Happy New Year! Let’s Do 2019! Gird Your Loins for An Unbidden Lecture On (A)rt, (S)cience And American Institutions These Days

I don’t know how you ended-up on this blog, but here you are:  Welcome old and new readers, to this little carved-out corner of the web.  May you subtly calculate how and why you disagree with me as you click back to that latest favorite video/recipe/game.

Or do yourself a favor and just click through to Zombo.com already.

It’s free!

Personally, I see many Wild-West attributes of online platforms as increasingly coming into contact with existing institutions and interests, and becoming less wild, but still Western.

This seems to be happening while many of our institutions have been seriously over-leveraged and are undergoing tremendous populist pushback. Trust in political parties, lawmakers and institutional leadership are at all-time lows.

Is America becoming more like Europe?

Mid and longer-term, there is still a fair amount of high-end innovation and intellectual incubation going on.  I tend to see mathematicians, AI innovators, computer scientists and software engineers as trying to solve particular kinds of problems, and generally not worrying too much about ‘culture,’ at least while not actively solving these problems.

Nevertheless, the ‘culture’ is interested in them.  At many companies and institutions, there is a tendency towards aligning with the loudest voices and most committed social reformers, which is to say favoring oppressed identity groups (women, minorities etc) on a rather simplified trend-line towards ever-more freedom and progress.

This tends to be where a lot of moral and public sentiment is currently being directed, regardless of deeper truths.

Such platforms also interact with a general decline in organized religious and cultural expectations in nearly all of our lives (my simplified trend-line of less religion in our lives).  I see a good deal of increased choice and freedom about where to work, whom to marry and how to make decisions these days.

Therefore, not all of these changes are bad.  Many of these changes, in fact, have been very good for very many people, but they come with costs.

It’s not clear what the new rules are nor upon which foundations they will rest.

What’s going on with the intellectual dark-web?: If not all change is for the better, and if you’re counting on liberation driven by radicals decrying all existing institutions in favor of utopian ideas and revolution, then you’re counting on deeply authoritarian and totalitarian ideologues to defend liberty.

This is where many in academia, the media and positions of cultural influence find themselves these days, having backed-into into institutional and bureaucratic capture by illiberal voices.

As for the current Patreon dustup, I see Patreon as primarily having to make a business decision in the ‘culture’ wars between the more activist and socialist Left and the IDW (intellectual dark-web).

A vigorous, robust defense of freedom of speech so common a generation ago has now sadly, but unsurprisingly, become a cultural battleground.

And on major platforms like Patreon, the IDW folks standing-up for broader and more open speech have become an unprotected minority, and likely a business liability:

Many deeply committed socialists tend to be surprisingly good art and film critics, focusing sharply on ‘culture.’  Many economic Marxists tend to congregate in the academy and politics as they produce little of value beyond spreading the gospel of Marx.  They can be particularly adept at politics, gaining special traction while institutions are over-leveraged.

If you allow them to drive the latest moral idea, then eventually standing up for any law, tradition or practice makes you an enemy and part of the ‘system’ they claim to know so much about:

As for my take on artists, most good ones tend to the bohemian, operating on the fringes of the ‘culture’, wanting to develop particular skills, talents as well as their own unique voices (good artists earn appropriate respect for their skills and talents, despite often harboring fruitcake economic and philosophical ideas).

Generally, they are not members of a ‘creative class,’ as this tends to be a favored fiction of many a softly collectivist type, dreaming rosy dreams.

More broadly, many in the culture at large have gone down deeply nihilistic and existentialist pathways.  On the ‘cutting-edge’ where what’s cool easily becomes culturally and politically influential, many individuals see themselves as bitterly isolated from all meaning and purpose, on their own against the void, much like the tragic anti-hero become so popular these days.

I see this as occuring on a much longer trend-line, or at least, Isaiah Berlin offers some useful thoughts as to when and where Western artists started adopting this Romantic vision and outside-looking-in approach so common these days:

As to my own paltry contributions (using other people’s platforms to link to other people discussing past great contributions), here ya go.

There are many entry points into Western canon, so here are just a few:

Music + Math=Symmetry?:

And just a passing dream:

Oh, There Will Be Rules

James Kirchick via Mick Hartley-‘What The EU Survey Reveals About European Anti-Semitism‘.

What’s the long-term strategy, here?

‘All too often, the issue of anti-Semitism in Europe is written about as an amorphous problem, like it was some noxious vapor floating in the ether that occasionally inflicts itself on individual Jews. In reality, it usually manifests in three distinct forms—left, right, and Muslim.’

Theodore Dalrymple At The City Journal:  ‘Enforceable Subjectivity

What is a hate crime? The Times explains, “hate crime is defined as any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards someone based on a personal characteristic. In fact, the expression of hatred—or perceived as such—now is itself a crime.”

This blog is currently operating as follows: Many radical and doctrinal ideologues aim to co-opt institutions, bending them toward utopian goals, and often in dysfunctional and authoritarian directions.

Many people who are on, or have been sympathetic to, the political Left, are actively course-correcting.

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.’

Yes, a modern Marxist: Brendan O’Neill At Spiked: ‘Why We Must Fight For Free Speech For People We Loathe:

‘A true devotee of freedom of speech says, ‘Let everyone speak, because it is important that all sides are heard and that the public has the right to use their moral muscles and decide who they trust and who they don’t’. The new, partial campaigners for friends’ speech effectively say, ‘Let my friend speak. She is interesting. She will tell the public what they need to hear.’ These are profoundly different positions, the former built on liberty and humanism, the latter motored by a desire to protect oneself, and oneself alone, from censorship. The former is free speech; the latter ‘me speech.’

As previously and consistently posted-Thanks to a reader. Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy:

A solid libertarian direction makes much sense:

‘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.

The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.’

The Two Clashing Meanings Of Free Speech-Whence Liberalism?

On this site, see: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”…

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

How might this relate to the Heglian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

A Modern Liberal, somewhat Aristotelian and classical?:  From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’…Repost: Martha Nussbaum Channels Roger Williams In The New Republic: The First Founder

Samuel Huntington was quite humble, and often wise, about what political philosophy could do:  From Prospect: Eric Kaufmann On ‘The Meaning Of Huntington’

From The NY Times Book Review-Thomas Nagel On John Gray’s New ‘Silence Of Animals’From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

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

Some Links & Thoughts-What Am I Missing?: Skeptical Humanist Criticism & Loyal Opposition

Roger Scruton from a few years ago, here:

‘That noble form of humanism has its roots in the Enlightenment, in Kant’s defense of the moral law, and in the progressivism of well-meaning Victorian sages. And the memory of it leads me to take an interest in something that calls itself “humanism,” and is now beginning to announce itself in Britain. This humanism is self-consciously “new,” like New Labour; it has its own journal, the New Humanist, and its own sages, the most prominent of whom is Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene and vice-president of the British Humanist Association. It runs advertising campaigns and letter-writing campaigns and is militant in asserting the truth of its vision and its right to make converts. But the vision is not that of my parents. The new humanism spends little time exalting man as an ideal. It says nothing, or next to nothing, about faith, hope, and charity; is scathing about patriotism; and is dismissive of those rearguard actions in defense of the family, public spirit, and sexual restraint that animated my parents. Instead of idealizing man, the new humanism denigrates God and attacks the belief in God as a human weakness. My parents too thought belief in God to be a weakness. But they were reluctant to deprive other human beings of a moral prop that they seemed to need.’

Well, some humanists didn’t care much for the article.

This blog has been gathering thoughts over the years, something of a curio shelf of skeptical criticism and loyal opposition to much old and new humanism.  Admittedly, I have at least one foot in the water, so to speak.

Scruton on scientism in arts and the humanities:

‘It is true that the theory of the meme does not deny the role of culture, nor does it undermine the nineteenth-century view that culture properly understood is as much an activity of the rational mind as is science. But the concept of the meme belongs with other subversive concepts — Marx’s “ideology,” Freud’s unconscious, Foucault’s “discourse” — in being aimed at discrediting common prejudice. It seeks to expose illusions and to explain away our dreams. But the meme is itself a dream, a piece of ideology, accepted not for its truth but for the illusory power that it confers on the one who conjures with it. It has produced some striking arguments, not least those given by Daniel Dennett in Breaking the Spell, in which he explains away religion as a particularly successful but dangerous meme.’

There seem many uses for the terms scientism and rationalism should individuals accept a generally humanist, secularly liberal worldview.  There are many people untrained in the sciences, committed to some concept of (S)cience according to their moral lights.

Some of these folks might just as easily turn against the sciences and return to modern myth, Romantic primitivism and anti-science sentiment depending upon current political winds and changing ideological commitments.

It seems many profoundly thinking Atheists, scientific naturalists, critical and careful thinkers, for their part, in seeking truth, as well as ideas which can possibly scale and unite human beings together, also have their blind spots.

In helping to expose much folly and institutional rot on the political right, or within the Catholic Church or Islam (courage, people), for example, there tends to be more reluctant focus on what can happen beneath the banners of the ‘-Isms’ (feminism, environmentalism, anti-humanism).

It’s a rather strange game to seek capture of the institutions whose legitimacy one rejects according to one’s moral lights, believing in a totalizing ‘Patriarchy’ while unsurprisingly, finding totalitarianism around every corner:

Charles Murray lecture here.

‘Drive through rural Sweden, as I did a few years ago. In every town was a beautiful Lutheran church, freshly painted, on meticu-ously tended grounds, all subsidized by the Swedish government.And the churches are empty. Including on Sundays. Scandinavia and Western Europe pride themselves on their “child-friendly” policies, providing generous child allowances, free day-care centers, and long maternity leaves. Those same countries have fertility rates far below replacement and plunging marriage rates. Those same countries are ones in which jobs are most carefully protected by government regulation and mandated benefits are most lavish. And they, with only a few exceptions, are countries where work is most often seen as a necessary evil, least often seen as a vocation, and where the proportions of people who say they love their jobs are the lowest.’

-Pg. 15 of 29

There is belief-level stuff going on here, but still with a kind of messianic self-regard and childish melodrama.  In such a state of mind, reasons don’t matter much.

How much do Swedes feel obligated to listen and act according to the wishes of such actors?

At least there has been more critical and courageous reaction on the Left and from within sciences and social sciences against the authoritarian and totalitarian roots of the radical Left; positive visions leading to monstrous ideological dead-ends and the constant hunt for ‘evil.’  Beware these agitiated minds and frenzied zeal.  Out of such personal dramas and collectivist, identity movements emerge many of the latest moral ideas, eventually absorbed into coventional and institutional wisdom.

Democratic institutions are rather fragile, alas, easily manipulable, and open to corruption and ‘tyranny of the majority’ scenarios in a Constitutional Republic such as ours.

‘The pedigree of every political ideology shows it to be the creature, not of premeditation in advance of political activity, but meditation upon a manner of politics. In short, politics comes first and a political ideology follows after;…’

Oakeshott, Michael.  Political Education. Bowes & Bowes, 1951. Print.

Maybe we’re not headed for endless Peace, here:

‘Their [realists’] concern is that utopian aspirations towards a new peaceful world order will simply absolutize conflicts and make them more intractable. National interests are in some degree negotiable; rights, in principle, are not. International organizations such as the United Nations have not been conspicuously successful in bringing peace, and it is likely that the states of the world would become extremely nervous of any move to give the UN the overwhelming power needed to do this.

Ken Minogue, found here, passed along by a reader.

As posted: Fred Siegel, at The New Criterion, takes a look at the influence of German thought on American politics and populism, from Nietzsche via H.L Mencken, to the Frankfurt School, to Richard Hofstader via Paul Krugman:

Populism, IV: The German victory over American populism

He puts forth the idea that the German influence has eroded something significant about American popular thought, leading to his analysis of our current politics:

Obama was ‘post-Constitutional,’ and Trump is the post Tea-Party, post Anglo-egalitarian populist response:

‘The Germans have won: Mencken and the Frankfurt School each in their own way have displaced civic egalitarianism. Their disdain has become commonplace among upper-middle- class liberals. This might not have produced the current nausea if the pretensions of our professionals were matched by their managerial competence. It isn’t, and the German victory is moving us towards a soft civil war.’

Nein!

Fred Siegel On The German Influence And Kelley Ross On Some Of Roger Scruton’s Thinking

Repost: Anthony Daniels At The New Criterion-Medical Correctness

Full piece here.

A.k.a. Theodore Dalrymple.

Say it ain’t so:

‘Medical journals have thus gone over to political correctness—admittedly with the zeal of the late convert—comparatively recently. Such correctness, however, is now deeply entrenched. With The New England Journal of Medicine for July 16, 2016 in hand, I compared it with the first edition I came across in a pile of old editions in my slightly disordered study: that for September 13, 2007, as it happened, which is not a historical epoch ago. What started as mild has become strident and absurd.’

That’s unfortunate.

As found on the Youtubes, a Dalrymple piece read with a Scottish accent:

Another of my very favourite TD essays, this one compares two 19th Century thinkers – Karl Marx and Ivan Turgenev. I believe that the observations, the wisdom, and the thorough takedown of Marx as a human being, are of great value.

~30 minutes. I think that bit about the dog actually made me tear-up.

Ah, the humanity:

Repost-Theodore Dalrymple And Roger Scruton-Don’t Judge Me

Via A Reader-Theodore Dalrymple At LibertyLawSite.Org: ‘How Modern Psychology Undermines Freedom and Responsibility’

Three Thursday Links-Mars, The Dead & The Perpetual Public Victims

Imagine sub-freezing temperatures and free radicals bombarding the near atmosphere-less Martian surface (oxidized and rusted red, barren), but below the Martian surface lurk big blocks of briny ice; ice with freezing cold, incredibly salty water around them and maybe just enough O2 to support some microbes.

Worth thinking about.

What are you doing with your imagination?

‘Due to the scarcity of O2 in the modern Martian atmosphere, Mars has been assumed to be incapable of producing environments with sufficiently large concentrations of O2 to support aerobic respiration. Here, we present a thermodynamic framework for the solubility of O2 in brines under Martian near-surface conditions. We find that modern Mars can support liquid environments with dissolved O2 values ranging from ~2.5 × 10−6 mol m−3 to 2 mol m−3 across the planet, with particularly high concentrations in polar regions because of lower temperatures at higher latitudes promoting O2 entry into brines’

—-

Perhaps quite a bit can be explained within modern movements by the following:

Freedom is precious, and liberty comes with responsibility.  Radical liberation might well involve releasing oneself from an obligation right into the clutches of some less fair, less just and less reasonable obligation.

No one’s going to tell you the new rules emerging from the latest moral ideas sweeping the ‘culture,’ you might only find out after breaking a new rule.

Due process easily becomes ‘do process our way’ and you’re wise to surmise how people are behaving now is probably how they’ll behave into the future.

Some Saturday Links-Hilary Putnam & Thomas Leonard With A Mention Of Hayek & Sowell

Via Edward Feser:

‘Hilary Putnam, who died a couple of months ago, had some interest in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition, even if in part it was a critical interest.’

R.I.P. Post and comments worth a read.

Some of Bryan Magee’s series has been made available on youtube. Putnam on the Philosophy of Science.

Moving along, via a reader, via bloggingheads: Thomas Leonard and Glenn Loury discuss ‘The Power Of The Progressive

Leonard’s book can be found here: ‘Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics & American Economics In The Progressive Era.’

Glenn Loury via the comments:

‘Hayek’s argument against planning was rooted in his views about how to assimilate the knowledge relevant to economic decisions that, necessarily in a modern society, is dispersed among millions of distinct individuals. What feasible mechanisms of social action would allow this diffused information to be most efficiently brought to bear on decisions about the use of scarce resources? How can the actions of myriad individual producers and consumers be so coordinated as to exploit most effectively the specialized knowledge which each possesses about their respective circumstances?

His answer, of course, was that central planning could not improve upon — and invariably would lead to outcomes much worse than — what can be achieved via the price system operating within competitive markets where institutions of private property and freedom of contract are respected, and where individuals enjoy liberty to puruse their own best interests, as they understand them.

This, I wish to insist, is a profound insight into the functioning of economic systems which — though subject to qualification and exception — is largely a correct conclusion with far-reaching implications for the design of economic institutions and the conduct of public affairs. To my mind, the world’s history since publication of The Road to Serfdom has largely vindicated Hayek’s concerns…’

Interview with Thomas Sowell here.

Sowell speaks about his then new book, ‘Intellectuals And Race’, and speaks against multiculturalism:

‘What multiculturalism does is it paints people into the corner in which they happen to be born. You would think that people on the left would be very sensitive to the notion that one’s whole destiny should be determined by the accident of birth as it is, say, in a caste system. But what the multiculturalism dogma does is create the same problems that the caste system creates. Multiculturalism uses more pious language, but the outcome is much the same.’

Heavily influenced by the Chicago School, here he is arguing that the welfare state maintains some of the same dependence in the black community that slavery required.

Within the embrace of political coalitions promising a better world to come, ever on the horizon, uniting individuals beneath the ‘-Isms,’ against ‘the system’ in perpetuity, the maps don’t always line-up with the terrain.

