‘At the same time, our culture retains many of the themes and concerns that exercised writers of earlier generations; there is little sign of a radical literary avant garde sweeping away the old to make way for the new. Postmodernism might not be as emphatically over as some critics like to claim, but it does seem to be in retreat. Its devices have become so commonplace that they have been absorbed into mainstream, commercial and popular culture. Postmodernism has lost its value in part because it has oversaturated the market. And with the end of postmodernism’s playfulness and affectation, we are better placed to construct a literature that engages earnestly with real-world problems.’
‘Wittgenstein was hostile to modern philosophy as he found it. He thought it the product of a culture that had come to model everything that matters about our lives on scientific explanation. In its ever-extending observance of the idea that knowledge, not wisdom, is our goal, that what matters is information rather than insight, and that we best address the problems that beset us, not with changes in our heart and spirit but with more data and better theories, our culture is pretty much exactly as Wittgenstein feared it would become.’
Many of the arguments surrounding ‘pure’ democracy and the eventual inclusion of everyone into an arrangement of equal political representation (one voice, one vote) can be fruitfully analyzed from a Hayekian perspective.
Many radical ideologists and idealists driving political change claim the above as justification for having eroded current institutional arrangements, of course.
This isn’t necessarily because such folks don’t have knowledge (we all have some knowledge, despite a collective madness usually residing in crowds, and despite everyone in a crowd knowing many different things even if they chose not to exercise such knowledge while in the crowd).
Rather, as Hayek offers, it’s because the knowledge simply doesn’t exist to run an economy from a central point, nor design and encompass a language from the top down, nor rationally plan how everyone ought to live through collective committee and/or pure democratic representation. Such an ideal, thus, will never be realized.
Often, such idealism travels accompanied by undue faith in rationalism where claims to knowledge are used to defend one’s personal beliefs, interests, reputation and ideological commitments: As though it were all purely ‘rational,’ when, in fact, the reasoning comes later.
Often, undue weight is placed in scientism, where relatively limited understanding of recent scientific findings are pressed into service for political and ideological goals. Obviously, such activity often leads the sciences become a tool to engineer and plan people’s lives in the political realm, rather than trying to figure out how nature works, or engineer systems that can understand and manipulate the natural world. Often the appeal is made to ‘truth-by-consensus’
Now, of course, this doesn’t discredit the work of all economists, scientists, Dr. Johnson’s dictionary (but probably Esperanto), nor the importance of Statesman to have specific wisdom, knowledge and experience.
But, as to the reasons given for constant radical change towards pure and equal representative democracy in the area of political philosophy, Hayek has much to offer.
‘Hayek’s argument against planning was rooted in his views about how to assimilate the knowledge relevant to economic decisions that, necessarily in a modern society, is dispersed among millions of distinct individuals. What feasible mechanisms of social action would allow this diffused information to be most efficiently brought to bear on decisions about the use of scarce resources? How can the actions of myriad individual producers and consumers be so coordinated as to exploit most effectively the specialized knowledge which each possesses about their respective circumstances?
His answer, of course, was that central planning could not improve upon — and invariably would lead to outcomes much worse than — what can be achieved via the price system operating within competitive markets where institutions of private property and freedom of contract are respected, and where individuals enjoy liberty to puruse their own best interests, as they understand them.
This, I wish to insist, is a profound insight into the functioning of economic systems which — though subject to qualification and exception — is largely a correct conclusion with far-reaching implications for the design of economic institutions and the conduct of public affairs. To my mind, the world’s history since publication of The Road to Serfdom has largely vindicated Hayek’s concerns…
My major reason for critiquing high liberalism: Although modern, secular institutions aren’t churches and don’t make faith-based knowledge claims to truth and knowledge, these institutions (faculties, bureaucracies, administrations) aren’t necessarily safe in the hands of even the most wise and good. Rationalists, practioners of science and scientism, as well liberal idealists cultivating radicals aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be.
Postmodernism has profoundly anti-scientific, anti-free thinking elements within itself, and using radical ideologues as drivers of change subjects high liberals to the demands of radicals, merely later on.
Change is a constant, from within and without. Idealism can blind one to the tragic depths of human nature, and problems of action in the world, just as the casual abandonment of deeply conservative truths can lead to unexpected dangers.
If you view the modern project as sailing the gulf between Nature (wonderful spring days, happy babies, Pompei, The Plague), and human nature (love, mercy, humility, hatred, cruelty, egoism), then a certain depressive realism seems reasonable.
Part of my journey has involved being interested in the arts, making my way to Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, Leo Strauss and Plato early on. After giving the arts a go, I made an attempt to broaden my scope, trying to better understand a particular set of problems.
While attending Penn State, I sat-in on a lecture by Jacques Derrida. He discussed his work on the work of Romanian Jewish poet Paul Celan. Listening to the arch-deconstructionist spending an hour discussing Ashglory was interesting, if a bit baffling. There was a lot of brilliance, gibberish, insight, ambition, and hubris in that room. Looking back, if I’m honest, I suppose some of it was mine.
I didn’t take notes and kept wondering why so many did.
In bearing witness to the modern quest of wringing every last drop of meaning from the Self (Self-Help books, confessionals, gurus), I get worried. When I look around and see so much energy spent ‘deconstructing’ comedy, cartoons, pop-culture and political ideals, I worry deeper trends are playing out (see the confessional postmodern poets of the 1950’s).
It’s not so much (R)eason, but the attempts to define Man’s (R)ational Ends within political doctrines I worry about. The less people have in their lives about which to feel purpose, the more many will look to political movements.
I worry that trying to synthesize the arts and sciences in popular fashion will not halt the turn towards postmodern anti-reason and irrational modern mysticism.
It’s not so much neuroscience and psychology as expanding fields of knowledge which worry, but the oft smug certainty of many institutionalized folks justifying personal and political interests in the wake of such thinking. It’s all too easy to mistake the edges of one’s thinking for the edges of the world.
It may be meritocrats all the way down.
It’s not so much progress which bothers me, but progressivism writ large (and so many other ‘-Isms’) uniting in-groups against out-group enemies insisting change ought to be the default position.
Where your thoughts are, your actions and hopes tend to follow
Well, it’s not a photograph quite abstract enough to get to mid-century American abstract expressionism, anyways.
Where did poems and paintings go, exactly, within the imaginations of many in this past generation now passing away?
Why I Am Not A Painter
I am not a painter, I am a poet. Why? I think I would rather be a painter, but I am not. Well,
for instance, Mike Goldberg is starting a painting. I drop in. “Sit down and have a drink” he says. I drink; we drink. I look up. “You have SARDINES in it.” “Yes, it needed something there.” “Oh.” I go and the days go by and I drop in again. The painting is going on, and I go, and the days go by. I drop in. The painting is finished. “Where’s SARDINES?” All that’s left is just letters, “It was too much,” Mike says.
But me? One day I am thinking of a color: orange. I write a line about orange. Pretty soon it is a whole page of words, not lines. Then another page. There should be so much more, not of orange, of words, of how terrible orange is and life. Days go by. It is even in prose, I am a real poet. My poem is finished and I haven’t mentioned orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery I see Mike’s painting, called SARDINES.
Poems require your mouth and mind to come alive. But aren’t there real things, to which these words refer within our visual memories, out in the world?
Are you lost within the peaks and valleys of the sounds, mesmerized by the singer and the song (poet and poem), as well as the underlying patterns, working upon your mind?
What are you doing with your visual imagination?
If you’re like me, maybe you just want a few minutes of pleasure; a return to when your mind (if you’re getting older) encoded sounds into a map within, during times of impressionable openness.
Strange how they stick around:
As posted: Let’s go further back, now, to a place and time which we’ve never experienced, but live partially within:
Maybe it’s Pilgrim’s pride, or perhaps the Puritan pursuit of image-less purity, or the Colonialists ecumenical style, or maybe even some Shaker weirdness that finds itself up for analysis.
Perhaps somewhere there’s a spare, Yankee work ethic resting on a simple, wooden shelf in the ‘American mind.’
Could such a thing be discovered within mid 20th-century modernism?
Robert Hughes takes a look at Donald Judd’s ‘Temple Of Aesthetic Fanaticism,’ and Richard Serra’s nod to Jackson Pollack and abstract expressionism in the rawness of material sculpture. You know, making stuff (a potentially sensitive subject with so many technological changes going on right now).
(link may not last):
As for Land Art, Michael Heizer’s life’s-work land-art project is apparently complete, if such a thing can be complete:
Apparently, Heizer’s been working since 1972 on this sculpture in the Eastern Nevada desert, which was originally called ‘Complex One.’ It’s morphed into his life’s work, called City. It’s very large. It can’t be moved. You can’t reproduce it. It represents a break from traditional sculpture. It can’t be put in a museum and it’s not clear that it has a function.
In Brasil, they just started from the top-down and built a city that doesn’t work that well for people: Brasilia: A Planned City
I have to confess that seeing that structure upon the wide open emptiness of Eastern Nevada is comforting for the familiarity it brings. It’s a little bit of order upon the unknown, and the design, or lack thereof (about which a man may wonder), within Nature herself. I think this is why a military installation out in the desert can captivate the imagination as it’s been known to in Hollywood and in the public mind (dreaming of aliens and conspiracies).
To expand on that theme, Wallace Stevens might shed some light. He was an American poet on the hinge between Romanticism and Modernism:
Anecdote of the Jar
I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.
The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.
It took dominion every where.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.
What do you do with an uncivilized, wild land? Import European learning and literature “atop” it? Christian tradition and the Natural Law? Import the triumph of the Western mathematical sciences and technology? Import its movements of the arts and the individual artist?
Gloomy grammarians in golden gowns, Meekly you keep the mortal rendezvous, Eliciting the still sustaining pomps Of speech which are like music so profound They seem an exaltation without sound. Funest philosophers and ponderers, Their evocations are the speech of clouds. So speech of your processionals returns In the casual evocations of your tread Across the stale, mysterious seasons. These Are the music of meet resignation; these The responsive, still sustaining pomps for you To magnify, if in that drifting waste You are to be accompanied by more Than mute bare splendors of the sun and moon.
‘One of the most urgent challenges, today, is that of correcting the double standard in education that discriminates against Native American students, in effect, maintaining a lower standard for Native American students. While it would be truly exceptional and aberrant to find the science curriculum of a typical high school or university contaminated by creationist versions of human origin, the same cannot be said today for schools on Indian reservations and programs in American Indian Studies, Indigenous Studies, and Multicultural Education.’
‘The Noble Savage,’ by definition, is a figure shrouded in sentiment. The idealized native bi-pedals through a diorama of Romanticized Nature, living off the land, performing his rituals while in possession of a profound and ancient wisdom. Perhaps, at least, we should study him, copying his mysterious ways, living alongside him in a journey of discovery.
I’d say there’s definitely a well of modern primitivism within Western thought: The search for shared spiritual and/or ideological goals, a primitive freedom of one’s own along with moral absolution (lessening the guilt and shame). For many in the West, ‘going native’ has all the appeal of an escape hatch.
Actual natives, too, can remain something less than individuals for many ideologues and true-believers. Being asked to join a separate and not yet (E)qual identity group, fighting in fierce competition over scarce political resources in the bosom of empathy, might not be all it’s cracked up to be.
That Columbus, what a bad guy! Am I right?
Perhaps neither is simply becoming another of God’s children carted-off to an Indian School.
For some Westerners, understanding involves using the tools of (S)cience and the expansion of knowledge within Western taxonomy. Mathematics, observation, developed problem-solving techniques, the historical record, evolutionary theory and the Western fields of archaeology and anthropology all play a part.
For others in the American West, especially, I’m guessing it’s also about practicality: Genuinely living in closer quarters with tribes and having to the negotiate different languages, conceptions of ownership, scarce resources and whatever challenges and shared traditions have arisen over the years.
Maybe it’s as simple as going to the casino Friday Night to play bingo and blowing $100 on drinks and tickets for the Blue Oyster Cult, if that’s your thing.
Laws and free-markets matter, too.
Various and assorted links:
Painting lush Romantic visual tapestries and synthesizing Irish music can create something of global appeal…and that’s something, right?:
Maybe we should just stop with the museums, at least for a few years. Maybe I’m wrong.
Not really science-Running After Antelope from This American Life. The latest theory/fad meets some guy with probably too much time on his hands.
I recall musical and deeply rhythmic English (Bowles was a composer who lived in Morocco for most of his life), along with a recurrent theme of Western innocence, ignorance and arrogance meeting ancient North African realities and brutalities.
‘Moments passed with no movement but then the snake suddenly made a move towards Allal. It then began to slither across Allal’s body and then rested next to his head. He was very calm at this moment and looked right into the snake’s eyes and felt almost one with the snake. Soon his eyes closed and he fell asleep in this position.’
What have you done with your I/Eye, dear Reader?
Something tells me the kind of fantastical savagery and imaginative schlock of Conan the Barbarian doesn’t quite capture the deeply moral, frighteningly real and lushly imagined Bowlesian world…
But maybe it does highlight some themes Bowles’ drew into relief:
And now what about going to a baseball game, that fairly individualistic, uniquely American (descended from cricket), and usefully civilizing (fun) sport?: William Carlos Williams focuses on the crowd. You’d think he’d at least bother to learn more about the game.
“The Crowd at the Ball Game”
The crowd at the ball game
is moved uniformly
by a spirit of uselessness
which delights them —
all the exciting detail
of the chase
and the escape, the error
the flash of genius —
all to no end save beauty
the eternal –
So in detail they, the crowd,
to be warned against
saluted and defied —
It is alive, venomous
it smiles grimly
its words cut —
The flashy female with her
mother, gets it —
The Jew gets it straight – it
is deadly, terrifying —
It is the Inquisition, the
It is beauty itself
day by day in them
the power of their faces
It is summer, it is the solstice
the crowd is
cheering, the crowd is laughing
Addition: What can the artist see when looking upon a crowd as an individual apart? Can he really reduce their ignorance to his own? How can he really know that they all attend the ball game for one large, abstract concept of beauty communicated through his art?
I’ll just put up some quotes I’ve put up twice before:
“Public opinion, I am sorry to say, will bear a great deal of nonsense. There is scarcely any absurdity so gross, whether in religion, politics, science or manners, which it will not bear.”
“Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. He who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or decisions possible or impossible to execute.”
Totten interviews Benjamin Kerstein, who’d written Diary of an Anti-Chomskyite, which is bold in holding Chomsky to account for many of his ideas and public statements regarding his politics:
‘In the case of Chomsky, however, I think we have one of the most egregious cases. He didn’t just support an ideology, he essentially created it, or at least played a major—perhaps the decisive—role in doing so. And there isn’t just one case of lending his skills to justifying horrendous acts of political evil, there are many. And as I noted before, he has never owned up to any of them and as far as I can tell never will.’
It sounds quite incendiary. Kerstein labels Chomsky a monster for such sins as Cambodia.
There’s also this:
‘Chomsky says at one point that there is a moral and ethical order that is hardwired into human beings. And Foucault basically asks him, why? How do you know this hardwired morality exists? And even if it exists, how can we know that it is, in fact, moral in the first place? We may feel it to be moral, but that doesn’t make it true.’
‘Most recently, the disagreements in the field have pulled the American author Tom Wolfe into the fray, with a new book, The Kingdom of Speech, and a cover story in Harper’s Magazine on the topic. This has changed the debate a bit, engaging many more people than ever before, but now it’s centred around Wolfe, Noam Chomsky – and me.
As background to understanding what’s at stake in this controversy, we need a grasp of Chomsky’s important theoretical proposals regarding human language acquisition.’
‘But evidence has overtaken Chomsky’s theory, which has been inching toward a slow death for years. It is dying so slowly because, as physicist Max Planck once noted, older scholars tend to hang on to the old ways: “Science progresses one funeral at a time.”
Via a reader: John Searle on The Philosophy Of Language as part of Bryan Magee’s series:
It’s always a pleasure to observe someone with deep understanding explain a subject clearly.
There’s some interesting discussion on modernism and postmodernism too, or the tendency for the ‘moderns’ to focus on language itself as a problem to be re-examined and possibly solved, or the study of linguistics to be put upon a foundation similar to that of many sciences.
As we’ve seen in the arts, the poem, a novel, the very written words themselves can become subjects which poets, novelists, and writers examine, doubt, and in some cases ‘deconstruct.’
As to that tribe in South America, cited as evidence against Chomsky’s claims of necessary recursion and the existence of a universal grammar, Searle has some things to say in the interview below.
Related On This Site: Perhaps after Kant’s transcendental idealism, Chomsky really does believe that morality, like Chomsky’s innatist theory of language, is universal and furthermore hard-wired into the brain. This could lead to a political philosophy of either universalism or nihilism, or at least his retreat into anarchism or anarcho-syndicalism away from such idealism. There’s little to no room for the individual in such a vision. Perhaps Chomsky has never seen life, liberty and property and the individual except from such a vantage point: Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge…