Everyone’s A Victim, No One’s A Victim-James Lindsay On Critical Methods: Some Links And Thoughts

James Lindsay at New Discourses discusses Critical Methods.  He describes Critical Theory as a ‘solvent’ eating away at our civilizational foundations.  It certainly has done a number on our humanities departments.

Whatever your thoughts on freedom of assembly, the idealization of protest, secular humanism and liberal idealism, it is pretty easy to destroy, and very hard to create.

The pushback is coming from more liberal quarters, now:

I’d argue that what you see in the streets, a devolution of Civil Rights idealism and the protest model, is now more visibly a collection of various radical ideologies, discontented groups and individuals with their own interests and reasons.  You also have the postmodern focus on ‘feeling’ coalescing into vaguely religious campaigns to unite and purify the public square.

To some degree, critical theorists and ‘studies’ tribalists leave mob violence, collectivist and identity groups gathering against the ‘oppressor’, expendable facts and an assumption that all laws are illegimate in their wake.

As a young man, Roger Scruton watched the Generation of ’68 go by, gathering anger and righteousness with them through the streets of Paris.

‘In the narrow street below my window the students were shouting and smashing.’

Many are still passing by our windows, so to speak, heading to some undetermined point in the future.

Here’s to hoping we can reclaim a humanties education from the ‘critical theorists,’ the postmodern mystics and irrationalists, and the ‘studies’ tribalists.

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

George Santayana.

As I’ve been called a ‘postmodern conservative’, here’s an interesting piece from Matt McManus at Quillette: ‘Understanding Postmodern Conservatism: A Response To Aaron Hanlon:

‘…I do not believe postmodern conservatism emerged in a historical or ideological vacuum. It is not just the product of contemporary postmodern culture, which provided the necessary but not sufficient conditions for postmodern conservatism’s emergence. Rather, certain strands of conservative thinking that—while not in themselves postmodern—have nevertheless recently mutated into postmodern form. The two most prominent of these are Burkean historicism and De Maistrean irrationalism.’

and:

‘Theorists of postmodern culture…argue that the emergence of postmodern skepticism indicates a broader cultural shift within developed societies. What Jameson calls ‘postmodern culture’ is characterized by growing social skepticism about the stability of truth claims in general, but particularly truth claims related to identity and values.’

Personally, I remain open to much skepticism and many critiques of many parts of the ‘modern’ project.  I find myself interested in people providing reasons to support various traditions (music, art), religious faith (wouldn’t call myself a believer), patriotism (haven’t served, but necessary to the survival of our Republic) and rule of law (even more necessary to the survival of our Republic).

I think all of the above deserve a fair hearing.

Hmmm…I’m not sure the roots of Kant’s profound empirical realism and transcendental idealism has been addressed.   A reader sends a link:

Did Kant really address why his own metaphysical system is necessary as charting a course for possible human knowledge? Warnock states that Kant thought:

“All we can establish foundations for is the notion of possible experience and what can be an object of possible experience…”

In other words, physics can tell you all kinds of things about energy, but it can’t tell you what energy is.

The problem of how a judgment can be synthetic and a priori, then, presents itself to Kant as the problem of how two concepts, neither of which includes the other, can be connected in a way which does not rest upon past experience and is not vulnerable to future experience.”

Page 23 of ‘Kant’s Analytic‘ by Jonathan Bennett

In a way, metaphysics may be just where Aristotle left it, or where someone like Roger Penrose leaves it (after a lifetime of applying deep mathematical thinking to physical theory in his work on black holes): An exercise in trying to develop firm footing for our knowledge after the fact…trying to provide some context for our knowledge and not being able to do so…yet…

Addition: Of course, this doesn’t nullify the depth of Kant’s contributions, nor the depth of his moral theory. It just may not make it a moral law in the same sense as Newton’s laws (deeper laws have already come along) . I dug up one side of this exchange from the Bloggingheads Sentimental Mood Jesse Prinz Edition. So just because Kant didn’t perhaps validate his project as he’d have hoped, it doesn’t follow that you need to embrace some moral relativism as does Prinz:

—————-

1. If there are facts of a certain sort (chemical, biological, psychological, moral, whatever) which may be true true, even though everyone thinks they are false, then facts of this sort (chemical, biological, etc.) must never change.

The trouble is that you yourself don’t actually believe this principle. For example, geographical facts are clearly objectively true — even if everyone believes in El Dorado, El Dorado doesn’t exist; and even if no one believed in Everest, Everest still would exist. But it’s obvious that it doesn’t follow that geographical facts don’t change over time. Mountains and polar ice caps and rivers come and go. Geographical facts change all the time — it’s just that our beliefs don’t change them.

Perhaps your point is, not that the geographical facts don’t change, but rather that the geological laws don’t change. But at a certain level even this isn’t true: Plate Tectonics fits the earth over most of its history, but it doesn’t exactly fit the earth when it was molten or when it eventually cools down completely in the distant future. It doesn’t fit the moon or Jupiter. Perhaps at a high level of abstraction, we can imagine a final theory of planetary geography that fits ALL types of planets anywhere in the universe. Perhaps these very abstract laws don’t themselves vary (once there are any planets to talk about).

But if you make the moral law sufficiently abstract, it can be as unvarying as any laws of universal planetology. Utilitarianism is the theory that there is a rather abstract law of morality, which, though it does not vary, accounts for why seemingly quite different things can be right or wrong in different circumstances (e.g., why leaving your elderly to die may have been OK for the Eskimos in conditions of scarcity while it would be very wrong for us).

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?’

Scruton’s attractive and practical 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) provides robust criticism of the totalitarian ideologies and scientism of post-Enlightenment ideological utopians.  This has been highly valuable and rather courageous.

Are the potentially 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…

Related:  It’s the fierce critic of religion, new Atheist, and 68er Christopher Hitchens who has defended free speech most vigorously:  Repost-From Beautiful Horizons: ‘Christopher Hitchens and Tariq Ramadan at the 92nd Street Y’

A British Muslim tells his story, suggesting that classical liberalism wouldn’t be a bad idea…as a more entrenched radical British Left and Muslim immigration don’t mix too well: From Kenanmalik.com: ‘Introduction: How Salman Rushdie Changed My Life’… Via YouTube: ‘Christopher Hitchens Vs. Ahmed Younis On CNN (2005)’

Don’t get Borked, at least if you’re openly religious and aiming for higher office:  Bork had his own view of the 1960′s: A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

A Link On China, Crazy Days In Seattle & Some Tornadoes-Oh, There Will Be Rules

I imagine maintaining legitimate authority over a civilization with a Han Chinese core, new wealth and a lot of poorer, more traditional, family based ‘units’ (collectivism dies hard) isn’t easy.  Add in a vast, geographical area containing various religious and ethnic groups spread over the boundaries of ancient empires.

Whoever’s in charge will have to deal with a declining birth rate, while still promising rapid economic growth and a lavish lifestyle; a piece of the pie distributed through a lot of top-down private and public control, all led by an currently authoritarian, strong-man Communist apparatus that never really went away.

I could easily see how party messaging enhances Nationalist identity against enemies foreign (Korea, Japan, Russia, the U.S.) and domestic (traitors, the insufficiently loyal).

Belt and road politics is global, and the way many in China view their role in the world is not necessarily how we in the West view the world.

This is a clear potential source of conflict:

Having a lot of people unifying around the ideals of racism (the ‘-Isms) and equality, often with a kind of religious fervor, is pretty common these days, but what if you disagree?  What about violence?  How do these ideals work in the practice of creating or maintaining legitimate authority?

Alas, it’s Seattle.

The price of ‘integrating’ radicals who believe very little in any legitimate authority usually means buying off those radicals (playing the politics game very well) with public monies and shiny new programs.

It’s better to think of radicals as cult members, really.   True-beliving, intolerant, crazed cult members, unable to live a world with different experiences from their own, nor differences of thought, opinion and behavior.

What could go wrong with inmates running the asylum?

Oh, there will be rules-New liberty away from Hobbes…rule-following punishers?: From Public Reason: A Discussion Of Gerald Gaus’s Book ‘The Order of Public Reason: A Theory of Freedom And Morality In A Diverse And Bounded World’

That’s about as close as I’ve seen anyone get!

Moving along, are you into tornadoes, and maybe interested in gathering some useful data along the way?

Watch the video below.

Help build better models. The better understood the variables, the better the models become, and the more predictive they become.

Accurate prediction[s] save lives:

Repost-John Gray At The Literary Review Takes A Look At A New Book On Michael Oakeshott: ‘Last Of The Idealists’

Review here of a book by author Luke O’Sullivan on 20th century British conservative and thinker Michael Oakeshott. Other books by O’Sullivan on Oakeshott can be found here.

If you’re interested in critiques on the effects of rationalism and utopianism in politics and political theory, and a defense of the familiar and the traditional in the face of Socialist, Marxist, and other ideologies, it’s probably worth looking into.

Drop a line if this is your area.

Gray:

‘That Oakeshott’s thought does not in the end hang together may not be very important. What system of philosophy does? But the fact is ironic given his intellectual antecedents. He was one of the last of the British Idealists, who, as opponents of empiricism, understood truth not as meaning correspondence with any kind of external reality but as a form of internal coherence in our thinking.’

and:

‘He wrote for himself and anyone else who might be interested; it is unlikely that anyone working in a university today could find the freedom or leisure that are needed to produce a volume such as this. Writing in 1967, Oakeshott laments, ‘I have wasted a lot of time living.’ Perhaps so, but as this absorbing selection demonstrates, he still managed to fit in a great deal of thinking’

The empricial realism and transcendental idealism of Kant is not mentioned

Related On This Site:  From The NY Times Book Review-Thomas Nagel On John Gray’s New ‘Silence Of Animals’From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

John Gray Reviews Jonathan Haidt’s New Book At The New Republic: ‘The Knowns And The Unknowns’

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

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? Empirical Realism and Transcendental Idealism From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantA Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty” …

How Long Do You Hold ‘Em? Who Knows When To Fold ‘Em? Some Monday Links

Tyler Cowen talks with Annie Duke.

As a game that teaches numbers, strategy, discipline and patience, poker ain’t bad, and may be partially analagous to the laws:

‘Another thing that’s really important that poker players think about is, “If I put this policy in that looks like it’s awesome, how can someone come in and find the cracks in it so that it can turn into something bad?” I feel like the top 500 players would definitely be thinking in that way more.

Assuming that they wanted to use their powers for good as opposed to evil, which we’ll assume, I feel, in general, policies would be better, less easy to be advantaged, thinking more long-term, definitely more willing to take risks that were worthwhile.’

Judges and lawyers, in their adversarial discipline, are often thinking like this.  We all do, in some areas of our lives, think like this, be they personal or professional areas, for briefer or longer periods.  It seems we all benefit from unleashing human potential in others like this.

A reservation: I wonder about those who wish to rationalize everything as a norm, however, rather than as an exception.   Where people tend to pile up for lack of luck, talent, ambition, understanding and ability, is often where the future lies, and where new rules emerge.  I’m not exactly persuaded by the idea of ‘markets in everything’, though it strikes me as much less dangerous than the ‘personal is political.’ (a potentially false analogy).

This seems to me more in line with human nature, and might help avoid some of the pitfalls of the reason/anti-reason debate.  Rationalist thinking often invites anti-rationalists, and there are plenty of postmoderns, ‘-Ismologists’ and lost souls joining political movements and causes, creating whole epistemologies out of whole cloth.

Where it gets ugly: As one example of irrationality and groupthink, if you observe what happened to a very bright, very committed Left-of-Center evolutionary biology professor, teaching people how to think with a profound and useful method of arriving at truth, alongside a very committed, ideologically driven ‘media studies‘ professor with a bad epistemology and administrative support in the same university, the results weren’t good.

This is indicative of bad design, and I’d argue insufficient understanding of human nature.

In fact, the same dynamic is arguably now playing out in Seattle at large:  Mayor Jenny Durkan=Dean George Bridges.

There are very bright people working at the boundaries of new truth and new knowledge, who I’d argue often fail to appreciate arguments for how hard it is to maintain legitimate authority, and conserve the wisdom [and truth] in that which already works.

This is a much deeper matter of debate.

Norm Macdonald on Kenny Rogers’ song lyrics is a much funnier:

Repost: Theodore Dalrymple At The City Journal-What The New Atheists Don’t See

Full piece here

Dalrymple claimed that the new round of atheists, (or at least some of the current spokesmen of popular atheism) are glossing over the deep metaphysical questions surrounding the existence of God.

Some atheists seem to be in danger of becoming adherents rather than free thinkers, or being in for a surprise when many adherents appear.

Addition:  More on Roger Sandall’s blog here, as he discusses Roger Scruton.

One question seems to be whether we choose to give religious arguments any quarter at all.  The hard atheist line seems to be no.  Mine is…perhaps…

As found on the Youtubes, a Dalrymple piece read with a Scottish accent:

Another of my very favourite TD essays, this one compares two 19th Century thinkers – Karl Marx and Ivan Turgenev. I believe that the observations, the wisdom, and the thorough takedown of Marx as a human being, are of great value.

~30 minutes. I think that bit about the dog actually made me tear-up.

Ah, the humanity:

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

Here’s a quote from Eric Vogelin found here, for a friend:

‘Scientism has remained to this day on of the strongest Gnostic movements in Western society; and the immanentist pride in science is so strong that even the special sciences have each left a distinguishable sediment in the variants of salvation through physics, economics, sociology, biology, and psychology.’

More Germans.  Don’t immanentize the eschaton!

Addition: And there are deep theists too.

Related On This Site:  Repost: From The Strasbourg Observers: ‘Remembering Lautsi (And The Cross)’…Sometimes a cross isn’t just a cross, as Stanley Fish notesFrom Law At The End Of The Day: ‘Torn Between Religion And Law In Spain’Thursday Quotation: Bertrand Russell….Via Youtube: Christopher Hitchens On Faith And Virtue

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 Successful

Maybe if you’re defending religion, Nietzsche is a problematic reference: Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy…

Repost-From The Spiked Review Of Books Via The A & L Daily: ‘Rescuing The Enlightenment From Its Exploiters’

On The CHOP-ping Block-It’s Not All Peace, Love and Empathy: Which Moral Lights?

My two cents: It is, to some extent, the logic of ’68 continued, but now the more radical elements have come to the surface.  Just as CHAZ/CHOP started out with some legitimate grievance and healthier protest instincts, devolving into factional anarchy, chaos, thuggery and desperation, so too have many Left coalitions become more openly visible.

Drama on the high Seattle seas.

My guess is, Mayor Jenny Durkan believes (to some extent) in the tenets of the Church Of High Secular Protest and ‘-Ismology’:  Morally committed people, counter-culturally and collectively inclined, can keep things together (the rich and ‘corporations’ are morally suspect, males are unnecessarily aggressive, racism and sexism are everywhere, the police oppress while peace, love and empathy are next).

I’d like to think that CHAZ/CHOP was proven utopian at best.

Human nature and reality caught up.

Nobly, oh-so nobly, our fair Mayor invoked law enforcement when the action showed up on her doorstep.

Is she changing her tune?  Will most voters in Seattle suddenly rethink their moral commitments?

Don’t hold your breath.

Aside from Seattle, I think it should be obvious that our own institutional weakness is a major contributing factor to many current states of affairs.  Whichever model you may be using to view human political organization (some of my favorites include our American Framers, the Platonic, the Aristotelian and Montesquieu), our political parties are increadibly weak, our universities over-built and WAY over-administered with many second and third-raters).

It is very taboo to say so these days:  One need not base all their moral commitments in truth and knowledge claims put forth by those who believe society must radically change, nor even merely even the Civil Rights coalitions.   Movements tend to devolve into rackets, though many ideals may remain deep and true.

I’d like to keep one foot in and one foot out of such visions of (H)umanity.

As posted

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

Correspondence here.

Link sent in by a reader.

Without a stronger moral core, will liberalism necessarily corrode into the soft tyranny of an ever-expanding State?

Since the 60’s, and with a lot of postmodern nihilism making advances in our society, is a liberal politics of consent possible given the dangers of cultivating a kind of majoritarian politics: Dirty, easily corrupt, with everyone fighting for a piece of the pie?

As an example, Civil Rights activists showed moral courage and high idealism, to be sure, but we’ve also seen a devolution of the Civil Rights crowd into squabbling factions, many of whom seem more interested in money, self-promotion, influence, and political power.

The 60’s protest model, too, washed over our universities, demanding freedom against injustice, but it has since devolved into a kind of politically correct farce, with comically illiberal and intolerant people claiming they seek liberty and tolerance for all in the name of similar ideals.

Who are they to decide what’s best for everyone? How ‘liberal’ were they ever, really?

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. ‘

Are libertarians the true classical liberals? Much closer to our founding fathers?

Related On This Site: From The NY Times Book Review-Thomas Nagel On John Gray’s New ‘Silence Of Animals’From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

John Gray Reviews Jonathan Haidt’s New Book At The New Republic: ‘The Knowns And The Unknowns’

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

What about black people held in bondage by the laws..the liberation theology of Rev Wright…the progressive vision and the folks over at the Nation gathered piously around John Brown’s body?: Milton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’……Robert George And Cornel West At Bloggingheads: “The Scandal Of The Cross”

Race And Free Speech-From Volokh: ‘Philadelphia Mayor Suggests Magazine Article on Race Relations Isn’t Protected by the First Amendment’

Repost-Eugene Volokh At The National Review: ‘Multiculturalism: For or Against?’

A broader point I’ve been trying pin down, is how, with the unspooling of Enlightenment thinking, there has also unspooled an individualism becoming nihilist, postmodern and deeply alone; artfully and glamourously trashy. Out of such an environment, where many hip, avant-garde birds are flying, (S)elves flirt with Romantically primitive collectivism, epistemological faddishness, modern and failed theories of (H)istory like Marxism.

American egalitarianism, based in our founding documents, even as recently as two generations ago, was more able to effectively resist the rather unimaginative class-war critiques of Marxism.

Which kind of center would I like to see hold?

Some previously posted links:

The arts can be one lens with which to look at these problems and places…

Repost-Ah, Look At All The Lonely People-‘Jeff Koons Is Back’ Via Vanity Fair

-Banksy’s website here. Newsweek’s piece: ‘See You Banksy, Hello Invader.

I’d argue that it’s possible, especially with the constant cries of modernism to ‘make it new,‘ I think this is one way we’ve arrived at pop art, and the desire to blend conceptual art and popular music together. This is in evidence from The Talking Heads to Lady Gaga to Jay Z promoting his new album alongside Marina Abramovic at MOMA.

Update & Repost-From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Haidt’s Vindication of Fusionist Conservatism and Aristotelian Liberalism’

Jonathan Haidt At Minding The Campus: ‘Campus Turmoil Begins In High School’

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

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

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.

Update & Repost-Ken Minogue’s ‘Christophobia’ and the West

Full piece here.

Essay here.

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.’

And:

‘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 other forms 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.

——————–

Perhaps the flip-side to liberal secular humanist faith is a lack of faith. Surely some deep, liberal thinker out there has become thoroughly convinced that people are no good, after all, and can’t be trusted with their freedoms apart from his/her thinking or ideological commitments. Perhaps there’s a secular humanist political leader somewhere thoroughly sick of humanity for the time being, simply accruing more political power and influence because they can.

As far as satire or mockery goes, they would be just as worthy, no?

Via David Thompson: ‘Don’t Oppress My People With Your White Devil Science

As a Straussian might see it: Once you set up (S)cience on the positivist definition, as the only arbiter of facts, one can very easily invite the anti-(S)cience response in kind, which manifests itself here as the retreat into a victimhood/oppressor ideology.

‘(S)cience’ was only a tool of the white oppressor, anyways, don’t you know (and no one actually has to do the hard work the sciences require…how convenient):

—-

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:

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Jonathan Haidt has infused the more modern field of moral psychology with some of David Hume’s empiricist theory of mind, the idea that intuitions come first, and our reasons for them are usually trotted out afterwards (when was the last time you walked away from an argument/debate/discussion totally converted and persuaded by the reasoning of the other guy?

Yet, how, exactly, did our institutions of higher-learning get to the point of catering to the loudest, often most naive, and often illiberal student-groups claiming their feelings and ideas deserve special treatment?

Isn’t this already a failure of leadership, to some extent?:

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

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”From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.… Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Roger Scruton In The American Spectator: The New Humanism…From Nigel Warburton’s Site: A Definition of Humanism?…From The City Journal Via Arts And Letters Daily: Andre Glucksman On “The Postmodern Financial Crisis”

One way out of multiculturalism and cultural relativism:

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

Repost-The Time To Stand Up For Free Speech Is Every Time It Comes Under Attack

Nature can be just as harsh and unforgiving as ever, death is still waiting (making life all the sweeter), and human nature can still be as capable of great evil or passing indifference and cruelty.

Given the darknesses of the human heart, the existence of great evils, and the tremendous problem of creating contraints and proper incentives for authority, I see a lot of liberal idealism as not having accounted for the wages of social change.

Wanting to control what other people think, feel, say and write, even if dressed up in the clothing of righteousness, is still wanting to control what other people think, feel, say and write.

Broad humanistic ideals have much truth to them, often scaling and framing clear thinking and good behavior, but such ideals will also form the structure for authority, rule-making and rule-following.

I continue to skeptically observe many claims of universal secular humanism; especially the claims of people using universal secular humanism for their own ends (the more enduring real-world test being which kind of people and institutions are, in-fact, being produced under such ideals).

I see the speech issue as an important barometer for such ideals.

Rod Dreher on a George Packer piece:

Packer on Christopher Hitchens:

‘The ability to be brutal in print and decent in person was a quality I very much admired in Christopher. It went to the heart of his values as a writer and a human being. It belonged to an old-fashioned code, and for all his radicalism, he was old-fashioned.’

Dreher takes it a little further:

Interestingly, on book-publishing and success:

That, I feel sure, is at the core of this controversy: resentment. If the publishing industry is “broken” because it throws big money at mediocre books, and those books get a lot of pop culture hype, then the publishing industry has always been broken, and so have the movies. This happens all the time. It is a total cliche that bad blockbuster movies and bad bestselling novels pay the bills so that smaller, better books with a more limited readership can exist. Life is unfair. What can we do?

We’ve got some bad code running at many important institutions.

The political Left seems to be fracturing too, around new, radical chic old-school Marxism, and a more short-term failing identity politics. I’m guessing it will be less cool to be seen as an out-of-touch high liberal idealist (‘neo-liberal,’ meritocratic, stodgy, traditional) in the eyes of radicals and wherever the new cool will be.

Brendan O’Neill (an old-school Marxist) At Spiked: ‘Why We Must Fight For Free Speech For People We Loathe:

‘A true devotee of freedom of speech says, ‘Let everyone speak, because it is important that all sides are heard and that the public has the right to use their moral muscles and decide who they trust and who they don’t’. The new, partial campaigners for friends’ speech effectively say, ‘Let my friend speak. She is interesting. She will tell the public what they need to hear.’ These are profoundly different positions, the former built on liberty and humanism, the latter motored by a desire to protect oneself, and oneself alone, from censorship. The former is free speech; the latter ‘me speech’.

It’d be nice if many secularists and political liberals said something like the following: ‘If we continue to secularize society, we will entrench many postmoderns, activists, radicals, people steeped in resentment, and narrow socialist ideologues, but the gains in liberty will be worth it.

We might even inspire a return to old-timey religion. If this happens, we will freak-out about this turn of events.’

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You’d make me feel a whole lot better if you showed some backbone when it comes to speech, as Lionel Shriver does below.

I’ll write what I damned well please:’

I’d also add, ‘now if you can’t even read the book nor respond to what I’m actually saying, fuck-off.

Such a brave stance to take: Six writers apparently know what is acceptable speech and what isn’t, and thus didn’t think the folks at Charlie Hebdo engaged in acceptable speech.

Recently, British popular thinker Alain De Botton floated the idea of building an ‘atheist temple’ in the heart of London. He recommends combing through religious practices for useful organizing principles in response to the New Atheists. You can read more about it here, which includes a radio interview/podcast.

Did the Unitarian Universalists get there first, with a mishmash of faith and secular humanism?

Towards a theme: Perhaps you’ve also heard of the Rothko chapel, in Houston, Texas:

‘The Rothko Chapel, founded by Houston philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil, was dedicated in 1971 as an intimate sanctuary available to people of every belief. A tranquil meditative environment inspired by the mural canvases of Russian born American painter Mark Rothko (1903-1970), the Chapel welcomes over 60,000 visitors each year, people of every faith and from all parts of the world.’

There’s even a suite of music by Morton Feldman, entitled ‘Rothko Chapel’

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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’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’

John Gray Reviews Jonathan Haidt’s New Book At The New Republic: ‘The Knowns And The Unknowns’

Steven Pinker somewhat focused on the idea of freedom from violence, which tends to be libertarian. Yet, he’s also skeptical of the more liberal human rights and also religious natural rights. What about a World Leviathan?: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas HobbesFrom Reason.TV Via YouTube: ‘Steven Pinker on The Decline of Violence & “The Better Angels of Our Nature”‘Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department

Evolutionary psychology and moral thinking: Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

Timothy Snyder Responds To Steven Pinker’s New Book At Foreign Policy: ‘War No More: Why The World Has Become More Peaceful’

Charles Murray At The New Criterion: ‘Belmont & Fishtown’

From The Liberal Bastions-James Baldwin, Often

See Also: If you thought the cartoons were bad, more on the Fitna movie here. From The NY Times: Review Of Christopher Caldwell’s Book “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West” Libertarians love this issue: Repost-A Canadian Libertarian Making Noise: Ezra Levant

Some City By City Photography Links, Some Questionable Philosophy, Some Reason/Anti-Reason Recycled Links Touching Along The Edges Of Postmodern Problems

-Via Mick Hartley, Lu Wenpeng photos of Paris Colors & Shadows.  People.  Light and shade.  Colors and shapes.

-As posted: Beauty, ugliness, youth, strength, and decay: Via Mick Hartley Bruce Davidson at Magnum’s ‘Subway (NYC subway during the 1980’s).

-Cool 5:38 video at the link. Mick Victor walks down the streets and alleyways of L.A. with camera in tow, his focus eventually drawn to some forms, shapes, colors or configuration. Some of those abstract photos here.

-Vivian Maier, the mystery street photographer from Chicago.

-It’s Vice (oh how tiresome the radical pose and how soon dull those who gather), but there’s earnest artistic ambition and innocence.

Bruce Gilden is mostly self-taught, and the accent couldn’t be any more Brooklyn.  Street photography can become muggy and full of kitsch, but I imagine it’s really hard to get right.

Coney Island!

For those especially drawn to observe, and be alone amongst a crowd, seeking moments of beauty, grace, and transcendence.  Where have you put your hopes?

What kind of relationship might you be in with such abstractions as that of human nature (your own deep impulses, passing thoughts, and possible motivations, as well as those of the people around you)?

What kind of relationship might you be in with such abstractions as nature and reality (the world your senses perceive, those laws and patterns likely enduring thought, the old knowledge become practice and the new knowledge on the edge of understanding, the truths which seem to little give nor receive, forgive nor remember)?

Are you really that alone?

Via a Reader via Scientific American: ‘An Update On C.P. Snow’s “Two Cultures:”

Essay here (PDF).

‘Earlier this summer marked the 50th anniversary of C. P. Snow’s famous “Two Cultures” essay, in which he lamented the great cultural divide that separates two great areas of human intellectual activity, “science” and “the arts.” Snow argued that practitioners in both areas should build bridges, to further the progress of human knowledge and to benefit society.’

My two cents: This blog tends to worry about modern ‘one culture’ visions, too.

On the one hand, you’ve got your ‘scientific socialism;’ the clear dead-end, totalizing Marxist theories of history and various neo-Marxist movements having since colonized many faculty-lounges, HR departments, and media pulpits across America.

Deep, bad ideas tend to live on once plugged into many deep, human desires and dreams. The radical pose will be with us for a while.

Of course, it’s rather sad to witness the sheepish, suburban apologetics of identity amongst the chattering classes; the moment of surprise and fear when a previously insulated writer (leaning upon traditions) realizes today just might be their day in the barrel.

Sooner or later you’re going to have to stand up for your principles.

You’ve also got many modern ‘-Ist’ movements, which, whatever truth and knowledge claims they may contain (some quite important ones, I think), are often quick to conflate the means of science with the ends of politics. ‘Join us,’ they say, and become a part of the modern world. The mission of ‘Education’ is easily mistaken for knowledge, learning with wisdom, collective group action with individual achievement.

There is a kind of a high middlebrow drift towards….I’m not sure where, exactly.

Alas, if you’re still with me, here are some links:

M.H. Abrams here.

“…in the days when, to get a Ph.D., you had to study Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, Old French, and linguistics, on the notion that they served as a kind of hard-core scientific basis for literary study.”

and of the New Criticism he says:

I’ve been skeptical from the beginning of attempts to show that for hundreds of years people have missed the real point,”

Did literature professors at one point have something more substantive to teach?

In a broader context, hasn’t the Western mind has shifted to “science,” instead of God as a deepest idea, and so too isn’t literature a part of this shift?

Does this necessarily lead to the Reason/Anti-Reason debate we seem to be falling into?  The postmodern problems?

Interesting quotation from Quora, on Richard Feynman’s discussion of light in ‘QED: The Strange Theory Of Light And Matter’:

‘Mirrors and pools of water work pretty much the same way. Light interacts with electrons on the surface. Under the laws of quantum mechanics, each photon interacts with ALL of the electrons on the surface, and the net result is the sum of all possible pathways. If the surface is perfectly smooth, then most of the pathways cancel each other out, except for the one where the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection. ‘

Click through for the illustrations to help explain Feynman’s theory, which fascinated me when I first came across it; much as I understand of it.

Have you ever seen sunlight reflecting off a body of water from a few thousand feet up in a plane?  A rainbow in a puddle with some oil in it?  A laser reflecting off a smooth surface like a mirror?

As Richard Rorty sees it, no standard objective for truth exists but for the interpretation of a few philosophers interpreting whatever of philosophy they’ve read. It’s all just an author’s “stuff.” Here’s an excerpt discussing the debate between him and Hilary Putnam:

Addition: Western mind shifted to “science?”…well as for poetry T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens had some fairly profound religious influences.

See Also: Should You Bother To Get A Liberal Arts Education? From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Repost-Heather McDonald At The WSJ: ‘ The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity’

***Whom 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?

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Beauty is no quality in things themselves, it exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.

David Hume

Goya, that modern, had to make a living from the royal family: Goya’s ColossusGoya’s Fight With CudgelsGoethe’s Color Theory: Artists And ThinkersNASA Composite Image Of The Earth At Night…Beauty?Garrett Mattingly On Machiavelli-The Prince: Political Science Or Political Satire?

Repost-From The NY Times: Schlieren Photography

Repost-From The New Atlantis: ‘Love In The Age Of Neuroscience’

Our authors took a look at Tom Wolfe’s then new novel: ‘I Am Charlotte Simmons:’

Hmmm.:

‘I Am Charlotte Simmons’ is an indictment of the primary centers of higher education in America today. These institutions do not well serve the real longings and earnest ambitions of the young people who flock to them, at great cost and with great expectations, year after year. Instead of pointing students to a world that is higher than where they came from, the university reinforces and expands the nihilism and political correctness that they are taught in public schools, imbibe from popular culture, and bring with them as routine common sense when they arrive on campus. Of course, these two ideologies are largely incompatible: nihilism celebrates strength (or apathy) without illusion; political correctness promulgates illusions in the name of sensitivity. But both ideologies are the result of collapsing and rejecting any distinction between higher and lower, between nobility and ignobility, between the higher learning and the flight from reason.’

If you don’t have enough empathy, maybe it’s time for a brain-scan, a postmodern dance routine exploring the body in space, or a peace corps mission…

Everybody’s done fightin’ over yer soul….

‘Here our account of the disposition to be conservative and its current fortunes might be expected to end, with the man in whom this disposition is strong, last seen swimming against the tide, disregarded not because what he has to say is necessarily false but because it has become irrelevant; outmanoeuvred, not on account of any intrinsic demerit but merely by the flow of circumstance; a faded, timid, nostalgic character, provoking pity as an outcast and contempt as a reactionary.  Nevertheless, I think there is something more to be said. Even in these circumstances, when a conservative disposition in respect of things in general is unmistakably at a discount, there are occasions when this disposition remains not only appropriate, but supremely so; and there are connections in which we are unavoidably disposed in a conservative direction.’

Oakeshott, Michael.  Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991. Print.