‘Lit by an inner illumination, which regularly showed through the glimmer of his blue eyes, he checked his politics at the door and let the lyricism of “books, arts, and manners” lead the way for students.’
‘Saganites view the universe as a precious jewel. How beautiful! “Look at it — but don’t touch it!” Tumlinson quips. Space is for scientific inquiry only, and that is best done by investigating it with robots. Later in life Sagan recognized the value of sending humans to other worlds, but as an astrophysicist and planetary scientist, his goals were focused on science, not economic development or settlement.’
Barring revolution, an attractive option for many committed ideologues lies in gathering under the ideals of education, health-care, peace and the environment, becoming institutionalized at taxpayer expense.
Common threads?: ‘Social’ justice is a kind of unclear concept. Ideology ain’t necessarily science. Many adrift in the postmodern humanities are quite hostile to the sciences, living within their own dramas and [even] doing dirt on the arts.
‘Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people”:
First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.
Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.
The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.’
Universal wokeness need not be confined to Earth. Zoe Satchel, cast adrift from her graduate English work at Yale, discusses Space Oppression!
Have you read Zoe Satchel’s piece about pre-blaming the West for any potential damage done to any potential extra-terrestrial life? Now that’s groundbreaking.
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.
‘Hou[e]llebecq has been accused of being a nihilist and cynic, but far from that, his work is an extended protest against nihilism and cynicism. It is true that he offers no solution to the problem, but it is not the purpose of novels, but rather of tracts, to offer solutions to such problems. For him to tell his readers to take up basket-weaving or some such as the answer to existential emptiness would in fact be an instance of that very existential emptiness.’
Here’s a brief Houellebecq interview on Tocqueville (I too was bored when I first read Tocqueville, but I hadn’t realized how deep and accurate so many of his observations were):
As previously posted:
Interview sent in by a reader with Houellebecq on his ‘Soumission,’ which, in his fictional world, imagined a soon-to-be Muslim candidate defeating a French nationalist candidate, followed by an ultimate submission of French society to Islamic law and political leadership.
Interesting discussion at the link (including a deflation of (R)acism as critical theory).
‘But now you’re asking words to mean something they don’t. Racism is simply when you don’t like somebody because he belongs to another race, because he hasn’t got the same color skin that you do, or the same features, et cetera. You can’t stretch the word to give it some higher meaning.’
On some of Houellebecq’s thinking behind the creative work:
‘Yes. It has to happen sometime and it might as well be now. In this sense, too, I am a Comtean. We are in what he calls the metaphysical stage, which began in the Middle Ages and whose whole point was to destroy the phase that preceded it. In itself, it can produce nothing, just emptiness and unhappiness. So yes, I am hostile to Enlightenment philosophy, I need to make that perfectly clear. ‘
Whoa, at least he’s relatively up front about that.
Isn’t it possible to reject Houellebecq’s modernity-is-dead worldview AND also put the universal claims of progressive, collectivist, ideological, postmodern, multicultural feminist discontents into their proper perspective? Perhaps without suggesting the end of the modern world and some presumed next stage to be reached?
And as for discussions of art: Is the book worth a read?
From the comments:
‘Those of you regarding e.g. feminism as somehow an antidote to the patriarchal impulses in enlightenment thinking or Islam, or in broader terms postmodern political and social movements as offering a ‘third way’, something totally new and immune from this dynamic of competitive decay and decline, forget the fact that these movements are themselves the most recent outgrowths of the emancipative instinct, one of the core features deeply rooted in Western thought ever since the renaissance, as Barzun described. As an Asian living in the West myself, I have to tell you that this instinct is simply not present as a core element in other civilisations, and is indeed distinctive about the West. That Japan and Korea, and for that matter every non-western nation, modernised without a countercultural ‘values’ rebellion is indicative in this regard. The west is going to be without allies as it goes with a whimper.
Under such a depressing worldview, hope is provided for by religion and mysticism, a return to medievalism. It is sad, because the West will truly die as it numbs its own most deeply embedded instincts in the process of conversion, but the mysticism is a form of hope for the masses, who never particularly cared for high ideals anyway.
Houellebecq seems to channel Spengler, who hardly anybody reads nowadays. But that such an interesting thinker is hardly glanced at today is an indictment of us, not of him.’
Also, from the comments. Hubristic, but there’s something to deflated nihilism:
‘This is why I love French writers and thinkers. Fascinating to read even if they are always wrong.’
As much as I’m hoping for a break-up of Islamist ideology, I suppose I’m hoping for some light into these dark, post-Enlightenment corners as well. Something other than the existential void and the ideas and ideologies which so often rush in.
I have to give Hollebecq credit, too, for as he points out, the major religions have been dealing with questions of purpose, suffering, telos, why, what, when, and the stuff human nature for a lot longer time.
Roger Sandall, Australian critic of romantic primitivism and the Western’s Left’s penchant for the Noble Savage: His home page where his essays can be found. Here’s “The Rise Of The Anthropologues“
Robert Hughes, Australian and often fierce critic of modernism and post-modernism.
***I should add that Werner Herzog’s ‘Into The Abyss‘ was worth my time. Herzog is probably not a proponent of the death penalty, but I thought he left me to decide what I thought, and he didn’t flinch from the crime, the tragedy and the loss.
British thinker Roger Scruton’s conservative vision was partially informed by his work as a philosopher (Kant/Hegel/Schopenhauer and German Idealism particularly). He was also informed by his return to the Anglican church over the course of his lifetime. Scruton advocated a rebuilding of the family and small, local communities around such belief, practicing as he preached, via Scrutopia.
He remained skeptical and wrote clearly about the dangers of ideology; why so many intellectuals end=up Left-of-Center, as well. He lived, mostly ostracized during his lifetime, from all the usual positions a man of his ability might otherwise hold.
First Of Three Charles Test Lectures Hosted By Princeton University-In the Q & A afterwards, Scruton receives about as pointed a post-lecture questioning on his metaphysics as I’ve seen.
Interesting presentation by an interesting thinker, indeed.
U.S. journalist Rod Dreher has moved from Catholicism to Orthodox Christianity, after many crises of belief. He’s also worked in the journalism industry for much of his life. He has one foot deeply in the Orthodox community, and another in contemporary, mainstream liberal thinking, from which he draws an audience. He’s been particularly harsh on what’s going on inside the Catholic Church, and the reckoning he believes needs to happen there.
In his new book, he’s been predicting soft totalitarianism to come fast and hard, and for religious believers to retreat and get ready for civil disobedience. “Wokeness” will come for its tribute; the new technocracy making new rules we all must follow.
Dreher’s also not liking the fusion of anti-Left fringe politics, Trump, and claiming religious means to political ends at the moment. It’s gettin’ pretty crazy out in the public square:
Curtis Yarvin (aka Mencius Moldbug and Unqualified Reservations), worked in computer science, has career Washingtonians in the family, and has retreated to different type of conservatism.
Here’s an introduction presented by a 3rd party:
A brief, unqualified summary (let me know what I’ve gotten wrong): What drives the civilizational trend towards the Left, consistently and over generations? Entropy, for the most part. Things fall apart.
Rules and hierarchies require heroism and courage during their formation, they settle down into somewhat functional instutitions, then eventually decline into chaos over longer periods of time. Such are the laws of nature itself.
Technology is also driving progress, very quickly now.
Most ‘progressives’ claim the mantle of progress, but are prone to post-Englightenment Idealism and capture by dangerous ideologues. They are much, much better at tearing things down then they are building things up.
Sure, you only want to follow (S)cience. Of course (R)eason is on your side. Progressives tend to claim liberation (over freedom and responsibility), usually without too much consideration for a suitable replacement to current institutional arrangements, usually running aground upon the dark parts of human nature.
Perhaps entropy has already done its work by the time progressives are in ascendency.
