‘Earlier this summer marked the 50th anniversary of C. P. Snow’s famous “Two Cultures” essay, in which he lamented the great cultural divide that separates two great areas of human intellectual activity, “science” and “the arts.” Snow argued that practitioners in both areas should build bridges, to further the progress of human knowledge and to benefit society.’
My two cents: This blog tends to worry about modern ‘one culture’ visions, too.
On the one hand, you’ve got your ‘scientific socialism;’ the clear dead-end, totalizing Marxist theories of history and various neo-Marxist movements having since colonized many faculty-lounges, HR departments, and media pulpits across America.
Deep, bad ideas tend to live on once plugged into many deep, human desires and dreams. The radical pose will be with us for a while.
Of course, it’s rather sad to witness the sheepish, suburban apologetics of identity amongst the chattering classes; the moment of surprise and fear when a previously insulated writer (leaning upon traditions) realizes today just might be their day in the barrel.
Sooner or later you’re going to have to stand up for your principles.
You’ve also got many modern ‘-Ist’ movements, which, whatever truth and knowledge claims they may contain (some quite important ones, I think), are often quick to conflate the means of science with the ends of politics. ‘Join us,’ they say, and become a part of the modern world. The mission of ‘Education’ is easily mistaken for knowledge, learning with wisdom, collective group action with individual achievement.
There is a kind of a high middlebrow drift towards….I’m not sure where, exactly.
Alas, if you’re still with me, here are some links:
“I’ve been skeptical from the beginning of attempts to show that for hundreds of years people have missed the real point,”
Did literature professors at one point have something more substantive to teach?
In a broader context, hasn’t the Western mind has shifted to “science,” instead of God as a deepest idea, and so too isn’t literature a part of this shift?
As Richard Rorty sees it, no standard objective for truth exists but for the interpretation of a few philosophers interpreting whatever of philosophy they’ve read. It’s all just an author’s “stuff.” Here’s an excerpt discussing the debate between him and Hilary Putnam:
Addition: Western mind shifted to “science?”…well as for poetry T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens had some fairly profound religious influences.
Rod Dreher’s new book, ‘Live Not By Lies: A Manual For Christian Dissidents‘, posits that soft totalitarianism is coming fast, and that, once instutional influence is gained by radical Leftists, networks of the openly religious will need to form and associate ad hoc networks on their own, to maintain resistance.
Arguably, the influence of religious belief as well as Natural Law/Natural Right doctrines, traditionally profound influences on American civic life, continues to diminish. So, the thinking goes, we are fast arriving at an increasingly divided civic and political life. The logic of Left political radicalism becomes ever more entrenched in our universities, media and politics, entrenching a more Right-radical, European-style response.
It didn’t have to be this way.
Rod Dreher (The Benedict Option), points to what he believes are signs of the obvious failure of modern, liberal doctrines to replace the kinds of meaning such religious doctrines have provided.
Here are two recent blog posts containing this worldview of his, about which I’ve provided additional summary and commentary (please let me know what I’m missing).
‘Advice For A Weary Ghost‘-A 35 year-old woman feels empty inside, writing to ‘The Cut‘ for advice. She doesn’t have a husband and can’t seem to maintain deep, meaningful relationships. She’s had jobs but not a career. Maybe it’s not just her.
The adviser promotes a surburbanely popularized vision of the rebellious and Romantically-inspired artistic life, reaffirming much of what Dreher and his commenters see as inadequate for most people, most of the time.
This view, I presume, utilizes the wrong maps to steer one’s (S)oul and inform life decisions. Perhaps it allows one to succumb to materialist concerns and potentially materialist doctrines (too strongly measuring one’s life largely by economic, professional and outward successes/failures). It also perpetuates the woman’s confessedly empty, Self-interested pursuits, cutting her off from the happiness of family and loved ones without much to show for it.
The ‘-Isms’ (feminism, environmentalism, political activism etc.) are poor substitutes for a moral, meaningful life. The Church might just the place to be, but Catholic Church leadership, too, is corrupt and covered with the dust of this world. There will increasingly be witch hunts upon religious believers by the new SJW believers.
The lady’s probably not going to be an (A)rtist, the lady giving advice probably ain’t so great an (A)rtist either.
Can the humanities become a lifelong source of wisdom and meaning?
