Some Links & Thoughts-What Am I Missing?: Skeptical Humanist Criticism & Loyal Opposition

Roger Scruton from a few years ago, here:

‘That noble form of humanism has its roots in the Enlightenment, in Kant’s defense of the moral law, and in the progressivism of well-meaning Victorian sages. And the memory of it leads me to take an interest in something that calls itself “humanism,” and is now beginning to announce itself in Britain. This humanism is self-consciously “new,” like New Labour; it has its own journal, the New Humanist, and its own sages, the most prominent of whom is Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene and vice-president of the British Humanist Association. It runs advertising campaigns and letter-writing campaigns and is militant in asserting the truth of its vision and its right to make converts. But the vision is not that of my parents. The new humanism spends little time exalting man as an ideal. It says nothing, or next to nothing, about faith, hope, and charity; is scathing about patriotism; and is dismissive of those rearguard actions in defense of the family, public spirit, and sexual restraint that animated my parents. Instead of idealizing man, the new humanism denigrates God and attacks the belief in God as a human weakness. My parents too thought belief in God to be a weakness. But they were reluctant to deprive other human beings of a moral prop that they seemed to need.’

Well, some humanists didn’t care much for the article.

This blog has been gathering thoughts over the years, something of a curio shelf of skeptical criticism and loyal opposition to much old and new humanism.  Admittedly, I have at least one foot in the water, so to speak.

Scruton on scientism in arts and the humanities:

‘It is true that the theory of the meme does not deny the role of culture, nor does it undermine the nineteenth-century view that culture properly understood is as much an activity of the rational mind as is science. But the concept of the meme belongs with other subversive concepts — Marx’s “ideology,” Freud’s unconscious, Foucault’s “discourse” — in being aimed at discrediting common prejudice. It seeks to expose illusions and to explain away our dreams. But the meme is itself a dream, a piece of ideology, accepted not for its truth but for the illusory power that it confers on the one who conjures with it. It has produced some striking arguments, not least those given by Daniel Dennett in Breaking the Spell, in which he explains away religion as a particularly successful but dangerous meme.’

There seem many uses for the terms scientism and rationalism should individuals accept a generally humanist, secularly liberal worldview.  There are many people untrained in the sciences, committed to some concept of (S)cience according to their moral lights.

Some of these folks might just as easily turn against the sciences and return to modern myth, Romantic primitivism and anti-science sentiment depending upon current political winds and changing ideological commitments.

It seems many profoundly thinking Atheists, scientific naturalists, critical and careful thinkers, for their part, in seeking truth, as well as ideas which can possibly scale and unite human beings together, also have their blind spots.

In helping to expose much folly and institutional rot on the political right, or within the Catholic Church or Islam (courage, people), for example, there tends to be more reluctant focus on what can happen beneath the banners of the ‘-Isms’ (feminism, environmentalism, anti-humanism).

It’s a rather strange game to seek capture of the institutions whose legitimacy one rejects according to one’s moral lights, believing in a totalizing ‘Patriarchy’ while unsurprisingly, finding totalitarianism around every corner:

Charles Murray lecture here.

‘Drive through rural Sweden, as I did a few years ago. In every town was a beautiful Lutheran church, freshly painted, on meticu-ously tended grounds, all subsidized by the Swedish government.And the churches are empty. Including on Sundays. Scandinavia and Western Europe pride themselves on their “child-friendly” policies, providing generous child allowances, free day-care centers, and long maternity leaves. Those same countries have fertility rates far below replacement and plunging marriage rates. Those same countries are ones in which jobs are most carefully protected by government regulation and mandated benefits are most lavish. And they, with only a few exceptions, are countries where work is most often seen as a necessary evil, least often seen as a vocation, and where the proportions of people who say they love their jobs are the lowest.’

-Pg. 15 of 29

There is belief-level stuff going on here, but still with a kind of messianic self-regard and childish melodrama.  In such a state of mind, reasons don’t matter much.

How much do Swedes feel obligated to listen and act according to the wishes of such actors?