‘The Cathedral’, for Yarvin, is the current establishment with an inner party (Democrats seeking to balance atop the ball of ‘progress’) and an outer party (Republicans seeking to counter the Democrat party atop the ball of ‘progress’).
What can you achieve within such a vision?
Not much, Dear Reader. If you’re conservative and choose the revolution route, you’d really better be prepared. Bloodshed ain’t what it’s cracked up to be.
Compliance is a more reasonable option, according to Yarvin. Don’t challenge the mildly corrupt political and cultural elite authority directly, but don’t really believe in them, either. Go along to get along and build good alternatives all the while, should your opportunity arise.
Are you convinced?
On that note, some folks on the Left are claiming some kind of renewal is required.
I think it’s telling that many good minds on different parts of the political spectrum are seeing themselves as requiring of new thinking and action relative to American institutions.
As I currently see events, a self-directed life and the freedom to live such a life is a blessing of the Enlightenment, indeed. However, much Enlightenment thinking has helped produce many Shrines-Of-The-Self which currently dot the landscape, and which come with many downside risks.
Reserving judgment about such Shrines (should they exist), I suspect many in the West feel a tidal pull towards Romanticized-Modernized-Postmodernized visions of Nature. The triumph of the individual artist is key, revealing and having revelations, creating anew by casting the old aside. Towering genuises abound.
Many are European.
Generations and centuries later, such ideas have also saturated Western civil society enough to create many of our familiar tensions: Some individuals are in a process of fully rejecting religion, science, and many products of reason in favor of modern mysticism, ideology and the nihilist denial of objective reality.
I think other individuals in the modern world have placed a lot of hope and meaning into political ideals and political movements gathered around what I’ve been calling the ‘-Isms’ (feminism, environmentalism, racism etc. Here, basic human desires form into group identity. Such movements have important moral truths to offer and arguably freedoms for all (such is always the claim), but they don’t come without costs, dangers and downsides either (spin-cycles of utopia/dystopia as Eric Weinstein points out in the video above).
I consider these movements to be in serious need of critique, resistance and context, especially in dealing with hard problems of human nature like war and conflict, potential evil, and the incredible difficulty of maintaining legitimate moral decency aligned with positions of authority.
Process can often matter as much as outcome.
Last but not least, still other individuals have been taken up into radical movements staying true to the totalitarianism and misery guaranteed within doctrines of revolutionary praxis. Such individuals are busy activating beneath the deeper bedrock of secular humanism and liberal thinking, pushing upwards.
The Weinsteins are engaged in a lot of the pushback:
That mathematics, the natural sciences and evolutionary biology offer profound truth and knowledge should go without saying. We are living within expanding knowledge-frontiers of the natural world, explaining empirically observed patterns and relationships within that natural world, and actively disrupting most old models many of us have long since internalized.
This is what free and rigorous thinking, often at great personal cost, can offer to an open and free society. May it long continue.
I don’t know if I’m with the brothers Weinstein when it comes to their radicalism regarding all current institutional arrangements, but I could be persuaded by their ‘panther-in-the-china-shop’ model of reform. Frankly, many of our most important institutions are proving over-inflated, cumbersome, and full of rot: Buffeted as we all are are by migration and mass communication, global labor markets, and very rapid technological rates of change.
***Perhaps if there’s a spectrum of change, I fall more on the conservative side. At the moment, I’m skeptical of the defense of experts and expertise (despite the truths), the panther-reformers (despite our common interests), and the populist discontent so active in our politics right now (boiling over, but accurately, I think, representing many of the fissures and chasms in civil society).
I should add that I think much that’s being conserved is arguably not worth conserving at any given time, but I doubt any one of us, nor any group, has accesss to full knowledge of what should stay and what should go. In fact, I’m pretty certain one of the main points of good governance lies in prohibiting any one of us, nor any particular faction, no matter how reasonable, to have very much power for very long (and it’s definitely the job of good people and the good in people to keep the demagogues, zealots, career bureuacrats and grubby strivers from too much power).
