Many of the arguments surrounding ‘pure’ democracy and the eventual inclusion of everyone into an arrangement of equal political representation (one voice, one vote) can be fruitfully analyzed from a Hayekian perspective.
Many radical ideologists and idealists driving political change claim the above as justification for having eroded current institutional arrangements, of course.
This isn’t necessarily because such folks don’t have knowledge (we all have some knowledge, despite a collective madness usually residing in crowds, and despite everyone in a crowd knowing many different things even if they chose not to exercise such knowledge while in the crowd).
Rather, as Hayek offers, it’s because the knowledge simply doesn’t exist to run an economy from a central point, nor design and encompass a language from the top down, nor rationally plan how everyone ought to live through collective committee and/or pure democratic representation. Such an ideal, thus, will never be realized.
Often, such idealism travels accompanied by undue faith in rationalism where claims to knowledge are used to defend one’s personal beliefs, interests, reputation and ideological commitments: As though it were all purely ‘rational,’ when, in fact, the reasoning comes later.
Often, undue weight is placed in scientism, where relatively limited understanding of recent scientific findings are pressed into service for political and ideological goals. Obviously, such activity often leads the sciences become a tool to engineer and plan people’s lives in the political realm, rather than trying to figure out how nature works, or engineer systems that can understand and manipulate the natural world.
Now, of course, this doesn’t discredit the work of all economists, scientists, Dr. Johnson’s dictionary (but probably Esperanto), nor the importance of Statesman to have specific wisdom, knowledge and experience.
But, as to the reasons given for constant radical change towards pure and equal representative democracy in the area of political philosophy, Hayek has much to offer.
‘Hayek’s argument against planning was rooted in his views about how to assimilate the knowledge relevant to economic decisions that, necessarily in a modern society, is dispersed among millions of distinct individuals. What feasible mechanisms of social action would allow this diffused information to be most efficiently brought to bear on decisions about the use of scarce resources? How can the actions of myriad individual producers and consumers be so coordinated as to exploit most effectively the specialized knowledge which each possesses about their respective circumstances?
His answer, of course, was that central planning could not improve upon — and invariably would lead to outcomes much worse than — what can be achieved via the price system operating within competitive markets where institutions of private property and freedom of contract are respected, and where individuals enjoy liberty to puruse their own best interests, as they understand them.
This, I wish to insist, is a profound insight into the functioning of economic systems which — though subject to qualification and exception — is largely a correct conclusion with far-reaching implications for the design of economic institutions and the conduct of public affairs. To my mind, the world’s history since publication of The Road to Serfdom has largely vindicated Hayek’s concerns…
Dear Reader, after all these waves of secularization, leveling-down, and marketing-up of our lives, the ideal society will form at last. Human beings are pretty-much good, and just need the right guidance from the most wise and knowledgeable among us. From ‘socially conscious’ corporate-posturing to ‘benevolent’ managerial idealists running our lives, freedom is next!
-Koons gets the Annie Leibovitz treatment (a well-made, but unfortunate photo at the link).
-This is not a commentary on Koons’ art, some of which I like well enough, it’s a much worse beast; another attempt at cultural criticism.
In the talk around Koons, what often stands-out to me was how much talk there was about Koons himself, and the search for meaning in all that talk. The concept of artist-as-individual is nothing new; an isolated Self, quite apart from society, mining his interior life and experiences in order to represent beauty, meaning, and some attempt at expressing universal truths through his work and craft. This is unsurprisingly part of what all artists do, and the extreme individuality of this process is what Western artists somewhat consciously have been doing for a few centuries now, from musicians to writers to sculptors, from romanticism to modernism to post-modernism and beyond.
The fact that Koons is doing this with such relentless self-promotion and while also courting celebrity is arguably a much more ‘modern’ phenomenon. A certain amount of melliflous, abstract bullshit seems part of the Koons’ game, as if you’d walked onto a used-art lot as Koons tours you around, asking what’s-it-gonna-take-to-get-you-into-one-of-his-pieces. He offers you an invitation and a return to part of your Self. He can make you whole again within the work produced by his Self.
Jeff Koons is a brand.
Perhaps this is what it takes these days to make a living by schmoozing with wealthy art-buyers, but in some ways, it has a distinctly American feel. High and low culture mix in a highly commercial, utilitarian way. The urge to merge abstract art and the avant-garde with mass, pop-culture is expressed. Fame and meta-critiques on fame, celebrity, money, and the Self amplified for all the other Selfs to see has implications for much of our culture, I suspect.
As to establishing Koons’ bona fides enough to merit attention by Vanity Fair, here are a few quotes from the piece:
Everyone’s getting in on the bullshit!
“Jeff is the Warhol of his time,” proclaims Adam Weinberg, the Whitney’s director.’
You need an L.G.B.T. blessing to be truly avant-garde these days:
‘The reference to Curtis ties Koons to the last true avant-garde—a pedigree the artist likes. Curtis, who refused to be called a drag queen, was a pioneer of the L.G.B.T. movement and, like Candy Darling, was made famous by Warhol’
‘What Warhol and Koons do have in common, though, is an uncanny ability to nail an image or an object so that it catches the Zeitgeist.’
Partially true, perhaps, but what if the Zeitgeist is nothing but a leafy suburb full of good schools, intact families, and moderate lives? Isn’t this why some youngish people (ahem…many hipsters) often leave their small towns and suburbs looking for meaning, group membership and purpose in what can end-up vaguely collectivist and vaguely individualist lives in cities?
Everyone’s an artist, these days.
Also, you must establish modernist credentials for the brand:
‘Koons’s job at MoMA gave him the opportunity to immerse himself in the history of modernism, in particular the ideas of Marcel Duchamp, who changed art history by showing how everyday objects, or “readymades,” could be elevated into the realm of art, depending on context. Duchamp’s theories were a revelation to Koons.’
Yes, dear reader, Piketty and Brecht in the same paragraph:
‘Barbara Kruger, the artist whose unsentimental pronouncements have been cutting to the chase about the art world for decades, says “Oh boy” when I call to discuss Koons, whom she has known since they both were starting out in New York. She needed to think about it and later wrote me: “Jeff is like the man who fell to earth, who, in this grotesque time of art flippage and speculative mania, is either the icing on the cake or some kind of Piketty-esque harbinger of the return of Brecht’s ‘making strange.’
And finally, while I have no quarrel with neurosicence, pop-neuroscience is often a repository for the modern search for legitimate experiences and theories of the Self:
‘Dr. Eric R. Kandel, a Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist, was so impressed with the show that he e-mailed Koons afterward. I asked Kandel why. He explained, “I have been interested in the ‘beholder’s share,’ an idea that came from the Viennese art historian Alois Riegl. It involves the concept that when a painter paints a painting or a sculptor makes a sculpture it is not complete unless a beholder, a viewer, responds to it.”
Kandel adds, “When you looked at the sculptures you saw yourself embedded in the gazing balls. Artists sometimes put mirrors in works, but they don’t design the work so that you find yourself in the arms or chest of a statue, which is what Jeff did.’
Go and find your Self and be made whole, dear reader, within Jeff Koons’ work and the Jeff Koons brand, and try and tell the dancer from the dance.
Koons’ Made In Heaven only amplifies that sound, blurring the line between art and porn, private experience and public show, innocence (so easily corrupted) and naive, narcissistic indulgence.
‘The anthropological idea of culture is fundamentally German: Kultur. It would be hard for such an idea to arise in Anglo-Saxon thinking, basically utilitarian, empiricist and individualist. The German strain — Kantian, idealist and collectivist is much more open to it. It is interesting that the continental Pole, Malinowski, always thought of culture as his subject matter (A Scientific Theory of Culture), and thought it should be analyzed in terms of how it answered human needs.‘
‘We’ Germans has certainly posed problems these past centuries (I’ll spare you Lefty-driven Hitler year-zero talk, which, I believe, like our language debates, is driven by ‘problematic’ ideas valorizing liberation over liberty).
If a ‘kultur’ approaches music (math, patterns & free-flowing creativity) like the Germans have, maybe you get a Bach, Mozart or Beethoven. This is good to remember if find yourself squaring-off against the German Army.
Could it be the desire for Weld-Peace also triggers the desire for Weld-Domination?
As readers know, I believe the turn towards Romanticized Nature away from industrialization, and subsequent modernized ‘Nature’ (industry=BAD) is traveling full-speed ahead as part of a process of secularization. Add the post modernized nihilistic ‘Self vs void’ narrative and I believe we have a lot of forces pushing somewhere both new and old.
You can wrap all these American changes within Civil Rights Idealism, secular humanism, liberal idealism and universalism, and call all these changes ‘good.’ That said, you probably look more clueless and partisan if you do, without accounting for the ‘bad.’ Such changes don’t seem to be working out in the real world without shitting on everything religious, local, traditional and un-modern.
I think this helps explain our current political climate.
Then again, here in the States, we have had our own Puritans; much more likely to support a certain moral and religious order. Their DNA is especially visible in New England and the Boston area.
There are also a lot of deeply religious folks in the Mennonite and Amish villages dotted throughout the country. From Texas to Iowa to Pennsylvania, there are swathes of strait-laced German influence.
These have often existed apart from the new, secular, progressive religion, where there is a lot of sorrowfully crying into soft, institutional pillows, supporting the latest activist (C)ause (usually with someone else’s money and time), while punishing non-believers.
Human nature and reality await.
It seems a lot of folks who are religious, local, traditional and un-modern might also be secularizing, to some extent.
Whittaker Chambers, David Horowitz, and other heretics having fled from the radical ideologies of the Left are explained as part of a movement that helped define a century in which, for Packer, the American right has come to dominate.
In fact, he finishes with:
‘The downward slide from Chambers and Reagan to Coulter and Trump has surely swept along a few young idealists who thought they were joining the side of freedom and truth, then realized too late that they had signed on for junk science and white identity politics. Ted Cruz’s vision would require the toppling of just about every pillar of the country’s social and economic structure. You don’t have to look elsewhere for the destructive utopianism that turns believers into apostates. In a few years’ time, we’ll be reading the chilling inside story, written by a campaign aide who barely got out alive.’
I can imagine the view from the New Yorker office in Manhattan might be magnifying the various and sundry evangelicals, mouth-breathing gun-nuts, racist xenophobes and ‘junk-scientists’ gathering at the Black Gate Of Mordor. These are simple folk, really. The J6 event (at least a riot) simply acted as confirmation.
Traditional folks, country folks, religious folks and unmodern folks have all become out-groups, treated with scorn, pity or, perhap; sad rubes to be rounded-up by the new fields of knowledge implemented within a benevolent managerial state.
Welcome to the minority! There sure was a lot of dishonesty, cowardice and injustice in how this profound shift is playing out.
We all know that even if ideal human societies with ever more freedom and equality aren’t possible, we should still try and make them a reality, right? Many people’s hearts are in the right place, after all.
Or do ‘The People’ possess one big heart they all have to share?
Do ‘real-scientists’ all read the New Yorker for the latest scientific discoveries explained in 2,000 word long-form essays?
Of course, while there is a special kind of concern-trolling on display in Packer’s piece, there is also a fair amount of truth: It is the heretics ‘mugged by reality’ who’ve helped to lead the conservative movement in the U.S.
Irving Kristol is just one example. I like to imagine his son, Bill, employing his talents as a regional franchise manager for some Honda dealerships in central Ohio or Wendy’s in Tennessee. Would his views remain the same in the salons of the Upper East side?
Would anyone care?
Longer-term, I suspect it’s bound to happen that more ‘neoconservatives’ fall-out of the intellectual grace of worldviews like those often found at the New Yorker, where liberal-Left democratic and secular humanism rule the roost. There’s plenty of soft-collectivism on display, (with its own attendant hippie and post-hippie utopian idealism), safe-spaces for feminism and environmentalism (alarming levels of enviro-dread, lately), along with much post 68′ civil-rights radicalism and what I call ‘brownstone activism.’
Such views are having more and more real-world consequences.
Human nature and reality await.
I don’t know if such observations make me conservative (surely, they do to some), but I often find myself wondering where such ideals lead, exactly? What responsibilities do they impose upon me?
How much equality is enough? How will you know when it is enough? What kinds of moral authority do these ideals rely upon and what kind of institutions do they actually produce in the real world?
Which freedoms and opportunities have they brought me? Are these worth the trade-offs?
If such arguments are well-made, they always have a chance of convincing me.
In the meantime, however, there’s Packer’s piece, where at least there’s some recognition of the following:
‘In the twentieth century, the void left by the loss of religion was sometimes filled by totalizing political systems, and the result was a literary genre of confession that is as powerful and probing as the Augustinian kind.’
Addition: Nice wild swing at Augustinians, there.
Let me know what I’ve got wrong, as so much depends upon where you start:
Technology: Chapt GPT will likely create an assistive-technological training platform for the ambitious and reasonably bright. Many jobs now done by people will simply be automated; and many more technological skills will likely live on steeper curves of obsolescence. There’s no replacement for competence, reliability, and focused attention, of course. People are expecting a lot more choice in their lives, and are self-selecting based on their current preferences (most of us are doing this, to some extent).
Globalization: Both India and China are producing hundreds of thousands of high IQ, specially trained, hard-working software and hardware engineers competing for slots in American higher Ed and the American tech sector. There is global competition in many sectors of the economy.
Past and current trade deals are trying to address the inherent dislocation that comes when capital chases cheap labor, when industry dies out in one area and blooms in another.
America has an aging population (less so than China and many European countries), and many hopelessly insolvent social programs based on somewhat Ponzi-like projections that can’t be maintained as they currently exist. This is a serious, serious problem.
Aren’t you glad we’re so busy politicizing many personal problems?
The American university and current government models are bloated, with a lot of waste and poor incentives, producing a lot of people with unforgivable student-loan debt and degrees of questionable value in current job markets. Our public sector is woefully unable to handle such change. With the postmodern move, and all the ‘studies’ departments and busy-work administrators, I don’t see how pretty dramatic change isn’t forced upon a lot of people unwilling to move their food bowls.
As previously posted-A breath of fresh air from George Packer at the New Yorker: ‘Mute Button:‘
‘The problem with free speech is that it’s hard, and self-censorship is the path of least resistance. But, once you learn to keep yourself from voicing unwelcome thoughts, you forget how to think them—how to think freely at all—and ideas perish at conception. Washiqur Rahman and Avijit Roy had more to fear than most of us, but they lived and died as free men.’
Maybe this kind of moral courage will make a comeback…
‘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.’
‘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?
‘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:
‘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.’
“…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.”
Making the ‘personal political’ tends to politicize all aspects of life. It’s unsurprising that a few good artists will fall on more conservative sides of topical political discussion.
As I see the world: Radical doctrines weaponize personal confessions into political (C)auses. Envy is a deep and nearly constant human emotion, and when the green eyed monster appears, honest self-criticism is much harder than righteous indignation (maybe this guy is smarter/better than me…what can I learn from him?).
I should add: There are plenty of religious prigs who are, essentially, failures at life. More than a few have traced their bitterness into a God-shaped mold.
It’s no surprise the basics learned in youth sports (how to lose honorably, the long hours of toil and sacrifice, the daily practice) are eschewed by most ideologues. If you’re weak and/or losing, becoming anointed into an ideology plugs into one of the deepest human desires: Defining yourself by what you are not, and finding group membership and meaning. The thought that ‘they’ are winning, and thus, I’m (we’re) losing is powerful stuff.
I’m somebody. I can win. I’m less racist than you. I’m more deeply (H)uman than you. I feel more authentically than my enemies. Sister Nancy is the most God-fearing gal in the whole convent.
Human nature hasn’t changed all that much, as every revolutionary radical seems to find out the hard way.
For anyone not in dire straits (genuine need and/or actual oppression), inviting the clumsy hands of ideological (C)ause into the bedroom is a kind of lunacy. Liberation doctrines valorize anti-heroes, medicalize illnesses and glamorize vices into badges of authenticity.
This tends to lead to a lot more failure, and more ideology to fill the holes.
I’m pretty sure: Deep down, rebels and anti-heroes still have authoritarian tendencies and tragic flaws: See History. Most sane people don’t idealize sickness and disease. When it comes to drugs, alcohol and the Zubercocks of this world, what awaits is often just a sad lonely death and a whimper.
Word to the wise: Placing your eggs in the activist basket is a long-term losing game (gays/lesbians/actual minorities) as I see the world. Short- and mid-term gains gather into an ever-growing list of human ‘rights’ which normalize the marginalized and politicize the personal. But politics is a thing. It’s about distributing unequal resources and making decisions. It’s contentious and corruption is usually the rule, not the exception. Believing in politics won’t bring more ‘peace’. Bureaucracy is a large organization where power and authority accrue, but instead of corporate bureaucracies subject to market forces, they continue on with bad incentives and the same amount of inequality as before.
Individual eggs get scrambled into unrecognizable omelettes of mass justice. Many individuals find out too late there’s no real space for individuals in mass movements and passionate (C)auses.
This blog welcomes lenses with which to view works of modern art.
‘Clarity: As I’ve said, the movie abstracts from concrete reality certain general character types, purges from them the nuance and complexity in which we find these general patterns embedded in everyday life, and re-embodies them in extreme characters so that we might more carefully consider those types. Just as we know more clearly what it is to be a triangle by abstracting from particular triangles (red ones, green ones, triangles drawn in ink, triangles drawn in chalk, etc.) and considering the general pattern, so too does the movie allow us to see more clearly what it is to be a desperate man, a cruel man, a weak man, a dishonest man, a broken man, and so on, by way of its skillful caricatures.
So, in its integrity, proportion, and clarity, Glengarry has the marks of a beautiful thing, despite its grim subject matter. One need not admire and approve of Satan in order to admire and approve of Dante’s or Milton’s literary representations of Satan, and one need not admire or approve of the sorts of people represented in a film like Glengarry in order to admire and approve of the representation itself.’
‘You call yourself a salesman you son-of-a-bitch?:’
For those who’ve ever had a real job, and seen people at their best and worst, or been reasonably honest about their own motivations and willingness to be do right by others under duress, well, there’s a lot of truth to be found in this particular work of art.
Like boxing gyms and MMA matches, or call-centers full of debt collectors, or daily life on public city buses, the stuff of humanity is pretty much the same as anywhere else, just more raw and closer to the surface.
On fuller display, perhaps.
Feser provides some reasonable context, here, the kind that forms the backbone of a good Catholic education, and which this blog considers to have enriched the debate.
For those who didn’t ask!:
As this blog sees things, the modernist project is not explicitly ideological, but it is extremely ambitious: Make it new. Start from the ground up, or go back to the foundations and take a really good look, and have the individual genius start building his own, new foundations (alone or in contact with others, such as the Bloomsbury Group).
It takes really talentedindividuals to pull this off; often individuals with previous exposure to tradition; young practitioners with enough talent and perseverance, as well as enough of a pedagogy to inherit and rebel against should they choose.
As this blog has noted, it’s not hard to witness a string of causation between high modernist aims and a lot of the modern and postmodern aimlessness we see all around us. There sure are a lot of poseurs and would-be artists bobbing in the postmodern stew, left to sort out the entire world and their relation to it alone, or upon a stage (as alone and not alone as one can be).
They write these f**king art blurbs before they have any art! What the f**k is this lady doing?:
‘The most useful definition of modernist fiction I’ve encountered comes from Brian McHale’s Postmodernist Fiction. He says modernist fiction tends to “foreground epistemological questions” such as “How can I interpret the world I’m part of? What is there to be known? Who knows it? What are the limits of that knowledge?” In contrast, postmodernist fiction tends to “foreground ontological questions” such as “What is a world? What kinds of worlds are there and how are they constituted? What happens when…boundaries between worlds are violated?’
The above can invite all manner of despair and isolation, and perhaps a deeper cynicism we see in upcoming generations’ rather pervasive desire for fame and recognition.
The above can also exacerbate the spiritual and meaning-making demands individuals place upon the Marketplace, the Church, and in The Media and The Academy (where an authoritarian/totalitarian radical Left seeks to control institutions, institutions where a kind of Western secular humanism and standard-issue political idealism often dominates).
As I see it, I cannot call myself a believer in the questions the Catholic Church claims to to be able to answer, but many modern political and politico-philsophical movements are incomplete at best, and dangerously wrong at worst.
Ah well…there’s my two cents.
There’s good art to be found, of course, but like most well-made things, good art is relatively rare, its ultimate value and quality endlessly disputed, but perhaps, enduring.
–Born and raised in Chicago, Mamet seems pretty old-school and pretty tough. He reminds me a bit of Norman Mailer, verbally pugilistic and combative, though unlike Mailer he’s taken a different turn into ju-jitsu, instead of boxing, as well as into a different set of motivating principles. Alec Baldwin’s Death-Of-A-Salesman-on-steroids speech from Glengarry Glen Ross is a well-known example of Mamet’s work (demonstrating the kind of balls-out truth-telling dialogue from which Baldwin has possibly not recovered). I’m guessing Mamet grew-up back before anti-bullying campaigns and excessive political correctness became the norm.
***As I understand it, Thomas Sowell, after becoming a young Marxist eventually became a young ex-Marxist, embracing a hard-bitten empiricism regarding outcomes and results, not the intentions, of economic and social policies. See him discuss his later vision of human nature and political organization in a Conflict Of Visions.
–Mamet cites the Bible, but mainly the Talmud as a source of wisdom and knowledge to draw upon as a guide for flawed human nature. Jewish folks in the U.S. have traditionally formed a reliably liberal/Democratic voting bloc, so unlike many Christian religious conservatives, they aren’t necessarily voting Republican. There are no doubt many reasons for this, but to be sure, there are also many tales of neoconservatives ‘mugged’ out of the social sciences and policy-making halls of the liberal establishment into doubt and skepticism, some chased away by the New Left. There is also a conservative Christian/Jewish pro-Israel alliance which has traditionally been strong on national defense (some fundamentals of that American/Israeli relationship may be changing).
Religious belief can ground one in a kind of traditional and tragic view of human nature. This, say, as opposed to human nature understood as simply a blank slate or existentialist absurdity, or by some political movements as human clay to be molded with the right knowledge and right people in charge of our social institutions (they always seem to nominate themselves). As Mamet discusses in the video, there are distinctions to be made between Talmudic justice and social justice.
I’m guessing he might agree there are distinctions to be made between abstract equality and equality under the law (the exception of Civil Rights and black folks held under the civil laws is discussed). I’m also guessing he’d argue there are distinctions to be made between life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness on one hand, and liberation theology and/or individual freedom granted by a rights-based cohort in charge of government on the other.
–Mamet also touches on the fact that the arts aren’t a political endeavor. If writing a play is simply a didactic enterprise and/or a vehicle for deploying a political philosophy (Ayn Rand?), then I think the artist has probably failed in some fundamental way to show the audience/reader a unique truth which only that work of art has to show. Didactic art can come across as clunky at best, pure propaganda at worst.
Personally, I tend to believe that politics, religion, convention and popular thinking all have trouble with the arts.
Anyways, this is just a brief summary. Any thoughts or comments are welcome.
Cowen mentions something I’ve often thought: Changing institutions to include female representation will have costs and benefits, and change the character of many institutions themselves, and many parts of our civilization (marriage, incentives, parenthood, politics etc). Pretty unremarkable, but a highly charged and consequential topic nonetheless.
Robert Putnam, author of ‘Bowling Alone‘, seems to agree with Charles Murray about what much of what the data highlights: Working-class whites are behaving more like working-class non-whites, and college-educated non-whites are behaving more like college-educated whites.
You don’t have to agree with all of the ideas, but traditional views have their merits:
‘In sum, the Joint Chiefs have taken a clear long-term risk for an unclear near-term political gain, perhaps hoping to diminish budgetary cuts. The question is whether increasing the individual rights of the female soldier decreases the combined combat effectiveness of the killing pack. We won’t know the answer until we fight a hard ground war sometime in the future.’
Something many Boomers probably still take for granted: If you have a sexual, moral and political liberation movement sweep parts of your civilization (generation of ’68), there are gonna be some consequences, good and bad. Some radicals and social revolutionaries (professing to not believe in the legitimacy of any institution) will join and co-opt many parts of the institutions themselves; enjoying the sudden stability, influence and money gained.
The institutions, however, may arguably become less stable, so a previous stability might have been taken for granted by those Boomers.
I usually prize stability, moral decency, slow change, and rule of law (political/economic freedom) more than any one cause.
It’s probably a matter of time until you get a counter-revolution, and what worries me is a less stable system overall.
Subject: ‘Is England Still Influencing America?’ on Hitchens’ book ‘Blood, Class, & Nostalgia: Anglo-American Ironies‘ when Hitchens’ was pushing the idea that ’empire’ was the primary transmission, apparently due to his ideological commitments at the time. America must have seemed a classless paradise with institutions well-functioning and ripe to achieve justice and equality for the whole world…for some folks in the Generation of ’68.
Arguably, American aristocratic elements (older money, older institutions) are becoming much less religious; the older W.A.S.P. habits and networks less rooted in Church teaching. This has implications for engagement with the market (love, lust, sex, technology, booze, money, work), where a zealous progressivism rules the day.
Where gather the influential true-believers? Can the market and the individual bear that much weight?
If it isn’t a sad-eyed Christ, endlessly bearing the suffering of your sins, around which hope-giving subjects do spinsters gather?
‘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 it isn’t their own families and challenges at which to aim their compassion and energy, is it the W.H.O? Is it the latest raft of policy ideas to address early childhood education (sure to transcend the hard choices/failures and realities of this world)?
It’s unclear to me if this lady fancies herself a member of an artistic aristocracy (museum-docent avant-garde), or is more the humorless, Quaker scold-type. If what you regard as beyond reproach are your political ideals…and political activism is where to find your true-belief (hopes)…don’t be surprised when other people have other ideas, and your (C)ause wins or loses in the bare-knuckled bruising of politics-on-the-ground.
(Can I stay out of the Trump/anti-Trump ridiculousness? I earn my money elsewhere, and while I don’t really consider myself above the fray…this fray is really dumb).
From a few years ago.
If we imagine an individual, late into the night, tossing and turning during a crisis of faith, identity, or some regular tragedy, such an individual will likely find the world anew within the habits and networks of majority liberal idealisms (environmentalism, feminism, anti-racism etc.). I’d argue a secular humanism and various flavors Left-leaning progressivism have become closer to a majority (Dear Reader, we can talk about the postmodern well of the (S)elf later, and the Will/Will to Power later).
Freedom is next. Activism is generally a moral good.
‘…aesthetics is going to replace ethics, art is going to replace religion, as the means through which educated people express their spiritual worthiness…‘
We’ve got a lot of free-market dynamism within the latest wave of genuine technological progress (Musk, Bezos, Gates et al.); men of scope scaling to build empires generally within the law, or with a nod to the laws. The more lawgivers there are, the more unholy unions of public sentiment and private empires gather into authority.
To whom the institutions they’ve created must tithe, tells us quite a bit about beliefs, habits and institutions.
‘…if I understand your thesis correctly, you argue that the beliefs, mindsets and manners that animated earlier Protestantism have not been abandoned, but instead have been projected on to the political realm.’
‘The Mainline churches helped define American culture in several ways. First of all, the churches were mostly apolitical, which has had a profound effect on American culture. For instance, there’s never been a great American political novel. The average French streetwalker in a novel by Zola knows more about politics than the heroes of the greatest American novels. What is it to be an American? At the highest artistic level, it is to be concerned about the cosmos and the self. Politics is incidental to Moby Dick, The Scarlet Letter and Huckleberry Finn. And that’s because Mainline Protestantism rendered politics secondary to what it deems is most important — namely, salvation and the self.’
How did money actually work among those in America’s elite?:
But the old monopoly of power had gone, and the country was the poorer for it. “The tragedy of American civilization,” Auchincloss wrote in 1980, “is that it has swept away WASP morality and put nothing in its place.”
Here’s another Auchincloss quote from a reader (haven’t checked this one out…probably a quote site). The prose strikes me as kind of post-Wharton, mannered and dull:
“I used to go to church. I even went through a rather intense religious period when I was sixteen. But the idea of an everlasting life — a never-ending banquet, as a stupid visiting minister to our church once appallingly described it — filled me with a greater terror than the concept of extinction…”
In fact, what will you do with your own blandness, dear reader, entombing the flaming desire to be woke within; the little half-opened doors of ecstasy and ‘environmental justice’?:
Earth Quaker Action Team is ON IT. (I’m not sure the Quakers ever had much institutional authority…so this could well be a marketing ploy to start more Quaking)
‘This conclusion is rarely discussed on a systematic level, although humanists have proposed individual responses to it. Some, for starters, play the “no true humanist” card: there may be bullshit in some humanistic disciplines or by some humanists, but real work in the humanities is just as rigorous and legitimate as work in the sciences. Classicist and philosopher Martha Nussbaum, for example, has accused literary scholar Stanley Fish of radical relativism and gender theorist Judith Butler of deliberate obfuscation; philosopher John Searle has combed through Jacques Derrida’s work to reveal that, for all its ambition and difficulty, it is ultimately “unintelligible.” If Fish and Butler and Derrida have somehow failed in their charge as humanists, then the humanities as a whole don’t have to be responsible for justifying their work.’
I suspect the search for deeper metaphysical and epistemological grounds in the humanities will always be afoot, be they ‘postmodern’ or otherwise. Simply reading texts is probably not enough for quicker minds, which often seek deeper truth and knowledge claims to anchor thought and so often, reinforce behavioral norms. The ‘why’ questions will nag and often coalesce into higher and competing spires, especially upon university grounds.
On this site, see:
A more religious defense (Roger Scruton) of why you should read great works and the religion-sized-hole-filled by-Marxism-approach (Terry Eagleton) mirroring many downstream debates occuring within the British political economy.
A particularly British affair (hopefully the centuries of stratification support a deeper Marxism on that side of the pond):
What have I gotten wrong, here?: Jordan Peterson deploys Jungian metaphysics, downstream of Nietzsche, to make knowledge claims which challenge Blackmore’s reasonably pedestrian modern materialism and atheism.
In other words, Peterson’s defense of Jungian archetypes, including those potentially found in the Bible (and perhaps viewed from the depths of Nietzsche’s nihilism), might connect with biology more profoundly than Blackmore’s psychological materialism might have been able to address.
Nihilism is an interesting epistemological ground out of which to make knowledge claims of transcendant objects, or at least, out of which to synthesize biological knowledge and knowledge claims which align within the burgeoning field of neuroscience.
The desire each of us seems to have for transcendence, wisdom and stories (especially kids) within the subjectivity of our own lived experiences, the deeper hopes and beliefs which seem ever-present (if not consciously realized) in our waking lives, the relationships with loved ones which inform, and probably ought to inform our moral judgments and moral thinking, might align with Jungian archetypes, Greek myths and the King James Bible, and thus some sort of Nietzschen nihilist denial of objective reality or the structure of the material world explored by the sciences…or…they might not.
‘I sat down to read the Introduction and, reading it straight through, found it to be such an exciting intellectual experience that it was a spur to my embryonic commitment to the study of political philosophy.’
‘What then is the Hobbesian theory of the state? It is distinguished from more conventional modern conceptions by leaving aside all substantive considerations of justice or rights—how the state ought to be constituted. Its essential character is to distinguish all constitutional aspirations from the prior question of getting a state into being in the first place. His aim is above all to distinguish statehood from constitution, the civil association from any concern with how that association is actually ordered. The state, in other words, must be distinguished from any particular opinions dominant within it. Failure to meet this condition would generate in some degree or another an ideological version of statehood. Hobbes’s great admirer Michael Oakeshott poses the same problem in On Human Conduct, and solves it by distinguishing “enterprise associations” (based on one or other enthusiasm within the state) and “civil associations.” The essence of the state itself may thus be found in civil associations, whose entire point lay in associating individuals together on the basis of nothing more substantive than an obligation to conform their conduct to a system of law. In Hobbes, the basis of statehood similarly lies in the recognition of the conditions declared by the sovereign. Any actual state, of course, will contain both types of allegiance.’