Nihilism

Link To Roger Scruton’s 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.

In the final moments, Robert George, also posits that Scruton’s four presented categories actually rather resemble Aristotle’s Order of Nature and three of them Aristotle’s Practical Reason.

Interesting presentation by an interesting thinker, indeed.

Below is some criticism of Scruton from a Kantian-Friesian line of thinking.

Is there a turn back towards the Hegelian ‘we’ from the Kantian ‘I?’

However attractive and practical Scruton’s deployment of the ‘lebenswelt’ in describing the day to day relationships in which we find ourselves (a tissue of contingencies, possibilities and ‘I’ ‘thou’ relationships); however useful the ‘lebenswelt’ might be providing robust criticism of the totalitarian ideologies and scientism of post-Enlightenment ideological utopians, are the Hegelian dangers to abstract, absolutize and collectivize still present?

‘Now, I think that this is an accurate and honest presentation of Wittgenstein’s thought, except perhaps for the notion of “an independent world,” which sounds like a metaphysical assertion; but it also makes it look like Roger Scruton has fallen into the same kind of dark well as the “nonsense machine” of post-modernism that he examined in his other book.

First of all, if we have decided that the “emphasis” of Frege on truth is now to be replaced with the “more fundamental demand” that our language conform to “correctness,” alarm bells should go off. There is in fact nothing more fundamental than truth, if we are talking about knowledge or logic (and not just “communication”); and “correctness” could mean anything, varying with the standard that is applied to judge it. But we quickly get what the standard of “correctness” is, and that is the “common usage” that has “created the rules,” outside of which we cannot “look,” to govern our linguistic practice. These are rules that the invididual cannot decide for himself but that somehow “we,” collectively, in our “form of life” have created.

Key points there are that the autonomous individual and the “independent world” have both dropped out of the treatment. Scruton, as we might suspect for a Hegelian, does not speak up for the individual, but even his explicit invocation of the “independent world” is immediately voided by the assertion that only language itself, in its practice, correctness, and form of life, determines what is going to stand as the equivalent of truth. Thus, the chilling absurdity is that “the ultimate facts are language,” while, naively, we might think that facts are characteristics of the “independent world” that determine truth, as the Early Wittgenstein himself had said. In an objective world without facts, language is the substitute (whose status is somehow established by facts about the world).’

What are some dangers of the projects of reason in the wake of the Enlightenment, or stretching post-Enlightenment reason into a replacement for God, tradition, and Natural Law: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”Trolley Problems, Utilitarian Logic, Liberty, Self-Defense & Property

Leo Strauss tried to tackle that problem, among others with the reason/revelation distinction, did he succeed? How might this relate to the Heglian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Addition:  As a friend points out:  Strauss is trying to get around the 2nd Nietzschean crisis of modernity, and the cinching and tightening of moral, political, and philosophical thinking into only an Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment pursuit of truth under Reason alone.  The Natural Right and Natural Law Philosophies, including and a pursuit of the truth which can involve religion (Augustine?), or Greek conceptions of the good and the true as applied to the city-state vastly broaden and prevent the inherent nihilism in these waves of modernity as Strauss saw them…historicism being one of these Enlightenment pursuits, from political science to the social sciences to Hegelian and post-Hegelian historicism…the logic is followed to its inherently nihilistic ends.  This poses a threat to individual liberty among other things…

Watching The Shadows Go By-A Few Links & Thoughts On Romantic Primitivism, ‘Culture’ And Political Idealism

Let me project some of my own interpretations onto the cave wall.

Photo taken by Nikola Solic (a fine photographer) of a display at the Neanderthal Musuem in Krapina, Croatia.

For many Westerners, perhaps there is no longer a God revealing Himself to Man, but there are expanding fields of knowledge and human endeavors able to light the way forwards onto a future of hope and progress; backwards onto human origins.

In the popular media (such as in the publications displaying the photo above), perhaps this knowledge can align with current popular sentiment and belief.  An imprimatur, of sorts.

Such thinking can also coincide with a rather Romantic Idealization of Nature; a vision of Man without dominion over Nature, necessarily, but rather men, women, children and an ever growing list of humans (and animals, even) living both frustratingly apart, but also interconnected within Nature, following Nature’s lead alone and with each other.

Most people, I suspect, often without such specialized knowledge (not specifically trained in the sciences), require a lot of moral oughts and shoulds regarding how to live and what to do.

Furthermore, people tend to organize into groups united by shared principles and beliefs, and so often, in the modern world, beneath political ideals and political ideologies.  Even if these political ideals and ideologies aren’t explict moral philosophies, necessarily, they can certainly end-up engaging the moral sentiments, basic human desires and motivations of the people within them.

Such movements are certainly understood by many of their members as posessing truth and knowledge enough to write the laws and rules we all must follow, prescribing our own personal moral behavior enough to align us with the people who ought to be in charge of us.

Perhaps the poet or Romantic genius can help guide Man into the Self and the Self into Nature.  The poet/thinker’s example can be full of grief, anguish and Nature’s brutality, indeed, but it can also offer moments of self-actualization, beauty, consolation and transcendence. It can be taught as part of a civilizing hierarchy or canon, a reef of traditions and structure enough to develop seriously good artists and produce quite a few educated citizens.

I suspect there’s always been a tension between the poet/artist and the Man of Science and Mathematics; people generally more concerned in seeking the underlying order and patterns within Nature, discovering the probabilistic and mathematical laws able to accurately describe and predict the strange world in which we seem to find ourselves. Such laws can be beautiful, and symmetrical, and true just for their own sake, sure, but like a good poem, a mathematical law remains curiously silent about how to live and what to do.

Addition: Perhaps, I might add, but perhaps not. Perhaps it’s worth thinking about just which dangers accompany such lights, and which problems endure.

The late Roger Sandall, here:

‘The claim that “open societies” are now increasingly threatened would probably meet with little argument. But what is the nature of the threat, and what are its roots? Here less agreement might be found. Some would say an essentially religious clash of civilizations is the main cause, and point to the growing struggle between Islam and the West.

Others might point to Russia under President Putin, finding evidence of a long-standing political tradition that owes relatively little to the Russian Orthodox Church, but has always found liberty odious.

And then there’s a third and troubling possibility — that from an evolutionary perspective, taking a long view of our historic and prehistoric origins, open societies where voluntaristic principles prevail are new forms of human association only recently arrived from the distant tribal past, and in the more violent trouble spots around the world they never arrived at all.’

The late Ken Minogue:

On the many dangers of political idealism, and using political theory as the limits of your field of vision:

‘We may sum this up by saying that the more the style of what used to be called politics becomes theorized, the more political problems come to be reintrepreted as managerial.  Working out the least oppressive laws under which different and sometimes conflicting groups may live peaceably together is being replaced by manipulation and management of the attitudes different groups take towards each other, with the hope that this will ultimately bring harmony.  In other words, in the new form of society, human beings are becoming the matter which is to be shaped according to the latest moral idea.’

-Minogue, Kenneth.  Politics.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1995. (Pg 111).

Related: A definition of humanism:

“‘…a morally concerned style of intellectual atheism openly avowed by only a small minority of individuals (for example, those who are members of the British Humanist Association) but tacitly accepted by a wide spectrum of educated people in all parts of the Western world.”

Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’

Related On This Site: From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution

Denis Dutton suggested art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth…the money and the fame) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’…

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“ and…

Robert Hughes, Australian and often fierce critic of modernism and post-modernism.

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Update & Repost-From The LA Review Of Books-‘Death By Prefix? The Paradoxical Life Of Modernist Studies’

Full piece here.

What is modernism, exactly?

This blog is still trying to work towards a definition:

‘Like many scholars of modernism, I’m often asked two questions: What is modernism? And why is modernist studies, it seems, all the rage right now? I don’t have a good, succinct answer to either question — and I’ve no doubt frustrated plenty of friends because of that — but the reasons why I don’t are pretty telling.’

From the comments:

‘The most useful definition of modernist fiction I’ve encountered comes from Brian McHale’s Postmodernist Fiction. He says modernist fiction tends to “foreground epistemological questions” such as “How can I interpret the world I’m part of? What is there to be known?Who knows it? What are the limits of that knowledge?” In contrast, postmodernist fiction tends to “foreground ontological questions” such as “What is a world? What kinds of worlds are there and how are they constituted? What happens when…boundaries between worlds are violated?’

As previously posted:

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

Repost-‘Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?’

Land Art Links Along A With A Quite Modernist W.S. Merwin Poem

William Logan At The New Criterion: ‘Pound’s Metro’…Monday Poem: ‘A Pact’ By Ezra Pound

Of some note:

James Lileks responds to an Atlantic piece

‘There is no morality in art. There is morality in religion; there are philosophical objectives embedded in politics. The two are intertwined in a society and reflected in its art. When you sever art from its cultural moorings and make “newness” the overriding criterion by which the merits of a work are judged, then anything is possible. This results in crap. Not always’

James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Ezra Pound, the Bauhaus, the imagists, the futurists etc. Some of those influences have morphed into post-modernism or where such currents have flowed and keep flowing.  Were they the best models, or has much been lost in translation?

Lileks’ take:

‘The primary urge of the revolutionary and the modernist and the adolescent: impatience.’

So, do we aim for maturity?  Reverence?  Good old Longfellow?  Sonnets?  Rhyming couplets delivered by higher powers to monks in haylofts?

Perhaps there is a growing body of intellectual and cultural pushback against the ‘-Isms’ (environmentalism, feminism, utopian political idealism) as these ideals and idealists continue their contact with current institutions, Nature and human nature.

It’s tough to get an education in the arts and humanities these days, moving through the postmodern landscape, without running into pockets of ‘-Isms.’

Results vary:

It’s not that the sciences, nor even the social sciences, don’t contain valid truth and knowledge claims.

This isn’t worrying so much as the cults of rationality and irrationality out and about; the reefs of radical discontent and group-thought hardening into new rules.

It’s not that change doesn’t need to happen, nor that what’s true remains even if we don’t want it to be so, rather, it’s the inability of many moderns to provide deep enough wisdom, truth and understanding so as not not slip into the same old problems with authority and hierarchy.

I think for some people, there’s an appealing critique of liberal rationalism contained within nihilism, but also something deeper which draws folks to seek out other ideas:  An instinctive defense of the arts, myth, music, and tradition; the complexities of the human heart and mind, the long sweep of history, the wisdom contained within religious texts.

Defending tradition, even perhaps having been influenced by Nietzsche to some extent, has become heretical in parts of the academy and the media.

Merely pushing back against the influence of Foucault and Lacan in the academy, or  perhaps questioning the motives of student radicals during Paris ’68, can be enough to torpedo an academic career:

Before modernism, there was the Romantic break of the individual artistic genius driving all this change forward on his own.  Isaiah Berlin had some thoughts about this (as well as the horrendous totalitarianism which emerges when you start-out thinking the Ends Of Man are already known).

Thanks, reader.  Probably worth revisiting:

Related On This Site:Appeasement Won’t Do-Via A Reader, ‘Michael Ignatieff Interview With Isaiah Berlin’

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”…

Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Anyways, let’s enjoy a poem:

Cousin Nancy

Miss Nancy Ellicott
Strode across the hills and broke them,
Rode across the hills and broke them—
The barren New England hills—
Riding to hounds
Over the cow-pasture.

Miss Nancy Ellicott smoked
And danced all the modern dances;
And her aunts were not quite sure how they felt about it,
But they knew that it was modern.

Upon the glazen shelves kept watch
Matthew and Waldo, guardians of the faith,
The army of unalterable law.

T.S. Eliot  

Matthew=Matthew Arnold. Waldo=Ralph Waldo Emerson

Jordan Peterson And Sue Blackmore Debate A Rather Pedestrian Materialist Account Of The World

Jordan Peterson deploys Jungian metaphysics, downstream of Nietzsche, to make knowledge claims which challenge Blackmore’s reasonably pedestrian modern materialism and atheism.

In other words, Peterson’s defense of Jungian archetypes, including those potentially found in the Bible (and viewed from the depths of Nietzsche’s nihilism), might connect with biology more profoundly than Blackmore’s psychological materialism might have been able to address.

Nihilism is an interesting epistemological ground out of which to make knowledge claims of transcendant objects, or at least, out of which to synthesize biological knowledge and possibly knowledge claims which align within the burgeoning field of neuroscience.

The desire each of us seems to have for transcendence, wisdom and stories (especially kids) within the subjectivity of our own lived experiences, the deeper hopes and beliefs which seem ever-present (if not consciously realized) in our waking lives, the relationships with loved ones which inform, and probably ought to inform our moral judgments and moral thinking, might align with Jungian archetypes, Greek myths and the King James Bible, and thus some sort of Nietzschen nihilist denial of objective reality or the structure of the material world explored by the sciences…or…they might not.

As posted: John Gray challenged Steven Pinker’s knowledge claims for the measurable material progress going on around the globe with a heavy Nietzschean and nihilist influence.  In other words, things in ethics and politics get learned, but don’t stay learned, and the actual progress and the doctrines of progress may be two different things.

On such thinking, there is a spiritual crisis going on in the Western World as important as the post-Enlightenment advancements in the sciences, and the postmodern nihilist reactions against the natural sciences.

Gray also reviewed two books, one by Marxist dissector of postmodernism, anti-New Atheist, and literary critic, Terry Eagleton,(filling a religion-sized hole with Marxism) and the other by Peter Watson.

Gray finished with:

‘Reared on a Christian hope of redemption (he was, after all, the son of a Lutheran minister), Nietzsche was unable, finally, to accept a tragic sense of life of the kind he tried to retrieve in his early work. Yet his critique of liberal rationalism remains as forceful as ever. As he argued with masterful irony, the belief that the world can be made fully intelligible is an article of faith: a metaphysical wager, rather than a premise of rational inquiry. It is a thought our pious unbelievers are unwilling to allow. The pivotal modern critic of religion, Friedrich Nietzsche will continue to be the ghost at the atheist feast.’

Some related links on this site:

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?:

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

-Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of the New Republic since the 60′s, responded at The New Republic: ‘No, Science Doesn’t Have All The Answers.

-Ross Douthat, conservative Catholic columnist at the Times jumped in the fray: ‘The Scientism Of Steve Pinker’

-Jerry Coyne, evolutionary biologist, responded to Douthat.

-Wieseltier jumped back in with: ‘Crimes Against Humanities: Now science wants to invade the humanities. Don’t let it happen.

-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.’

Got all that?

Related On This Site: From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Nietzsche–Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?’

Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…See the comments Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was SuccessfulUpdate And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

Out of the Valley of modernism, post-modernism, and relativism…one path from Nietzsche’s nihilism is through Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom: Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo StraussFrom Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’

Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers of Kantian reason?: From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantA Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Peter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

Full post here.

‘In November of 1887, the Danish scholar George Brandes wrote a letter to Nietzsche praising his writings and endorsing his “aristocratic radicalism.”  Nietzsche responded by accepting this label: “The expression Aristocratic Radicalism, which you employ, is very good.  It is, permit me to say, the cleverest thing I have yet read about myself.”‘

Excellent, as always.

‘Finally, as I have indicated in some previous posts, Nietzsche’s aristocratic liberalism is based on a Darwinian anthropology that is open to empirical verification or falsification, while his aristocratic radicalism is based on mythopoetic fictions–the will to power, eternal recurrence, the Ubermensch, and Dionysian religiosity–that are beyond empirical testing.

From all of this, I conclude that Nietzsche’s Darwinian aristocratic liberalism is superior to his Dionysian aristocratic radicalism.’

Arnhart maintains that Nietzsche’s middle period, focused on Darwin’s thought, is the most defensible.

Here’s a quote from Leo Strauss, on Nietzsche beginning the 3rd crisis of modernity, having followed the logic of relativism to nihilism:

‘The theoretical analysis of life is noncommittal and fatal to commitment, but life means commitment.  To avert the danger to life, Nietzsche could choose one of two ways: he could insist on the strictly esoteric character of the theoretical analysis of life–that is restore the Platonic notion of the noble delusion–or else he could deny the possibility of theory proper. and so conceive of theory as essentially subservient to, or dependent on, life or fate.  If not Nietzsche himself, at any rate his successors adopted the second alternative.’

A paper arguing that Strauss conflated his own critique of modernity with the intentions of philosophers:

‘A fervent critic of modernity, Leo Strauss attributed modernity’s intellectual degradation to the influence of some great philosophers in the history of political thought who radically broke with classical political thinking.  In doing so, Strauss believed, these thinkers either directly or indirectly contributed to the emergence of historicism and positivism, and he held these movements accountable for spineless relativism, nihilism, and modernity’s moral and intellectual demise.’

Science Is Real, Water Is Life, If You Just Believe, There’ll Be No Strife

As found in a yard, on Capital Hill, in Seattle:

IMG_1206(1)

I’m not sure the intellectual provenance of such ideas, nor even if they form any kind of coherent doctrine, but they strike me as a melange of Christian principles, liberal idealism and radical activist causes.

I still don’t see the greatest threats to political liberty coming from the political right at the moment:

John Locke found here:

“7. What is meant by enthusiasmThis I take to be properly enthusiasm, which, though founded neither on reason nor divine revelation, but rising from the conceits of a warmed or overweening brain, works yet, where it once gets footing, more powerfully on the persuasions and actions of men than either of those two, or both together: men being most forwardly obedient to the impulses they receive from themselves; and the whole man is sure to act more vigorously where the whole man is carried by a natural motion. For strong conceit, like a new principle, carries all easily with it, when got above common sense, and freed from all restraint of reason and check of reflection, it is heightened into a divine authority, in concurrence with our own temper and inclination.”

Jordan Peterson’s epistemological foundations can be challenged, his assumptions probed, his ideas teased-out to some foreseen/unforeseen logical consequences, but let’s not forget that he’s been taking a huge personal hit (with some personal gain) in standing-up for the ability to debate foundations, assumptions and ideas freely in public.

A defense of tradition by way of the social sciences (psychology, in this case) can make one a heretic.

A defense of the social sciences (IQ research) with policy implications can make one heretical against those whose assumptions guide them to try and save the world through potentially dangerous utopianism and political activism:

On the Sam Harris/Ezra Klein debate regarding race, IQ and Charles Murray.

On what happened when Charles Murray tried to speak at Middlebury College and encountered a frenzied mob of cult-like intensity, which eventually became violent:

On what happened when Bret Weinstein (whose progressive ideals I generally don’t share, but whose intellectual freedom, evo-bio research and freedom of speech I obviously do) stood up to a day of exclusion at Evergreen State:

It wasn’t exactly peaceful:

As previously posted:

From 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.’

Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”

Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy:

‘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.’

As to these more radical groups splintering and applying pressure upwards upon institutions of learning (or at least remaining very vocal and demanding voices within them), I remain skeptical of merely relying upon an adaptable and healthy post-Enlightenment humanism to push back against them in the long-run.

It seems groups of post-Enlightenment individuals gathering to solve commonly defined problems is a risky business, indeed, or at least subject to the same old schisms and problems religious institutions underwent and continue to undergo regarding human nature. I think it’s fair to say people and institutions are often requiring of constraints, especially when it comes to political power and lawmaking; especially when it comes to the challenges our civilization faces from within and without in maintaining institutional authority.

I’d like to think that secularly liberal leadership, more broadly, including the people who want to be in charge of all of us (at their best operating from within moral communities of not too great a solipsism and self-regard) can resist such pressures. For there certainly are those who would fracture our institutions into rafts of post-Enlightenment ‘-isms’ and politicized movements often driven by illiberal ideologies; movements relying on the presumed self-sufficiency of reason while behaving quite irrationally.

I’m looking around and not seeing too much decency in American politics, lately.

A.C. Grayling makes one of the better cases for morality without religious doctrine, I’ve heard of late, but I’m not entirely sold these particular problems can be addressed sufficiently:

His recent public statements don’t help

Moving Towards Truth And Liberty, But What To Conserve?-Some Thoughts On The Bret & Eric Weinstein Interview

Via The Rubin Report:

As I currently see events, a self-directed life and the freedom to live such a life is a blessing of the Enlightenment, indeed, but much Enlightenment thinking has also 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, and the triumph of the individual artist, revealing and having revelations, creating, striving, and making anew in a process of casting old models aside. Towering genuises abound. Many are European.

Generations and centuries later, however, 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, mathematics 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…where group identity can easily crowd out the pursuit of truth and individual autonomy). 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, and such individuals are still 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, expanding human understanding of the natural world, more accurately 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 (boiling over, but accurately, I think, representing many of the fissures and chasms in civil society right now).

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.

Related On This Site:

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”…

Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

The radical and rationalist project, anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism: Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”

Somewhere from the old aristocratic Russia softly speaks a keen mind in beautiful, strange English: Michael Dirda At The Washington Post Reviews ‘Nabokov in America’

How might this relate to the Heglian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Via Youtube-‘Week 2 Leo Strauss-The Three Waves Of Modernity’

From The NY Times Via A & L Daily: Helen Vendler On Wallace Stevens ‘The Plain Sense Of Things’

Wandering the Sea Of Fog Above Your Hotel Bed-Diminished Things: Theodore Dalrymple On Susan Sontag

From Fans Of Theodore Dalrymple: ‘The White Race Is The Cancer Of The Human History.’

Susan Sontag couldn’t mean such nonsense, could she?

‘The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine ballets, et al., don’t redeem what this particular civilisation has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history; it is the white race and it alone — its ideologies and inventions.’

Yes and no, probably.

Traversing the rocky outcrops of the postmodern landscape can lead to occasional outbursts of moral grandeur.  Beneath the fog, hilltops can present themselves as though all of ‘(H)istory’ is coming into view.

Bathing in the thermal pools of group identity, deep inside of this ritual or that, perhaps chanting ‘power-theories’ to feel some warmth and comfort; all may quiet the conscience for a time.

Sooner or later, though, action is required. The injustice becomes unbearable.  The Self lies suspended atop ‘(H)istory’ and the utopias to come under its oppressions.

What were once Romantic visions of grandeur high above the clouds (is that an old German castle?) were still available to some Modernists, but maybe even fewer postmodernists, yet.

Where are these things headed?

Addition: It would seem I can state the radical case well enough that actual radicals are mistaking this post for one of sympathy.

—-

Be careful where you put your Self, dear reader, as your moral sentiments, hope and despair will follow.

If I’m going to make an appeal to your Self, then at least let me do it in more pragmatic fashion, away from these many post-Enlightenment dead-ends and radical discontents.

Related On This Site:Appeasement Won’t Do-Via A Reader, ‘Michael Ignatieff Interview With Isaiah Berlin’

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”…

Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Kelley Ross responds to a correspondent on Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism, while discussing John Gray as well:

Now, I do not regard Berlin’s value pluralism as objectionable or even as wrong, except to the extend that it is irrelevant to the MORAL issue and so proves nothing for or against liberalism. Liberalism will indeed recommend itself if one wishes to have a regime that will respect, within limits, a value pluralism. I have no doubt that respecting a considerable value pluralism in society is a good thing and that a nomocratic regime that, mostly, leaves people alone is morally superior to a teleocratic regime that specifies and engineers the kinds of values that people should have. However, the project of showing that such a regime IS a good thing and IS morally superior is precisely the kind of thing that Gray decided was a failure.

Thus, I believe Gray himself sees clearly enough that a thoroughgoing “value pluralism” would mean that the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini is just as morally justified as the regime of Thomas Jefferson. Gray prefers liberalism (or its wreckage) for the very same reason that the deconstructionist philosopher Richard Rorty prefers his leftism: it is “ours” and “we” like it better. Why Gray, or Rorty, should think that they speak for the rest of “us” is a good question. ‘

and about providing a core to liberalism:

‘Why should the state need a “sufficient rational justificaton” to impose a certain set of values? The whole project of “rational justification” is what Gray, and earlier philosophers like Hume, gave up on as hopeless. All the state need do, which it has often done, is claim that its values are favored by the majority, by the General Will, by the Blood of the Volk, or by God, and it is in business.’

And that business can quickly lead to ever-greater intrusion into our lives:

‘J.S. Mill, etc., continue to be better philosophers than Berlin or Gray because they understand that there must be an absolute moral claim in the end to fundamental rights and negative liberty, however it is thought, or not thought, to be justified. Surrendering the rational case does not even mean accepting the overall “value pluralism” thesis, since Hume himself did not do so. ‘

The radical and rationalist project, anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism: Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”

Somewhere from the old aristocratic Russia softly speaks a keen mind in beautiful, strange English: Michael Dirda At The Washington Post Reviews ‘Nabokov in America’

How might this relate to the Heglian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Via Youtube-‘Week 2 Leo Strauss-The Three Waves Of Modernity’

From The NY Times Via A & L Daily: Helen Vendler On Wallace Stevens ‘The Plain Sense Of Things’

For Today, I Suppose This Will Do-Two Quotes From Roger Scruton

‘The same idea occurs in Schopenhauer, for whom the truth of the world is Will, which cannot be represented in concepts.  Schopenhauer devoted roughly 500,000 words to this thing that no words can capture…’

‘…I too am tempted to eff the ineffable.  like my philosophical predecessors, I want to describe that world beyond the window, even though I know that it cannot be described but only revealed.  I am not alone in thinking that world to be real and important.  But there are many who dismiss it as unscientific cast of mind are disagreeable to me.  Their nerdish conviction that facts alone can signify, and that the ‘transcendental’ and the eternal are nothing but words, mark them out as incomplete. There is an aspect of the human condition that is denied to them. ‘

Scruton, Roger. Effing The IneffableConfessions Of A Heretic. Notting Hill Editions Ltd, 2016. Print. (Pgs 87 & 88).

Personally, I’m not sure that all naturalists and people in the sciences I’ve known wish to reduce the world to strictly mathematical laws, nor consign all domains of human endeavor to ‘non-science.’

Some people, I suspect, have the onboard wiring and have pursued learning which make them profoundly interested in order, patterns, and logic. Some people are just really smart and dedicate themselves to a particular problem or two, maybe possessing the genius and courage, even, to define a new problem after years of hard work of mastering a field, leading to genuine new knowledge.

I am grateful for the Mars Curiosity Rover, and the hundreds of engineers that worked for much of their professional lives to land this thing on Mars.  It’s still yielding valuable data.

Now, there’s arrogance, hubris and false pride to be in all of us, to be sure, and many sharp thinkers are no exception (in some cases the bigger the brain (or ego), the bigger the fool).  I don’t find foolish and/or earnest conviction in any short supply on this Earth.

To be fair, I don’t think this proves, nor does Scruton even attempt to prove, that the ineffable, therefore, exists (or if the ineffable does exist, as it reveals itself to us, that it requires saying or expression through us, nor through Handel or Bach or post-Kantian German thinking).

Such expression surely offers me consolation, though, for I take refuge in works of art.  I am profoundly grateful to walk at evening and listen to a few minutes of music:

I am profoundly grateful that I may share in someone else’s pain, suffering and disconsolation, across centuries, transmuted into an act of beauty and wonder, through a centuries-developed form and method (an orchestra is rather a thing of technical achievement, too, just as is a store-bought guitar or a Korg).

Sure, there’s much epistemological ignorance amongst some in the sciences and, frankly, within all of us.

Come to think of it, I think most of us manage one or a few things well, and mess up at least a few areas of our lives without even trying.  It’s also very, very tempting to talk about that which we know very little (this blog, for instance), as though something is known.

This may make me no more than a 2nd or 3rd rate idea man, taking, essentially, more than has been given.

For today, I suppose this will do.

Repost-Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’

Also On This Site:  Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To JudgmentFrom YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism

Via The University Of British Colombia: Kant-Summary Of Essential PointsFrom Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantSunday Quotation: From Jonathan Bennett On Kant

From The Times Higher Education: Simon Blackburn On The The Atheist/Believer DebateFrom Bloggingheads: Adam Frank And Eliezer Yudkowsky

 

Repost-Graeme Wood At The Atlantic-‘His Kampf: Richard Spencer Is A Troll And An Icon For White Supremacists. He Was Also My High-School Classmate’

There sure are a lot of people ignoring the obvious fascism of the anti-fascists inviting the fascists into their collectivist, ideological embrace, giving meaning to a lot of rather pathetic, lonely people.

The individuals focusing on the idea of racial categories, collectivist solutions to individual problems, equity-first and tribal/group-first ideological and political frameworks have the right to peaceably assemble, of course, but there must be law and order and there must be enough individual citizens answering bad speech with more speech.

I am hoping (perhaps unwisely) for a correction in many media quarters, parts of the academy and the high-liberal turrets where’s there’s been great clamor towards activist logic and increasing emotional commitment to the same old political idealism which gives cover for the violent and radical elements on the Left.

This invites genuine fascism which I sternly and open denounce (not patriotism, not a nation of citizens and laws, not the conservation of liberal order). Violence is not the answer.

Full piece here. (Includes audio interview)

To be fair, I think Wood offers a decent piece of journalism (interviews, phone calls, research etc.); a well-written, longer-form work I find to be in shorter-supply these days.

In it, he highlights Spencer’s Nietzschean-influenced intellectual aspirations and populist ambitions to become a mouthpiece for alt-right advocacy (serious enough to get attention, unserious enough to be poseurish and pathetically fascistic..which means Spencer may not represent more than a vocal minority, even on the alt-right……feel free to send some data my way).

To be critical: What I think Wood misses, and what many anti-Trumpers and liberal ‘gentry’ miss (Trump is an opportunist if there ever was one), is that Richard Spencer (an opportunist if there ever was one) isn’t enjoying his moment in the sun alone. The kind of black bloc, antifa radicalism which Spencer publicly addresses is clearly ok using violence on the way to radical and revolutionary freedom.

Addition: I should clarify that I don’t think Trump is a fascist, but merely an opportunist; a rather socially liberal, NYC real-estate developer.

This leads to the most persuasive arguments I’ve heard criticizing modern liberalism: It’s all too easy to ignore the true-believers, radicals, poseurs and nutbars (they’re our bastards) beneath one’s own platform, especially if they share some version of one’s own cherished beliefs and ideals.

Left and Left-liberal idealism prospers and is even institutionalized at places like Berkeley (no shortage of anti-racist, neo-Marxist, anti-establishment, anti-capitalist sentiment at Berkeley), which helps fuel radicals which help fuel the Richard Spencers.

Fascists and anti-fascists sure can come to resemble one another, trading tired power theories, hitting each other over the head, and trying to squeeze some meaning from similar principles while showboating through the nihilistic void.

Frankly, they deserve each other, and they deserve to be marginalized by the rest of us.

***I don’t think one need be a Nietzschean nor Nietzsche-inspired, nor a Nietzsche-reacting sort of Straussian (from H.L. Mencken to Leo Strauss to Camille Paglia to John Gray) to seriously question the modern liberal and secular human project, and help offer perspective.

But, it probably helps in understanding the fascist tendencies of Spencer and his enemies/allies..

Addition: I should make it clear that Nietzsche didn’t have much truck with fascists, and that he diagnosed, from the depths of his own nihilism, a lot of the crises that would come to face Europe…as for folks like Spencer, they seem to get enough nihilism to carry around while looking for meaning/purpose/identity/belonging elsewhere (in fascist movements)

Repost-From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Nietzsche–Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?’

Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases

On this site, see also:

-Graeme Wood At The Atlantic: ‘The American Leader In The Islamic State’

Hitchens could be entertaining, especially on grounds I’m guessing he knew instinctively well as a former Trotskyite: Ideologies, while highlighting truths, promise a one-stop shop on truth, knowledge, how to be in the world, what to do and what the future will be.

People can kill for less, and when they adhere to such systems, then they can end-up killing more:

Via a reader. Platonic idealism has advantages in restoring both idealism and realism into political debate, but also drawbacks. It can be a bulwark against moral relativism, which is a modern soup in which Left and Right fascism can be found simmering.

A Podcast From Britain: E30 | Dreaming The Future | Natalie Bennett, Phillip Blond, Roger Scruton

Related On This Site: -Repost: Various Products Of Radical Reason And Reactions To Them- John Gray At The New Statesman

-Some thoughts on Fukuyama and Leo Strauss: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Out of the Valley of modernism, post-modernism, and relativism…one path from Nietzsche’s nihilism is through Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom: Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo Strauss

Peter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

Update & Repost-Theodore Dalrymple And Roger Scruton-Don’t Judge Me

Theodore Dalrymple: ‘On Sentimentality And Compassion

”The fiction that all people are equally deserving is a sentimental one. People congratulate themselves on their generosity and largeness of spirit for not making distinctions between the deserving and undeserving, for such distinctions imply a scale of values and all scales of values are in effect mere prejudice, usually of the well-placed in society. They – the distinctions – are a manifestation of complacency and imply a lack of sympathetic or empathetic understanding of a suffering person’s situation. Therefore it is best, intellectually and ethically, to abandon the distinctions altogether.’

And this is to say nothing of the competition and self-identifying that goes on once ‘who is the most compassionate?’ becomes the norm. We are all still creatures subject to vanity, pride and false pride, desirous of praise and respect. This can create a stultifying, tribal in-group/out-group atmosphere where no one is really aware of the moral judgments they’re already making/simply ignoring.

More Dalrymple:

‘Who, then, are ideologists? They are people needy of purpose in life, not in a mundane sense (earning enough to eat or to pay the mortgage, for example) but in the sense of transcendence of the personal, of reassurance that there is something more to existence than existence itself. The desire for transcendence does not occur to many people struggling for a livelihood. Avoiding material failure gives quite sufficient meaning to their lives. By contrast, ideologists have few fears about finding their daily bread. Their difficulty with life is less concrete. Their security gives them the leisure, their education the need, and no doubt their temperament the inclination, to find something above and beyond the flux of daily life.’


Working towards a theme: Politics tends to follow culture, but much culture seeps out of our institutions. And when our institutions charged with teaching what’s important to young people lose sight of certain kinds of judgment, ideology can seep in.

Roger Scruton focused on judgment, or the capacity for judgment attached to ‘I,’ and an ‘I’ which looks towards transcendence when it comes to teaching the humanities, rather than the ‘-isms‘ which have taken root:

‘Surely human beings can do better than this — by the pursuit of genuine scientific explanation on the one hand, and by the study of high culture on the other. A culture does not comprise works of art only, nor is it directed solely to aesthetic interests. It is the sphere of intrinsically interesting artifacts, linked by the faculty of judgment to our aspirations and ideals. We appreciate works of art, arguments, works of history and literature, manners, dress, jokes, and forms of behavior. And all these things are shaped through judgment. But what kind of judgment, and to what does that judgment lead?’

Here’s a quote from George Santayana:

“The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the old man who will not laugh is a fool.”

As Scruton has pointed out, people want to be a part of something, to have meaning and purpose and common lights. Certain ideologies often lead to darkness, as can abandoning your own moral judgment in favor of the compassion and sentiment of the moment.

What I ‘feel’ in the modern and postmodern transcendent quest for Self so often trumps what others feel and whether or not what one ‘feels’ is, in fact, true.

Humanities departments across the fruited plain can display this most openly, having lost a lot of whatever intellectual rigor and pedagogy they once had.  Unsurprisingly, many ideologues adept at colonizing low and mid-level administrative and bureaucratic functions have filled-in.

Of course, one’s own experiences, emotions, and ideas do matter.  In fact, they matter a lot.  Many young people, precisely at the moment of questioning the duties they might have to family, loved ones, friends and fellow citizens most deeply, can become plugged in to ideologies of radical change and ultimately some variant of Marxist revolution.  Here, individual duties, responsibilities and freedoms become secondary to a collectivist and authoritarian/totalitarian political project, which still leads to political dysfunction, utopian thinking, and much human misery.

Keep reading and thinking, indeed

‘Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades.
For ever and forever when I move.’

Does Nature need to lead, follow or get out of the way?  Can we know Nature’s Laws?

Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers of Kantian reason? Or:  From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On Kant

Kant chopped the head off from German deism and the German State has been reeling every since…is value pluralism a response?: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Is there a move afoot in America away from religion, social conservatism, and toward morality via secular Enlightenment ideals…towards value-free relativism?  toward secular morality?:  Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’Repost-Steven Weinberg’s Essay ‘On God’ In The NY Times Review Of BooksRoger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’ …Will Wilkinson At Forbes: ‘The Social Animal by David Brooks: A Scornful Review’..