‘The anthropological idea of culture is fundamentally German: Kultur. It would be hard for such an idea to arise in Anglo-Saxon thinking, basically utilitarian, empiricist and individualist. The German strain — Kantian, idealist and collectivist is much more open to it. It is interesting that the continental Pole, Malinowski, always thought of culture as his subject matter (A Scientific Theory of Culture), and thought it should be analyzed in terms of how it answered human needs.‘
‘We’ Germans has certainly posed problems these past centuries (I’ll spare you Lefty-driven Hitler year-zero talk, which, I believe, like our language debates, is driven by ‘problematic’ ideas valorizing liberation over liberty).
If a ‘kultur’ approaches music (math, patterns & free-flowing creativity) like the Germans have, maybe you get a Bach, Mozart or Beethoven. This is good to remember if find yourself squaring-off against the German Army.
Could it be the desire for Weld-Peace also triggers the desire for Weld-Domination?
As readers know, I believe the turn towards Romanticized Nature away from industrialization, and subsequent modernized ‘Nature’ (industry=BAD) is traveling full-speed ahead as part of a process of secularization. Add the post modernized nihilistic ‘Self vs void’ narrative and I believe we have a lot of forces pushing somewhere both new and old.
You can wrap all these American changes within Civil Rights Idealism, secular humanism, liberal idealism and universalism, and call all these changes ‘good.’ That said, you probably look more clueless and partisan if you do, without accounting for the ‘bad.’ Such changes don’t seem to be working out in the real world without shitting on everything religious, local, traditional and un-modern.
I think this helps explain our current political climate.
Then again, here in the States, we have had our own Puritans; much more likely to support a certain moral and religious order. Their DNA is especially visible in New England and the Boston area.
There are also a lot of deeply religious folks in the Mennonite and Amish villages dotted throughout the country. From Texas to Iowa to Pennsylvania, there are swathes of strait-laced German influence.
These have often existed apart from the new, secular, progressive religion, where there is a lot of sorrowfully crying into soft, institutional pillows, supporting the latest activist (C)ause (usually with someone else’s money and time), while punishing non-believers.
Human nature and reality await.
It seems a lot of folks who are religious, local, traditional and un-modern might also be secularizing, to some extent.
Whittaker Chambers, David Horowitz, and other heretics having fled from the radical ideologies of the Left are explained as part of a movement that helped define a century in which, for Packer, the American right has come to dominate.
In fact, he finishes with:
‘The downward slide from Chambers and Reagan to Coulter and Trump has surely swept along a few young idealists who thought they were joining the side of freedom and truth, then realized too late that they had signed on for junk science and white identity politics. Ted Cruz’s vision would require the toppling of just about every pillar of the country’s social and economic structure. You don’t have to look elsewhere for the destructive utopianism that turns believers into apostates. In a few years’ time, we’ll be reading the chilling inside story, written by a campaign aide who barely got out alive.’
I can imagine the view from the New Yorker office in Manhattan might be magnifying the various and sundry evangelicals, mouth-breathing gun-nuts, racist xenophobes and ‘junk-scientists’ gathering at the Black Gate Of Mordor. These are simple folk, really. The J6 event (at least a riot) simply acted as confirmation.
Traditional folks, country folks, religious folks and unmodern folks have all become out-groups, treated with scorn, pity or, perhap; sad rubes to be rounded-up by the new fields of knowledge implemented within a benevolent managerial state.
Welcome to the minority! There sure was a lot of dishonesty, cowardice and injustice in how this profound shift is playing out.
We all know that even if ideal human societies with ever more freedom and equality aren’t possible, we should still try and make them a reality, right? Many people’s hearts are in the right place, after all.
Or do ‘The People’ possess one big heart they all have to share?
Do ‘real-scientists’ all read the New Yorker for the latest scientific discoveries explained in 2,000 word long-form essays?
Of course, while there is a special kind of concern-trolling on display in Packer’s piece, there is also a fair amount of truth: It is the heretics ‘mugged by reality’ who’ve helped to lead the conservative movement in the U.S.
Irving Kristol is just one example. I like to imagine his son, Bill, employing his talents as a regional franchise manager for some Honda dealerships in central Ohio or Wendy’s in Tennessee. Would his views remain the same in the salons of the Upper East side?
Would anyone care?
Longer-term, I suspect it’s bound to happen that more ‘neoconservatives’ fall-out of the intellectual grace of worldviews like those often found at the New Yorker, where liberal-Left democratic and secular humanism rule the roost. There’s plenty of soft-collectivism on display, (with its own attendant hippie and post-hippie utopian idealism), safe-spaces for feminism and environmentalism (alarming levels of enviro-dread, lately), along with much post 68′ civil-rights radicalism and what I call ‘brownstone activism.’
