaning upon traditions) realizes today just is their day in the barrel.
Sooner or later you’re going to have to stand up for your principles.
You’ve also got many modern ‘-Ist’ movements, which, whatever truth and knowledge claims they may contain (some quite important ones, I think), are often quick to conflate the means of science with the ends of politics. ‘Join us,’ they say, and become a part of the modern world. The mission of ‘Education’ is easily mistaken for knowledge, learning with wisdom, collective group action with individual achievement.
There is a kind of a high middlebrow drift towards….I’m not sure where, exactly.
Alas, if you’re still with me, here are some links:
“I’ve been skeptical from the beginning of attempts to show that for hundreds of years people have missed the real point,”
Did literature professors at one point have something more substantive to teach?
In a broader context, hasn’t the Western mind has shifted to “science,” instead of God as a deepest idea, and so too isn’t literature a part of this shift?
As Richard Rorty sees it, no standard objective for truth exists but for the interpretation of a few philosophers interpreting whatever of philosophy they’ve read. It’s all just an author’s “stuff.” Here’s an excerpt discussing the debate between him and Hilary Putnam:
Addition: Western mind shifted to “science?”…well as for poetry T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens had some fairly profound religious influences.
Guilt and shame are the primary teaching tools of the old religion and the new, woke religion. If you don’t care, no one can make you care. This leaves many sociopaths with competitive advantage. For the rest of us, being an asshole to the ones you love and with whom you deal isn’t a laudable goal. As much as this is true, decent people have to strike a balance. Sometimes, when you think you have the truth, you must speak that truth, even to loved ones and even when it hurts.
You also need to hear the truth. This hurts, too. It’s really one of the only ways to make your life better and deal with the problems you have. Growth isn’t possible without it.
In the public square, I believe it’s necessary to fight against the true-belief of zealots and fools, while doing my best not to become either of these things myself. What truth I might have to tell, should be told. This [often] puts me on the side of religious liberty and tradition in the good old U.S. of A.
Sometimes it puts me on the side of (S)cience and (R)eason.
Such skepticism also recognizes the danger of bad ideas. A lot of people will find the framework of radical resentment to be sufficient in their lives.
Guilt and shame are also how ideologues make headway. This has consequences for all of us:
Below is a poem by Wendell Berry. Berry is chiefly agrarian, anti-technology and pro-environmental in his outlook. He’s also a traditionalist, who believes family and local associations come first.
For Berry, (M)an must return to family, traditional values and to the Earth. Technology corrupts and while business might scale, both create alienation and unrooted individuals.
Of course, a return to (Man) and (N)ature is not an uncommon view amongst poets, especially since the Romantic Poets in England. Around that time, (M)an, instead of God, became one of the highest things around. Serving the poor and dispossessed is the work of those who care about (H)umankind. Oh, how some people care. Man, did mad, bad Byron care.
It’s a mixed bag.
Here is a tweet by a MoMA curator of Architecture & Design. I mean, she’s Italian and likely has fellow-feeling for the guy, and he probably saved a lot of lives under rough circumstances, but….you know.
I worry about ‘maestros of humanity,’ because the same old human nature and reality await. In the meantime, what kind of world we live in has a lot to do with how well our maps of human nature and reality align with….human nature and reality.
Beneath Humanism and the sentiment now being extended to all living things (except the bugs we’ll all eat while singing Kum-ba-ya), are a lot of unsavory characters, ideologues, and future politicians.
To my mind, making heroes out of men, necessary though it is, often leads to disappointment; a reasonable part of life. Making something like a religion out of (H)umanism seems to be a permanent feature of ‘modern’ life, and a much deeper problem.
One thing Berry seems to be saying: A route to truth lies in overcoming shame.
Do Not Be Ashamed
You will be walking some night in the comfortable dark of your yard and suddenly a great light will shine round about you, and behind you will be a wall you never saw before. It will be clear to you suddenly that you were about to escape, and that you are guilty: you misread the complex instructions, you are not a member, you lost your card or never had one. And you will know that they have been there all along, their eyes on your letters and books, their hands in your pockets, their ears wired to your bed. Though you have done nothing shameful, they will want you to be ashamed. They will want you to kneel and weep and say you should have been like them. And once you say you are ashamed, reading the page they hold out to you, then such light as you have made in your history will leave you. They will no longer need to pursue you. You will pursue them, begging forgiveness, and they will not forgive you. There is no power against them. It is only candor that is aloof from them, only an inward clarity, unashamed, that they cannot reach. Be ready. When their light has picked you out and their questions are asked, say to them: “I am not ashamed.” A sure horizon will come around you. The heron will rise in his evening flight from the hilltop.
On that note, I am pretty pro-technology and science. While I have no particular quarrel with neuroscience on its own, pop-neuroscience is often a repository for the modern search for legitimate experiences and theories of the Self. In some quarters, this becomes the window-dressing to sell discredited ideologies.
Readers often come for the anti-woke sentiment, and stay for the personal charm and winning personality (kidding). I get complaints that I am too anti-woke. Or that I’m not anti-religious enough. Or that I’m too pro-religious.
A while ago, I wrote about Jeff Koons, and the removal of religious guilt and shame as a central idea in his work. I also frequently write about Marxism and neo-Marxism as relying on both liberation and revolutionary praxis for their survival. Such doctrines get nature and human nature horrifically wrong, but they get enough of both right, it seems.
Robert Hughes wasn’t a big fan of Koons, and looked at him with a skeptical, suspicious eye:
Celebrity, money, art and fame are mixed in a big bowl:
As posted, I think this except highlights the idea of liberating one’s Self from not only guilt and shame, but judgment. Artists and the avant-garde thrive in such space, but so do ideologues and the worst kinds of people, and a lot of what’s bad in people.