At least there has been more critical and courageous reaction on the Left and from within sciences and social sciences against the authoritarian and totalitarian roots of the radical Left; positive visions leading to monstrous ideological dead-ends and the constant hunt for ‘evil.’  Beware these agitiated minds and frenzied zeal.  Out of such personal dramas and collectivist, identity movements emerge many of the latest moral ideas, eventually absorbed into coventional and institutional wisdom.

Democratic institutions are rather fragile, alas, easily manipulable, and open to corruption and ‘tyranny of the majority’ scenarios in a Constitutional Republic such as ours.

‘The pedigree of every political ideology shows it to be the creature, not of premeditation in advance of political activity, but meditation upon a manner of politics. In short, politics comes first and a political ideology follows after;…’

Oakeshott, Michael.  Political Education. Bowes & Bowes, 1951. Print.

Maybe we’re not headed for endless Peace, here:

‘Their [realists’] concern is that utopian aspirations towards a new peaceful world order will simply absolutize conflicts and make them more intractable. National interests are in some degree negotiable; rights, in principle, are not. International organizations such as the United Nations have not been conspicuously successful in bringing peace, and it is likely that the states of the world would become extremely nervous of any move to give the UN the overwhelming power needed to do this.

Ken Minogue, found here, passed along by a reader.

As posted: Fred Siegel, at The New Criterion, takes a look at the influence of German thought on American politics and populism, from Nietzsche via H.L Mencken, to the Frankfurt School, to Richard Hofstader via Paul Krugman:

Populism, IV: The German victory over American populism

He puts forth the idea that the German influence has eroded something significant about American popular thought, leading to his analysis of our current politics:

Obama was ‘post-Constitutional,’ and Trump is the post Tea-Party, post Anglo-egalitarian populist response:

‘The Germans have won: Mencken and the Frankfurt School each in their own way have displaced civic egalitarianism. Their disdain has become commonplace among upper-middle- class liberals. This might not have produced the current nausea if the pretensions of our professionals were matched by their managerial competence. It isn’t, and the German victory is moving us towards a soft civil war.’

Nein!

Fred Siegel On The German Influence And Kelley Ross On Some Of Roger Scruton’s Thinking

Repost-Christopher Hitchens At Slate: ‘A Test Of Tolerance’

Full piece here.

“But tolerance is one of the first and most awkward questions raised by any examination of Islamism. We are wrong to talk as if the only subject was that of terrorism. As Western Europe has already found to its cost, local Muslim leaders have a habit, once they feel strong enough, of making demands of the most intolerant kind.”

…’Let us by all means make the “Ground Zero” debate a test of tolerance. But this will be a one-way street unless it is to be a test of Muslim tolerance as well .’

For some in the West, Western institutions are simultaneously the source of all moral injustice in the world and apparently, among the only agents capable of granting moral legitimacy in the world.

If ‘we’ (low buy-in, high cost, the individual never quite defined), simply join movements against the mysterious powers controlling us, towards presumably universal ideals, political ideals, or even towards radical revolution (protests can get violent from time to time)….

…then surely let us welcome Muslims, and much that’s illiberal within Islam, in the radically tolerant, creative, diverse, socially democratic future that awaits.

A British Muslim tells his story, suggesting that classical liberalism wouldn’t be a bad idea:From Kenanmalik.com: ‘Introduction: How Salman Rushdie Changed My Life’

What happens when a Canadian imam uses the Canadian Human Rights Commission of Alberta to get as much mileage as he can out of his own absolutist and illiberal tendencies…we don’t need that here:  Repost-A Canadian Libertarian Making Noise: Ezra Levant

Repost-From The NY Times: Review Of Christopher Caldwell’s Book “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West”

See Also On This Site: From YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism…From The Middle East Quarterly Via A & L Daily: Europe’s Shifting Immigration Dynamic

Kenan Malik In The Spiked Review Of Books: ‘Twenty Years On: Internalizing The Fatwa’-Salman Rushdie

Theodore Dalrymple argues that France has the potential to handle Muslim immigration better because of its ideological rigidity, which can better meet the ideological rigidity of its Muslim immigrants…Theodore Dalrymple Still Attacking Multi-Culturalism In Britain

How do you reasonably deal with relativism anyways?: From Virtual Philosophy: A Brief Interview With Simon Blackburn

080405_046 by *chiwai*.

A long time ago, and not so long ago. *chiwai*’s photostream here. Excellent photo.

The Game Is Afoot-Some Links On Sherlock Holmes, Democracy Dying In Darkness, In The Gutter, Bleeding-Out Subscriptions, And China

Michael Dirda at the Washington Post: ‘Sherlock Holmes May Not Have Been A Real Crime-Fighter, But His Creator Was

Of note:

‘In 1908 the wealthy Gilchrist kept lots of expensive jewelry in her home but feared robbery so much that she installed three locks on the entrance door to her apartments. Nonetheless, one afternoon the family residing below heard loud crashing sounds above, followed by three knocks.’

As posted:


by Colin Angus Mackay

“I must take the view, your Grace, that when a man embarks upon a crime, he is morally guilty of any other crime which may spring from it.”

-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A discussion of deductive and inductive reasoning here, as it might relate to solving crimes (which is highly dramatized in our culture, perhaps partly due to Holmes).

Strange Maps has this.

221B Baker Street page here.

Just as I sit back, dear reader, life’s burdens lifting as though a shoe from a swollen foot, tender flesh slaked by the flow of cool prose, my pulse once again quickens.

The race has but begun:

Your Hopes Merest Fantasy
Your Vigilance Vanity
Democracy Dies In Darkness
Partake Of This Insanity

I’ve since joined a sub-subset of the Human Race.

It’s not the WaPo subscription list, nay, it’s a little club I like to call ‘The Human League.’  Membership is free.

Who says the human soul can be squeezed into 3:52 seconds of sweet 80’s synth?:

If you live in a society which hasn’t developed a profound and enduring concept of the individual in relation to the group, moral philosophies dedicated to the defense of individual liberty, laws emerging from the free association of individuals entering and leaving contracts with authority and with each other, well…,you might be living under a post-ish Communist centralized party apparatus laid atop a few-thousand year-old hierarchy laid atop a rapidly changing chaotic civilization.

Christopher Balding (via Marginal Revolution) has some thoughts about China during his nine years living there, and the turn taken under Xi:

‘I want to make perfectly clear that any complaints I wrote about in any forum are reflective only of my concerns about the illiberal, authoritarian communist government of China and not the Chinese people.  Most professor colleagues, even those I would consider pro-Party, were good colleagues whom I enjoyed talking, debating(yes, it happens behind closed doors and I learned a lot from them)…’

As posted:

Tyler Cowen from his blog: ‘The Rise And Fall Of The Chinese Economy

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From a George F Kennan article written in 1948 on China.

My how times have changed!:

‘From the analysis in this paper of demographic and economic factors it is concluded that for years to come China will probably be plagued by (1) an implacable population pressure, which is likely to result in (2) a general standard of living around and below the subsistence level, which in turn will tend to cause (3) popular unrest (4) economic backwardness, (5) cultural lag, and (6) an uncontrolled crude birth rate.

The political alternatives which this vicious cycle will permit for China’s future are chaos or authoritarianism. Democracy cannot take root in so harsh an environment.

Authoritarianism may be able to break the cycle by drastic means, such as forcible “socialization”. At best, such measures could be put into effect only at heavy and long protracted cost to the whole social structure; at worst they could provoke such rebellion as to recreate a state of chaos.’

As previously posted:

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

Interesting piece here.

Our author reviews Evan Osnos’ book about his 8 years spent living on the ground in China:

‘For its part, the government seems to be making efforts to get a grasp on public opinion, though they stem more from its need to buttress its own chances of survival than from any democratic instinct. Attempts at opinion polling have not gone well, mainly because most Chinese are wary about voicing criticism of the government to a stranger on the phone. Nevertheless, there is the sense that the leaders are aware that the ground is shifting. They just don’t know where it is shifting to—and no one else does, either. There is an obsession with establishing the “central melody” of the current culture, but the tune keeps slipping away.’

What’s life like in Beijing for an American editing an English-language Business Magazine?

Interesting quote on author Eveline Chao’s censor:

‘I understood then the mundane nature of all that kept her in place. A job she didn’t like, but worked hard to keep. A system that would never reward her for good work, only punish her for mistakes. And in exchange: Tutors. Traffic. Expensive drumming lessons. They were the same things that kept anyone, anywhere, in place — and it was the very ordinariness of these things that made them intractable.’

Also On This Site: TED Via Youtube: Martin Jacques ‘Understanding The Rise Of China’From Foreign Affairs: ‘The Geography Of Chinese Power’From The New Perspectives Quarterly: Francis Fukuyama’s ‘Is America Ready for a Post-American World?’Repost-From The American Interest Online: Niall Ferguson on ‘What Chimerica Hath Wrought’

Repost-From The NY Times: Review Of Christopher Caldwell’s Book “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West”

Full review here. (updated, Fouad Ajami’s piece, which was not the original)

Book found here.

A lot of the discussion I’ve seen about Muslim immigration to Europe as much involves the anti-multiculturalist crowd (from reasonable, persecuted voices to shrill doomsayers) as it does the problems on the ground, which are quite real. Usually, it’s the politically, economically, and socially conservative who have been the most vocal, lamenting the hold on public opinion and sentiment such a problematic set of ideas has had. Of course, Caldwell goes a little deeper than that, and of course so do the problems and conflicts that can result.

A few quotes:

“The most chilling observation in Mr. Caldwell’s book may be that the debate over Muslim immigration in Europe is one that the continent can’t openly have, because anyone remotely critical of Islam is branded as Islamophobic”

Remember the Dutch cartoonists? Some of them were perhaps irresponsible,even inflammatory, but that was probably no less a time to offer up a reasonable and principled liberal defense of their right to publish.

Also:

“For Mr. Caldwell, the fundamental issue is also, more centrally, about irrevocable societal transformation.”

Is it irrevocable?

As posted:

Caldwell filters conceptions of how a society should [be] through a Burkean lens.-‘Reflections On The Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam & The West

From the Mark Steyn show:

There’s a sober realism, reasonable use of statistics, and deeper analysis I find appealing: The number of immigrants each country can absorb is ever in flux and dispute, but it likely has limits. When problems of immigration are backed into as they have been for a few generations (cheap labor, post WWII exhaustion and colonial guilt), harder choices and worse outcomes loom.

European birth rates are low, European economies are relatively more static and weaker than ours, and the political ideals and sentiment at work in Europe seem capable of uniting only to produce many of the problems at hand.

Political leaders frequently elide questions of basic security (Islamic/ist terror), numbers (of immigrants and incentives), as well as the shortcomings and failures of large, top-down bureaucratic institutions to develop legitimate authority and properly allow individuals to mediate their own challenges locally.

Douglas Murray’s ‘The Strange Death Of Europe: Immigration, Identity & Islam‘ is reviewed here.

What say you?

See Also On This Site: From YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism…From The Middle East Quarterly Via A & L Daily: Europe’s Shifting Immigration Dynamic

Kenan Malik In The Spiked Review Of Books: ‘Twenty Years On: Internalizing The Fatwa’-Salman Rushdie

Theodore Dalrymple argues that France has the potential to handle Muslim immigration better because of its ideological rigidity, which can better meet the ideological rigidity of its Muslim immigrants…Theodore Dalrymple Still Attacking Multi-Culturalism In Britain

How do you reasonably deal with relativism anyways?: From Virtual Philosophy: A Brief Interview With Simon Blackburn

080405_046 by *chiwai*.

A long time ago, and not so long ago. *chiwai*’s photostream here. Excellent photo.

Alas, The BBC, Angela Merkel, & Banksy-Some Links

Bari Weiss, Douglas Murray and Ed Husain discuss the high social costs and threats to free speech created by hardening social and institutional orthodoxies in our post 60’s landscape.  This modern landscape can look a bit more like a muddy field than some sort of egalo-utopia glittering upon the horizon above the muddy field.

Or maybe the muddy field just has an enormous, corporate bureaucratic-type structure sitting atop it, one which used to be run more by WASPs, but is now increasingly run by people listening to or kow-towing to activists, progressives and people committed to radical change within.

Or maybe this writing isn’t so good.  Apologies.

Liberation is next!

Nod and smile at the latest moral idea…or else:

The best kinds of clubs tend to be those whose members aren’t even sure they’re in a club.

The most interesting kinds of people can be free-thinkers, maintaining their humility, kindling a flame of quiet moral courage when called-upon.

Some of these people are quite traditional.

On another note, if any country seems to follow rules and keep an orderly house, that would be modern Germany.  Even the laughter can be a bit stiff.  Living far away from Germans, I was surprised by Angela’s Merkel’s move to fling open the meticulously aligned doors of Germany in 2015 so a seriously high number refugees could come-in, chill-out and you know…just be German.

Was the modern political soil so thin, the popular sentiment channeled so poorly, that no one foresaw any problems with this?

At least Adam Garfinkle offered a reasonable diagnosis at the time:

‘I would love to be proved wrong about all this. But the derangement of moral reasoning in Western Europe seems so advanced and deep that it is hard to be optimistic. One fears that if reasonable people do not somehow apply a brake to this wild excess of selfless saintliness, unreasonable people eventually will.’

Speaking of not thinking things through, the arts will need better thieves, artists and hob-knobbing art snobs if this really is the state of affairs:

Via Youtube-Victor Davis Hanson On California-About That Utopia, You’re Going To Have To Get Back To Basics

Dream big, Californians, but plant your dreams in real gardens.

Victor Davis Hanson offers some suggestions which may or may not guide policy on a mid to longer-time horizon (water projects, roads, and an awareness of the economic and cultural bifucation which has occurred).

The short-term’s looking messy, indeed.  The mid- and longer- terms, of course, are still in doubt:

As posted:

Part of what’s happened is cultural:

Louis Menand’s piece at the New Yorker: ‘Out Of Bethlehem:‘ (he’s still dealing with the idea of multiculturalism).

The radicalization of Joan Didion?:

‘After the Old Sacramento moment, Didion came to see the whole pioneer mystique as bogus from the start. The cultivation of California was not the act of rugged pioneers, she decided. It was the act of the federal government, which built the dams and the weirs and the railroads that made the state economically exploitable, public money spent on behalf of private business. Didion called it “the subsidized monopolization” of the state.’

Much is downstream of culture:

Virginia Postrel here.

‘When Robert J. Samuelson published a Newsweek column last month arguing that high-speed rail is “a perfect example of wasteful spending masquerading as a respectable social cause,” he cited cost figures and potential ridership to demonstrate that even the rosiest scenarios wouldn’t justify the investment. He made a good, rational case — only to have it completely undermined by the evocative photograph the magazine chose to accompany the article.’

In my experience, it’s not much about economics (those rationalizations tend to come later), but more about many people finding solidarity, common-cause, identity and group-identity through a set of shared interests and ideals. My major complaint is that basic human needs met under such ideals become met through politics and often non-delimited theories of political power.

To say nothing of other people’s money.

Utopias, progressivism and new-age explorations still have to answer to time, truth and reality.

From California’s High Speed Rail Authority Site:

‘California high-speed rail will connect the mega-regions of the state, contribute to economic development and a cleaner environment, create jobs and preserve agricultural and protected lands’

What could go wrong?

———–

Much left and left-liberal idealism finds expression through high-speed rail: If you build it, the ideal society will come.

Unions and union-elected government representatives tend to get contracts, money, power and influence, if they play the game right. Many environmentalists and environmental groups can get contracts, money, power and influence, if they play the game right. Everyone somewhat invested in the ideal of a better, shared, collectivist society (especially those further left into anti-capitalism and diversified into identity groups by ‘race, gender and class’) might get money, power and influence…if they play the game right. The winners aren’t always so ‘sharing.’

As I see it, much political stability and individual liberties are lost as these political and social arrangements become reflective of both actual human nature as it is and the economic scarcity of reality.

