Useful?: On one side a generally more religious, more traditional, more patriotic cultural majority and on the other a less religious, less traditional, less patriotic cultural minority. Gradually, then suddenly, the iceberg flips.
‘Home, hearth, town, state and nation,’ becomes more like ‘home, foyer, community, democracy units and global human village’ a good deal more than before.
The data that Eric Kaufmann presents and explains about ideological prejudice, social intolerance, and “affective polarization” (“Political Discrimination as Civil-Rights Struggle,” July 12) are as disturbing as they are depressing. Progressive authoritarianism is a growing problem, particularly among young elites and thus at the commanding heights of business, culture, and education. ‘
This blog’s take: What do you think of the analogy? Useful?
What you most focus on as a threat, often reveals what you most value.
Freedom doesn’t equal liberation. Many people causing the iceberg to flip have done so by promoting illiberal thought and action, violence, ideological utopianism, and of course, through the further control of language (words=violence).
Liberalism proper hasn’t provided a sufficient-enough moral framework to prevent this state of affairs, and the force of the iceberg’s flip has scattered apart the old Liberal Guard, the ‘classicals’, the Old Left (Marxists and free-speech, pro-science Left).
There are deeper currents affecting all of us.
Meanwhile, much of the cultural production (music, T.V., acceptable discourse) continues to drift along where it does…
I know, I know. Smith and Hayek may not be enough, but they offer quite a bit:
‘Smith offers us nothing less than a critique of ‘scientific socialism’, a doctrine that was to emerge almost two centuries later. This theory asserts that a benevolent government may achieve the social good, or, at any rate, socially desirable ends, through planning and directing a society and its citizens by means of legislation, rules, regulations and administrative fiat. ‘
Reasonably smart people and relatively deep thinkers feel the need to matter, just like everyone. They also feel the need to explain.
How much do you really know?
Patrick Deneen discusses recovering the ancients to re-orient the present and modernity towards flourishing (likely on the Straussian curve). The elites and the people each have their talents, but right now everyone seems to be either within or against a faltering structure of elites.
Is that really what’s going on?
There are people who can, and people who can’t. There are rules and ‘rule-following punishers’. There is constant reinforcement of what is good and what is not, and there are ends contained within ideas. We’re now selecting for abstract, symbolic and practical intelligence very strongly, and very early on.
But what about virtue amongst institutions full with a lot of virtue-signalling? What about small towns?
Oh, there will be ambitious people, strong and smart people, and warriors. But what about when people are or become rotten in some way? Or wrong and there too long? What constrains the folks making more important decisions and what constrains people downstream of them (from becoming violent, especially)?
A lot of folks on the dissident right see libertarianism/liberalism as two sides of the same, modern coin. Some folks on the far right live in identity politics and power-all-the-way-down theories (a natural reaction to the Hitler-year-zero Left…though some of it was always there…here I go again on the Straussian curve). Others are pointing out the virtues of neo-feudalism and monarchism (power matters) while still others are Catholics (certainly a hierarchy there).
There’s a lot of searching. Dear Reader, I still have my doubts.
Food for thought. Thanks for reading. I’m busy with life and work, mostly.
‘In the Letter of Commitment, the Foundation staff and the Board pledged action in response to the June Community Letter’s call for us to become proactively antiracist. The Foundation is grateful to these poetry communities for continuing to hold it accountable, as it speaks to a belief in the capacity for change. The Foundation holds itself accountable as well, and has begun to move forward with short- and long-term equity efforts.‘
Such bad use of language!
Blink if you can hear me.
The money which someone earned in the world, often passed down to those who didn’t earn the money, is further donated to those who haven’t earned the respect of poets. Often, the support a decent poet needs to get better is diverted to the loudest voices in the organization and wasteful, bureauratic, mastubatory ends.
I think the best response is just posting good poetry. Maybe it strikes you, maybe it doesn’t.
‘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.
‘Berlin’s coinage of 1973 is not even the first minting of the expression in English, since the term ‘Counter-Enlightenment’ appears fifteen years earlier in William Barrett’s Irrantional Man, where he states, not without some justice, that ‘Existentialism is the counter-Enlightenment come at last to philosophical expression’.
Such antipodal movement between reason enthroned and some of anti-reason’s shrines is likely going to keep influencing all of our lives for some time.
Here’s a quote from Kelley Ross, highlighting some of the clear dead-ends and unworkable ideologies that have come out of the Enlightenment, and which have crushed individuals underfoot but still generate loyal sympathies and continue living on in various forms, finding some traction in the modern/postmodern malaise:
‘In addition to these legal and institutional usurpations of liberty, the attacks on individualism itself by socialism and communism have continued under the guise of “communitarianism,” and trendy thinkers now like to say that only as much freedom as “possible” should be allowed given the fundamental priority of the state, of “society as a collective unit” (they know that they will sound like Nazis if they start talking about “the state,” so they say “society” instead). It is not, indeed, that freedom must never be abridged, but it is a very different matter to see this as a choice by necessity in a moral dilemma rather than as an unproblematic pursuit of a fundamental “collective” good. If the abstract entity (the “state,” “society,” or the “collective”) has the moral priority, then the even permanent abridgment of any amount of freedom is no moral wrong. What the state giveth, the state taketh away.’
Something I like to keep in mind: Many people, in fact, most people, haven’t really thought through the consequences of what changing a particular rule and/or law will have beyond their own narrower interests. It’s rare that a particular injustice, the facts on the ground, and some moral and presumed universal claim align, thus requiring very important change.
In the public square and the marketplace, too, simple ignorance is often the rule, not the exception. Genuine truths usually come bundled with self-interest, financial interest, and groups of people often reinforcing their own pre-held beliefs, opinions, convictions and let’s not forget: A required common enemy to define themselves against. There’s a lot of preening and in-group/out-group issues constantly going on.
Here’s Sam Harris apparently following the TDS logic where it leads (towards a Left-authoritarian political populism, while using the truth/knowledge claims of the social sciences to justify going great guns against Trump).
Here are some speculative inferences on my part:
People become enmeshed in their medium, their practice, and within the complex feedback loop of maintaining a popular program and an audience. Such folks must become what they do, to some extent. Harris strikes me as more reasonably honest than most, but if you float on a current you’ve helped create long enough…some of your blind spots will surface as well.
Harris is quite iconoclastic and brave in speaking out against many shibboleths of the Left. He also still calls himself a man of the Left (not IDW per se, not ‘classically liberal’ etc.). Emotionally, it would be understandable to try and bridge this gap.
Harris argues that reason can scale (true in some respects), and that religious belief can twist men (true in some respects) into becoming more irrational than they would otherwise be. Personally, it’s not evident that New Atheism and ‘rationality’ scale into governing nor authoritative bodies without what’s obviously happening now: A devolution of the public square into less civility (to which Trump has contributed), potentially justified violence, and a new Statism forming out of radical Self-hood and liberation movements. It’s not clear you get rationality and Left populism without radicals (condoning violence), true-believing activists, well-meaning liberal idealists attacked from the Left, and the New Authority (stifling speech and using the laws to punish political enemies). This tells me the underlying map of human nature is wrong, and that many elements of reality are poorly calibrated.
On this site, see:
To the firm believer in this idea of ‘rationality,’ the spectacle of human behaviour (in himself and in others) departing from its norm may be expected to confirm his suspicion that ‘rational’ conduct of this sort is difficult, but not to shake his faith in its possibility and desirability. He will deplore the unregulated conduct which, because it is externally unregulated, he will think of as ‘irrational.’ But it will always be difficult for him to entertain the notion that what he identified as ‘rational’ conduct is in fact impossible, not because it is liable to be swamped by ‘insane and irrational springs of wickedness in most men,’ but because it involves a misrepresentation of the nature of human conduct.’
‘Among the other evidences of Rationalism in contemporary politics, may be counted the commonly admitted claim of the ‘scientist, as such (the chemist, the physicist, the economist or the psychologist) to be heard in politics; because, though the knowledge involved in a science is always more than technical knowledge, what it has to offer to politics is never more than a technique.’
Oakeshott, Michael. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991. Print.
Personally, I tend to think of a few nodes of change in a society from which new thinking and ideas emerge.
–Enlightenment Natural Philosophy becoming different branches of science and computing technology: Really smart and driven people contributing to scientific discovery and coming to fruition within these fields of study. There has been a lot of progress here, and the rate of change is affecting all of us every single day (just wait until the next war and the assistive automation that will be deployed).
–Philosophers and idea men in metaphysics: Synthesizers of ideas and sometimes creators of their own. This can also include popularizers of other men’s ideas and idea men leading others where they’d like them to go.
–The arts and artistic movements: A lot of new thinking and thought arises out of artistic innovation and loosely affiliated bands of artistic creators. A lot of what ‘cool’ is regarding popular culture happens here, as well as inspiring generations. Good art speaks to our souls.
All of this can make it harder to appreciate what’s so important to conserve.
Another video sent in from a reader:
A lot of people consider themselves as outside any tradition or practice, or institution, animating against such things. Such ideas and people following them are responsible for how and why the last few generations of humanities have been taught in our institutions, and the failure of many of those institutions.
But radical humanism, or renewed faith in humanism, must still ground itself in claims to knowledge and truth, in rationality, or in some thinking which can maintain civil society and mediate other competing claims according to its lights. Why and how should humanists manage the public square?
‘Continetti notes that post-liberals are “mainly but not exclusively traditionalist Catholics,” and proposes a test for determining whether someone falls into the category:’
One way to tell if you are reading a post-liberal is to see what they say about John Locke. If Locke is treated as an important and positive influence on the American founding, then you are dealing with just another American conservative. If Locke is identified as the font of the trans movement and same-sex marriage, then you may have encountered a post-liberal.
‘The late Michael Novak, who was no post-liberal, made a useful distinction between liberal institutions on the one hand, and liberal philosophical foundations on the other. Examples of liberal institutions would be the market economy, limited government and its constitutional constraints, and the rule of law. There is in fact nothing essentially liberal about any of these things, but they have certainly come to be closely associated with the modern liberal political order. Examples of liberal philosophical foundations would be Locke’s version of social contract theory, Kant’s conception of human civilization as a kingdom of ends, Rawls’s egalitarian theory of justice, and Nozick’s libertarian theory of justice.’
My speculation: A deeper, broader American conservative coalition has broken apart (or is being renegotiated), and some religious folks no longer see a path forward through current culture and/or politics. Some are recommending a retreat into communities of like minds in order to build again. Retreat and regroup, even in Britain. Genuine persecution is coming from radical activists pushing liberatory doctrines (Equality, Social Justice, Sexual Liberation), and these doctrines have increasingly become institutionalized (academia, government & corporations). Coalitions of liberal idealists fail to observe the barbarians agitating at their own gates; the instability of their own foundations.
Looking at a liberal, Left and Democrat coalition, it too has broken apart (or is being renegotiated), the most true-believing Socialists and Communists still seeking authoritarian/totalitarian utopias here on Earth. On this view, the persecution is coming from all existing forms of illegitimate, oppressive moral and political authority. Violent revolution remains an option for those reacting against the oppressor. Anarchy is preferable to stability and slow change.
Many liberals are now in a position of authority in many institutions, and many still support speech and even ol’ Kennedy nationalism, but have to remain on the offensive against anything traditional or religious, and especially pro-Trump (quite the scapegoat). Such folks must also remain on the defensive against attacks from their own Left (I think many were living upon the old laws and civility without realizing those structures were those under attack).
For such folks, coalitions of conservatives fail to observe the suffering and injustice of those not included within their closed-minded conceptions of home, hearth, family, Nation and God. Progress is generally a moral good. Coalitions of open-minded, educated, tolerant, individuals can make a better, human, more globally connected world.
“7. What is meant by enthusiasm. This I take to be properly enthusiasm, which, though founded neither on reason nor divine revelation, but rising from the conceits of a warmed or overweening brain, works yet, where it once gets footing, more powerfully on the persuasions and actions of men than either of those two, or both together: men being most forwardly obedient to the impulses they receive from themselves; and the whole man is sure to act more vigorously where the whole man is carried by a natural motion. For strong conceit, like a new principle, carries all easily with it, when got above common sense, and freed from all restraint of reason and check of reflection, it is heightened into a divine authority, in concurrence with our own temper and inclination.”
“Although the professional soldier accepts the reality of never-ending and limited conflict, “the liberal tendency,” Huntington explained, is “to absolutize and dichotomize war and peace.” Liberals will most readily support a war if they can turn it into a crusade for advancing humanistic ideals. That is why, he wrote, liberals seek to reduce the defense budget even as they periodically demand an adventurous foreign policy.”
I’ll keep putting it up, as it’s so relevant. A few central quotes from this article here:
“Huntington was instinctively a conservative because he valued an ordered society, but he also championed conservatism as a necessary instrument to defend liberal institutions against communism. In many of his books he attacked idealistic liberals for holding such institutions to impossible, utopian standards that undermined their effectiveness in the world.”
“An iconoclast to the core, Huntington never threw his lot in with left or right. He was too statist to be a libertarian, too realist to embrace neoconservatism, and too sympathetic to nationalism, religion and the military to identify with liberal Democrats. As a conservative Democrat, then, he is an intellectual rarity.”
Political Order In Changing Societies info here, a book likely worth your time.
Gurri offers an interesting take on matters socio-cultural:
The dilemma is that this present is defined by a radical distrust of the institutions of industrial society, and of the elites that control them, and of their statements and descriptions of reality. The conference organizers got our predicament right. At every level of contemporary social and political life, we are stuck in the muck of a profound crisis of authority.
‘The senior people, largely white and male, seemed to believe that, in punishment for the sins of their fathers, trust had fractured along identity lines. Women today were thought to trust only women, for example. Muslims trusted Muslims, and no one else. Some archetypical essence of “woman” or “Muslim” made internal communications possible, and separated each group from the rest of the human race. It was, to be sure, a disaster of biblical proportions – the story of Babel told in the times of the tweet – and it left the men in charge desperate to put forward individuals of a different sex and skin coloration, to say the things they wanted to hear.
For younger elites, trust involves a sort of cosplay of historical conflicts. They put on elaborate rhetorical superhero costumes, and fight mock-epic battles with Nazis, fascists, “patriarchs,” slave-owners, George III, and the like. Because it’s only a game, no one gets seriously hurt – but nothing ever gets settled, either. Eventually, the young cosplayers must put away their costumes, take one last sip of Kombucha, and set off, seething with repressed virtue, to make money in the world as it really is.’
‘One remembers Weber’s epitaph for the Protestant Ethic, as he contemplated a devitalised bourgeoisie spiritlessly tending the petrified mechanism their ancestors had raised. Adapted, without apology, it might also be used to depict that petrified Utopia of the New Ruling classes of the East.
‘Rulers without honour, administrators without heart, priests without conviction, this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilisation never before achieved.’
As previously posted:
Charles Murray argues that controlling the data for just for whites in America, a gap has opened up between working-class ‘Fishtown’ and professional-class ‘Belmont.’ Fishtowners have increasing rates of out-of-wedlock births and divorce, more isolation from churches, civic organizations and the kinds of voluntary associations that Murray suggests can make a life more fulfilling, regardless of income beyond certain basic needs. Fishtowners have higher incidences of drug and alcohol use and intermittent work.
Belmonters, on the other hand, are mostly college-educated and beyond, still tend to court, marry, engage in family planning and tend to stay connected with family, friends and colleagues. Folks in Belmont are still living more moderate personal lives and working to stay ahead in the changing economy through academia, the professions, government, tech, business and global business.
Being a social scientist with a more limited government/small ‘c’ conservative/libertarian worldview, Murray likely sees a smaller role for government and limited ways in which some people acting through government can actually solve problems in other people’s lives. As a contrarian social scientist in a small minority, then, he disagrees with many basic assumptions often found amongst a majority of social scientists.
Murray thus advocates for people in ‘Belmont’ to increasingly preach what they practice, to look outside the bubble of their daily lives and wealthier enclaves, and perhaps reconstitute the kinds of family and civic associations, moral virtues and opportunities for independence and success he’d like to see more broadly.
What this would look like in practice, exactly, is unclear.
Robert Putnam, author of ‘Bowling Alone‘, seems to agree with Murray about what much of what the data highlights: Working-class whites are behaving more like working-class non-whites, and college-educated non-whites are behaving more like college-educated whites.
Putnam also focuses more on economic factors, the decline of manufacturing and the disappearance of working-class jobs that has without question affected large parts of America and small-town life. Globalization has opened American firms to global competition, global capital markets and mobile labor. Whatever your thoughts on race, Putnam creates some daylight between the data and strictly race based interpretations (often aligned with ideology, especially in academia nowadays) and focuses more on ‘class’ in a way slightly differently than does Murray.
An interesting discussion, in which the empirical research of social science can highlight important differences in political philosophy and try and transcend the inevitable political and ideological battles of the day.
There’s a popular narrative that drug companies have stolen the soul of psychiatry. That they’ve reduced everything to chemical imbalances. The people who talk about this usually go on to argue that the true causes of mental illness are capitalism and racism. Have doctors forgotten that the real solution isn’t a pill, but structural change that challenges the systems of exploitation and domination that create suffering in the first place?
No. Nobody has forgotten that. Because the third thing you notice at the American Psychiatric Association meeting is that everyone is very, very woke.
‘Perhaps the core of rational behavior is the idea of flexibility or resilience. The rational man, seeing his world collapse, will never turn his face to the wall (like a tragic hero) if there is the slightest possibility of accommodation with the force which has overwhelmed him. Hobbes, the uncompromising rationalist, deals with this possibility without attempting to disguise it. Overwhelming force determines the will of the rational man whose primary aim is to stay alive; there is no place for honor or heroism. The importance of flexibility also comes out in the hostility of rational thinkers to the social institution of the oath. One cannot rationally make a promise binding beyond the point where one gains from it, a point which Spinoza, for example, brings out  clearly. The oath, in fact, is a feudal institution which seemed to liberal thinkers an attempt to impose more on the human flux than it could bear.’
‘Long before the Revolution, then, the disposition of mind of the American colonists, the prevailing intellectual character and habit of politics, were rationalistic. And this is clearly reflected in the constitutional documents and history of the individual colonies. And when these colonies came ‘to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,’ and to declare their independence, the only fresh inspiration that this habit of politics received from the outside was one which confirmed its native character in every particular. For the inspiration of Jefferson and the other founders of American independence was the ideology which Locke had distilled from the English political tradition.’
Oakeshott, Michael. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991. Print. Pg 31.
I have trouble imagining Oakeshott having much sympathy with our founders’ direct experience and developing practice alongside and against King George III and the Redcoats; the slow-rolling revolution these men found themselves within.
‘I’ve noticed that Darwinism seems to support one of the fundamental claims of classical liberalism: natural rights emerge in human history as those conditions for human life that cannot be denied without eventually provoking a natural human tendency to violent resistance against exploitation.’
A deep and interesting argument. Both Thomas Hobbes and John Locke had to deal with a constantly warring, reformation England.
Using quite a bit of German idealism (Hegelian) to get at the problem:
‘While I am complaining, I will also note that Scruton has nothing to say about how several of these figures—especially Žižek and Alain Badiou, along with Jacques Derrida, who is barely mentioned here—have played a role in the so-called “religious turn” of humanistic studies, in which various movements generally called “postmodern” find a significant place for religion in their reflections, if not in their beliefs or practices. This marks a significant departure from the relentless secularism of most earlier forms of European leftism, and that deserves note. Nor does Scruton account fully for Jürgen Habermas’s reputation as a centrist figure in the German and more generally the European context. (Habermas too has spoken more warmly of religion in recent years.’
