A healthy skepticism regarding politics and politicians probably wouldn’t hurt people self-selecting towards certain ideals with the idea of re-designing, re-shaping and ‘modernizing’ our institutions. I harbor many doubts about some Englightenment thinkers’ universal knowledge claims, though I recognize the foundational structure of many such ideas within many of our institutions:
‘The scientific study of politics is, then a great but limited achievement of our century. Like any other form of understanding, it gains its power from its limitations, but it happens that the specific limitations of science in its fullest sense are restrictive in the understanding of human life. But political science often escapes this limitation by ignoring the strict requirements of science as a discipline. Much of its material is historical and descriptive, as indeed it must be if we are to recognize that any understanding of the government of modern states cannot be separated from the culture of the people who live in them.’
Minogue, Kenneth. Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. (Pg 93).
‘The tattoo in modern society is thus a subject of greater interest and deeper significance than might at first be supposed, a subject worthy of reflection and a possible departure point for an assessment of the soul of modern man.’
Being something of a coward, I wouldn’t approach a bunch of guys outside a biker bar asking just what in the hell’s going on with all those tattoos.
‘Prison tat?’ doesn’t seem like the best icebreaker while strolling the Vegas strip.
Maybe soothing isn’t always what you need or want from your (A)rt?
Some of the stuff is pretty ecstatic:
Tyger Tyger, burning bright, In the forests of the night; What immortal hand or eye, Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies. Burnt the fire of thine eyes? On what wings dare he aspire? What the hand, dare seize the fire?
And what shoulder, & what art, Could twist the sinews of thy heart? And when thy heart began to beat, What dread hand? & what dread feet?
What the hammer? what the chain, In what furnace was thy brain? What the anvil? what dread grasp, Dare its deadly terrors clasp!
When the stars threw down their spears And water’d heaven with their tears: Did he smile his work to see? Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Tyger Tyger burning bright, In the forests of the night: What immortal hand or eye, Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
If you hadn’t noticed, many people claiming child-rearing should be monetized, and that every (S)elf is sacred, are probably not going to be satisfied with more commodification of children and atomization of (S)elf.
People want to believe stuff, act righteously in the world and be an important part of a group. We get the heroes we deserve:
There are other ideals most such folks I’ve spoken with hold higher as good, beautiful and true. Unfortunately for me, as I see the world, such ideals typically ‘labor in the negative.’
Solidarity, brother: These would include the grudge-holding and anti-corporatism of the Union Left, cartelizing the labor market, and placing onerous labor laws upon entire populations through collectivization (play the game or you don’t work and your vote won’t matter much at all). Good luck being an individual in this landscape.
Religions Of Man: Socialism and Communism claiming ‘scientific’ knowledge of (M)an’s ends (the people in charge, after the violent revolution, will know your ends better than you ever could). Global Workers of the World Unite! Your death was for the greater good.
There is no World, man. What does your body feel? Or take the postmodern relativism and nihilism spilling from our universities (there’s no objective reality) and existentialist chic increasingly found amongst our young. There are some very deep thinkers to inspire here, and great works of art, but where is this all heading? Should I even ask such a question, Man?
One-World Government(Surprisingly Fragile & Authoritarian): Or take the kind of ‘-Ismology’ and latest moral-cause crusades our politicians must increasingly surf into power (do they even believe some of this s**t?).
Meanwhile, the realities of local conflicts and populations consistently move in their own directions and deals with foul tinpot dictators continue (which probably feeds into the postmodern cynicism). A la Ken Minogue, I’ve been viewing such movements as containing a lot of over-extended utilitarian logic and ‘Olympianism.’ This scaling of liberal ideals congeals into a kind of authoritarian egalitarian paternalism. There’s much to guide us within the best of Civil Rights Activism, undeniably, but, what are the practical consequences should this ideal become the highest thing around?
Well, Dear Reader, one way around this seemingly inexorable pull of the modern and postmodern, and the atomization of (S)elf, is towards a kind of Hegelian-inspired ‘Romantic Conservatism’, or back to the family, the land, the local and of course, the universal found in God.
A rampaging modernity ignores the centrality for human beings of community, home and settlement and leaves behind nothing but atomised individuals, “living like ants within their metallic and functional shells.”
…This pervasive sense of homelessness can be overcome, Scruton believed: “underlying that sense of loss is the permanent belief that what has been lost can also be recaptured,” albeit in a modified form, “to reward us for all the toil of separation through which we are condemned by our original transgression.” And he saw this redemptive faith as “the romantic core of conservatism, as you find it—very differently expressed—in Burke and Hegel, in Coleridge, Ruskin, Dostoevsky and T.S. Eliot.” It was found also in F.R. Leavis, who insisted in The Great Tradition (1948) that superior literature displays “a vital capacity for experience, a kind of reverent openness before life, and a marked moral intensity,” and found these qualities present pre-eminently in the novels of Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James, Joseph Conrad and D.H. Lawrence. For Leavis, Scruton explained in The Philosopher on Dover Beach (1990):
In the Q & A afterwards, Scruton receives about as pointed a post-lecture questioning on his metaphysics as I’ve seen.
Is there a turn back towards the Hegelian ‘we’ from the Kantian ‘I?’
However attractive and practical Scruton’s deployment of the ‘lebenswelt’ in describing the day to day relationships in which we find ourselves (a tissue of contingencies, possibilities and ‘I’ ‘thou’ relationships); however useful the ‘lebenswelt’ might be providing robust criticism of the totalitarian ideologies and scientism of post-Enlightenment ideological utopians, are the Hegelian dangers to abstract, absolutize and collectivize still present?
‘Now, I think that this is an accurate and honest presentation of Wittgenstein’s thought, except perhaps for the notion of “an independent world,” which sounds like a metaphysical assertion; but it also makes it look like Roger Scruton has fallen into the same kind of dark well as the “nonsense machine” of post-modernism that he examined in his other book.
First of all, if we have decided that the “emphasis” of Frege on truth is now to be replaced with the “more fundamental demand” that our language conform to “correctness,” alarm bells should go off. There is in fact nothing more fundamental than truth, if we are talking about knowledge or logic (and not just “communication”); and “correctness” could mean anything, varying with the standard that is applied to judge it. But we quickly get what the standard of “correctness” is, and that is the “common usage” that has “created the rules,” outside of which we cannot “look,” to govern our linguistic practice. These are rules that the invididual cannot decide for himself but that somehow “we,” collectively, in our “form of life” have created.
Key points there are that the autonomous individual and the “independent world” have both dropped out of the treatment. Scruton, as we might suspect for a Hegelian, does not speak up for the individual, but even his explicit invocation of the “independent world” is immediately voided by the assertion that only language itself, in its practice, correctness, and form of life, determines what is going to stand as the equivalent of truth. Thus, the chilling absurdity is that “the ultimate facts are language,” while, naively, we might think that facts are characteristics of the “independent world” that determine truth, as the Early Wittgenstein himself had said. In an objective world without facts, language is the substitute (whose status is somehow established by facts about the world).’
Addition: As a friend points out: Strauss is trying to get around the 2nd Nietzschean crisis of modernity, and the cinching and tightening of moral, political, and philosophical thinking into only an Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment pursuit of truth under Reason alone. The Natural Right and Natural Law Philosophies, including and a pursuit of the truth which can involve religion (Augustine?), or Greek conceptions of the good and the true as applied to the city-state vastly broaden and prevent the inherent nihilism in these waves of modernity as Strauss saw them…historicism being one of these Enlightenment pursuits, from political science to the social sciences to Hegelian and post-Hegelian historicism…the logic is followed to its inherently nihilistic ends. This poses a threat to individual liberty among other things…
Regarding the above conversation between writer Bret Easton Ellis and mathematician Eric Weinstein: Both men tell coming-of-age tales as Gen Xer’s during the early 1980’s; a glamourized, somewhat nihilistic youth culture and a deep personal freedom.
I’ve been to L.A. a few times (Raymond Chandler kept me going when I was far away from my language) and David Hockney has captured some of the light and landscape of that particular place.
We all have likely have some contact with Los Angeles through the movies, and particular stylized visions of it:
‘Noyce was like a great many bright young men and women from Dissenting Protestant families in the Middle West after the Second World War. They had been raised as Baptists, Methodists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, United Brethren, whatever. They had been led through the Church door and prodded toward religion, but it had never come alive for them. Sundays made their skulls feel like dried-out husks. So they slowly walked away from the church and silently, without so much as a growl of rebellion, congratulated themselves on their independence of mind and headed into another way of life. Only decades later, in most cases, would they discover how, absentmindedly, inexplicably, they had brought the old ways along for the journey nonetheless. It was as if . . . through some extraordinary mistake . . . they had been sewn into the linings of their coats!
Does L.A. or the music made there even have a center?:
More broadly, in interacting with many Millenials I often find myself thinking: What the hell happened to a rough and ready sense of independence, freedom and responsibility? Am I alone in my deeper sense of patriotism, gratitude and a skepticism regarding the new, emergent rules?
Freedom of Speech! America!
‘Whatever,’ comes the reply. ‘We’ll see.‘
Am I just living in a post-60’s and post-Boomer bubble myself? To some extent, yes. But I’d also like to point out just how many intellectuals are still looking for a ‘Brotherhood Of Man’.
Sometimes, the best you can hope for from the ‘change’ focused smart types is a defeated Modern skepticism, rather than revolutionary zeal and the global Church Of Mankind.
Weinstein’s argument as I understand it: Something fundamental shifted around 1972 in American economic and institutional life. It’s when a previously more explosive rate of economic growth stalled. Since that time, most folks within our academic, cultural and political institutions simply haven’t adjusted.
It’s harder to get into many housing markets now, and it’s harder to compete with global labor for jobs and academic positions. Our current politics is a clown-show (for many reasons). Much stagnation has ensued, and many of our current institutional hierarchies might just possess dark, unspoken ponzi knowledge at their hearts.
The sooner you got in, the better off you are.
If such a theory be true, these conditions can easily erode a basic sense of fairness, institutional trust and continuity. This could allow more space for the postmodern and nihilist drift both men discuss, and the growing desire for (S)elves looking for (C)ommunities and rules. EQUALITY now. More space for Socialism. Anarchy. More space for a retreat from the public square into one’s family and church.
Such a theory just might also stroke the egos of people who think of themselves as relatively independent, such as myself.
Dear Reader, I’ve got to watch out for that. I like to think of myself as ahead of some curves.
‘Increasingly the research seemed to show that interventions by government, universities and industry in the US labor market for scientists, especially after the University system stopped growing organically in the early 1970s were exceedingly problematic.’
A few more thoughts and personal experiences as an undergraduate English major which support the theory: There were plenty of talented undergrads, sure, but there were also clearly not enough slots to develop and mature their talents within the institutions.
A writing MFA? Don’t be a sucker.
The older the professor, usually the more rigorous and focused the teaching. The higher the expectations and the less existential questions of pedagogy there were. Fewer ontological questions of Self in the World emerged as confessional blank verse and personalized syllabi.
Later on, briefly (you should be as happy as I am I’m not a lawyer), I saw legal education displaying similar troubling trends, even though law requires a clearer logical and objective rigor: All the top-tier law grads were vying for teaching spots at second and third-tier law schools. If you started at a second or third-tier law school….good luck.
Don’t be a sucker, now. Find your (S)elf. Freedom is next.
‘From the earliest days of his emergence, the Rationalist has taken an ominous interest in education. He has a respect for ‘brains,’ a great belief in training them, and is determined that cleverness shall be encouraged and shall receive its reward of power. But what is this education in which the Rationalist believes? It is certainly not an initiation into the moral and intellectual habits and achievements of his society, an entry into the partnership between present and past, a sharing of concrete knowledge; for the Rationalist, all this would be an education in nescience, both valueless and mischievous. It is a training in technique, a training, that is, in the half of knowledge which can be learnt from books when they are used as cribs. And the Rationalists’s affected interest in education escapes the suspicion of being a mere subterfuge for imposing himself more firmly upon society, only because it is clear that he is as deluded as his pupils. He sincerely believes that a training in technical knowledge is the only education worth while, because he is moved by the faith that there is now knowledge. He believes that a training in ‘public administration’ is the surest defence against the flattery of a demagogue and the lies of a dictator.’
Oakeshott, Michael. “Rationalism In Politics“. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Liberty Fund, 1991. Print. (Pg 38).
‘The Rationalist, unaware of the local origins of the universal principles he thinks he has identified, disparages knowledge gained through experience and rejects it in favor of something called reason. Whether deductive or computational, this abstract reason is thought to guarantee a degree of certainty that experience and judgment cannot provide. The fallacy of Rationalism, in other words, is that the knowledge it identifies as rational is itself the product of experience and judgment. It consists of rules, methods, or techniques abstracted from practice, tools that, far from being substitutes for experience and judgment, cannot be effectively used in the absence of experience and judgment.’
We all have experiences and form judgments based upon them. Each of us, no matter how talented, can get only so far on technical manuals and textbooks alone. Deduction from principles and allegiance to those principles doesn’t necessarily guarantee any particular knowledge of politics, let alone the abstract category of ‘politics’ so commonly claimed by many in the modern world.
Maybe this applies to economics as well, dear reader:
I wonder if this can’t be applied to those who, in claiming loyalty to a particular set of ideas or political doctrines, claim not only the legitimacy of their feelings under such doctrines, but ‘feelings’ in general.
No one has ever felt before me!
Such claims usually travel under ideas of liberation (from tradition, from marriage, from existing relationships, from whatever ‘oppression’ was to be found internally or externally, personally or politically).
The French Revolution as It Appeared to Enthusiasts at Its Commencement
Oh! pleasant exercise of hope and joy! For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood Upon our side, we who were strong in love! Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!—Oh! times, In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways Of custom, law, and statute, took at once The attraction of a country in romance! When Reason seemed the most to assert her rights, When most intent on making of herself A prime Enchantress—to assist the work Which then was going forward in her name! Not favoured spots alone, but the whole earth, The beauty wore of promise, that which sets As at some moment might not be unfelt Among the bowers of paradise itself ) The budding rose above the rose full blown. What temper at the prospect did not wake To happiness unthought of? The inert Were roused, and lively natures rapt away! They who had fed their childhood upon dreams, The playfellows of fancy, who had made All powers of swiftness, subtilty, and strength Their ministers,—who in lordly wise had stirred Among the grandest objects of the sense, And dealt with whatsoever they found there As if they had within some lurking right To wield it;—they, too, who, of gentle mood, Had watched all gentle motions, and to these Had fitted their own thoughts, schemers more wild, And in the region of their peaceful selves;— Now was it that both found, the meek and lofty Did both find, helpers to their heart’s desire, And stuff at hand, plastic as they could wish; Were called upon to exercise their skill, Not in Utopia, subterranean fields, Or some secreted island, Heaven knows where! But in the very world, which is the world Of all of us,—the place where in the end We find our happiness, or not at all!
According to Kiss, Oakeshott’s non-teleological, non-purposive view of education is potentially a response to Friedrich Hayek, Martha Nussbaum, and Allan Bloom, in the sense that all of these thinkers posit some useful purpose or outcome in getting a liberal education.
Hayek’s profound epistemological attack on rationalist thought is still a system itself, and attaches learning to market-based processes which eventually drive freedom and new thinking in universities. The two are mutually dependent to some extent.
Nussbaum attaches liberal learning to ends such as making us ‘Aristotelian citizens of the world’, or better citizens in a democracy, which has struck me as incomplete at best.
Allan Bloom is profoundly influenced by Straussian neo-classicism, and wants love, classical learning, honor and duty to perhaps be those reasons why a young man or woman should read the classics. This, instead of crass commercialism, the influences of popular music, deconstructionism and logical positivism.
‘Elizabeth Alexander never expected to go into philanthropy. Now she’s in her third year as the president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the largest supporter of the humanities and the arts in the U.S., where she’s quickly applied her vision to foster a more just society.’
‘There, she co-designed the Art for Justice Fund—an initiative that uses art and advocacy to address the crisis of mass incarceration—and guided the organization in examining how the arts and visual storytelling can empower communities.’
I like the idea that poems are actually not supposed to engage you in direct action, neither political, nor personal. They usually take some work to understand, but they can come alive on the tongue and live like wisdom in the brain for years.
‘In our democratic age, however, poets have always had scruples about exalting leaders in verse. Since the French Revolution, there have been great public poems in English, but almost no great official poems. For modern lyric poets, whose first obligation is to the truth of their own experience, it has only been possible to write well on public themes when the public intersects, or interferes, with that experience–when history usurps privacy.’
‘In “Sea Change,” Graham becomes Prospero, casting spells by spelling out her thoughts to merge with ours, and with the voices of the elements. The result is a mingling of perceptions rather than a broadcasting of opinions. Instead of analysis, the poems encourage emotional involvement with the drastic changes overwhelming us, overwhelming the planet.’
‘Strengths and weaknesses, flows and ebbs, yet every poem in “Sea Change” bears memorable lines, with almost haunting (if we truly have but 10 years to “fix” global warming) images of flora and fauna under siege. Jorie Graham has composed a swan song for Earth.’
Just pointing out that predictions of the NY Times ending up like The Guardian are proving true.
The Guardian: Left and Far Left. Funded by deep and shallow-pocket[ed] activists (revolutionary and avant-garde thought-leaders liberating ‘The People’ from false consciousness and oppression, towards ideological and liberatory purity).
As for the NY Times, I think this ‘The Hunt’ piece from the Real Estate section sums up my expectations nicely. Oh yes, it’s real:
‘As conservationists, they decorated almost exclusively with secondhand furniture. The large closets — “the biggest I’ve had in my life,” Ms. Sinclair said — have enough storage space for the craft materials she uses for her feminist tableware line, Oddtitties.us.’
It turns out there are many gnostic faiths in the modern world, pursued religiously.
A deranged, charismatic preacher seals his flock inside a cave for eternity. Generations later, ghosts haunt a suburban family, with ratcheting levels of violence, until the preacher’s malevolent spirit finally absconds with a young child through the T.V.
Imagine instead a Jim Jones figure, or just another shabby Marxist ‘intellectual’.
Alas, the problems are often deeper than you think.
“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.”
The way I currently see parts of the world (rightly or wrongly): Liberal idealism, or basing one’s hopes and beliefs in liberal ideals, often means overlooking important parts of human nature. Peace, for example, is an ideal, as is equality. The pursuit of either, in my opinion, should be constrained by institutions and supported by incentives, given human nature. Without serious threats to liberty, neither peace nor equality seem sufficient to maintain the consent of the governed for the mid- and longer terms.
One must remain more skeptical and realistic about people and life, in my thinking, especially people who want to be in charge of parts of your life.
Many scalable aspects to secular humanism continue to function, however, and function well in many domains (trade, attracting top intellectual talent, openness to experience and deeper realities of human existence). Yet, quite obviously, such domains tend to trod the local underfoot. A wide gulf has formed between successful 1st generation immigrants in our universities and the realities of local life and the abandonment of practical governance in small towns. At the moment, I believe a lot of the decency of human nature can help bridge this gulf, with proper incentives, but this is me being pretty optimistic.
I think getting the right mix of home and hearth, local and proud, along with cosmopolitan and worldly, professional and aspirational, can be done. But, to do so, we move away from the ideals and back towards the founding. We’ll see how right and wrong I may be about this.
Some of these problems are driven by technology, of course. What if a lot of the stagnation, and gathering of idiocy in education can be bypassed through scaling human intelligence on new platforms?
You’ve always got to stay a few steps ahead of the morons, moralists and true-believers. Unfortunately, some morons, moralists and true-believers happen to be in charge, with incentives that nothing change. Others are busy seeking power while claiming everything-is-power.
Other costs of liberal idealism, not much discussed by liberal idealists (and promoted hungrily by conservatives, who see the weaknesses much more clearly): Activism, and the ever-tightening ratchet of the Left away from speech, tolerance and basic respect for the rules continues apace. Yes, many of the the radical roads lead to terrorism, and revolutionary violence. Hitler year-zero thinking, and ‘everyone’s-a-fascist-but-me’ are not exactly enough to address the darknesses of the human heart and the follies of vanity and pride.
So, Dear Reader, even if you don’t live in Seattle, nor San Francisco, nor New York, where half-Communists sometimes get elected, and open Socialists sometimes run for office, they’re helping to re-write the rules. If it hasn’t already, they’re coming to a school-board, art museum, or maybe even a pop-song near you.
Most liberal idealists are often curiously silent about this failure.
Another of my views: Some of this started with the abandonment of the humanities curriculum or the ‘canon’ as it was called. The move towards postmodern skepticism, nihilism, and the ideological constructs filling the void are an important part of this postmodern move.
Some favorite quotes, as often repeated.
“The moral world has no particular objection to vice, but an insuperable repugnance to hearing vice called by its proper name.”
Full piece here, which could have some explanatory insight:
Del Noce’s emphasis on the role of Marxism in what I called the “anti-Platonic turn” in Western culture is original, and opens up an unconventional perspective on recent cultural history. It calls into question the widespread narrative that views bourgeois liberalism, rooted in the empiricist and individualist thought of early modern Europe, as the lone triumphant protagonist of late modernity. While Del Noce fully recognizes the ideological and political defeat of Marxism in the twentieth century, he argues that Marxist thought left a lasting mark on the culture, so much so that we should actually speak of a “simultaneous success and failure” of Marxism. Whereas it failed to overthrow capitalism and put an end to alienation, its critique of human nature carried the day and catalyzed a radical transformation of liberalism itself. In Del Noce’s view, the proclaimed liberalism of the affluent society is radically different from its nineteenth-century antecedent precisely because it fully absorbed the Marxist metaphysical negations and used them to transition from a “Christian bourgeois” (Kantian, typically) worldview to a “pure bourgeois” one. In the process, it tamed the Marxist revolutionary utopia and turned it into a bourgeois narrative of individualistic liberation (primarily sexual).’
‘Quit talking bad about women, homosexuals, and preferred social minorities, and you can say anything you want about people who haven’t been to college, manual workers, country people, peasants, religious people, unmodern people, old people, and so on.’
‘They are, in fact, idealists: and idealism is a cast of mind that Conrad questions even more than he questions radicalism. The logical end of radicalism, in his view, is terrorism; but idealism is the mental aberration that allows terrorism to be brought about. Conrad’s originality was to see that a new tyranny could be generated by people who thought that their rebellion against the old tyranny was rational. Thus his writings seem prescient about what was to happen in the Soviet Union. He didn’t predict the Nazi tyranny because he had underestimated the power of the irrational to organise itself into a state. But then, nobody predicted that except its perpetrators; and anyway, mere prediction was not his business. His business was the psychological analysis made possible by an acute historical awareness. Under Western Eyes is valuable not because it came true but because it rang true even at the time, only now we can better hear the deep, sad note.’
‘Outrage supposedly felt on behalf of others is extremely gratifying for more than one reason. It has the appearance of selflessness, and everyone likes to feel that he is selfless. It confers moral respectability on the desire to hate or despise something or somebody, a desire never far from the human heart. It provides him who feels it the possibility of transcendent purpose, if he decides to work toward the elimination of the supposed cause of his outrage. And it may even give him a reasonably lucrative career, if he becomes a professional campaigner or politician: For there is nothing like stirring up resentment for the creation of a political clientele.’
Ken Minogue framed it thusly:
‘Olympianism is the characteristic belief system of today’s secularist, and it has itself many of the features of a religion. For one thing, the fusion of political conviction and moral superiority into a single package resembles the way in which religions (outside liberal states) constitute comprehensive ways of life supplying all that is necessary (in the eyes of believers) for salvation. Again, the religions with which we are familiar are monotheistic and refer everything to a single center. In traditional religions, this is usually God; with Olympianism, it is society, understood ultimately as including the whole of humanity. And Olympianism, like many religions, is keen to proselytize. Its characteristic mode of missionary activity is journalism and the media.’
‘Progress, Communism, and Olympianism: these are three versions of the grand Western project. The first rumbles along in the background of our thought, the second is obviously a complete failure, but Olympianism is not only alive but a positively vibrant force in the way we think now. Above all, it determines the Western moral posture towards the rest of the world. It affirms democracy as an ideal, but carefully manipulates attitudes in a nervous attempt to control opinions hostile to Olympianism, such as beliefs in capital or corporal punishment, racial, and otherforms of prejudice, national self-assertion—and indeed, religion‘
‘Romanticism (also known as the Romantic era) was an artistic, literary, musical, and intellectual movement that originated in Europe towards the end of the 18th century, and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1850. Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical.‘
For my piece, seeking poetic meaning, through the written and spoken word, moves many hearts and minds most deeply. Within such mediated and heightened, experiences of reality, many people forget their own senses and reason. A creative genius has created a work (a poem, a cathedral, your favorite song) where the creator’s senses and reason has become yours. You’re a bit like a walker on the forest floor; the creative genius the canopy overhead, filtering the sunlight to this tree and that. One need only look to revelation and myth, religious and ideological, to understand how powerful such works of the imagination are, and how such impulses within us, can be.
In the Romantic Age, this was channeled in specific directions.
I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud
I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o’er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine And twinkle on the milky way, They stretched in never-ending line Along the margin of a bay: Ten thousand saw I at a glance, Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they Out-did the sparkling waves in glee: A poet could not but be gay, In such a jocund company: I gazed—and gazed—but little thought What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude; And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.
William Wordsworth’s Lake District ain’t necessarily the cloud in front of you. Those clouds have come and gone. You are not really a cloud (though for a moment maybe you were, within the mind’s eye, the cloud and the looker and the poet, while reading the poem).
Who’s more likely to be Romantically inspired? Well, some temperaments more than others, I’m guessing. All of us to some extent, however, in the modern world. I think people whose education has come through modern channels are more likely.
In my experience, sometimes it’s the rationalist, the data scientist, or the physicist, when the brain-draining day’s work is done, who becomes most inspired to identify with modern, collectivist and Romanticized thought. These folks are often among the brightest, and the ones working with hardest data, and the most rigorous standards of getting at the truth. But, such folks are human, after all. Often, they want comforting fictions over harsh truths. Ideal utopias dot the horizon. Some rationalists can also be painfully naive when it comes to the motives others have in a shared enterprise (a bureaucracy, a political coalition etc).
Reality, the reality of privation, violence and criminality are still with us. Some people choose violence for dominance and leverage over others. Some people develop skills which involve harming you. Many people in rough neighborhoods are happy to get over on you, and that’s about it. Many people in rough neighborhoods choose not to live this way and cultivate and strive to keep what’s good alive, moving forwards.
Some very educated people, with good backgrounds, can be absolute assholes, and even dangerously criminal. This shouldn’t come as entirely surprising. Higher intelligence is certainly no guarantee of character.
‘Poverty’ has become a kind of big, conceptual bowl into which the imaginings of a post-Christian, humanistic, ethic have gathered. Some people have turned these ideas into what I regard as a rather idealistic (and ideological) platform, actualizing such ideas through emergent thought.
I suppose we’ll see.
On that note:
I remain skeptical of much environmental thinking, primarily in the realms of politics, law and ad hoc ethics. Many people here aren’t actually doing science. Many such knowledge and truth claims are serving various masters. Such ideas have become the glue holding many coalitions of humanists, anti-humanists, idealists and ideologues together, mediating the natural worlds and those of (M)an.
‘The real feat achieved by Gropius and his cohorts was to have recognized and exposed the sociopolitical and moral power of architecture and design. They wanted to exert “effective influence” on “general conditions,” fashion a more just world and turn all of this into a “vital concern of the entire people.”‘
‘Across all cultures, raising a child is considered one of the most rewarding things a person can do. Yet a chorus of campaigners, scientists, and journalists suggest that everyone should think twice before procreating.’
As I see things, many in the West are replacing belief in a deeper substrate of religious doctrines with belief in a substrate of secular humanist ideals and various flavors of political idealism.
There’s a kind of Neo-Romanticism going on, including religious impulses channeled through secular beliefs and in anti-capital, anti-technology and anti-human directions.
OUT: Old kooks
IN: New kooks
I’d like to remind folks that Peace Pavilion West, an Eco-Romantic Human Collective Going Back To Nature and Forward Towards Progress, is still accepting applications.
-Would you like to live in your OWN ecopodment as part of a living, working Community?
-Does 1,200 calories of guaranteed bug-paste and 8 glasses of fresh spring water a day sound good to you?
-Close your eyes: The day’s field labor is done. Honest sweat and natural musk mix with memory. Your mind, body and soul begin to rise towards the Cosmos, as each Community member joins hands, chanting Earthsong at dusk
True story: I was tutoring a girl in Seattle, and she was in the arts. Artists are often alone, more vulnerable, and she suddenly opened up about Climate Change.
This was one of the primary lenses through which she viewed the world, and it was predicting imminent disaster. Doom and gloom. The End Of The World Is Nigh. Her teachers and peers were eye deep in this acopalyptic thinking, and such ideas were clearly amplifying her anxiety.
I shared some of my interest in the Natural world, animals and experiences. We looked up some facts and discussed them for a bit. I told a bad joke or two. After both relaxing somewhat, I tried to suggest getting out a bit more and mixing it up. You got this.
“Only when humans are again permitted to build authentic urbanism — those cities, towns, and villages that nurture us by their comforts and delights — will we cease the despoiling of Nature by escaping to sprawl.”
What is modernism, exactly? This blog is still trying to work towards a definition:
‘Like many scholars of modernism, I’m often asked two questions: What is modernism? And why is modernist studies, it seems, all the rage right now? I don’t have a good, succinct answer to either question — and I’ve no doubt frustrated plenty of friends because of that — but the reasons why I don’t are pretty telling.’
From the comments:
‘The most useful definition of modernist fiction I’ve encountered comes from Brian McHale’s Postmodernist Fiction. He says modernist fiction tends to “foreground epistemological questions” such as “How can I interpret the world I’m part of? What is there to be known?Who knows it? What are the limits of that knowledge?” In contrast, postmodernist fiction tends to “foreground ontological questions” such as “What is a world? What kinds of worlds are there and how are they constituted? What happens when…boundaries between worlds are violated?’
‘There is no morality in art. There is morality in religion; there are philosophical objectives embedded in politics. The two are intertwined in a society and reflected in its art. When you sever art from its cultural moorings and make “newness” the overriding criterion by which the merits of a work are judged, then anything is possible. This results in crap. Not always’
James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Ezra Pound, the Bauhaus, the imagists, the futurists etc. Some of those influences have morphed into post-modernism or where such currents have flowed and keep flowing.
The primary urge of the revolutionary and the modernist and the adolescent: impatience.’
About that new Barbie movie…
Here’s my riff without having seen the thing (alas, the cardinal sin). Maybe I shouldn’t be forgiven.
I’m guessing its director is grounding herself in a kind of epistemological feminism which grounds itself in the Bloomsbury Group, Virginia Woolf, and, say, Mary Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft.
Here’s Greta Gerwig getting the treatment reserved for those in the bully pulpit (of course radicalism within postmodernism never inhabits the bully pulpit in good faith…without blame and utopian visioneering).
It’s sad to see actual talent, creativity and some vision hitched to such an idea-wagon.
What am I talking about?: We still have a lot of men and women not just having sex, but building trust and respect and tending to the garden of love (daily, patient work). Out of this comes the covenant of marriage, where each works to provide the cradle of safety, love and then structure, punishment and expectation for all of our future citizens.
Such people are known as ‘good citizens’ and ‘good parents.’ They know the world ain’t perfect and is full of suffering and patient duty. They often have jobs they don’t like. These people usually make rules and laws that are ‘square.’
These people are still there, but square views currently form a minority in the cultural, intellectual and entertainment spheres (as elite as many are). As square and sometimes unyielding and crushingly stupid such views can be when it comes to artistic creation, we need this family structure to form a civil society and have laws.
We have managed to create a creative, intellectual and elite class of people gone real and fake radical, denouncing anything remotely square, even within themselves. And they’re telling stories.
How did we get here? Rough men populated the mountains east of L.A. to mine ore from the ground (whoring, drinking, fighting and sometimes ‘murderin’…breaking their bodies in the mines, solving daily problems with ingenuity, some cool engineering and camaraderie).
A little later, there settled storytellin’ men into L.A.
These men built studios, gathering the latest visual technology from far and wide. The business was much more built on good writers with actual life experience and maybe something to say. But there was also some whoring, drinking, fighting and somewhat less murderin’.
I can tolerate some misandry and cutting men down to size, as long as it’s well done. Oh, plenty of good women writers have stuff to say about that. In fact, I’m guessing ‘Barbie’ is probably well-made in terms of the apparatus (production, scoring, latest technology, some character stuff). There’s probably some good narrative structure.
But it’s also probably got a lot of internal logic which leads to oppressor/oppressed victimhood, pitting the sexes against one another, and nihilistic despair and therapeutic Self-help.
We’re slowly civilizing, but, right into the radicalism that’s caused so much un-civilization in Europe these past centuries.
Ultimately, the internal logic of such radical feminism encourages bouts of cynical self-loathing, world-hating and man-hating (woman-hating too), and a revolutionary terrorism against all existing rules and laws.
Not exactly good for civilization, and certainly not for young girls and boys, who will become future people holding civilization up.
‘What would happen if your city, in the name of progress, started giving poorer residents vouchers for landline telephones rather than smartphones? Or if, rather than stocking public libraries with computers, so that people could write emails, your city installed fax machines?’
It’s like a time-machine back to the future utopia, at $8 a ride…
‘Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people”:
First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.
Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.
A move towards the rational, invites a relationship with the irrational. The move towards idealism requires authority in the real world, inviting ideology as central to a (S)elf’s life. Ideal worlds, utopias and dystopias abound in the nihilist soup, along with a lot of bureaucracy and declarations for actions to meet the ideal.
High-walls and extra surveillance are a logical consequence for much of this authority.
‘The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests, or to the strong prejudices which may oppose it. He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board.’
‘And so there is less reason than many think to doubt humans’ ability to be reasonable. The dissenting critiques of the cognitive-bias literature argue that people are not, in fact, as individually irrational as the present cultural climate assumes. And proponents of debiasing argue that we can each become more rational with practice. But even if we each acted as irrationally as often as the most pessimistic picture implies, that would be no cause to flatten democratic deliberation into the weighted engineering of consumer choices, as nudge politics seeks to do’
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).
Related On This Site: Cass Sunstein’s got to create some space between the Bloomberg backlash and the totalitarians on the Left: Daddy’s Gonna Make You Do It