One path through the postmodern landscape lies in cultivating some appreciation for math and the sciences, direct observation and statistical analysis within the social sciences, and plumbing the depths of a good humanities education (you know, the stuff universities pretty much ought to be teaching).
Receiving or pursuing such an education doesn’t necessarily require religious belief, nor does it necessarily dislodge religious belief.
Aside from the craziness of love, dedication to family, the pressures of work and career, the inevitably of sickness and death, such cultivation can prevent against the sublimity of nihilist and existentialist despair, the Romance of collective primitivism, and the dangers of ideological possession (quick to judge, quick to be judged, forever resentful).
Many readers of this blog don’t necessarily share my views on the importance of limited government and economic growth, tolerance for religious belief and skepticism regarding political idealism (joining an ‘-Ism’ is only the beginning, as hopes soon follow into politics and visions of the good, the true and the beautiful).
You have your reasons.
In the meantime, here are some links gathered over the years from the New Atheists and many independent-minded thinkers of the Left pushing against many excesses of the American and Global Left.
It’s pretty clear to me that many mainstream publications and political debates occur downstream of many intellectual debates.
-James Lindsay offers a cogent account of his experiences in the Atheism movement, and the emergence of Atheism Plus. He attempts to use moral psychology (he mentions Jonathan Haidt) to explain many religious-seeming elements of the woke, social justice crowd.
‘So, what is all this Nothing-ness about? ‘My view’, says Scruton, ‘is that what’s underlying all of this is a kind of nihilistic vision that masks itself as a moving toward the enlightened future, but never pauses to describe what that society will be like. It simply loses itself in negatives about the existing things – institutional relations like marriage, for instance – but never asks itself if those existing things are actually part of what human beings are. Always in Zizek there’s an assumption of the right to dismiss them as standing in the way of something else, but that something else turns out to be Nothing.’
‘Perhaps the core of rational behavior is the idea of flexibility or resilience. The rational man, seeing his world collapse, will never turn his face to the wall (like a tragic hero) if there is the slightest possibility of accommodation with the force which has overwhelmed him. Hobbes, the uncompromising rationalist, deals with this possibility without attempting to disguise it. Overwhelming force determines the will of the rational man whose primary aim is to stay alive; there is no place for honor or heroism. The importance of flexibility also comes out in the hostility of rational thinkers to the social institution of the oath. One cannot rationally make a promise binding beyond the point where one gains from it, a point which Spinoza, for example, brings out  clearly. The oath, in fact, is a feudal institution which seemed to liberal thinkers an attempt to impose more on the human flux than it could bear.’
‘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.’
Oakeshott, Michael. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991. Print. 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.
‘I’ve noticed that Darwinism seems to support one of the fundamental claims of classical liberalism: natural rights emerge in human history as those conditions for human life that cannot be denied without eventually provoking a natural human tendency to violent resistance against exploitation.’
A deep and interesting argument. Both Thomas Hobbes and John Locke had to deal with a constantly warring, reformation England.
Using quite a bit of German idealism (Hegelian) to get at the problem:
‘While I am complaining, I will also note that Scruton has nothing to say about how several of these figures—especially Žižek and Alain Badiou, along with Jacques Derrida, who is barely mentioned here—have played a role in the so-called “religious turn” of humanistic studies, in which various movements generally called “postmodern” find a significant place for religion in their reflections, if not in their beliefs or practices. This marks a significant departure from the relentless secularism of most earlier forms of European leftism, and that deserves note. Nor does Scruton account fully for Jürgen Habermas’s reputation as a centrist figure in the German and more generally the European context. (Habermas too has spoken more warmly of religion in recent years.’
So, what is all this Nothing-ness about? ‘My view’, says Scruton, ‘is that what’s underlying all of this is a kind of nihilistic vision that masks itself as a moving toward the enlightened future, but never pauses to describe what that society will be like. It simply loses itself in negatives about the existing things – institutional relations like marriage, for instance – but never asks itself if those existing things are actually part of what human beings are. Always in Zizek there’s an assumption of the right to dismiss them as standing in the way of something else, but that something else turns out to be Nothing.’
‘Oddly enough, it is the intellectual snobbery and elitism of many of the literati that politically correct egalitarianism appeals to; their partiality to literary Marxism is based not on its economic theory but on its hostility to business and the middle class. The character of this anti-bourgeois sentiment therefore has more in common with its origin in aristocratic disdain for the lower orders than with egalitarianism.’
British thinker Roger Scruton’s conservative vision was partially informed by his work as a philosopher (Kant/Hegel/Schopenhauer and German Idealism particularly). He was also informed by his return to the Anglican church over the course of his lifetime. Scruton advocated a rebuilding of the family and small, local communities around such belief, practicing as he preached, via Scrutopia.
He remained skeptical and wrote clearly about the dangers of ideology; why so many intellectuals end=up Left-of-Center, as well. He lived, mostly ostracized during his lifetime, from all the usual positions a man of his ability might otherwise hold.
First Of Three Charles Test Lectures Hosted By Princeton University-In the Q & A afterwards, Scruton receives about as pointed a post-lecture questioning on his metaphysics as I’ve seen.
Interesting presentation by an interesting thinker, indeed.
U.S. journalist Rod Dreher has moved from Catholicism to Orthodox Christianity, after many crises of belief. He’s also worked in the journalism industry for much of his life. He has one foot deeply in the Orthodox community, and another in contemporary, mainstream liberal thinking, from which he draws an audience. He’s been particularly harsh on what’s going on inside the Catholic Church, and the reckoning he believes needs to happen there.
In his new book, he’s been predicting soft totalitarianism to come fast and hard, and for religious believers to retreat and get ready for civil disobedience. “Wokeness” will come for its tribute; the new technocracy making new rules we all must follow.
Dreher’s also not liking the fusion of anti-Left fringe politics, Trump, and claiming religious means to political ends at the moment. It’s gettin’ pretty crazy out in the public square:
Curtis Yarvin (aka Mencius Moldbug and Unqualified Reservations), worked in computer science, has career Washingtonians in the family, and has retreated to different type of conservatism.
Here’s an introduction presented by a 3rd party:
A brief, unqualified summary (let me know what I’ve gotten wrong): What drives the civilizational trend towards the Left, consistently and over generations? Entropy, for the most part. Things fall apart.
Rules and hierarchies require heroism and courage during their formation, they settle down into somewhat functional instutitions, then eventually decline into chaos over longer periods of time. Such are the laws of nature itself.
Technology is also driving progress, very quickly now.
Most ‘progressives’ claim the mantle of progress, but are prone to post-Englightenment Idealism and capture by dangerous ideologues. They are much, much better at tearing things down then they are building things up.
Sure, you only want to follow (S)cience. Of course (R)eason is on your side. Progressives tend to claim liberation (over freedom and responsibility), usually without too much consideration for a suitable replacement to current institutional arrangements, usually running aground upon the dark parts of human nature.
Perhaps entropy has already done its work by the time progressives are in ascendency.
‘The Cathedral’, for Yarvin, is the current establishment with an inner party (Democrats seeking to balance atop the ball of ‘progress’) and an outer party (Republicans seeking to counter the Democrat party atop the ball of ‘progress’).
What can you achieve within such a vision?
Not much, Dear Reader. If you’re conservative and choose the revolution route, you’d really better be prepared. Bloodshed ain’t what it’s cracked up to be.
Compliance is a more reasonable option, according to Yarvin. Don’t challenge the mildly corrupt political and cultural elite authority directly, but don’t really believe in them, either. Go along to get along and build good alternatives all the while, should your opportunity arise.
Are you convinced?
On that note, some folks on the Left are claiming some kind of renewal is required.
I think it’s telling that many good minds on different parts of the political spectrum are seeing themselves as requiring of new thinking and action relative to American institutions.
As I currently see events, a self-directed life and the freedom to live such a life is a blessing of the Enlightenment, indeed. However, much Enlightenment thinking has 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. The triumph of the individual artist is key, revealing and having revelations, creating anew by casting the old aside. Towering genuises abound.
Many are European.
Generations and centuries later, 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, 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. Here, basic human desires form into group identity. 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. Such individuals are 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. We are living within expanding knowledge-frontiers of the natural world, 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).
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.
‘Liberals engage the right mood by contemplating the experiences of those they take to be oppressed, in what I have called “suffering situations.” You might think this an admirable altruism amid the selfish indifference of the mass of mankind, and there is no doubt that it has often been sincere and that it could at times mitigate some real evils. But the crucial word here is “abstract.” The emotions are elicited by an image, as in the craft of advertising. The people who cultivate these feelings are usually not those who actually devote their time and energies to helping the needy around them, but rather a class of person—liberal journalists, politicians, social workers, academics, charity bureaucrats, administrators, etc.—who focus on the global picture.’
I would add that while I have my doubts about the religious true-believer and salvationist, I have particular doubts about the Neo-Romantic Environmentalist, the secular, progressive do-gooder, and the high liberal globalist shuttling between academy and government.
‘The centerpiece of Miller’s argument is the making and appreciating of art. Miller’s idea of art, as we might expect, is wide-ranging and popular, drawn more from everywhere in culture: dancing, body-decoration, clothing, jewellery, hair-styling, architecture, furniture, gardens, cars, images such as calendars and paintings, creative uses of language, popular entertainments from religious festivals to TV soaps, music of all kinds, and on and on. Miller’s discussion is less focused on the high-art culture of modernism and postmodernism, since it anyway distinguishes itself against popular taste.‘
Of course, there will be all manner of reductionism (art=sex) and popularized idiocy (Bach + brain-scan = pop-neuroscience) to follow.
There’s something about both our cultural tilt towards (S)cience-ifying every aspect of life (stretching out these new fields of knowledge) as well as the popularized explanatory journalism (Jesus Christ not another think-piece) which are worth thinking about.
Witnessing the outcomes and consequences of such truth and knowledge claims downstream, some quite possibly more true than others, invites skepticism.
‘…aesthetics is going to replace ethics, art is going to replace religion, as the means through which educated people express their spiritual worthiness…‘
Don’t worry, ‘ethics’ on the fly, in universities and in journalism is everywhere these days, and beneath that, some crazy new true-believers.
As posted, please check out Jeff Koons (if you thought the celebrification of politics was striking, culturally, this happened quite before with the celebribrification of art):
There’s always been a bit of the showman about Jeff Koons; the kind of young man who could put on a bow tie and try to give many museum-goers their time/money/aspirations’ worth at the membership desk.
This blog forgives people trying to explain what their art ‘means,’ exactly, but confesses to pleasure in seeing Koons put on the spot under the suspicious eye of an ornery old Robert Hughes.
I don’t fault Koons for finding himself firmly within modernism, searching for universal forms and broader historical context within those confines, but I admit it’s nice to see him held to account for his bullshit, and perhaps the broader, deeper bullshit he shares with many modern and postmodern artists: Pursuing novelty and recognition and thus making art into a business and often commercializing it, aiming for celebrity while offering meta-critiques on celebrity, making the personal and private very public (masturbation into social commentary, sex into meta-critques of religious shame, ‘culture’ and pornography).
Two quotes by Hughes that stood out:
‘Religion is diminished into celebrity..a kind of reverse apotheosis.‘
‘This alienation of the work from the common viewer is actually a form of spiritual vandalism.’
It’s tough to say that art is really about religion (though much clearly is), but rather more about an experience Hughes wants as many people as possible to have, and that such experiences can elevate and expand.
Aside from the above, there’s something that strikes me as not just late 20th century-modern about Koons, but also very American
‘I’ve noticed that Darwinism seems to support one of the fundamental claims of classical liberalism: natural rights emerge in human history as those conditions for human life that cannot be denied without eventually provoking a natural human tendency to violent resistance against exploitation.’
A deep and interesting argument. Both Thomas Hobbes and John Locke had to deal with a constantly warring, reformation England.
‘The problem, of course, is that the vigilantism of the state of nature easily collapses into perpetual feuding, and then people will consent to establish formal governments and the rule of law. To do that, people must give up their executive power to the government, which then might become even more oppressive than any individual in the state of nature. But if the people feel oppressed, they can take back their natural executive power in an “appeal to Heaven” in war.
Hobbes and Locke were not just speculating about this. They had seen the English Civil War. They had seen that Roundheads can defeat Cavaliers, and that kings can be beheaded. Locke had plotted with the Whigs in assassination conspiracies directed against the King.
Hobbes and Locke had also studied carefully the reports about the foraging societies of New World, which Hobbes and Locke used as the basis for their depictions of the state of nature.‘
‘Sec. 20. But when the actual force is over, the state of war ceases between those that are in society, and are equally on both sides subjected to the fair determination of the law; because then there lies open the remedy of appeal for the past injury, and to prevent future harm: but where no such appeal is, as in the state of nature, for want of positive laws, and judges with authority to appeal to, the state of war once begun, continues, with a right to the innocent party to destroy the other whenever he can, until the aggressor offers peace, and desires reconciliation on such terms as may repair any wrongs he has already done, and secure the innocent for the future; nay, where an appeal to the law, and constituted judges, lies open, but the remedy is denied by a manifest perverting of justice, and a barefaced wresting of the laws to protect or indemnify the violence or injuries of some men, or party of men, there it is hard to imagine any thing but a state of war: for wherever violence is used, and injury done, though by hands appointed to administer justice, it is still violence and injury, however coloured with the name, pretences, or forms of law, the end whereof being to protect and redress the innocent, by an unbiassed application of it, to all who are under it; wherever that is not bona fide done, war is made upon the sufferers, who having no appeal on earth to right them, they are left to the only remedy in such cases, an appeal to heaven.’
To repeat: On Locke’s view, the state of nature is not sufficient to handle the injustice that two warring groups do unto each other lest they keep fighting in perpetuity. Both must have recourse to fair determination of the law, some body to whom they can appeal, and so must have faith in some form of government. Yet, that government (possibly filled with those having won the struggle, and hopefully being recognized by the opposition as having some legitimacy lest the process begin again) can also become a threat itself, to which Locke allows great leeway in response:
‘This is to think that men are so foolish that they take care to avoid what mischiefs may be done them by pole-cats, or foxes, but are content, nay think it safety, to be devoured by lions.’
‘Eventually, human social and political evolution has brought a general decline in violence (as Steven Pinker has shown). But that decline in violence can never bring perpetual peace (contrary to the utopian pacifism of people like Herbert Spencer), because the enforcement of the liberal norm of voluntary cooperation will always depend on the threat or use of force against those who would violate that norm.’
I’m still a little skeptical of the argument for overall ‘human social and political evolution,’ but won’t respond at the moment.
I find myself wishfully thinking it’d be nice to have a return to Lockean liberalism. With all the appeals to science and much scientism, top-down rationalism, the social sciences and the eventual social engineering that can come through public policy administered by experts with tax-payer money, too many modern liberals are uncomfortable with limited government.
Locke was not, as he understood many of its dangers, especially the danger of slipping us back into perpetual warfare in a state of nature (not in, say, a more Rousseauian state of nature where man is free, and the individual forms a much more anarchic relationship with all civil institutions, still visible in France today, with more of a tilt between anarchy and hierarchy and with intellectual ‘rock stars’ and a more libertine morality in the public sphere).
**As a brief thought experiment: Could the ‘appeal to heaven’ argument apply in the same capacity for black folks in America held in bondage by the laws? Any ‘natural human tendency to violent resistance against exploitation‘ by black folks was met with both lawful and unlawful violence, psychological humiliation, punishment, and usually sympathy and support for those doing the punishing or simple indifference by the society at large. The response to such injustice is worthy of note given such circumstances, and has manifested itself in various ways, some violent, some non-violent but all affecting our current cultural and political landscape and our national character (e.g. The Nation Of Islam, The Black Panthers, The Civil Rights Movement, MLK’s theology, social gospel, Gandhian nonviolent resistance and support of rights enacted at the Federal level, and many others). Perhaps an ‘appeal to heaven’ is no doubt a genuine appeal to heaven in faith, to maintain the body and spirit against such injustice. Locke, in response to Enlightenment developments around him, laid some of the first foundations of empiricism, which reached its peak with David Hume, and which generally leads to atheism. Locke’s defense of his own rationalism (he argued forcefully against Robert Filmer and others who wanted to maintain a kingdom of heaven here on earth) and the possibility of transcendent objects like God is incomplete at best.
What can I say about the current Seattle political leadership and much institutional authority, other than I don’t agree, and usually find it hard to muster respect?
Deep problems of human nature, the hard problems of creating and maintaining legitmate moral and political authority, tend to elude such people and ideas. ‘The Man’ is always holding somebody down, and liberation is always next.
Ocasionally I hear a word I might recognize, like ‘budget’ or ‘Amazon,’ but it’s soon drowned out by angry cries.
In my experience, if there is a predominant culture in Seattle, it’s one of counter-culture anti-establishmentarianism (whatever they’re for, I’m/we’re against, man). Publicly, it seems the kinds of sentiment that taxpaying, respectable sorts can safely gather around is a protest sign at the Church Of High Protest (coming to a sidewalk near you).
Politically, this tends to harden around a progressive and very Left-Of-Center raft of actors and policies, and in my experience, when this culture is not openly socialist, it’s unsustainably utopian.
Out of this protean, reactionary counter-culture, one can find a fair amount of individual freedom, personal kindnesses and tolerance, especially when resolving to the individual level (you know, people talking with people). I’m grateful for each kindness.
Mid-to long- term, however, as someone interested in which kinds of ideas and people come to positions of authority and consequence, it’s insane.
As I see things, CHOP was a physical manifestation and congealment of these many ideas floating in the ether. Unfortunately, these ideas go all the way to the top. As predicted, this has ceded the public square and private property to anarchists, criminals with guns, and radical sorts of all kinds costing citizens’ time and money and security.
Someone’s got to pick up the tab, and it will be the many people managing their lives competently, usually without glorifying mental illness, childish resentment and anti-fascist liberation; desperately seeking meaning aginst ‘the oppressor’, wrapped within the warm blanket of ideology, condoning violence if necessary.
If this sounds a little harsh, that’s because, at this point, there are always choices.
Choosing to isolate such people and ideas sounds like a pretty good choice.
Past Seattle links:
The closest corollary I can think of are the actions of still Evergreen State University President, George Bridges, wedded to activist logic, alternately sabotaging institutional authority and responsibility while supporting bigotry, revenge, and violence in the ideological utopia to come.
When it came to a lot of postmodern nonsense, ‘art’ activism and specious claims to knowledge and truth vs. personal integrity, academic honesty and much better claims to knowledge and truth, guess who won?:
Socialists publicly pushing green causes have been more rare out in public in the U.S., but there have been more lately, conflating political ideology and failed theories of (H)istory with ‘science.’ Socialists also apply their ideological beliefs onto conceptions of Nature and keep doing what they tend to do best: Political organization and appeals to sentiment.
A poster from Seattle a little while back:
There’s more than a little anti-corporate, anti-industrial activism that often finds expression within environmental movements. This activism can make its way into laws, and forms a major plank in the Democratic party platform nationally.
Whatever your thoughts on the natural world and conservation, I think it’s fair to say that from cartoons to schools to movies, there’s also been remarkable popular success in making environmental activism mainstream conventional wisdom; easy, cool and fun to join.
I’m not sure the intellectual provenance of such ideas, nor even if they form any kind of coherent doctrine, but they strike me as a melange of Christian principles, liberal idealism and radical activist causes.
I still don’t see the greatest threats to political liberty coming from the political right at the moment:
“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.”
‘BC:What do you make of political correctness? There are those who would argue it’s a thing of the past. Frankly, I don’t see how that’s possible. It seems to me that cultural Marxism is more regnant than ever, would you agree?
KM: In my time, a great deal of what used to be intuitive and instinctive (such as good manners) has been replaced by the rule-bound and rationalised. Political correctness is a politicised version of good manners offering power to the kind of meddlesome people who want to tell others how to behave. As to Marxism, it was merely one more illusion that purported to be the key to life. It is significant in that it reveals one of the dominant passions still at work in our civilisation – the passion to create happiness by technology in the hands of a supposedly enlightened elite.‘
From Mike Nayna’s Youtube channel: Radical students and some of their thought-leading administrators have a talk at Middlebury:
Kinda still reminds me of The Wave:
Already, many discussions of depth and note are occurring away from the mainstream. Some ground is shifting, and has already shifted.
Christopher Rufo’s also in Seattle, pushing back against the Left-radicals taking over the public square. Oh yes, they would do violence against you. Oh no, you will not believe the lunatic ideas and people running Seattle, condoning the violence.
‘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.’
The Weinsteins discuss how reasonable people committed to progressive social and political causes, both biologists, got driven out of a public university dedicated to similar progressive social and political causes.
A longer, thoughtful, detailed piece.
One notes it’s not progressive nor even ‘mainstream’ publications offering a platform for the Weinsteins to speak-out at the moment, partially due to what I consider the Brockman effect (sugar caves):
Wouldn’t a ‘canoe meeting’ qualify as ‘cultural appropriation?’:
‘And then came the canoe. First, senior administrators were called by name, invited to walk down to the stage, and to step into a large and imaginary canoe. Then, everyone in the room was invited to come aboard, en masse. Finally, everyone walked in a line, as if in a canoe, out of the building together, on a fantastical voyage toward campus equity. An Indian drum beat and the recorded sound of crashing surf were in the background.’
Who needs the arts, science, social science when you’ve got righteous certainty, ideology, and grievance on your side?
Francis Fukuyama and his influential essay are mentioned, as well as Immanuel Kant, Marx, and Isaiah Berlin.
‘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.’
Related On This Site: Perhaps after Kant’s transcendental idealism, Chomsky really does believe that morality, like Chomsky’s innatist theory of language, is universal and furthermore hard-wired into the brain. This could possibly lead to a political philosophy of either universalism or nihilism (a central postmodern problem), or at least his retreat into anarchism or anarcho-syndicalism away from such idealism. There’s little to no room for the individual in such a vision. Perhaps Chomsky has never seen life, liberty and property and the individual except from such a vantage point: Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge…
If you have an ideology, a loosely connected set of doctrines and ideas, built upon revolutionary ‘praxis’ and radical liberation, you also have a place to put your moral sentiments and judgments about reality and the world.
Where your thoughts go, so tend to go your habits, character and beliefs. You are cleared to act in the world.
Human beings, likely at the structural level, require profound concepts to make sense of reality and the world, as well as our own sensory apparatus, emotions and desires.
Messianic, Manichean and Millenarian doctrines of revolutionary praxis and liberation (moral, sexual, political), generally propose tearing down everything which exists, usually towards the aim of liberation, without necessarily replacing our current institutions with anything.
This is fine if you don’t mind generally dysfunctional institutions, more easily exerting unaccountable power (fulfilling the prophecy).
Some people in the modern world are following ideas which haven’t addressed the hard problems of maintaining moral legitimacy in positions of authority, nor reasonable mastery of one’s (S)elf and the passions, creating adult human beings.
Peter Hitchens used to be a Bolshevik, and his late brother Christopher Hitchens a Trotskyist (I’m speculating that some gruesome family tragedy might be at play).
Such youthful radicalism has tilted him back towards religious conservatism in Britain:
Failure to recognize these deep human problems, at the personal and political levels, and the consquences of the ideas in play, are, what I see as a failure of many custodians of our current institutions.
The Human Nature and Nature problems are still in play, such as they always have been.
James Lindsay helps to clarify some intellectual strands of the radical, revolutionary, and more pedestrian postmodern types, and how such thinkers and ideas are exerting pressure upon all of us.
Why do antifa members believe they have the right to justified violence, and how has the space for them in civil society been created and supported at the highest levels?:
‘It is true that the theory of the meme does not deny the role of culture, nor does it undermine the nineteenth-century view that culture properly understood is as much an activity of the rational mind as is science. But the concept of the meme belongs with other subversive concepts — Marx’s “ideology,” Freud’s unconscious, Foucault’s “discourse” — in being aimed at discrediting common prejudice. It seeks to expose illusions and to explain away our dreams. But the meme is itself a dream, a piece of ideology, accepted not for its truth but for the illusory power that it confers on the one who conjures with it. It has produced some striking arguments, not least those given by Daniel Dennett in Breaking the Spell, in which he explains away religion as a particularly successful but dangerous meme.’
Those concepts according to Scruton, are not science, but rather ‘scientism.’
And he focuses back-in on judgment, or the capacity for judgment attached to ‘I,’ and an ‘I’ which looks towards transcendence:
‘Surely human beings can do better than this — by the pursuit of genuine scientific explanation on the one hand, and by the study of high culture on the other. A culture does not comprise works of art only, nor is it directed solely to aesthetic interests. It is the sphere of intrinsically interesting artifacts, linked by the faculty of judgment to our aspirations and ideals. We appreciate works of art, arguments, works of history and literature, manners, dress, jokes, and forms of behavior. And all these things are shaped through judgment. But what kind of judgment, and to what does that judgment lead
Worth a read.
-Steven Pinker, Harvard experimental psychologist and cognitive scientist wrote a piece in the New Republic, entitled: ‘Science Is Not Your Enemy‘
-Daniel Dennett, philosopher, cognitive scientist, one of the New Atheists and Boston-based secularist responded to Wieseltier:
‘Pomposity can be amusing, but pomposity sitting like an oversized hat on top of fear is hilarious. Wieseltier is afraid that the humanities are being overrun by thinkers from outside, who dare to tackle their precious problems—or “problematics” to use the, um, technical term favored by many in the humanities. He is right to be afraid. It is true that there is a crowd of often overconfident scientists impatiently addressing the big questions with scant appreciation of the subtleties unearthed by philosophers and others in the humanities, but the way to deal constructively with this awkward influx is to join forces and educate them, not declare them out of bounds.’
So, how do you teach the arts and tilt the culture? Camille Paglia had some ideas, including the idea that George Lucas has taken root in more 20th-century minds than anyone else with his space opera:
According to Paglia, there were the real Marxists, and then there were the Post-structuralists and Deconstructionists. She favors the radicalism of the ‘real’ Marxists against the careerism and priestly cant of the latter, though I doubt either group is necessary for a good humanities education.
With a somewhat Nietzschean (Schopenhauer’s ‘Will‘ is now the ‘Will To Power’), and New Historicist approach, Paglia is also a bit disposed towards an appreciation of art, religious art, and religion, within a longer anthropological view.
She sees feminism and the ‘studies’ departments as ungrounded, wanting biology, medicine and anthropology to provide structure in order to study the arts:
‘As is often true of the traditionalist conservative thinkers today, his thought was shaped by the Kantian Romantic tradition of the Nineteenth Century that saw a religious attitude as essential for a healthy moral order, so that traditional religious experience needed to be defended against a Darwinian science that claims to explain the place of human beings in the natural world without any reference to a transcendent realm beyond nature. And yet–again like many traditionalist conservatives–Scruton did not believe in the literal truth of Christianity or any other religion.’
‘At the same time, there is the irony and paradox of this treatment that Scruton is “considered to be one of the world’s leading conservative philosophers” — which is what it says on the cover of his own book. Now I see Scruton called “Our greatest living conservative thinker,” by Daniel Hannan (an “author, journalist, and politician”), and “One of the most eminent philosophers in the world,” by Robert P. George (a Princeton University professor of jurisprudence). But “conservative” thinkers are not generally happy with the cognitive and moral relativism, if not nihilism, that follows from anything like Wittgenstein’s thought, and even from, as we shall see, Scruton’s own analysis of Wittgenstein’s thought. This is particularly surprising given the devastating critique in Scruton’s Fools, Frauds and Firebrands, Thinkers of the New Left [Bloomsbury, 2015], which exposes the irrational “nonsense machine” of “post-modernism” and “Critical Theory” Marxism. But even in that book, and in the passage I have just quoted, there is a clue to what is going on and to what kind of “conservative” Scruton may be. And that is, in the former, his benign and complacent attritude towards Hegel, and, in the latter, the impression he gives that the “ambition” of Kant and Hegel is comparable or even equivalent.’