Islamic Terrorism And A Few Thoughts On Twitter-Some Links

Because you didn’t ask, here are some links:

Orlando (Pulse Nightclub, 49 dead)

Yes, terrorism’s still a thing: 12 dead in Berlin after a truck drives through a mall

Via the AP via Reason: 13 dead and more than 50 injured as a truck plows through a crowd along Las Ramblas.

Attack In Nice Exposes Strains In Policing A Constant Threat (terrible headline). Yeah, it probably wasn’t just a ‘lone wolf.‘ Like Bataclan. Like Orlando. Like San Bernadino. Like….

Is Islam incompatibile with freedom as we define it here in the West, or is this a false choice?: From YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism

Michael Moynihan jihad.com.

Lawrence Wright discussed his long years reporting on Islamic terrorism (he spent some time in Egypt in his youth) at the Philadelphia Free Library. It might offer some insight.

As to Twitter, this is my semi-functional theory:

The platform selects for loud ignorance. Twitter has a significant visual component, with some textual elements, and limited characters. Around any topic, a few nodes (popular accounts) will cluster across a larger distribution. For most users, it ain’t really a place to converse, nor think too much, but rather to gain new information through the aggregation function performed by these popular nodes (especially in the political sphere).

The format rewards brevity, pith, and some wit, but also cashes in on selling the idea of influence. It’s quite a cesspool, really, and I usually feel like I’m pissing into the wind; the rewards probably not worth the costs unless one just uses Twitter as a distribution network of one’s own.

Furthermore, the most popular accounts don’t necessarily seem to be the most knowledgeable, thoughtful, nor accurate and truthful (they could be, I suppose), but rather the nodes who use the platorm most effectively, efficiently dominating information distribution; coalescing the public sentiment surrounding their topic.

You get what you pay for, I suppose.

The biases of Twitter creators and curators lean towards loud activist ignorance: In my experience as a user, I don’t know how firmly activist beliefs are held amongst actual designers and programmers at the top, but ideological capture is likely significant, especially in the administrative and bureaucratic functions.

Thus, some top-end design and aggregation, across all those different topics, pools of sentiment and individual users, is done by people who probably share a particular blend of Left-leaning moral, political and ideological views (creating special rules for special users like trans).

My biases are in view, of course: Twitter’s more about about geekier white kids wanting to hang out with cool black kids.

Welcome to the new wealthy and woke:

As previously and often posted on Silicon Valley ignorance:

“First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.’

‘Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.

‘Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds. ‘

And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from reason or personal experience.”

-John Stuart Mill ‘On Liberty: Chapter II-Of The Liberty Of Thought And Discussion’

Political Idealism, Bureaucracy & Ideological Capture-Some Stray Links Have Escaped The Public’s Network Of Attention

From The Spiked Review of Books: ‘Rescuing The Enlightentment From Its Exploiters

Hmmmm….

While the Enlightenment, ‘one of the most important shifts in the history of man’ as one recent account put it, has certainly had its detractors, who blame it for anything from the Holocaust to soulless consumerism, it now also has a veritable army of self-styled heirs. Militant secularists, New Atheists, advocates of evidence-based policy, human rights champions… each constituency in their turn will draw justification from the intellectual emanations of that period beginning roughly towards the end of the seventeenth century and culminating – some say ending – in the 1789 French Revolution and its aftermath. And each in their turn will betray it.

If you turn all your hopes to the salvation of (M)ankind or (H)umanity, while dealing with the same old human nature, you’re bound to run into problems.

It’s not merely doing Social Science, per se, but taking the benighted walk from Ivory Tower to Senate Hearing which probably animates many passions.

One criticism I’ve found useful (but about whose postmodern roots I do worry): Ignore those violent anarchists and anti-fascists, they’re doing the work of (M)an.

Clive James revisits many quite original, quite accomplished works of Joseph Conrad.

‘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.’

Jerry Pournelle’s (R.I.P.) Iron Law of Bureaucracy:

‘Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people”:

 First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.’

From friesian.com, the Practical Rules of Bureaucracy.  Within Governmental and Corporate Bureaucracies, responsiveness and competence are not what you necessarily get.

