‘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‘
‘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
Guilt and shame are the primary teaching tools of the old religion and the new, woke religion. If you don’t care, no one can make you care. This leaves many sociopaths with competitive advantage. For the rest of us, being an asshole to the ones you love and with whom you deal isn’t a laudable goal. As much as this is true, decent people have to strike a balance. Sometimes, when you think you have the truth, you must speak that truth, even to loved ones and even when it hurts.
You also need to hear the truth. This hurts, too. It’s really one of the only ways to make your life better and deal with the problems you have. Growth isn’t possible without it.
In the public square, I believe it’s necessary to fight against the true-belief of zealots and fools, while doing my best not to become either of these things myself. What truth I might have to tell, should be told. This [often] puts me on the side of religious liberty and tradition in the good old U.S. of A.
Sometimes it puts me on the side of (S)cience and (R)eason.
Such skepticism also recognizes the danger of bad ideas. A lot of people will find the framework of radical resentment to be sufficient in their lives.
Guilt and shame are also how ideologues make headway. This has consequences for all of us:
Below is a poem by Wendell Berry. Berry is chiefly agrarian, anti-technology and pro-environmental in his outlook. He’s also a traditionalist, who believes family and local associations come first.
For Berry, (M)an must return to family, traditional values and to the Earth. Technology corrupts and while business might scale, both create alienation and unrooted individuals.
Of course, a return to (Man) and (N)ature is not an uncommon view amongst poets, especially since the Romantic Poets in England. Around that time, (M)an, instead of God, became one of the highest things around. Serving the poor and dispossessed is the work of those who care about (H)umankind. Oh, how some people care.
One thing Berry seems to be saying: A route to truth lies in overcoming shame.
Do Not Be Ashamed
You will be walking some night in the comfortable dark of your yard and suddenly a great light will shine round about you, and behind you will be a wall you never saw before. It will be clear to you suddenly that you were about to escape, and that you are guilty: you misread the complex instructions, you are not a member, you lost your card or never had one. And you will know that they have been there all along, their eyes on your letters and books, their hands in your pockets, their ears wired to your bed. Though you have done nothing shameful, they will want you to be ashamed. They will want you to kneel and weep and say you should have been like them. And once you say you are ashamed, reading the page they hold out to you, then such light as you have made in your history will leave you. They will no longer need to pursue you. You will pursue them, begging forgiveness, and they will not forgive you. There is no power against them. It is only candor that is aloof from them, only an inward clarity, unashamed, that they cannot reach. Be ready. When their light has picked you out and their questions are asked, say to them: “I am not ashamed.” A sure horizon will come around you. The heron will rise in his evening flight from the hilltop.
On that note, I am pretty pro-technology and science. While I have no particular quarrel with neuroscience on its own, pop-neuroscience is often a repository for the modern search for legitimate experiences and theories of the Self. In some quarters, this becomes the window-dressing to sell discredited ideologies.
Readers often come for the anti-woke sentiment, and stay for the personal charm and winning personality (kidding). I get complaints that I am too anti-woke. Or that I’m not anti-religious enough. Or that I’m too pro-religious.
A while ago, I wrote about Jeff Koons, and the removal of religious guilt and shame as a central idea in his work. I also frequently write about Marxism and neo-Marxism as relying on both liberation and revolutionary praxis for their survival. Such doctrines get nature and human nature horrifically wrong, but they get enough of both right, it seems.
Robert Hughes wasn’t a big fan of Koons, and looked at him with a skeptical, suspicious eye:
Celebrity, money, art and fame are mixed in a big bowl:
As posted, I think this except highlights the idea of liberating one’s Self from not only guilt and shame, but judgment. Artists and the avant-garde thrive in such space, but so do ideologues and the worst kinds of people, and a lot of what’s bad in people.
Many avant-garde have become avant-huitard.
Jeff Koons’ Made In Heaven blurred the line between art and porn, private experience and public show, innocence (so easily corrupted) and naive, narcissistic indulgence.
‘It isn’t a coincidence that many of the most resentful people are also successful in their careers. They may well have struggled against some unfairness or other and triumphed in the struggle, but still aren’t satisfied, and won’t be satisfied to their dying day.