So, what is all this Nothing-ness about? ‘My view’, says Scruton, ‘is that what’s underlying all of this is a kind of nihilistic vision that masks itself as a moving toward the enlightened future, but never pauses to describe what that society will be like. It simply loses itself in negatives about the existing things – institutional relations like marriage, for instance – but never asks itself if those existing things are actually part of what human beings are. Always in Zizek there’s an assumption of the right to dismiss them as standing in the way of something else, but that something else turns out to be Nothing.’
‘Oddly enough, it is the intellectual snobbery and elitism of many of the literati that politically correct egalitarianism appeals to; their partiality to literary Marxism is based not on its economic theory but on its hostility to business and the middle class. The character of this anti-bourgeois sentiment therefore has more in common with its origin in aristocratic disdain for the lower orders than with egalitarianism.’
‘John Gray’s “Silence of Animals” is an attack on humanism. He condemns this widely accepted secular faith as a form of delusional self-flattery.’
‘The question Gray poses is of fundamental importance, so one wishes the book were better. It is not a systematic argument, but a varied collection of testimonies interspersed with Gray’s comments.’
Clearly humanism could use more serious critics and pushback.
Nagel finishes with:
‘Gray thinks the belief in progress is fueled by humanists’ worship of “a divinized version of themselves.” To replace it he offers contemplation: “Contemplation can be understood as an activity that aims not to change the world or to understand it, but simply to let it be.” Though he distinguishes this from the ideal of mystical transcendence toward a higher order of being, it, too, seems more like a form of escape than a form of realism. Hope is a virtue, and we should not give it up so easily.’
Gray discusses the book here:
While science may proceed and real progress is taking place, in the realms of ethics and politics, Gray suggests things are learned but they don’t stay learned.
A lot of our institutional arrangements are up for renewal, undergoing serious stress tests; open to much scrutiny. I’d like to think: When you allow radicals and revolutionaries to become key drivers of change, your civilization can unzip; including more normalized violence in the public square against political enemies (downstream of protest), less civility, and a more personalized politics.
There are and will be marginalized people, of course, and they will often organize into groups, full of complex individuals, competing factions, and conflicting aims. Typically, the reaction to a particular injustice or grievance (removal of direct harm and fear of direct loss) tend to be the strongest motivators.
It’s hard to hear true things about ourselves, because they hurt, but the hurt is often the only way any one of us gets better. This is best done by family, friends and loved ones, in supportive environments.
Many people saying true things at/about us don’t have our best interests at heart, but some of those things may still be true.
‘Preferences are not the most effective way to create diverse classrooms; raising the academic competitiveness of minority students is. That will happen only when the education establishment and the media stop concealing the problem.’
— Radical chic becomes Communist chic? The logic was always there, but the drift tends to be slow: Today’s low buy-in grievance and attention-getting activism become tomorrow’s deeper beliefs and voting blocs.
As I see the world, if the logic used to guide any group becomes radical and revolutionary, seeking to destroy all institutions of ‘the oppressor,’ or perhaps remaking the world through visions of collectivist utopianism full of perfectible human beings, then we’ve all got problems.
These are generally very inefficient and costly ways to address problems, and generally they lead to horrific outcomes.
There will always be closed-mindedness and narrow-thinking within academic and political institutions, as well as some nepotism and favoritism, because that’s what each one of us is: Closed-minded at times, potentially conflicted within our hearts and often conflicted in our heads between old and new ideas, profound truths and passing trends. I suspect each of us should easily be able to recall a time we’ve been wrong, hilariously misinformed, or subtly transformed by the people and ideas around us.
If thoughts become actions, and actions become habits, and habits become character, there’s really no effective way to incentivize individuals from the outside through collective and group identity; through political projects and bureaucratic committee, without incredible costs, downsides and dangers.
Idealists usually invite you to join in their idealism, not the consequences of their idealism.