Such views are having more and more real-world consequences.
Human nature and reality await.
I don’t know if such observations make me conservative (surely, they do to some), but I often find myself wondering where such ideals lead, exactly? What responsibilities do they impose upon me?
How much equality is enough? How will you know when it is enough? What kinds of moral authority do these ideals rely upon and what kind of institutions do they actually produce in the real world?
Which freedoms and opportunities have they brought me? Are these worth the trade-offs?
If such arguments are well-made, they always have a chance of convincing me.
In the meantime, however, there’s Packer’s piece, where at least there’s some recognition of the following:
‘In the twentieth century, the void left by the loss of religion was sometimes filled by totalizing political systems, and the result was a literary genre of confession that is as powerful and probing as the Augustinian kind.’
Addition: Nice wild swing at Augustinians, there.
Let me know what I’ve got wrong, as so much depends upon where you start:
Technology: Chapt GPT will likely create an assistive-technological training platform for the ambitious and reasonably bright. Many jobs now done by people will simply be automated; and many more technological skills will likely live on steeper curves of obsolescence. There’s no replacement for competence, reliability, and focused attention, of course. People are expecting a lot more choice in their lives, and are self-selecting based on their current preferences (most of us are doing this, to some extent).
Globalization: Both India and China are producing hundreds of thousands of high IQ, specially trained, hard-working software and hardware engineers competing for slots in American higher Ed and the American tech sector. There is global competition in many sectors of the economy.
Past and current trade deals are trying to address the inherent dislocation that comes when capital chases cheap labor, when industry dies out in one area and blooms in another.
America has an aging population (less so than China and many European countries), and many hopelessly insolvent social programs based on somewhat Ponzi-like projections that can’t be maintained as they currently exist. This is a serious, serious problem.
Aren’t you glad we’re so busy politicizing many personal problems?
The American university and current government models are bloated, with a lot of waste and poor incentives, producing a lot of people with unforgivable student-loan debt and degrees of questionable value in current job markets. Our public sector is woefully unable to handle such change. With the postmodern move, and all the ‘studies’ departments and busy-work administrators, I don’t see how pretty dramatic change isn’t forced upon a lot of people unwilling to move their food bowls.
As previously posted-A breath of fresh air from George Packer at the New Yorker: ‘Mute Button:‘
‘The problem with free speech is that it’s hard, and self-censorship is the path of least resistance. But, once you learn to keep yourself from voicing unwelcome thoughts, you forget how to think them—how to think freely at all—and ideas perish at conception. Washiqur Rahman and Avijit Roy had more to fear than most of us, but they lived and died as free men.’
Maybe this kind of moral courage will make a comeback…
‘But in the year 2000, with Fascism and Communism both discredited, why, I wondered, were so many turning back toward Rousseau? What was the attraction of romantic primitivism? How had ethnic culture become a beau ideal? Cities certainly have their problems, but why did New Yorkers see tribal societies as exemplary and tribespeople as paragons of social virtue?’
If you do manage to develop a bedrock of secular humanism in civil society (subject to that society’s particular traditions and history), won’t that society still have need of its own myths?
Even though Fascism and Communism have been discredited in theory and in practice, adherents remain (look no further than most American academies).
Sandall notes the Popperian elements discussed as from ‘The Open Society And Its Enemies‘, which as a theory, stretches deep into human nature and the West’s Greek traditions.
Is Popper’s ‘critical rationalism’ some of what we’re seeing from the intellectual dark-webbers, or at least many bright people pushing against the fascistic elements found within many far-Left movements, just those movements endorse and feed a far-right, identitarian and ideological response?:
‘…the people and institutions of the open society that Popper envisioned would be imbued with the same critical spirit that marks natural science, an attitude which Popper called critical rationalism. This openness to analysis and questioning was expected to foster social and political progress as well as to provide a political context that would allow the sciences to flourish.‘
Sandall again on Popper:
‘His 1945 The Open Society and Its Enemies started out from the contrast between closed autarkic Sparta and free-trading protean Athens, and used it to illuminate the conflict between Fascism and Communism on the one hand, and Western democracy on the other.’
‘Is an ‘open society’ also supposed to be an ‘open polity’ with open borders? Médecins sans Frontières is all very well: but states cannot be run on such lines. Popper’s is a theory of society, not a theory of the state—and it seems to me that his book offers no clear account of the wider political preconditions that enable ‘open societies’ to both flourish and defend themselves.’