It isn’t enough that they had sufficient opportunity themselves to make good: they want to reform the world, at the same time—and not altogether incidentally, perhaps—accruing great power to themselves as the panjandrums of social justice.‘
As posted: Theodore Dalrymple at First Things reviews Christopher and Peter Hitchens’ memoirs: ‘The Brothers Grim:”
‘Perhaps the division between the two brothers is essentially this: One believes that man can live by his own individual reason alone; the other believes that something else is necessary and inevitable. Without being religious myself, I side with the latter.’
Spring And All
By the road to the contagious hospital under the surge of the blue mottled clouds driven from the northeast-a cold wind. Beyond, the waste of broad, muddy fields brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen
patches of standing water the scattering of tall trees
All along the road the reddish purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy stuff of bushes and small trees with dead, brown leaves under them leafless vines-
Lifeless in appearance, sluggish dazed spring approaches-
They enter the new world naked, cold, uncertain of all save that they enter. All about them the cold, familiar wind-
Now the grass, tomorrow the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf One by one objects are defined- It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf
But now the stark dignity of entrance-Still, the profound change has come upon them: rooted, they grip down and begin to awaken
Nothing is so beautiful as spring— When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush; Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing; The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling. What is all this juice and all this joy? A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy, Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning, Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy, Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.
Dear Reader, let’s say the following is mostly true: ‘In lieu of religious belief; the orienting structure which Christianity provides, most people in the West will replace faith with something else.’
Portions of this debate are as old as the Enlightenment, (much older, really) with regard to the natural sciences, born out of what was once natural philosophy.
Depending on what’s true and what is known, an additional question looms: Who ought to be in charge?
As many readers know, I’ve been looking at liberal and secular humanist leadership, finding much rot and confusion (modern conservative movements are hardly models of principled health and organization, Dear Reader).
Whether or not the proposition of the first sentence above can be empirically proven as emergent behavior, rooted in biology, at the level of basic individual consciousness, I believe to be another matter. I’m not expecting the growing fields of neuroscience and evolutionary biology to answer all questions as to deepest human problems.
As to bearing the weight of faith, true-belief and social organization, (how to live, what to do), such fields as evolutionary biology and neuroscience seem woefully inadequate; subject to ad hoc departments of ethics and groupthink (enforcers of the emergent, and often ideologically rooted, norms).
I will say I think neuroscience may be analogous to where internal medicine was right before the x-ray. It’s going to do a lot of us, a lot of good, a lot of the time.
Furthermore, I’m also of the mind that wrestling with one’s own heart, and works of creative genius, is what a good humanities education was supposed to be doing before the field drifted into the postmodern morass.
A lot of good art, poetry and music can elevate our base impulses into appreciation of the beautiful, the good, and what’s true.
I also expect a lot of modern leadership to claim the arts and sciences as credentials, and reasons to trust their leadership, freezing-out political enemies. I’m looking at a lot of the new moralizing busybodies, nitwits and ad-hoc ethicisists with skepticism.
Endless pursuit of (S)elf, the individual isolated and alone, drifting along currents of Romantic–>Modern–>Postmodern conceptualizations, has made for a kind of mystic gnosticism. Modern, feelings-first primitivism is drifting fast into something like a new religion.
Additionally, something I’m calling Neo-Romantic Collectivism, or Romantic Primitivism, generally tends to drive much behavior I see in Seattle (as if you care and as if you were planning a move):
‘If we all give ourselves to collectivist principles by sticking it to the (M)an, everyone will be made equal. The trains and buses will run on time. Gaia will be happy.’
We already know the modern ideologies promise a new telos (end-point) to (M)an’s affairs, politicizing private life into the public sphere, often as a badge of righteous honor.
As Roger Scruton continually pointed out, a basic organizing principle of the ‘conserve first’ mindset, with all its drawbacks, brings more mid and long-term stability: ‘What if our existing institutions are already representations of who/what we are?’
I’m not sure having to pass through Schopenhauer’s looking-glass is necessary, nor on through Nietzsche’s Will-to-Power, but it helps understand where a lot of people are coming from.
Long-story short: There are many people pursuing something like tenets of faith, rule-following punishment, and a commitment to thoughtless conformity during these times.
But we pretty much already knew this to be true, if that opening statement is mostly true.
‘With the empirical base of the discipline becoming undermined and discredited, it was inevitable that the dialecticians would move in. Inevitable, in the first place, because the affinities between the anthropologues and the Marxists are so close. Both share a common atavistic enthusiasm for BC — Before Commerce, Before Capitalism, Before Civilisation itself. The average academic Marxist, even while tippling convivially at the bar, betrays a deep unhappiness in modern industrial society, and is obviously pining for a more primitive social order than modern capitalism provides. And the anthropologue is no less unhappy — anthropology being, as the editor of the quarterly journal Dialectical Anthropology, Stanley Diamond, has so trenchantly said, “the most alienated of the professions.”
As to Stanley Ann Dunham’s early years on Seattle’s Mercer Island, before heading off to study Russian in Hawaii and Anthropology in Indonesia (it’s unseemly to say such things in public, but perhaps still relevant).
‘Obama plays up on his Methodist and Baptist grandparents in Kansas, when, in fact, Stanley Ann’s mother and father attended a Unitarian Church in Seattle, not Methodist or Baptist. Their church in Bellevue, Washington, was nicknamed “the little red church.”
Such radicalism is pretty standard fare for Seattle, and I’m not much interested in guilt by association nor political finger-pointing.
Rather, how do people looking for an escape hatch from religion, tradition and convention, define their formative years? The questions and supposed answers tend to be deep and lasting.
What kind of truth and knowledge claims could such ideas bear upon the laws we all must follow?:
‘Two of the teachers from the school Stanley Ann attended were notorious for their Marxist views. Teachers Val Foubert and Jim Wichterman taught students to reject the things many people believe are the bedrock values of America, and the curriculum included attacks on Christianity, the traditional family, and pupils were assigned readings by Karl Marx. The hallway between Foubert’s and Wichterman classrooms was nicknamed “anarchy ally.” This is a website dedicated to the memory of Val Foubert who died in 2007. http://www.valfoubert.com/
What was a kid from the South Side of Chicago, growing up in a mostly segregated American society, looking for in North Africa?
Shelby Steele weaves Gustave Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary‘ into his insights about the world, coming to realize the Black Panthers..had problems.
‘What is Africa to me: Copper sun or scarlet sea, Jungle star or jungle track, Strong bronzed men, or regal black…‘
Do ‘The Black Panther‘, and what’s left of Superman fit together into the postmodern morass, or does the nihilist, radical turn swallow up much of what’s good within the old character, replacing such idealism with Political Identity?
A lot can be ‘swallowed’ up in the desert, lost in translation; across time, language and civilizations.
Things don’t always end well for the intellectually curious and naive…:
‘It occurred to him that he ought to ask himself why he was doing this irrational thing, but he was intelligent enough to know that since he Was doing it, it was not so important to probe for explanations at that moment.’
It’s hard to get everything right, in fact, humility and wisdom recognize you must already have some things wrong. So, which things?
Better to spend more time thinking such thoughts, though what gets one’s blood up enough to write, even, alas, blog posts, is pettier stuff.
‘The other day, on the subway, I observed an American male in contemporary business-casual costume. The color of his trousers was richly nondescript.‘
Just as many old-guard institutional members of the liberal arts and humanities were overrun by the radical, righteous ideologues of their day, many companies and regular citizens, sooner or later, deal with the consequences.
Politics, ‘culture,’ the arts, and the social sciences are attracting many people who already have a core set of beliefs, ideas and assumptions, and the totalizing true-believers often have undue influence amongst them.
Maybe the popular ‘narrative’ of the 60’s being about personal freedom and individual Self-expression has helped lead to many of the current political and institutional failures, though many rates of change have increased dramatically, often much faster than our insitutions, traditions and laws.
Human Evolution, Evolutionary Biology and Genetics are actual fields worth studying!
Political Theory is a rather different, but useful field. Carlo Lancellotti, on the works of Italian political thinker, Augusto Del Noce.
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).’
It is no accident that CRT adepts think of themselves as “woke.” For it is not rational argumentation that compels them but a kind of conversion experience, and Kendi, DiAngelo, et al. are essentially Gnostic preachers rather than philosophers or social scientists. Their reliance on inflammatory rhetoric, preemptive dismissal of all criticism as racist, and insistence on putting the most sinister imaginable interpretation on every aspect of social life, create a “dream world” of exactly the kind Voegelin describes. As Greg Lukianoff has noted, “wokeness” inculcates distorting and paranoid habits of thought of precisely the sort that Cognitive Behavioral therapists warn their patients to avoid.
It can be a bit shocking, but, upon reflection, unsurprising, how many would-be liberal outlets continue towards the radicalism of the latest moral cause. Claiming the moral ground of post-60’s institutional authority (anti-Trumpism and Trump’s character as accelerant), also commits many people to become enmeshed in destructive ideological territory.
Or at least negotiating with radicals.
For folks who think like me, This American Life was insufferable already, but Dear God.
It turns out the ground of ‘it’s narratives all the way down’ is inherently unstable.
I’m guessing that because Christopher Hitchens claimed knowledge and action of authentically Left thinking, and was rather charming and ballsy, could he express independent thoughts while in a den of mild paranoia.
The point: People who view themselves in a kind of for-us or against-us struggle, with themselves as heroic and good, and their enemies as evil, leads to true-belief:
The days of old-school, dickish, prickish newsman like Mike Wallace and Charlie Rose (and let’s face it, Union Men like Joe Biden and grab-assers like Trump), are probably gone. Or, better said, they’re still there, but must not be stated as such against the new orthodoxies. Human nature hasn’t changed all that much, after all.
‘Yes. There’s an extraordinary point here. Walter Rauschenbusch [an American theologian and a key figure in the Social Gospel movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries] lists six species of social sin.‘
James Lindsay also mentions Rauschenbusch and Rorty:
‘The paleofantasy is a fantasy in part because it supposes that we humans, or at least our protohuman forebears, were at some point perfectly adapted to our environments. We apply this erroneous idea of evolution’s producing the ideal mesh between organism and surroundings to other life forms, too, not just to people.’
There’s a lot of confusion out there in the popular mind, apparently. Fascinating discoveries going on right now in genetics, genome research, and evolutionary biology, to name a few.
Because nobody asked, I tend to be skeptical of the Noble Savage, Rousseau’s State of Nature, and some products of the Nietzschean, tragic, romantic tradition in Europe. There are also lots of folks milling around America seeking a kind of collectivist utopian harmony in nature, as well.
It can be a long ways to travel to get from Darwin back to God and organized religion (too far for many people) and this blog remains generally agnostic, defensive of the broad, but fragile, traditions necessary for civil society and individual liberty.
It can also be a long way from Darwin to arrive at Natural Rights, Locke’s life, liberty and property, as well as Roman and classical ideas of law and even to Montesquieu.
Check out Darwinian Conservatism, as Larry Arnhart is dealing with many of these ideas. Here’s the banner from the site:
‘The Left has traditionally assumed that human nature is so malleable, so perfectible, that it can be shaped in almost any direction. By contrast, a Darwinian science of human nature supports traditionalist conservatives and classical liberals in their realist view of human imperfectibility, and in their commitment to ordered liberty as rooted in natural desires, cultural traditions, and prudential judgments.’
The visual arts, painting and architecture are all areas where Spaniards thrive, and where much genius is funneled and compressed through the culture. Madrid’s also a governing city, with a certain staid heaviness found in such places.
Earthlings were visited, many times this past century, by beings from the planet Utopia. Little is known about these curious creatures, but they were advanced, and went about vigorously erecting structures across our planetary surface.
What were they trying to tell us?
Concrete, as a material, was used, presumably because it was so common and functioned as our ‘lingua franca’ (so hard to use well). Shapes were decided upon that might please and delight us (flowers, blocks, dodecahedrons), but also shapes that could disconsole, consigning some souls to work and live in an eternal present, possible futures winking upon the horizon.
Dear Reader, rumor has it these beings whispered in Esperanto, but only into the ears of those most ready to receive such comprehensive knowledge and advanced understanding; humans beings closer to knowledge of Universal Shapes and Human Destinies.
As posted, come to the University of Washington, where neo-Gothic meets brutalism. The Global People’s Revolutionary Movement is just around the corner within the Department of Studies’ Studies:
We should be comforted when corporate/bureaucratic art is bland, bad, and uncommunicative. After all, do you think you’d trust a bank more or less if it had a shocking modern/pop art sculpture in the lobby?
What about when their marketing team tells you how you should think, behave and act?