‘Manufacturing Consent To Gender Ideology‘-Boys wanting to be girls, and vice versa, is the latest (C)ause. These outliers upon distributions of human sexual behavior, often shunned, mocked and condemned to limited lives, must not only be included in everyone’s moral concern, but celebrated. Through social activism and protest, they are to become exemplars of the new normal.
Doctrines promising radical liberation, hinging upon revolutionary praxis, go about attacking and reforming current traditions, institutions, laws and arrangements, often grossly mischaracterizing and misrepresenting them to gain advantage. The grudging acknowledgement of freedoms gained through progressive activism and radical thought always come with costs.
And, given the natural ignorance of the human condition, and the basic desire humans have for group meaning, authority, security, identity and purpose, this latest (C)ause which promises liberation, will end-up delivering something quite different.
Cycles of utopianism and dystopianism await, and more disgruntled individuals drifting around aimlessly looking for an ad hoc ethics and politics, sometimes flirting with authoritarian and totalitarian Leftist doctrines as those doctrines become more mainstreamed:
‘The truth was, as Arnold Hauser had gone to great pains to demonstrate in The Social History of Art, the intelligentsia have always had contempt for the realistic novel—a form that wallows so enthusiastically in the dirt of everyday life and the dirty secrets of class envy and that, still worse, is so easily understood and obviously relished by the mob, i.e., the middle class. In Victorian England, the intelligentsia regarded Dickens as “the author of the uneducated, undiscriminating public.” It required a chasm of time—eighty years, in fact—to separate his work from its vulgar milieu so that Dickens might be canonized in British literary circles. The intelligentsia have always preferred more refined forms of fiction, such as that longtime French intellectual favorite, the psychological novel.‘
Let’s not get too French: Theodore Dalrymple on prostitution during COVID19:
‘The spokeswoman for the Union of Sex Workers in France, Anaïs de Lenclos (a pseudonym, one wonders?), eloquently pointed out the difficulties that prostitutes, male and female, now face.
That sounds pretty French.
In fact, let’s go to Charles Baudelaire, live on the street:
Behold the sweet evening, friend of the criminal; It comes like an accomplice, stealthily; the sky Closes slowly like an immense alcove, And impatient man turns into a beast of prey. O evening, kind evening, desired by him Whose arms can say, without lying: “Today We labored!” — It is the evening that comforts Those minds that are consumed by a savage sorrow, The obstinate scholar whose head bends with fatigue And the bowed laborer who returns to his bed.
Meanwhile in the atmosphere malefic demons Awaken sluggishly, like businessmen, And take flight, bumping against porch roofs and shutters. Among the gas flames worried by the wind Prostitution catches alight in the streets; Like an ant-hill she lets her workers out; Everywhere she blazes a secret path, Like an enemy who plans a surprise attack; She moves in the heart of the city of mire Like a worm that steals from Man what he eats. Here and there one hears food sizzle in the kitchens, The theaters yell, the orchestras moan;
The gambling dens, where games of chance delight, Fill up with whores and cardsharps, their accomplices; The burglars, who know neither respite nor mercy, Are soon going to begin their work, they also, And quietly force open cash-boxes and doors To enjoy life awhile and dress their mistresses.
Meditate, O my soul, in this solemn moment, And close your ears to this uproar; It is now that the pains of the sick grow sharper! Somber Night grabs them by the throat; they reach the end Of their destinies and go to the common pit; The hospitals are filled with their sighs. — More than one Will come no more to get his fragrant soup By the fireside, in the evening, with a loved one.
However, most of them have never known The sweetness of a home, have never lived!
— William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)
Shelby Steele weaves Gustave Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary‘ into his insights about the world, coming to realize the Black Panthers in North Africa..had problems:
How (B)lack should you become when reality intrudes, and reality doesn’t have much good to say?
Which are the rules all of us should follow when it comes to right and wrong?
‘The purpose of today’s civil-rights establishment is not to seek justice, but to seek power for blacks in American life based on the presumption that they are still, in a thousand subtle ways, victimized by white racism. This idea of victimization is an example of what I call a “poetic truth.” Like poetic license, it bends the actual truth in order to put forward a larger and more essential truth—one that, of course, serves one’s cause. Poetic truths succeed by casting themselves as perfectly obvious: “America is a racist nation”; “the immigration debate is driven by racism”; “Zimmerman racially stereotyped Trayvon.” And we say, “Yes, of course,” lest we seem to be racist. Poetic truths work by moral intimidation, not reason.’
‘There were eccentric characters in the hotel. The Paris slums are a gathering-place for eccentric people—people who have fallen into solitary, half-mad grooves of life and given up trying to be normal or decent. Poverty frees them from ordinary standards of behaviour, just as money frees people from work. Some of the lodgers in our hotel lived lives that were curious beyond words.’
I have my doubts all will be made well, in human affairs, by simply including the oldest profession within the latest politico-moral doctrines.
Someone tell the French ladies of the night: Technology has made it possible for people to sell the lowest and highest of things online. There might be…options. Let’s expect the same old problems, however, in new venues (a few moments of beauty, grace and kindness but mostly pimps, drug abuse, robbery, extortion etc).
There’s absolutely nothing funny about Telly Savalas playing Kojak as reported by Norm MacDonald to Jerry Seinfeld, shattering naive fictions in solving a T.V. crime-drama:
On French problems of liberte: Theodore Dalrymple on Michel Houellebecq here:
‘Houellebecq has been accused of being a nihilist and cynic, but far from that, his work is an extended protest against nihilism and cynicism. It is true that he offers no solution to the problem, but it is not the purpose of novels, but rather of tracts, to offer solutions to such problems. For him to tell his readers to take up basket-weaving or some such as the answer to existential emptiness would in fact be an instance of that very existential emptiness.’
I’m not much of a feminist nor a Main Line (Philadelphia) liberal myself:
Martha Nussbaum writes:
“Spitzer’s offense was an offense against his family. It was not an offense against the public. If he broke any laws, these are laws that never should have existed and that have been repudiated by sensible nations.”
You tossed a blanket from the bed You lay upon your back, and waited; You dozed, and watched the night revealing The thousand sordid images Of which your soul was constituted; They flickered against the ceiling. And when all the world came back And the light crept up between the shutters And you heard the sparrows in the gutters, You had such a vision of the street As the street hardly understands; Sitting along the bed’s edge, where You curled the papers from your hair, Or clasped the yellow soles of feet In the palms of both soiled hands.
The world will stain you, and it is a fallen, modern world, rendered profoundly and exquisitely.
If a tendency towards true-belief, occasionally visible in one’s (S)elf, and like all behaviors, transparently visible in others, means anything, it must mean less truth-seeking, less tolerance and less openness in the minds and institutions captured by such true-belief.
The resentment within some need only find expression through narrow, rigid ideologies (destroying what’s here for the utopia to come, promoting action with epistemologically questionable areas of knowledge), for there to be consequences for all.
As I see things, this is still the greatest threat to freedom found within American educational, cultural and political institutions right now.
Many dangers of a particular ideological true-belief occur in the enormous blind spot beneath many liberal idealists and secular humanists/rationalists, who, as I see things, often mistake all 60’s radicalism for benign, well-intentioned change. Beneath the doctrines of (M)an are actual men, and the same old human nature.
There are also deeper currents, dragging us this way and that, often only making themselves clear after many years and some quiet reflection. Some of these currents push and pull the (S)elf (where self-knowledge begins of course) along, but downwards towards the nihilism, existentialism and radical stance of a (S)elf outside of all tradition, religion, obligation and custom.
As a Straussian might see it: Once you set up (S)cience on the positivist definition, as the only arbiter of facts, one can very easily invite the anti-(S)cience response in kind, which manifests itself here as the retreat into a victimhood/oppressor ideology.
‘(S)cience’ was only a tool of the white oppressor, anyways, don’t you know (and no one actually has to do the hard work the sciences require…how convenient):
‘In the wake of the violence at Middlebury and Berkeley, and in the aftermath of the faculty mob that coalesced to condemn gender studies professor Rebecca Tuvel, many commentators have begun analyzing the new campus culture of intersectionality as a form of fundamentalist religion including public rituals with more than a passing resemblance to witch-hunts.’
It’d be nice if many secularists and political liberals said something like the following:
‘If we continue to secularize society, we will entrench many postmoderns, activists, radicals, people steeped in resentment, and narrow socialist ideologues, but the gains in liberty will be worth it. We might even inspire a return to old-timey religion. If this happens, we will freak-out about this turn of events. In the meantime, free speech and free thought will not be upheld, except with moral courage against the mob we’ve helped incubate and gestate.’