So, how did Sandall see the idea of ‘culture’ having its orgins?:
‘But at a higher philosophical level, and starting out in England, it owed more to the energetic publicising of Herder’s ideas by the Oxford celebrity Sir Isaiah Berlin — ideas of irresistible appeal to the post-Marxist and post-religious liberal mind.’
Open borders and open societies? A desire a ‘culture’ has to forge and solidify its own identity?
‘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.
‘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. ‘
Back to Sandall:
‘Then something happened: the English word “culture” in the sense employed by Matthew Arnold in his 1869 Culture and Anarchy got both anthropologized and Germanised — and anthropological culture was the opposite of all that. It meant little more in fact than a social system.’
Any thoughts and comments are welcome.
A rather tangled web indeed…
Further entanglements on this site, possibly related:
‘Popper’s World 3 is in some respects reminiscent of Plato’s realm of the Forms, but differs in that Popper takes World 3 to be something man-made. As I noted in the earlier post just linked to, this makes his positon at least somewhat comparable the Aristotelian realist (as opposed to Platonic realist) view that universals are abstracted by the mind from the concrete objects that instantiate them rather than pre-existing such abstraction.’
“…and if there could be such a thing as socialism combined with individual liberty, I would be a socialist still. For nothing could be better than living a modest, simple, and free life in an egalitarian society. It took some time before I recognized this as no more than a beautiful dream; that freedom is more important that equality; that the attempt to realize equality endangers freedom; and that, if freedom is lost, there will not even be equality among the unfree.”
‘Lit by an inner illumination, which regularly showed through the glimmer of his blue eyes, he checked his politics at the door and let the lyricism of “books, arts, and manners” lead the way for students.’
‘Saganites view the universe as a precious jewel. How beautiful! “Look at it — but don’t touch it!” Tumlinson quips. Space is for scientific inquiry only, and that is best done by investigating it with robots. Later in life Sagan recognized the value of sending humans to other worlds, but as an astrophysicist and planetary scientist, his goals were focused on science, not economic development or settlement.’
Barring revolution, an attractive option for many committed ideologues lies in gathering under the ideals of education, health-care, peace and the environment, becoming institutionalized at taxpayer expense.
Common threads?: ‘Social’ justice is a kind of unclear concept. Ideology ain’t necessarily science. Many adrift in the postmodern humanities are quite hostile to the sciences, living within their own dramas and [even] doing dirt on the arts. A move towards the liberal idealist and rationalist invites the activist and irrational response.
‘Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people”:
First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.
Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.
The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.’
Universal wokeness need not be confined to Earth.
I’d like to get ahead of the move towards legitimizing UFO claims in the popular mind.
Workers of the Galaxy Unite!
CLEARLY, alien life (haven’t seen any myself) should be conceptualized as the poor, noble savage kind. These Romantically Primitive oddities could do with some solidarity. I envision studying these proud, native creatures as a space anthropologist, seeking to live and work amongst them as a tribe of distant cosmic relatives.
When the bad colonizers and rapacious corporations come (as they must), I face a harsh choice: Return to my traditional roots, joining my rational secular space captain and his universal peace treaties, or take up arms with the Shining Star Revolutionary Brigade in the worm holes of Rulon 7?
I think it’s probably a little better at The New Yorker in 2023 (see this Salman Rushdie piece). That said, activism remains a source of renewal for true-believers. This creates enormous downward pressure upon independent thought and creative expression (the kind of which the New Yorker has traditionally supported in long-form writing and the visual arts). Activist editorializing is probably a lot like going to Church, where inward reflection occurs in song and sacrament, chanting and togetherness. Beneath the political ideals, liberals and radicals often have their ‘hearts and minds’ in similar places.
The blind spots: People, ideas and the world outside of these beliefs and convictions, like all of us, to some extent.
My deeper take: Much of this view gets human nature badly wrong (the depth of evil and the problems within hearts and minds…explored in literature, poetry and the visual arts).
It also turns (H)istory into a kind of ideo-theology, abstracting (M)an into an endlessly perfectible and managerial product. This partially explains why our ‘post-modern’ lives become full with nihilistic ‘presentism’ and (S)elf-performance with a shitty, divided politics.
‘They are, in fact, idealists: and idealism is a cast of mind that Conrad questions even more than he questions radicalism. The logical end of radicalism, in his view, is terrorism; but idealism is the mental aberration that allows terrorism to be brought about. Conrad’s originality was to see that a new tyranny could be generated by people who thought that their rebellion against the old tyranny was rational. Thus his writings seem prescient about what was to happen in the Soviet Union. He didn’t predict the Nazi tyranny because he had underestimated the power of the irrational to organise itself into a state. But then, nobody predicted that except its perpetrators; and anyway, mere prediction was not his business. His business was the psychological analysis made possible by an acute historical awareness. Under Western Eyes is valuable not because it came true but because it rang true even at the time, only now we can better hear the deep, sad note.’
It just might be possible to nurture experimental literature, poetry and the ‘avant-garde’ without explicit political bias:
‘Is it necessary for us to have a conservative voice or something like that? We’ve discussed it, but I’m not sure exactly what it would look like. I think The New Yorker’s niche is pretty comfortably in this progressive space and it’s much less of an issue to us than it is to The New York Times.’
I actually might agree on two fronts: The New Yorker definitely caters to progressive political ideals (a long-term winning market strategy?) AND that there’s something loathsome about hiring just to fill quotas. The idea of letting other people live their own lives and make their own decisions is socrazy it just might work.
The latter is lost on many true-believing progressives, as the presupposed rigged ‘system’ of the oppressor justifies all manner of intrusion into existing institutions through protest, radical unrest and forced quota-systems.
Maybe some deeper currents from Romanticism to Modernism to Postmodernism are worth thinking about. As I see things, many people who care deeply about the avant-garde also bind themselves to ever narrower political and ideological commitments.
The journey of The Western Self bears proper care.
In the meantime, check out this tweet from Peace Pavilion West (my fictional community of back-to-nature collectivists exploring the Self).
What started out as Peace, Love and Inclusion at the Human Pagoda, a community transcending all human limitations, a buzzing colony building eco-pods to the very Heavens, devolved into ever stronger chaos and ever stronger central authority.
After our liberation, the promise of equality always seemed shimmering on the horizon.
It takes a big man to tweet at The New Yorker:
At Peace Pavilion West, we have banished all free enterprise, becoming a ‘closed community.’ Collective love and our Supreme Leader’s revolutionary teachings shall guide us. Namaste, Eustace.
Shouldn’t one begin from the point-of-view of neutrality regarding Nature (beyond value-judgment?)
Nature can be: The sweetest-smelling spring meadow and the source of life. The enveloping tenderness of mother and child. It can be a series of renewing calls to adventure in which we find ourselves most alive. I’m guessing the subjugation of one’s ideas about Nature into (Nature), and God, or no God, is where we often find our thoughts returning.
Nature is also: A volcano scorching thousands of men, women and children at a time. The river dangerously rising. Rabies, A.I.D.S. and an uncompromising, relentless disregard for our hopes. It can be the casual disregard of the old by the young, and the sad fading of a loved one into oblivion. Imagine, if you will, the last thoughts and experiences of someone eaten to death by a predator (but my spirit animal is a bear..I’ve always practiced bear/human moral recognition).
No wonder our default is to explain through mythology, idealization, and highest conceptualizations along with the calling forth of deepest desires during intensest experience.
The modern flavors of myth veer into Romantic Primitivism and Collectivism, Radical Western animism and the ideological discontents of the ‘Modern’ age.
How’s that stuff working out?
Beware the modern theologies of (M)an? Back to the old theologies of God and all those attendant problems?
What are the artists up to? How have so many, so often, come to undervalue, and overvalue, the Arts, and the (S)elf?
The search for meaning goes on.
Land-art pieces are site-specific. They require you to be there and experience them, designed as they are to be within the specific spaces they occupy.
In so doing, they break from previous modernist ‘Readymades‘ and reproduced images (I don’t know about you, but I’m tiring of so many commentaries on consumerism, the desire for craft over mass production, a certain collective vagueness against such disposability…the dream of unique Selfhood, celebrity even, amidst a thousand urinals).
As a viewer, you’re supposed to interact with these pieces and start feeling and thinking differently than perhaps you might have otherwise. Walk around, through, and over them.
Time is clearly intended to be an element, here; the long sweep of geologic and/or historical time as the artist understands it, as well as the relative brevity of personal time during just a 10-minute visit.
These pieces can act as signposts towards Nature and what we can begin to observe of our specific natural environments (steel rusts in unique, but perhaps underlying, patterns…winds blow at different angles and around different obstacles in one grove as opposed to another, these lichens are growing here…other lichens over there, are they the same species?).
If you pull the piece out of its specific environment, it may just wither and die, looking out-of-place as many other products of civilization do amidst natural settings (a jar in Tennessee). Perhaps, though, they won’t look quite so out-of-place as mass-produced objects because of such careful design and attention to detail.
That said, these pieces will eventually look quite awkward undergoing the changes they will undergo if Nature’s Laws are any guide (Romantic/Modernist recreations of Nature can promise the comforts of Home).
Here’s Wikipedia, keeping it simple:
‘Land art, earthworks (coined by Robert Smithson), or Earth art is an art movement in which landscape and the work of art are inextricably linked.’
‘Robert Smithson and Richard Serra both believed that sculpture should have a dialog with its environment. This program explores the challenging dialectic of the site-specific sculpture of Smithson and Serra through examples of their work. In an interview, Serra discusses the aspects of time and context in relation to his art as well as the influence of Smithson.’
Maybe it’s worth pointing out that Serra seems interested in symmetry, visualizing and realizing abstract shapes with the help of some mathematics and the practice of drawing/drafting. Interesting problems can arise from tooling around with shapes on paper (a practice of Serra’s), the kind I’m guessing folks fascinated by puzzles and software and math love to solve.
But Serra’s not a mathematician nor an engineer nor an architect. He’s not writing a proof for its own sake nor building bridges nor houses for practical use.
Rather, the intuitive and creative impulses of the artist take over in his work, a kind of creative exploration, as well as the dialog between fellow artists, living and dead.
Much (A)rt, of course, is useless for most, if not all, purposes. It’s one of the things that can make it meaningful for people. There can be a significant gap between what the artist may have felt, thought and realized, and which emotions, thoughts and experiences any viewer/listener might have in interacting with a particular piece.
Serra, in his work, wants to alter the thinking of anyone moving through the space he creates by manipulating specific substances like steel (he has a facility with the material), and by getting viewers to a point of reorientation of spatial and temporal awareness.
Of course, this involves reorientation towards certain ideas as he understands them, and by promising people a return to themselves, or a state of experience and creative play perhaps similar to that of the artist.
Here’s a Charlie Rose interview:
More about Land Artists:
Any thoughts and comments are welcome. Feel free to highlight my ignorance…
‘Intersectionality is not just a branch of feminism, a means by which to advance women’s interests, or an analysis of matters of social concern. It is an all-encompassing philosophy that advances a unique politics, metaphysics, aesthetics, and epistemology, as well as its own (rather bizarre) interpretation of history. It is effectively a secular religion.1′
Many liberation-based ideologues and radical discontents have ridden the postmodern waves into academies and various other institutions of influence.
This blog operates under the assumption that, generally, people who’ve only conceived of the world as a series of power relationships, or fumblings of Self against the objectively meaningless void, or through lenses of collectivist oppression and victimhood, are generally people to be nowhere near positions of authority and stewardship.
Hey, it’s just the Arts & Sciences, as well as your freedoms.
Who is ‘Rasta Dale’?
Despite his humble beginnings as the bastard son of an itinerant diplomat and the global-warming journalist sent to cover him, Dale has worked hard to become the supreme leader of Peace Pavilion West. He oversees daily work assignments, Temple activities and breeding celebrations.
Protecting the environment, promoting women’s freedom and protesting warmongers here on Spaceship Earth are all in a day’s work in the community, and for Dale.
Here are some recent articles Dale wholeheartedly supports:
As I’m doing PR for PPW, I like to include my commentary when relevant.
Community Gardens IN THE SKY!
Of course Dr. Seuss should get political! Make everything political!
Dale had a dark period after the last EPA raid. He was found in the Temple by himself mumbling ‘Now we are all zero-waste:’
Making the ‘personal political’ tends to politicize all aspects of life. It’s unsurprising that a few good artists will fall on more conservative sides of topical political discussion.
As I see the world: Radical doctrines weaponize personal confessions into political (C)auses. Envy is a deep and nearly constant human emotion, and when the green eyed monster appears, honest self-criticism is much harder than righteous indignation (maybe this guy is smarter/better than me…what can I learn from him?).
I should add: There are plenty of religious prigs who are, essentially, failures at life. More than a few have traced their bitterness into a God-shaped mold.
It’s no surprise the basics learned in youth sports (how to lose honorably, the long hours of toil and sacrifice, the daily practice) are eschewed by most ideologues. If you’re weak and/or losing, becoming anointed into an ideology plugs into one of the deepest human desires: Defining yourself by what you are not, and finding group membership and meaning. The thought that ‘they’ are winning, and thus, I’m (we’re) losing is powerful stuff.
I’m somebody. I can win. I’m less racist than you. I’m more deeply (H)uman than you. I feel more authentically than my enemies. Sister Nancy is the most God-fearing gal in the whole convent.
Human nature hasn’t changed all that much, as every revolutionary radical seems to find out the hard way.
For anyone not in dire straits (genuine need and/or actual oppression), inviting the clumsy hands of ideological (C)ause into the bedroom is a kind of lunacy. Liberation doctrines valorize anti-heroes, medicalize illnesses and glamorize vices into badges of authenticity.
This tends to lead to a lot more failure, and more ideology to fill the holes.
I’m pretty sure: Deep down, rebels and anti-heroes still have authoritarian tendencies and tragic flaws: See History. Most sane people don’t idealize sickness and disease. When it comes to drugs, alcohol and the Zubercocks of this world, what awaits is often just a sad lonely death and a whimper.
Word to the wise: Placing your eggs in the activist basket is a long-term losing game (gays/lesbians/actual minorities) as I see the world. Short- and mid-term gains gather into an ever-growing list of human ‘rights’ which normalize the marginalized and politicize the personal. But politics is a thing. It’s about distributing unequal resources and making decisions. It’s contentious and corruption is usually the rule, not the exception. Believing in politics won’t bring more ‘peace’. Bureaucracy is a large organization where power and authority accrue, but instead of corporate bureaucracies subject to market forces, they continue on with bad incentives and the same amount of inequality as before.
Individual eggs get scrambled into unrecognizable omelettes of mass justice. Many individuals find out too late there’s no real space for individuals in mass movements and passionate (C)auses.
This blog welcomes lenses with which to view works of modern art.
‘Clarity: As I’ve said, the movie abstracts from concrete reality certain general character types, purges from them the nuance and complexity in which we find these general patterns embedded in everyday life, and re-embodies them in extreme characters so that we might more carefully consider those types. Just as we know more clearly what it is to be a triangle by abstracting from particular triangles (red ones, green ones, triangles drawn in ink, triangles drawn in chalk, etc.) and considering the general pattern, so too does the movie allow us to see more clearly what it is to be a desperate man, a cruel man, a weak man, a dishonest man, a broken man, and so on, by way of its skillful caricatures.
So, in its integrity, proportion, and clarity, Glengarry has the marks of a beautiful thing, despite its grim subject matter. One need not admire and approve of Satan in order to admire and approve of Dante’s or Milton’s literary representations of Satan, and one need not admire or approve of the sorts of people represented in a film like Glengarry in order to admire and approve of the representation itself.’
‘You call yourself a salesman you son-of-a-bitch?:’
For those who’ve ever had a real job, and seen people at their best and worst, or been reasonably honest about their own motivations and willingness to be do right by others under duress, well, there’s a lot of truth to be found in this particular work of art.
Like boxing gyms and MMA matches, or call-centers full of debt collectors, or daily life on public city buses, the stuff of humanity is pretty much the same as anywhere else, just more raw and closer to the surface.
On fuller display, perhaps.
Feser provides some reasonable context, here, the kind that forms the backbone of a good Catholic education, and which this blog considers to have enriched the debate.
For those who didn’t ask!:
As this blog sees things, the modernist project is not explicitly ideological, but it is extremely ambitious: Make it new. Start from the ground up, or go back to the foundations and take a really good look, and have the individual genius start building his own, new foundations (alone or in contact with others, such as the Bloomsbury Group).
It takes really talentedindividuals to pull this off; often individuals with previous exposure to tradition; young practitioners with enough talent and perseverance, as well as enough of a pedagogy to inherit and rebel against should they choose.
As this blog has noted, it’s not hard to witness a string of causation between high modernist aims and a lot of the modern and postmodern aimlessness we see all around us. There sure are a lot of poseurs and would-be artists bobbing in the postmodern stew, left to sort out the entire world and their relation to it alone, or upon a stage (as alone and not alone as one can be).
They write these f**king art blurbs before they have any art! What the f**k is this lady doing?:
‘The most useful definition of modernist fiction I’ve encountered comes from Brian McHale’s Postmodernist Fiction. He says modernist fiction tends to “foreground epistemological questions” such as “How can I interpret the world I’m part of? What is there to be known? Who knows it? What are the limits of that knowledge?” In contrast, postmodernist fiction tends to “foreground ontological questions” such as “What is a world? What kinds of worlds are there and how are they constituted? What happens when…boundaries between worlds are violated?’
The above can invite all manner of despair and isolation, and perhaps a deeper cynicism we see in upcoming generations’ rather pervasive desire for fame and recognition.
The above can also exacerbate the spiritual and meaning-making demands individuals place upon the Marketplace, the Church, and in The Media and The Academy (where an authoritarian/totalitarian radical Left seeks to control institutions, institutions where a kind of Western secular humanism and standard-issue political idealism often dominates).
As I see it, I cannot call myself a believer in the questions the Catholic Church claims to to be able to answer, but many modern political and politico-philsophical movements are incomplete at best, and dangerously wrong at worst.
Ah well…there’s my two cents.
There’s good art to be found, of course, but like most well-made things, good art is relatively rare, its ultimate value and quality endlessly disputed, but perhaps, enduring.
