A Bit Apart, But Still Standing Around Hoping Many People Would Hesitate More Often-A Few Links And Thoughts On Leo Strauss and Rene Girard

One major shift in my thinking occurred while reading Leo Strauss, and approaching Nature from a position where the reason/revelation distinction was suddenly in play:

‘Strauss was a Jew who promoted a pre-Christian, classical understanding of “natural right” as found in Plato and Aristotle. Yet after the publication of his Natural Right and History in 1953, Strauss was sometimes classed alongside Catholic scholars of political philosophy who aimed to revive the natural law tradition of Aquinas. Strauss recognized that these Thomists were fighting some of the same battles against historicists and philosophical modernists that he was fighting. Nonetheless, his own position was quite distinct from theirs. Natural right, unlike natural law, is changeable and dependent on circumstance for its expression, says Strauss. As he puts it: “There is a universally valid hierarchy of ends, but there are no universally valid rules of action.”

Such thinking made me question many modern epistemological foundations I had been taking for granted: Perhaps (H)istory doesn’t necessarily have a clear end, no more than does any one of our lives (other than a death forever beyond our full imagining).  Perhaps (H)istory is long, often bloody, and takes a lot of work to understand.

Nature, too, in its depth and majesty, often Romanticized and Idealized by many moderns (collectivists and Hippies, especially), can be terrible, cruelly indifferent and the source of much of our suffering.  These debates are old, and deep, so why not return to many original thinkers like Plato and Aristotle?

Politically and socially, I suddenly doubted that we’re necessarily heading towards knowable ends, individuals achieving a kind of virtue in declaring loyalty to the latest moral idea, protest movement, or political cause.  Progress is complicated.

[Although] the (S)ciences are so successful in describing and explaining the Natural World, such knowledge can’t simply be transferred and implemented into policy and law, a bureaucracy and a technocracy [full of] of people who are often not even scientists.  Perhaps there are many modern fictions abroad.

The more individuals are either liberated or freed (from tradition, from moral obligations to family and friends, from insitutions, from religious belief) it doesn’t necessarily follow such freedoms will be used wisely.

In fact, some individuals are clearly coalescing around narrow, totalitarian ideologies and failed theories of History through the road of radical chic (Marxism, Communism, Socialism).  Other individuals are exploiting our current insitutional failures in favor of political extremism (alt-right and alt-left) while yet others are spending their formative years flirting with nihilism and anarchy in the postmodern soup.

Cycles of utopianism/dystopianism, and idealism don’t necessarily lead to stability, and more liberty.

Where I might agree with the moderns: I do think that Man’s reason, individual men’s use of mathematics applied to the physical world, sometimes occurring in flashes of profound insight, often after years of study and labor within and perhaps outside of a particular field, are tied to a reality which empirically exists.  One could do a lot worse than the best of the Natural Philosopher.

It typically takes years to imbibe the necessary and often counter-intuitive tools to ‘see under the hood’ of Nature.  Then, it often takes very long and close observation to make some kind of contribution.  Unlike the Oakeshottian critique of rationalism in favor of tradition, I do think there are gains in basic competency from an education in the sciences that are not exclusive solely to the genius.  Some of this can scale. Many laymen can become aware of how deterministic and probabilistically accurate these laws govern the world in which we live.

To be sure, we are undergoing a renaissance in certain fields:  A technological revolution in our pockets and work lives, an explosion in space science, for starters.


As to my view of human nature, and a depressive realism, often informed by the humanites:

There’s something about Rene Girard’s work that strikes deep chords within me. I must confess, though, as a non-believer, I remain skeptical that a lot of Christianity isn’t Platonic Idealism + Synthesized Judaism + Transcendent Claims to Truth & Knowledge that gained ascendance within the Roman Empire.  My ignorance shows.

A Christian and religious believer, Girard synthesizes psychology, literature, history, anthropology and philosophy along with his Christian faith into something quite profound.

Recommended.  The mimetic theory of [desire] can really can change how you think about the world:

A briefer introduction here:

Girard and Libertarian thought?:

The closest I come to religious belief: Writers and musicians, at a certain point, give themselves over to their own mysterious, seemingly inexplicable, creative processes. If you practice enough (muscle memory), play your instrument alone and play with others, counting the time signature, you can makes sounds in time which express something deep about our condition, sharing it with others.

Even after the well runs dry, creative artists often go back to the bottom, finding themselves spent.  The stronger the emotional loss and more real the pain; often this translates into the pleasure others take in your creation.  But what is it you’re sharing exactly, from mind to mind and person to person?

This [can] produce something like a divine, God-worshipping, vulnerable state of mind and being, which is just as dangerous and corrupting as it is bonding and enriching.  From Bach, to Prince, to now even Kanye West, apparently, religion can suddenly sweep into the gap.

Of course, studying and playing music is a conscious, reasoned process, more than many people know, but it also, very clearly isn’t entirely planned in the moment of its synthesis and creation.

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

I’m missing a lot, here, folks, but doing my best with current resources.  Thanks, as always, for reading.

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

Repost-Some Quotations From Leo Strauss On Edmund Burke In ‘Natural Right And History’

From Nextbook: Philosopher Of Science Hilary Putnam On The Jewish Faith

Postmodern Pushback-Some New Links & Lots Of Old Links Gathered Throughout The Years

The British Are Coming, Darth Vaper And Just Look At That Parking Lot

I’m sure there’s already an outfit called ‘Serial Vapist’ (after twenty seconds of searching, yes, in fact, there is).

Here’s Matt Ridley on vaping, and most of the specious arguments made in favor of regulation:

‘Vaping is the perfect example of a voluntary innovation derived from free enterprise that delivers better human health, at no cost to the taxpayer, and no inconvenience to society — and causes pleasure. I neither smoke nor vape and have no financial interest in either, but I wish it every success.’

I AM your father.

As posted: It’s no coincidence that libertarian-minded folk at Reason magazine are addressing the issue. E-cigarettes could be confusing the children in NYC.  The FDA has recently been on the manufacturer’s case.  The City Council takes the smoking ban (get Big Tobacco!) a step further:

What’s a little surprising may be the rush to moral judgment, condemnation and control.

Addition:  Delivering stuff into your lungs with a ‘portable chemistry set’ is going to have side-effects, if we’re honest, but relative to smoking cigarettes and relative to the level of potential moral panic going around, I remain skeptical and open to data. I also remain somewhat skeptical that a movement towards ever-expanding individual freedoms, often towards anarchy, won’t have side-effects either.

Compared to modern revolutionary movements, radical activism, collectivist Romantic tribalism and the morally panicked, one could do much worse.

Get ready for some bloviating:

As this blog sees things, the posture of radical opposition to some existing rule or law, through claims of liberation from oppression, tends to yield an ever-growing list of new and/or hybrid rules and laws.  Radicals, after all, are still full of thoughts, beliefs, hopes, moral and aesthetic judgments etc.  No man is an island, least of all men enmeshed within liberatory, collectivist movements united against the oppressor.

It’s unsurprising that the Marxist tendency to conceive of all of life (personal and public) in economic terms, puts ever more pressure upon ‘capitalism’ and marketplaces (the freer flow of capital) to deliver meaning and purpose in people’s lives.  Though to be fair, some old-school Marxists are sticks-in-the-mud against the postmodern, post-Marxist drift towards radical individualism, nihilism and existentialism, critical of the many knowledge claims within the old systems.

Modern ideological movements tend to promise the good, the true and the beautiful all in one package.  (H)istory has a direction and a purpose which can be known; it can be visualized and actualized.  (H)istory, for the committed ideologue, has an end, and men’s ends can be known and actualized within this vision.

(S)cience, of course, provides precise mathematical and probabilistic knowledge of the Natural world, usually the best knowledge we have, based upon observation.  This knowledge can reach out and describe the material world, elements of which may actually empirically exist similar as they present themselves to our senses and the complex analyses some people perform.

What, I, personally, tend to see as a category error, however, lies in assuming the sciences can produce such knowledge transferable to (H)istory and (P)olitics without information loss; not merely what is, but what ought to be.

On that note, Theodore Dalrymple, prison psychiatrist, tries to take some claims of psychiatry down a peg or two.  Aside from the application of biology, medicine and psychology to people’s interior thoughts, psychology has had some serious reproducibility problems.

Perhaps that latest Self-Help indulgence, or that Psych 101 course applied to HR problem-solving is about as reliable as the abstract metaphysics of a young Man Of God?

Just look at that Parking Lot!:

Dalrymple comes at problems of psychiatry as a psychiatrist, and from the perspective of a humanist.  There’s deep suffering and deep wisdom in literature; the kind of which can cultivate humble self-reflection.  All people and all problems are not necessarily going to be solved in the DSM.

Some of [psychiatry’s] knowledge claims may be slightly inflated, hopes ready to be dashed and lives harmed, especially when they deal with people in prisons and on the edges of society, the most vulnerable and/or dangerous among us.

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Authority, Causation, Revelation, Evolution & Capitalism-Some Links

-Arnold Kling talks with Martin Gurri and James Cham about Gurri’s thoughts on our crisis of authority.

-Sam Harris talks with Judea Pearl about causation, later Hume, AI, and Bayesian networks.

-From Larry Arnhart offers some thoughts on Leo Strauss’ reason/revelation distinction:

How can “every one of us” be free to make this choice between reason and revelation, philosophy and theology? 

-Via a reader via The Hoover Institution:  Discussing challenges to Darwin?

-Edward Feser On ‘Hayek’s Tragic Capitalism

Of Course My Side Has All The Knowledge-A Few Links On Closing The CEU In Budapest

Franklin Foer at The Atlantic seems quick to blame the shuttering of the CEU, the George Soros funded graduate university in Budapest, Hungary, on Trump’s ambassador (a business imperative at The Atlantic), and by appealing, perhaps, to the sentiments of his readership.

Hey, I’m generally for openness, but while this could be pretty important for some people, it’s also pretty maudlin:

I’d met the student earlier in the day; he had told me that he was gay, and that CEU was one of the few places in his native country where he could hold hands with a partner without fear of violent recrimination. He pointed in the direction of a nearby bathroom: “The only gender-neutral toilet facility in eastern Europe.”

What does seem clear is that Hungary’s president, Viktor Orban, achieved this move politically, tactically, legally, and by degrees.  It’s not entirely clear that such a move will be wise, long-term.  A reasonable conservative position might be having another center of learning to replace the departing CEU once such steps are taken, perhaps to try and bridge the gap of the Hungarian country farmer and the city cosmopolitan with greater openness.  This, given the history of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the problems with the Nazis and then the Communists.

But, what the hell do I know? Please feel free to highlight my ignorance (it’s deep).

It’s this blog’s opinion that if you’ve taken up a more unthinking liberal American position, you’ll be more likely to agree with Foer’s framing of the issue.  You’ll be more likely to see your political opposition as not only mistaken, but morally supect, and perhaps fascistic and evil.  The-troops-are-gathering-upon-the-horizon kind of view rather than the-merry-go-round-making-another-turn kind of view.

Roger Scruton spent a lot of time in Poland and Czechslovakia helping the ‘catacomb culture’ of learning that had to operate in secret against Communist rule.

Now, it seems, some old fault-lines may be re-emerging.  Let’s hope it’s balanced.

Foer again:

‘Michael Ignatieff had barely unpacked his books when he first heard rumors about CEU’s endangered future, surreptitiously passed to his staff by a sympathetic source in the government. The source whispered about the possibility of an imminent attack encapsulating everything that made Orbán such a vexing opponent. Having studied law at Bibó, Orbán implemented his agenda with legalistic aplomb. He constantly revised statutes to serve his own purposes.’

Here’s Michael Ignatieff introducing Roger Scruton at CEU a few years back, having to explain to many CEU campus radicals why they should even allow Scruton to speak.

You know, maybe that’s part of the problem:

Encyclopedia Of Philosophy Entry On Eliminative Materialism…

Bryan Magee Via Youtube: ‘Miles Burnyeat On Plato’Repost: From the Cambridge Companion To Plato-T.H. Irwin’s “Plato: The intellectual Background’

Via A Reader-‘Locke’s Empiricism, Berkeley’s Idealism’

Some Sunday Quotations: (On) Kant, Locke, and Pierce

 

Repost-Roger Kimball At Arma Virumque: ‘Santayana On Liberalism And Other Matters Of Interest’

Full essay here.

Worth a read:

‘My point is only that Santayana — the Spanish-born, Boston-bred, Harvard educated cosmopolite — stands out as an unusual specimen in the philosophical fraternity. He wrote beautifully, for one thing, commanding a supple yet robust prose that was elegant but rarely precious or self-infatuated’

and Kimball on Santayana’s interaction with William James:

‘Temperamentally, the two men were complete opposites — James bluff, hearty, the thorough New England pragmatist in manner as well as philosophical outlook: Santayana the super-refined, sonnet-writing, exquisitely disillusioned Catholic Spaniard. In many ways, Santayana was closer in spirit to William’s brother Henry.’

For what it’s worth, I recall a deeply Catholic lament and longing in the Spanish character, which can be combined with a kind of clear-eyed realism and stoicism, but not always. The faith runs deep in St Teresa and her passions, and despite Miguel de Unamuno’s rationalist influences, I remember a general preference for wisdom in the Tragic Sense Of Life.

Something clicked regarding Spain when I finally visited the Escorial outside of Madrid after many months of being in that city. It’s a grand castle of course, but it also struck me as rather plain, barracks-like at times. Very austere. It was explained that the Escorial was both a royal palace and a monastery:

————————–

Quote found here:

‘Philip’s instructions to Herrera stipulated “simplicity of form, severity in the whole, nobility without arrogance, majesty without ostentation,” qualities clearly illustrated by the long sweep of these facades.’

That Catholic influence can also get a little intense:

‘El Escorial was built to honor St. Lawrence, who was burned on a grill. In order to remind the citizens of his martyrdom and sacrifice, the entire building is a grill. Yes, it is shaped like a grill. There are paintings of St. Lawrence on a grill, grills are carved into the doorways, the weather vain is in the shape of a grill, the backs of chairs are supposed to be grills, the list literally could go on forever.’

Maybe they got a little carried away during the Reconquest.

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Related On This Site: Wednesday Poem: Wallace Stevens-Anecdote of The JarSome Sunday Quotations: (On) Kant, Locke, and Pierce

British conservatism with a fair amount of German idealist influence: Repost-Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: ‘Farewell To Judgment’

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

From The 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?’

 

Jordan Peterson And Slavoj Zizek-Some Weather And Space Links

Challenges to many post-Enlightenment radicals, true-believers and narrow ideologues continue apace.  Hopefully, colonizing the Arts & Sciences for reasons other than making good art and doing good science will not come so easy.

Who’s got the Truth?  Who’s got the better models?

Jordan Peterson & Slavoj Zizek will be debating on April 19th:

On this site, see: Adam Kirsch responds to Zizek’s responses.  Kirsch reviewed Zizek’s In Defense Of Lost Causes in a New Republic piece entitled ‘The Deadly Jester.’

Interesting quote from Roger Scruton here:

So, what is all this Nothing-ness about? ‘My view’, says Scruton, ‘is that what’s underlying all of this is a kind of nihilistic vision that masks itself as a moving toward the enlightened future, but never pauses to describe what that society will be like. It simply loses itself in negatives about the existing things – institutional relations like marriage, for instance – but never asks itself if those existing things are actually part of what human beings are. Always in Zizek there’s an assumption of the right to dismiss them as standing in the way of something else, but that something else turns out to be Nothing.’

On that note, keep living a good life and keep learning:

Via Eric Weinstein, Science On A Sphere has got to be a dream of all weather and map geeks, no matter their level of commitment:

High-fidelity photographic images and satellite loops give you snatches of the bigger picture.  Get enough data sets and processing power together to build a basic model of Earth, however, and and you can start mapping months of actual data over the model.  Then you can start doing the same for other planets.

Perhaps with the cheaper availability of AI modeling, costs will come down enough to allow localized and predictive weather observations and modeling.  Amateur weather geeks can start adding input channels and competitive, real-time knowledge which strengthen and/or challenge the big models in real-time.

Engage your visual cortex along with actual recorded weather data.  Choose a particular weather event from your own memory, and align it with this visual representation of the data on the macro-level:

You probably already knew: If you keep scrolling out of Google Maps from your lat/long (https://www.google.com/maps) in satellite view, you will eventually see a similar Earth model.  You can then choose other planets from a sidebar if you can’t afford $45K!

I’ve been enjoying Event Horizon lately; good questions and good answers from Astronomers and serious practitioners.  Subscribe!:

Repost-A Terrible Bullshit Is Born

John O’ Sullivan at The New Criterion remembers Robert Conquest:

‘A strong dislike of pretension, accompanied by a happy delight in puncturing it through satire and parody, is also a major element in his literary criticism. His demolition of Ezra Pound is especially effective because, as a classical scholar and linguist, he is able to establish that many of Pound’s most admired technical effects are in reality simple errors of grammar or translation.’

Ha!:

“Those teach who can’t do” runs the dictum,

But for some even that’s out of reach:

They can’t even teach—so they’ve picked ’em

To teach other people to teach.

Then alas for the next generation,

For the pots fairly crackle with thorn.

Where psychology meets education

A terrible bullshit is born.’

Ha!

Many people still can’t handle how bad Communism was on the ground, and fewer these days are looking to keep the ideology up in the air, partly thanks to Conquest and his labors:

 

Some Hayek-Related Links

Via Twitter via Evonomics: ‘Hayek Meets Information Theory. And Fails.

So, replacing prices in a marketplace with AI deep learning models is apparently the way to go (reducing your knowledge, experience, and behavior to input nodes channeled through possible optimization distribution paths).

Let’s ignore the bureaucratic/political incentives for a moment…for man is a political animal.

Our author:

‘The understanding of prices and supply and demand provided by information theory and machine learning algorithms is better equipped to explain markets than arguments reducing complex distributions of possibilities to a single dimension, and hence, necessarily, requiring assumptions like rational agents and perfect foresight’

From the comments, a response:

‘His [Hayek’s] crucial point is that market prices perform a co-ordination function, allowing people to act AS IF they had the relevant knowledge.’

Also, epistemologically speaking, from the comments:

Indeed it is a central tenant of Austrian school economics (of which he was not quite a founding member, but is perhaps its most thoughtful member) that the efficient market hypothesis is false, that markets are never actually in equilibrium, that people are not perfectly rational agents, and that they most definitely do not have (and cannot have) perfect foresight.’

Your price re-allocation command console awaits, Captain.


On that note, Mark Pennington’s Robust Political Economy: Classical Liberalism and the Future of Public Policy comes recommended.

Full diavlog here.

Duke professor Bruce Caldwell talks about his then new book on Hayek, an intellectual biography.

Repost-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’

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

Repost-Cass Sunstein At The New Republic: ‘Why Paternalism Is Your Friend’

Via A Reader: Ocean Worlds-Cassini Mission Findings Video

Here’s my brief layperson’s summary after watching: 

Both moons Enceladus (Saturn) and Europa (Jupiter) demonstrate evidence of huge oceans of liquid water protected by thick, icy crusts.  The Cassini probe passed through water plumes emanating high above Enceladus’ icy crust.  This water has been forced out of four long, deep cracks in the surface.

After analysis, the folks in the video above have discovered many chemicals within these Enceladus geysers (ammonia, carbon dioxide) but most importantly:  Hydrogen they think might be coming from hydro-thermal vents on the rocky, ocean floor of Enceladus.

Or at least, with the current evidence and knowledge, this is a very plausible scenario.

So, there’s life on Earth without sunlight, deep on the ocean floors, near hydro-thermal vents where this process produces energy enough to sustain weird life forms we didn’t know existed before very recently.

There’s water geysering out of Europa’s icy crust from its ocean floor below.

There’s potentially time + interesting life-sustaining geochemistry + energy + a protected environment on both of these ocean worlds…so…hey….

There may be something really worth finding down there.

Next up:  Sending better instruments to cruise through Europa’s geysers:

The Great Ones-Some Links To Earthquakes On the Cascadia Subduction Zone

There was a good Kathryn Schulz piece at the New Yorker entitled: ‘The Really Big One,’published in July 2015, which Nick Zentner at Central Washington University uses as his jumping-off point for discussion.

The above hour-long talk is designed for lay-people and starts with the basics, catalogues the current evidence, and leads to current understanding:

On average, every 250-500 years or so, the Cascadia Subduction Zone can rip {partially or} at once, and can generate an earthquake (with tsunami) of potentially 9.0 or greater {if all at once}.  The last big one is known to have occurred 316 years ago, on January 29th, 1700.

Oh boy…

-This timeline is not exactly reassuring

-People are keeping track of these {local} things.

-Out on the coast, there are layers of rocks, sediment and mud indicating a momentous and terrible night.

-Monitor all current seismic activity here.

Below the surface

**Fun fact: There’s also a different fault right under Seattle (running roughly along I-90), that let loose around 900 A.D., and sunk a whole flank of Mercer Island, leaving a ghostly underwater forest.

Because Seattle was under a glacier not that long ago, it’s a long way down to bedrock, and this means bad news for transferring energy during earthquakes:  A big bowl of mud and looser glacial deposits, drumlins and hills prone to landslide, ending abrubtly in water, does not a good recipe make.

Check it out: