Sometimes, poetry is the most efficient, carbon-neutral vehicle to the soul:
From The Pardoner’s Tale, by Geoffrey Chaucer:
...But, sires, o word forgat I in my tale: But, sirs, one word I forgot in my tale: 920 I have relikes and pardoun in my male, I have relics and pardons in my bag, 921 As faire as any man in Engelond, As fine as any man in England, 922 Whiche were me yeven by the popes hond. Which were given to me by the pope’s hand. 923 If any of yow wole, of devocion, If any of you will, of devotion, 924 Offren and han myn absolucion, Offer and have my absolution, 925 Com forth anon, and kneleth heere adoun, Come forth straightway, and kneel down here, 926 And mekely receyveth my pardoun; And meekly receive my pardon;
As I see things, secular humanism acts at the level of belief. There are as many and as various strands of belief as you can find.
I’ve explored a bit of Romantic Collectivism as I’ve experienced it (Back To Earth, back to the postmodern Body, back to feminine and feelings first movements against the masculine and the rational, back or out to a deeper universalism which includes animals, plants and microbes etc.).
With community comes irony. In the world, there are always people in dire need of a (M)oral (C)ause.
As with human things, wisdom is ripe for folly; knowledge for foolishness. Passion can become intimately linked with ignorance and conformity, as much as it might be with intelligence and courage.
There’s plenty of middle-brow environmentalism to go around, too, pushing a PBS-style vision for the public (Saganites) while sanctioning Righteous Activism (Socially Just…the goal is to change the World)
And there are increasingly means to gain (S)elf-Knowledge and (S)elf-Esteem when times get rough (therapists as analogous to priests, with knowledge enough to explain our interior lives, our social lives and our ‘oughts’ to us and guide us to light if only someone pays for their bread).
Surely, they can’t all be right?
For God’s Sake, there is no shortage of lethal ignorance, hypocrisy, self-denial and manipulative indoctrination in the Catholic Church, either. I’m guessing this is why the message of Christ is endlessly debated and re-booted (if you’re looking for what’s true, what’s good, and what’s beautiful, you can not necessarily expect it in this life).
Many of the same people (and types) would have just gone into a nunnery/the priesthood about 150 years ago.
We’re all made of this stuff, of course. Some good thoughts and impulses; some bad, selfish, and destructive thoughts and impulses.
Upon hearing “Gaia” you might be thinking mystic, earth-worshippers (green religion at its worst) but our author uses the theory put forward by James Lovelock over 40 years ago as an interesting philosophical meditation.
“Perhaps in the end, Plato had it right: We need both perspectives, Heraclitean and Parmenidean, to get the whole picture. At our peril, and at our children’s peril, we ignore the messages of those seminal Greek thinkers.”
‘Over the years, I have written a long series of posts on whether evolutionary science can adjudicate the debate between Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau over whether our earliest human ancestors were naturally violent (as Hobbes argued) or naturally peaceful (as Rousseau argued). Many social scientists have been vehement in taking one side or the other in this debate. But I have argued that John Locke took a third position that is closest to the truth–that our foraging ancestors lived in a state of peace that tended to become a state of war. Hobbes is partly right. Rousseau is mostly wrong. And Locke is mostly right.’
Much depends on where you start, for in seeking a definition of man’s State in Nature, enough to claim a moral and legal foundation for the justification of authority, this definition matters a lot. Much modern political philosophy has been engaged in trying to define who has the moral legitimacy to be in charge (I personally find myself attracted to the government having a role to secure life, liberty, and property…and little else).
It’s easy to understand why the Rousseaueans love the bonobos–there’re the hippie apes who make love not war.
On the other hand, it’s also easy to understand why the Hobbesians love the chimps and not the bonobos, because the chimps are closer to Hobbesian expectations for a evolutionarily close human relative. Frances White once observed…’
Darwinian science can explain quite a bit about our behavior, both individually and in the aggregate, yielding insights grounded in data and close observations of how we actually behave, and how our closest ancestors in the wild also actually behave.
Yet, this field will also interact with what we already know of our natures based on the political, civil and religious institutions we see around us every day which I presume also reflect much of who we are and how we behave…especially with power (and why the separation of powers is so important).
This blog is concerned with a fundamental problem in the West since the Enlightenment: Some people are seeking to mold human nature and smash civil society and its laws (to be replaced with something else, often the remnants of failed authoritarian/totalitarian rationalist systems or…nothing).
Other folks are seeking inclusion into civil society from previous injustice and oppression by vast expansions of Federal authority. This has had important consequences for the moral claims to authority which currently justify that authority.
