Sometimes, poetry is the most efficient, carbon-neutral vehicle to the soul:
From The Pardoner’s Tale, by Geoffrey Chaucer:
...But, sires, o word forgat I in my tale: But, sirs, one word I forgot in my tale: 920 I have relikes and pardoun in my male, I have relics and pardons in my bag, 921 As faire as any man in Engelond, As fine as any man in England, 922 Whiche were me yeven by the popes hond. Which were given to me by the pope’s hand. 923 If any of yow wole, of devocion, If any of you will, of devotion, 924 Offren and han myn absolucion, Offer and have my absolution, 925 Com forth anon, and kneleth heere adoun, Come forth straightway, and kneel down here, 926 And mekely receyveth my pardoun; And meekly receive my pardon;
As I see things, secular humanism acts at the level of belief. There are as many and as various strands of belief as you can find.
I’ve explored a bit of Romantic Collectivism as I’ve experienced it (Back To Earth, back to the postmodern Body, back to feminine and feelings first movements against the masculine and the rational, back or out to a deeper universalism which includes animals, plants and microbes etc.).
With community comes irony. In the world, there are always people in dire need of a (M)oral (C)ause.
As with human things, wisdom is ripe for folly; knowledge for foolishness. Passion can become intimately linked with ignorance and conformity, as much as it might be with intelligence and courage.
There’s plenty of middle-brow environmentalism to go around, too, pushing a PBS-style vision for the public (Saganites) while sanctioning Righteous Activism (Socially Just…the goal is to change the World)
And there are increasingly means to gain (S)elf-Knowledge and (S)elf-Esteem when times get rough (therapists as analogous to priests, with knowledge enough to explain our interior lives, our social lives and our ‘oughts’ to us and guide us to light if only someone pays for their bread).
Surely, they can’t all be right?
For God’s Sake, there is no shortage of lethal ignorance, hypocrisy, self-denial and manipulative indoctrination in the Catholic Church, either. I’m guessing this is why the message of Christ is endlessly debated and re-booted (if you’re looking for what’s true, what’s good, and what’s beautiful, you can not necessarily expect it in this life).
Many of the same people (and types) would have just gone into a nunnery/the priesthood about 150 years ago.
We’re all made of this stuff, of course. Some good thoughts and impulses; some bad, selfish, and destructive thoughts and impulses.
Upon hearing “Gaia” you might be thinking mystic, earth-worshippers (green religion at its worst) but our author uses the theory put forward by James Lovelock over 40 years ago as an interesting philosophical meditation.
“Perhaps in the end, Plato had it right: We need both perspectives, Heraclitean and Parmenidean, to get the whole picture. At our peril, and at our children’s peril, we ignore the messages of those seminal Greek thinkers.”
If you hadn’t noticed, many people claiming child-rearing should be monetized, and that every (S)elf is sacred, are probably not going to be satisfied with more commodification of children and atomization of (S)elf.
People want to believe stuff, act righteously in the world and be an important part of a group. We get the heroes we deserve:
There are other ideals most such folks I’ve spoken with hold higher as good, beautiful and true. Unfortunately for me, as I see the world, such ideals typically ‘labor in the negative.’
Solidarity, brother: These would include the grudge-holding and anti-corporatism of the Union Left, cartelizing the labor market, and placing onerous labor laws upon entire populations through collectivization (play the game or you don’t work and your vote won’t matter much at all). Good luck being an individual in this landscape.
Religions Of Man: Socialism and Communism claiming ‘scientific’ knowledge of (M)an’s ends (the people in charge, after the violent revolution, will know your ends better than you ever could). Global Workers of the World Unite! Your death was for the greater good.
There is no World, man. What does your body feel? Or take the postmodern relativism and nihilism spilling from our universities (there’s no objective reality) and existentialist chic increasingly found amongst our young. There are some very deep thinkers to inspire here, and great works of art, but where is this all heading? Should I even ask such a question, Man?
One-World Government(Surprisingly Fragile & Authoritarian): Or take the kind of ‘-Ismology’ and latest moral-cause crusades our politicians must increasingly surf into power (do they even believe some of this s**t?).
Meanwhile, the realities of local conflicts and populations consistently move in their own directions and deals with foul tinpot dictators continue (which probably feeds into the postmodern cynicism). A la Ken Minogue, I’ve been viewing such movements as containing a lot of over-extended utilitarian logic and ‘Olympianism.’ This scaling of liberal ideals congeals into a kind of authoritarian egalitarian paternalism. There’s much to guide us within the best of Civil Rights Activism, undeniably, but, what are the practical consequences should this ideal become the highest thing around?
Well, Dear Reader, one way around this seemingly inexorable pull of the modern and postmodern, and the atomization of (S)elf, is towards a kind of Hegelian-inspired ‘Romantic Conservatism’, or back to the family, the land, the local and of course, the universal found in God.
A rampaging modernity ignores the centrality for human beings of community, home and settlement and leaves behind nothing but atomised individuals, “living like ants within their metallic and functional shells.”
…This pervasive sense of homelessness can be overcome, Scruton believed: “underlying that sense of loss is the permanent belief that what has been lost can also be recaptured,” albeit in a modified form, “to reward us for all the toil of separation through which we are condemned by our original transgression.” And he saw this redemptive faith as “the romantic core of conservatism, as you find it—very differently expressed—in Burke and Hegel, in Coleridge, Ruskin, Dostoevsky and T.S. Eliot.” It was found also in F.R. Leavis, who insisted in The Great Tradition (1948) that superior literature displays “a vital capacity for experience, a kind of reverent openness before life, and a marked moral intensity,” and found these qualities present pre-eminently in the novels of Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James, Joseph Conrad and D.H. Lawrence. For Leavis, Scruton explained in The Philosopher on Dover Beach (1990):
In the Q & A afterwards, Scruton receives about as pointed a post-lecture questioning on his metaphysics as I’ve seen.
Is there a turn back towards the Hegelian ‘we’ from the Kantian ‘I?’
However attractive and practical Scruton’s deployment of the ‘lebenswelt’ in describing the day to day relationships in which we find ourselves (a tissue of contingencies, possibilities and ‘I’ ‘thou’ relationships); however useful the ‘lebenswelt’ might be providing robust criticism of the totalitarian ideologies and scientism of post-Enlightenment ideological utopians, are the Hegelian dangers to abstract, absolutize and collectivize still present?
‘Now, I think that this is an accurate and honest presentation of Wittgenstein’s thought, except perhaps for the notion of “an independent world,” which sounds like a metaphysical assertion; but it also makes it look like Roger Scruton has fallen into the same kind of dark well as the “nonsense machine” of post-modernism that he examined in his other book.
First of all, if we have decided that the “emphasis” of Frege on truth is now to be replaced with the “more fundamental demand” that our language conform to “correctness,” alarm bells should go off. There is in fact nothing more fundamental than truth, if we are talking about knowledge or logic (and not just “communication”); and “correctness” could mean anything, varying with the standard that is applied to judge it. But we quickly get what the standard of “correctness” is, and that is the “common usage” that has “created the rules,” outside of which we cannot “look,” to govern our linguistic practice. These are rules that the invididual cannot decide for himself but that somehow “we,” collectively, in our “form of life” have created.
Key points there are that the autonomous individual and the “independent world” have both dropped out of the treatment. Scruton, as we might suspect for a Hegelian, does not speak up for the individual, but even his explicit invocation of the “independent world” is immediately voided by the assertion that only language itself, in its practice, correctness, and form of life, determines what is going to stand as the equivalent of truth. Thus, the chilling absurdity is that “the ultimate facts are language,” while, naively, we might think that facts are characteristics of the “independent world” that determine truth, as the Early Wittgenstein himself had said. In an objective world without facts, language is the substitute (whose status is somehow established by facts about the world).’
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…
Regarding the above conversation between writer Bret Easton Ellis and mathematician Eric Weinstein: Both men tell coming-of-age tales as Gen Xer’s during the early 1980’s; a glamourized, somewhat nihilistic youth culture and a deep personal freedom.
I’ve been to L.A. a few times (Raymond Chandler kept me going when I was far away from my language) and David Hockney has captured some of the light and landscape of that particular place.
We all have likely have some contact with Los Angeles through the movies, and particular stylized visions of it:
‘Noyce was like a great many bright young men and women from Dissenting Protestant families in the Middle West after the Second World War. They had been raised as Baptists, Methodists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, United Brethren, whatever. They had been led through the Church door and prodded toward religion, but it had never come alive for them. Sundays made their skulls feel like dried-out husks. So they slowly walked away from the church and silently, without so much as a growl of rebellion, congratulated themselves on their independence of mind and headed into another way of life. Only decades later, in most cases, would they discover how, absentmindedly, inexplicably, they had brought the old ways along for the journey nonetheless. It was as if . . . through some extraordinary mistake . . . they had been sewn into the linings of their coats!
Does L.A. or the music made there even have a center?:
More broadly, in interacting with many Millenials I often find myself thinking: What the hell happened to a rough and ready sense of independence, freedom and responsibility? Am I alone in my deeper sense of patriotism, gratitude and a skepticism regarding the new, emergent rules?
Freedom of Speech! America!
‘Whatever,’ comes the reply. ‘We’ll see.‘
Am I just living in a post-60’s and post-Boomer bubble myself? To some extent, yes. But I’d also like to point out just how many intellectuals are still looking for a ‘Brotherhood Of Man’.
Sometimes, the best you can hope for from the ‘change’ focused smart types is a defeated Modern skepticism, rather than revolutionary zeal and the global Church Of Mankind.
Weinstein’s argument as I understand it: Something fundamental shifted around 1972 in American economic and institutional life. It’s when a previously more explosive rate of economic growth stalled. Since that time, most folks within our academic, cultural and political institutions simply haven’t adjusted.
It’s harder to get into many housing markets now, and it’s harder to compete with global labor for jobs and academic positions. Our current politics is a clown-show (for many reasons). Much stagnation has ensued, and many of our current institutional hierarchies might just possess dark, unspoken ponzi knowledge at their hearts.
The sooner you got in, the better off you are.
If such a theory be true, these conditions can easily erode a basic sense of fairness, institutional trust and continuity. This could allow more space for the postmodern and nihilist drift both men discuss, and the growing desire for (S)elves looking for (C)ommunities and rules. EQUALITY now. More space for Socialism. Anarchy. More space for a retreat from the public square into one’s family and church.
Such a theory just might also stroke the egos of people who think of themselves as relatively independent, such as myself.
Dear Reader, I’ve got to watch out for that. I like to think of myself as ahead of some curves.
‘Increasingly the research seemed to show that interventions by government, universities and industry in the US labor market for scientists, especially after the University system stopped growing organically in the early 1970s were exceedingly problematic.’
A few more thoughts and personal experiences as an undergraduate English major which support the theory: There were plenty of talented undergrads, sure, but there were also clearly not enough slots to develop and mature their talents within the institutions.
A writing MFA? Don’t be a sucker.
The older the professor, usually the more rigorous and focused the teaching. The higher the expectations and the less existential questions of pedagogy there were. Fewer ontological questions of Self in the World emerged as confessional blank verse and personalized syllabi.
Later on, briefly (you should be as happy as I am I’m not a lawyer), I saw legal education displaying similar troubling trends, even though law requires a clearer logical and objective rigor: All the top-tier law grads were vying for teaching spots at second and third-tier law schools. If you started at a second or third-tier law school….good luck.
Don’t be a sucker, now. Find your (S)elf. Freedom is next.
‘Nietzsche snidely remarked that Christianity was “Platonism for the masses.” In the academy today we have what we might call Nietzscheanism for the masses, as squads of cozy nihilists parrot his ideas and attitudes. Nietzsche’s contention that truth is merely “a moveable host of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms,” for example, has become a veritable mantra in comparative literature departments across the country.’
On this site, well, there’s been quite a bit of related content over the years:
‘In November of 1887, the Danish scholar George Brandes wrote a letter to Nietzsche praising his writings and endorsing his “aristocratic radicalism.” Nietzsche responded by accepting this label: “The expression Aristocratic Radicalism, which you employ, is very good. It is, permit me to say, the cleverest thing I have yet read about myself.”‘
Excellent, as always.
‘Finally, as I have indicated in some previous posts, Nietzsche’s aristocratic liberalism is based on a Darwinian anthropology that is open to empirical verification or falsification, while his aristocratic radicalism is based on mythopoetic fictions–the will to power, eternal recurrence, the Ubermensch, and Dionysian religiosity–that are beyond empirical testing.
From all of this, I conclude that Nietzsche’s Darwinian aristocratic liberalism is superior to his Dionysian aristocratic radicalism.’
Arnhart maintains that Nietzsche’s middle period, focused on Darwin’s thought, is the most defensible.
Here’s a quote from Leo Strauss, on Nietzsche beginning the 3rd crisis of modernity, having followed the logic of relativism to nihilism:
‘The theoretical analysis of life is noncommittal and fatal to commitment, but life means commitment. To avert the danger to life, Nietzsche could choose one of two ways: he could insist on the strictly esoteric character of the theoretical analysis of life–that is restore the Platonic notion of the noble delusion–or else he could deny the possibility of theory proper. and so conceive of theory as essentially subservient to, or dependent on, life or fate. If not Nietzsche himself, at any rate his successors adopted the second alternative.’
A paper arguing that Strauss conflated his own critique of modernity with the intentions of philosophers:
‘A fervent critic of modernity, Leo Strauss attributed modernity’s intellectual degradation to the influence of some great philosophers in the history of political thought who radically broke with classical political thinking. In doing so, Strauss believed, these thinkers either directly or indirectly contributed to the emergence of historicism and positivism, and he held these movements accountable for spineless relativism, nihilism, and modernity’s moral and intellectual demise.’
A little authoritative and paternal, but a Romantic poet. A modernist, brilliant with language but precise in meaning, abstract, somewhat philosophical. They say he had a deathbed conversion. Here’s another line of his:
“The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost successfully.“
And then just to frustrate matters more:
Beauty is no quality in things themselves, it exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.
‘Imagism was a sub-genre of Modernism concerned with creating clear imagery with sharp language. The essential idea was to re-create the physical experience of an object through words. As with all of Modernism, Imagism implicitly rejected Victorian poetry, which tended toward narrative.‘
‘The most exemplified phase of Modernism, referred to as “High Modernism,” occurred during the inter-war years (1918-1939). This was the time when writers synonymous with Modernism, such as Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, and D.H. Lawrence, thrived. While Victorians typically concerned themselves with rendering reality as they understood it into fiction, Modernists recognized that reality was subjective, and instead strove to represent human psychology in fiction.‘
During the post-war years, the confessionals, with a fair amount of free and blank verse became dominant, with a kind of feelings-first, psychological exploration of the (S)elf.
Dear Reader, this photograph represents the closest I’ve gotten to elements of the modernist imagination so far. I hope you enjoy. The Straussian movement pushes back to a kind of classicist revival, an embrace of tradition, and rejection of much modernity.
***On second-thought, the photo of these parts of very real thing is abstracted into a kind of modernesque design.
‘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 is 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:
“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?
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.
If you view the modern project as sailing the gulf between Nature (wonderful spring days, happy babies, Pompei, The Plague), and human nature (love, mercy, humility, hatred, cruelty, egoism), then a certain depressive realism seems reasonable.
Part of my journey has involved being interested in the arts, making my way to Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, Leo Strauss and Plato early on. After giving the arts a go, I made an attempt to broaden my scope, trying to better understand a particular set of problems.
While attending Penn State, I sat-in on a lecture by Jacques Derrida. He discussed his work on the work of Romanian Jewish poet Paul Celan. Listening to the arch-deconstructionist spending an hour discussing Ashglory was interesting, if a bit baffling. There was a lot of brilliance, gibberish, insight, ambition, and hubris in that room. Looking back, if I’m honest, I suppose some of it was mine.
I didn’t take notes and kept wondering why so many did.
In bearing witness to the modern quest of wringing every last drop of meaning from the Self (Self-Help books, confessionals, gurus), I get worried. When I look around and see so much energy spent ‘deconstructing’ comedy, cartoons, pop-culture and political ideals, I worry deeper trends are playing out (see the confessional postmodern poets of the 1950’s).
It’s not so much (R)eason, but the attempts to define Man’s (R)ational Ends within political doctrines I worry about. The less people have in their lives about which to feel purpose, the more many will look to political movements.
I worry that trying to synthesize the arts and sciences in popular fashion will not halt the turn towards postmodern anti-reason and irrational modern mysticism.
It’s not so much neuroscience and psychology as expanding fields of knowledge which worry, but the oft smug certainty of many institutionalized folks justifying personal and political interests in the wake of such thinking. It’s all too easy to mistake the edges of one’s thinking for the edges of the world.
It may be meritocrats all the way down, lightly tapping upon the heads of radicals.
It’s not so much progress which bothers me, but progressivism writ large (and so many other ‘-Isms’) uniting in-groups against out-group enemies insisting change ought to be the default position.
Where your thoughts are, your actions and hopes tend to follow.
Yoram Hozany takes two institutional data points, the NY Times and Princeton University, to argue that whatever you want to call it (‘Marxism’, ‘Neo-Marxism,’ Postmodern ‘Wokism’); these institutions increasingly have a new moral, ideological orthodoxy in place.
From Hazony’s reasoning then, it follows that this new moral, ideological orthodoxy is driven by committed and competing factions of radicals and true-believers, ideologically purifying towards revolutionary praxis.
It also follows that on the American political scene many moderate, opposing groups will have to deal with this new reality: Religious believers, social conservatives, traditionalists, constitutionalists, economic conservatives, libertarians, classical liberals, moderate and reasonable liberals, and even the populist, union Left, will be in some kind of tension with this group of radicals and true-believers.
A lot of people I know resist such arguments, often because they’re caught up in the pro-Trump, anti-Trump battles of the day. Or they’re older and can’t process the levels of institutional capture, rot and over-build we’ve got.
Or they haven’t seen the glazed eyes and closed minds up close.
If you’ve been keeping tabs on this stuff, from a perspective like mine (small ‘c’ conservative), it’s been a long, depressing ride.