Many avant-garde have become avant-huitard.
Jeff Koons’ Made In Heaven blurred the line between art and porn, private experience and public show, innocence (so easily corrupted) and naive, narcissistic indulgence.
It is the word pejorative that hurts. My old boat goes round on a crutch And doesn’t get under way. It’s the time of the year And the time of the day.
Perhaps it’s the lunch that we had Or the lunch that we should have had. But I am, in any case, A most inappropriate man In a most unpropitious place.
Mon Dieu, hear the poet’s prayer. The romantic should be here. The romantic should be there. It ought to be everywhere. But the romantic must never remain,
Mon Dieu, and must never again return. This heavy historical sail Through the mustiest blue of the lake In a really vertiginous boat Is wholly the vapidest fake. . . .
It is least what one ever sees. It is only the way one feels, to say Where my spirit is I am, To say the light wind worries the sail, To say the water is swift today,
To expunge all people and be a pupil Of the gorgeous wheel and so to give That slight transcendence to the dirty sail, By light, the way one feels, sharp white, And then rush brightly through the summer air.
‘My point is only that Santayana — the Spanish-born, Boston-bred, Harvard educated cosmopolite — stands out as an unusual specimen in the philosophical fraternity. He wrote beautifully, for one thing, commanding a supple yet robust prose that was elegant but rarely precious or self-infatuated’
and Kimball on Santayana’s interaction with William James:
‘Temperamentally, the two men were complete opposites — James bluff, hearty, the thorough New England pragmatist in manner as well as philosophical outlook: Santayana the super-refined, sonnet-writing, exquisitely disillusioned Catholic Spaniard. In many ways, Santayana was closer in spirit to William’s brother Henry.’
For what it’s worth, I recall a deeply Catholic lament and longing in the Spanish character, which can be combined with a kind of clear-eyed realism and stoicism, but not always. The faith runs deep in St Teresa and her passions, and despite Miguel de Unamuno’s rationalist influences, I remember a general preference for wisdom in the Tragic Sense Of Life.
Something clicked regarding Spain when I finally visited the Escorial outside of Madrid after many months of being in that city. It’s a grand castle of course, but it also struck me as rather plain, barracks-like at times. Very austere. It was explained that the Escorial was both a royal palace and a monastery:
‘Philip’s instructions to Herrera stipulated “simplicity of form, severity in the whole, nobility without arrogance, majesty without ostentation,” qualities clearly illustrated by the long sweep of these facades.’
‘El Escorial was built to honor St. Lawrence, who was burned on a grill. In order to remind the citizens of his martyrdom and sacrifice, the entire building is a grill. Yes, it is shaped like a grill. There are paintings of St. Lawrence on a grill, grills are carved into the doorways, the weather vain is in the shape of a grill, the backs of chairs are supposed to be grills, the list literally could go on forever.’
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, lightly tapping upon the heads of radicals.
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.
A return to Nature? To origins of faith? To a simple freedom in a wild land, and new understandings, with death in view? To visions of Romantic Primitivism becoming modern?:
Supple and turbulent, a ring of men Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn Their boisterous devotion to the sun, Not as a god, but as a god might be, Naked among them, like a savage source. Their chant shall be a chant of paradise, Out of their blood, returning to the sky; And in their chant shall enter, voice by voice, The windy lake wherein their lord delights, The trees, like serafin, and echoing hills, That choir among themselves long afterward. They shall know well the heavenly fellowship Of men that perish and of summer morn. And whence they came and whither they shall go The dew upon their feet shall manifest.
‘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.’
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).
One of the more solid moral foundations for why you should be liberal still comes from J.S. Mill:
“The likings and dislikings of society, or of some powerful portion of it, are thus the main thing which has practically determined the rules laid down for general observance, under the penalties of law or opinion. And in general, those who have been in advance of society in thought and feeling, have left this condition of things unassailed in principle, however they may have come into conflict with it in some of its details. They have occupied themselves rather in inquiring what things society ought to like or dislike, than in questioning whether its likings or dislikings should be a law to individuals. They preferred endeavoring to alter the feelings of mankind on the particular points on which they were themselves heretical, rather than make common cause in defence of freedom, with heretics generally. The only case in which the higher ground has been taken on principle and maintained with consistency, by any but an individual here and there, is that of religious belief:…”
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2007), 8-9.
“More recently Richard Rorty made an attractive attempt to reconcile the most avant-garde postmodern theory with a defence of the institutions of the Western liberal democracies, but the Mill of On Liberty still reigns supreme.”
A curious mix of Handmaid’s Tale inspired-performance stuff (all dudes), and Extinction Rebellion Eco-Romanticide?
Welcome to Seattle!
Dear Reader, have you heard about Peace Pavilion West?
Our Leader, Dale, is the next ‘Great Man Of History’ as foretold in the Book Of Secular Revelations. His thoroughly (S)cientific visions align with the restless postmodern search for meaning and the (S)elf. Our Community mediates the pressures of global awareness and local identity, validating the feelings denied by existing hierarchies and rules.
After your personal has become political, and your politics has lost an election or two, the wind blows cold.
Ablute yourself with the waters of Gaia.
Some links and thoughts on such endless performance and protest, and making your highest good doomsaying, culty behavior.
‘Globalization is having very odd effects on our thinking, but none is more curious than the Olympian project of turning the West’s cultural plurality into a homogenized rationalism designed for export to, and domination over, the rest of the world‘
Look out for the irrationalist response to the increasing authority of the secular liberal vision. Some of the worst reactions will come from both the Left, and the postmodern soup.