‘…”yes, a God-like being plays a central role in Smith’s ethics.” In making that argument, he believes that he is in agreement with a long list of Smith scholars, and I am on that list.‘
Whether or not it’s the new Technocratic (S)cientific Consensus of (M)an, or the new Gospels of (M)an, we might want to remember much of the context the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers had.
I hope we don’t get too esoteric and Straussian.
Because you didn’t ask:
I think of enviro-preachers more on the Gospel side of things. They move like unwell country pastors, seeking-out soapboxes near the Sunday Service.
‘Is he still married?’ Doesn’t he live out near Cooper’s farm?’
The original sin is industrialization, you see, and we are all sinners. The cure always seems to be more Humanist/Anti-Humanist gospel. Liberal idealists hate to be caught too close to such utopian, poorly-groomed men, where questionable dressing habits usually indicate a (C)ommitment the (C)ause.
‘I hear he rides his e-bike eighteen miles one-way from Stockbridge to buy ox-meat.‘
‘It is all very disconcerting. From her breakdown, to her recitation of carbon-emission facts, the Greta that emerges in Our House is on Fire doesn’t feel like an individual. She feels like a fictional device. A God’s fool-style character, descended down to Earth to expose our folly.’
Come on down!
Shit! Tell me you didn’t buy a house with The GovCo Collective Housing & Blackrock Authority?
Arnhart is taking a closer look at Friedrich Nietzsche over a series of posts. Worth a read.
‘But despite the obvious brilliance of Nietzsche’s early and late writing, Lou shows that his middle writing has a scientific basis that makes it far more intellectually defensible than is the case for the other writing, which shows a delusional religious fantasy that has no grounding in reality and thus leads to the madness into which Nietzsche fell.’
‘The third insight is that the deepest motivation for Nietzsche was his religious longing, so that once he lost his childhood faith in the Christian God, he had to find a replacement for God that would give the world some eternal meaning; and he did this by divinizing himself as Dionysus and eternalizing human experience through eternal return’
Nietzsche’s project against Christianity was deeply personal.
Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) tendencies:
Predictions are hard, especially about the future. Thanks for reading, and for stopping by.
My two cents:
Technological dislocation is still going strong, and the recent developments in chat AI offer some predictive power. Labor costs, for most companies, are among the highest. Many smart and not-so-smart people never learn how to write well, nor persuasively. But they have other skills. The technology is here to utilize software prosthetics to do a lot of writing for us, instead of paying a writer. Writing well is a practical, creative and mind-changing journey, and will continue to influence entire civilizations, but paying for labor is an even tougher sell. This makes me wonder: How many specialized, well-educated 135 IQ thought-leaders will fall into a kind of resentful, punitive criticism? It’s tough to say, but, there will be many (writing well requires understanding and synthesis, but quickly surpasses knowledge and experience). This is why journalism generally loses money, with activists and deeper billionaire pockets funding most outlets.
An older American order, with aristocratic W.A.S.P. gatekeepers, more private religious belief and public square rule-making has eroded considerably. I view this set-up as having corrected many excesses of the market and maintained a lot of trust required between personal behavior and public office. Rules, rule-makers and maintaining legitimate authority can be tricky, but are found among the most important things. So, too, is maintaining a government of the people, by the people and for the people. I’d argue that a secular, technocratic humanism more common in Europe is now a likely majority in American life. Whether or not this is driven by a default, watered-down Marxism in the ‘collective-mind’ is debatable, but challenging the ideal requires wounding an idealist in the place where belief lives. It can even become deadly or disqualifying when a person challenges considerable power. This has lots of implications for speech, rules, and dissent. It will probably even affect what’s ‘cool.’ It’s tough to say what the new personal behavior and public office connection is going to be, but, as mentioned, I think it matters more than most things.
The postmodern pull is still very strong, and deep, as currents go. This blog has discussed Schopenhauer’s Will to Nietzsche’s ‘Will to Power’ nihilism, the Straussian response, and various downstream consequences. There are some pretty good reasons to be liberal, but in America, I’d like to stop the lurch leftward towards true-believing, anti-speech activism and predictably stodgy, out-of-touch liberal idealism. That way lies disorder and potential violence. This blog, at least, has offered a nod to David Hume’s empiricism, J.S. Mill’s utilitarianism, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s self-reliant gnosticism, and Isaiah Berlin’s positive and negative freedoms. At the very least, I’m realistically hoping these could become brighter lights in the nihilist fog. We’ll see…
How might this translate into American politics? While I reject even Conrad’s ‘Heart Of Darkness’ existential nihilism (say…the craziness of Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse Now’), which Gray has espoused in the past, I often fall into tragic realism. I’ve called it ‘depressive realism’ but it’s actually full of optimism. There’s a lot to be optimistic about, accounting for reality and human nature, and how mostly local and personal the good things in our lives are.
But, you’ve got to aim to be good, especially to your loved ones. I think life has a mystery to it, beyond most of our conceptions of life. That said, I view human nature as generally fixed in many ways (religious belief, traditions, the arts and many sciences are simply reflections of what we are, what the truth is, and how we interact with the world). But I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t necessarily know what’s right for you. I support the creative arts and the penetrating truths of the natural sciences and independent thinkers.
Personally, I look for the optimism found in home and hearth where love lives, and promises are made. I look for the looking-out for each other generally found in town and country, in friendships, and in some reasonable, capable talented people found in functional at-scale institutions within cities.
To be vulgar: There are dicks, pussies and assholes everywhere, so try not to be any one of these things, nor for very long. There are decent people everywhere, expanding their skills, talents and including others, with right aims and good minds, while generally avoiding too much f**king around.
In the public square: I favor a free-speech, no-nonsense skepticism, casting a cold eye on life and how institutional incentives actually work. I think Natural Law offers something of a lockbox to keep some of the true-believers and politicians from trying to engineer all parts of our lives (bound for failure…just as are most attempts to make a theology of ‘Man’). Unfortunately, Nautral Law is being replaced with a lot of (S)elf-centered therapeutics, the ‘personal-is-political’ empathy abstractions, anti-human movements, ‘-Isms’ and various flavors of ideology.
Like Gray, I see a lot of political contention ahead, and even dangerous instability because of these misalignments. I’m something of an optimist, BUT, within a depressive realism and a certain tragic view of life.
Of course, take me and my views with a grain of salt.
I’ve heard few liberals really accounting for these increasingly obvious failures of liberal ideas and leadership, but a few have, and a few older-school Lefties (change-first, injustice-focused) are actually the new civil libertarians and defenders of speech.
Global technocracy and authoritarianism will become a default for many idealists when human nature and reality bear down.
On that note: I’ve heard few conservatives really admit that the older tent has mostly fallen down, and the neo-cons, Bushies, Reaganites, religious folks, unmodern folks, war-hawks (when attached to home and hearth) are now in disarray while attacking each other. Most people I know live in-between personal reality, populist anger and a kind of institutional malaise and dysfunction.
Blame is all around. I see Trump as a kind of untrustworthy, narcissistic standard-bearer for ideas which few conservative thinking types will actually defend, given the currents in our lives and politics.
I don’t think this is a healthy situation.
Meanwhile, a lot of obvious realities go unsaid for ALL citizens, and such problems aren’t merely local, but many of the solutions probably will be.
‘Daniel Dennett’s fertile imagination is captivated by the very dangerous idea that the neo-Darwinian theory of biological evolution should become the basis for what amounts to an established state religion of scientific materialism.’
There are a lot of areas in which religion, libertarianism, and secular liberalism come into conflict, and I don’t think education here in America is any exception:
“Dennett cannot be accused of avoiding the religious liberty issue, or of burying it in tactful circumlocutions. He proposes that theistic religion should continue to exist only in “cultural zoos,” and he says this directly to religious parents:
‘If you insist on teaching your children falsehoods– that the earth is flat, that “Man” is not a product of evolution by natural selection–then you must expect, at the very least, that those of us who have freedom of speech will feel free to describe your teachings as the spreading of falsehoods, and will attempt to demonstrate this to your children at our earliest opportunity. Our future well-being–the well-being of all of us on the planet–depends on the education of our descendants.’
Of course it is not freedom of speech that worries the parents, but the power of atheistic materialists to use public education for indoctrination, while excluding any other view as “religion.”
Our author finishes with:
“Science is a wonderful thing in its place. Because science is so successful in its own territory, however, scientists and their allied philosophers sometimes get bemused by dreams of world conquest. Paul Feyerabend put it best: “Scientists are not content with running their own playpens in accordance with what they regard as the rules of the scientific method, they want to universalize those rules, they want them to become part of society at large, and they use every means at their disposal — argument, propaganda, pressure tactics, intimidation, lobbying — to achieve their aims.” Samuel Johnson gave the best answer to this absurd imperialism. “A cow is a very good animal in the field; but we turn her out of a garden.”
There are always dangers. Any thoughts and comments are welcome.
For what it’s worth, in my travels, I often find people who believe ‘inequality’ to be a social or moral harm, to also find ‘equality’ to be a social and moral good, and I’m curious as to how they arrived at such a position.
What does ‘equality’ mean, exactly?
In my experience, people can be wildly unequal in terms of physical and mental abilities, innate capacities and learned skills, life experiences, love and relationship goals, drive and ambition, and of course, pure luck.
We’ve all had some good times, some hard times, some things we’ve fought hard for, sacrificed for, and made a central part of our lives.
Am I gonna make it? How can I be better to someone I love? Is what I’m doing with my time worthwhile?
I generally agree with equality under the law as far as the equality of ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,’ goes, but once I start to hear ‘equality’ as an abstract list of ‘rights’, human and otherwise, I find myself occupying a position of skepticism and doubt.
How much equality is enough, exactly?
‘Over 11 percent of Americans will be among the top 1 percent of income-earners (people making a minimum of $332,000 per year) for at least one year in their lives. 94 percent of the Americans who join the top 1 percent group will keep that status for only one year.’
It seems to me that economic mobility and opportunity is one of the greatest strengths and cherished inheritances we share as Americans.
We don’t have to build around the ruins of monarchy, aristocracy, feudal landownership and fixed classes as found in most of Old Europe. Our founders set us on a glide-path out of such constraints, with a lot of foresight and wisdom.
‘Moreover, the factors that explain higher household incomes among Americans are not fixed over a lifetime, and they are to some degree a matter of personal decisions, which means that people are not forced to remain in one income bracket for their whole lives. American households with higher than average incomes tend to be households where the members are well-educated, in their prime earning years (between the ages of 35 and 64), working full-time, and are in stable marriages. Households with lower than average incomes tend to be households where the members are less-educated, outside their prime earning years, unemployed or working only part-time, and they are likely to be unmarried.’
‘…there is the basic truth that technology and globalization give greater scope to those with extraordinary entrepreneurial ability, luck, or managerial skill. Think about the contrast between George Eastman, who pioneered fundamental innovations in photography, and Steve Jobs. Jobs had an immediate global market, and the immediate capacity to implement his innovations at very low cost, so he was able to capture a far larger share of their value than Eastman. Correspondingly, while Eastman’s innovations and their dissemination through the Eastman Kodak Co. provided a foundation for a prosperous middle class in Rochester for generations, no comparable impact has been created by Jobs’s innovations’
Walter Russell Mead takes a look at the blue model (the old progressive model) from the ground up in NYC to argue that it’s simply not working. Check out his series at The American Interest. Technology is changing things rapidly, and maybe, as Charles Murray points out, it’s skewing the field toward high IQ positions while simultaneously getting rid of industrial, managerial, clerical, labor intensive office jobs. Even so, we can’t cling to the past. This is quite a progressive vision but one that embraces change boldly. Repost-Via Youtube: Conversations With History – Walter Russell Mead
‘Here we find ourselves dealing with a new and powerful movement in Western civilization. We may call it ‘social sentimentalism, ‘ and its reach extends far beyond the issues of antidiscrimination…’
‘In calling this new form of compassion ‘sentimentalism,’ I am pointing to the abstract character of the feelings commonly involved. They are feelings that relate not to specific cases, but to abstract categories, and the actual circumstances of those people who find themselves in these categories will be very various indeed.’
‘Sentimentalism is clearly spun out of the Romantic movement, which I am inclined to date from Jean Jacques Rousseau’s propensity to deal with the ills of the world…’
‘One common account of its founding assumptions is to say that it is the belief that human beings are naturally good, and that their evil acts result from misery and desperation induced by a disordered society. ‘
‘The cause must lie (runs the belief) in some inner derangement, some addiction or mental disorder that ought to be subject to professional help. Here is the line of thought, then, that leads to treating all human ills in therapeutic terms, and crimes and sins as disorders requiring rehabilitation rather than as moral acts deserving punishment.’
Minogue, Kenneth. The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes The Moral Life. Encounter Books. 2010. Print. (Pg 96-97).
‘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 inhis 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.”
Here’s Sam Harris apparently following the TDS logic where it leads (towards a Left-authoritarian political populism, while using the truth/knowledge claims of the social sciences to justify going great guns against Trump).
Here are some speculative inferences on my part:
People become enmeshed in their medium, their practice, and within the complex feedback loop of maintaining a popular program and an audience. Such folks must become what they do, to some extent. Harris strikes me as more reasonably honest than most, but if you float on a current you’ve helped create long enough…some of your blind spots will surface as well.
Harris is quite iconoclastic and brave in speaking out against many shibboleths of the Left. He also still calls himself a man of the Left (not IDW per se, not ‘classically liberal’ etc.). Emotionally, it would be understandable to try and bridge this gap.
Harris argues that reason can scale (true in some respects), and that religious belief can twist men (true in some respects) into becoming more irrational than they would otherwise be. Personally, it’s not evident that New Atheism and ‘rationality’ scale into governing nor authoritative bodies without what’s obviously happening now: A devolution of the public square into less civility (to which Trump has contributed), potentially justified violence, and a new Statism forming out of radical Self-hood and liberation movements. It’s not clear you get rationality and Left populism without radicals (condoning violence), true-believing activists, well-meaning liberal idealists attacked from the Left, and the New Authority (stifling speech and using the laws to punish political enemies). This tells me the underlying map of human nature is wrong, and that many elements of reality are poorly calibrated.
On this site, see:
To the firm believer in this idea of ‘rationality,’ the spectacle of human behaviour (in himself and in others) departing from its norm may be expected to confirm his suspicion that ‘rational’ conduct of this sort is difficult, but not to shake his faith in its possibility and desirability. He will deplore the unregulated conduct which, because it is externally unregulated, he will think of as ‘irrational.’ But it will always be difficult for him to entertain the notion that what he identified as ‘rational’ conduct is in fact impossible, not because it is liable to be swamped by ‘insane and irrational springs of wickedness in most men,’ but because it involves a misrepresentation of the nature of human conduct.’
‘Among the other evidences of Rationalism in contemporary politics, may be counted the commonly admitted claim of the ‘scientist, as such (the chemist, the physicist, the economist or the psychologist) to be heard in politics; because, though the knowledge involved in a science is always more than technical knowledge, what it has to offer to politics is never more than a technique.’
Oakeshott, Michael. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991. Print.
Personally, I tend to think of a few nodes of change in a society from which new thinking and ideas emerge.
–Enlightenment Natural Philosophy becoming different branches of science and computing technology: Really smart and driven people contributing to scientific discovery and coming to fruition within these fields of study. There has been a lot of progress here, and the rate of change is affecting all of us every single day (just wait until the next war and the assistive automation that will be deployed).
–Philosophers and idea men in metaphysics: Synthesizers of ideas and sometimes creators of their own. This can also include popularizers of other men’s ideas and idea men leading others where they’d like them to go.
–The arts and artistic movements: A lot of new thinking and thought arises out of artistic innovation and loosely affiliated bands of artistic creators. A lot of what ‘cool’ is regarding popular culture happens here, as well as inspiring generations. Good art speaks to our souls.
All of this can make it harder to appreciate what’s so important to conserve.
Another video sent in from a reader:
A lot of people consider themselves as outside any tradition or practice, or institution, animating against such things. Such ideas and people following them are responsible for how and why the last few generations of humanities have been taught in our institutions, and the failure of many of those institutions.
But radical humanism, or renewed faith in humanism, must still ground itself in claims to knowledge and truth, in rationality, or in some thinking which can maintain civil society and mediate other competing claims according to its lights. Why and how should humanists manage the public square?
So what’s lacking in the humanities? Roger Scruton had some keen insights:
“The works of Shakespeare contain important knowledge. But it is not scientific knowledge, nor could it ever be built into a theory. It is knowledge of the human heart”
So forget the recent, and rather desperate, attempts to make the humanities into a science (however…it’s been done before with some success). Scruton suggests it’s been a long slide for the humanities to arrive where they’ve arrived:
“In the days when the humanities involved knowledge of classical languages and an acquaintance with German scholarship, there was no doubt that they required real mental discipline, even if their point could reasonably be doubted. But once subjects like English were admitted to a central place in the curriculum, the question of their validity became urgent. And then, in the wake of English came the pseudo-humanities—women’s studies, gay studies and the like—which were based on the assumption that, if English is a discipline, so too are they.”
And now that we’re left with somewhat balkanized and politicized departments of English, these departments have become a target of the political right, dragging many people into a nasty fight that eats up political capital:
“And since there is no cogent justification for women’s studies that does not dwell upon the subject’s ideological purpose, the entire curriculum in the humanities began to be seen in ideological terms.”
So how to restore the vision? Scruton advised to restore (and not eschew) judgment:
” Of course, Shakespeare invites judgment, as do all writers of fiction. But it is not political judgment that is relevant. We judge Shakespeare plays in terms of their expressiveness, truth to life, profundity, and beauty.”
This is deep insight and I think the better part of Scruton’s thinking in the article comes when he resisted his own political (anti multi-cultural, pro-conservative, pro-church of England conservatism) impulses. Here are the last few lines:
“It will require a confrontation with the culture of youth, and an insistence that the real purpose of universities is not to flatter the tastes of those who arrive there, but to present them with a rite of passage into something better.”
One could argue that this is necessary though how to arrive there is in doubt.
“The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the old man who will not laugh is a fool.”
On another note: Despite the importance of beauty, the refinement of our experiences through poems and prose, the difficult work of cultivating”taste” for ourselves as well providing a rite of passage for our youth: Aren’t we still attaching the humanities to something else?
We know the humanities will never be a science. Politics is always in conflict with the arts. Much philosophy is indifferent to the humanities at best. In fact, Plato was quite suspicious of their influence on the republic (good overview here).
Gurri offers an interesting take on matters socio-cultural:
The dilemma is that this present is defined by a radical distrust of the institutions of industrial society, and of the elites that control them, and of their statements and descriptions of reality. The conference organizers got our predicament right. At every level of contemporary social and political life, we are stuck in the muck of a profound crisis of authority.
‘The senior people, largely white and male, seemed to believe that, in punishment for the sins of their fathers, trust had fractured along identity lines. Women today were thought to trust only women, for example. Muslims trusted Muslims, and no one else. Some archetypical essence of “woman” or “Muslim” made internal communications possible, and separated each group from the rest of the human race. It was, to be sure, a disaster of biblical proportions – the story of Babel told in the times of the tweet – and it left the men in charge desperate to put forward individuals of a different sex and skin coloration, to say the things they wanted to hear.
For younger elites, trust involves a sort of cosplay of historical conflicts. They put on elaborate rhetorical superhero costumes, and fight mock-epic battles with Nazis, fascists, “patriarchs,” slave-owners, George III, and the like. Because it’s only a game, no one gets seriously hurt – but nothing ever gets settled, either. Eventually, the young cosplayers must put away their costumes, take one last sip of Kombucha, and set off, seething with repressed virtue, to make money in the world as it really is.’
‘One remembers Weber’s epitaph for the Protestant Ethic, as he contemplated a devitalised bourgeoisie spiritlessly tending the petrified mechanism their ancestors had raised. Adapted, without apology, it might also be used to depict that petrified Utopia of the New Ruling classes of the East.
‘Rulers without honour, administrators without heart, priests without conviction, this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilisation never before achieved.’
As previously posted:
Charles Murray argues that controlling the data for just for whites in America, a gap has opened up between working-class ‘Fishtown’ and professional-class ‘Belmont.’ Fishtowners have increasing rates of out-of-wedlock births and divorce, more isolation from churches, civic organizations and the kinds of voluntary associations that Murray suggests can make a life more fulfilling, regardless of income beyond certain basic needs. Fishtowners have higher incidences of drug and alcohol use and intermittent work.
Belmonters, on the other hand, are mostly college-educated and beyond, still tend to court, marry, engage in family planning and tend to stay connected with family, friends and colleagues. Folks in Belmont are still living more moderate personal lives and working to stay ahead in the changing economy through academia, the professions, government, tech, business and global business.
Being a social scientist with a more limited government/small ‘c’ conservative/libertarian worldview, Murray likely sees a smaller role for government and limited ways in which some people acting through government can actually solve problems in other people’s lives. As a contrarian social scientist in a small minority, then, he disagrees with many basic assumptions often found amongst a majority of social scientists.
Murray thus advocates for people in ‘Belmont’ to increasingly preach what they practice, to look outside the bubble of their daily lives and wealthier enclaves, and perhaps reconstitute the kinds of family and civic associations, moral virtues and opportunities for independence and success he’d like to see more broadly.
What this would look like in practice, exactly, is unclear.
Robert Putnam, author of ‘Bowling Alone‘, seems to agree with 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.
Putnam also focuses more on economic factors, the decline of manufacturing and the disappearance of working-class jobs that has without question affected large parts of America and small-town life. Globalization has opened American firms to global competition, global capital markets and mobile labor. Whatever your thoughts on race, Putnam creates some daylight between the data and strictly race based interpretations (often aligned with ideology, especially in academia nowadays) and focuses more on ‘class’ in a way slightly differently than does Murray.
An interesting discussion, in which the empirical research of social science can highlight important differences in political philosophy and try and transcend the inevitable political and ideological battles of the day.
There’s a popular narrative that drug companies have stolen the soul of psychiatry. That they’ve reduced everything to chemical imbalances. The people who talk about this usually go on to argue that the true causes of mental illness are capitalism and racism. Have doctors forgotten that the real solution isn’t a pill, but structural change that challenges the systems of exploitation and domination that create suffering in the first place?
No. Nobody has forgotten that. Because the third thing you notice at the American Psychiatric Association meeting is that everyone is very, very woke.
‘John Gray’s “Silence of Animals” is an attack on humanism. He condemns this widely accepted secular faith as a form of delusional self-flattery.’
‘The question Gray poses is of fundamental importance, so one wishes the book were better. It is not a systematic argument, but a varied collection of testimonies interspersed with Gray’s comments.’
Clearly humanism could use more serious critics and pushback.
Nagel finishes with:
‘Gray thinks the belief in progress is fueled by humanists’ worship of “a divinized version of themselves.” To replace it he offers contemplation: “Contemplation can be understood as an activity that aims not to change the world or to understand it, but simply to let it be.” Though he distinguishes this from the ideal of mystical transcendence toward a higher order of being, it, too, seems more like a form of escape than a form of realism. Hope is a virtue, and we should not give it up so easily.’
Gray discusses the book here:
While science may proceed and real progress is taking place, in the realms of ethics and politics, Gray suggests things are learned but they don’t stay learned.