Madame, I Believe Your Brains May Have Fallen Out

After the Yale Silliman silliness and the Charles Murray Middlebury madness, a cruder skepticism might recommend writing many humanities/social sciences departments off altogether (hey, it’s Middlebury, after all).

Some departments are so open-minded, it seems, they’re allowing students to chant James Baldwin as though his spells will ward off the evil spirits of white-devilry (there’s still an air of the psycho-drama about all this).  Perhaps, just perhaps, a University isn’t the type of place where angry mobs should shout-down invited speakers, hunt them to the after-party, and beat them away into the night.

Mockery and laughter can work wonders in the face of true-belief and rigid ideology (that’s not funny!), but relatively fewer people have the wisdom, moral courage and humility to earn back the trust to educate, not indoctrinate.

Frankly, I’m not holding my breath as long as enough money and influence are at stake, and the stakes, as they say, are still pretty low.

At least now a broader swathe of the American public has gotten a look at the unhealthy radical group-think festering within, the kind which arrives when ideas and bad ideas, unchallenged, are allowed to rule the roost.  The consequences such ideas are having upon the pursuit of truth are damning.

Whose good is this serving?

Heterodox Academy might not be a bad start.


As previously posted:

As this blog has been arguing for over a decade, a lot of modern art is pretty good, but beyond the current political/ideological squabbles, there sure are a lot of poseurs making crap.

A Bleak, Modern House-Four Poems

The creep of vacuous ideas and lack of any apparent talent/technique is common, and it can be hard to tell where celebrity, marketing and branding bullshit ends, and ‘art’ begins:

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

What is this lady doing?:

Some quotes for you, dear Reader:

From Dr. Steven Hicks:

‘In the shorter term, postmodernism has caused an impoverishment of much of the academic humanities, both in the quality of the work being done and the civility of the debates. The sciences have been less affected and are relatively healthy. The social sciences are mixed.

I am optimistic, though, for a couple of reasons. One is that pomo was able to entrench itself in the second half of the twentieth century in large part because first-rate intellectuals were mostly dismissive of it and focused on their own projects. But over the last ten years, after pomo’s excesses became blatant, there has been a vigorous counter-attack and pomo is now on the defensive. Another reason for optimism is that, as a species of skepticism, pomo is ultimately empty and becomes boring. Eventually intellectually-alert individuals get tired of the same old lines and move on. It is one thing, as the pomo can do well, to critique other theories and tear them down. But that merely clears the field for the next new and intriguing theory and for the next generation of energetic young intellectuals.

So while the postmodernism has had its generation or two, I think we’re ready for the next new thing – a strong, fresh, and positive approach to the big issues, one that of course takes into account the critical weapons the pomo have used well over the last while’

We’ll see about that…

Roger Scruton’s words struck me when I read them years ago:

“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.

————

Apart from the rare genius, it seems the arts tend to ferment in groups and schools, made up of individuals with their own ideas, reacting to each other and events; reacting to their own developing talents and finding out through trial and error what works within some semblance of a tradition.

See: ‘Tradition And The Individual Talent’

Culture matters, in the sense that the value a civilization chooses to place in one activity over another can dramatically affect outcomes for that particular activity; a framework emphasizing and incentivizing the activity to live on in hearts and minds of individuals.

Perhaps Modern Art just needs to be put into broader contexts, given deeper roots which can nourish the talent already being born.

Some people are looking for ‘epistemologies:’

Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

No, I don’t need a movie explained to me in terms of ‘masculinity’ or feminist doctrine, any more than I need it to tell me to read Leviticus, or be a good Christian. I like good composition.

No, I don’t need a cartoon to reflect ‘solidarity’ around a particular political figure or set of political ideals, you fool!

Good art is usually beyond all that, and makes the viewer question/forget such things.

Why not just put a few algorithms to work in writing those artist statements?

See Also On This Site:  Philosopher Of Art Denis Dutton of the Arts & Letters Daily says the arts and Darwin can be sucessfully synthesized: Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Stanley Fish also says keep politics out of academia: From The Stanley Fish Blog: Ward Churchill Redux…

Scruton again has deep insight, but will Christian religious idealism have to bump heads with Islamic religious idealism?: From YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism

Thanks to iri5

White Guilt & The Freedom To Think Differently: Shelby Steele & Jordan Peterson-Some Links

Shelby Steele at the WSJ: ‘The Exhaustion Of American Liberalism

If you think, as this blog does, there’s plenty of empirical evidence to suggest a trend of radicalized and (dis)organized discontents seeking influence over all of our lives, then it’s reasonable to wonder what results come from such influence. Or course, what kind of authority involves itself in your life, through American liberalism and through institutions of education, politics and law is a similar question to be asking.

Are such folks ‘liberal?’

Steele on white guilt:

‘White guilt is not angst over injustices suffered by others; it is the terror of being stigmatized with America’s old bigotries-racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia. To be stigmatized as a fellow traveler with any of these bigotries is to be utterly stripped of moral authority and made into a pariah.’

Deep-diving the reef of white guilt with popularizing critical theorists as historical and contemporary guides clearly has its drawbacks (if you enjoyed the tour…don’t forget to put some coins in the reparations jar, white devil!).

From The New Criterion: Theodore Dalrymple Reviews Ta-Nehisi Coates ‘Between The World And Me’

Related On This Site:   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”

From The Liberal Bastions-James Baldwin, Often


Of course, one can still be an intellectually humble and moral person, recognizing the actual injustices and genuine horrors of much American racial history, while still coming to differing conclusions based on different principles about that history and what should happen next.

One can still re-examine one’s own beliefs and choose not to carve up the world into classes, races, genders based on some presumed endpoint to human affairs promised by the same old ideologies (the oppressor is dead, long live the oppressor!)

Most people not immediately being made to suffer injustice, enjoying relative personal and economic freedom have little need to make their personal lives political. 

Unfortunately, it seems we live in a time when many of these people are now clearly feeling pressure to signal their belonging/non-belonging recognition/non-recognition of activists’ claims to their freedoms.

Here’s the rub: If you disagree with a principled, reasonable person, you’ll probably both walk away challenged, enlightened, and enriched.  They really do think differently from you.  Maybe they’ll always be an enemy of sorts, but an enemy for which you’ve gained some respect (and vice versa).

Unprincipled, unreasonable people abound, however, and certain radical ideologies reward and can incentivize the worst in people, while claiming the highest good towards radical liberation.  Such ideas also reward worse people without necessarily placing important limiting principles and brakes upon these people (the passion play of radical ‘anti-fascists’ seeks actual ‘evil people’ and ‘fascists,’ in perpetuity).

Many activists don’t respect authority because they don’t believe that authority is legitimate.  Of course, what kind of authority they think is legitimate is less often considered.  Most simply haven’t bothered to understand the traditions, laws, and duties they believe it is their duty to change.


On that note, a Nietzsche-influenced psychologist discusses his epistemological differences with Sam Harris, a neuroscientist more interested in scientifically accurate and empirically valid truth statements about the world, and our thoughts about it.

The modern project is not only dependent upon both the sciences and the social sciences claims to truth and knowledge (and actual discoveries), but also lies exposed to the dangers of anti-science and anti-social-science ideologues everywhere, especially on the radical Left.

Human nature hasn’t changed so much, after all.

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

Full interview here.

Totten interviews Benjamin Kerstein, who’d written Diary of an Anti-Chomskyite, which is bold in holding Chomsky to account for many of his ideas and public statements regarding his politics:

‘In the case of Chomsky, however, I think we have one of the most egregious cases. He didn’t just support an ideology, he essentially created it, or at least played a major—perhaps the decisive—role in doing so. And there isn’t just one case of lending his skills to justifying horrendous acts of political evil, there are many. And as I noted before, he has never owned up to any of them and as far as I can tell never will.’

It sounds quite incendiary.   Kerstein labels Chomsky a monster for such sins as Cambodia.

There’s also this:

‘Chomsky says at one point that there is a moral and ethical order that is hardwired into human beings. And Foucault basically asks him, why? How do you know this hardwired morality exists? And even if it exists, how can we know that it is, in fact, moral in the first place? We may feel it to be moral, but that doesn’t make it true.’


As previously posted:

Full piece here.

On that recursion dispute:

‘Most recently, the disagreements in the field have pulled the American author Tom Wolfe into the fray, with a new book, The Kingdom of Speech, and a cover story in Harper’s Magazine on the topic. This has changed the debate a bit, engaging many more people than ever before, but now it’s centred around Wolfe, Noam Chomsky – and me.

As background to understanding what’s at stake in this controversy, we need a grasp of Chomsky’s important theoretical proposals regarding human language acquisition.’


As previously, previously posted:

Paul Ibbotson & Michael Tomasello at Scientific American: ‘Evidence Rebuts Chomsky’s Theory Of Language Learning:’

‘But evidence has overtaken Chomsky’s theory, which has been inching toward a slow death for years. It is dying so slowly because, as physicist Max Planck once noted, older scholars tend to hang on to the old ways: “Science progresses one funeral at a time.”

Worth a read.

As posted: Caitlin Flanagan reviews Tom Wolfe’s new book ‘The Kingdom Of Speech.‘ Jerry Coyne, ecologist, writing in the Washington Post, was not impressed:

Via a reader: John Searle on The Philosophy Of Language as part of Bryan Magee’s series:

It’s always a pleasure to observe someone with deep understanding explain a subject clearly.

There’s some interesting discussion on modernism and postmodernism too, or the tendency for the ‘moderns’ to focus on language itself as a problem to be re-examined and possibly solved, or the study of linguistics to be put upon a foundation similar to that of many sciences.

As we’ve seen in the arts, the poem, a novel, the very written words themselves can become subjects which poets, novelists, and writers examine, doubt, and in some cases ‘deconstruct.’

As to that tribe in South America, cited as evidence against Chomsky’s claims of necessary recursion and the existence of a universal grammar, Searle has some things to say in the interview below.

Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge

More here from the Times Literary Supplement.

Related On This Site:  Perhaps after Kant’s transcendental idealism, Chomsky really does believe that morality, like Chomsky’s innatist theory of language, is universal and furthermore hard-wired into the brain.  This could lead to a political philosophy of either universalism or nihilism, or at least his retreat into anarchism or anarcho-syndicalism away from such idealism.  There’s little to no room for the individual in such a vision.  Perhaps Chomsky has never seen life, liberty and property and the individual except from such a vantage point:  Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge

What about value pluralism…positive and negative liberty?: 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”

A reader points out that I’ve put forth no real arguments…: The Politics Of Noam Chomsky-The Dangers Of Kantian Transcendental Idealism?

Martha Nussbaum criticizing Chomsky’s hubris in Martha Nussbaum In Dissent–Violence On The Left: Nandigram And The Communists Of West Bengal

Perhaps Chomsky and Strauss both flirted with Zionism, but they were very different thinkers:…From Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’From Darwinian Conservatism By Larry Arnhart: “Surfing Strauss’s Third Wave of Modernity”

Adam Kirsch At The New Statesman: ‘Why Ezra Pound Was The Most Difficult Man Of The 20th Century’

Full piece here.

Book here.

Kirsch reviews Daniel Swift’s look at Pound’s work and life.

And that process was as complex, often as illegible, as thought itself. Free-associating on characters from the Odyssey to Confucius and from the Italian Renaissance to the American Revolution, Pound produced a self-portrait as “difficult” as any cubist masterpiece.’

As previously posted:

Another interesting piece here, as our author takes a look at one of the most important modern poems:

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Brief Bio-Pound really wanted to get out of America.  To London first, as the father of modernist poetry, and eventually Italy where he made pro-Axis rants on Italian radio during World War II.   When American troops finally got him, they put him in a box for 25 days.    He was never quite the same after that, though not exactly stable to begin with.  Stable in his art, perhaps.

Alba (Dawn Song)

As cool as the pale wet leaves
of lily-of-the-valley
She lay beside me in the dawn

Repost: Two Links-Robert Hughes’ Take On America Through Its Art & Michael Heizer’s ‘City’

Maybe it’s Pilgrim’s pride, or perhaps the Puritan pursuit of image-less purity, or the Colonialists ecumenical style, or maybe even some Shaker weirdness that finds itself up for analysis.

Perhaps somewhere there’s a spare, Yankee work ethic resting on a simple, wooden shelf in the ‘American mind.’

Could such a thing be discovered within mid 20th-century modernism?

Robert Hughes takes a look at Donald Judd’s ‘Temple Of Aesthetic Fanaticism,’ and Richard Serra’s nod to Jackson Pollack and abstract expressionism in the rawness of material sculpture. You know, making stuff (a potentially sensitive subject with so many technological changes going on right now).

(link may not last):

As for Land Art, Michael Heizer’s life’s-work land-art project is apparently complete, if such a thing can be complete:

There’s a good piece in the New Yorker here.

There is an air of secrecy about the whole thing.

You can’t even visit?


Apparently, Heizer’s been working since 1972 on this sculpture in the Eastern Nevada desert, which was originally called ‘Complex One.’ It’s morphed into his life’s work, called City. It’s very large. It can’t be moved. You can’t reproduce it. It represents a break from traditional sculpture. It can’t be put in a museum and it’s not clear that it has a function.

In Brasil, they just started from the top-down and built a city that doesn’t work that well for people: Brasilia: A Planned City

——————

I have to confess that seeing that structure upon the wide open emptiness of Eastern Nevada is comforting for the familiarity it brings. It’s a little bit of order upon the unknown, and the design, or lack thereof (about which a man may wonder), within Nature herself. I think this is why a military installation out in the desert can captivate the imagination as it’s been known to in Hollywood and in the public mind (dreaming of aliens and conspiracies).

To expand on that theme, Wallace Stevens might shed some light. He was an American poet on the hinge between romanticism and modernism:

Anecdote of the Jar

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion every where.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

Wallace Stevens

You’ve changed all of nature with just one jar.

What do you do with an uncivilized, wild land? Import European learning and literature “atop” it? Christian tradition and the Natural Law? Import the triumph of the Western mathematical sciences and technology? Import its movements of the arts and the individual artist?

You can’t help but do this.

Related On This Site: L.A.’s New Public Art Piece ‘The Levitated Mass,’ Or As The American Interest Puts It: ‘A Moving Rock’

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’

Denver’s Devil Horse may be flirting with kitsch: From The Wall Street Journal: Denver’s Mustang Or ‘Devil Horse’…and I like his work:…Joan Miro: Woman

From Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’…Marketplace aesthetics in service of “women”: Dove’s Campaign For Real Beauty: Pascal Dangin And AestheticsRoger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?Brasilia: A Planned City

Repost-Hipster Romanticism? From The Atlantic Photo: ‘Adventures Of A Serial Trespasser’

Photos here.

Isn’t ‘urban exploration’ a bit ruin-pornish?

The individual travels along with small groups, trespassing through city-scapes and abandoned buildings as though they were archeological ruins. Breaking the law or possibly breaking the law is part of the appeal.

Perhaps such folks are traveling as well through their own imaginations, romanticizing themselves as transgressive outsiders, taking the idea of archeology as fixed knowledge and applying it to their own present as though it were a mythic, imaginative quest, where some camaraderie, historical meaning and beauty are to be found.

A video explanation:

————————-

Naturally, one impulse expressed here is the desire for group membership and meaning. Like kids who’ve found something new and cool to do, some recognition is desired from others or from society at large, even if it’s negative. There’s a vagabond-hipster feel to much of this, and it’s easy to imagine listening to an indie-music-montage with the latest stop-motion technology or documentarianism when one looks at the photos.

Readers will know I tend to think some of this is a sign of a newer, more anarchic/nihilistic individualism and subsequent collectivism in our culture that is partially, but not wholly, a product of the 1960’s.

One theme of this blog is how this process of increased nihilistic individualism merges with a search for meaning, group membership and identity in our culture, as in the above. This can increase the desire for collective solutions to problems, which can cast increased upward pressure on old boomer/nationalistic liberalism and liberalism in general.

At the very least, we end-up rehashing the battles of the 60’s in perpetuity. Liberalism follows the logic and incentives it’s helped to create.

James Fallows at the Atlantic, former speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, is now exploring the wonders of post-hippie settlers in Vermont to stay relevant to a new generation of readers: Vermont Report: Shaping The Soul Of A School.

I didn’t know schools had souls.

Don’t you want to live in Austin, or Boulder, or Portland, or Williamsburg (not colonial, addition: yes, there’s sarcasm here )?

NPR looks at hipsterism while their guiding ideals have helped create hipsters through all that boomer’s 60’s activism. One challenge is mixing the Lawrence Welk crowd while staying relevant with the hipsters they’ve helped create.

Related On This Site:What about the victims of crime, not all this romanticization of criminals?: Heather MacDonald At The City Journal: ‘Radical Graffiti Chic’.

Two ways around postmodernism, nihilism?: One is Allan Bloom Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’… Here’s a suggestion to keep aesthetic and political judgements apart-Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

Institutionalized Leftism in the Arts: From ReasonTV Via Youtube: ‘Ken Burns on PBS Funding, Being a “Yellow-Dog Democrat,” & Missing Walter Cronkite’Repost-From NPR: Grants To The NEA To Stimulate The Economy?

Repost-Via Reason: ‘Salvador Allende’s Cybersocialist Command Center’

Postmodern Body Talk-A ‘Narrative’ To Which You Might Want To Pay Some Attention

From The Seattle Times-‘Art, Crime And Survival: ‘Awaiting Oblivion’ Seeks Hope In Hopelessness:’

‘After his arrest at Occupy Seattle, a local actor and youth-homelessness worker corresponded with “AO” — a mysterious graffiti/street artist or artists who mailed him art-based “temporary solutions” to stave off despair. The result, “Awaiting Oblivion,” opens at On the Boards.’

The two pictures at the link probably tell more than my words ever could.

Nevertheless, here’s a brief write-up: Lost, desperate souls wander hopelessly through and around the world’s woes, ground-down and alone, bedraggled and suicidal, finally…perhaps finally, discovering some meaning and purpose by engaging in (A)rt as salvation and (A)rt as therapy.

One voice, a candle-flame flickering in the darkness, provides hope and succor, solidarity and structure, across the meaningless void.  Perhaps, here, bodies of innocence and bodies of decadence spontaneously and rhythmically erupt in joy against systems of oppression and cold, uncaring authority.

Gender becomes fluid, intersectional; bodies heat-up, juxtaposed within many competing narratives of time and space.

Anti-Capitalist ‘Occupy’-style political activism and identitarian political ideology provide some replacement glow of family and friendship.


Enough of that, already.

Yet, dear reader, you might want to pay attention to how this thinking so easily can make its way up through many news and media outlets, seeping down from institutions of higher-ed into the popular culture, forming reefs of public sentiment and ‘right-thinking’ public opinion.

In fact, I’d say it will likely coalesce around a broader, more popular political middle (women’s marches) in a few years time, [that, in turn] cooling into more somewhat-reasoned anti-Trumpism.

On that note, more (A)rt as politics and protest: ‘In Protest of Trump’s Travel Ban, Davis Museum Will Remove All Art Made or Donated by Immigrants.’

‘From tomorrow, February 16, to Tuesday, February 21, 20 percent of the permanent collection galleries at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College will be shrouded or removed’

‘We’re a nation of immigrants’, not of laws, seems to have become the ‘dominant narrative,’ in many quarters these days.

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’


Tom Wolfe on Max Weber on one conspicuous use of art in the ‘modern’ world:

‘…aesthetics is going to replace ethics, art is going to replace religion, as the means through which educated people express their spiritual worthiness…

Maybe anti-commercialism is kind of commercial after all, and ‘ironically’ ends-up becoming a spiritual prosthetic in many lives (update: Well, at least to hangers-on following artists around like cult-leaders, but more broadly, such influence is not hard to find in popular culture)

 

Using quite a bit of German idealism to get at the problem:

Roger Scruton here.

Book here.

‘While I am complaining, I will also note that Scruton has nothing to say about how several of these figures—especially Žižek and Alain Badiou, along with Jacques Derrida, who is barely mentioned here—have played a role in the so-called “religious turn” of humanistic studies, in which various movements generally called “postmodern” find a significant place for religion in their reflections, if not in their beliefs or practices. This marks a significant departure from the relentless secularism of most earlier forms of European leftism, and that deserves note. Nor does Scruton account fully for Jürgen Habermas’s reputation as a centrist figure in the German and more generally the European context. (Habermas too has spoken more warmly of religion in recent years.’

Radio interview with Scruton on the book:

David Thompson offers satire on such matters.

Postmodern generator here, via David Thompson.

Simon Blackburn revisits the Sokal hoax.

Do you remember the Sokal hoax?

Some Updated Links On Postmodernism

Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

I have a soft spot for contrarian social scientists, like Charles Murray and Jonathan Haidt, pushing against what can so easily become an orthodoxy: Repost-Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People…

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?’

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

***My own anecdote: After a fruitful Town Hall discussion here in Seattle, celebrated British mathematician Roger Penrose did some Q & A afterwards. Most questions were from math majors, physicists, engineers and hobbyists in the crowd (many were over my head…but I tried to catch a few).

One question came from a youngish man in a beret, a little unkempt, who asked (in a possibly affected, but in a very serious tone):

‘Mr. Penrose, what is meaning in a moribund universe?

‘Eh…sorry…I didn’t catch that?’

‘What is meaning in a mo-ri-bund universe?’

‘Well, that is a different kind of question…I mean, here’s what I can offer you…’

***That’s roughly how I remember it, and Penrose was gracious, but brisk, in moving onto the kinds of questions he might be able to answer, or for which he could provide some insight.