The attempt to seek collective purpose and postmodern meaning in modern art, music and even cartoons etc. is fast upon us. The flirtations with nihilism can encourage more desperate collectivist/ideological impulses to fill the void. The excesses are many.
As for a critique of Albany Plaza, another modernist/bureaucratic concrete wonderland, here’s Robert Hughes:
A man holding a narrower, classical definition of art will also hold some bias towards those who don’t (many moderns and post-moderns). Hughes’ harsh eye passes over landscapes full of landscapes discussing the Self-as-Landscape.
‘To most of the people who have heard of him, he is a name handed down from a distant museum-culture, stuck to a memorable face: a cashiered Latin teacher in a pale fiber wig, the guy who paints soup cans and knows all the movie stars.‘
I look forward to seeing you at my upcomingOne-Man-Show: You will be free to make eye-contact as you process around me. I will be sitting Native-American-style, half-nude on the floor of MoMA, with industrially-made glassware suctioned over my mouth.
Scorn me. Censure me. Make love to me with your gaze.
As I babble incoherently into the vacuum, losing consciousness, I will also regress into the empathetic purity of childhood.
Should you lift my body up the weight of (H)istory becomes clear.
Should you leave me passed-out on the barren, linoleum floor, the shame of inaction implicates you in Oppression.
‘Its silver-papered walls were a toy theater in which one aspect of the sixties in America, the infantile hope of imposing oneself on the world by terminal self-revelation, was played out. It had a nasty edge, which forced the paranoia of marginal souls into some semblance of style, a reminiscence of art.‘
As someone often looking to take a classical, or ‘outside-the-modern’ perspective, such goring-of-the-sacred-60’s-oxen is refreshing. The pursuit of (S)elf is long-past tiresome. The pose of the too-Self-aware-nihilist haunts many a coffee shop these days.
‘Become an empty vessel, mass-produced on a shelf. Let fame pass through you, empty as the wind itself.’
Maybe the 60’s generation was as much a walling-off from the past, as it was a fruitful opening inwards towards (S)elf-Actualization.
Perish the thought.
In looking for some criticism of Hughes’ on Warhol, unsurprisingly, I found Google’s algorithm suggesting the following piece at the top of the list (freedom is next):
‘The problem is that authentic modern art – of which Warhol is unarguably one of the greatest practitioners, even if you don’t much care for his work – operates according to non-aesthetic narrative principles, and is therefore headed in a quite different direction from the quest for classical, museum-quality ‘beauty’. Modern art is about connecting with the experiential landscapes which some artists are able to conjure up through their artworks, and this connectivity functions according to theatrical and narrative principles rather than aesthetic ones. Modern artists are revealing to the viewer worlds they have discovered, and then, using their artworks and artforms, inviting you to experience them as your own. A Warhol ‘Marilyn’ is not an ersatz Velasquez – even if Andy thought it was, and wanted it to be: a ‘Marilyn’ – like any or all of his other works – is an invitation to a theatrical extravaganza of transgendered and drug-addled camp nihilism, spiked with glitz and glamour and celebrity, and dialogue reduced to a cultivated vacuity. This performative inversion of normative values – Warhol’s real theatrical ‘art’, in words, pictures and behaviour – is quite other than the kind of cognitive deficiency Hughes though he was dealing with. Truth be told it is Hughes who turned out to the stupid one, wholly unable to recognise the transgressive artistry all around him, and wholly unable to make the transition from an orthodox classicism – the type of lumpen conception of pictorial art any bonehead can come up with – to the new world order.‘
Everyone’s a Self, you see, and every Self deeply wants fame and recognition, or at least to be fresh, new and ahead of the curve in the marketplace.
Or do you?
Don’t set your sights too high, this pickled basketball seems to be saying, for your aspirations, too, may be empty as the liquid void in which this Spalding hovers. Gaze upon your hoop dreams within the silence of the ideal… hallowed as you temporarily are within this modern secular temple called…MoMA.
The marketplace delivers us that which we want, enriching our lives and fulfilling our desires but that’s not really what we want, is it?
Do you long for the days of unabashed American consumerism? Are you nostalgic for nights lit only by a soft, neon glow on the underbellies of clouds? Return to a time when America broadcast its brash, unironic call to the heavens.