A lot of our institutional arrangements are up for renewal, undergoing serious stress tests; open to much scrutiny. I’d like to think: When you allow radicals and revolutionaries to become key drivers of change, your civilization can unzip; including more normalized violence in the public square against political enemies (downstream of protest), less civility, and a more personalized politics.
There are and will be marginalized people, of course, and they will often organize into groups, full of complex individuals, competing factions, and conflicting aims. Typically, the reaction to a particular injustice or grievance (removal of direct harm and fear of direct loss) tend to be the strongest motivators.
It’s hard to hear true things about ourselves, because they hurt, but the hurt is often the only way any one of us gets better. This is best done by family, friends and loved ones, in supportive environments.
Many people saying true things at/about us don’t have our best interests at heart, but some of those things may still be true.
‘Preferences are not the most effective way to create diverse classrooms; raising the academic competitiveness of minority students is. That will happen only when the education establishment and the media stop concealing the problem.’
— Radical chic becomes Communist chic? The logic was always there, but the drift tends to be slow: Today’s low buy-in grievance and attention-getting activism become tomorrow’s deeper beliefs and voting blocs.
As I see the world, if the logic used to guide any group becomes radical and revolutionary, seeking to destroy all institutions of ‘the oppressor,’ or perhaps remaking the world through visions of collectivist utopianism full of perfectible human beings, then we’ve all got problems.
These are generally very inefficient and costly ways to address problems, and generally they lead to horrific outcomes.
There will always be closed-mindedness and narrow-thinking within academic and political institutions, as well as some nepotism and favoritism, because that’s what each one of us is: Closed-minded at times, potentially conflicted within our hearts and often conflicted in our heads between old and new ideas, profound truths and passing trends. I suspect each of us should easily be able to recall a time we’ve been wrong, hilariously misinformed, or subtly transformed by the people and ideas around us.
If thoughts become actions, and actions become habits, and habits become character, there’s really no effective way to incentivize individuals from the outside through collective and group identity; through political projects and bureaucratic committee, without incredible costs, downsides and dangers.
Idealists usually invite you to join in their idealism, not the consequences of their idealism.
‘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.’
“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.’
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:
My two cents: There are many stripes of Western liberal, from the quite reasonable secular humanist, data-driven political liberal and laissez-faire type, to somewhat less reasonable lifetime protesters, pie-in-the-sky idealists, and professional activists (feminists, environmentalists etc.). There are also further Left radicals, ideologues and revolutionaries.
This blog generally agrees the aim of social revolutionaries is to create anarchy, destabilizing civil society and implementing some variant of totalitarian ideological conformity and/or authoritarian rules and laws into the breach.
One had better believe that true-belief, and the moral judgments attached to animating political ideals, mean business, even if that business is anti-business (whatever you’re for, Mr./Mrs Bourgeois, they’re against).
If I am persuaded to be liberal in one matter or another, it is usually because the liberal point-of-view arises out of respect for the individual, is sufficiently grounded in knowledge and truth claims, and chooses not to use revolutionaries as a battering ram against ‘the bad guys’ now; the political liberal later.
The above, to me, has been one of the great errors of many Boomers, Hippies, and those political liberals on watch during the generation of 1968: The failure to recognize what the wages of radical social change, in many cases, actually are.
Insitutional instability and political disarray have many causes, but I’d argue that insufficient curation of the arts and sciences, institutional rules, and the civil ties keeping a nation of laws together, are clearly important causes worth watching.
There has been a lot of change, quickly.
Below are some quotations still helping me make sense of the world:
‘Olympianism is the characteristic belief system of today’s secularist, and it has itself many of the features of a religion. For one thing, the fusion of political conviction and moral superiority into a single package resembles the way in which religions (outside liberal states) constitute comprehensive ways of life supplying all that is necessary (in the eyes of believers) for salvation. Again, the religions with which we are familiar are monotheistic and refer everything to a single center. In traditional religions, this is usually God; with Olympianism, it is society, understood ultimately as including the whole of humanity. And Olympianism, like many religions, is keen to proselytize. Its characteristic mode of missionary activity is journalism and the media.’
