Please, Dear Reader, think about Twitter: With your own capital investment of an average $200-400 for a mobile device, you can install Twitter’s ‘free’ (you’re the product) software onto your device. The software will access the hardware (camera, video) as well as other software, so that you can upload what you’ve recorded onto their platform. Additionally, the barrier to entry is low enough for the UI (user interface) to allow searching all kinds of topics, engaging similar users (others with the same low costs to entry).
Suddenly, many people who once needed much higher capital investment (labor costs, professional cameras, professional skills, licenses, lobbyists, lawyers etc) at least have the illusion of being in competition with many bigger players, while communicating with similar smaller ones.
Meanwhile, the programmers, developers, management, lobbyists, lawyers and politically connected people at Twitter have become new big players of a sort (while it lasts). More organized (and politically/ideologically favored) individuals and groups seem to influence more, and faster.
Analogously, in my mind, and hopefully in reality, some investor figured out that GameStop was being incorrectly valued by big players. With this knowledge, and with knowledge-sharing on a platform of smaller players, a group of people mobilized (individuals and smaller groups can’t usually compete at scale nor directly with the bigger players).
We’ve been rearranging our society and institutions around increasingly technically mediated channels, so those with more IQ capital, knowledge of hardware/software capital, and social capital are using these channels for all the other things people do: Knowledge, sex, love, friendship, power, influence, fame, pride, vanity etc.
On that note, I don’t buy into many ‘liberatory’ and leveling equality claims. We have hierarchies for lots of reasons, and we have authority for lots of reasons (hopefully legitimate authority aligned with the best among us and the best within us, constrained by the right incentives).
There’s definitely a lot of change going on right now, but how is the actual power being leveraged and authority being used?
Who’s going to be in charge? And, of what?
Personally, I would love to see alternatives to information-sharing than Twitter, possessing similar functionality, but with deeper roots to freedom of thought and expression (yeah, you’ll probably have to pay something):
Some quotations on what I’m taking to be the same old human nature:
Do you trust those following their moral lights to allow you to follow yours?
“The moral world has no particular objection to vice, but an insuperable repugnance to hearing vice called by its proper name.”
One major shift in my thinking occurred while reading Leo Strauss, and approaching Nature from a position where the reason/revelation distinction was suddenly in play:
‘Strauss was a Jew who promoted a pre-Christian, classical understanding of “natural right” as found in Plato and Aristotle. Yet after the publication of his Natural Right and History in 1953, Strauss was sometimes classed alongside Catholic scholars of political philosophy who aimed to revive the natural law tradition of Aquinas. Strauss recognized that these Thomists were fighting some of the same battles against historicists and philosophical modernists that he was fighting. Nonetheless, his own position was quite distinct from theirs. Natural right, unlike natural law, is changeable and dependent on circumstance for its expression, says Strauss. As he puts it: “There is a universally valid hierarchy of ends, but there are no universally valid rules of action.”
Such thinking made me question many modern epistemological foundations I had been taking for granted: Perhaps (H)istory doesn’t necessarily have a clear end, no more than does any one of our lives (other than a death forever beyond our full imagining). Perhaps (H)istory is long, often bloody, and takes a lot of work to understand.
Nature, too, in its depth and majesty, often Romanticized and Idealized by many moderns (collectivists and Hippies, especially), can be terrible, cruelly indifferent and the source of much of our suffering. These debates are old, and deep, so why not return to many original thinkers like Plato and Aristotle?
Politically and socially, I suddenly doubted that we’re necessarily heading towards knowable ends, individuals achieving a kind of virtue in declaring loyalty to the latest moral idea, protest movement, or political cause. Progress is complicated.
[Although] the (S)ciences are so successful in describing and explaining the Natural World, such knowledge can’t simply be transferred and implemented into policy and law, a bureaucracy and a technocracy [full of] of people who are often not even scientists. Perhaps there are many modern fictions abroad.
The more individuals are either liberated or freed (from tradition, from moral obligations to family and friends, from insitutions, from religious belief) it doesn’t necessarily follow such freedoms will be used wisely.