Let me know what I may have gotten wrong. Any thoughts and comments are welcome.
As always, thanks for reading. That’s a blessing in and of itself.
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.
Here’s the view through a radical lens at The Lancet, one of the world’s oldest and most respected medical journals. Keep this in mind the next time there’s an important announcement to the public from a respected institution.
It doesn’t exactly inspire public trust to have obvious anti-scientific ideologues operating within institutions which depend upon scientific discovery and authority.
‘Planetary health views human health from the perspective of multiple intersecting systems.’
Dear Reader, within this first sentence alone, I’m hovering, ‘Gaia-like’ out of my postmodern body in space, able to witness all humans criss-crossing, ant-like, beneath my transcendent vision. Standing upon the shoulders of Marx, verily, I gaze down from the position of ‘Director Of Budget’ at whichever institution I shakedown choose.
Oh, how I will lecture you!
In a mighty display of my educational credentials (justifying so much pseudo-scientific gobbledygook), I might quote something like the following:
I met a traveller from an antique land, Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. . .
Such lines sprinkled in casual, high coversation demonstrate that I am no mere anti-technological, Neo-Romantic ideo-crat, worpshipping Gaia with a thousand inchoate thoughts. Nay, my yearly salary alone commands respect as an intellectual anointed by ‘The People’ to bend all of (H)istory towards a New Age.
Come and sign this ‘social contract’ with our blood.
Interesting paper presented by Erika Kiss, beginning about minute 32:00 (the whole conference is likely worth your time for more knowledge on Oakeshott).
According to Kiss, Oakeshott’s non-teleological, non-purposive view of education is potentially a response to Friedrich Hayek, Martha Nussbaum, and Allan Bloom, in the sense that all of these thinkers posit some useful purpose or outcome in getting a liberal education.
Hayek’s profound epistemological attack on rationalist thought is still a system itself, and attaches learning to market-based processes which eventually drive freedom and new thinking in universities. The two are mutually dependent to some extent.
Nussbaum attaches liberal learning to ends such as making us ‘Aristotelian citizens of the world’, or better citizens in a democracy, which has struck me as incomplete at best.
Allan Bloom is profoundly influenced by Straussian neo-classicism, and wants love, classical learning, honor and duty to perhaps be those reasons why a young man or woman should read the classics. This, instead of crass commercialism, the influences of popular music, deconstructionism and logical positivism.
‘In this sense, Nazis and Austria’s Christian fascists were right to see the Vienna Circle as an enemy. In Edmonds’s words, the Circle was “contemptuous of superstitious thinking,” including myths about race and religion. The group included Christians and Jews, but its members’ real creed was what they called “the scientific conception of the world.”
Possibly contained within the piece: The Vienna Circle has some overlap with the New Atheists?
Our author speculates who would go Nazi in a room full of people at a dinner party. Continuing on a recent theme around here and in society more broadly:
‘Kind, good, happy, gentlemanly, secure people never go Nazi. They may be the gentle philosopher whose name is in the Blue Book, or Bill from City College to whom democracy gave a chance to design airplanes–you’ll never make Nazis out of them. But the frustrated and humiliated intellectual, the rich and scared speculator, the spoiled son, the labor tyrant, the fellow who has achieved success by smelling out the wind of success–they would all go Nazi in a crisis.’
Her powers of analysis could be useful…and I still refer to her piece from time to time.
‘Albert Speer (1905–1981) was born in Mannheim, Germany, the son and grandson of architects. Pushed by his father to study architecture, he studied first in Karlsruhe, then Munich, but he only became serious after he transferred to Berlin. There he applied to study with Hans Poelzig, the brilliant expressionist architect of Weimar Germany, who rejected Speer as an inferior draftsman. Disappointed, he turned to the man who was Poelzig’s polar opposite, Heinrich Tessenow, a reform-minded architect with a love of simple, clear volumes and neoclassical clarity—the ultimate basis of Nazi architecture. Speer, who all his life knew how to ingratiate himself, sufficiently impressed Tessenow to become his teaching assistant.’