Update And Repost-From The Spiked Review Of Books: ‘Delving Into The Mind Of The Technocrat’

Dream big: Via Reason: ‘California’s Public Transportation Sinkhole’

A great city deserves great art extravaganzas…: L.A.’s New Public Art Piece ‘The Levitated Mass,’ Or As The American Interest Puts It: ‘A Moving Rock’

Richard Epstein At The Hoover Institution’s Defining Ideas: ‘California’s Kafkaesque Rent Control Laws’

California Dreamers From The Atlantic-A Brief Review Of Kevin Starr’s History Of California

The people who promise solutions to poverty and homlessness seem to be engaged in a utopian cost-shifting exercise which favors their interests and overlooks crime, violence and personal responsbility…hardly a way to balance the budget: Repost-Heather MacDonald At The City Journal: ‘The Sidewalks Of San Francisco’

Some concentrated wealth on top, a stalled legislature with members who know how to play the game…and a service sector beneath…that probably can’t go on forever: …From The WSJ: ‘Joel Kotkin: The Great California Exodus’

Free Speech, Moral Relativism, And New Rules-Some Links

Via a reader: Jonathan Merritt-‘The Death Of Moral Relativism:’

Hmmm…

‘Law, virtue, and a shame culture have risen to prominence in recent years, signaling that moral relativism may be going the way of the buggy whip.’

On this site, see: Pushing Against Moral Relativism & The Academic Fashions Of Modern Life-Some Links…Repost: Via A Reader-Peter Thiel On The Logic Of Multiculturalism

Addition: Full interview here.

“Nigel: Has relativism had its day as an influential philosophical position?

Simon: No – and I don’t think it should ever die. The danger is that it gets replaced by some kind of complacent dogmatism, which is at least equally unhealthy. The Greek sceptics thought that confronting a plurality of perspectives is the beginning of wisdom, and I think they were right. It is certainly the beginning of historiography and anthropology, and if we think, for instance, of the Copernican revolution, of self-conscious science. The trick is to benefit from an imaginative awareness of diversity, without falling into a kind of “anything goes” wishy-washy nihilism or scepticism….”

It looks like we’ve been dealing with such a problem for a long time, in one form or another.

Niall Ferguson notes something important about networks of patronage in the academy; networks increasingly colonized by people of Left-liberal persuasion and their moral lights (sometimes out-and out- Marxists):  Disagreement is typically seen as personal, heretical and beyond the bounds of presumed acceptability.  Should one disagree one is fair game to be mobbed as not merely wrong, nor mistaken, but as potentially ‘evil’ and a target for character attacks, shaming, and exclusion.

When you have heads of departments, faculty, and university Presidents committed to some aspect of the Left-liberal moral lights and their own careers and obligations (if not the out-and-out radicalism), don’t expect them to side with heretics.

It’s worth revisiting how Ferguson’s wife, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, using the products of Western thought, has pretty much been excluded from polite society in challenging Islamists because such challenges violate the tenets of the current replacements for religion (the Left-liberals and out- and out- Marxists in the academy):

‘Yesterday Brandeis University decided to withdraw an honorary degree they were to confer upon me next month during their Commencement exercises. I wish to dissociate myself from the university’s statement, which implies that I was in any way consulted about this decision. On the contrary, I was completely shocked when President Frederick Lawrence called me — just a few hours before issuing a public statement — to say that such a decision had been made.’

Tunku Varadarajan Reviews Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s ‘Nomad’ At The Daily Beast

Christopher Hitchens At Slate: Yale SurrendersYale concluded that the risk of violence and the potential consequences that stemmed from their decision to publish a scholarly work about the Mohammed cartoons (reprinting those cartoons) was not worth the risk.  Hitchens is not a fan of religion.

The Intellectual Cowardice Of The Crowd-Charles Murray At Middlebury College Race,

Free Speech And All That-John Derbyshire Will Not Be Appearing At Williams College

Repost At The Request Of A Reader-Revisting Larry Summers: What Did He Say Again?

Hirsi Ali seems to have found the embrace of the West out of both tribal localism and its customs, Islam, and the short-sightedness of multiculturalism.  Notice non-Muslims are not the ones threatening her with death: Tunku Varadarajan Reviews Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s ‘Nomad’ At The Daily BeastRepost-Ayan Hirsi Ali At The CSM: ‘Swiss Ban On Minarets Was A Vote ForTolerance And Inclusion’

On Niall Ferguson’s new Biography- ‘Kissinger: Volume I: The Idealist.1923-1968:’

FT review.

The Economist

Ferguson discusses the first volume in D.C.