‘BC: What do you make of political correctness? There are those who would argue it’s a thing of the past. Frankly, I don’t see how that’s possible. It seems to me that cultural Marxism is more regnant than ever, would you agree?
KM: In my time, a great deal of what used to be intuitive and instinctive (such as good manners) has been replaced by the rule-bound and rationalised. Political correctness is a politicised version of good manners offering power to the kind of meddlesome people who want to tell others how to behave. As to Marxism, it was merely one more illusion that purported to be the key to life. It is significant in that it reveals one of the dominant passions still at work in our civilisation – the passion to create happiness by technology in the hands of a supposedly enlightened elite.’
I’m looking around and not seeing too much decency in American politics, lately.
A.C. Grayling makes one of the better cases for morality without religious doctrine, I’ve heard of late, but I’m not entirely sold these particular problems can be addressed sufficiently:
Via A Reader-Isaiah Berlin’s Lectures On The Roots Of Romanticism. Romanticism–>Modernism–>Postmodernism–>Wherever We’re Heading Now
Maybe it all started with Beethoven: Everyone’s a (S)elf.
Without a stronger moral core, will liberalism necessarily corrode into the soft tyranny of an ever-expanding State?
Since the 60’s, and with a lot of postmodern nihilism making advances in our society, is a liberal politics of consent possible given the dangers of cultivating a kind of majoritarian politics: Dirty, easily corrupt, with everyone fighting for a piece of the pie?
As an example, Civil Rights activists showed moral courage and high idealism, to be sure, but we’ve also seen a devolution of the Civil Rights crowd into squabbling factions, many of whom seem more interested in money, self-promotion, influence, and political power.
The 60’s protest model, too, washed over our universities, demanding freedom against injustice, but it has since devolved into a kind of politically correct farce, with comically illiberal and intolerant people claiming they seek liberty and tolerance for all in the name of similar ideals.
Who are they to decide what’s best for everyone? How ‘liberal’ were they ever, really?
Kelley Ross responds to a correspondent on Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism, while discussing John Gray as well:
‘Now, I do not regard Berlin’s value pluralism as objectionable or even as wrong, except to the extend that it is irrelevant to the MORAL issue and so proves nothing for or against liberalism. Liberalism will indeed recommend itself if one wishes to have a regime that will respect, within limits, a value pluralism. I have no doubt that respecting a considerable value pluralism in society is a good thing and that a nomocratic regime that, mostly, leaves people alone is morally superior to a teleocratic regime that specifies and engineers the kinds of values that people should have. However, the project of showing that such a regime IS a good thing and IS morally superior is precisely the kind of thing that Gray decided was a failure.
Thus, I believe Gray himself sees clearly enough that a thoroughgoing “value pluralism” would mean that the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini is just as morally justified as the regime of Thomas Jefferson. Gray prefers liberalism (or its wreckage) for the very same reason that the deconstructionist philosopher Richard Rorty prefers his leftism: it is “ours” and “we” like it better. Why Gray, or Rorty, should think that they speak for the rest of “us” is a good question. ‘
and about providing a core to liberalism:
‘Why should the state need a “sufficient rational justificaton” to impose a certain set of values? The whole project of “rational justification” is what Gray, and earlier philosophers like Hume, gave up on as hopeless. All the state need do, which it has often done, is claim that its values are favored by the majority, by the General Will, by the Blood of the Volk, or by God, and it is in business.’
And that business can quickly lead to ever-greater intrusion into our lives:
‘J.S. Mill, etc., continue to be better philosophers than Berlin or Gray because they understand that there must be an absolute moral claim in the end to fundamental rights and negative liberty, however it is thought, or not thought, to be justified. Surrendering the rational case does not even mean accepting the overall “value pluralism” thesis, since Hume himself did not do so. ‘
Are libertarians the true classical liberals? Much closer to our founding fathers?
Strands of a New, New Left are likely forming out of the excesses of identitarianism. From anti-trans TERF feminists, to many anti-establishment, anti-Boomer types (anti- sisterhood of the travelling ‘bourgeois’ pantsuit criticism), the identity-center is probably not holding.
Perhaps Tom Sowell’s ‘Black Rednecks and White Liberals‘ is worth revisiting, at least to break out of the white savior complex (which manisfests itself both in original Marxist class-warfare and current watered-down identity Marxism).
Lately, when I can manage an hour or two of unbothered attention, I’ve been having a dialogue with a rather deep 20th-century Englishman. This gentleman sees the divorce of technique from practical knowledge, and the over-reliance on technique, as one of the deepest epistemological mistakes of modern man:
‘…modern rationalism is what commonplace minds made out of the inspiration of men of discrimination and genius.’
Oakeshott, Michael. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991. Print. Pg 6.
You can’t just toss direct experience, long history, developed traditions and deep practice into a pot, can you? Were you just going to bring your pot to a rolling boil, skim the top, bottle it up and sell it as the ‘Last Cookbook You’ll Ever Need’?
Who is Oakeshott’s Rationalist? Perhaps nearly all of us:
‘At bottom, he stands (he always stands) for independence of mind on all occasions, for thought free from obligation to any authority save the authority of ‘reason.’ His circumstances in the modern world have made him contentious: He is the enemy of authority, of prejudice, of the merely traditional, customary or habitual. His mental attitude is at once sceptical and optimistic: sceptical, because there is no opinion, no habit, no belief, nothing so firmly rooted or so widely held that he hesitates to question it and judge it by what he calls his ‘reason:’ optimistic because the rationalist never doubts the power of his ‘reason’ (when properly applied) to determine the worth of a thing, the truth of an opinion or the propiety of an action. Moreover, he is fortified by a belief in a ‘reason’ common to all mankind…’
‘He is not devoid of humility; he can imagine a problem which would remain impervious to the onslaught of his own reason. But what he can not imagine is politics which do not consist of solving problems, or a political problem of which there is no ‘rational’ solution at all.’
We Americans are Rationalists, to some extent, with our founding documents kept under glass:
“When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation…”
‘Long before the Revolution, then, the disposition of mind of the American colonists, the prevailing intellectual character and habit of politics, were rationalistic. And this is clearly reflected in the constitutional documents and history of the individual colonies. And when these colonies came ‘to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,’ and to declare their independence, the only fresh inspiration that this habit of politics received from the outside was one which confirmed its native character in every particular. For the inspiration of Jefferson and the other founders of American independence was the ideology which Locke had distilled from the English political tradition.’
I have trouble imagining Oakeshott having much sympathy with our founders’ direct experience and developing practice alongside and against King George III and the Redcoats; the slow-rolling revolution these men found themselves within.
What should ‘common men’ have done with relatively limited experience and practice of their own, but such a long and mixed inheritance to draw upon?
Hasn’t our American solution (posing admitted cultural threats to established English traditions) helped ameliorate the effects of long-stratified classes, resentments, and bitternesses which have allowed a much deeper Marxism (ideology par excellence) to flourish in the U.K?
Has the American influence made them worse?
Perhaps if long history and deep practice have helped organically produce Monarchy, Aristocracy, landed gentry and unlanded serfs; a country where an accent can immediately rank order one’s class and status, then America’s rationalist common man has gotten some things right?
Food for thought.
Is that the sight of tweed moving amongst the trees upon the horizon?
I must say Oakeshott offers refreshing critique of thinkers from Descartes to Bacon and Marx to Hayek, and I imagine he can easily be applied to Rawls, Nozick and any other very bright, systemizing thinkers of the 20th century.
Often times, brilliance and genius in the mathematical sciences can help reformulate and solve some of the deeper problems of the Natural World, but such thinking doesn’t necessarily travel well beyond these spheres.
‘There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your Philosophy’
Thinking of politics as just a ‘science,’ can obviously be a problem, for example. Thinking all the reasons for deep disagreement between people (religion, belief, habit, custom) are going to be solved with the latest theory or a new politico-managment style is full of obvious problems.
Rationalism, on this view, decays frequently into ideology, as well, and there’s no shortage of ideological doctrines nor ideologues and narrow, doctrinal sorts this past century.
On that note, please let me know what I’ve gotten wrong, or missing thus far.
***Dear Reader, I beseech you to recall that I’m full-time employed elsewhere and this blog is a labor of love; a means to keep learning. Please send $1,000,000+ checks discreetly in the mail.
There are many people pursuing secular human rights ideals within many a Western governmental agency, international institution, and activist quarter these days. They claim the person who seeks to be virtuous, pursuing an ideal vision of the good society, simply by sharing in this ideal, has immediate access to a global human community and as such, moral duties to this community.
Many ambitious and reasonably well-intentioned young people are hearing its call.
On some level, most of us seek some kind of greater life purpose (guiding ideals and principles) and we seek for our inborn talents and natural abilities to merge hopefully, with our responsibility to feed ourselves and serve others in making a living.
These ideals allow some people, some of the time, to transcend many personal responsibilities along with many of the duties of family, neighbor, friend, the local, the state, the national.
Yet, at what cost? How are they working out in the world, our institutions, and in our lives?
If there’s anything universal in human affairs (math, the sciences, music, self-interest?), how is the universal to be codified into laws (rules), rights and responsibilities, and who makes the laws and who enforces them?
What is right, exactly, and where do ‘rights’ come from?
How does one person do lasting good for another while pursuing his/her own self-interest within the institutions and organizations that have developed and are often controlled by those adhering to such ideals?
As posted (may you find the thread running through the post, dear reader. I know it’s a lot to ask…especially with all the unanswered, open-ended questions):
“‘…a morally concerned style of intellectual atheism openly avowed by only a small minority of individuals (for example, those who are members of the British Humanist Association) but tacitly accepted by a wide spectrum of educated people in all parts of the Western world.”
A Roger Scruton quote that stands out in the video below, while discussing moral relativism to an audience in a country once behind the Iron Curtain:
‘There’s an attempt to produce a universal, objective morality, but without any conception of where it comes from.’
Where does the moral legitimacy come from to decide what a ‘human right’ is? A majority of ‘right-thinking’ people? A political majority? Some transcendent source? German Idealism?
Perhaps modern American liberalism can claim other roots for itself. Here’s a quote on Leo Strauss, who has influenced American conservative thought heavily:
“As Strauss understood it, the principle of liberal democracy in the natural freedom and equality of all human beings, and the bond of liberal society is a universal morality that links human beings regardless of religion. Liberalism understands religion to be a primary source of divisiveness in society, but it also regards liberty of religious worship to be a fundamental expression of the autonomy of the individual. To safeguard religion and to safeguard society from conflicts over religion, liberalism pushes religion to the private sphere where it is protected by law. The liberal state also strictly prohibits public laws that discriminate on the basis of religion. What the liberal state cannot do without ceasing to be liberal is to use the law to root out and entirely eliminate discrimination, religious and otherwise, on the part of private individuals and groups.”
‘We now have Russia and Turkey involved in two proxy wars in the region: Syria and Libya. While we have serious issues with Turkish “adventurism” on the part of President Erdoğan in both theaters, the bottom line remains: Russia presents a threat to the United States across a variety of fronts; Turkey is a key NATO ally.’
‘America’s alliance-level relations were formed in the context of the Cold War with Egypt, Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. These contacts and programs have been successful and should not be dismantled or downgraded, but redesigned.’
Let’s not forget Nagorno-Karabakh.
Vice magazine: Totally woke, painfully edgy and ideologically captured at home, still some decent guerilla journalism in the hot-spots.
I have a nagging suspicion that within certain social sciences and fields of study, people are self-selecting for shared ideals. The discipline itself trains a method which can transcend such dynamics, but it becomes the air many breathe and the water many drink.
The subtle, subconscious way in which we are all influenced by others through our senses, language, behavior and thought drifts towards those shared ideals. In-group and out-group dynamics soon form, and heretics, disbelievers, or skeptics learn to keep quiet or join a tiny minority.
In the case of radical ‘-Ismologists,’ whole epistemologies are woven out of whole cloth, in a web of true-enough-sounding-bullshit, the heretics, disbelievers and skeptics are punished.
Many progressive knowledge claims involve the assumption that (H)istory can be known from one vantage point, and because this is true, the telos of (M)an is known or can be known, and ought to be reached through political activism any day now.
And now for something mostly different. As posted:
Gurri offered an interesting take on matters socio-cultural:
‘The dilemma is that this present is defined by a radical distrust of the institutions of industrial society, and of the elites that control them, and of their statements and descriptions of reality. The conference organizers got our predicament right. At every level of contemporary social and political life, we are stuck in the muck of a profound crisis of authority.’
