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”

An Alternate Theory Of The Middlebury Mob-Charles Murray Is A Witch!

There were some recitations from the James Baldwin crib-sheet as though from a hymnal at a church service (obviously chanting and turning one’s back ritualistically is at the core of a liberal education).  A few others actually committed acts of escalating aggression and violence.

There were some who were probably incredulous, taking up the job of sloganeering half-heartedly, not really losing themselves amidst the heat of the mob.  The ‘insufficiently-committed’ are always there among us, taking pot-shots at pinatas strung-up above the silly, hot seriousness of it all.

A few intense sorts, though, probably had to be right about Charles Murray because they can’t be anything else (at least inside their own minds, at that moment). They needed some action fast, the truth already decided, the enemy already picked-out, the heretic against the sacred ‘-ism’ selected for his apostasy.

He’s a witch!

So, if you’re in charge at Middlebury, how do you proceed?

You may well tacitly support a lot of the ideology exhibited by the student mob, locked in a weird financial and emotional symbiosis along with them towards liberation against ‘the man.’

It would be unseemly to suddenly become ‘the man’ and inflict your authority along with the dull politics of the bursar and the bottom-line, the dorm room and the suburban checkbook, onto their hopes and dreams.

Charles Murray’s Account Of The Middlebury College Affair

See the previous post.The Intellectual Cowardice Of The Crowd-Charles Murray At Middlebury College

Repost-From The Liberal Bastions-James Baldwin, Often

Less Muddleheadedness At Middlebury, Please

48 Middlebury professors have signed the following document (WSJ paywall warning…speech on public affairs and civil discourse ain’t necessarily free).

Standing-up for J.S. Mill’s basic insights based upon his moral foundations will probably only be used by many Left-leaning radical types in times of crisis…if the rest of us are so lucky:

Here’s to hoping such principled moral courage occurs ALL THE TIME, not just when violence erupts after decades of tacit approval and non-confrontation, or when there’s bad PR and embarrassment all around.

Charles Murray’s account here.

Furthermore, as previously and often posted:

“First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.’

‘Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied. ‘

‘Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds. ‘

And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from reason or personal experience.”

-John Stuart Mill ‘On Liberty: Chapter II-Of The Liberty Of Thought And Discussion’

See the previous post.The Intellectual Cowardice Of The Crowd-Charles Murray At Middlebury College

The Intellectual Cowardice Of The Crowd-Charles Murray At Middlebury College

Here’s a fine example of how to exchange ideas:  Two people gather in a forum to present and dispute the data used, the methodologies applied, the empirical evidence offered, and the conclusions and conjectures both might draw from their own thinking.  There’s some light moderation and Q & A from the audience:

From Middlebury College a few days ago (where Charles Murray was invited to speak but was shouted-down and chased-away):

An example of how not to exchange ideas: Individuals are encouraged to simply show up and participate as part of a mob, likely getting a sense of identity, purpose, and accomplishment by righteously shouting down an invited speaker.

Free inquiry is chilled, the passions incited and engaged, and the hatreds organized.  This approach clouds the truth and the civilities and methods by which we more reasonably can arrive at truth.

The truth, for the most part, has already been decided in many minds (enough to act in such an ignorant way). The administrator who had injury done to her in trying to exit the event was just getting in the way of the truth, dear reader.

Such thinking has been institutionalized in many settings: Here’s how the Washington Post portrayed the affair, labeling Charles Murray not by the quality of his ideas, nor his reasoning, but by a rather laughably inaccurate representation of events, sympathetic to the mob:

As previously posted: Below is an example how similar stewardship of our institutions by those who share in such ideology themselves, or who offer tacit approval of such ideology (tolerating the intolerance through capitulation, or in a kind of enemy-seeking ‘brownstone activism’), has gone on for a generations now.

From TheFire.Org-‘The Condescending Paternalism Of Williams President Adam Falk:’

As FIRE co-founder Alan Charles Kors has said: “You cannot say to people, you’re too weak to live with freedom. Only that group is strong enough to live with freedom.”

But that’s exactly what Adam Falk, the patronizing president of Williams College, has said to the college’s student body. Yesterday, Falk unilaterally canceled a speech by John Derbyshire, who was invited as part of the student-run “Uncomfortable Learning” speaker series.

From Adam Falk’s letter to Williams students about the matter:

‘Today I am taking the extraordinary step of canceling a speech by John Derbyshire, who was to have presented his views here on Monday night. The college didn’t invite Derbyshire, but I have made it clear to the students who did that the college will not provide a platform for him.

Free speech is a value I hold in extremely high regard. The college has a very long history of encouraging the expression of a range of viewpoints and giving voice to widely differing opinions. We have said we wouldn’t cancel speakers or prevent the expression of views except in the most extreme circumstances. In other words: There’s a line somewhere, but in our history of hosting events and speeches of all kinds, we hadn’t yet found it.

We’ve found the line. Derbyshire, in my opinion, is on the other side of it. Many of his expressions clearly constitute hate speech, and we will not promote such speech on this campus or in our community.

We respect—and expect—our students’ exploration of ideas, including ones that are very challenging, and we encourage individual choice and decision-making by students. But at times it’s our role as educators and administrators to step in and make decisions that are in the best interest of students and our community. This is one of those times.’

John Derbyshire raised quite a stir after publishing ‘The Talk: Nonblack Version,’

‘There is a talk that nonblack Americans have with their kids, too. My own kids, now 19 and 16, have had it in bits and pieces as subtopics have arisen. If I were to assemble it into a single talk, it would look something like the following.

Of course, what better place than a liberal arts college to talk these matters out?

Sigh.

Read up. Get your reasons and arguments together.  Show up at the debate, alone or with friends. Listen to the other fellow.  Think.  Respond.  Think some more.  Debate.

Publishing and disseminating the thoughts and ideas of others is not necessarily an endorsement of those thoughts and ideas, but it is absolutely vital in maintaining a free and open society:

Out of principle alone, here’s Derbyshire discussing his general worldview:

Repost-Surely The Left Hand Knows What The Right Hand Is Doing, And Vice-Versa-George Packer At The New Yorker: ‘Why Leftists Go Right’

Full piece here.

I have to confess, there’s a fair amount of meat in the article, as Packer reviews “Exit Right: The People Who Left the Left and Reshaped the American Century.”

Whittaker Chambers, David Horowitz, and other heretics having fled from the radical ideologies of the Left are explained as part of a movement that helped define a century in which, for Packer, the American right has come to dominate.

In fact, he finishes with:

‘The downward slide from Chambers and Reagan to Coulter and Trump has surely swept along a few young idealists who thought they were joining the side of freedom and truth, then realized too late that they had signed on for junk science and white identity politics. Ted Cruz’s vision would require the toppling of just about every pillar of the country’s social and economic structure. You don’t have to look elsewhere for the destructive utopianism that turns believers into apostates. In a few years’ time, we’ll be reading the chilling inside story, written by a campaign aide who barely got out alive.’

I can imagine the view from the New Yorker office in Manhattan might be magnifying the various and sundry evangelicals, mouth-breathing gun-nuts, racist xenophobes and ‘junk-scientists’ gathering at the Black Gate Of Mordor.  These are simple folk, really.

We all know that even if ideal human societies with ever more freedom and equality aren’t possible, we should still try and make them a reality, right?  Many people’s hearts are in the right place, after all.

Or do ‘The People’ possess one big heart they all have to share?

Do ‘real-scientists’ all read the New Yorker for the latest scientific discoveries explained in 2,000 word long-form essays?

***Yes, angry emailers, these are attempts at satire. Post has been updated to fix an errant quote and some grammatical errors.

———————-

Of course, while there is a special kind of concern-trolling on display in Packer’s piece, there is also a fair amount of truth:  It is the heretics ‘mugged by reality’ who’ve helped to lead the conservative movement in the U.S.

Irving Kristol is just one example.

Longer-term, I suspect it’s bound to happen that more ‘neoconservatives’ fall-out of the intellectual grace of worldviews like those often found at the New Yorker, where liberal-Left democratic and secular humanism rule the roost.  There’s plenty of soft-collectivism on display, (with its own attendant hippie and post-hippie utopian idealism), safe-spaces for feminism and environmentalism (alarming levels of enviro-dread, lately), along with much post 68′ civil-rights radicalism and what I call ‘brownstone activism.’

I don’t know if such observations make me conservative (surely, they do to some), but I often find myself wondering where such ideals lead, exactly? What responsibilities do they impose upon me?

How much equality is enough?  How will you know when it is enough? What kinds of moral authority do these ideals rely upon and what kind of institutions do they actually produce in the real world?

Which freedoms and opportunities have they brought me?  Are these worth the trade-offs?

If such arguments are well-made, they always have a chance of convincing me.

A reasonably open mind is a good thing to maintain, after all, and I suppose I could become more Leftist, or liberal, depending on circumstances.

In the meantime, however, there’s Packer’s piece, where at least there’s some recognition of the following:

‘In the twentieth century, the void left by the loss of religion was sometimes filled by totalizing political systems, and the result was a literary genre of confession that is as powerful and probing as the Augustinian kind.’

Addition: Nice wild swing at Augustinians, there.


Let me know what I’ve got wrong, as so much depends upon where you start:

Technology: It might well be possible to have one trucker and a technician leading a convoy in 10-20 years time.  Many jobs now done by people will simply be automated.  It’s quite easy to have a mobile device and choose the kinds of people, jobs and places people become a part of in America; much more than ever before.  People are expecting a lot more choice in their lives, and are self-selecting based on their current preferences (most of us are doing this, to some extent).

Globalization: Both India and China are producing hundreds of thousands of high IQ, specially trained, hard-working software and hardware engineers competing for slots in American higher Ed and the American tech sector.  There is global competition in many sectors of the economy.

Past and current trade deals are trying to address the inherent dislocation that comes when capital chases cheap labor, when industry dies out in one area and blooms in another.

America has an aging population, and many hopelessly insolvent social programs based on somewhat Ponzi-like projections that can’t be maintained as they currently exist.

The American university and current government models are bloated, with a lot of waste and poor incentives, producing a lot of people with unforgivable student-loan debt and degrees of questionable value in current job markets.   Our public sector is woefully unable to handle such change.

———————–

As previously posted-A breath of fresh air from George Packer at the New Yorker: ‘Mute Button:

‘The problem with free speech is that it’s hard, and self-censorship is the path of least resistance. But, once you learn to keep yourself from voicing unwelcome thoughts, you forget how to think them—how to think freely at all—and ideas perish at conception. Washiqur Rahman and Avijit Roy had more to fear than most of us, but they lived and died as free men.’

Maybe this kind of moral courage will make a comeback…

Repost-Quotation From Charles Kesler And A Few Thoughts on Conservatism…Charles Murray is trying to get virtue back with the social sciences: Charles Murray At The New Criterion: ‘Belmont & Fishtown’Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People

Christopher Hitchens at Slate: Yale Surrenders

From The Liberal Bastions-James Baldwin, Often

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