In fact, some individuals are clearly coalescing around narrow, totalitarian ideologies and failed theories of History through the road of radical chic (Marxism, Communism, Socialism). Other individuals are exploiting our current insitutional failures in favor of political extremism (alt-right and alt-left) while yet others are spending their formative years flirting with nihilism and anarchy in the postmodern soup.
Cycles of utopianism/dystopianism, and idealism don’t necessarily lead to stability, and more liberty.
Where I might agree with the moderns: I do think that Man’s reason, individual men’s use of mathematics applied to the physical world, sometimes occurring in flashes of profound insight, often after years of study and labor within and perhaps outside of a particular field, are tied to a reality which empirically exists. One could do a lot worse than the best of the Natural Philosopher.
It typically takes years to imbibe the necessary and often counter-intuitive tools to ‘see under the hood’ of Nature. Then, it often takes very long and close observation to make some kind of contribution. Unlike the Oakeshottian critique of rationalism in favor of tradition, I do think there are gains in basic competency from an education in the sciences that are not exclusive solely to the genius. Some of this can scale. Many laymen can become aware of how deterministic and probabilistically accurate these laws govern the world in which we live.
To be sure, we are undergoing a renaissance in certain fields: A technological revolution in our pockets and work lives, an explosion in space science, for starters.
As to my view of human nature, and a depressive realism, often informed by the humanites:
There’s something about Rene Girard’s work that strikes deep chords within me. I must confess, though, as a non-believer, I remain skeptical that a lot of Christianity isn’t Platonic Idealism + Synthesized Judaism + Transcendent Claims to Truth & Knowledge that gained ascendance within the Roman Empire. My ignorance shows.
A Christian and religious believer, Girard synthesizes psychology, literature, history, anthropology and philosophy along with his Christian faith into something quite profound.
Recommended. The mimetic theory of [desire] can really can change how you think about the world:
A briefer introduction here:
Girard and Libertarian thought?:
The closest I come to religious belief: Writers and musicians, at a certain point, give themselves over to their own mysterious, seemingly inexplicable, creative processes. If you practice enough (muscle memory), play your instrument alone and play with others, counting the time signature, you can makes sounds in time which express something deep about our condition, sharing it with others.
Even after the well runs dry, creative artists often go back to the bottom, finding themselves spent. The stronger the emotional loss and more real the pain; often this translates into the pleasure others take in your creation. But what is it you’re sharing exactly, from mind to mind and person to person?
This [can] produce something like a divine, God-worshipping, vulnerable state of mind and being, which is just as dangerous and corrupting as it is bonding and enriching. From Bach, to Prince, to now even Kanye West, apparently, religion can suddenly sweep into the gap.
Of course, studying and playing music is a conscious, reasoned process, more than many people know, but it also, very clearly isn’t entirely planned in the moment of its synthesis and creation.
Any thoughts and comments are welcome.
I’m missing a lot, here, folks, but doing my best with current resources. Thanks, as always, for reading.
Maybe we can start thinking about building a telescope on the dark side of the moon?
There are reasons for hope and optimism.
This, perhaps, is one of the more important developments in recent history: Reusuable rockets mean much cheaper payloads mean much cheaper space travel:
On to other things…:
Ladies and Gents, here are my two cents: Getting political means having a principle and choosing a position about moving around limited resources. This competition is formalized through the political process, with boundaries set by our Constitution, from elections to lobbying to policy implementation to street-level politics. Washington D.C.’s a two-party town where the business is politics, and where there are some decent people and some pretty ugly people looking to be celebrities.
For old media outlets like Fox/CNN, getting political means serving a product to viewers once you’ve made certain ideas and political opinions an explicit part of your business model. This might work better during periods when our Republic has deeper reserves of institutional competence and public trust.
For NPR, who claim to speak for all the public, it means having some built-in incentives to neutrality and impartiality, but also similar capture by highly political actors and loud-Left activists, while succumbing to the same incentives of audience feedback-looping and gang-like rivalry we’re seeing elsewhere.
Merely gesturing towards your high ideals probably won’t put the genie back in the bottle, especially if politicizing your personal life and then formalizing this into a political coalition is your path forwards.
For the new, increasingly walled media gardens of Google/Youtube, Facebook and Twitter, it means creating and innovating the technology upon which people increasingly communicate, but also increasingly dealing with the politics of Washington D.C. and the politics of…people.
Business decisions are usually the primary guide, but all are subject to the biases of the people within them and the places in which they operate. In my opinion, it would have been nice if more of them choose the harder, higher road of more speech.
The restrictions could get pretty serious, pretty quickly. Follow the money.
What I expect: The older and more principled Left (Weinsteins, Greenwalds, Taibbis) have already moved to different platforms. As much as I don’t agree, there will likely be an American cultural and political center further Leftward, with a slower-growth economy and more ‘class’ resentment than before. The New-Old Left will push back, somewhat, against the New-New identitarian Left:
Ever more vigilance against the inherent autoritiarian/totalitarian consequences of the radical Left (unresolved philosophical foundations) will be required, as they push up into a new majority which will involve increasing technocracy.
Beware the Men Of System.
For me, the Trump split is a sign of the fracturing of the old Republican coalition, the likely movement of Christian America to a minority or a plurality, and people who’d like a more limited government into a fighting minority.
Basically, I’m okay with religious belief as an agnostic, would like a limited government, and support the 1st and 2nd amendments vigorously.
Maybe you disagree?
In the meantime, let a thousand Gretas bloom. [They’re coming…]
In my view, if you’re not getting a lot of reality and human nature right from the jump, reverting to authoritarian and hare-brained means of control once you co-opt institutions is a feature, not a bug.
Utopia and dystopia tend to go hand-in-glove.
In Seattle the City Council Of Nine is where the radical action happens.
‘In October, the Seattle City Council floated legislation to provide an exemption from prosecution for misdemeanor crimes for any citizen who suffers from poverty, homelessness, addiction, or mental illness.‘
Don’t count on some journalists to support your right to speak, as they….speak. Other ideas, incentives and pressures matter more to them:
If you’re thinking diversity is enough to unite a Nation under its laws, in order to keep things civil and not violent, I have my doubts.
Laura Kipnis, a former Marxist-materialist feminist (who among us hasn’t longed for an economy run by Marxists?), and still quite Left-feminist, has become a source of information and resolve against Title IX abuses and the shadowy kangaroo courts which have resulted.
In the audio interview, she mentions part of what really interests her is not this task, nor university and government policy, but finding ‘freedom on the page,’ partially guided by by Twain, Whitman and various others.
Naturally, I support her in this, and, of course, this kind of ‘freedom on the page’ and exploration of the human condition with wit, humor, tragedy, and irony is the point of a good humanities education.
Or, it certainly was before many campus radicals and Marxist-materialists came to town, helping to create bloated bureaucracies, sexual paranoia and byzantine federal mandates…oh you know the rest.
Dear Student, this letter has been sent to advise you to appear before…Falco!:
Facing West From California’s Shores
Facing west, from California’s shores, Inquiring, tireless, seeking what is yet unfound, I, a child, very old, over waves, towards the house of maternity, the land of migrations, look afar, Look off the shores of my Western Sea—the circle almost circled; For, starting westward from Hindustan, from the vales of Kashmere, From Asia—from the north—from the God, the sage, and the hero, From the south—from the flowery peninsulas, and the spice islands; Long having wander’d since—round the earth having wander’d, Now I face home again—very pleas’d and joyous; (But where is what I started for, so long ago? And why it is yet unfound?)
I make a pact with you, Walt Whitman – I have detested you long enough. I come to you as a grown child Who has had a pig-headed father; I am old enough now to make friends. It was you that broke the new wood, Now is a time for carving. We have one sap and one root – Let there be commerce between us.
‘Do our computer pundits lack all common sense? The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.’
‘In discussing our First Amendment rights, the media routinely begs the question — it adopts stock phrases and concepts that presume that censorship is desirable or constitutional, and then tries to pass the result off as neutral analysis. This promotes civic ignorance and empowers deliberate censors.’
