Some Links On Progressive Creationism & Lionel Trilling-Still Looking For Liberals In The Postmodern Wilderness

Via Quillette, Toby Young on ‘Progressive Creationism

‘This new, feature-length documentary, funded by Kickstarter and available on Amazon Prime, painstakingly recycles the most hysterical, left-wing arguments against genetics and, in particular, those who’ve sought to apply genetic research to understanding behavioral and psychological differences. As Jerry Coyne pointed out in a recent blog post, it’s this aspect of evolutionary biology that is most frequently attacked by progressive creationists.’

Get on board the liberation train!

Unfortunately, at the end of some lines huddle rigid ideologues, pushing for Revolution.  Friends neither of the sciences nor the arts, they are stuck thick in ideology.  If you’ve ever witnessed ‘enthusiastic’ behavior within yourself or amongst new converts to religious doctrine, you’re not going to like many of these narrow, modern moralists.

***Dear Reader, you might even start questioning the provenance of many high liberal ideals, if these be the radicals clamoring in so many academic and political ‘pews’.

John Locke here:

“7. What is meant by enthusiasm. This I take to be properly enthusiasm, which, though founded neither on reason nor divine revelation, but rising from the conceits of a warmed or overweening brain, works yet, where it once gets footing, more powerfully on the persuasions and actions of men than either of those two, or both together: men being most forwardly obedient to the impulses they receive from themselves; and the whole man is sure to act more vigorously where the whole man is carried by a natural motion. For strong conceit, like a new principle, carries all easily with it, when got above common sense, and freed from all restraint of reason and check of reflection, it is heightened into a divine authority, in concurrence with our own temper and inclination.

Of course, on any opposite side of any political spectrum lie narrow, rigid ideologues and true believers; ethnic and religious purists and well, authoritarians. I can’t help but think, though, that there are many spectrums, and many shapes in my mind describing some aspect of the world.

Like yours, my knowledge, experience and imagination are quite limited.

But most areas of a healthy life and mind occur outside the confines of political cause and tribe.

A return to ‘high liberal’ criticism would be nice, out of the valley of postmodern darkness…:

Paul Dean on Lionel Trilling:

‘His own description of his modus operandi was “the genre of discourse.” He is a synthesizer rather than an analyst, operating in the field of the history of ideas. He is as likely to write about Hegel, Marx, and Freud as he is about Jane Austen, Keats, and Flaubert (whose Bouvard et Pécuchet he is almost alone in recognizing as a masterpiece).’

and

‘It’s easy to see why Trilling is neglected. His belief in the value of a traditional liberal humane education is abhorrent to current fashions. He saw Structuralism, which surfaced late in his career, as a literary variant of Stalinism, subordinating individual autonomy and freedom to the demands of a collective. His experience of the 1968 student protests at Columbia (which, according to his wife, he found oddly exhilarating) surfaces in only one letter printed by Kirsch, in which he tells Pamela Hansford Johnson that, angry as he is at the students’ behavior, many of those he has talked to “command my respect and even liking. I would find it easier to be simple, but I cannot be.”

As posted:

Trilling’s Tutelage:’

‘Then came the 1960s. Through this decade Trilling walked an exquisitely fine line. He dined at the White House with John and Jackie Kennedy. His very name was associated with the word liberal, and that was the problem in the sixties. Trilling was the kind of centrist Cold War liberal against whom the decade’s radicals defined themselves. It was Trilling’s peculiar destiny to protect and defend the novels and poetry of the Victorians, among others, in the Age of Aquarius. When the Columbia campus rose up in protest in the spring of 1968, Trilling symbolized the liberal old guard’

and:

‘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.’

Trilling, Lionel. The Liberal Imagination: Essays On Literature And Society. The Viking Press: New York, 1950. (preface xiii).

Trilling and Nabokov at last!:

Other odds and ends:

Oliver Traldi at Quillete reviews Mark Lilla- ‘The Once And Future Liberal: After Identity Politics

‘Lilla’s own explanation of his liberalism, given by the book’s structure, is that politics is liberal by definition.

and:

‘Lilla clearly thinks he is making a pragmatic case, but he does not engage with any empirical political science; no numbers of any kind—polls, turnout, what have you—appear in the book.’

Another view of the 60’s and Yale: Repost-A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

Martha Nussbaum had a rather profound take via this review of ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.