From the looks of it, there’s some serious neo-classicism going on; deep Greco-Roman influence. The thing likely would have been built if it weren’t for WWII:
So, what about neo-classicism mixed with ‘technocratic utopianism,’ or the rather suspicious desire to centrally plan, control, and organize everyone’s lives on the way the Glorious Future?:
Robert Hughes saw echoes of this technocratic modern utopianism in Albany, New York. It really may not be that far from Mussolini to the bland bureaucratic corporatism found elsewhere in the West:
‘…classicism with a pastry-cutter,’
And as for the fascists having:
‘…a jackboot in either camp, one in the myth of ancient Rome, one in the vision of a technocratic future.‘
Dinesh D’Souza is a Christian, and while debating New Atheist and Compatibilist Daniel Dennett at Tufts University, he brings up Nietzsche’s argument that God is dead in favor of his position…not sure if that’s a winner.
Interesting debate. Argument starts at 5:30:
Terry Eagleton debates Roger Scruton below. Scruton was no doubt heavily influenced by German idealism.
Are we really that thick into the postmodern weeds? What should students in the humanities be reading?:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOdMBDOj4ec There’s a bit of an intellectual turf war going on in the Western world. I suppose it’s been going on for a while. Here are some public skirmishes I’ve been able to track:
-Steven Pinker, Harvard experimental psychologist and cognitive scientist wrote a piece in the New Republic, entitled: ‘Science Is Not Your Enemy‘
-Now Daniel Dennett, philosopher, cognitive scientist, one of the New Atheists and Boston-based secularis responded to Wieseltier:
‘Pomposity can be amusing, but pomposity sitting like an oversized hat on top of fear is hilarious. Wieseltier is afraid that the humanities are being overrun by thinkers from outside, who dare to tackle their precious problems—or “problematics” to use the, um, technical term favored by many in the humanities. He is right to be afraid. It is true that there is a crowd of often overconfident scientists impatiently addressing the big questions with scant appreciation of the subtleties unearthed by philosophers and others in the humanities, but the way to deal constructively with this awkward influx is to join forces and educate them, not declare them out of bounds.’
Land-art pieces are site-specific. They require you to be there and experience them, designed as they are to be within the specific spaces they occupy.
In so doing, they break from previous modernist ‘Readymades‘ and reproduced images (I don’t know about you, but I’m tiring of so many commentaries on consumerism, the desire for craft over mass production, a certain collective vagueness against such disposability…the dream of unique Selfhood, celebrity even, amidst a thousand urinals).
As a viewer, you’re supposed to interact with these pieces and start feeling and thinking differently than perhaps you might have otherwise. Walk around, through, and over them. View one hillock from another. Walk back over to the first hillock and look from whence you came. The view is never quite what you were imagining.
Clap inside of Serra’s ‘Vortex:’
Time is clearly intended to be an element, here; the long sweep of geologic and/or historical time as the artist understands it, as well as the relative brevity of personal time during just a 10-minute visit.
These pieces can act as signposts towards Nature and what we can begin to observe of our specific natural environments (steel rusts in unique, but perhaps underlying, patterns…winds blow at different angles and around different obstacles in one grove as opposed to another, these lichens are growing here…other lichens over there, are they the same species?).
If you pull the piece out of its specific environment, it may just wither and die, looking out-of-place as many other products of civilization do amidst natural settings (a jar in Tennessee). Perhaps, though, they won’t look quite so out-of-place as mass-produced objects because of such careful design and attention to detail.
That said, these pieces will eventually look quite awkward undergoing the changes they will undergo if Nature’s Laws are any guide (Romantic/Modernist recreations of Nature can promise the comforts of Home).
Here’s Wikipedia, keeping it simple:
‘Land art, earthworks (coined by Robert Smithson), or Earth art is an art movement in which landscape and the work of art are inextricably linked.’
