‘The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests, or to the strong prejudices which may oppose it. He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board.’
‘And so there is less reason than many think to doubt humans’ ability to be reasonable. The dissenting critiques of the cognitive-bias literature argue that people are not, in fact, as individually irrational as the present cultural climate assumes. And proponents of debiasing argue that we can each become more rational with practice. But even if we each acted as irrationally as often as the most pessimistic picture implies, that would be no cause to flatten democratic deliberation into the weighted engineering of consumer choices, as nudge politics seeks to do’
A 20th century address of such problems:
‘But my object is not to refute Rationalism: its errors are interesting only in so far as they reveal its character. We are considering not merely the truth of a doctrine, but the significance of an intellectual fashion in the history of post-Renaissance Europe. And the questions we must try to answer are: What is the generation of this belief in the sovereignty of technique? When springs this supreme confidence in human ‘reason’ thus interpreted? What is the provenance, the context of this intellectual character? And in what circumstances and with what effect did it come to invade European politics?’
Oakeshott, Michael. “Rationalism In Politics“. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Liberty Fund, 1991. Print. (Pg 17).
Related On This Site: Cass Sunstein’s got to create some space between the Bloomberg backlash and the totalitarians on the Left: Daddy’s Gonna Make You Do It
Guilt and shame are the primary teaching tools of the old religion and the new, woke religion. If you don’t care, no one can make you care. This leaves many sociopaths with competitive advantage. For the rest of us, being an asshole to the ones you love and with whom you deal isn’t a laudable goal. As much as this is true, decent people have to strike a balance. Sometimes, when you think you have the truth, you must speak that truth, even to loved ones and even when it hurts.
You also need to hear the truth. This hurts, too. It’s really one of the only ways to make your life better and deal with the problems you have. Growth isn’t possible without it.
In the public square, I believe it’s necessary to fight against the true-belief of zealots and fools, while doing my best not to become either of these things myself. What truth I might have to tell, should be told. This [often] puts me on the side of religious liberty and tradition in the good old U.S. of A.
Sometimes it puts me on the side of (S)cience and (R)eason.
Such skepticism also recognizes the danger of bad ideas. A lot of people will find the framework of radical resentment to be sufficient in their lives.
Guilt and shame are also how ideologues make headway. This has consequences for all of us:
Below is a poem by Wendell Berry. Berry is chiefly agrarian, anti-technology and pro-environmental in his outlook. He’s also a traditionalist, who believes family and local associations come first.
For Berry, (M)an must return to family, traditional values and to the Earth. Technology corrupts and while business might scale, both create alienation and unrooted individuals.
Of course, a return to (Man) and (N)ature is not an uncommon view amongst poets, especially since the Romantic Poets in England. Around that time, (M)an, instead of God, became one of the highest things around. Serving the poor and dispossessed is the work of those who care about (H)umankind. Oh, how some people care.
One thing Berry seems to be saying: A route to truth lies in overcoming shame.
Do Not Be Ashamed
You will be walking some night in the comfortable dark of your yard and suddenly a great light will shine round about you, and behind you will be a wall you never saw before. It will be clear to you suddenly that you were about to escape, and that you are guilty: you misread the complex instructions, you are not a member, you lost your card or never had one. And you will know that they have been there all along, their eyes on your letters and books, their hands in your pockets, their ears wired to your bed. Though you have done nothing shameful, they will want you to be ashamed. They will want you to kneel and weep and say you should have been like them. And once you say you are ashamed, reading the page they hold out to you, then such light as you have made in your history will leave you. They will no longer need to pursue you. You will pursue them, begging forgiveness, and they will not forgive you. There is no power against them. It is only candor that is aloof from them, only an inward clarity, unashamed, that they cannot reach. Be ready. When their light has picked you out and their questions are asked, say to them: “I am not ashamed.” A sure horizon will come around you. The heron will rise in his evening flight from the hilltop.
On that note, I am pretty pro-technology and science. While I have no particular quarrel with neuroscience on its own, pop-neuroscience is often a repository for the modern search for legitimate experiences and theories of the Self. In some quarters, this becomes the window-dressing to sell discredited ideologies.
Readers often come for the anti-woke sentiment, and stay for the personal charm and winning personality (kidding). I get complaints that I am too anti-woke. Or that I’m not anti-religious enough. Or that I’m too pro-religious.
A while ago, I wrote about Jeff Koons, and the removal of religious guilt and shame as a central idea in his work. I also frequently write about Marxism and neo-Marxism as relying on both liberation and revolutionary praxis for their survival. Such doctrines get nature and human nature horrifically wrong, but they get enough of both right, it seems.
Robert Hughes wasn’t a big fan of Koons, and looked at him with a skeptical, suspicious eye:
Celebrity, money, art and fame are mixed in a big bowl:
As posted, I think this except highlights the idea of liberating one’s Self from not only guilt and shame, but judgment. Artists and the avant-garde thrive in such space, but so do ideologues and the worst kinds of people, and a lot of what’s bad in people.
Many avant-garde have become avant-huitard.
Jeff Koons’ Made In Heaven blurred the line between art and porn, private experience and public show, innocence (so easily corrupted) and naive, narcissistic indulgence.
Dear Reader, let’s say the following is mostly true: ‘In lieu of religious belief; the orienting structure which Christianity provides, most people in the West will replace faith with something else.’
Portions of this debate are as old as the Enlightenment, (much older, really) with regard to the natural sciences, born out of what was once natural philosophy.
Depending on what’s true and what is known, an additional question looms: Who ought to be in charge?
As many readers know, I’ve been looking at liberal and secular humanist leadership, finding much rot and confusion (modern conservative movements are hardly models of principled health and organization, Dear Reader).
Whether or not the proposition of the first sentence above can be empirically proven as emergent behavior, rooted in biology, at the level of basic individual consciousness, I believe to be another matter. I’m not expecting the growing fields of neuroscience and evolutionary biology to answer all questions as to deepest human problems.
As to bearing the weight of faith, true-belief and social organization, (how to live, what to do), such fields as evolutionary biology and neuroscience seem woefully inadequate; subject to ad hoc departments of ethics and groupthink (enforcers of the emergent, and often ideologically rooted, norms).
I will say I think neuroscience may be analogous to where internal medicine was right before the x-ray. It’s going to do a lot of us, a lot of good, a lot of the time.
Furthermore, I’m also of the mind that wrestling with one’s own heart, and works of creative genius, is what a good humanities education was supposed to be doing before the field drifted into the postmodern morass.
A lot of good art, poetry and music can elevate our base impulses into appreciation of the beautiful, the good, and what’s true.
I also expect a lot of modern leadership to claim the arts and sciences as credentials, and reasons to trust their leadership, freezing-out political enemies. I’m looking at a lot of the new moralizing busybodies, nitwits and ad-hoc ethicisists with skepticism.
Endless pursuit of (S)elf, the individual isolated and alone, drifting along currents of Romantic–>Modern–>Postmodern conceptualizations, has made for a kind of mystic gnosticism. Modern, feelings-first primitivism is drifting fast into something like a new religion.
Additionally, something I’m calling Neo-Romantic Collectivism, or Romantic Primitivism, generally tends to drive much behavior I see in Seattle (as if you care and as if you were planning a move):
‘If we all give ourselves to collectivist principles by sticking it to the (M)an, everyone will be made equal. The trains and buses will run on time. Gaia will be happy.’
We already know the modern ideologies promise a new telos (end-point) to (M)an’s affairs, politicizing private life into the public sphere, often as a badge of righteous honor.
As Roger Scruton continually pointed out, a basic organizing principle of the ‘conserve first’ mindset, with all its drawbacks, brings more mid and long-term stability: ‘What if our existing institutions are already representations of who/what we are?’
I’m not sure having to pass through Schopenhauer’s looking-glass is necessary, nor on through Nietzsche’s Will-to-Power, but it helps understand where a lot of people are coming from.
Long-story short: There are many people pursuing something like tenets of faith, rule-following punishment, and a commitment to thoughtless conformity during these times.
But we pretty much already knew this to be true, if that opening statement is mostly true.
‘With the empirical base of the discipline becoming undermined and discredited, it was inevitable that the dialecticians would move in. Inevitable, in the first place, because the affinities between the anthropologues and the Marxists are so close. Both share a common atavistic enthusiasm for BC — Before Commerce, Before Capitalism, Before Civilisation itself. The average academic Marxist, even while tippling convivially at the bar, betrays a deep unhappiness in modern industrial society, and is obviously pining for a more primitive social order than modern capitalism provides. And the anthropologue is no less unhappy — anthropology being, as the editor of the quarterly journal Dialectical Anthropology, Stanley Diamond, has so trenchantly said, “the most alienated of the professions.”
As to Stanley Ann Dunham’s early years on Seattle’s Mercer Island, before heading off to study Russian in Hawaii and Anthropology in Indonesia (it’s unseemly to say such things in public, but perhaps still relevant).
‘Obama plays up on his Methodist and Baptist grandparents in Kansas, when, in fact, Stanley Ann’s mother and father attended a Unitarian Church in Seattle, not Methodist or Baptist. Their church in Bellevue, Washington, was nicknamed “the little red church.”
Such radicalism is pretty standard fare for Seattle, and I’m not much interested in guilt by association nor political finger-pointing.
Rather, how do people looking for an escape hatch from religion, tradition and convention, define their formative years? The questions and supposed answers tend to be deep and lasting.
What kind of truth and knowledge claims could such ideas bear upon the laws we all must follow?:
‘Two of the teachers from the school Stanley Ann attended were notorious for their Marxist views. Teachers Val Foubert and Jim Wichterman taught students to reject the things many people believe are the bedrock values of America, and the curriculum included attacks on Christianity, the traditional family, and pupils were assigned readings by Karl Marx. The hallway between Foubert’s and Wichterman classrooms was nicknamed “anarchy ally.” This is a website dedicated to the memory of Val Foubert who died in 2007. http://www.valfoubert.com/
What was a kid from the South Side of Chicago, growing up in a mostly segregated American society, looking for in North Africa?
Shelby Steele weaves Gustave Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary‘ into his insights about the world, coming to realize the Black Panthers..had problems.
‘What is Africa to me: Copper sun or scarlet sea, Jungle star or jungle track, Strong bronzed men, or regal black…‘
Do ‘The Black Panther‘, and what’s left of Superman fit together into the postmodern morass, or does the nihilist, radical turn swallow up much of what’s good within the old character, replacing such idealism with Political Identity?
A lot can be ‘swallowed’ up in the desert, lost in translation; across time, language and civilizations.
Things don’t always end well for the intellectually curious and naive…:
‘It occurred to him that he ought to ask himself why he was doing this irrational thing, but he was intelligent enough to know that since he Was doing it, it was not so important to probe for explanations at that moment.’
It’s hard to get everything right, in fact, humility and wisdom recognize you must already have some things wrong. So, which things?
Better to spend more time thinking such thoughts, though what gets one’s blood up enough to write, even, alas, blog posts, is pettier stuff.
‘The other day, on the subway, I observed an American male in contemporary business-casual costume. The color of his trousers was richly nondescript.‘
Just as many old-guard institutional members of the liberal arts and humanities were overrun by the radical, righteous ideologues of their day, many companies and regular citizens, sooner or later, deal with the consequences.
Politics, ‘culture,’ the arts, and the social sciences are attracting many people who already have a core set of beliefs, ideas and assumptions, and the totalizing true-believers often have undue influence amongst them.
Maybe the popular ‘narrative’ of the 60’s being about personal freedom and individual Self-expression has helped lead to many of the current political and institutional failures, though many rates of change have increased dramatically, often much faster than our insitutions, traditions and laws.
Human Evolution, Evolutionary Biology and Genetics are actual fields worth studying!
Political Theory is a rather different, but useful field. Carlo Lancellotti, on the works of Italian political thinker, Augusto Del Noce.
Full piece here, which could have some explanatory insight:
Del Noce’s emphasis on the role of Marxism in what I called the “anti-Platonic turn” in Western culture is original, and opens up an unconventional perspective on recent cultural history. It calls into question the widespread narrative that views bourgeois liberalism, rooted in the empiricist and individualist thought of early modern Europe, as the lone triumphant protagonist of late modernity. While Del Noce fully recognizes the ideological and political defeat of Marxism in the twentieth century, he argues that Marxist thought left a lasting mark on the culture, so much so that we should actually speak of a “simultaneous success and failure” of Marxism. Whereas it failed to overthrow capitalism and put an end to alienation, its critique of human nature carried the day and catalyzed a radical transformation of liberalism itself. In Del Noce’s view, the proclaimed liberalism of the affluent society is radically different from its nineteenth-century antecedent precisely because it fully absorbed the Marxist metaphysical negations and used them to transition from a “Christian bourgeois” (Kantian, typically) worldview to a “pure bourgeois” one. In the process, it tamed the Marxist revolutionary utopia and turned it into a bourgeois narrative of individualistic liberation (primarily sexual).’
It is no accident that CRT adepts think of themselves as “woke.” For it is not rational argumentation that compels them but a kind of conversion experience, and Kendi, DiAngelo, et al. are essentially Gnostic preachers rather than philosophers or social scientists. Their reliance on inflammatory rhetoric, preemptive dismissal of all criticism as racist, and insistence on putting the most sinister imaginable interpretation on every aspect of social life, create a “dream world” of exactly the kind Voegelin describes. As Greg Lukianoff has noted, “wokeness” inculcates distorting and paranoid habits of thought of precisely the sort that Cognitive Behavioral therapists warn their patients to avoid.
It can be a bit shocking, but, upon reflection, unsurprising, how many would-be liberal outlets continue towards the radicalism of the latest moral cause. Claiming the moral ground of post-60’s institutional authority (anti-Trumpism and Trump’s character as accelerant), also commits many people to become enmeshed in destructive ideological territory.
Or at least negotiating with radicals.
For folks who think like me, This American Life was insufferable already, but Dear God.
It turns out the ground of ‘it’s narratives all the way down’ is inherently unstable.
I’m guessing that because Christopher Hitchens claimed knowledge and action of authentically Left thinking, and was rather charming and ballsy, could he express independent thoughts while in a den of mild paranoia.
The point: People who view themselves in a kind of for-us or against-us struggle, with themselves as heroic and good, and their enemies as evil, leads to true-belief:
The days of old-school, dickish, prickish newsman like Mike Wallace and Charlie Rose (and let’s face it, Union Men like Joe Biden and grab-assers like Trump), are probably gone. Or, better said, they’re still there, but must not be stated as such against the new orthodoxies. Human nature hasn’t changed all that much, after all.
‘Yes. There’s an extraordinary point here. Walter Rauschenbusch [an American theologian and a key figure in the Social Gospel movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries] lists six species of social sin.‘
James Lindsay also mentions Rauschenbusch and Rorty:
Let’s say there are many untruths, and conceits, floating through the modern world. One such conceit, I believe, is that (S)cience scales in dealing with all the dark parts and native ignorance of human nature. The latest (S)cientific knowledge need only be understood, interpreted and implemented by an expert technocratic management class into policy. Such ‘technocrats’ will lead all of us, through their expertise, into a better future (they have the knowledge of (H)istory and where (H)istory is going).
Adapting to the Enlightenment is a process, Dear Reader, from Hobbes To Locke To our Founders.
Something like this is happening as we speak, of course. There is a virus, furiously making copies of itself, unlocking the machinery of our cells, mutating and adapting as it goes. Many nurses, doctors and health-employees are seeing this virus kill people up close, exposing themselves to a fair amount of risk. Biologists, virologists, immunologists and medical professionals do have important knowledge and truth to impart. We all ought to be grateful.
If (S)cience is a coattrack, however, there are all manner of bureaucratic second-raters, political idealists, ideologues and demagogues hanging ratty coats, hopes and promises upon it. The particular racial history of the U.S, for example, makes for a lot of awkward silences and social chasms. Have no fear, though, as activists-cum-bureaucratic idealists need only regulate the economy, move some money around, and claim the mantle of (S)cience to succeed in (U)nity. The Climate Apocalypse is Upon Us.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, where any politician is being handed a tough task, such debate comes to the fore.
I hope to be proven wrong.
So, as to what the Sciences can do, Avi Loeb at Harvard has some interesting ideas.
There was an interstellar visitor cruising by Earth a few years ago. They called it Oumuamua (Wah-muah-muah). By the time we started training our optics upon it, it was on the way out, catching us by surprise. Our solar system mostly falls into a planar surface, and this thing was…coming in at an odd and somewhat perpendicular angle, doing a fly-by around Earth.
Given the probabilities of tracking its origins, it would be nearly impossible to know from whence it originally came. Due to the sunlight reflecting off the object as it rotated, it was shaped mostly like a pancake or cigar. It didn’t outgas quite like comets do (all the water ice in it sublimating into gas as it nears the sun, pushing it away from the sunny side in a predictable manner).
Realistically, one might assume it’s a piece of cosmic flotsam, of natural origins, yielding some interesting data. Loeb, however, is demonstrating, with a lot of scientific rigor, that it’s impossible to disprove that this object doesn’t have unnatural, or intentional origins. It’s an interesting and creative bit of Science.
Furthermore, Loeb believes there’s arguably too much conservatism in the astronomical community (he’s on a lot of boards). By the time the people who can do the math and have tenure ‘arrive’ as it were, they tend to be depressingly conservative in their approach. Of course, a lot of this conservatism is warranted. On the other hand, we may be leaving a lot of great ideas stillborn.
In addition, a LOT of people are naturally curious about the stars, and the possibility that we’re not alone, and many of these people even believe in something like aliens (usually without much evidence, but perhaps, not always).
‘BC: What do you make of political correctness? There are those who would argue it’s a thing of the past. Frankly, I don’t see how that’s possible. It seems to me that cultural Marxism is more regnant than ever, would you agree?
KM: In my time, a great deal of what used to be intuitive and instinctive (such as good manners) has been replaced by the rule-bound and rationalised. Political correctness is a politicised version of good manners offering power to the kind of meddlesome people who want to tell others how to behave. As to Marxism, it was merely one more illusion that purported to be the key to life. It is significant in that it reveals one of the dominant passions still at work in our civilisation – the passion to create happiness by technology in the hands of a supposedly enlightened elite.’
‘In Vanuatu, Theroux finds villages where Christianity had been abandoned in the late 1930s in favour of the John Frum cult. John Frum, if that was his actual name, seems to have been an American pilot whose appearance was taken as a sign calling for a return to the old animist traditions — no more tithing, Ten Commandments, or prudish, meddling missionaries. And he promised “cargo”: useful, valuable goods from another world. Some villages fly the American flag as an act of continuing faith, and people even told Theroux the Gulf War was an event perhaps heralding Frum’s next appearance.‘
‘Unfortunately, for many American politicians, federalism is a dead letter, broken up on the obsession with equality and rights. Though Minogue does not discuss federalism in depth, The Servile Mind is a crucial book for the task of understanding and reconstructing the proper bases for a free society.‘
One path through the postmodern landscape lies in cultivating some appreciation for math and the sciences, direct observation and statistical analysis within the social sciences, and plumbing the depths of a good humanities education (you know, the stuff universities pretty much ought to be teaching).
Receiving or pursuing such an education doesn’t necessarily require religious belief, nor does it necessarily dislodge religious belief.
Aside from the craziness of love, dedication to family, the pressures of work and career, the inevitably of sickness and death, such cultivation can prevent against the sublimity of nihilist and existentialist despair, the Romance of collective primitivism, and the dangers of ideological possession (quick to judge, quick to be judged, forever resentful).
Many readers of this blog don’t necessarily share my views on the importance of limited government and economic growth, tolerance for religious belief and skepticism regarding political idealism (joining an ‘-Ism’ is only the beginning, as hopes soon follow into politics and visions of the good, the true and the beautiful).
You have your reasons.
In the meantime, here are some links gathered over the years from the New Atheists and many independent-minded thinkers of the Left pushing against many excesses of the American and Global Left.
It’s pretty clear to me that many mainstream publications and political debates occur downstream of many intellectual debates.
-James Lindsay offers a cogent account of his experiences in the Atheism movement, and the emergence of Atheism Plus. He attempts to use moral psychology (he mentions Jonathan Haidt) to explain many religious-seeming elements of the woke, social justice crowd.
‘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.’
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.