‘One remembers Weber’s epitaph for the Protestant Ethic, as he contemplated a devitalised bourgeoisie spiritlessly tending the petrified mechanism their ancestors had raised. Adapted, without apology, it might also be used to depict that petrified Utopia of the New Ruling classes of the East.
There’s a popular narrative that drug companies have stolen the soul of psychiatry. That they’ve reduced everything to chemical imbalances. The people who talk about this usually go on to argue that the true causes of mental illness are capitalism and racism. Have doctors forgotten that the real solution isn’t a pill, but structural change that challenges the systems of exploitation and domination that create suffering in the first place?
No. Nobody has forgotten that. Because the third thing you notice at the American Psychiatric Association meeting is that everyone is very, very woke.
“The Peloponennisian War created the sorts of tension in Athens that would appear to support Thucydides’ analysis. Obligations to the community required greater sacrifice and presented a clearer conflict with the self-seeking “Homeric” pursuit of one’s status, power and pleasure. In political terms, people had to decide whether or not to plot against the democracy to bring off an Olgarchic coup. In moral terms they had to decide whether or not to ignore the demands of the community, summed up in the requirements of “justice,” in favor of their own honor, status, power, and in general their perceived interest. Plato was familiar with people who preferred self-interest over other-regarding obligation; his own relatives, Critias and Charmides, made these choices when they joined the Thirty Tyrants.
Arguments from natural philosophy did not restrain people like Critias and Charmides. Democritus argues unconvincingly that the requirements of justice and the demands of nature, as understood by Atomism, can be expected to coincide. Protogoras rejects the view that moral beliefs are true and well grounded only if they correspond to some reality independent of believers; admittedly they are matters of convention, but so are all other beliefs about the world. This line or argument removes any ground for preferring nature over convention, but at the same time seems to remove any rational ground for preferring one convention over another.”
Skeptics and aesthetics are best in small doses. Try and gather group dynamics around (R)eason, (S)cience and Religious skepticism, and be prepared to run into the problems with which religious groups are all too familiar.
It’s all fun and games to indulge in liberation (sexual, moral, ‘the personal is political’), while embracing one’s identity as a group. It can be exhilarating to endlessly theorize, plan and rationalize the new society to come, but, Dear Reader, don’t forget human nature.
Many of the same judgments, in and out group dynamics, and minority vulnerabilities caution against full-throated liberatory politics.
It’s rather enervating to watch ‘radical chic’ devour the minds of reasonable people leaning upon a still-functioning Republic, dismantling existing institutions without necessarily providing suitable replacements (often caught advocating presumedly universal human ideals, reasonable/[unreasonable]tribal political idealism, and negotiating with radicals).
“And one of the reasons I am so much in favor of [Senator Barack] Obama is that his election might be, will be—because I think he will be elected—a real end to this tide of competition of victimhood, and especially on the specific ground of the two communities, Jews and African Americans, who were so close in the 1960s.”
…”The Obama election would reconstitute the grand alliance.”
Hail the grand alliance!
Samuel Bronkowitz may have gotten there first to celebrate the black-Jewish Leftist alliance in Hollywood.
It seems to me you’ve got a few options once you’ve become a member of a favored identity group, as like pretty much all of life, the clock is ticking.
Game the identity system by using it to full personal advantage to try and escape its orbit (understandable, but maybe not the most honorable because of the bad people and the bad in people which come to lead, even if you just want a leg-up because you actually are poor and oppressed).
Play the identity game and pursue your ambition within its orbit. After all, there’s meaning and purpose in treating enemies as evil in a War and the game of politics as rigged. Retreat to the ideological purity of your group when attacked and advance upon the enemy positions whenever possible. Until larger failures and/or the money runs out, rinse and repeat.
Wait around long enough until the same underlying logic is used against you and/or your group, religion and/or ethnicity (Jewish folks seem to be on the outs lately, Muslims in—Asians being disfavored at elite schools). The identity politics game marches onwards towards utopia, against the oppressor. Being forced to choose between model failures or seeing the world anew outside your model, generally choose to project your personal and group failure onto your enemies, because after all, you’re Human, all too Human.