‘Progress, Communism, and Olympianism: these are three versions of the grand Western project. The first rumbles along in the background of our thought, the second is obviously a complete failure, but Olympianism is not only alive but a positively vibrant force in the way we think now. Above all, it determines the Western moral posture towards the rest of the world. It affirms democracy as an ideal, but carefully manipulates attitudes in a nervous attempt to control opinions hostile to Olympianism, such as beliefs in capital or corporal punishment, racial, and otherforms of prejudice, national self-assertion—and indeed, religion‘
‘They are, in fact, idealists: and idealism is a cast of mind that Conrad questions even more than he questions radicalism. The logical end of radicalism, in his view, is terrorism; but idealism is the mental aberration that allows terrorism to be brought about. Conrad’s originality was to see that a new tyranny could be generated by people who thought that their rebellion against the old tyranny was rational. Thus his writings seem prescient about what was to happen in the Soviet Union. He didn’t predict the Nazi tyranny because he had underestimated the power of the irrational to organise itself into a state. But then, nobody predicted that except its perpetrators; and anyway, mere prediction was not his business. His business was the psychological analysis made possible by an acute historical awareness. Under Western Eyes is valuable not because it came true but because it rang true even at the time, only now we can better hear the deep, sad note.’
Added bonus if you act now in the face of no possible objective knowledge.
Part of Bryan Magee’s series:
Nietzsche directed his thought against Christian morality, secular morality (Kantian and utilitarian), was quite anti-democratic, and anti-Socratic.
‘The truth was, as Arnold Hauser had gone to great pains to demonstrate in The Social History of Art, the intelligentsia have always had contempt for the realistic novel—a form that wallows so enthusiastically in the dirt of everyday life and the dirty secrets of class envy and that, still worse, is so easily understood and obviously relished by the mob, i.e., the middle class. In Victorian England, the intelligentsia regarded Dickens as “the author of the uneducated, undiscriminating public.” It required a chasm of time—eighty years, in fact—to separate his work from its vulgar milieu so that Dickens might be canonized in British literary circles. The intelligentsia have always preferred more refined forms of fiction, such as that longtime French intellectual favorite, the psychological novel.‘
Let’s not get too French: Theodore Dalrymple on prostitution during COVID19:
‘The spokeswoman for the Union of Sex Workers in France, Anaïs de Lenclos (a pseudonym, one wonders?), eloquently pointed out the difficulties that prostitutes, male and female, now face.
That sounds pretty French.
In fact, let’s go to Charles Baudelaire, live on the street:
Behold the sweet evening, friend of the criminal; It comes like an accomplice, stealthily; the sky Closes slowly like an immense alcove, And impatient man turns into a beast of prey. O evening, kind evening, desired by him Whose arms can say, without lying: “Today We labored!” — It is the evening that comforts Those minds that are consumed by a savage sorrow, The obstinate scholar whose head bends with fatigue And the bowed laborer who returns to his bed.
Meanwhile in the atmosphere malefic demons Awaken sluggishly, like businessmen, And take flight, bumping against porch roofs and shutters. Among the gas flames worried by the wind Prostitution catches alight in the streets; Like an ant-hill she lets her workers out; Everywhere she blazes a secret path, Like an enemy who plans a surprise attack; She moves in the heart of the city of mire Like a worm that steals from Man what he eats. Here and there one hears food sizzle in the kitchens, The theaters yell, the orchestras moan;
The gambling dens, where games of chance delight, Fill up with whores and cardsharps, their accomplices; The burglars, who know neither respite nor mercy, Are soon going to begin their work, they also, And quietly force open cash-boxes and doors To enjoy life awhile and dress their mistresses.
Meditate, O my soul, in this solemn moment, And close your ears to this uproar; It is now that the pains of the sick grow sharper! Somber Night grabs them by the throat; they reach the end Of their destinies and go to the common pit; The hospitals are filled with their sighs. — More than one Will come no more to get his fragrant soup By the fireside, in the evening, with a loved one.
However, most of them have never known The sweetness of a home, have never lived!
— William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)
Shelby Steele weaves Gustave Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary‘ into his insights about the world, coming to realize the Black Panthers in North Africa..had problems:
How (B)lack should you become when reality intrudes, and reality doesn’t have much good to say?
Which are the rules all of us should follow when it comes to right and wrong?