The moral sentiments are engaged, certainly, and there are truths to tell, but not all the truths, and within groups on the march under a professed political banner, many important truths have already been ignored, trampled or passed on by.

Ideals, abstractions, self, professional and political interests are often no match for one’s own doubt in moments of quiet and honest reflection: The simple pleasures and patient work of the home and family. The lessons great works in the humanities can offer, the years-long deep dives into data and the mathematical patterns one didn’t expect to find in one’s backyard or on Mars; the long, bloody struggles of the past and the wisdom of experience, speaking to you directly after hundreds or thousands of years.

Freedom and thinking for one’s self is often harder, lonelier, more challenging and more rewarding than the modern ideals, moral crusades, and political activists would have you believe.

In pursuit of truth, your work is never done.

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Robert Hayden

Yeah, I don’t think this is so much about (S)cience.

On the Sam Harris/Ezra Klein debate:

Related On This Site:   What about black people held in bondage by the laws..the liberation theology of Rev Wright…the progressive vision and the folks over at the Nation gathered piously around John Brown’s body?: 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-Eugene Volokh At The National Review: ‘Multiculturalism: For or Against?’

Via A Reader-Link To 60 Minutes Australia On China In The South Pacific

Hmmm…that could be worth watching.

If you live in a society which hasn’t developed a profound and enduring concept of the individual in relation to the group, moral philosophies dedicated to the defense of individual liberty, laws emerging from the free association of individuals entering and leaving contracts with authority and with each other, well…,you might be living under a post-ish Communist centralized party apparatus laid atop a few-thousand year-old hierarchy laid atop a rapidly changing chaotic civilization.

Christopher Balding (via Marginal Revolution) has some thoughts about China during his nine years living there, and the turn taken under Xi:

‘I want to make perfectly clear that any complaints I wrote about in any forum are reflective only of my concerns about the illiberal, authoritarian communist government of China and not the Chinese people. Most professor colleagues, even those I would consider pro-Party, were good colleagues whom I enjoyed talking, debating(yes, it happens behind closed doors and I learned a lot from them)…’

As posted:

Tyler Cowen from his blog: ‘The Rise And Fall Of The Chinese Economy

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From a George F Kennan article written in 1948 on China.

My how times have changed!:

‘From the analysis in this paper of demographic and economic factors it is concluded that for years to come China will probably be plagued by (1) an implacable population pressure, which is likely to result in (2) a general standard of living around and below the subsistence level, which in turn will tend to cause (3) popular unrest (4) economic backwardness, (5) cultural lag, and (6) an uncontrolled crude birth rate.

The political alternatives which this vicious cycle will permit for China’s future are chaos or authoritarianism. Democracy cannot take root in so harsh an environment.

Authoritarianism may be able to break the cycle by drastic means, such as forcible “socialization”. At best, such measures could be put into effect only at heavy and long protracted cost to the whole social structure; at worst they could provoke such rebellion as to recreate a state of chaos.’

As previously posted:

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Interesting piece here.

Our author reviews Evan Osnos’ book about his 8 years spent living on the ground in China:

‘For its part, the government seems to be making efforts to get a grasp on public opinion, though they stem more from its need to buttress its own chances of survival than from any democratic instinct. Attempts at opinion polling have not gone well, mainly because most Chinese are wary about voicing criticism of the government to a stranger on the phone. Nevertheless, there is the sense that the leaders are aware that the ground is shifting. They just don’t know where it is shifting to—and no one else does, either. There is an obsession with establishing the “central melody” of the current culture, but the tune keeps slipping away.’

What’s life like in Beijing for an American editing an English-language Business Magazine?

Interesting quote on author Eveline Chao’s censor:

‘I understood then the mundane nature of all that kept her in place. A job she didn’t like, but worked hard to keep. A system that would never reward her for good work, only punish her for mistakes. And in exchange: Tutors. Traffic. Expensive drumming lessons. They were the same things that kept anyone, anywhere, in place — and it was the very ordinariness of these things that made them intractable.’

Also On This Site: TED Via Youtube: Martin Jacques ‘Understanding The Rise Of China’From Foreign Affairs: ‘The Geography Of Chinese Power’From The New Perspectives Quarterly: Francis Fukuyama’s ‘Is America Ready for a Post-American World?’Repost-From The American Interest Online: Niall Ferguson on ‘What Chimerica Hath Wrought’