Maybe a lot of people just want to earn a living, spend some time with their families on the weekends, and try to live decent lives in decent towns.
Despite a profound American idealism arguably calling Americans away from such a life and towards something higher at various times (an idealism I’d argue which manifests across the political spectrum), perhaps many people simply can’t tolerate such a vision being at the center of American civic and political life.
‘Something happens in the 1990s. The elites of Washington, New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles meld together. Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Washington and Wall Street all come together, and for the first time you have something like the British establishment. The British establishment could organise itself more easily because it was centred on London. For decades the American elite was divided among different coastal cities, plus the ‘third coast’ of Chicago, and it wasn’t until space collapses due to technology that you have the creation of this unified American elite. That unified elite is overwhelmingly liberal. Three hundred people who work for Google were part of the Obama administration at one time or another.’
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.’
‘This work provides as ambitious and complete a defense of traditional natural theology as is currently in print. Its aim is to vindicate the view of the greatest philosophers of the past— thinkers like Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Aquinas, Leibniz, and many others— that the existence of God can be established with certainty by way of purely rational arguments. It thereby serves as a refutation both of atheism and of the fideism that gives aid and comfort to atheism.’
‘Edward Feser, a Roman Catholic philosopher, disagrees. His book is an exercise in the drive to go where Hobbes, Hume and Kant said we could not go, finding something lying behind the world as we know it, something necessary and unchanging that sustains and in some sense explains the contingent, shifting, natural world and our capacity to think about it.’
‘Edward Feser himself is not at all drawn to silent contemplation inside the monastery walls. He is a vigorous proponent of a morality of natural law, holding, for instance, that abortion is as bad as murder. His ancient exercises in logic are more than just intellectual amusements. They are preludes to the will to power, and if it were not for the Enlightenment, so little admired by John Gray, they would doubtless have continued to be preludes to persecutions and the auto-da-fé.’
‘On the one hand, Blackburn must limit the powers of human reason sufficiently to prevent them from being able to penetrate, in any substantive way, into the ultimate “springs and principles” of nature. For that is the only way to block ascent to a divine first cause – the existence and nature of which, the Scholastic says, follows precisely from an analysis of what it would be to be an ultimate explanation...
…On the other hand, Blackburn has to make sure that this skepticism is not so thoroughgoing that it takes science and Humean philosophy down too, alongside natural theology.’
On that note, on the profound and what I’d call ‘Will’ tradition nihilist skepticism of modernity, progress and high liberalism, as Blackburn also reviews John Gray’s new book ‘Seven Types Of Atheism‘
‘After this taxonomy the book is largely an indictment of misguided thinkers and writers since the Enlightenment, peppered with discreditable stories from their biographies. The examples are sad enough, and Gray uses them to support a general pessimism about human beings altogether, other people being just as bad as religionists. Woe to those who think that things have been or could be improved! Eventually the list becomes reminiscent of Monty Python’s “What have the Romans ever done for us?” substituting the Enlightenment for the Romans. We are all lying in the gutter, and the right things to look at are not the stars above, but the rubbish all around us. The only thing we progress towards is death’
If you’re interested, the below are from past related posts on this site:
‘John Gray’s “Silence of Animals” is an attack on humanism. He condemns this widely accepted secular faith as a form of delusional self-flattery.’
‘The question Gray poses is of fundamental importance, so one wishes the book were better. It is not a systematic argument, but a varied collection of testimonies interspersed with Gray’s comments.’
Clearly humanism could use more serious critics and pushback.
Nagel finishes with:
‘Gray thinks the belief in progress is fueled by humanists’ worship of “a divinized version of themselves.” To replace it he offers contemplation: “Contemplation can be understood as an activity that aims not to change the world or to understand it, but simply to let it be.” Though he distinguishes this from the ideal of mystical transcendence toward a higher order of being, it, too, seems more like a form of escape than a form of realism. Hope is a virtue, and we should not give it up so easily.’
Gray discusses the book here:
While science may proceed and real progress is taking place, in the realms of ethics and politics, Gray suggests things are learned but they don’t stay learned.
Are we rational beings? Rational animals?
What about a Church Of England, somewhat Hegelian, defense of conservatism as a defense of that which one loves?:
In the Q & A afterwards, Scruton receives about as pointed a post-lecture questioning on his metaphysics as I’ve seen.