–Born and raised in Chicago, Mamet seems pretty old-school and pretty tough. He reminds me a bit of Norman Mailer, verbally pugilistic and combative, though unlike Mailer he’s taken a different turn into ju-jitsu, instead of boxing, as well as into a different set of motivating principles. Alec Baldwin’s Death-Of-A-Salesman-on-steroids speech from Glengarry Glen Ross is a well-known example of Mamet’s work (demonstrating the kind of balls-out truth-telling dialogue from which Baldwin has possibly not recovered). I’m guessing Mamet grew-up back before anti-bullying campaigns and excessive political correctness became the norm.
***As I understand it, Thomas Sowell, after becoming a young Marxist eventually became a young ex-Marxist, embracing a hard-bitten empiricism regarding outcomes and results, not the intentions, of economic and social policies. See him discuss his later vision of human nature and political organization in a Conflict Of Visions.
–Mamet cites the Bible, but mainly the Talmud as a source of wisdom and knowledge to draw upon as a guide for flawed human nature. Jewish folks in the U.S. have traditionally formed a reliably liberal/Democratic voting bloc, so unlike many Christian religious conservatives, they aren’t necessarily voting Republican. There are no doubt many reasons for this, but to be sure, there are also many tales of neoconservatives ‘mugged’ out of the social sciences and policy-making halls of the liberal establishment into doubt and skepticism, some chased away by the New Left. There is also a conservative Christian/Jewish pro-Israel alliance which has traditionally been strong on national defense (some fundamentals of that American/Israeli relationship may be changing).
Religious belief can ground one in a kind of traditional and tragic view of human nature. This, say, as opposed to human nature understood as simply a blank slate or existentialist absurdity, or by some political movements as human clay to be molded with the right knowledge and right people in charge of our social institutions (they always seem to nominate themselves). As Mamet discusses in the video, there are distinctions to be made between Talmudic justice and social justice.
I’m guessing he might agree there are distinctions to be made between abstract equality and equality under the law (the exception of Civil Rights and black folks held under the civil laws is discussed). I’m also guessing he’d argue there are distinctions to be made between life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness on one hand, and liberation theology and/or individual freedom granted by a rights-based cohort in charge of government on the other.
–Mamet also touches on the fact that the arts aren’t a political endeavor. If writing a play is simply a didactic enterprise and/or a vehicle for deploying a political philosophy (Ayn Rand?), then I think the artist has probably failed in some fundamental way to show the audience/reader a unique truth which only that work of art has to show. Didactic art can come across as clunky at best, pure propaganda at worst.
Personally, I tend to believe that politics, religion, convention and popular thinking all have trouble with the arts.
Anyways, this is just a brief summary. Any thoughts or comments are welcome.
‘…”yes, a God-like being plays a central role in Smith’s ethics.” In making that argument, he believes that he is in agreement with a long list of Smith scholars, and I am on that list.‘
Whether or not it’s the new Technocratic (S)cientific Consensus of (M)an, or the new Gospels of (M)an, we might want to remember much of the context the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers had.
I hope we don’t get too esoteric and Straussian.
Because you didn’t ask:
I think of enviro-preachers more on the Gospel side of things. They move like unwell country pastors, seeking-out soapboxes near the Sunday Service.
‘Is he still married?’ Doesn’t he live out near Cooper’s farm?’
The original sin is industrialization, you see, and we are all sinners. The cure always seems to be more Humanist/Anti-Humanist gospel. Liberal idealists hate to be caught too close to such utopian, poorly-groomed men, where questionable dressing habits usually indicate a (C)ommitment the (C)ause.
‘I hear he rides his e-bike eighteen miles one-way from Stockbridge to buy ox-meat.‘
‘It is all very disconcerting. From her breakdown, to her recitation of carbon-emission facts, the Greta that emerges in Our House is on Fire doesn’t feel like an individual. She feels like a fictional device. A God’s fool-style character, descended down to Earth to expose our folly.’
Come on down!
Shit! Tell me you didn’t buy a house with The GovCo Collective Housing & Blackrock Authority?
Predictions are hard, especially about the future. Thanks for reading, and for stopping by.
My two cents:
Technological dislocation is still going strong, and the recent developments in chat AI offer some predictive power. Labor costs, for most companies, are among the highest. Many smart and not-so-smart people never learn how to write well, nor persuasively. But they have other skills. The technology is here to utilize software prosthetics to do a lot of writing for us, instead of paying a writer. Writing well is a practical, creative and mind-changing journey, and will continue to influence entire civilizations, but paying for labor is an even tougher sell. This makes me wonder: How many specialized, well-educated 135 IQ thought-leaders will fall into a kind of resentful, punitive criticism? It’s tough to say, but, there will be many (writing well requires understanding and synthesis, but quickly surpasses knowledge and experience). This is why journalism generally loses money, with activists and deeper billionaire pockets funding most outlets.
An older American order, with aristocratic W.A.S.P. gatekeepers, more private religious belief and public square rule-making has eroded considerably. I view this set-up as having corrected many excesses of the market and maintained a lot of trust required between personal behavior and public office. Rules, rule-makers and maintaining legitimate authority can be tricky, but are found among the most important things. So, too, is maintaining a government of the people, by the people and for the people. I’d argue that a secular, technocratic humanism more common in Europe is now a likely majority in American life. Whether or not this is driven by a default, watered-down Marxism in the ‘collective-mind’ is debatable, but challenging the ideal requires wounding an idealist in the place where belief lives. It can even become deadly or disqualifying when a person challenges considerable power. This has lots of implications for speech, rules, and dissent. It will probably even affect what’s ‘cool.’ It’s tough to say what the new personal behavior and public office connection is going to be, but, as mentioned, I think it matters more than most things.
The postmodern pull is still very strong, and deep, as currents go. This blog has discussed Schopenhauer’s Will to Nietzsche’s ‘Will to Power’ nihilism, the Straussian response, and various downstream consequences. There are some pretty good reasons to be liberal, but in America, I’d like to stop the lurch leftward towards true-believing, anti-speech activism and predictably stodgy, out-of-touch liberal idealism. That way lies disorder and potential violence. This blog, at least, has offered a nod to David Hume’s empiricism, J.S. Mill’s utilitarianism, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s self-reliant gnosticism, and Isaiah Berlin’s positive and negative freedoms. At the very least, I’m realistically hoping these could become brighter lights in the nihilist fog. We’ll see…
How might this translate into American politics? While I reject even Conrad’s ‘Heart Of Darkness’ existential nihilism (say…the craziness of Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse Now’), which Gray has espoused in the past, I often fall into tragic realism. I’ve called it ‘depressive realism’ but it’s actually full of optimism. There’s a lot to be optimistic about, accounting for reality and human nature, and how mostly local and personal the good things in our lives are.
But, you’ve got to aim to be good, especially to your loved ones. I think life has a mystery to it, beyond most of our conceptions of life. That said, I view human nature as generally fixed in many ways (religious belief, traditions, the arts and many sciences are simply reflections of what we are, what the truth is, and how we interact with the world). But I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t necessarily know what’s right for you. I support the creative arts and the penetrating truths of the natural sciences and independent thinkers.
Personally, I look for the optimism found in home and hearth where love lives, and promises are made. I look for the looking-out for each other generally found in town and country, in friendships, and in some reasonable, capable talented people found in functional at-scale institutions within cities.
To be vulgar: There are dicks, pussies and assholes everywhere, so try not to be any one of these things, nor for very long. There are decent people everywhere, expanding their skills, talents and including others, with right aims and good minds, while generally avoiding too much f**king around.
In the public square: I favor a free-speech, no-nonsense skepticism, casting a cold eye on life and how institutional incentives actually work. I think Natural Law offers something of a lockbox to keep some of the true-believers and politicians from trying to engineer all parts of our lives (bound for failure…just as are most attempts to make a theology of ‘Man’). Unfortunately, Nautral Law is being replaced with a lot of (S)elf-centered therapeutics, the ‘personal-is-political’ empathy abstractions, anti-human movements, ‘-Isms’ and various flavors of ideology.
Like Gray, I see a lot of political contention ahead, and even dangerous instability because of these misalignments. I’m something of an optimist, BUT, within a depressive realism and a certain tragic view of life.
Of course, take me and my views with a grain of salt.
I’ve heard few liberals really accounting for these increasingly obvious failures of liberal ideas and leadership, but a few have, and a few older-school Lefties (change-first, injustice-focused) are actually the new civil libertarians and defenders of speech.
Global technocracy and authoritarianism will become a default for many idealists when human nature and reality bear down.
On that note: I’ve heard few conservatives really admit that the older tent has mostly fallen down, and the neo-cons, Bushies, Reaganites, religious folks, unmodern folks, war-hawks (when attached to home and hearth) are now in disarray while attacking each other. Most people I know live in-between personal reality, populist anger and a kind of institutional malaise and dysfunction.
Blame is all around. I see Trump as a kind of untrustworthy, narcissistic standard-bearer for ideas which few conservative thinking types will actually defend, given the currents in our lives and politics.
I don’t think this is a healthy situation.
Meanwhile, a lot of obvious realities go unsaid for ALL citizens, and such problems aren’t merely local, but many of the solutions probably will be.