Kenneth Minogue At The New Criterion: ‘The Self-Interested Society’

As originally posted ~ nine years ago now.

Full essay here.

Thanks to a reader for the link.   Deep but very readable.  How universal is the desire for individual freedom?:

‘Some people take the view that we in the West are fortunate to enjoy freedom, because it is a universal human aspiration that has been commonly frustrated in most societies. This is one of the more pernicious illusions we entertain about human kind. Most people have never lived in free societies, nor exhibited any desire or capacity for freedom’

and:

‘What most people seem to want, however, is to know exactly where they stand and to be secure in their understanding of their situation.’

Isn’t that last part a universal claim upon human nature?  If so, Minogue generally resisted the idea that evolutionary theories could be transferred successfully to Statecraft.

He is arguing that it’s easy to mistake your experiences and ideas within our Western tradition for that of peoples everywhere.

Maybe you’ve traveled and experienced the tribal taboos and family/kin loyalties of smaller bands and ethnic groups.  Maybe you’ve been up close to the transcendental submission of will in faith in Islam, uniting a patchwork of tribes and peoples under its claims with high honor ethic and a strong warrior tradition (the individual doesn’t choose whether to drink or have women work outside of the home).   Maybe you’ve seen the caste system in India, or the authoritarian feudal landownership structure in Pakistan, or the ancient, imperial Chinese structure with a Han core, now still a strong State structure charting some kind of course out of Communism.

What is unique about our traditions?

Towards the end of the essay:

‘The balance in our tradition between the rules we must respect because they are backed by the authority of law, and the free choice in the other elements of our life is one that free agents rightly will not wish to see disturbed.’

Food for thought.

Roger Kimball quoting Minogue:

‘The evident problem with democracy today is that the state is pre-empting—or “crowding out,” as the economists say—our moral judgments. Rulers are adding moral judgments to the expanding schedule of powers they exercise. Nor does the state deal merely with principles. It is actually telling its subjects to do very specific things. Yet decisions about how we live are what we mean by “freedom,” and freedom is incompatible with a moralizing state. That is why I am provoked to ask the question: can the moral life survive democracy?’

R.I.P.

——————–

Related On This Site:  Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution

Milton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’……Robert George And Cornel West At Bloggingheads: “The Scandal Of The Cross”Race And Free Speech-From Volokh: ‘Philadelphia Mayor Suggests Magazine Article on Race Relations Isn’t Protected by the First Amendment’

..Repost-Roger Scruton In The American Spectator: The New HumanismEd West At The Telegraph: ‘Conservatives, Depressing Everyone Since 500BC’

Can you maintain the virtues of religion without the church…of England?: From The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”…

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

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

Monday Quotation From Charles Kesler And A Few Thoughts on Conservatism

Repost-Are You There, God? It’s Me, So-And-So

Simon Blackburn reviews Edward Feser’s ‘Five Proofs of The Existence of God

From The Ignatius Press description of the book:

‘This work provides as ambitious and complete a defense of traditional natural theology as is currently in print. Its aim is to vindicate the view of the greatest philosophers of the past— thinkers like Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Aquinas, Leibniz, and many others— that the existence of God can be established with certainty by way of purely rational arguments. It thereby serves as a refutation both of atheism and of the fideism that gives aid and comfort to atheism.’

Blackburn, here in the Times Literary Supplement (link may not last):

‘Edward Feser, a Roman Catholic philosopher, disagrees. His book is an exercise in the drive to go where Hobbes, Hume and Kant said we could not go, finding something lying behind the world as we know it, something necessary and unchanging that sustains and in some sense explains the contingent, shifting, natural world and our capacity to think about it.’

and:

‘Edward Feser himself is not at all drawn to silent contemplation inside the monastery walls. He is a vigorous proponent of a morality of natural law, holding, for instance, that abortion is as bad as murder. His ancient exercises in logic are more than just intellectual amusements. They are preludes to the will to power, and if it were not for the Enlightenment, so little admired by John Gray, they would doubtless have continued to be preludes to persecutions and the auto-da-fé.’

Feser responds, here:

‘On the one hand, Blackburn must limit the powers of human reason sufficiently to prevent them from being able to penetrate, in any substantive way, into the ultimate “springs and principles” of nature. For that is the only way to block ascent to a divine first cause – the existence and nature of which, the Scholastic says, follows precisely from an analysis of what it would be to be an ultimate explanation...

…On the other hand, Blackburn has to make sure that this skepticism is not so thoroughgoing that it takes science and Humean philosophy down too, alongside natural theology.’

On that note, on the profound and what I’d call ‘Will’ tradition nihilist skepticism of modernity, progress and high liberalism, as Blackburn also reviews John Gray’s new book ‘Seven Types Of Atheism

Blackburn on the book:

‘After this taxonomy the book is largely an indictment of misguided thinkers and writers since the Enlightenment, peppered with discreditable stories from their biographies. The examples are sad enough, and Gray uses them to support a general pessimism about human beings altogether, other people being just as bad as religionists. Woe to those who think that things have been or could be improved! Eventually the list becomes reminiscent of Monty Python’s “What have the Romans ever done for us?” substituting the Enlightenment for the Romans. We are all lying in the gutter, and the right things to look at are not the stars above, but the rubbish all around us. The only thing we progress towards is death’

If you’re interested, the below are from past related posts on this site:

Thomas Nagel review of John Gray’s previous book, ‘The Silence Of Animals,’ here.

Simon Critchley reviewed the book at the L.A. Times.

Nagel starts with:

‘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.’

and:

‘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.

Are we rational beings? Rational animals?

What about a Church Of England, somewhat Hegelian, defense of conservatism as a defense of that which one loves?:

In the Q & A afterwards, Scruton receives about as pointed a post-lecture questioning on his metaphysics as I’ve seen.

In the final moments, Robert George also posits that Scruton’s four presented categories actually rather resemble Aristotle’s Order of Nature and three of them Aristotle’s Practical Reason.

Interesting presentation by an interesting thinker, indeed.

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

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

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

Ross Douthat At First Principles: ‘The Quest for Community in the Age of Obama: Nisbet’s Prescience’

Charles Murray is trying to get virtue back with the social sciences: Charles Murray At The New Criterion: ‘Belmont & Fishtown’Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People

Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo StraussFrom Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’

Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

Steven Pinker curiously goes Hobbesian and mentions an ‘international Leviathan’…: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas Hobbes

Maybe if you’re defending religion, Nietzsche is a problematic reference: Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy…From The Access Resource Network: Phillip Johnson’s “Daniel Dennett’s Dangerous Idea’Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’Theodore Dalrymple In The City Journal: Atheism’s Problems.

Don’t immanentize the eschaton!: From The NY Times: ‘Atheists Sue to Block Display of Cross-Shaped Beam in 9/11 Museum’

Repost-From Virtual Philosophy: A Brief Interview With Simon Blackburn…Can you maintain the virtues of religion without the church…of England?: From The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”…

Robert Bork had his own view of the 1960’s: A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

LLOL (Loud Losers OnLine), Wikipedia, The Frontiers Of Knowledge With Spock, & Lawrence Krauss-Some Links

There are many reasons for the capture of existing and emergent communication platforms by loud voices and true believers.

Here are three I can think of:

  1. Liberation movements aren’t necessarily freedom movements-I suspect there is an inability of some secular humanists and liberals to realize their ideas have provenance, and limitations in reality. The knowledge transformations going on within many intellectual fields won’t necessarily translate to conceptualizations of ‘shoulds’ nor ‘oughts’ for all of ‘society.’ Don’t hold your breath expecting too much honor nor honest reflection regarding your politicians, either, especially when you give them bad incentives. One may find out well past a popular opinion, fervently held, how wrong many elements of that popular opinion have been. Also, radicals may simply come to destroy you last, or first.
  2. Attention feels good, especially when you’re not getting attention anywhere elseIt’s not all losers online, but the people with the most time on their hands, and/or the most reasons to be marginalized by everyone else, often gain the most through the time and distance shortening elements of online platforms. This can be quite a good thing, mobilizing talents and skills. This also partially explains the allure of ideology, identity politics, and the downstream dangers of political idealism (making political causes into morally virtuous crusades). Quite a bit of human activity boils down to resentment, jealousy, and the same human vanity, pride and prejudice there’s always been. A lot of religious doctrine, as I see the world, at least has foundational limiting principles when mobilizing human passions into direct political action (as if that were enough to prevent the worst abuses and cycles of dysfunction). Watch out for this stuff within yourself.
  3. The regression to the mean of human behavior as it appears on the new communication platforms. Do you remember Craigslist? It was the new want ads and a useful place to communicate. Many years later, it still serves some of these functions, but has regressed to an online flea market with the the usual stuff found in the alleyways of all marketplaces (scam artists, scoundrels, junkies, prostitutes and johns etc.)

On that note, I enjoyed this discussion with one of the co-founders of Wikipedia on how he views Wikipedia now. I do agree with him a movement towards internet decentralization is one way to go, is beginning to happen now, and could bring a lot of good.

Just a reminder, a lot of people don’t know what the f**k they’re talking about, and I could be one of them.

Dear Reader, I can’t help notice a tendency to offload the fear of our own demise into causes likely to outlive us. The sweet nectar of catastrophizing and doomsaying is…sweeter than the vengeful lust fueling Khan’s relentless quest to defeat James T. Kirk.

Add the patina of scientific authority by way of character acting, the dipshittery of celebrity…and:

***Chef’s Kiss:

This is how I choose to remember Spock:

You had me at ‘diamond-quilted red velvet.’

Perhaps you’re thinking that’s a standard 1978 ‘Custom Star Trek ‘boogie’ van: The kind you might see parked at a ‘Bad Company‘ concert, or maybe pulling next to you at a stoplight, blasting Journey’s ‘Wheel In The Sky‘ or  Heart’s ‘Barracuda.’

The interior certainly conjures some ‘If This Van’s A Rockin’, Don’t Come A Knockin‘ sentiment.

Move-in a little closer, however, and that sweet exterior paint-job begins to reveal mysterious depths of the human condition.

No, I’d say someone involved here has the soul of a poet.

Is Spock in possession of that bare-chested space Amazonian?

Have we, the observers, already stumbled unawares into a supreme space drama unfolding in real time?  Some potential new danger calling-up our best selves to triumph as we too gaze to the horizon along with them…to the heavens…to Dairy Queen or the gas station…to that final frontier?

You try and learn from people, especially from people who know stuff you don’t.

Just ’cause you know about physics (theories grounded in evidence and experiences explaining all known evidence and experiences), doesn’t mean you know everything, but you do know some important things.

Charles Murray, Edward Feser, & Ernst Haas-Some Links

From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The False Rhetoric of Systemic Racism: Charles Murray on Race Differences and America’s Ideal of Individual Equality of Rights

In Facing Reality: Two Truths About Race in America (2021), Charles Murray argues that the rhetoric of “systemic racism” in America is mistaken for four reasons.’

Glenn Loury further discusses with Murray:

==

Via Edward Feser At Substack, philosopher Michael Robillard explains how he left academia, and how academia left him.

We’ve continued to see the application of quantitative reasoning, and applied mathematics, to many fields pursuing knowledge and truth of our interior lives (psychology), how we act in groups (sociology), where we might have come from (anthropology) and not merely how to buy and sell stuff, but markets themselves (the quants on Wall Street). Much of this will be highly useful knowledge, new knowledge even, with a lot of truth to it.

At the same time, however, the further pursuit of not merely quantitative reasoning, mathematics, the natural sciences and computer sciences, but the (R)ational, is in conflict with the (I)rrational, the nihilistic, The Will and Will To Power. The (S)elf is a primary conception alive in the West today, and thus does the postmodern (S)elf permeate the arts, art movements, and the (C)ulture at-large. The Hegelian conception of (H)istory, and its re-appearance in Marx, provides intellectual backdrop for many ideologues and ideologies active in many American institutions.

In the meantime, maybe pick up a hobby? Maybe it’s poetry, or music, or off-roading, or mining, or photography. Learn how bad you are at something, as you slowly become better through hard work. Come to appreciate those who worked hard and came before.

Thanks for reading!

I Certainly Hadn’t Noticed This Attitude-Theodore Dalrymple On Ken Minogue & ‘The Liberal Mind’

See ‘The Liberal Mind‘ here.

Theodore Dalrymple at Law & Liberty:

‘In his autobiography, John Stuart Mill relates the mental crisis that he experienced as a young man when he asked himself whether he would be happy if all the reforms that he thought necessary were granted or achieved. Would they necessarily fulfill him?

and:

In the absence of religious belief, one way of finding such a meaning in life is to attach yourself to a cause, the gaining of which is sufficiently distant to occupy you for years, and yet not totally impossible either. This imparts to you the pleasing glow of righteous transcendence, of doing good and feeling good at the same time.

and:

One of the problems of the liberal mind is that it does not know where to stop. It is always searching for new problems to solve, not because the problems are so great or so important, but because without them it is deprived of its sense of purpose. 

Ken Minogue from the preface to ‘The Liberal Mind

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.’

Pg xi

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.

Satire beckons.

‘Contemporary liberalism does not depreciate emotion in the abstract, and in the abstract it sets great store by variousness and possibility. Yet, as is true of any other human entity, the conscious and the unconscious life of liberalism are not always in accord. So far as liberalism is active and positive, so far, that is, as it moves toward organization, it tends to select the emotions and qualities that are most susceptible of organization. As it carries out its active and positive ends it unconsciously limits its view of the world to what it can deal with, and it unconsciously tends to develop theories and principles, particularly in relation to the nature of the human mind, that justify its limitation.’

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

It’s easy to believe that because you know one thing pretty well, or a few things reasonably well, that what you know is known by all, and that this knowledge is universal.  What if what you can know is bound up with your experiences, and is acutely limited?

A 20th century address of such problems:

But my object is not to refute Rationalism: its errors are interesting only in so far as they reveal its character.  We are considering not merely the truth of a doctrine, but the significance of an intellectual fashion in the history of post-Renaissance Europe. And the questions we must try to answer are: What is the generation of this belief in the sovereignty of technique? When springs this supreme confidence in human ‘reason’ thus interpreted? What is the provenance, the context of this intellectual character?  And in what circumstances and with what effect did it come to invade European politics?’

Oakeshott, Michael. Rationalism In Politics“. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Liberty Fund, 1991. Print. (Pg 17).

Mind Your Business, Strangers & Perverts. Bah, Humbug-Some Links

From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Hayek’s Mistake: ‘The Ancient Evolution Of The Human Trading Instinct and the Neanderthal Extinction:’

I have often argued against Friedrich Hayek’s claim that socialism appeals to our evolved instincts…’

The late Jerry Gaus: ‘On the Difficult Virtue of Minding One’s Own Business: Towards the Political Rehabilitation of Ebenezer Scrooge

We can only live with strangers and perverts if we refrain from making their lives our business. This restraint has a considerable cost, of which contemporary “communitarians” are well aware. Some advocates of the Great Society seem to suggest that one can do anything one wants to in such a society as long as, following Mill, one does not harm another.

From the old Opie & Anthony show (mild perverts), a discussion of a truly disturbing subject (N.A.M.B.L.A.).

Which reminds me: Yesterday’s liberationists are today’s would-be authoritarians. Yesterday’s utterances are today’s chalkboard rules, echoing in the minds of the young.

Come on out to Peace Pavilion West. Dale Lonagan was born the child of a leading climate-change bureaucrat and the U.N. journalist sent to cover him. People say he ran with Frank Lloyd Wright and Charlie Manson.

The Great Man of History emerges between memory and dream. Sometimes he comes on horseback. Dale is this savior in shadow, (S)cientist and (W)orld (C)itizen, leading us all into the Light Of Reason. He waits for every one of us, on the horizon, where sunny utopian promise meets harsh reality.

Read about it here.

Some will say this is a photo of the roof of a Best Buy parking garage.

I say: The Future!:

From OldSchoolContemporary: ‘Kenneth Minogue’s Christophobia And The West‘:

Globalization is having very odd effects on our thinking, but none is more curious than the Olympian project of turning the West’s cultural plurality into a homogenized rationalism designed for export to, and domination over, the rest of the world‘.

Some people don’t, and won’t, think like we do. And the ‘We’ is in question.

Via Youtube-Ken Minogue:  ‘How Political Idealism Threatens Our Civilization’

Also, from  Alien Powers:  The Pure Theory Of Ideology:

Ideology is a philosophical type of allegiance purporting to transcend the mere particularities of family, religion, or native hearth, and in essence lies in struggle.  The world is a battlefield, in which there are two enemies.  One is the oppressor, the other consists of fellow ideologies who have generally mistake the conditions of liberation.’

and:

‘Yet for all their differences, ideologies can be specified in terms of a shared hostility to modernity: to liberalism in politics, individualism in moral practice, and the market in economics.’

Arnold Kling reviews the late Kenneth Minogue’sThe Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes The Moral Life,‘ and finishes with:

‘Overall, I would say that for libertarians Minogue’s book provides a litmus test. If you find yourself in vigorous agreement with everything he says, then you probably see no value in efforts to work with progressives to promote libertarian causes. The left is simply too dedicated to projects that Minogue argues undermine individual moral responsibility, and thus they are antithetical to liberty. On the other hand, if you believe that Minogue is too pessimistic about the outlook for freedom in today’s society and too traditional in his outlook on moral responsibility, then you would feel even more uneasy about an alliance with conservatives than about an alliance with progressives.’

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

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

Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution

Thoughts From The Anglosphere-Some Links

Denis Dutton: ‘Delusions Of Postmodernism:’

‘Here perhaps lies postmodernism’s greatest failure of nerve: as Khanin puts it, where the modernist posture was one of pathfinder and conqueror, the postmodernist prefers the passive life of a voyeur. The former posture may have been presumptuous, but the latter is senseless. Why this mood of fatigue has so much current appeal in the industrialized world is, I readily admit, mysterious to me. I can only affirm my view that the Enlightenment in its modernist and postmodernist manifestations is still a vital enterprise in science, politics, and even art. Though its completion is nowhere within our sights, it demands our active engagement.’

Roger Sandall: ‘Guardianship: The Utopia Of The New Class

You can’t keep a good idea down. You can be gently derisive and hope it will go away. You can make things hot for True Believers by exposing their ideas to ridicule and scorn. Or adopting a more serious approach, you can research and write and publish two mighty volumes of overwhelming argument printed in several editions over a period of forty years, which make vividly clear the intellectual error of Platonic politics, the practical folly of using them as a guide to action, and the numberless vices which invariably ensue.’

From an emailer: Revisiting Martha Nussbaum’s paper on Judith Butler: ‘The Professor Of Parody

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

Designer Tribalism, Rich Kids, Jordan Peterson & Jesse Singal-Some Links On Knowledge Claims Which Are Good Enough For Many Who Want To Be In Charge

Worth a read. From the late Roger Sandall: ‘Designer Tribalism-The Communal Great Escape

Communes being communal, they are invariably seen as uniquely virtuous, fair and compassionate forms of association. Yet they rarely turn out that way. Discipline and authority are always a problem.’

What do rich folks and the children of many rich folks happen to believe these days? Does it happen to be more vaguely Communal? Many are definitely (S)elf-Oriented, or have bathed in the waters of such thinking.

How might this bear on the consent of the governed, and those difficult things which must be carried to maintain the Republic?

What are you carrying, Dear Reader?

Gore Vidal from a while ago did a thing called a ‘book review’: ‘Rich Kids’. Words can become delightful daggers.

The fact that I seldom actually finish reading anything that he writes probably has to do with my own perhaps irrational conviction that Dr. Coles’s heart is so entirely in all the right places (mouth, boots, upon the sleeve) that nothing he has to say will ever surprise me despite the fact that he has traveled far and reasonably wide because “One hopes; one hopes against hope that somehow it will make a little difference; only a little, but still some, if people mostly unknown to almost all of us get better known to more of us. 

Liberalism, and many rationalists, New Atheists, and other bright types often overlook some basics about human nature; just why Churches undergo schisms, why (S)cience might not be enough, and the many darknesses of the human heart. The rationalists/irrationalists have many causal relationships.

Perhaps the postmodern ground has been cleared, and the appeal to property, free-markets, collective duties and personal liberation won’t exactly cut it against points further Left. The call to adventure, and purpose, is partly what drives violent ideologues, anti-humanists and the same old Communists. The existential void and the abyss are deep.

Activists, the most impassioned and zealous, are definitely seeking to remake the world, and other people, through politics and law.

And if they’re wrong about a particular policy or law?

When knowledge claims are insufficient, and disagreement reasonable, the failure to maintain open dialogue is a failure which many liberals I know will be loathe to acknowledge, offloading onto the same old targets: Anyone conserving anything.

Coleman Hughes and Jesse Singal have an interesting discussion on the replicability crisis in psychology, the problems of IAT, and the TED circuit. Singal has a new book out: ‘The Quick Fix: Why Fad Psychology Can’t Cure Our Social Ills.’

Also discussed: The Research Behind Nudges & Cass Sunstein.

You don’t have to be a Cruisin’ Scientologist to have….some doubts:

As posted:

Lecture here.

Feynman (wikipedia) wonders what makes science science.  He manages to argue quite well why he doesn’t think psychology meets a certain standard.

At least, he says the following:

I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science. In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas–he’s the controller–and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all theapparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but  they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.’

Also On This Site: From 3 Quarks Daily: Richard Feynman Talks About A Pool And A Not-So-Pretty Girl.
Clearly math can bring people together, but what is it being asked to do, exactly? Elizabeth Spelke On Bloggingheads: Towards A Coalitional Mathematics?

A potentially interesting thought:  Let’s all take a moment to recall Jeffrey Dahmer, shall we?

What if through the social sciences and American institutional innovation (IQ tests for the military, academic placement testing), there dripped-down a battery of tests given to all American schoolchildren.  After an hour or two taken out of a child’s day, a thick envelope would arrive at home a few weeks later; to be examined or unexamined by the parents and/or child:

While possessing above-average intellience, JEFFREY scored high for violent imagery and/or ideation.  JEFFREY might display a predilection to become fixated on objects, animals and/or other living things in his attempts to understand and navigate the world.  Providing positive and rewarding outlets for JEFFREY will likely enhance learning opportunities and the chance to develop fruitful interpersonal relationships.

Oh, there are a few more out there…

As posted, someone’s going to be running our institutions and making rules out of a presumed universal and common sense set of knowledge claims:

An interesting take from Slate Star Codex-‘The APA Meeting: A Photo-Essay:’

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.

This reminds me of a poem by Robert Pinsky, entitled ‘Essay On Psychiatrists’

V. Physical Comparison With Professors And Others

Pink and a bit soft-bodied, with a somewhat jazzy
Middle-class bathing suit and sandy sideburns, to me
He looked from the back like one more professor.

And from the front, too—the boyish, unformed carriage
Which foreigners always note in American men, combined
As in a professor with that liberal, quizzical,

Articulate gaze so unlike the more focused, more
Tolerant expression worn by a man of action (surgeon,
Salesman, athlete). On closer inspection was there,

Perhaps, a self-satisfied benign air, a too studied
Gentleness toward the child whose hand he held loosely?
Absurd to speculate; but then—the woman saw something

Maintaining a healthy skepticism:

A Fight Is On, But It Will Be Generations

If a tendency towards true-belief, occasionally visible in one’s (S)elf, and like all behaviors, transparently visible in others, means anything, it must mean less truth-seeking, less tolerance and less openness in the minds and institutions captured by such true-belief.

The resentment within some need only find expression through narrow, rigid ideologies (destroying what’s here for the utopia to come, promoting action with epistemologically questionable areas of knowledge), for there to be consequences for all.

As I see things, this is still the greatest threat to freedom found within American educational, cultural and political institutions right now.

Many dangers of a particular ideological true-belief occur in the enormous blind spot beneath many liberal idealists and secular humanists/rationalists, who, as I see things, often mistake all 60’s radicalism for benign, well-intentioned change. Beneath the doctrines of (M)an are actual men, and the same old human nature.

There are also deeper currents, dragging us this way and that, often only making themselves clear after many years and some quiet reflection. Some of these currents push and pull the (S)elf (where self-knowledge begins of course) along, but downwards towards the nihilism, existentialism and radical stance of a (S)elf outside of all tradition, religion, obligation and custom.

As posted:

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

As a Straussian might see it: Once you set up (S)cience on the positivist definition, as the only arbiter of facts, one can very easily invite the anti-(S)cience response in kind, which manifests itself here as the retreat into a victimhood/oppressor ideology.

‘(S)cience’ was only a tool of the white oppressor, anyways, don’t you know (and no one actually has to do the hard work the sciences require…how convenient):

Jonathan Haidt At Heterodox Academy on these new ‘blasphemy laws:’

In the wake of the violence at Middlebury and Berkeley, and in the aftermath of the faculty mob that coalesced to condemn gender studies professor Rebecca Tuvel, many commentators have begun analyzing the new campus culture of intersectionality as a form of fundamentalist religion including public rituals with more than a passing resemblance to witch-hunts.’

It’d be nice if many secularists and political liberals said something like the following:

If we continue to secularize society, we will entrench many postmoderns, activists, radicals, people steeped in resentment, and narrow socialist ideologues, but the gains in liberty will be worth it. We might even inspire a return to old-timey religion.  If this happens, we will freak-out about this turn of events. In the meantime, free speech and free thought will not be upheld, except with moral courage against the mob we’ve helped incubate and gestate.’

-Via an interview with Ken Minogue from 2006:

‘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.’

I’m looking around and not seeing too much decency in American politics, lately.

A.C. Grayling makes one of the better cases for morality without religious doctrine, I’ve heard of late, but I’m not entirely sold these particular problems can be addressed sufficiently:

Via A Reader-Isaiah Berlin’s Lectures On The Roots Of Romanticism. Romanticism–>Modernism–>Postmodernism–>Wherever We’re Heading Now

Maybe it all started with Beethoven: Everyone’s a (S)elf.

On this site, see:

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

Correspondence here.

Link sent in by a reader.

Without a stronger moral core, will liberalism necessarily corrode into the soft tyranny of an ever-expanding State?

Since the 60’s, and with a lot of postmodern nihilism making advances in our society, is a liberal politics of consent possible given the dangers of cultivating a kind of majoritarian politics: Dirty, easily corrupt, with everyone fighting for a piece of the pie?

As an example, Civil Rights activists showed moral courage and high idealism, to be sure, but we’ve also seen a devolution of the Civil Rights crowd into squabbling factions, many of whom seem more interested in money, self-promotion, influence, and political power.

The 60’s protest model, too, washed over our universities, demanding freedom against injustice, but it has since devolved into a kind of politically correct farce, with comically illiberal and intolerant people claiming they seek liberty and tolerance for all in the name of similar ideals.

Who are they to decide what’s best for everyone?  How ‘liberal’ were they ever, really?

Kelley Ross responds to a correspondent on Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism, while discussing John Gray as well:

‘Now, I do not regard Berlin’s value pluralism as objectionable or even as wrong, except to the extend that it is irrelevant to the MORAL issue and so proves nothing for or against liberalism. Liberalism will indeed recommend itself if one wishes to have a regime that will respect, within limits, a value pluralism. I have no doubt that respecting a considerable value pluralism in society is a good thing and that a nomocratic regime that, mostly, leaves people alone is morally superior to a teleocratic regime that specifies and engineers the kinds of values that people should have. However, the project of showing that such a regime IS a good thing and IS morally superior is precisely the kind of thing that Gray decided was a failure.

Thus, I believe Gray himself sees clearly enough that a thoroughgoing “value pluralism” would mean that the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini is just as morally justified as the regime of Thomas Jefferson. Gray prefers liberalism (or its wreckage) for the very same reason that the deconstructionist philosopher Richard Rorty prefers his leftism: it is “ours” and “we” like it better. Why Gray, or Rorty, should think that they speak for the rest of “us” is a good question. ‘

and about providing a core to liberalism:

‘Why should the state need a “sufficient rational justificaton” to impose a certain set of values? The whole project of “rational justification” is what Gray, and earlier philosophers like Hume, gave up on as hopeless. All the state need do, which it has often done, is claim that its values are favored by the majority, by the General Will, by the Blood of the Volk, or by God, and it is in business.’

And that business can quickly lead to ever-greater intrusion into our lives:

‘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. ‘

Are libertarians the true classical liberals?  Much closer to our founding fathers?

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

Strands of a New, New Left are likely forming out of the excesses of identitarianism. From anti-trans TERF feminists, to many anti-establishment, anti-Boomer types (anti- sisterhood of the travelling ‘bourgeois’ pantsuit criticism), the identity-center is probably not holding.

A new strand of radical chic is all about ‘it’s not race, it’s class’ traditional Marxism, combined with lots of Democratic Socialist sympathies (Bernie over so many ‘neo-liberal‘ sellouts).

Perhaps Tom Sowell’s ‘Black Rednecks and White Liberals‘ is worth revisiting, at least to break out of the white savior complex (which manisfests itself both in original Marxist class-warfare and current watered-down identity Marxism).

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

Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution

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

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.… Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

One way out of multiculturalism and cultural relativism:

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