Still others are claiming legitimate moral authority from the Sciences and Human Reason which can easily outstrip the ability of the Sciences and our Reason to justify such claims. I often find myself retreating to a position of Skepticism regarding many such claims.
As has been pointed out to me, Lockean liberty does correct for Hobbes’ Leviathan, but when did individuals consent to such authority in the first place?
Just one guy taking a look at the world he found himself in and taking some photos and videos along the way:
‘Major Martin Manhoff spent more than two years in the Soviet Union in the early 1950s, serving as assistant army attaché at the U.S. Embassy, which was located just off Red Square at the beginning of his time in Moscow.’
‘In the early spring of this year, an angry dispute broke out in the United Kingdom between the mainstream Jewish communal organizations and the leader of the radical left, currently head of the Labour Party, who is Jeremy Corbyn; and a couple of days later, a roughly similar dispute broke out in France between the equivalent French Jewish organization and Corbyn’s counterpart on the French left, who is Jean-Luc Mélenchon; and the double outbreak suggested a trend, which raises a question. It is about America and the Democratic Party.’
Movements of radical and revolutionary liberation depend upon the removal of injustice, and solidarity around certain ideals. It seems as more individuals think in terms of group identity and identity politics, ‘the system’ becomes that which unites such identity groups against a common enemy, even if they come to have influence within ‘the system. ‘
Personally, I see ‘the system’ as largely comprised of everyday people engaged in maintaining the laws, traditions and institutions upon which we all depend. Such people often have their own reasons, thoughts and feelings as they go about their duties. Such activities are best done locally. Public trust in federal institutions is dangerously low at the moment, for many good reasons.
We could be in for a bad patch, indeed.
It seems more than fair to critique the laws, traditions and institutions which can and have brutally oppressed and excluded some, but how do the ideas and doctrines of radical liberation actually engage the energies and beliefs of the people within them? What are some consequences of these ideas in practice, shorter and longer-term? Why is authoritarianism so often claimed in enemies but never within these movements themselves (oh so human a characteristic…but a hallmark here), exacerbating authoritarian tendencies?
At its best, it seems to me the melting pot model engages the reasons people can become nasty, tribal, groupish, and violent towards one another, saying something like: ‘Follow the laws, become a citizen, learn the language, defend the country and get ahead. If you can’t get yourself ahead, get your kids ahead.’
There are obvious shortcomings of defending home and hearth, and that which is familiar and loved within such a model. It doesn’t necessarily scale, and people being what we so often are, can easily resist change and outsiders and new ideas when what’s new might enrich us. All of us can dwell in the natural ignorance of the head and the nostalgic sentiments of the heart for too long, and sometimes we can just be plain wrong.
Yet, the liberty allowed to pursue one’s own ends in such a fashion and the wisdom of seeing human nature more as it is, seem much more humane and capable of political stability and economic opportunity.
If you’re still with me, forget all the above, Dear Reader.
Clear your mind and focus on a single image. Allow this image to occupy your thoughts.
Relax as the image becomes a single, ancient eye. Now open this eye, a lizard’s eye, and see the New World.
Join the Snake Cult! (and enjoy some prime Arnie ‘mittel-English’):
I recall musical and deeply rhythmic English (Bowles was a composer who lived in Morocco for most of his life), along with a recurrent theme of Western innocence, ignorance and arrogance meeting ancient North African realities and brutalities.
‘Moments passed with no movement but then the snake suddenly made a move towards Allal. It then began to slither across Allal’s body and then rested next to his head. He was very calm at this moment and looked right into the snake’s eyes and felt almost one with the snake. Soon his eyes closed and he fell asleep in this position.’
What have you done with your I/Eye, dear Reader?
Something tells me the kind of fantastical savagery and imaginative schlock of Conan the Barbarian doesn’t quite capture the deeply moral, frighteningly real and lushly imagined Bowlesian world…
‘Art history department chair and the course’s instructor Tim Barringer told the News that he plans to demonstrate that a class about the history of art does not just mean Western art. Rather, when there are so many other regions, genres and traditions — all “equally deserving of study” — putting European art on a pedestal is “problematic,” he said.’
Some people are trying to erode common sense until it becomes less common:
‘The horrors and atrocities of history have been edited out of primary and secondary education except where they can be blamed on racism, sexism, and imperialism — toxins embedded in oppressive outside structures that must be smashed and remade. But the real problem resides in human nature, which religion as well as great art sees as eternally torn by a war between the forces of darkness and light.’
Christopher Hitchens (nearly a free speech absolutist, railing against many of his former friends on the Left) discussing the Yale Press, which was genuinely afraid that publishing this book could lead to violence in the Muslim street:
“…Yale had consulted a range of experts before making its decision and that “[a]ll confirmed that the republication of the cartoons by the Yale University Press ran a serious risk of instigating violence.”
Why do you need political opinion from a guy who takes mildly good photos? Dear Reader, my thoughts are so valuable, I’m giving them away for free!
My expectation: People on the radical left are okay with terrorism. It’s a logical consequence of the reasoning. Radicals terrorize and hold their own civilization hostage, if it comes down to it. Violence on the way towards revolution is justified.
So, when it comes to the Hamas terrorist network’s gruesome actions (Israel doesn’t have a right to exist per the Hamas charter), many on the Left are….pretty okay with the violence. It fits familiar grooves. Many on the Left have been gathering in universities, think tanks, media and org money piles, and they’ve been ostracizing and demonizing those who disagree as evil.
This really shouldn’t come as a surprise.
I also expect many liberal idealists to still identify with the latest moral (C)ause bubbling up from points further Left; the activists understood as having their hearts in the ‘right place’. The radicals, sure, may go too far, but life is complex. Social science and concerned groups of global human citizens possess enough truth/knowledge to justify some social action.
One’s own intuition, manifesting as the latest moral cause, with downstream policy/social science imprimatur is enough to move large masses of liberal folks. It’s usually enough to move anyone within any kind of group, really, if the membership benefits seem good enough.
Don’t expect too much thought within such bubbles, and question your own thinking and emotions which lead you to strongly join such groups.
‘A new PBS documentary tries to excuse a murderous and totalitarian cult.
When his captors uncinched the noose around his neck and shoved him into a wooden chair, Alex Rackley might have assumed his ordeal was over. He had already endured a flurry of kicks and punches, the repeated crack of a wooden truncheon, ritual humiliation, and a mock lynching. But it wasn’t over. It was about to get much, much worse.’
‘. . and now, in the season of Radical Chic, the Black Panthers. That huge Panther there, the one Felicia is smiling her tango smile at, is Robert Bay, who just 41 hours ago was arrested in an altercation with the police, supposedly over a .38-caliber revolver that someone had, in a parked car in Queens at Northern Boulevard and 104th Street or some such unbelievable place, and taken to jail on a most unusual charge called “criminal facilitation.” And now he is out on bail and walking into Leonard and Felicia Bernstein’s 13-room penthouse duplex on Park Avenue. Harassment & Hassles, Guns & Pigs, Jail & Bail—they’re real, these Black Panthers. The very idea of them, these real revolutionaries, who actually put their lives on the line, runs through Lenny’s duplex like a rogue hormone.’
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:
‘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.’
‘Coates fails to notice that his blanket exoneration of the perpetrators actually dehumanizes them. On his view, when the young perpetrators pull the trigger or thrust the knife in they are only vectors of forces, not agents with purposes, desires, plans, or motives. Therefore they are not really men at all, so that, ironically enough, they become for him Invisible Man writ large.‘
Many black writers in America should be recognized as having crossed bridges over chasms in communicating their experiences, experiences which have often made even the best radicalize to some degree in the face of such injustice.
Regardless, I’m guessing we’re all best off if the same high standards are universally applied when it comes to quality of prose, depth of thought, scope of imagination and moral courage. Good writing deserves as much: Genuine, even if grudging or even if unfettered, respect.
Works of art are going to do what they’re going to do, polemics what they do, and I tend to believe that respect for the freedom, responsibility, agency and complexity of the individual ought to be central. Realizing the interior lives of others, especially if they’re just characters in a novel, even when they fail miserably and do horrible things, is what I’ve taken to be a core feature of writing which has moved me. This, much more than ideological solidarity and what may be the shared popular sentiment of the moment.
To my mind, there’s something comic about a man (and I can’t be alone) espousing rather radical political views (theories of victimhood, a lack of individual agency and anti-white racism, postmodern ‘body’ talk etc.) while being feted, possibly with the intent of appeasement and assimilation, by mostly less radical (and often very white) audiences.
That’s got to create some tension.
As to politics and social institutions, sent in by a reader, here’s a talk given by John McWhorter about his views in ‘Losing The Race‘, a man who strikes me as politically amorphous, unsatisfyingly moderate for some, and often very sensible. As has been the case for a while, there [are] a whole range of views out there:
‘Universal values only make sense in a very specific context…the attempt to universalize them, or project or impose them…just leads to their appropriation by sinister forces.”
I wonder what this would mean when applied to American foreign policy, the Cold War, and Western influence when it comes to world order at the moment…this call for a return to tradition, local politics and religion.
Scruton saw postmodern nihilism as one of the greatest threats to Western civilization right now. Is the Hegelian conceptual framework really a good one to hang the Lebenswelt upon, and a kind of finding yourself in the eyes of others and the works of the world?
My current frustration: The rush away from tradition, towards liberation, and towards the Left has rearranged many of our institutional arrangements and ‘what’s cool’ away from duty, responsibility, much common sense, and many elements of the American past.
It’s not clear at all that what’s replacing such traditions won’t be worse, and not better, especially when you measure people as capable of great evil and good, and mobs as dangerous, and liberation as not liberty.
It’d be nice if many liberal idealists said ‘I didn’t realize the postmodern problems were so deep, the cost of simply ‘change for its own sake’ so steep, in terms of institutional stewardship, speech, and liberty.
If you view the modern project as sailing the gulf between Nature (wonderful spring days, happy babies, Pompei, The Plague), and human nature (love, mercy, humility, hatred, cruelty, egoism), then a certain depressive realism seems reasonable.
Part of my journey has involved being interested in the arts, making my way to Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, Leo Strauss and Plato early on. After giving the arts a go, I made an attempt to broaden my scope, trying to better understand a particular set of problems.
While attending Penn State, I sat-in on a lecture by Jacques Derrida. He discussed his work on the work of Romanian Jewish poet Paul Celan. Listening to the arch-deconstructionist spending an hour discussing Ashglory was interesting, if a bit baffling. There was a lot of brilliance, gibberish, insight, ambition, and hubris in that room. Looking back, if I’m honest, I suppose some of it was mine.
I didn’t take notes and kept wondering why so many did.
In bearing witness to the modern quest of wringing every last drop of meaning from the Self (Self-Help books, confessionals, gurus), I get worried. When I look around and see so much energy spent ‘deconstructing’ comedy, cartoons, pop-culture and political ideals, I worry deeper trends are playing out (see the confessional postmodern poets of the 1950’s).
It’s not so much (R)eason, but the attempts to define Man’s (R)ational Ends within political doctrines I worry about. The less people have in their lives about which to feel purpose, the more many will look to political movements.
I worry that trying to synthesize the arts and sciences in popular fashion will not halt the turn towards postmodern anti-reason and irrational modern mysticism.
It’s not so much neuroscience and psychology as expanding fields of knowledge which worry, but the oft smug certainty of many institutionalized folks justifying personal and political interests in the wake of such thinking. It’s all too easy to mistake the edges of one’s thinking for the edges of the world.
It may be meritocrats all the way down, lightly tapping upon the heads of radicals.
It’s not so much progress which bothers me, but progressivism writ large (and so many other ‘-Isms’) uniting in-groups against out-group enemies insisting change ought to be the default position.
Where your thoughts are, your actions and hopes tend to follow.
Yoram Hozany takes two institutional data points, the NY Times and Princeton University, to argue that whatever you want to call it (‘Marxism’, ‘Neo-Marxism,’ Postmodern ‘Wokism’); these institutions increasingly have a new moral, ideological orthodoxy in place.
From Hazony’s reasoning then, it follows that this new moral, ideological orthodoxy is driven by committed and competing factions of radicals and true-believers, ideologically purifying towards revolutionary praxis.
It also follows that on the American political scene many moderate, opposing groups will have to deal with this new reality: Religious believers, social conservatives, traditionalists, constitutionalists, economic conservatives, libertarians, classical liberals, moderate and reasonable liberals, and even the populist, union Left, will be in some kind of tension with this group of radicals and true-believers.
A lot of people I know resist such arguments, often because they’re caught up in the pro-Trump, anti-Trump battles of the day. Or they’re older and can’t process the levels of institutional capture, rot and over-build we’ve got.
Or they haven’t seen the glazed eyes and closed minds up close.
If you’ve been keeping tabs on this stuff, from a perspective like mine (small ‘c’ conservative), it’s been a long, depressing ride.
**Note: One must remain non-hostile to Christianity in order to earn ire beneath the new liberal ideals, ideologies, and ideologues. I think a respect for tradition is a must for anyone, ultimately, responsible for gatekeeping (learning from and upholding a tradition which extends into the past).
Sure, such folks (politicans, especially) pay lip-service to the latest moral cause, but they also have duties to the dead, the living, and to their own families. I”m expecting some sort of rift between liberal idealists and activist/radicals to manifest more often in American politics going forwards. That said, such a coalition will still mobilize against anything traditional, religious and conservative most of the time.
Our author finds Paglia a welcome, often contrary, voice of the Boomer generation. Peterson and Paglia remain true in their own experiences and principles against prevailing orthodoxies (Peterson from frontier-town Canada, and Paglia teaching at the Philadelphia University Of The Arts). Paglia, perhaps, can be a good thermometer for the radical, heated core of 60’s activism (everything must go, utopia awaits).
‘Behind that devotion to heterodoxy lies something softer. She [Paglia] admitted that she’s chosen to censor herself in front of her students, no longer teaching them, for example, Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” a song about lynching, which was for years an important part of her course “The Art of Song Lyric.’
I had a very competent, very good professor tell me she stopped teaching Sylvia Plath for somewhat similar reasons. It was too much for some students.
‘In her slender 1998 book The Birds, for example, published by the British Film Institute, she [Paglia] writes that the Hitchcock classic is “in the main line of British Romanticism, descending from the raw nature-tableaux and sinister femmes fatales of Coleridge.”
One could do worse than study British Romanticism (Wordsworth, Keats, Mad Bad Byron), despite the problems that come in glorifying (M)an and (H)umanity. Some people are so busy glorifying (M)an they treat actual men appallingly. The record isn’t always so (I)deal.
‘Cosmic reality is both wondrous and terrifying to her. “The sublime,” she said, “opens up the vastness of the universe, in which human beings and their works are small and nothing!” The world may be less enchanted than it was when Paglia was a child, but she still stands in awe of it. Her life’s work has been to share that message with others.’
There’s plenty to share, and, for what it’s worth, John Williams playing Isaac Albeniz’ Cordoba can induce a sublime state for me (especially at minute 1:20):
I think this is more reflection and a desire for the holy and larger-than-myself (ducking away from busy streets, into the quiet interplay of shadow and sun, observing the stars carved into the ceiling and looking for patterns).
Dear Reader, I’m accustomed to my own little corner of the internet, where I traffic in low-traffic. I synthesize many of my own experiences, ideas and other people’s thoughts into occasional bursts of competency.
In the video below, Camille Paglia and Jordan Peterson discuss a shared view that post-structuralism (Foucault, Lacan, Derrida) has impoverished much of the humanities. As Paglia notes, the older-school New Criticism at least had some devotion to truth in its close textual readings.
She might share some similar intellectual ground with Peterson in using Nietzsche’s nihilist toolkit to examine many modern problems in the arts and where people are finding meaning in their lives (the move from Schopenhauer’s Will To Nietzsche’s Will To Power). Deploying Nietzsche’s Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy, too, into pop culture gives Paglia some depth as she tries to synthesize high and low (Madonna, George Lucas, Alfred Hitchcock). Despite her affinity for actual 60’s Marxist radicals which I don’t share (many of whom LSD’d their way into oblivion), Paglia pushes against many feminists and careerists from this radical point-of-view.
She’s a popularizer appealing to a large audience and a contrarian in the sense of the word for which I have some respect.
In fact, both have an ability to appreciate and understand many knowledge claims made by many Englightment and post-Enlightenment fields of study. One shouldn’t have to become anti-empiricist (including nihilism), nor anti-humanist, in seeking a good humanities education.
Many postmoderns (and some Nietzscheans, for that matter) dislike being called-out their on relative ignorance of the sciences. From mathematics to statistics, from chemistry to biology, from psychology and on down the line to history, many institutionalized folks imagine themselves often standing outside, and in radical opposition to, the civilization and institutions they are entrusted to maintain.
One of the reasons I suspect both Paglia and Peterson are in a currently ‘semi-banished’ cultural space is that they both openly claim a respect for the wisdom and depth found in the Bible (whatever your thoughts on the transcendent claims to truth and knowledge found therein). It appears both take a deeply tragic view of life and human nature, and both reject the rejection of traditions so much in vogue these days.
Notice this is enough to upset the apple-cart of many ‘-Ists,’ from feminists to gender activists to many Left-leaning coalitions of political utopians and social justice seekers, often seeking institutional authority while claiming all current institutional authority is illegitimate. Many such ideas have become very mainstream, indeed.
If you haven’t noticed such ‘-Ists,’ it seems they and I’d argue, too, that you maybe should be paying more attention.