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:

=========================

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’

Two Links-Brexit & Speech On Campus & Hitchens On Speech Again

Walter Russell Mead At the WSJ (behind a paywall) on European politics and Brexit (British exit from the European Union) below:

One angle: Most technology reduces distances, but not necessarily ignorance, and increases communication, but not necessarily understanding.

The EU started out as a trade union, but also, in seeking to protect its members and advance its interests, has been levying serious fines on American tech companies.  Controlling flows of information upwards towards mercantilism is an obvious result (Eurocrats and big players make and approve the rules, supposedly in favor of ‘the little guy’ but only so far as the moral lights and sentiments of the Eurocrats and big players can envision, if they spend much time envisioning).

These laws tend to be more restrictive than many American laws, but not nearly so restrictive as nearly all Chinese laws, where, apparently, Google has had to make concessions in order to create a search engine alongside the Chinese government.

On speech, and the moral sentiments being animated on parts of many campuses across the country: Greg Lukianoff via Reason: ‘Speech Code Hokey Pokey: How Campus Speech Codes Could Rebound

‘Yesterday, we showed how speech codes are consistently struck down by courts. Today, we look at two ongoing cases that threaten to curb that trend by expanding the doctrine of mootness while narrowing what qualifies to establish standing.’

As posted: Nick Gillespie of Reason Magazine interviews Professor Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff on their new book: The Coddling Of The American Mind:  How Good Intentions & Bad Ideas Are Setting Up A Generation For Failure

It’s worth revisiting a once very committed Trotskyist who came to the U.S. and quite iconoclastically kept searching for the truth, and on speech, spoke pretty eloquently:

Fire….fire…fire…fire:

Reason Interviews Greg Lukianoff & Jonathan Haidt

Nick Gillespie of Reason Magazine interviews Professor Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff on their new book: The Coddling Of The American Mind:  How Good Intentions & Bad Ideas Are Setting Up A Generation For Failure

According to the interview, the book expands on their popular 2015 article at The Atlantic, which proposed that certain curently popular ideas actually work to make people more anxious and depressed, against psychological research.

They also take on the idea of identity politics in a way you might not expect (defending a broader humanism and Civil Rights activism).  This, against what they see as a more ‘us vs. them’ tribalism helping to make much more of U.S. civic and campus life political, chaotic, and potentially violent.

This blog’s take: When you abandon personal responsibility in favor of collectivist action through violence and non-violence, towards justice (still blind) and ‘social justice,’ you should probably also look around and surmise that how people are behaving now is likely how they’ll behave in the future.

For every reasonable person you imagine acting unreasonably because of deep and genuine injustice, requiring a channel for that injustice, you might also imagine at least one or more very unreasonable people ready to tear everything down, including you.

The Leftward drift towards certain ideals, ideologies and radical movements within academia is having, for this blog, rather predictable results: Many students and professors are becoming committed professionally, morally and emotionally towards a set of propositions and principles about the world.  This environment becomes the water in which many swim much of the time, human ignorance and human nature being what they are.

Related On This Site:

Merely pointing out research and having contrary suggestions about it can make one a heretic: The Intellectual Cowardice Of The Crowd-Charles Murray At Middlebury College

Actual, civil debates regarding disagreement about means and ends are possible:Via Youtube: ‘Are We Really Coming Apart?’ Charles Murray and Robert Putnam Discuss

Repost-From The Liberal Bastions-James Baldwin, Often

From FIRE.org-’Federal Government Mandates Unconstitutional Speech Codes At Colleges And Universities Nationwide’Greg Lukianoff At FIRE.Org: ‘Emily Bazelon And The Danger Of Bringing “Anti-Bullying” Laws To Campus’

Jonathan Haidt At Heteodox Academy: ‘The Blasphemy Case Against Bret Weinstein, And Its Four Lessons For Professors’

Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department

Also, just another reminder of a much better standard and moral guidepost:

“First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.’

‘Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied. ‘

‘Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds. ‘

And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from reason or personal experience.”

-John Stuart Mill ‘On Liberty: Chapter II-Of The Liberty Of Thought And Discussion’