‘The important thing to understand about journalists is that they are the lowest ranking intellectuals. That is to say: they are members of the intellectual class, but in the status hierarchy of intellectuals, journalists are at the bottom. That is why they have traditionally adopted the status cues of the working class: the drinking and the swearing, the anti-establishment values and the commitment to the non-professionalization of journalism.’
and on professors:
‘The important thing to understand about academics is that they are the highest rank of intellectuals. That is why they have traditionally adopted the status symbols of the 19th-century British leisured class—the tweeds and the sherry and the learning of obscure languages—while shunning the sorts of things that are necessary for people for whom status is something to be fought for through interaction with the normal members of society (such as reasonably stylish clothing, minimal standards of hygiene, basic manners).‘
There are many people pursuing secular human rights ideals within many a Western governmental agency, international institution, and activist quarter these days. They claim the person who seeks to be virtuous, pursuing an ideal vision of the good society, simply by sharing in this ideal, has immediate access to a global human community and as such, moral duties to this community.
Many ambitious and reasonably well-intentioned young people are hearing its call.
On some level, most of us seek some kind of greater life purpose (guiding ideals and principles) and we seek for our inborn talents and natural abilities to merge hopefully, with our responsibility to feed ourselves and serve others in making a living.
These ideals allow some people, some of the time, to transcend many personal responsibilities along with many of the duties of family, neighbor, friend, the local, the state, the national.
Yet, at what cost? How are they working out in the world, our institutions, and in our lives?
If there’s anything universal in human affairs (math, the sciences, music, self-interest?), how is the universal to be codified into laws (rules), rights and responsibilities, and who makes the laws and who enforces them?
What is right, exactly, and where do ‘rights’ come from?
How does one person do lasting good for another while pursuing his/her own self-interest within the institutions and organizations that have developed and are often controlled by those adhering to such ideals?
As posted (may you find the thread running through the post, dear reader. I know it’s a lot to ask…especially with all the unanswered, open-ended questions):
“‘…a morally concerned style of intellectual atheism openly avowed by only a small minority of individuals (for example, those who are members of the British Humanist Association) but tacitly accepted by a wide spectrum of educated people in all parts of the Western world.”
A Roger Scruton quote that stands out in the video below, while discussing moral relativism to an audience in a country once behind the Iron Curtain:
‘There’s an attempt to produce a universal, objective morality, but without any conception of where it comes from.’
Where does the moral legitimacy come from to decide what a ‘human right’ is? A majority of ‘right-thinking’ people? A political majority? Some transcendent source? German Idealism?
Perhaps modern American liberalism can claim other roots for itself. Here’s a quote on Leo Strauss, who has influenced American conservative thought heavily:
“As Strauss understood it, the principle of liberal democracy in the natural freedom and equality of all human beings, and the bond of liberal society is a universal morality that links human beings regardless of religion. Liberalism understands religion to be a primary source of divisiveness in society, but it also regards liberty of religious worship to be a fundamental expression of the autonomy of the individual. To safeguard religion and to safeguard society from conflicts over religion, liberalism pushes religion to the private sphere where it is protected by law. The liberal state also strictly prohibits public laws that discriminate on the basis of religion. What the liberal state cannot do without ceasing to be liberal is to use the law to root out and entirely eliminate discrimination, religious and otherwise, on the part of private individuals and groups.”
‘It’s de rigueur on college campuses to pledge allegiance to the climate agenda, denouncing Luddites who impede progress on the climate policies that all right-thinking people support. Those of us who work in academia are used to this ritual, but every once in a while an academic decides to distinguish himself by making his denunciation louder and more strident than the rest of the crowd. ‘
Personally, as someone interested in reserving my right to skepticism and following my limited understanding of climate science data (quite possibly happening, not clear how drastic, predictions are hard, especially about the future), climate change activism suspiciously resembles an ideological refugee camp for many followers of failed theories of history.
This is off-putting, to say the least.
From a reader: Christopher Essex discusses ‘Believing In Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, And Climate Models:’
It really shouldn’t be that difficult a thing to keep a strong interest in the natural world and a desire to understand it quite apart from such true-belief, collectivist virtue-signalling, hyperbole and ideology.
This stuff is complicated!
It also seems obvious that some climate radicalism has congealed into an idealism guiding much establishment conventional wisdom, producing an enormous gravy-train of special interests, economy-stifling regulations and questionable incentives. At present, it would seem a vast majority of people busy scribbling for media outlets believe in climate change as much as they believe in anything.
As for Hitler, that reminds me to plug my remaindered pulp title: ‘Hitler’s Hell-Girls And The Venetian Platform Of Doom‘
Back cover blurb: ‘It’s 2076, and the Climate Wars have broken-out. Earth hangs in the balance. Quietly, Hitler’s head has been kept alive on a sub-station orbiting Venus, doing quality research on surface conditions and geology. When the first band of refugees arrives however, old ways return. Soon, Goering’s space-ghost is leading an army of Catholic school girls who’ve traded-in their plaid-skirts for brown-shirts. Can anything stop this nightmare from reaching Earth?‘
He’s right…you know zat?
The problem with people needing to believe in something begins with the idea that ignorance is the rule, not the exception. It begins anew every time a baby is born, and we want babies to be born, but we really don’t like the idea that as individuals, our personal catastrophe awaits (at best, we leave something behind).
Some people will turn observation, data collection, statistical modeling and possible future outcomes into something like a religion/belief system. This can threaten free speech and thought, which helps us arrive at the truth:
As previously posted: Bathe in the bathos of a warming world:
‘In “Sea Change,” Graham becomes Prospero, casting spells by spelling out her thoughts to merge with ours, and with the voices of the elements. The result is a mingling of perceptions rather than a broadcasting of opinions. Instead of analysis, the poems encourage emotional involvement with the drastic changes overwhelming us, overwhelm- ing the planet.’
‘Strengths and weaknesses, flows and ebbs, yet every poem in “Sea Change” bears memorable lines, with almost haunting (if we truly have but 10 years to “fix” global warming) images of flora and fauna under siege. Jorie Graham has composed a swan song for Earth.’
What are these poems being asked to do?
***Who do you trust for discussions of the arts and culture, and would you just rather publications be up front about their ideological bents and loyalties?
‘I was struck by the parallels between the furious debates among artists in the early years of the revolution and those that raged during the Depression about the “correct” way to paint and the role of art in society—the assumption being that an indubitably correct answer was there to be found, as if there could not be many mansions in art, as if appreciation of one style automatically precluded admiration for another. The debates were highly ideological: in the Russian case, about what activity truly served the revolution and the proletariat (itself an abstraction, very different from workers’ actual lives); and in the American case, about what activity was truly American.’
To be flippant, as previously posted on this site: A little piece I like to call ‘Stalin’s Fingers’ in Seattle. Comic and graphic art may be taking up some of the muscularity of socialist realism and public-works solidarity.
You might have noticed those tiles already look a little drab and dated, even though construction only finished a few years ago.
‘In a wide-ranging and candid interview with New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio casually noted that the “way our legal system is structured to favor private property” provokes his “anger, which is visceral.”
De Blasio likely places certain ideals (‘community,’ equality, and cooled revolutionary spirit) above private property, free enterprise, and individual liberty, even as he’s collecting the wealth from the successes of NYC finance, trade, property taxes, and tourism.
‘Bill de Blasio, then 26, went to Nicaragua to help distribute food and medicine in the middle of a war between left and right. But he returned with something else entirely: a vision of the possibilities of an unfettered leftist government.
‘His activism did not stop. In the cramped Lower Manhattan headquarters of the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York, where he volunteered, Mr. de Blasio learned to cause a stir. He and a ragtag team of peace activists, Democrats, Marxists and anarchists attempted to bring attention to a Central American cause that, after the Sandinistas lost power in a 1990 election, was fading from public view. “The Nicaraguan struggle is our struggle,” said a poster designed by the group’
‘Elizabeth Alexander never expected to go into philanthropy. Now she’s in her third year as the president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the largest supporter of the humanities and the arts in the U.S., where she’s quickly applied her vision to foster a more just society.’
‘There, she co-designed the Art for Justice Fund—an initiative that uses art and advocacy to address the crisis of mass incarceration—and guided the organization in examining how the arts and visual storytelling can empower communities.’
I like the idea that poems are actually not supposed to engage you in direct action, neither political, nor personal. They usually take some work to understand, but they can come alive on the tongue and live like wisdom in the brain for years.