‘The purpose of today’s civil-rights establishment is not to seek justice, but to seek power for blacks in American life based on the presumption that they are still, in a thousand subtle ways, victimized by white racism. This idea of victimization is an example of what I call a “poetic truth.” Like poetic license, it bends the actual truth in order to put forward a larger and more essential truth—one that, of course, serves one’s cause. Poetic truths succeed by casting themselves as perfectly obvious: “America is a racist nation”; “the immigration debate is driven by racism”; “Zimmerman racially stereotyped Trayvon.” And we say, “Yes, of course,” lest we seem to be racist. Poetic truths work by moral intimidation, not reason.’
‘There were eccentric characters in the hotel. The Paris slums are a gathering-place for eccentric people—people who have fallen into solitary, half-mad grooves of life and given up trying to be normal or decent. Poverty frees them from ordinary standards of behaviour, just as money frees people from work. Some of the lodgers in our hotel lived lives that were curious beyond words.’
I have my doubts all will be made well, in human affairs, by simply including the oldest profession within the latest politico-moral doctrines.
Someone tell the French ladies of the night: Technology has made it possible for people to sell the lowest and highest of things online. There might be…options. Let’s expect the same old problems, however, in new venues (a few moments of beauty, grace and kindness but mostly pimps, drug abuse, robbery, extortion etc).
There’s absolutely nothing funny about Telly Savalas playing Kojak as reported by Norm MacDonald to Jerry Seinfeld, shattering naive fictions in solving a T.V. crime-drama:
On French problems of liberte: Theodore Dalrymple on Michel Houellebecq here:
‘Houellebecq has been accused of being a nihilist and cynic, but far from that, his work is an extended protest against nihilism and cynicism. It is true that he offers no solution to the problem, but it is not the purpose of novels, but rather of tracts, to offer solutions to such problems. For him to tell his readers to take up basket-weaving or some such as the answer to existential emptiness would in fact be an instance of that very existential emptiness.’
I’m not much of a feminist nor a Main Line (Philadelphia) liberal myself:
Martha Nussbaum writes:
“Spitzer’s offense was an offense against his family. It was not an offense against the public. If he broke any laws, these are laws that never should have existed and that have been repudiated by sensible nations.”
You tossed a blanket from the bed You lay upon your back, and waited; You dozed, and watched the night revealing The thousand sordid images Of which your soul was constituted; They flickered against the ceiling. And when all the world came back And the light crept up between the shutters And you heard the sparrows in the gutters, You had such a vision of the street As the street hardly understands; Sitting along the bed’s edge, where You curled the papers from your hair, Or clasped the yellow soles of feet In the palms of both soiled hands.
The world will stain you, and it is a fallen, modern world, rendered profoundly and exquisitely.
Darwin and the arts. Kirsch has an interesting piece reviewing 3 books, including one by Denis Dutton. What might neuroaesthetics have to say about art that hasn’t been said already?
‘This sensible reticence served both art and science well enough for more than a century after Darwin’s death. But with the rise of evolutionary psychology, it was only a matter of time before the attempt was made to explain art in Darwinian terms. After all, if ethics and politics can be explained by game theory and reciprocal altruism, there is no reason why aesthetics should be different: in each case, what appears to be a realm of human autonomy can be reduced to the covert expression of biological imperatives. The first popular effort in this direction was the late Denis Dutton’s much-discussed book The Art Instinct, which appeared in 2009.’
Worth a read.
More broadly, it’s interesting to note how art, aesthetics, morality, moral reasoning, ethics etc. are being attached to Darwin’s thinking. For some, I suspect, it is to advance a secular humanist platform which is full of oughts and shoulds for all of us in other areas of life, including politics and culture.
‘But in the year 2000, with Fascism and Communism both discredited, why, I wondered, were so many turning back toward Rousseau? What was the attraction of romantic primitivism? How had ethnic culture become a beau ideal? Cities certainly have their problems, but why did New Yorkers see tribal societies as exemplary and tribespeople as paragons of social virtue?’
Beauty, ugliness, youth, strength, and decay: Via Mick Hartley Bruce Davidson at Magnum’s ‘Subway‘.
Many of the images in Subway are sensual, dangerous and raw, but then again, so was the NYC subway in about 1979 or 1980. Davidson plays with different exposures, techniques and settings, eventually deciding on using color to depict what he saw. He also reportedly toned-up physically, geared-up, and mentally prepared himself to get off and on those subway cars during the project. He had some undercover city cops with him a few times.
Imagine how conspicuous a new Nikon/Canon DSLR and a flash would make you in one of those cars at night (he, in fact, had one camera stolen).
Come for the raw, dangerous subject matter and the vicarious risk (oh yeah, it can happen again…just stay tuned). Stay for Davidson’s compositions, subtle use of light and color, and the genuine humanity he found within his larger vision.
Is a certain dangerous, glamorous adventure beneath you?
What about in your prime?
It’s not like these problems haven’t been with us for a while. Without police protection, you’ll probably get worse outcomes and more retributive violence. A reader sends a link to The Confessions Of Bernhard Goetz, subway vigilante:
There’s a lot here: Genuine threat (thugs), fear, real victimization (previous muggings and a likely soon-to-be mugging), but also serious ignorance and over-reaction.
I imagine Goetz was a bit like a feral animal fleeing out of that subway car, up the station stairs and into the night.
From min 33:40:
The question to be litigated was whether the community would make a judgment about his (Goetz) own good faith belief….are we in a position to condemn him for over-reacting?
From The Warriors to Dirty Harry to Death Wish, a certain gritty, pulpy style was born. One of the main desires of men, especially, is to quash injustice and heroically protect that which falls under their honor. When the authorities can’t combat crime in public transport, or choose to enforce the law selectively, then the desire for vengeance, punishment and order finds outlets.
Whichever American cognitive elite is being formed, partially out of raw IQ and hard work, partially out of marriage, traditions and connections, partially out of a shared set of truths and fictions, it will have its work cut out for it. It will likely be more ‘European’ and further Left than what’s come before (less stable?).
Towards the very end of the video, Murray’s idea of treating religion and the religious with decency sounds a lot like a negotiated surrender.
Sad, but likely true.
Krauss, as something of a secular idealist, a humanist and someone more Left (government ought to provide for health/education), understands a lot, but to my mind, he doesn’t seem to understand certain truths about human nature which explain why Charles Murray has become persona non grata.
Understandably, if you share in the ideals, a major blind-spot is to those ideologues to your Left also often gathered under the ideals. Why do these ideologues constantly shut down discussion and free thought?
If you correct to allow the nature of human evil, the depths of ignorance, the problems of modernity and ideology, then I think the picture becomes a little more clear. Ideologies engage the mind, the passions (envy, particularly) and the moral sentiments. Throw in the problems rational thought has scaling into a kind of idealized society (we are each constrained by our own ignorance and experience), then you might end-up wanting to conserve more.
It’s a great discussion focusing more on Murray’s work. This is as it should be.
‘Drive through rural Sweden, as I did a few years ago. In every town was a beautiful Lutheran church, freshly painted, on meticu-ously tended grounds, all subsidized by the Swedish government.And the churches are empty. Including on Sundays. Scandinavia and Western Europe pride themselves on their “child-friendly” policies, providing generous child allowances, free day-care centers, and long maternity leaves. Those same countries have fertility rates far below replacement and plunging marriage rates. Those same countries are ones in which jobs are most carefully protected by government regulation and mandated benefits are most lavish. And they, with only a few exceptions, are countries where work is most often seen as a necessary evil, least often seen as a vocation, and where the proportions of people who say they love their jobs are the lowest.’
Between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.
Under my window, a clean rasping sound When the spade sinks into gravelly ground: My father, digging. I look down
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds Bends low, comes up twenty years away Stooping in rhythm through potato drills Where he was digging.
The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft Against the inside knee was levered firmly. He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep To scatter new potatoes that we picked, Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
By God, the old man could handle a spade. Just like his old man.
My grandfather cut more turf in a day Than any other man on Toner’s bog. Once I carried him milk in a bottle Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up To drink it, then fell to right away Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods Over his shoulder, going down and down For the good turf. Digging.
The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge Through living roots awaken in my head. But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests. I’ll dig with it.
Brutalistarchitecture flourished from the 1950s to the mid-1970s, having descended from the modernist architectural movement of the early 20th century. The term originates from the French word for “raw”, as Le Corbusier described his choice of material béton brut, meaning raw concrete in French.’
Our local host and local guest pick favorite (unfavorite) examples of ‘raw concrete’ buildings in NYC and alternately discuss some facts about each one.
Some people who commissioned Boston’s City Hall were probably thinking they were bringing something new and wonderful into the world: Inspiring, modern, transformative.
The folks at bureaucratic levels up-top would steer this concrete ship, scanning the Horizon for The Future. The People down below, justly and benevolently guided, would feel welcome and do people-y, citizen-y things as though in a terrarium.
Maybe that’s why it’s not so popular.
Well, at least it isn’t Buzludzha, The Communist Spaceship plopped down as though from a world of Pure Ideology, Nature properly subdued:
As previously posted:
–Visit Lileks.com. A fine humorist with a sharp pen and a keen eye.
Here’s Australian art critic Robert Hughes discussing the Albany plaza, and almost hyperbolically criticizing the aims of modernist architecture.
***Fun fact, he pronounces the “Boogie Woogie” the “Boo-gie Woo-gie.”
‘The real feat achieved by Gropius and his cohorts was to have recognized and exposed the sociopolitical and moral power of architecture and design. They wanted to exert “effective influence” on “general conditions,” fashion a more just world and turn all of this into a “vital concern of the entire people.”‘
The below ideas surely manifest themselves within politics. Yet, the goal should lie in demonstrating that many unfounded truth and knowledge claims, forged into belief, and acted upon righteously, have real-world consequences. Some environmentalist fools can be dangerous, sure. There are kooks and violent nutbags living on the edge of chaos, preferring the end of their own lives and relative unimportance to be transcended through end-times activism.
Such people can be found amongst church pews, communes, art-colonies and flophouses; pretty much where all people can be found.
The extremes don’t necessarily define the middle either, even though a few loud, strident voices often become the cutting-edge of policy and groupthink.
It’d be nice if more people in the middle approached such ideas with skepticism:
I don’t mean to imply some people have turned their limited understanding of climate data into an anti-human, anti-science cult. Given human nature, such a turn of events is completely unforseeable!
Aside from passionate crazies, however, there are certainly not people who’ve turned global warming into a gnawing, apocryphal certainty; certain enough to offload their own fears of death into abstract ideals which might live beyond them. This can lead to technocracy as a form of leadership; knowledge implemented through institutional bureaucracy and more diffuse accountability. Plenty of journalists and aspiring professionals will follow those incentives into careers, opportunity and authority.
One debate exists between environmentalists, conservationists and ecologists who often push for economic regulation through activism and the laws; usually in order to protect a natural area, habitat or species (some harbor an “holistic” vision of nature, though it can be much more complex, including a simple love of nature and natural beauty) against the doctrines that do much to maintain individual, economic and political liberty.
“For today’s ecologists, their hope of regeneration presupposes a return to primitivism, and thus, whether they wish to enunciate it or not, concomitant anarchy, the burning before the replanting, the cutting down of the dead tree. The father of the movement is an utter rejection of all that is, and for at least three millennia all that was.”
Libertarians would generally see many environmentalists as a threat to their definition of liberty.
-Another environmentalist root comes by way of the’ Tragic Earth’ romantic lament, which may have as much to do with the rise and fall of post-modernism in American Universities as it does with Nature, and the restless attempt to fill the post-modern void in a post-Nietzschean world. I think part of this is due to the collapse of the modern liberal arts curriculum to its current state, which has followed excessive relativism and multi-culturalism to some of its logical conclusions. The “science is settled” may be appealing to many in filling that void. Of course, good poems and poets transcend the often strange things good poets can believe, but I suspect this has something to do with it. Al Gore has probably been influenced by this school of thought, though he is a politician, carbon-credit-salesman, and a poet.
Whatever your view of the science, its transition and use for ideological, economic and political purposes should give intelligent people pause, not just those who see threats to liberty.
Self-reliance may still be a better intellectual American influence, even with some downside to pragmatism.
‘Across all cultures, raising a child is considered one of the most rewarding things a person can do. Yet a chorus of campaigners, scientists, and journalists suggest that everyone should think twice before procreating.’
“Only when humans are again permitted to build authentic urbanism — those cities, towns, and villages that nurture us by their comforts and delights — will we cease the despoiling of Nature by escaping to sprawl.”