Jordan Peterson & former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia John Anderson have a debate on COVID:
What’s with the Australian tendency to go full-lockdown? From an American perspective, why did so many choose the idea of security over freedom (relative to risk and medical/political authority?).
What are some better ways to think about costs/benefits and COVID risks than the ones being discussed now in Britain, Canada, America and Australia?
Choose your external threat: Increasingly authoritarian, post-ish Communist Chinese party leadership, and the China/Russia axis are shaping up to pose many threats to the Anglosphere. Perhaps your favored external threat is Islamic terrorism, or increasing migratory pressure on your borders as a citizen. These threats are quite real. Maybe it’s the ideologues now within many American institutions, seeking to disrupt the bedrocks of freedom of speech and rule of law. Very real, indeed.
As John Anderson points out, what about during the Blitz in London?
Another possibilityof threat-ranking: We have a likely lab-created and enhanced corona virus, now on track to become another human free-rider, killing a few million of us every season. This is a very real threat. We have an ongoing problem that could end-up anywhere between same level of risk as a virulent strain of flu or higher. We have very real front lines to this disease. A fairly shitty, but unavoidable outcome?
What about people who refuse, claiming health or other reasons?
Your deeper principles often mirror evaluations of threat across dimensions (conservatives focused on the common defense against outside invaders, the political Left focused more on external threats (within the West) against health care/education and collectivist conceptions of the moral good)
COVID-19 in King County, Washington (Seattle Area). Well, here we go.
Progressive thinking, to me, gets human nature fundamentally wrong (recognizing human potential generally through the oppressed/oppressor lens as well as through collective and group identity). A lot of progressivism needs an oppressor (evil) for its existence and such evil is usually found within the West (the religious, the traditional, those with ‘power’ etc.) Radical and nihilistic thinking (including a lot of anarchism) is nothing if not ruthlessly cynical about power.
As I see things: The vaccine mandate expresses the counter-cultural, anti-establishment logic which was there all along: A two-tiered society based on vaccine status looks a lot like the vaguely aristocratic, two-tiered society increasingly shaping up in Seattle/Portland/San Francisco. ‘Authority is bad. Oh, look, I”m the authority now‘ doesn’t exactly inspire institutional trust.
Are all the homeless, now frozen out of businesses, for lack of a vaccine passport, better off than they were before the vaccine passport?
What about conscientious objectors or health objectors to the vaccine? What about many small businesses being asked to enforce the new rules?
The utopia on the horizon fades for ever and forever as they move.
As for the old ACLU these days? A free-speech mission, becoming a legal business, devolving into an anti-speech racket is something to behold.
You stand up for the neo-Nazis right to speak and assemble, because you may need those rights, too.
Did you think you’d just drive-on-by?
Many people, volunteering as our betters in the U.S., have been busy institutionalizing a rather anti-establishment ethos. The problem is, many of these people are now the establishment. Many 60’s boomers (hanging in there, baby) are something like idealists. Holding authority, while simultaneously holding many anti-authoritarian views, is a tragi-comedy.
In my experience, beneath idealists are radicals, and radicals generally hold certain moral goods (ideologically nested) above all else as they drive for disruption. Suppressing the speech of the ‘fascist’ is more important than free speech. Doing violence against the ‘fascist’ is celebrated and much preferable to non-violence. Breaking the law is by far more important than than rule of law.
I personally saw the Antifa violence spread (always here, really) as C.H.O.P came and went. After a while, I saw a small, pro-patriot (kinda New Right) response fill in the void. It was a sad bit of street theater (unserious but very real). Whatever was more civil, respectful and dignified is now less so, and this dynamic would seem to be the new, national normal.
In my experience, along with idealists are also many anti-‘capitalist’, bureaucratic, technocratic, types. The knowledge is available to build brilliant new liberal, inclusive, diverse and global societies. Communitiarian, purely democratic, and ‘equal’ societies are moral goods in themselves, at least in the face of injustice. Political science, the DSM, all the right economics based on deeper math, will free more labor than before and potentially create new political orders.
I’m not sure such glittering enterprises are even possible.
‘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.’
Many people seem to believe that because the modern world is fallen, it’s easier to blame all the normal self-interest, political corruption and rule-following punishment out there as belonging to the religionist, the racist, and the traditionalist.
The ‘-ist’ tends to see only other ‘-ists’ all the way down. The (C)ause tends to be the highest moral good and this leads to all kinds of dangers.
Still an interesting discussion:
Times come and go: I remember visiting my father’s small, Connecticut hometown. Many factories (spooled-thread, fabric, cutting tools) had become derelict. ‘What did they used to make there?’ we’d ask, driving along, visiting his old haunts. The shallower valleys, stony soil and New England village greens were foreign to me. We’d pass by busted, boarded-up windows and out-of-use smokestacks. ‘Did they actually make these things by hand?’
Most of that industry never came back.
Now imagine losing larger: The rise and fall of automobile manufacturing in Detroit, and all the supply chains throughout Ohio; whole towns dwindling down. Much of that industry isn’t coming back either.
This one’s stuck with me over the last few months:
‘They are, in fact, idealists: and idealism is a cast of mind that Conrad questions even more than he questions radicalism. The logical end of radicalism, in his view, is terrorism; but idealism is the mental aberration that allows terrorism to be brought about. Conrad’s originality was to see that a new tyranny could be generated by people who thought that their rebellion against the old tyranny was rational. Thus his writings seem prescient about what was to happen in the Soviet Union. He didn’t predict the Nazi tyranny because he had underestimated the power of the irrational to organise itself into a state. But then, nobody predicted that except its perpetrators; and anyway, mere prediction was not his business. His business was the psychological analysis made possible by an acute historical awareness. Under Western Eyes is valuable not because it came true but because it rang true even at the time, only now we can better hear the deep, sad note.’
As for politics on the other side, it’s a mess of anarcho-libertarians, non-anarchic libertarians, the New Right, the Old Right, the never-Trumpers, religious believers, traditionalists and a lot of pro- and anti-establishment vitriol.
Andrew Sullivan and Antonio Garcia Martinez have a discussion (Judaism vs Christianity, time and distance shortening technologies, the darkness potentially coming as we dissolve our common, civic bonds).
Surely you trust the people in the Federal Government?
Here’s James Lindsay on the ideologies and ideologues filling many gaps within our institutions. The Humanities is the education where you can actually learn about your own human nature through dialog with the great voices of the past.
It’d be nice if such a defense weren’t necessary, but it is.
Alas, The New Yorker.
Don’t think the postmodern void and the search for meaning won’t suck on your legs as the tide goes out.
It’s okay to like the long-form stuff, high-quality cover art and criticism but…
…you will increasingly find reference to political violence, narrow true-belief and a rigid, cloying moralism. The logic was there, all along, beneath the human rights universalism, secular liberal idealism and profound moral concern for the ‘culture.’
The radicals haven’t changed all that much, but here’s one major difference: The new rules involve mainstreaming political violence and blaming your political enemies for it.
‘One study suggests that two-thirds of Americans between the ages of fifteen and thirty-four who were treated in emergency rooms suffered from injuries inflicted by police and security guards, about as many people as the number of pedestrians injured by motor vehicles.’
– Jill Lepore, New Yorker
Perry on Lepore’s piece:
This in a 5,000 word feature on the history of policing in the United States, which draws a link between the early role of police in suppressing slave rebellions, and police killings of Black Americans in the twenty first century.
‘We know that political bias warps cognition, sometimes catastrophically, and this is, I think, an example of that in action. Lepore read Feldman’s research and she misunderstood part of it, despite being an exceptionally intelligent person. Like many other Left-leaning Democrats, she is convinced that police brutality is a huge, under-acknowledged problem in the United States, and she therefore jumped to the conclusion that this wildly inflated ‘two-thirds’ figure was plausible.’
Previous links on this site from The New Yorker:
Our sacred National Parks and EPA regions, uniting all races, classes, genders, and species in a non-corporate, environmental utopia, are being despoiled by the dirty masses:
Carefully balanced rock towers make a pretty picture, but the proliferation of cairns, fuelled by social media, has negative consequences for the environment. https://t.co/q4BGmJtAHC
‘These developments owe much to the recent prominence of French postmodernist thought. Many young feminists, whatever their concrete affiliations with this or that French thinker, have been influenced by the extremely French idea that the intellectual does politics by speaking seditiously, and that this is a significant type of political action. Many have also derived from the writings of Michel Foucault (rightly or wrongly) the fatalistic idea that we are prisoners of an all-enveloping structure of power, and that real-life reform movements usually end up serving power in new and insidious ways. Such feminists therefore find comfort in the idea that the subversive use of words is still available to feminist intellectuals. Deprived of the hope of larger or more lasting changes, we can still perform our resistance by the reworking of verbal categories, and thus, at the margins, of the selves who are constituted by them.’
Not the ‘right’ kind of emptiness for Richard Brody, at The New Yorker, in Todd Phillips’ ‘The Joker.’
‘“Joker” is an intensely racialized movie, a drama awash in racial iconography that is so prevalent in the film, so provocative, and so unexamined as to be bewildering.’
Brody’s review is as much about historical events (The Central Park Five), and moral judgments surrounding these historical events (racist and nothing else, Trump is horrible) as it is about the movie.
Basic plot, aesthetics, and stylized choices are kind of what I’m after in a movie review, with some of the reviewer’s own expertise and respect for the reader’s intelligence thrown-in (should I see this movie?).
The Boston Evening Transcript
The readers of the Boston Evening Transcript Sway in the wind like a field of ripe corn.
— When evening quickens faintly in the street, Wakening the appetites of life in some And to others bringing the Boston Evening Transcript, I mount the steps and ring the bell, turning Wearily, as one would turn to nod good-bye to Rochefoucauld, If the street were time and he at the end of the street, And I say, “Cousin Harriet, here is the Boston Evening Transcript.”
‘There was a wonderful article by an editor at the magazine, Mary Norris, about commas. Wonderful, that is, until this passage, “That was during the Reagan Administration, when many of us suspected that Reagan had some form of dementia, but no one could do anything about it. The country was running on automatic.”
Such politicization can make for bad stewardship of the arts, certainly.
Perhaps New Yorker features are increasingly flogged to maintain readership in a competitive marketplace, or are being put to use for other purposes, like reaffirming political ideology and identities to signal the right beliefs and in-group/out-group loyalties. Many of the liberal pieties can be found on display at the New Yorker.
***Who do you trust for discussions of the arts and culture, and would you just rather publications be up front about their ideological bents and loyalties?
Or will this simply take care of itself?
As posted: Maybe some deeper currents from Romanticism to Modernism to Postmodernism are worth thinking about. As I see things, many people who care deeply about the avant-garde also can bind themselves to ever narrower political and ideological commitments.
The journey of The Western Self bears proper care.
According to some folks at The New Yorker magazine, the only answer to injustice is radical and revolutionary equality.
To be fair, the logic embedded within much radical chic usually reveals itself to be cool at first, the same old murderously bad doctrinaire utopianism a little later on:
Mind you, this is Australia, but there’s probably a lot of overlap:
‘I don’t mean to suggest that every bright-eyed PhD candidate in anthropology today sees himself in a priestly role, or feels inspired by a religious vocation. Most are as sceptical of sorcery as of perdition. But what George Feaver has called the New Tribalism is a proud creed, and its gods are jealous gods. Syncretised with the pride and jealousy of the Old Tribalism the result is a powerful endorsement of totem and taboo…’
‘The Institute had been set up to “do science”, a secular activity. Yet in a curious way it has ended up “doing religion.” In its own eyes the Institute may have seen itself as a producer of scientific records; but in the eyes of Tribalism, both Old and New, its true role was that of a manufacturer of religious artifacts. And having become an archive of sacred objects it was hard to refuse doing priestly duty as the temple guardian as well. In this way a scientific body found itself gradually moving from the world of fact to the world of faith—and from the dull routines of research to the higher excitements of revivalism.’
We’ve got a lot of museum directors and academics I could see sinking into a kind of nebulous, humanist, institutional mysticism, quite frankly.
What many modernists and humanists can ignore are the deep impulses they have to make meaning, and to draw distinctions between the sacred and the profane, which in the West can manifest as a kind of sentimental Romanticization of Nature and Man (religious and anti-religious, truthfully).
Everyone wants to transcend and seek the timeless, the immortal, and the pure, I’m guessing.
There is a particular myth of the ‘Noble Savage,’ alive and well in the Western World, where the local tribesman or displaced native is celebrated as an exotic but worthy adversary, or some kind of anachronistic adornment.
This stuff can be true and inspiring in the arts, synthesized as part of the Romantic school:
Perhaps the native is to be included under the net of secular human idealism or given land, a casino or a museum somewhere on the Western Estate and left to many of his own devices (many further Left likely see a fellow oppressed class of victims with whom to feel solidarity on the way to radical and revolutionary freedom).
But certainly with the triumphs of trade and commerce, the many benefits and successes of Western expansion (the thousand injustices and brutalities of State and privately funded imperialism), comes a lot of doubt, guilt, and shame.
What is true and right?
How should I live and what should I do?
I can say Orwell, here, has caused me to think, reflect and take a look at myself in the mirror.
Much as the sciences require intellectual rigor, empirical evidence and much skepticism, there are bands of Western anti-science postmodernists in their wake, too, who can sink into a kind of nebulous modern mysticism, building museums as temples.
Just as there are humanists there are anti-humanists.
‘The paleo fantasy is a fantasy in part because it supposes that we humans, or at least our protohuman forebears, were at some point perfectly adapted to our environments. We apply this erroneous idea of evolution’s producing the ideal mesh between organism and surroundings to other life forms, too, not just to people.’
There’s a lot of confusion out there in the popular mind, apparently. Fascinating discoveries going on right now in genetics, genome research, and evolutionary biology, to name a few.
Because nobody asked, I tend to be skeptical of the Noble Savage, Rousseau’s State of Nature, and some products of the Nietzschean, tragic, romantic tradition in Europe. There are also lots of folks milling around America seeking a kind of collectivist utopian harmony in nature, as well.
It can be a long ways to travel to get from Darwin back to God and organized religion (too far for many people) and this blog remains generally agnostic, defensive of the broad, but fragile, traditions necessary for civil society and individual liberty.
It can also be a long way from Darwin to arrive at Natural Rights, Locke’s life, liberty and property, as well as Roman and classical ideas of law and even to Montesquieu.
Check out Darwinian Conservatism, as Larry Arnhart is dealing with many of these ideas. Here’s the banner from the site:
‘The Left has traditionally assumed that human nature is so malleable, so perfectible, that it can be shaped in almost any direction. By contrast, a Darwinian science of human nature supports traditionalist conservatives and classical liberals in their realist view of human imperfectibility, and in their commitment to ordered liberty as rooted in natural desires, cultural traditions, and prudential judgments.’
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, lightly tapping upon the heads of radicals.
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.
See the interview below for a discussion of what Steele has lived through and how he came to doubt the rise of Identity and power politics during the 1960’s (people speaking out against the dominant ‘narratives’ actually are in a minority these days, and subject to censure by many new gatekeepers):
As I see things, establishing facts while arguing and applying the law (A Nation Of Laws) is one of the cornerstones of our Republic.
Legitimate moral authority, institutional competence and public trust are hard to come by, and will likely be harder still in the years to come.
In my experience, there is some other value or ideal placed higher than law, fact and freedom of speech regarding the issues Steele discusses (Ideologies which support (V)ictims against (O)ppresors, (I)dentity above Citizenship, (E)quity or (S)ocial (J)ustice) above individual choice and equality under the law. The flaws in internal logic and real-world conflicts created in pursuit of many such ideas will always be resolved in the utopia to come.
I can think of many currents affecting this state of affairs, including postmodern drift (individuals isolated from all tradition and responsibility,.. narratives all the way down), the baptized Marxism of Reverend Wright’s church and the Democratic Socialism of Cornel West.
A lot of Steele’s thinking comes down to the support of what he calls ‘poetic truths’ over the establishment of empirical fact.
In fact, applying this thinking to the reparations debate, I’d say Ta Nehisi Coates was the voice of ‘poetic truth’, while Coleman Hughes’ was defending empirical fact:
‘He had not walked five hundred yards down the road when he saw, within reach of him, the plaster figure of a Negro sitting bent over on a low yellow brick fence that curved around a wide lawn. The Negro was about Nelson’s size and he was pitched forward at an unsteady angle because the putty that held him to the wall had cracked. One of his eyes was entirely white and he held a piece of brown watermelon.’
Redemption, mercy, original sin, and a decent short-story leaving you not knowing what to think, exactly.
================ Also As Sent In: Martin Luther King’s intellectual development came mainly through theology and seminary, social gospel (addressing social injustices), but also depended on various other sources, including Gandhi’s non-violent resistance (not acquiescence) to displace the force of the laws used against blacks for centuries. He welcomed a broad definition of rights enacted into law to include black folks, and a vast involvement of Federal authority…
And…where some of that energy has gone…further Left.
‘Being a leftist is a calling, not a career; it’s a vocation not a profession. It means you are concerned about structural violence, you are concerned about exploitation at the work place, you are concerned about institutionalized contempt against gay brothers and lesbian sisters, hatred against peoples of color, and the subordination of women.’
‘This work provides as ambitious and complete a defense of traditional natural theology as is currently in print. Its aim is to vindicate the view of the greatest philosophers of the past— thinkers like Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Aquinas, Leibniz, and many others— that the existence of God can be established with certainty by way of purely rational arguments. It thereby serves as a refutation both of atheism and of the fideism that gives aid and comfort to atheism.’
‘Edward Feser, a Roman Catholic philosopher, disagrees. His book is an exercise in the drive to go where Hobbes, Hume and Kant said we could not go, finding something lying behind the world as we know it, something necessary and unchanging that sustains and in some sense explains the contingent, shifting, natural world and our capacity to think about it.’
‘Edward Feser himself is not at all drawn to silent contemplation inside the monastery walls. He is a vigorous proponent of a morality of natural law, holding, for instance, that abortion is as bad as murder. His ancient exercises in logic are more than just intellectual amusements. They are preludes to the will to power, and if it were not for the Enlightenment, so little admired by John Gray, they would doubtless have continued to be preludes to persecutions and the auto-da-fé.’
‘On the one hand, Blackburn must limit the powers of human reason sufficiently to prevent them from being able to penetrate, in any substantive way, into the ultimate “springs and principles” of nature. For that is the only way to block ascent to a divine first cause – the existence and nature of which, the Scholastic says, follows precisely from an analysis of what it would be to be an ultimate explanation...
…On the other hand, Blackburn has to make sure that this skepticism is not so thoroughgoing that it takes science and Humean philosophy down too, alongside natural theology.’
On that note, on the profound and what I’d call ‘Will’ tradition nihilist skepticism of modernity, progress and high liberalism, as Blackburn also reviews John Gray’s new book ‘Seven Types Of Atheism‘
‘After this taxonomy the book is largely an indictment of misguided thinkers and writers since the Enlightenment, peppered with discreditable stories from their biographies. The examples are sad enough, and Gray uses them to support a general pessimism about human beings altogether, other people being just as bad as religionists. Woe to those who think that things have been or could be improved! Eventually the list becomes reminiscent of Monty Python’s “What have the Romans ever done for us?” substituting the Enlightenment for the Romans. We are all lying in the gutter, and the right things to look at are not the stars above, but the rubbish all around us. The only thing we progress towards is death’
If you’re interested, the below are from past related posts on this site:
‘John Gray’s “Silence of Animals” is an attack on humanism. He condemns this widely accepted secular faith as a form of delusional self-flattery.’
‘The question Gray poses is of fundamental importance, so one wishes the book were better. It is not a systematic argument, but a varied collection of testimonies interspersed with Gray’s comments.’
Clearly humanism could use more serious critics and pushback.
Nagel finishes with:
‘Gray thinks the belief in progress is fueled by humanists’ worship of “a divinized version of themselves.” To replace it he offers contemplation: “Contemplation can be understood as an activity that aims not to change the world or to understand it, but simply to let it be.” Though he distinguishes this from the ideal of mystical transcendence toward a higher order of being, it, too, seems more like a form of escape than a form of realism. Hope is a virtue, and we should not give it up so easily.’
Gray discusses the book here:
While science may proceed and real progress is taking place, in the realms of ethics and politics, Gray suggests things are learned but they don’t stay learned.
Are we rational beings? Rational animals?
What about a Church Of England, somewhat Hegelian, defense of conservatism as a defense of that which one loves?:
In the Q & A afterwards, Scruton receives about as pointed a post-lecture questioning on his metaphysics as I’ve seen.
“Nigel: Has relativism had its day as an influential philosophical position?
Simon: No – and I don’t think it should ever die. The danger is that it gets replaced by some kind of complacent dogmatism, which is at least equally unhealthy. The Greek sceptics thought that confronting a plurality of perspectives is the beginning of wisdom, and I think they were right. It is certainly the beginning of historiography and anthropology, and if we think, for instance, of the Copernican revolution, of self-conscious science. The trick is to benefit from an imaginative awareness of diversity, without falling into a kind of “anything goes” wishy-washy nihilism or scepticism….”
It looks like we’ve been dealing with such a problem for a long time, in one form or another.
A curious mix of Handmaid’s Tale inspired-performance stuff (all dudes), and Extinction Rebellion Eco-Romanticide?
Welcome to Seattle!
Dear Reader, have you heard about Peace Pavilion West?
Our Leader, Dale, is the next ‘Great Man Of History’ as foretold in the Book Of Secular Revelations. His thoroughly (S)cientific visions align with the restless postmodern search for meaning and the (S)elf. Our Community mediates the pressures of global awareness and local identity, validating the feelings denied by existing hierarchies and rules.
After your personal has become political, and your politics has lost an election or two, the wind blows cold.
Ablute yourself with the waters of Gaia.
Some links and thoughts on such endless performance and protest, and making your highest good doomsaying, culty behavior.
‘Globalization is having very odd effects on our thinking, but none is more curious than the Olympian project of turning the West’s cultural plurality into a homogenized rationalism designed for export to, and domination over, the rest of the world‘
Look out for the irrationalist response to the increasing authority of the secular liberal vision. Some of the worst reactions will come from both the Left, and the postmodern soup.