Kirsch was not so impressed with the 2009 inauguration ceremony nor Elizabeth Alexander’s use of poetry to commerorate political power:
‘In our democratic age, however, poets have always had scruples about exalting leaders in verse. Since the French Revolution, there have been great public poems in English, but almost no great official poems. For modern lyric poets, whose first obligation is to the truth of their own experience, it has only been possible to write well on public themes when the public intersects, or interferes, with that experience–when history usurps privacy.’
‘In “Sea Change,” Graham becomes Prospero, casting spells by spelling out her thoughts to merge with ours, and with the voices of the elements. The result is a mingling of perceptions rather than a broadcasting of opinions. Instead of analysis, the poems encourage emotional involvement with the drastic changes overwhelming us, overwhelming the planet.’
‘Strengths and weaknesses, flows and ebbs, yet every poem in “Sea Change” bears memorable lines, with almost haunting (if we truly have but 10 years to “fix” global warming) images of flora and fauna under siege. Jorie Graham has composed a swan song for Earth.’
And still also more on institutional capture and old piles of money, as posted:
‘Ken Stern knows an awful lot about nonprofits, having spent the better part of a decade as chief operating officer, then president of NPR, one of the best-known, and controversial, nonprofits in America.’
Charity has limits.
This blog likes to keep an eye on NPR, as they’re a child of the 60’s, and but for the work of LBJ’s Great Society lobbying to include ‘radio’ in the Public Television Act of 1967, they might not be around. Many NPR stories, in reaching out to the wider world, often return to the touchstones of feminism, environmentalism and some form of diversity multiculturalism. Amidst high standards for journalism and production values lies the tendency towards positive definitions of equality, justice and peace. They tend to assume their ideals are your ideals as they filter new input from the world.
In turn, many feminists, environmentalists, and multiculturalists/activists rely on foundation money and/or private donations, and/or public institutions, for survival. They aim for broad definitions of the public good, and seek to influence both the culture and political outcomes.
Everyone’s starting a non-profit these days:
‘The ability to survive, even thrive, with programs that have been proven not to work is just one of the many oddities ‘With Charity for All’ documents in the topsy-turvy, misunderstood, and mostly ignored world of nonprofits’
Non-profits have become big business, partially following the ‘greatness model’ that worked so well for the boomers, when the getting was good. Unfortunately, there are limits to any model, and we’ve got serious economic issues and a lot of political dysfunction. The money has to come from somewhere.
‘To clean up the messy nonprofit landscape, Stern offers some suggestions that are sure to cause concern in some nonprofit quarters, including increased government oversight, increasing the application fee to cover the cost of better IRS review and, most radical of all, putting a life span on the charitable status afforded nonprofits, then requiring a renewal after a certain period of time (maybe 10 years). It’s an admirable goal, but in a sector where the stated goal of private foundations is self-preservation and “once a charity; always a charity,” is the mantra, it ain’t gonna happen. Stern knows this, of course, but it doesn’t stop him from asking this and many other valid questions about a sector that is loath to engage in self-evaluation’
It may be as simple as following the money.
On Stern’s third point, putting a life span on the charitable status afforded nonprofits, Stern might agree with David Horowitz, of all people. He’s a red-diaper baby, an ex-Marxist activist cum anti-Leftist, anti-Communist crusader. Making foundations and constantly agitating is what he knows how to do.
Horowitz argues that such foundations as Ford (which donates to NPR) have become vehicles for the interests of political activists, portraying the matter of as a fight between capitalism/anti-capitalism and/or socialism. He mentions the Tides foundation here. They are big money, he points out, and Obama’s political career was largely made possible by activist political organization, and the money and manpower behind them:
Stern and Horowitz potentially agreeing on some regulation of non-profits makes for strange bedfellows. Obama, true to form, was seeking a permanent form of activism. Activists, and the political idealists with whom they often find common cause, often don’t produce anything of value independently, and must rely upon existing institutions for their support.
It’s worth thinking about who wants to be in charge, and why, and what that means for everyone else. Following the money never hurts, and it’s a necessary evil, just a politics is. If you tend to agree with the ideals, you tend to focus on the sausage, not how it’s getting made.
This blog wants to focus on what keeps our society open, healthy and dynamic, and what maintains our political and economic freedoms. The pie ought to be growing.