‘Robert Smithson and Richard Serra both believed that sculpture should have a dialog with its environment. This program explores the challenging dialectic of the site-specific sculpture of Smithson and Serra through examples of their work. In an interview, Serra discusses the aspects of time and context in relation to his art as well as the influence of Smithson.’
Maybe it’s worth pointing out that Serra seems interested in symmetry, visualizing and realizing abstract shapes with the help of some mathematics and the practice of drawing/drafting. Interesting problems can arise from tooling around with shapes on paper (a practice of Serra’s), the kind I’m guessing folks fascinated by puzzles and software and math love to solve.
But Serra’s not a mathematician nor an engineer nor an architect. He’s not writing a proof for its own sake nor building bridges nor houses for practical use.
Rather, the intuitive and creative impulses of the artist take over in his work, a kind of creative exploration, as well as the dialog between fellow artists, living and dead.
Much (A)rt, of course, is useless for most, if not all, purposes. It’s one of the things that can make it meaningful for people. There can be a significant gap between what the artist may have felt, thought and realized, and which emotions, thoughts and experiences any viewer/listener might have in interacting with a particular piece.
Serra, in his work, wants to alter the thinking of anyone moving through the space he creates by manipulating specific substances like steel (he has a facility with the material), and by getting viewers to a point of reorientation of spatial and temporal awareness.
Of course, this involves reorientation towards certain ideas as he understands them, and by promising people a return to themselves, or a state of experience and creative play perhaps similar to that of the artist.
Here’s a Charlie Rose interview:
More about Land Artists:
Any thoughts and comments are welcome. Feel free to highlight my ignorance…
“The math is telling us that when we begin to fracture rocks, however we do it, whether we do it randomly or deterministically, there is only a certain set of possibilities,” said Furbish. “How clever is that?”
Our author uses a bit of Plato to tie the piece together; a discussion of ideal forms:
As for Jerolmack, after first feeling uncomfortable over a possibly coincidental connection to Plato, he has come to embrace it. After all, the Greek philosopher proposed that ideal geometric forms are central to understanding the universe but always out of sight, visible only as distorted shadows.
“This is literally the most direct example we can think of. The statistical average of all these observations is the cube,” Jerolmack said.
“But the cube never exists.”
‘Universal’ is saying a lot.
In the meantime, enjoy walking through an abandoned mine. From engineers and geologists to wise men, fools and crazy old coots, it’s dangerous, dirty work.
Travel inside the Earth:
Maybe out of the depths of post-war guilt and nihilism, some Germans are still trying to thread the needle of all experience through the new fields knowledge.
There’s something about the earnest piety of ‘We Germans’ and the Natural World which unsettles. The triumphs and failures of German Idealism have convulsed to some terrible extremes.
Nevertheless, join Wener Herzog and Clive Oppenheimer as they use documentary filmmaking to discover something true about that Natural World and deep within ourselves and our origins.
Thanks for stopping by: I’m just a layman, and these links are for people who might know more, who might know less, or about as much as me. I’m not specially trained in any space-science, but whenever I get a few extra minutes, I learn a little bit more.
Dear Reader, maybe you’ve got some time to kill. Maybe you’re waiting on someone and they haven’t shown up yet. Maybe you’re at the airport and your flight got delayed a few more hours.
Frank Drake brings some realism to the S.E.T.I. (Search For Extraterrestial Intelligence) debate. The space-time distances are a huge hurdle, and the challenges of becoming a spacefaring civilization make the journey to nearby star systems fairly impractical at the moment.
The less evidence and fewer data points there are, the more rampant the speculation, inventive the Sci-Fi imaginings, and important the foundation to create such new fields of knowledge.
I maintain a healthy, healthy skepticism. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence..
We owe our lives, our weather, and our current home to this thing.
To be honest, I’ve stared at the sun for a few seconds with only some airy cirrus clouds, about 10 miles of atmosphere, and 93,000,000 million miles between me and this fiery furnace. I felt my retinas burn, blinking and blinking, and minutes later I still saw a bright patch in my field of vision, where my rods and cones were overloaded.
Maybe don’t do that.
It’s normally hard to see this ball of hydrogen, helium close-up.
Mercury-Tidally locked (the same side always faces the Sun), small, and blasted by all that radiation (all the short-wave stuff we can’t see). Not too friendly.
Venus-The former Soviets/Russians have done the most work so far.
Imagine an Earth-sized twin, but with a runaway greenhouse effect, and such enormous pressures and temperatures at the surface as to melt lead. Toxic, acidic clouds.
Maybe high enough in those Venutian clouds there’s a belt of reasonable temperatures.
Kinda like hell, but interesting.
Earth-What can you say? It’s all most of us will ever know, and as much experience as we gather in our short lifetimes and can hope to pass on to our kids and their kids, it’s not so much.
As for me, while driving up to Mt. St. Helens (having erupted in 1980), I had a realization: The cone of this still-active volcano was still smoking.
Could…this thing blow again?
Nah, don’t be scared now, the odds are miniscule.
Seeing the miles and miles of devastation, the valley still relatively barren 30 years on, and hearing the stories of lost lives and swift death, I thought for a few minutes.
Maybe conditions on Earth can get so bad that the Earth ain’t no permanent home, or maybe this place is a temporary home at best.
Earth’s Moon (our Moon):
Which kinds of people have the experience, training, temperment and balls to go on such a trip?:
Bob Zubrin at The New Atlantis: ‘Moon Direct‘. He’s a fan of creating a moon-base.
‘If we want to explore the Moon, and prepare to go beyond, we don’t need a space station in lunar orbit — but we could use a base on the Moon itself.’
There was a pretty tense atmosphere these past generations, as the primary geopolitical contest was between the United States and the Soviet Union:
Here’s actual video (just kidding):
Mars-What happened there will tell us a lot about what’s happened here. It used to have liquid water (billions of years ago), and it has ice beneath the surface, but with 1% the atmosphere and just 40% the gravity it not’s very nice now.
Mars has got some dust devils and what we might call seasons, but no water cycle (like ours). The Martian surface is blasted by the sun’s radiation and rusted toxic red.
Think of the driest desert, the coldest ice-field, and imagine yourself hanging around a mine-shaft with no oxygen nor air to breathe. No help is coming.
Would you sign-up?
Did we already find traces of microbial life on Mars?:
Jupiter: The ol’ 1994 Shoemaker Levy comet impact.
Jupiter’s (Jovian) Moon Europa: It’s got an icy shell 5-20 km thick, and it very likely has liquid water beneath that ice. It’s pretty tiny compared to Earth.
In fact, Jupiter is so enormous, spewing out so much radiation, and warping space-time so much that these moons (what little to no atmospheres they have) are toxic places. Some mass sizes larger and Jupiter could have become a star.
Life very likely needs water, and a source of energy (heat energy), and at least a few hundred million years to get going and stick around.
Saturn-Another gas giant, tilted over and with rings and rings of rocks an dust around it.
Saturn’s Moon Titan
Yeah, it’s got a surface, and liquids on that surface and an atmosphere, but it’s liquid methane, man. It’s so very cold and so very strange, yet so very familiar…
We floated a probe right down to the surface, thank you very much:
Saturn’s Moon Enceladus: Even tinier and further away than Europa, it’s another ice-shell with liquid water beneath.
Big ol’ Saturn and tiny Enceladus do a dance, and this dance pulls and pushes and creates heat energy on Enceladus. The heat energy emerges through an ocean floor and rises. This heated water erupts out of the surface ice on the South Pole. Through that icy plume emanating into space, we flew a spacecraft.
What could be down there?
Uranus-Okay, this is freaky:
Neptune-I hear summers are nice.
Pluto-Listen to one of the guys who helped design the ‘New Horizons’ mission to Pluto. What a weird place.
Oumuamua-Sometimes random stuff just passes through, and we don’t have much time to notice.