  1. Spend Your Budget
  2. Fail:  ‘Screw up, move up’
  3. Cover Your Ass
  4. Replace Useful Work with Useless Work
  5. Multiply Procedures and Paperwork
  6. Pass the Buck
  7. Join the Union
  8. Jerk People Around
  9. Preserve Your Anonymity

Thomas Sowell used to work in Chelsea, apparently, for Western Union.  He’d sometimes take the 5th avenue bus back up to Harlem, on 5th Avenue for a while, and wonder why there was such inequality from neighborhood to neighborhood.

Marxism seemed like a good explanation while he was in his 20’s.

During that time he went to work for the Department Of Agriculture in D.C. He discovered that in thinking of empirical tests designed to measure if the Departments’ own policies were working and solving the actual problems they claimed to solve, such thinking about results over intentions were…..not welcomed.

Book here.

“The purpose of bureaucracy is to devise a standard operating procedure which can cope effectively with most problems.  A bureaucracy is efficient if the matters which it handles routinely are, in fact, the most frequent and if its procedures are relevant to their solution.  If those criteria are met, the energies of the top leadership are freed to deal creatively with the unexpected occurrence or with the need for innovation.  Bureaucracy becomes an obstacle when what it defines as routine does not address the most significant range of issues or when its prescribed mode of action proves irrelevant to the problem.”

and:

“Moreover, the reputation, indeed the political survival, of most leaders depends on their ability to realize their goals, however these may have been arrived at.  Whether these goals are desireable is relatively less crucial.”

Kissinger, Henry. American Foreign Policy:  Three Essays.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc.  1969.

***Bonus-One of the ‘-Isms’ we’re bound to get is ‘Safety-ism,’ which seems to run as follows:

This poor class/group of people is oppressed by the ‘system.’ It’s ‘systems’ all the way down. These oppressed peoples are good-hearted and will be welcomed into our political vision of Democracy, Equality and Peace

Wait….what? There’s still rape, robbery, gangs and murder? Impossible!

Defund the police and get the budget for another 10,000 street cameras and activity monitoring online. We’ll have another hearing…:

‘Stalking The Billion-Footed Beast’-Repost-A Few Tom Wolfe Links

Published in Harper’s in 1989: ‘Stalking The Billion-Footed Beast‘:

‘One of the specialties of the realistic novel, from Richardson on, was the demonstration of the influence of society on even the most personal aspects of the life of the individual. Lionel Trilling was right when he said, in 1948, that what produced great characters in the nineteenth-century European novel was the portrayal of “class traits modified by personality.” But he went on to argue that the old class structure by now had disintegrated, particularly in the United States, rendering the technique useless. Again, I would say that precisely the opposite is the case. If we substitute for class, in Trilling’s formulation, the broader term status, that technique has never been more essential in portraying the innermost life of the individual. This is above all true when the subject is the modern city. It strikes me as folly to believe that you can portray the individual in the city today without also portraying the city itself.’

I’m just glad he was there for so long:

Website here.

Michael Lewis at Vanity Fair: ‘How Tom Wolfe Became….Tom Wolfe

‘New York City was—and still is—the only place on earth where a writer might set himself up as a professional tour guide and attract the interest of the entire planet. That’s mainly what Wolfe was, at least in the beginning: his job was to observe the sophisticates in their nutty bubble for the pleasure of the rubes in the hinterlands, and then, from time to time, venture out into the hinterlands and explain what is really going on out there to the sophisticates inside the bubble. He moves back and forth like a bridge player, ruffing the city and the country against each other. He occupies a place in between. He dresses exotically and is talented and intellectually powerful, like the sophisticates in the bubble. But he isn’t really one of them. To an extent that shocks the people inside the bubble, when they learn of it, he shares the values of the hinterland. He believes in God, Country, and even, up to a point, Republican Presidents. He even has his doubts about the reach of evolutionary theory.’

From ‘The Pump House Gang: Introduction

‘Hefner showed me through his chambers. The place was kept completely draped and shuttered. The only light, day or night, was electric. It would be impossible to keep track of the days in there. And presently Hefner jumped onto . . . the center of his world, the bed in his bedroom. Aimed at the bed was a TV camera he was very proud of.’

As posted:

Tom Wolfe on Max Weber on one conspicuous use of art in the ‘modern’ world:

‘…aesthetics is going to replace ethics, art is going to replace religion, as the means through which educated people express their spiritual worthiness…

The satire of the liberal intelligentsia is pretty rich, as well as the Southern Gentleman’s WASP ‘rejuvenation.’ You just know Christopher Hitchens had to get-in on that action:

From the Late Show in 1989 with Howard Jacobson:

===============

Was Tom Wolfe seeing things clearly, as they really are?

Certainly the liberal pieties and the conflicted, activist base is still ripe for the picking…for what is preventing the mocking of the Brooklyn hipster and the echoing of ‘This Land Is Your Land’ across the fruited plain?:

Peter Berkowitz review of Tom Wolfe’s Miami novel here.

What are you looking for in a novel: Ideas and the deployment of ideas? A reflection of your life/times/society? Good prose? Characters that pop into your life? Glimpses of the author? Pleasure?

‘The deeper divisions, as Wolfe’s novel compellingly presents them, are between those who believe that happiness consists in one form of pleasure or another — including the aesthetic pleasure of sensitively glimpsing one’s own sensitivities and the sensitivities of others — and those who, like Tom Wolfe and his heroes, believe that happiness consists in the exercise of courage, self-control, and the other qualities of mind and character that constitute human excellence.’

A New Yorker review here.

See Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic: That Party At Lenny’s for a rich account of the 60′s. I remember reading ‘A Man In Full‘ a while back.

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Tuesday Poem-Dana Gioia

California Hills In August

I can imagine someone who found
these fields unbearable, who climbed
the hillside in the heat, cursing the dust,
cracking the brittle weeds underfoot,
wishing a few more trees for shade.

An Easterner especially, who would scorn
the meagerness of summer, the dry
twisted shapes of black elm,
scrub oak, and chaparral, a landscape
August has already drained of green.

One who would hurry over the clinging
thistle, foxtail, golden poppy,
knowing everything was just a weed,
unable to conceive that these trees
and sparse brown bushes were alive.

And hate the bright stillness of the noon
without wind, without motion,
the only other living thing
a hawk, hungry for prey, suspended
in the blinding, sunlit blue.

And yet how gentle it seems to someone
raised in a landscape short of rain—
the skyline of a hill broken by no more
trees than one can count, the grass,
the empty sky, the wish for water.

Dana Gioia

Thanks, reader.  What are you doing with your imagination? (the first and last lines).

Missed the month by one day….

The ‘Ism’quisition May Yet Come For You, Wearing Something Like A Secular, Technicolor Dreamcoat-Some Links & Thoughts On Andrew Sullivan & California

Coleman Hughes links to Ben Smith’s piece on Andrew Sullivan:

My summary of Smith’s take:  ‘I still read Andrew Sullivan and his thoughtful, potentially evil views, but when the mob comes to town, I’ll pretty much cave to the mob (The ‘-Ism’quisition).  Although the NY Times is increasingly displaying the ideogical capture of the radical Left, as have many institutions, I really do need the paycheck.’

Don’t speak against the orthodoxy, now:

Andrew Sullivan on the ‘1619’ project, at the NY Times:

‘The New York Times, by its executive editor’s own admission, is increasingly engaged in a project of reporting everything through the prism of white supremacy and critical race theory, in order to “teach” its readers to think in these crudely reductionist and racial terms. That’s why this issue wasn’t called, say, “special issue”, but a “project”. It’s as much activism as journalism.’

A link on this site in support of Sullivan’s Oakeshottian political philosophy:

Full piece here.

Essay here.

There’s something almost religious about the way some people go about pursuing their non-religious ideas.

Ken Minogue framed it thusly:

‘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.’

And:

‘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 other forms of prejudice, national self-assertion—and indeed, religion

My rather cynical take on California, for which I harbor deep fondness:  Many folks on the political Left tend to imagine that most deep knowledge and truth questions have been, or will soon be, settled in favor of their ideals (Equality, Peace, Diversity).  They often make what I see as category errors when it comes to (R)eason and (S)cience.

If the big questions are settled, then, all that’s Left is to build the collective, human-rights based institutions which will guide (H)umanity to its (E)nds.

Ignore those radicals over there, they’re simply reacting against Enlightenment year-zero fascism:

To someone with such a point of view in California: Religious and social conservatives become a bothersome, backwards minority, while the honor and duty required to maintain a military are seen as antiquated, often ‘male’ and agressive (Colonial).   The prudence required to maintain a balanced budget, and many basic rules, are increasingly seen through the ideological, tribal lens of identitarian politics (shut up, Karen).

Freedom comes with responsibility, but ‘liberation’ comes with many violent radicals, crazies, and true-believers.

How many actual individuals are leaving California because of the increasing social disorder in the cities, high costs of living and one-party politics?

I’m not sure how many pronouncements I might make. A bunch of readers write to Rod Dreher:

‘I’m writing in response to your “Goodbye, Blue America” post, with its large “Leaving California” graphic. I left California four years ago. (It happens that I live in a different blue state now, and I want to leave this one, too.) There are so many reasons I left, but the urban unrest was a big part of it.’

Many people from other States (and countries)–>California

Many people from California–>Other Western States (Arizona/Nevada/Colorado/Oregon/Washington/Idaho) and back to their home States.

Here’s Tom Wolfe, referring to Californians in this piece by Michael Anton:

‘Noyce was like a great many bright young men and women from Dissenting Protestant families in the Middle West after the Second World War. They had been raised as Baptists, Methodists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, United Brethren, whatever. They had been led through the Church door and prodded toward religion, but it had never come alive for them. Sundays made their skulls feel like dried-out husks. So they slowly walked away from the church and silently, without so much as a growl of rebellion, congratulated themselves on their independence of mind and headed into another way of life. Only decades later, in most cases, would they discover how, absentmindedly, inexplicably, they had brought the old ways along for the journey nonetheless. It was as if . . . through some extraordinary mistake . . . they had been sewn into the linings of their coats!

Update And Repost-From The Spiked Review Of Books: ‘Delving Into The Mind Of The Technocrat’

Dream big: Via Reason: ‘California’s Public Transportation Sinkhole’

A great city deserves great art extravaganzas…: L.A.’s New Public Art Piece ‘The Levitated Mass,’ Or As The American Interest Puts It: ‘A Moving Rock’

Richard Epstein At The Hoover Institution’s Defining Ideas: ‘California’s Kafkaesque Rent Control Laws’

California Dreamers From The Atlantic-A Brief Review Of Kevin Starr’s History Of California

The people who promise solutions to poverty and homlessness seem to be engaged in a utopian cost-shifting exercise which favors their interests and overlooks crime, violence and personal responsbility…hardly a way to balance the budget: Repost-Heather MacDonald At The City Journal: ‘The Sidewalks Of San Francisco’

Some concentrated wealth on top, a stalled legislature with members who know how to play the game…and a service sector beneath…that probably can’t go on forever: …From The WSJ: ‘Joel Kotkin: The Great California Exodus’

 

Some City By City Photography Links, Some Questionable Philosophy, Some Reason/Anti-Reason Recycled Links Touching Along The Edges Of Postmodern Problems

-Via Mick Hartley, Lu Wenpeng photos of Paris Colors & Shadows.  People.  Light and shade.  Colors and shapes.

-As posted: Beauty, ugliness, youth, strength, and decay: Via Mick Hartley Bruce Davidson at Magnum’s ‘Subway (NYC subway during the 1980’s).

-Cool 5:38 video at the link. Mick Victor walks down the streets and alleyways of L.A. with camera in tow, his focus eventually drawn to some forms, shapes, colors or configuration. Some of those abstract photos here.

-Vivian Maier, the mystery street photographer from Chicago.

-It’s Vice (oh how tiresome the radical pose and how soon dull those who gather), but there’s earnest artistic ambition and innocence.

Bruce Gilden is mostly self-taught, and the accent couldn’t be any more Brooklyn.  Street photography can become muggy and full of kitsch, but I imagine it’s really hard to get right.

Coney Island!

For those especially drawn to observe, and be alone amongst a crowd, seeking moments of beauty, grace, and transcendence.  Where have you put your hopes?

What kind of relationship might you be in with such abstractions as that of human nature (your own deep impulses, passing thoughts, and possible motivations, as well as those of the people around you)?

What kind of relationship might you be in with such abstractions as nature and reality (the world your senses perceive, those laws and patterns likely enduring thought, the old knowledge become practice and the new knowledge on the edge of understanding, the truths which seem to little give nor receive, forgive nor remember)?

Are you really that alone?

Via a Reader via Scientific American: ‘An Update On C.P. Snow’s “Two Cultures:”

Essay here (PDF).

‘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 might be 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:

M.H. Abrams here.

“…in the days when, to get a Ph.D., you had to study Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, Old French, and linguistics, on the notion that they served as a kind of hard-core scientific basis for literary study.”

and of the New Criticism he says:

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?

Does this necessarily lead to the Reason/Anti-Reason debate we seem to be falling into?  The postmodern problems?

Interesting quotation from Quora, on Richard Feynman’s discussion of light in ‘QED: The Strange Theory Of Light And Matter’:

‘Mirrors and pools of water work pretty much the same way. Light interacts with electrons on the surface. Under the laws of quantum mechanics, each photon interacts with ALL of the electrons on the surface, and the net result is the sum of all possible pathways. If the surface is perfectly smooth, then most of the pathways cancel each other out, except for the one where the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection. ‘

Click through for the illustrations to help explain Feynman’s theory, which fascinated me when I first came across it; much as I understand of it.

Have you ever seen sunlight reflecting off a body of water from a few thousand feet up in a plane?  A rainbow in a puddle with some oil in it?  A laser reflecting off a smooth surface like a mirror?

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.

See Also: Should You Bother To Get A Liberal Arts Education? From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

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

***Whom do you trust for discussions of the arts and culture, and would you just rather publications be up front about their ideological bents and loyalties?

F-30 Moving Carousel -1

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

Goya, that modern, had to make a living from the royal family: Goya’s ColossusGoya’s Fight With CudgelsGoethe’s Color Theory: Artists And ThinkersNASA Composite Image Of The Earth At Night…Beauty?Garrett Mattingly On Machiavelli-The Prince: Political Science Or Political Satire?

Repost-From The NY Times: Schlieren Photography

Does Religion Do Dirt On The Arts & Life? Ay, There’s A Fire Burning Beneath That Bonnet

In criticizing the woke, social justice true-believers trying to impose their ideas of ‘cultural appropriation’ upon fiction writers like Lionel Shriver (You can’t write black characters. We will colonize language!  We will colonize the imagination!), a reader points out the following:

First, I wrote, in shared criticism of such people:

‘If you’re looking to art for moral instruction, or for canned lines to solidify group membership, political affiliation and/or ideological identification, you’re probably doing dirt on the arts and life.’

Anonymous wrote back:

Check out Kanye:’

Dear Reader, can you tell the dancer from the dance?

Going to church is probably as much about scents and sounds, chanted words and ritual performace as much it is about doctrine for a lot of people, a lot of the time.  Here, a lot of hearts and minds can be changed.

Maybe the church and its doctrines proscribe limits which also harm the creative artist, just as do so many social justice ideologues, intersectionalists and radicals colonizing many university studies and HR departments.

Given other failures in American civic culture lately, including the more obvious ones within the entertainment and popular music industries, it’s not surprising the same channels are now used for religious conversion.

In fact, I’ve kind been waiting for the other shoe to drop.

There’s something very funny to me about the Quakers trying to stay hip with social-justice appeal:

It’d be nice if many secularists and political liberals said something like the following: If we continue to secularize society, we will entrench many postmoderns, activists, radicals, people steeped in resentment, and narrow socialist ideologues, but the gains in liberty will be worth it.

We might even inspire a return to old-timey religion.  If this happens, we will freak-out about this turn of events.

Recently, British popular thinker Alain De Botton floated the idea of building an ‘atheist temple’ in the heart of London. He recommends combing through religious practices for useful organizing principles in response to the New Atheists. You can read more about it here, which includes a radio interview/podcast.

Did the Unitarian Universalists get there first, with a mishmash of faith and secular humanism?

Towards a theme: Perhaps you’ve also heard of the Rothko chapel, in Houston, Texas:

‘The Rothko Chapel, founded by Houston philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil, was dedicated in 1971 as an intimate sanctuary available to people of every belief. A tranquil meditative environment inspired by the mural canvases of Russian born American painter Mark Rothko (1903-1970), the Chapel welcomes over 60,000 visitors each year, people of every faith and from all parts of the world.’

There’s even a suite of music by Morton Feldman, entitled ‘Rothko Chapel’

—————————

Related: A definition of humanism:

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

Related On This Site: From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’

John Gray Reviews Jonathan Haidt’s New Book At The New Republic: ‘The Knowns And The Unknowns’

Steven Pinker somewhat focused on the idea of freedom from violence, which tends to be libertarian. Yet, he’s also skeptical of the more liberal human rights and also religious natural rights. What about a World Leviathan?: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas HobbesFrom Reason.TV Via YouTube: ‘Steven Pinker on The Decline of Violence & “The Better Angels of Our Nature”‘Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department

Evolutionary psychology and moral thinking: Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

Timothy Snyder Responds To Steven Pinker’s New Book At Foreign Policy: ‘War No More: Why The World Has Become More Peaceful’

Charles Murray At The New Criterion: ‘Belmont & Fishtown’

‘I Am Combing,’ She Whispered, ‘Los Angeles Out Of My Hair.’ Did America Stagnate Economically Around 1972 And Has Its Cultural Avant-Garde Increasingly Become Nihilistic?

Regarding the above conversation between writer Bret Easton Ellis and mathematician Eric Weinstein:  Both men tell coming-of-age tales as Gen Xer’s during the early 1980’s;  a glamourized, somewhat nihilistic youth culture and a deep personal freedom.

I’ve been to L.A. a few times (Raymond Chandler kept me going when I was far away from my language) and David Hockney has captured some of the light and landscape of that particular place.

We all have likely have some contact with Los Angeles through the movies, and particular stylized visions of it:

It can seem vapid and empty; fake and dark.

Sometimes, the hills burn:

‘I am combing,’ she whispered, ‘Los Angeles out of my hair.’

Here’s Tom Wolfe, referring to Californians in this piece by Michael Anton:

‘Noyce was like a great many bright young men and women from Dissenting Protestant families in the Middle West after the Second World War. They had been raised as Baptists, Methodists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, United Brethren, whatever. They had been led through the Church door and prodded toward religion, but it had never come alive for them. Sundays made their skulls feel like dried-out husks. So they slowly walked away from the church and silently, without so much as a growl of rebellion, congratulated themselves on their independence of mind and headed into another way of life. Only decades later, in most cases, would they discover how, absentmindedly, inexplicably, they had brought the old ways along for the journey nonetheless. It was as if . . . through some extraordinary mistake . . . they had been sewn into the linings of their coats!

Does L.A. or the music made there even have a center?:

More broadly, in interacting with many Millenials I often find myself thinking: What the hell happened to a rough and ready sense of independence, freedom and responsibility? Am I alone in my deeper sense of patriotism, gratitude and a skepticism regarding the new, emergent rules?

Freedom of Speech!  America!

Whatever,’ comes the reply.  ‘We’ll see.

Am I just living in a post-60’s and post-Boomer bubble myself?  To some extent, yes.

Generation Birth Years
Silent Generation 1925-1945
Boomers 1946-1964
Gen X 1965-1979
Millenials 1980-1995
Next 1996-

Weinstein’s argument as I understand it:  Something fundamental shifted around 1972 in American economic and institutional life.  It’s when a previously more explosive rate of economic growth stalled.  Since that time, most folks within our academic, cultural and political institutions simply haven’t adjusted.

It’s harder to get into many housing markets now, and it’s harder to compete with global labor for jobs and academic positions.  Our current politics is a clown-show (for many reasons). Much stagnation has ensued, and many of our current institutional hierarchies might just possess dark, unspoken ponzi knowledge at their hearts.

The sooner you got in, the better off you are.

If such a theory be true, these conditions can easily erode a basic sense of fairness, institutional trust and continuity.  This could allow more space for the postmodern and nihilist drift both men discuss, and the growing desire for (S)elves looking for (C)ommunities and rules.  EQUALITY now.  More space for Socialism.  Anarchy.  More space for a retreat from the public square into one’s family and church.

Such a theory just might also stroke the egos of people who think of themselves as relatively independent, such as myself.

Dear Reader, I’ve got to watch out for that.  I like to think of myself as ahead of some curves.

Weinstein:

‘Increasingly the research seemed to show that interventions by government, universities and industry in the US labor market for scientists, especially after the University system stopped growing organically in the early 1970s were exceedingly problematic.’

A few more thoughts and personal experiences as an undergraduate English major which support the theory:  There were plenty of talented undergrads, sure, but there were also clearly not enough slots to develop and mature their talents within the institutions.

A writing MFA?  Don’t be a sucker.

The older the professor, usually the more rigorous and focused the teaching.  The higher the expectations and the less existential questions of pedagogy there were.  Fewer ontological questions of Self in the World emerged as confessional blank verse and personalized syllabi.

Later on, briefly (you should be as happy as I am I’m not a lawyer), I saw legal education displaying similar troubling trends, even though law requires a clearer logical and objective rigor:  All the top-tier law grads were vying for teaching spots at second and third-tier law schools.  If you started at a second or third-tier law school….good luck.

Don’t be a sucker, now.  Find your (S)elf.  Freedom is next.

A Bit Apart, But Still Standing Around Hoping Many People Would Hesitate More Often-A Few Links And Thoughts On Leo Strauss and Rene Girard

One major shift in my thinking occurred while reading Leo Strauss, and approaching Nature from a position where the reason/revelation distinction was suddenly in play:

‘Strauss was a Jew who promoted a pre-Christian, classical understanding of “natural right” as found in Plato and Aristotle. Yet after the publication of his Natural Right and History in 1953, Strauss was sometimes classed alongside Catholic scholars of political philosophy who aimed to revive the natural law tradition of Aquinas. Strauss recognized that these Thomists were fighting some of the same battles against historicists and philosophical modernists that he was fighting. Nonetheless, his own position was quite distinct from theirs. Natural right, unlike natural law, is changeable and dependent on circumstance for its expression, says Strauss. As he puts it: “There is a universally valid hierarchy of ends, but there are no universally valid rules of action.”

Such thinking made me question many modern epistemological foundations I had been taking for granted: Perhaps (H)istory doesn’t necessarily have a clear end, no more than does any one of our lives (other than a death forever beyond our full imagining).  Perhaps (H)istory is long, often bloody, and takes a lot of work to understand.

Nature, too, in its depth and majesty, often Romanticized and Idealized by many moderns (collectivists and Hippies, especially), can be terrible, cruelly indifferent and the source of much of our suffering.  These debates are old, and deep, so why not return to many original thinkers like Plato and Aristotle?

Politically and socially, I suddenly doubted that we’re necessarily heading towards knowable ends, individuals achieving a kind of virtue in declaring loyalty to the latest moral idea, protest movement, or political cause.  Progress is complicated.

[Although] the (S)ciences are so successful in describing and explaining the Natural World, such knowledge can’t simply be transferred and implemented into policy and law, a bureaucracy and a technocracy [full of] of people who are often not even scientists.  Perhaps there are many modern fictions abroad.

The more individuals are either liberated or freed (from tradition, from moral obligations to family and friends, from insitutions, from religious belief) it doesn’t necessarily follow such freedoms will be used wisely.

In fact, some individuals are clearly coalescing around narrow, totalitarian ideologies and failed theories of History through the road of radical chic (Marxism, Communism, Socialism).  Other individuals are exploiting our current insitutional failures in favor of political extremism (alt-right and alt-left) while yet others are spending their formative years flirting with nihilism and anarchy in the postmodern soup.

Cycles of utopianism/dystopianism, and idealism don’t necessarily lead to stability, and more liberty.

Where I might agree with the moderns: I do think that Man’s reason, individual men’s use of mathematics applied to the physical world, sometimes occurring in flashes of profound insight, often after years of study and labor within and perhaps outside of a particular field, are tied to a reality which empirically exists.  One could do a lot worse than the best of the Natural Philosopher.

It typically takes years to imbibe the necessary and often counter-intuitive tools to ‘see under the hood’ of Nature.  Then, it often takes very long and close observation to make some kind of contribution.  Unlike the Oakeshottian critique of rationalism in favor of tradition, I do think there are gains in basic competency from an education in the sciences that are not exclusive solely to the genius.  Some of this can scale. Many laymen can become aware of how deterministic and probabilistically accurate these laws govern the world in which we live.

To be sure, we are undergoing a renaissance in certain fields:  A technological revolution in our pockets and work lives, an explosion in space science, for starters.


As to my view of human nature, and a depressive realism, often informed by the humanites:

There’s something about Rene Girard’s work that strikes deep chords within me. I must confess, though, as a non-believer, I remain skeptical that a lot of Christianity isn’t Platonic Idealism + Synthesized Judaism + Transcendent Claims to Truth & Knowledge that gained ascendance within the Roman Empire.  My ignorance shows.

A Christian and religious believer, Girard synthesizes psychology, literature, history, anthropology and philosophy along with his Christian faith into something quite profound.

Recommended.  The mimetic theory of [desire] can really can change how you think about the world:

A briefer introduction here:

Girard and Libertarian thought?:

The closest I come to religious belief: Writers and musicians, at a certain point, give themselves over to their own mysterious, seemingly inexplicable, creative processes. If you practice enough (muscle memory), play your instrument alone and play with others, counting the time signature, you can makes sounds in time which express something deep about our condition, sharing it with others.

Even after the well runs dry, creative artists often go back to the bottom, finding themselves spent.  The stronger the emotional loss and more real the pain; often this translates into the pleasure others take in your creation.  But what is it you’re sharing exactly, from mind to mind and person to person?

This [can] produce something like a divine, God-worshipping, vulnerable state of mind and being, which is just as dangerous and corrupting as it is bonding and enriching.  From Bach, to Prince, to now even Kanye West, apparently, religion can suddenly sweep into the gap.

Of course, studying and playing music is a conscious, reasoned process, more than many people know, but it also, very clearly isn’t entirely planned in the moment of its synthesis and creation.

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

I’m missing a lot, here, folks, but doing my best with current resources.  Thanks, as always, for reading.

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

Repost-Some Quotations From Leo Strauss On Edmund Burke In ‘Natural Right And History’

From Nextbook: Philosopher Of Science Hilary Putnam On The Jewish Faith

Postmodern Pushback-Some New Links & Lots Of Old Links Gathered Throughout The Years

A Few Passing Thoughts On That Shabby Marxist Preacher On The Edge Of Town

Plot(s) of the 1st and 2nd ‘Poltergeist’ movies:  A naive surburban family buys a house from greedy speculators who’ve built atop an ancient Indian burial ground.  Horror unfolds as they discover the truth about their home, the past and the supernatural as they must act to protect their innocent daughter.

Later, it turns out the spirits were just wayward souls moving Westward across America, having blindly followed their religious leader into a cave for eternity.  Slowly they rolled a boulder over the only entrance in preparation for the coming End times.

No more sunlight.

Let’s do a quick re-write:  The shabby, itinerant preacher wandering the countryside is actually just a Marxist.  Released from a local university due to recent budget cuts (evil oppressors), his trust fund is nearly gone.  Moving from town to town on the fringes, seeking (P)eople, (M)ankind and (E)quality, [others] don’t seem to want the light he has to bring.  Why can’t they see the material world as it really is?

Critical theory is actually a very valuable tool, [he says].

He knows a lot about art and the avant-garde, (S)cientific progress is coming and in fact his ideas are (S)cientific, too.  Some kids think he’s cool.  Maybe he’ll get into politics.

‘They’ don’t want you to succeed, he says.  Your identity is sacred.  Liberation is next.

The Environmental End Times are nigh!

All the inequality and suffering in the world can be explained by this here doctrine: