Benjamin Boyce and ‘Wokal Distance’ have a discussion of postmodern, critical theory, and the intersectional epistemologies now exerting serious influence in many institutions.
Mentioned: Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Derrida, The Matrix, Kimberly Crenshaw etc. Recommended.
Part of this blog’s responsibility: Reaching into the postmodern stew and pulling out quality and properly contextualizing many elements of this movement, so that the arts and sciences can be properly extirpated from such acidic, resentment-driven ideologies.
All power and no truth makes monsters.
On that note, enjoy or don’t enjoy a poem by yours truly.
Quick And Slow Clouds
The rules, knife-smooth, are useful tools for light glinting over worried water. Beneath a soaked, white sheet dripping slowly to the street the afternoon turns blue from looking too long. The firs brush the sky clean. Within deepest green lies a question: Our mountain. Washed as your body was, with raindrops from the ocean.
Here are some iPhone photos on the themes of blue, white, and green:
“For the 2020-2021 graduate admissions cycle, the University of Chicago English Department is accepting only applicants interested in working in and with Black Studies,” the program said in a statement on its website.‘
Some academics stood up to the administration and the decision:
The letter’s signatories include several of the university’s most respected academics, including Professor Sir Tom Devine, Scotland’s pre-eminent historian, Dr Michael Rosie, senior lecturer in sociology, Lindsay Paterson, professor of education policy, and Jonathan Hearn, professor of political and historical sociology.
During my humanities education, I developed an increasing suspicion of the postmodern rejection of tradition, rules, laws, rituals and beliefs, at least with regard to reading, writing and thinking. In engaging with some dull, and other absolutely mesmerizing, works of the creative imagination, I realized many of my own rituals and beliefs were being challenged. There are many experiences, and views, and ways to understand both myself and the world.
This is a good reason to get a good education!
It also slowly dawned on me that the lack of pedagogy, endless deconstructionist academic discussions, canon-less syllabi and increasing identitarian drift (is this person a professor because he/she’s the best poet/teacher or because he/she’s black/female or some mix of both?) were a problem.
A lot of this aimlessness and rebellion had ramped-up in the 1960’s, but since then, I’ve come to understand there are even deeper problems.
I aim to be open-minded, but not so much as to notice my brains falling out.
Interesting paper presented by Erika Kiss, beginning about minute 32:00 (the whole conference is likely worth your time for more knowledge on Oakeshott).
According to Kiss, Oakeshott’s non-teleological, non-purposive view of education is potentially a response to Friedrich Hayek, Martha Nussbaum, and Allan Bloom, in the sense that all of these thinkers posit some useful purpose or outcome in getting a liberal education.
Friedrich Hayek’s profound epistemological attack on rationalist thought is still a system itself, and attaches learning to market-based processes which eventually drive freedom and new thinking in universities. The two are mutually dependent to some extent.
Martha Nussbaum attaches liberal learning to ends such as making us ‘Aristotelian citizens of the world’, or better citizens in a democracy, which has struck me as incomplete at best.
Allan Bloom is profoundly influenced by Straussian neo-classicism, and wants love, classical learning, honor and duty to perhaps be those reasons why a young man or woman should read the classics. This, instead of crass commercialism, the influences of popular music, deconstructionism and logical positivism.
Via A Reader-Isaiah Berlin’s Lectures On The Roots Of Romanticism. Romanticism–>Modernism–>Postmodernism–>Wherever We’re Heading Now
Maybe it all started with Beethoven: Everyone’s a (S)elf.
Isaiah Berlin pretty much blackballed Roger Scruton, so it’s not all roses.
“The works of Shakespeare contain important knowledge. But it is not scientific knowledge, nor could it ever be built into a theory. It is knowledge of the human heart”
“…in the days when the humanities involved knowledge of classical languages and an acquaintance with German scholarship, there was no doubt that they required real mental discipline, even if their point could reasonably be doubted. But once subjects like English were admitted to a central place in the curriculum, the question of their validity became urgent. And then, in the wake of English came the pseudo-humanities—women’s studies, gay studies and the like—which were based on the assumption that, if English is a discipline, so too are they.”
“And since there is no cogent justification for women’s studies that does not dwell upon the subject’s ideological purpose, the entire curriculum in the humanities began to be seen in ideological terms.”
Terry Eagleton, British Marxist and professor in the humanities, debates Scruton below.
Will Marxism & continental philosophy become further guiding lights for the humanities here in America as we find much more so in Britain?
The nihilist claims are deeper than you may think, and the Nietzschean, and Will–>Will to Power German influence is also deeper than most people think; offering profound criticisms of the scientific project, liberalism, liberal institutions, and a secular humanism which is the air many folks breathe these days.
Here’s a somewhat similar vein of thought. From friesian.com:
Although Anglo-American philosophy tended to worship at the feet of science, the drift of academia to the left has led to characteristically totalitarian political attacks on science itself — this despite the leftist program to use “climate science” to impose a Sovietized command economy on energy and the tactic to smear climate skeptics, i.e. “Deniers,” through associaton with Creationism or Neo-Nazi Holocaust denial. None of that has stopped the “post-modern” move…’
‘The paleofantasy 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.’
‘Outrage supposedly felt on behalf of others is extremely gratifying for more than one reason. It has the appearance of selflessness, and everyone likes to feel that he is selfless. It confers moral respectability on the desire to hate or despise something or somebody, a desire never far from the human heart. It provides him who feels it the possibility of transcendent purpose, if he decides to work toward the elimination of the supposed cause of his outrage. And it may even give him a reasonably lucrative career, if he becomes a professional campaigner or politician: For there is nothing like stirring up resentment for the creation of a political clientele.’
There’s something almost religious about the way some people go about pursuing their non-religious ideas.
Minogue framed it thusly:
‘Olympianism is the characteristic belief system of today’s secularist, and it has itself many of the features of a religion. For one thing, the fusion of political conviction and moral superiority into a single package resembles the way in which religions (outside liberal states) constitute comprehensive ways of life supplying all that is necessary (in the eyes of believers) for salvation. Again, the religions with which we are familiar are monotheistic and refer everything to a single center. In traditional religions, this is usually God; with Olympianism, it is society, understood ultimately as including the whole of humanity. And Olympianism, like many religions, is keen to proselytize. Its characteristic mode of missionary activity is journalism and the media.’
‘Progress, Communism, and Olympianism: these are three versions of the grand Western project. The first rumbles along in the background of our thought, the second is obviously a complete failure, but Olympianism is not only alive but a positively vibrant force in the way we think now. Above all, it determines the Western moral posture towards the rest of the world. It affirms democracy as an ideal, but carefully manipulates attitudes in a nervous attempt to control opinions hostile to Olympianism, such as beliefs in capital or corporal punishment, racial, and otherforms of prejudice, national self-assertion—and indeed, religion‘
As previously posted, Minogue discussed ideology (Marxist ideology in particular), and modern promises of radical and revolutionary freedom: To go deeper and replace Science and Religion, Economics and Politics, on the way to some knowable end-point to human affairs.
Does Nature need to lead, follow or get out of the way? Can we know Nature’s Laws?
‘We could no longer use their styles and materials sincerely, the modernists argued, since nobody believed in those old ideals. The modern age was an age without heroes, without glory, without public tribute to anything higher or more dignified than the common man.’
As posted, please check out Jeff Koons (if you thought the celebrification of politics was striking, culturally, this happened quite before with the celebrification of art):
‘Religion is diminished into celebrity..a kind of reverse apotheosis.‘
‘This alienation of the work from the common viewer is actually a form of spiritual vandalism.’
It’s tough to say that art is really about religion (though much clearly is), but rather more about an experience Hughes wants as many people as possible to have, and that such experiences can elevate and expand.
On that note, some previous links and quotes:
Donald Pittenger, at Art Contrarian, and formerly of 2 Blowhards, has been looking at modernism. From the banner of his blog:
‘The point-of-view is that modernism in art is an idea that has, after a century or more, been thoroughly tested and found wanting. Not to say that it should be abolished — just put in its proper, diminished place’
You tossed a blanket from the bed You lay upon your back, and waited; You dozed, and watched the night revealing The thousand sordid images Of which your soul was constituted; They flickered against the ceiling. And when all the world came back And the light crept up between the shutters And you heard the sparrows in the gutters, You had such a vision of the street As the street hardly understands; Sitting along the bed’s edge, where You curled the papers from your hair, Or clasped the yellow soles of feet In the palms of both soiled hands.
‘At the heart of Bloom’s project is the ancient quarrel between “poetry” and “philosophy.” In Bloom’s opinion, we ought not have to choose between Homer and Plato; we can have both, as long as we recognize that poetry is superior.’
‘It is true that the theory of the meme does not deny the role of culture, nor does it undermine the nineteenth-century view that culture properly understood is as much an activity of the rational mind as is science. But the concept of the meme belongs with other subversive concepts — Marx’s “ideology,” Freud’s unconscious, Foucault’s “discourse” — in being aimed at discrediting common prejudice. It seeks to expose illusions and to explain away our dreams. But the meme is itself a dream, a piece of ideology, accepted not for its truth but for the illusory power that it confers on the one who conjures with it. It has produced some striking arguments, not least those given by Daniel Dennett in Breaking the Spell, in which he explains away religion as a particularly successful but dangerous meme.’
Those concepts according to Scruton, are not science, but rather ‘scientism.’
And he focuses back-in on judgment, or the capacity for judgment attached to ‘I,’ and an ‘I’ which looks towards transcendence:
‘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
Worth a read.
-Steven Pinker, Harvard experimental psychologist and cognitive scientist wrote a piece in the New Republic, entitled: ‘Science Is Not Your Enemy‘
-Daniel Dennett, philosopher, cognitive scientist, one of the New Atheists and Boston-based secularist 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.’
So, how do you teach the arts and tilt the culture? Camille Paglia had some ideas, including the idea that George Lucas has taken root in more 20th-century minds than anyone else with his space opera:
According to Paglia, there were the real Marxists, and then there were the Post-structuralists and Deconstructionists. She favors the radicalism of the ‘real’ Marxists against the careerism and priestly cant of the latter, though I doubt either group is necessary for a good humanities education.
With a somewhat Nietzschean (Schopenhauer’s ‘Will‘ is now the ‘Will To Power’), and New Historicist approach, Paglia is also a bit disposed towards an appreciation of art, religious art, and religion, within a longer anthropological view.
She sees feminism and the ‘studies’ departments as ungrounded, wanting biology, medicine and anthropology to provide structure in order to study the arts:
‘As is often true of the traditionalist conservative thinkers today, his thought was shaped by the Kantian Romantic tradition of the Nineteenth Century that saw a religious attitude as essential for a healthy moral order, so that traditional religious experience needed to be defended against a Darwinian science that claims to explain the place of human beings in the natural world without any reference to a transcendent realm beyond nature. And yet–again like many traditionalist conservatives–Scruton did not believe in the literal truth of Christianity or any other religion.’
‘At the same time, there is the irony and paradox of this treatment that Scruton is “considered to be one of the world’s leading conservative philosophers” — which is what it says on the cover of his own book. Now I see Scruton called “Our greatest living conservative thinker,” by Daniel Hannan (an “author, journalist, and politician”), and “One of the most eminent philosophers in the world,” by Robert P. George (a Princeton University professor of jurisprudence). But “conservative” thinkers are not generally happy with the cognitive and moral relativism, if not nihilism, that follows from anything like Wittgenstein’s thought, and even from, as we shall see, Scruton’s own analysis of Wittgenstein’s thought. This is particularly surprising given the devastating critique in Scruton’s Fools, Frauds and Firebrands, Thinkers of the New Left [Bloomsbury, 2015], which exposes the irrational “nonsense machine” of “post-modernism” and “Critical Theory” Marxism. But even in that book, and in the passage I have just quoted, there is a clue to what is going on and to what kind of “conservative” Scruton may be. And that is, in the former, his benign and complacent attritude towards Hegel, and, in the latter, the impression he gives that the “ambition” of Kant and Hegel is comparable or even equivalent.’
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.’
‘Contemporary liberalism does not depreciate emotion in the abstract, and in the abstract it sets great store by variousness and possibility. Yet, as is true of any other human entity, the conscious and the unconscious life of liberalism are not always in accord. So far as liberalism is active and positive, so far, that is, as it moves toward organization, it tends to select the emotions and qualities that are most susceptible of organization. As it carries out its active and positive ends it unconsciously limits its view of the world to what it can deal with, and it unconsciously tends to develop theories and principles, particularly in relation to the nature of the human mind, that justify its limitation.’
It’s easy to believe that because you know one thing pretty well, or a few things reasonably well, that what you know is known by all, and that this knowledge is universal. What if what you can know is bound up with your experiences, and is acutely limited?
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).
One of the more solid moral foundations for why you should be liberal still comes from J.S. Mill:
“The likings and dislikings of society, or of some powerful portion of it, are thus the main thing which has practically determined the rules laid down for general observance, under the penalties of law or opinion. And in general, those who have been in advance of society in thought and feeling, have left this condition of things unassailed in principle, however they may have come into conflict with it in some of its details. They have occupied themselves rather in inquiring what things society ought to like or dislike, than in questioning whether its likings or dislikings should be a law to individuals. They preferred endeavoring to alter the feelings of mankind on the particular points on which they were themselves heretical, rather than make common cause in defence of freedom, with heretics generally. The only case in which the higher ground has been taken on principle and maintained with consistency, by any but an individual here and there, is that of religious belief:…”
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2007), 8-9.
“More recently Richard Rorty made an attractive attempt to reconcile the most avant-garde postmodern theory with a defence of the institutions of the Western liberal democracies, but the Mill of On Liberty still reigns supreme.”