Nicholas C Burbules on her book:

“Between these two lines of attack, she believes, the university must articulate a conception of itself that defends the standards of reason, while remaining open to new points of view; that preserves the intellectual traditions and canons that define U.S. culture, while consciously broadening the curriculum to expose students to traditions which diverge from their own and which, in their difference, may confront students with an awareness of their own parochialism; that remain respectful and tolerant of many points of view without lapsing into relativism; and in short, that manages to prepare students simultaneously to be citizens of U.S. society, and cosmopolitans, “citizens of the world.’

I have doubts about this vision…

Repost-The Conservatarian Curve-Some Reasons To Remain Skeptical Of ‘Culture’ And Cultural Criticism Of A Certain Kind

Roger Sandall’s book: ‘The Culture Cult: Designer Tribalism And Other Essays‘ here.

A follow-up essay here springing from a discussion: ‘The Culture Cult revisited’

Sandall:

‘But in the year 2000, with Fascism and Communism both discredited, why, I wondered, were so many turning back toward Rousseau? What was the attraction of romantic primitivism? How had ethnic culture become a beau ideal? Cities certainly have their problems, but why did New Yorkers see tribal societies as exemplary and tribespeople as paragons of social virtue?’

If you do manage to develop a bedrock of secular humanism in civil society (subject to that society’s particular traditions and history), won’t that society still have need of its own myths?

Even though Fascism and Communism have been discredited in theory and in practice, adherents remain (look no further than most American academies).

Sandall notes the Popperian elements discussed as from ‘The Open Society And Its Enemies‘, which as a theory, stretches deep into human nature and the West’s Greek traditions.

Is Popper’s ‘critical rationalism’ some of what we’re seeing from the intellectual dark-webbers, or at least many bright people pushing against the fascistic elements found within many far-Left movements, just those movements endorse and feed a far-right, identitarian and ideological response?:

‘…the people and institutions of the open society that Popper envisioned would be imbued with the same critical spirit that marks natural science, an attitude which Popper called critical rationalism. This openness to analysis and questioning was expected to foster social and political progress as well as to provide a political context that would allow the sciences to flourish.’

Sandall again on Popper:

‘His 1945 The Open Society and Its Enemies started out from the contrast between closed autarkic Sparta and free-trading protean Athens, and used it to illuminate the conflict between Fascism and Communism on the one hand, and Western democracy on the other.’

but…:

‘Is an ‘open society’ also supposed to be an ‘open polity’ with open borders? Médecins sans Frontières is all very well: but states cannot be run on such lines. Popper’s is a theory of society, not a theory of the state—and it seems to me that his book offers no clear account of the wider political preconditions that enable ‘open societies’ to both flourish and defend themselves.’

So, how did Sandall see the idea of ‘culture’ having its orgins?:

‘But at a higher philosophical level, and starting out in England, it owed more to the energetic publicising of Herder’s ideas by the Oxford celebrity Sir Isaiah Berlin — ideas of irresistible appeal to the post-Marxist and post-religious liberal mind.’

Open borders and open societies? A desire a ‘culture’ has to forge and solidify its own identity?

Kelley Ross (open border libertarian last I checked) responds to a correspondent on value-pluralism, while discussing John Gray as well:

‘Now, I do not regard Berlin’s value pluralism as objectionable or even as wrong, except to the extend that it is irrelevant to the MORAL issue and so proves nothing for or against liberalism. Liberalism will indeed recommend itself if one wishes to have a regime that will respect, within limits, a value pluralism.

‘J.S. Mill, etc., continue to be better philosophers than Berlin or Gray because they understand that there must be an absolute moral claim in the end to fundamental rights and negative liberty, however it is thought, or not thought, to be justified. Surrendering the rational case does not even mean accepting the overall “value pluralism” thesis, since Hume himself did not do so.

Back to Sandall:

‘Then something happened: the English word “culture” in the sense employed by Matthew Arnold in his 1869 Culture and Anarchy got both anthropologized and Germanised — and anthropological culture was the opposite of all that. It meant little more in fact than a social system.’

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

A rather tangled web indeed…

Further entanglements on this site, possibly related:

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…

From Edward Feser: ‘Jackson on Popper on materialism

‘Popper’s World 3 is in some respects reminiscent of Plato’s realm of the Forms, but differs in that Popper takes World 3 to be something man-made. As I noted in the earlier post just linked to, this makes his positon at least somewhat comparable the Aristotelian realist (as opposed to Platonic realist) view that universals are abstracted by the mind from the concrete objects that instantiate them rather than pre-existing such abstraction.’

Quite a comment thread over there…

Popper:

“…and if there could be such a thing as socialism combined with individual liberty, I would be a socialist still. For nothing could be better than living a modest, simple, and free life in an egalitarian society. It took some time before I recognized this as no more than a beautiful dream; that freedom is more important that equality; that the attempt to realize equality endangers freedom; and that, if freedom is lost, there will not even be equality among the unfree.”

Related On This Site:Encyclopedia Of Philosophy Entry On Eliminative Materialism…

Bryan Magee Via Youtube: ‘Miles Burnyeat On Plato’Repost: From the Cambridge Companion To Plato-T.H. Irwin’s “Plato: The intellectual Background’

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

How might this relate to the Heglian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Fred Siegel On The German Influence And Kelley Ross On Some Of Roger Scruton’s Thinking

Repost-Theodore Dalrymple At The City Journal-The Persistence Of Ideology

Interesting read.

Francis Fukuyama and his influential essay are mentioned, as well as Immanuel Kant, Marx, and Isaiah Berlin.

Ideas matter, obviously, and the piece attempts to re-contextualize many ideological struggles which keep shaping our day-to-day lives (I have it on good intel that the guys down at the docks say ‘quotidian struggles’).

Dalrymple:

‘Who, then, are ideologists? They are people needy of purpose in life, not in a mundane sense (earning enough to eat or to pay the mortgage, for example) but in the sense of transcendence of the personal, of reassurance that there is something more to existence than existence itself. The desire for transcendence does not occur to many people struggling for a livelihood. Avoiding material failure gives quite sufficient meaning to their lives. By contrast, ideologists have few fears about finding their daily bread. Their difficulty with life is less concrete. Their security gives them the leisure, their education the need, and no doubt their temperament the inclination, to find something above and beyond the flux of daily life.’

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Related On This Site:

-Fukuyama’s Marxist/Hegelian influence and the re-purposed Christian metaphysics and Statism found within much German Idealism: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’…Fred Siegel On The German Influence And Kelley Ross On Some Of Roger Scruton’s Thinking

-Are we really progressing…can we be more clear about means and ends? Via Youtube-Samuel Huntington On ‘The Clash Of Civilizations’Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Sunday Quotation: From Jonathan Bennett On Kant…Link To An Ayn Rand Paper By George Walsh: The Objectivist Attack On Kant…From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On Kant

-The Englightenment/Romantic tension…the horror of rationalist systems which claimed knowledge of man’s ends, but also a defense of both positive and negative liberties-Appeasement Won’t Do-Via A Reader, ‘Michael Ignatieff Interview With Isaiah Berlin’…A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

***Why so many Britons on this site? (J.S. Mill, Isaiah Berlin by way of Riga, Michael Oakeshott, Roger Scruton, Bryan Magee, Theodore Dalrymple, John Gray etc.?)

I don’t know all the reasons, but there’s definitely an Anglophilia at work, our division by a common language, and perhaps an overall ideological predilection towards an Anglo-sphere alliance. I think there is mutual benefit, security and leverage to be had in working for a more closely united English-speaking ‘liberal’ world order. There are many sacrifices and risks, dangers and blind-spots, too.

Many of these writers/thinkers have had to face a more institutional and entrenched Left. They can know intimately whereof they speak.
It’s easy to feel vaguely good about our relationship, but let’s not forget moments like these:

washingtonburns.jpg

This is a depiction (thanks to impiousdigest.com) of British troops burning the White House.

Some Links On Robert Kagan’s New Book: ‘The Jungle Grows Back: America And Our Imperiled World’

Our author reviews Robert Kagan’s new book ‘The Jungle Grows Back: America And Our Imperiled World.’

The piece contains liberal pushback (the search for a center?) against what’s argued to be Kagan’s proselytizing neo-conservatism:

‘That is precisely what today’s moment cries out for: Kennan’s humility rather than a new crusade against a new Evil Empire. It cries out for a skeptical liberalism that sees the world as it is rather than going looking for new monsters to destroy.’

Our ideological troubles spring, I have argued before, from liberalism’s lack of perceived legitimacy. Authoritarianism emerges as a symptom either where the liberal approach to organizing society has failed to take root, or where an established liberalism is seen to be overreaching unopposed. We ought to be on the lookout for these failures of liberalism—for “the appeals to core elements of human nature that liberalism does not always satisfy,”

There’s lots of stuff in the piece for regular readers of this blog (Mention of Edmund Burke, Isaiah Berlin etc.).

The author finishes with the area of most shared agreement [between himself] and Kagan (a view of ‘teleological’ progressivism as dangerously narrow and very authoritarian itself; delegitimizing and destabilizing Western liberalism from within).

It’s going to be harder to deal with the rest of the world when these core elements of debate rage within Western hearts, minds and institutions:

The Jungle Grows Back is an important book insofar as it contains all the debates outlined above within it. And Kagan opens the space for these ideas to breathe a little by rightly dismissing teleological progressivism in his book’s opening pages—a great service that makes reading the book a richer experience than it otherwise might have been. But a more moderate, and therefore much wiser, conclusion is passed over by an author whose commitment to his priors prevents him from seeing what a gem he might have had on his hands. It’s too bad.’

Kagan discusses the book here with what I’d describe as an evolutionary psychologist/soft-ish Marxist:

Also On This Site: Taking on the telos of progress and questioning  modern liberal assumptions with a largely nihilistic approach (progress is learned but doesn’t stay learned in human affairs; the lesson of various 20th centry writers and one of the main purposes of a humanities education): Repost-John Gray At The Literary Review Takes A Look At A New Book On Michael Oakeshott: ‘Last Of The Idealists’…Repost-John Gray Reviews Francis Fukuyama At The Literary Review: ‘Destination Denmark’…Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

People on the Left and a more moderate middle, and from libertarian conservative backgrounds are increasingly challenging core ideological assumptions of far Left doctrines having crept into so many institutions.  They must defend their own disciplines and be of exemplary character: Repost-Moving Towards Truth And Liberty, But What To Conserve?-Some Thoughts On The Bret & Eric Weinstein Interview…Jonathan Haidt At Heterodox Academy: ‘The Blasphemy Case Against Bret Weinstein, And Its Four Lessons For Professors’…Charles Murray From ‘The Happiness Of People’…The Hoover Institution Via Youtube: Charles Murray On ‘Coming Apart’

Repost-Looking For Liberals In The Postmodern Wilderness-Jordan Peterson & Stephen Hicks

A restatement of Anglican, British conservatism with deep Kantian, Hegelian roots: Repost-Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’…Link To Roger Scruton’s First Of Three Charles Test Lectures Hosted By Princeton University

The Religious Conservative American right advocating a step back from a common Constitutional project?: Two Links To Rod Dreher On How To Live And What To Do... Another view of the 60’s radicalism on campus: Repost-A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

Out of the Valley of modernism, post-modernism, and relativism…one path from Nietzsche’s nihilism is through Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom: Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo StraussFrom Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’

Kant chopped the head off from German deism and the German State has been reeling every since…is value pluralism a response?: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Reasonable-Sounding Schemes, Rosy Dreams & Plans From Above: Some Links On Michael Oakeshott’s ‘Rationalism In Politics’

Lately, when I can manage an hour or two of unbothered attention, I’ve been having a dialogue with a rather deep 20th-century Englishman. This gentleman sees the divorce of technique from practical knowledge, and the over-reliance on technique, as one of the deepest epistemological mistakes of modern man:

‘…modern rationalism is what commonplace minds made out of the inspiration of men of discrimination and genius.’

Oakeshott, Michael.  Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991. Print.  Pg 6.

You can’t just toss direct experience, long history, developed traditions and deep practice into a pot, can you?  Were you just going to bring your pot to a rolling boil, skim the top, bottle it up and sell it as the ‘Last Cookbook You’ll Ever Need’?

Who is Oakeshott’s Rationalist?  Perhaps nearly all of us:

‘At bottom, he stands (he always stands) for independence of mind on all occasions, for thought free from obligation to any authority save the authority of ‘reason.’  His circumstances in the modern world have made him contentious: He is the enemy of authority, of prejudice, of the merely traditional, customary or habitual.  His mental attitude is at once sceptical and optimistic: sceptical, because there is no opinion, no habit, no belief, nothing so firmly rooted or so widely held that he hesitates to question it and judge it by what he calls his ‘reason:’ optimistic because the rationalist never doubts the power of his ‘reason’ (when properly applied) to determine the worth of a thing, the truth of an opinion or the propiety of an action.  Moreover, he is fortified by a belief in a ‘reason’ common to all mankind…’

Pg 6.

But in particular, the following:

‘He is not devoid of humility; he can imagine a problem which would remain impervious to the onslaught of his own reason.  But what he can not imagine is politics which do not consist of solving problems, or a political problem of which there is no ‘rational’ solution at all.’

Pg. 10.

We Americans are Rationalists, to some extent, with our founding documents kept under glass:

“When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation…”

Oakeshott again:

‘Long before the Revolution, then, the disposition of mind of the American colonists, the prevailing intellectual character and habit of politics, were rationalistic.  And this is clearly reflected in the constitutional documents and history of the individual colonies.  And when these colonies came ‘to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,’ and to declare their independence, the only fresh inspiration that this habit of politics received from the outside was one which confirmed its native character in every particular.  For the inspiration of Jefferson and the other founders of American independence was the ideology which Locke had distilled from the English political tradition.’

Pg 31.

I have trouble imagining Oakeshott having much sympathy with our founders’ direct experience and developing practice alongside and against King George III and the Redcoats; the slow-rolling revolution these men found themselves within.

What should ‘common men’ have done with relatively limited experience and practice of their own, but such a long and mixed inheritance to draw upon?

Hasn’t our American solution (posing admitted cultural threats to established English traditions) helped ameliorate the effects of long-stratified classes, resentments, and bitternesses which have allowed a much deeper Marxism (ideology par excellence) to flourish in the U.K?

Has the American influence made them worse?

Perhaps if long history and deep practice have helped organically produce Monarchy, Aristocracy, landed gentry and unlanded serfs; a country where an accent can immediately rank order one’s class and status, then America’s rationalist common man has gotten some things right?

Food for thought.

Is that the sight of tweed moving amongst the trees upon the horizon?

To Hounds!:

I must say Oakeshott offers refreshing critique of thinkers from Descartes to Bacon and Marx to Hayek, and I imagine he can easily be applied to Rawls, Nozick and any other very bright, systemizing thinkers of the 20th century.

Often times, brilliance and genius in the mathematical sciences can help reformulate and solve some of the deeper problems of the Natural World, but such thinking doesn’t necessarily travel well beyond these spheres.

Beware the Man Of System?

And one should also probably remember this, from Hamlet’s Ghost:

‘There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your Philosophy’

Thinking of politics as just a ‘science,’ can obviously be a problem, for example.  Thinking all the reasons for deep disagreement between people (religion, belief, habit, custom) are going to be solved with the latest theory or a new politico-managment style is full of obvious problems.

Rationalism, on this view, decays frequently into ideology, as well, and there’s no shortage of ideological doctrines nor ideologues and narrow, doctrinal sorts this past century.

On that note, please let me know what I’ve gotten wrong, or missing thus far.

***Dear Reader, I beseech you to recall that I’m full-time employed elsewhere and this blog is a labor of love; a means to keep learning.  Please send $1,000,000+ checks discreetly in the mail.

Also on this site:

A Few Ken Minogue Quotations on Michael Oakeshott…Why Should You Get A Liberal Education? From The ASAN Institute Via Vimeo: ‘Michael Oakeshott’s Cold War Liberalism 1’

…Repost: Where The Libertarian And Conservative Often Part Ways-Arnold Kling On Ken Minogue’s ‘The Servile Mind’

Repost-Moving Towards Truth And Liberty, But What To Conserve?-Some Thoughts On The Bret & Eric Weinstein Interview

Via The Rubin Report:

As I currently see events, a self-directed life and the freedom to live such a life is a blessing of the Enlightenment, indeed, but much Enlightenment thinking has also helped produce many Shrines-Of-The-Self which currently dot the landscape, and which come with many downside risks.

Reserving judgment about such Shrines (should they exist), I suspect many in the West feel a tidal pull towards Romanticized-Modernized-Postmodernized visions of Nature, and the triumph of the individual artist, revealing and having revelations, creating, striving, and making anew in a process of casting old models aside. Towering genuises abound. Many are European.

Generations and centuries later, however, such ideas have also saturated Western civil society enough to create many of our familiar tensions: Some individuals are in a process of fully rejecting religion, science, mathematics and many products of reason in favor of modern mysticism, ideology and the nihilist denial of objective reality.

I think other individuals in the modern world have placed a lot of hope and meaning into political ideals and political movements gathered around what I’ve been calling the ‘-Isms’ (feminism, environmentalism, racism etc…where group identity can easily crowd out the pursuit of truth and individual autonomy). Such movements have important moral truths to offer and arguably freedoms for all (such is always the claim), but they don’t come without costs, dangers and downsides either (spin-cycles of utopia/dystopia as Eric Weinstein points out in the video above).

I consider these movements to be in serious need of critique, resistance and context, especially in dealing with hard problems of human nature like war and conflict, potential evil, and the incredible difficulty of maintaining legitimate moral decency aligned with positions of authority. Process can often matter as much as outcome.

Last but not least, still other individuals have been taken up into radical movements staying true to the totalitarianism and misery guaranteed within doctrines of revolutionary praxis, and such individuals are still busy activating beneath the deeper bedrock of secular humanism and liberal thinking, pushing upwards.

The Weinsteins are engaged in a lot of the pushback:

That mathematics, the natural sciences and evolutionary biology offer profound truth and knowledge should go without saying, expanding human understanding of the natural world, more accurately explaining empirically observed patterns and relationships within that natural world, and actively disrupting most old models many of us have long since internalized.

This is what free and rigorous thinking, often at great personal cost, can offer to an open and free society. May it long continue.

I don’t know if I’m with the brothers Weinstein when it comes to their radicalism regarding all current institutional arrangements, but I could be persuaded by their ‘panther-in-the-china-shop’ model of reform. Frankly, many of our most important institutions are proving over-inflated, cumbersome, and full of rot: Buffeted as we all are are by migration and mass communication, global labor markets, and very rapid technological rates of change.

***Perhaps if there’s a spectrum of change, I fall more on the conservative side. At the moment, I’m skeptical of the defense of experts and expertise (despite the truths), the panther-reformers (despite our common interests), and the populist discontent so active in our politics right now (boiling over, but accurately, I think, representing many of the fissures and chasms in civil society right now).

I should add that I think much that’s being conserved is arguably not worth conserving at any given time, but I doubt any one of us, nor any group, has accesss to full knowledge of what should stay and what should go. In fact, I’m pretty certain one of the main points of good governance lies in prohibiting any one of us, nor any particular faction, no matter how reasonable, to have very much power for very long (and it’s definitely the job of good people and the good in people to keep the demagogues, zealots, career bureuacrats and grubby strivers from too much power).

Let me know what I may have gotten wrong. Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

As always, thanks for reading. That’s a blessing in and of itself.

Related On This Site:

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”…

Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

The radical and rationalist project, anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism: Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”

Somewhere from the old aristocratic Russia softly speaks a keen mind in beautiful, strange English: Michael Dirda At The Washington Post Reviews ‘Nabokov in America’

How might this relate to the Heglian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Via Youtube-‘Week 2 Leo Strauss-The Three Waves Of Modernity’

From The NY Times Via A & L Daily: Helen Vendler On Wallace Stevens ‘The Plain Sense Of Things’

A ‘Postmodern Conservative’ View?-Some Links

Via David Thompson’s Greatest Hits: ‘A discussion on the state of the left with Ophelia Benson, editor of the rationalist website Butterflies & Wheels and co-author of Why Truth Matters.’

‘Our criticism of [Judith] Butler was quite independent of the merits or lack thereof of Derrida – but perhaps a criticism of his defender amounts to a criticism of him and is therefore not allowed. At any rate, Butler’s open letter to the Times is a classic example of precisely this evasive non-substantive suggestion of impropriety that you mention. It’s basically an argument from celebrity. ‘How dare you publish such a snide obituary, Derrida was hugely influential, he was celebrated, he was a big deal.’

Hmmm….Martha Nussbaum on Judith Butler: ‘The Professor Of Parody

‘These developments owe much to the recent prominence of French postmodernist thought. Many young feminists, whatever their concrete affiliations with this or that French thinker, have been influenced by the extremely French idea that the intellectual does politics by speaking seditiously, and that this is a significant type of political action. Many have also derived from the writings of Michel Foucault (rightly or wrongly) the fatalistic idea that we are prisoners of an all-enveloping structure of power, and that real-life reform movements usually end up serving power in new and insidious ways. Such feminists therefore find comfort in the idea that the subversive use of words is still available to feminist intellectuals. Deprived of the hope of larger or more lasting changes, we can still perform our resistance by the reworking of verbal categories, and thus, at the margins, of the selves who are constituted by them.’

Strolling along, Avital Ronell, professor of German and Comparative Literature at NYU, invites you for a walk in the park, for whom 10 minutes of profound explication can never be enough:

I’m guessing that in the past, and maybe still in the present, some Nimrods find both the Catholic Church and/or the Priesthood of Impenetrable Jargon attractive life options.

‘In September 2017, New York University launched a Title IX investigation into Avital Ronell, an internationally acclaimed professor who had been accused of sexual harassment by her former graduate student, Nimrod Reitman.’

Roger Scruton suggests that the co-opting of university philosophy and literature departments by similar postmodern schools of thought (post-ish Marxist) does a disservice to young people interested in both philosophy and literature:

On that note, it doesn’t matter so much if ideas are true, or falsifiable, but rather if they can be held with conviction, made into policy, and acted upon in the world.  People are going to do politics, whether you like it or not.  It’s a basic human activity.

I’d argue that the decline of religion along with the intellectual currents in many academies have conspired to produce enough space for the following in our politics:  Morally righteous people interested in how you should live your life. People who are deeply anti-religious and narrowly ideological:

Moving along still, Sam Harris and Ezra Klein (editor of Vox) debate Charles Murray’s work, which goes to a central critique of progressive doctrines which conflate moral and political reasoning: How to live and what to do become intimately united with immediate political action and coalition-building (forgetting, or perhaps never understanding, what politics can actually do and at what costs).

My take: There’s an inherent belief that political activism is ‘scientific.’ This belief is strong enough that when decent and conflicting social science comes along, it becomes morally suspect and a threat to money, politics and identity (the royal road to utopia):

It’s actually less important whether or not you agree politically with Charles Murray, but rather whether or not you’ve understood what he’s saying.  It used to be, at least, that if you couldn’t understand what someone was saying, you still didn’t prevent his saying it in public.

Both Sam Harris and John Derbyshire (of differing political views) seem to understand quite well the crux of Murray’s reasoning:

Notice the people trying to shut Murray down are not reading his book, nor really interested in what he’s saying.

Not a good sign:

Adam Kirsch At The National Interest On Lionel Trilling

Trilling’s Tutelage:’

‘Then came the 1960s. Through this decade Trilling walked an exquisitely fine line. He dined at the White House with John and Jackie Kennedy. His very name was associated with the word liberal, and that was the problem in the sixties. Trilling was the kind of centrist Cold War liberal against whom the decade’s radicals defined themselves. It was Trilling’s peculiar destiny to protect and defend the novels and poetry of the Victorians, among others, in the Age of Aquarius. When the Columbia campus rose up in protest in the spring of 1968, Trilling symbolized the liberal old guard’

As posted:

‘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.’

Trilling, Lionel. The Liberal Imagination: Essays On Literature And Society. The Viking Press: New York, 1950. (preface xiii).

Trilling and Nabokov at last!:

Other odds and ends:

Oliver Traldi at Quillete reviews Mark Lilla- ‘The Once And Future Liberal: After Identity Politics

‘Lilla’s own explanation of his liberalism, given by the book’s structure, is that politics is liberal by definition.

and:

‘Lilla clearly thinks he is making a pragmatic case, but he does not engage with any empirical political science; no numbers of any kind—polls, turnout, what have you—appear in the book.’

Another view of the 60’s and Yale: Repost-A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

Martha Nussbaum had a rather profound take via this review of ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.

Nicholas C Burbules on her book:

“Between these two lines of attack, she believes, the university must articulate a conception of itself that defends the standards of reason, while remaining open to new points of view; that preserves the intellectual traditions and canons that define U.S. culture, while consciously broadening the curriculum to expose students to traditions which diverge from their own and which, in their difference, may confront students with an awareness of their own parochialism; that remain respectful and tolerant of many points of view without lapsing into relativism; and in short, that manages to prepare students simultaneously to be citizens of U.S. society, and cosmopolitans, “citizens of the world.’

 

Happy New Year! Let’s Do 2019! Gird Your Loins for An Unbidden Lecture On (A)rt, (S)cience And American Institutions These Days

I don’t know how you ended-up on this blog, but here you are:  Welcome old and new readers, to this little carved-out corner of the web.  May you subtly calculate how and why you disagree with me as you click back to that latest favorite video/recipe/game.

Or do yourself a favor and just click through to Zombo.com already.

It’s free!

Personally, I see many Wild-West attributes of online platforms as increasingly coming into contact with existing institutions and interests, and becoming less wild, but still Western.

This seems to be happening while many of our institutions have been seriously over-leveraged and are undergoing tremendous populist pushback. Trust in political parties, lawmakers and institutional leadership are at all-time lows.

Is America becoming more like Europe?

Mid and longer-term, there is still a fair amount of high-end innovation and intellectual incubation going on.  I tend to see mathematicians, AI innovators, computer scientists and software engineers as trying to solve particular kinds of problems, and generally not worrying too much about ‘culture,’ at least while not actively solving these problems.

Nevertheless, the ‘culture’ is interested in them.  At many companies and institutions, there is a tendency towards aligning with the loudest voices and most committed social reformers, which is to say favoring oppressed identity groups (women, minorities etc) on a rather simplified trend-line towards ever-more freedom and progress.

This tends to be where a lot of moral and public sentiment is currently being directed, regardless of deeper truths.

Such platforms also interact with a general decline in organized religious and cultural expectations in nearly all of our lives (my simplified trend-line of less religion in our lives).  I see a good deal of increased choice and freedom about where to work, whom to marry and how to make decisions these days.

Therefore, not all of these changes are bad.  Many of these changes, in fact, have been very good for very many people, but they come with costs.

It’s not clear what the new rules are nor upon which foundations they will rest.

What’s going on with the intellectual dark-web?: If not all change is for the better, and if you’re counting on liberation driven by radicals decrying all existing institutions in favor of utopian ideas and revolution, then you’re counting on deeply authoritarian and totalitarian ideologues to defend liberty.

This is where many in academia, the media and positions of cultural influence find themselves these days, having backed-into into institutional and bureaucratic capture by illiberal voices.

As for the current Patreon dustup, I see Patreon as primarily having to make a business decision in the ‘culture’ wars between the more activist and socialist Left and the IDW (intellectual dark-web).

A vigorous, robust defense of freedom of speech so common a generation ago has now sadly, but unsurprisingly, become a cultural battleground.

And on major platforms like Patreon, the IDW folks standing-up for broader and more open speech have become an unprotected minority, and likely a business liability:

Many deeply committed socialists tend to be surprisingly good art and film critics, focusing sharply on ‘culture.’  Many economic Marxists tend to congregate in the academy and politics as they produce little of value beyond spreading the gospel of Marx.  They can be particularly adept at politics, gaining special traction while institutions are over-leveraged.

If you allow them to drive the latest moral idea, then eventually standing up for any law, tradition or practice makes you an enemy and part of the ‘system’ they claim to know so much about:

As for my take on artists, most good ones tend to the bohemian, operating on the fringes of the ‘culture’, wanting to develop particular skills, talents as well as their own unique voices (good artists earn appropriate respect for their skills and talents, despite often harboring fruitcake economic and philosophical ideas).

Generally, they are not members of a ‘creative class,’ as this tends to be a favored fiction of many a softly collectivist type, dreaming rosy dreams.

More broadly, many in the culture at large have gone down deeply nihilistic and existentialist pathways.  On the ‘cutting-edge’ where what’s cool easily becomes culturally and politically influential, many individuals see themselves as bitterly isolated from all meaning and purpose, on their own against the void, much like the tragic anti-hero become so popular these days.

I see this as occuring on a much longer trend-line, or at least, Isaiah Berlin offers some useful thoughts as to when and where Western artists started adopting this Romantic vision and outside-looking-in approach so common these days:

As to my own paltry contributions (using other people’s platforms to link to other people discussing past great contributions), here ya go.

There are many entry points into Western canon, so here are just a few:

Music + Math=Symmetry?:

And just a passing dream:

The Problems Are Deep Within Us, So Try And Get The Incentives Right

A reader sends a link to The Confessions Of Bernhard Goetz, subway vigilante:

There’s a lot here: Genuine threat (thugs), fear, real victimization (previous muggings and a likely soon-to-be mugging), but also serious ignorance and over-reaction.

I imagine Goetz was a bit like a feral animal fleeing out of that subway car, up the station stairs and into the night.

From min 33:40:

The question to be litigated was whether the community would make a judgment about his (Goetz) own good faith belief….are we in a position to condemn him for over-reacting?

On that note: So bad, but awfully good at satisfying an urge. The cinematic glorification of vigilantism can make victims of plot and good character development:

The crime back then was so bad that some citizens stood up to protect their own and others, defying police and transit authorities.

Who can you really trust?

So much high and low in a big city, so much to learn about turf, risk and danger:

There’s a way through here, where the good people and the good in people can flourish, without insitutional incentives getting in the way.

Heather MacDonald: ‘The War On Cops’. C-Span interview with MacDonald on the book here.  She also points out that Compstat isn’t really going anywhere: ‘Prosecution Gets Smart:

Computational Criminology And Predictive Policing.

‘Computational criminology seeks to address criminological problems through the use of applied mathematics, computer science and criminology. Methods include algorithms, data mining, data structures and software development.’

Limited Resources + Potentially Imminent Risk/Harm + Repeat Offenders/Learned Skills + Violence + Lots Of Room For Error = Too Much Practical Upside To Not Adopt Additional Means Of Fighting Crime.

Via Marginal Revolution: ‘Neural Network Learns To Identify Criminals By Their Faces

Mildly To Marginally Related: American city-politics can be…pretty rough:

Via David Thompson-Chicago Murder Stats in one place.

Where not to go in San Francisco?

As posted:

Is NYC really like the rest of the country?:

Okay….: