For what it’s worth: The two quotations highlight a current, unresolved conflict on this site, and in my life. If you have any suggestions for new reading material, I’m all ears.
‘I guess I’m trying to say that I remain skeptical the sciences can properly scale. Many people claiming to have a scientific worldview are curiously more committed to ideas downstream of scientific inquiry. This can involve an idealized or popular, mummified vision of ‘science,’ (the science is clear, it’s on on my side, we must act together or vote for x) or even ‘anti-science’ nihilism and destructive cultism (the universe is a meaningless void, you’re utterly alone, here’s exactly what the scientists don’t want you to know, so join us).’
‘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.’
‘Ideology is a philosophical type of allegiance purporting to transcend the mere particularities of family, religion, or native hearth, and in essence lies in struggle. The world is a battlefield, in which there are two enemies. One is the oppressor, the other consists of fellow ideologies who have generally mistake the conditions of liberation.’
‘Yet for all their differences, ideologies can be specified in terms of a shared hostility to modernity: to liberalism in politics, individualism in moral practice, and the market in economics.’
Hope in this world is a tricky thing, with all the suffering around, should we care to look.
I doubt Williams is invoking the Godhead here, but a ‘Jesus Christ’ might slip out of me or you upon suddenly catching sight of the wretched. Open sores and infections usually indicate deeper physical illness. Rambling speech and shuffling feet usually indicate a disordered mind and soul. Some people could be so far gone they may not be coming back.
But there’s an abandonment in the desire to be free, untethered, and lost within the world.
One of my takes: Love means obligations to others, where abandonment also meets responsibility, not merely abandonment to one’s own desires. Each of us, despite our habits, could become captive to our desires. Watch out for yourselves.
There’s something like a ‘narrative’ race on in the power-centers, and for politicos, right now, because I see U.S. institutions as seriously weakened, overbuilt and stagnant.
On that note, W.S. Merwin came of age during the post-war period, the son of a Presbyterian minister. I’d argue we’re witnessing a religious vision becoming transposed through the Modernist and post-Modernist lenses in his work (especially with the ‘eco’ stuff). This is what I’ve been calling the journey of the (S)elf, within the Romantic bowl of ‘Nature,’ where increasingly isolated individuals are seeking wholeness and transcendence through ‘the environment’ and ‘collective action’ and ‘(S)cience.’ This process of secular humanization is fast upon us here in the U.S. (much more advanced in Europe).
What occurs at the basic level of conception, and once held in the King James Bible, is now more likely to be ‘revealed’ to be a concern with the environment, or the ‘oppressed.’ Notice it’s not really about (S)cience but a kind of belief-level claim to knowledge and truth. Basically, I see ‘true-belief’ and righteous actors as often making things worse, and typically blaming everyone else in the process.
Do the wretches have something to teach? About what and to whom? Are poets exiles (the ones who imagine themselves as drunks)? What about ministers?
The Drunk In The Furnace
For a good decade The furnace stood in the naked gully, fireless And vacant as any hat. Then when it was No more to them than a hulking black fossil To erode with the rest of the junk-hill By the poisonous creek, and rapidly to be added To their ignorance,
They were afterwards astonished To confirm, one morning, a twist of smoke, like a pale Resurrection, staggering out of its chewed hole, And to remark then other tokens that someone, Cosily bolted behind the eyeholed iron Door of the drafty burner, had there established His bad castle.
Where he gets his spirits It’s a mystery. But the stuff keeps him musical: Hammer-and-anviling with poker and bottle To his jugged bellowings, till the last groaning clang As he collapses onto the rioting Springs of a litter of car seats ranged on the grates, To sleep like an iron pig.
In their tar-paper church On a text about stoke holes that are sated never Their Reverend lingers. They nod and hate trespassers. When the furnace wakes, though, all afternoon Their witless offspring flock like piped rats to its siren Crescendo, and agape on the crumbling ridge Stand in a row and learn.
What might work better for a lot of us, a lot of the time, but I don’t really know for sure: The Victorian idea of the ‘deserving’ poor. Reality means having to make decisions in a world of limited resources about how to help those not helping themselves. We all have obligations to others, but they largely occur to those we love, and those whom we must honor and protect.
Forgive the photo. My skills are a work in progress, but thanks, as always, for looking.
Shouldn’t one begin from the point-of-view of neutrality regarding Nature (beyond value-judgment?)
Nature can be: The sweetest-smelling spring meadow and the source of life. The enveloping tenderness of mother and child. It can be a series of renewing calls to adventure in which we find ourselves most alive. I’m guessing the subjugation of one’s ideas about Nature into (Nature), and God, or no God, is where we often find our thoughts returning.
Nature is also: A volcano scorching thousands of men, women and children at a time. The river dangerously rising. Rabies, A.I.D.S. and an uncompromising, relentless disregard for our hopes. It can be the casual disregard of the old by the young, and the sad fading of a loved one into oblivion. Imagine, if you will, the last thoughts and experiences of someone eaten to death by a predator (but my spirit animal is a bear..I’ve always practiced bear/human moral recognition).
No wonder our default is to explain through mythology, idealization, and highest conceptualizations along with the calling forth of deepest desires during intensest experience.
The modern flavors of myth veer into Romantic Primitivism and Collectivism, Radical Western animism and the ideological discontents of the ‘Modern’ age.
How’s that stuff working out?
Beware the modern theologies of (M)an? Back to the old theologies of God and all those attendant problems?
What are the artists up to? How have so many, so often, come to undervalue, and overvalue, the Arts, and the (S)elf?
The search for meaning goes on.
Land-art pieces are site-specific. They require you to be there and experience them, designed as they are to be within the specific spaces they occupy.
In so doing, they break from previous modernist ‘Readymades‘ and reproduced images (I don’t know about you, but I’m tiring of so many commentaries on consumerism, the desire for craft over mass production, a certain collective vagueness against such disposability…the dream of unique Selfhood, celebrity even, amidst a thousand urinals).
As a viewer, you’re supposed to interact with these pieces and start feeling and thinking differently than perhaps you might have otherwise. Walk around, through, and over them.
Time is clearly intended to be an element, here; the long sweep of geologic and/or historical time as the artist understands it, as well as the relative brevity of personal time during just a 10-minute visit.
These pieces can act as signposts towards Nature and what we can begin to observe of our specific natural environments (steel rusts in unique, but perhaps underlying, patterns…winds blow at different angles and around different obstacles in one grove as opposed to another, these lichens are growing here…other lichens over there, are they the same species?).
If you pull the piece out of its specific environment, it may just wither and die, looking out-of-place as many other products of civilization do amidst natural settings (a jar in Tennessee). Perhaps, though, they won’t look quite so out-of-place as mass-produced objects because of such careful design and attention to detail.
That said, these pieces will eventually look quite awkward undergoing the changes they will undergo if Nature’s Laws are any guide (Romantic/Modernist recreations of Nature can promise the comforts of Home).
Here’s Wikipedia, keeping it simple:
‘Land art, earthworks (coined by Robert Smithson), or Earth art is an art movement in which landscape and the work of art are inextricably linked.’
‘Robert Smithson and Richard Serra both believed that sculpture should have a dialog with its environment. This program explores the challenging dialectic of the site-specific sculpture of Smithson and Serra through examples of their work. In an interview, Serra discusses the aspects of time and context in relation to his art as well as the influence of Smithson.’
Maybe it’s worth pointing out that Serra seems interested in symmetry, visualizing and realizing abstract shapes with the help of some mathematics and the practice of drawing/drafting. Interesting problems can arise from tooling around with shapes on paper (a practice of Serra’s), the kind I’m guessing folks fascinated by puzzles and software and math love to solve.
But Serra’s not a mathematician nor an engineer nor an architect. He’s not writing a proof for its own sake nor building bridges nor houses for practical use.
Rather, the intuitive and creative impulses of the artist take over in his work, a kind of creative exploration, as well as the dialog between fellow artists, living and dead.
Much (A)rt, of course, is useless for most, if not all, purposes. It’s one of the things that can make it meaningful for people. There can be a significant gap between what the artist may have felt, thought and realized, and which emotions, thoughts and experiences any viewer/listener might have in interacting with a particular piece.
Serra, in his work, wants to alter the thinking of anyone moving through the space he creates by manipulating specific substances like steel (he has a facility with the material), and by getting viewers to a point of reorientation of spatial and temporal awareness.
Of course, this involves reorientation towards certain ideas as he understands them, and by promising people a return to themselves, or a state of experience and creative play perhaps similar to that of the artist.
Here’s a Charlie Rose interview:
More about Land Artists:
Any thoughts and comments are welcome. Feel free to highlight my ignorance…
‘…”yes, a God-like being plays a central role in Smith’s ethics.” In making that argument, he believes that he is in agreement with a long list of Smith scholars, and I am on that list.‘
Whether or not it’s the new Technocratic (S)cientific Consensus of (M)an, or the new Gospels of (M)an, we might want to remember much of the context the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers had.
I hope we don’t get too esoteric and Straussian.
Because you didn’t ask:
I think of enviro-preachers more on the Gospel side of things. They move like unwell country pastors, seeking-out soapboxes near the Sunday Service.
‘Is he still married?’ Doesn’t he live out near Cooper’s farm?’
The original sin is industrialization, you see, and we are all sinners. The cure always seems to be more Humanist/Anti-Humanist gospel. Liberal idealists hate to be caught too close to such utopian, poorly-groomed men, where questionable dressing habits usually indicate a (C)ommitment the (C)ause.
‘I hear he rides his e-bike eighteen miles one-way from Stockbridge to buy ox-meat.‘
‘It is all very disconcerting. From her breakdown, to her recitation of carbon-emission facts, the Greta that emerges in Our House is on Fire doesn’t feel like an individual. She feels like a fictional device. A God’s fool-style character, descended down to Earth to expose our folly.’
Come on down!
Shit! Tell me you didn’t buy a house with The GovCo Collective Housing & Blackrock Authority?
‘Whoa I wasn’t expecting this…the butterflies, I can’t stop thinking about her….am I…in love?
‘Oh my God, it’s over. This is it. She’s gone. We’re through. I’m a failure. All is black.‘
Recovery Step 1: It says here I’ve been changed at the physiological level and many behavioral scientists, with theoretical brilliance and empirical rigor, agree ‘tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all‘.
Step 2: Prairie voles. A French philosopher. I’m not alone.
Step 3 (Optional,Inferred) Since I got my free brain-scan down at the clinic to address the suffering of loving, living and losing in a modern society, I’d better lobby Congress to make sure brain scans are free for everybody.
Has the danger, foolishness and chaos of being in love changed much? Is the comfort, wisdom and order of a committed relationship really so different?
In Memoriam A. H. H. OBIIT MDCCCXXXIII: 27
I envy not in any moods The captive void of noble rage, The linnet born within the cage, That never knew the summer woods:
I envy not the beast that takes His license in the field of time, Unfetter’d by the sense of crime, To whom a conscience never wakes;
Nor, what may count itself as blest, The heart that never plighted troth But stagnates in the weeds of sloth; Nor any want-begotten rest.
I hold it true, whate’er befall; I feel it, when I sorrow most; ‘Tis better to have loved and lost Than never to have loved at all.
Arnhart is taking a closer look at Friedrich Nietzsche over a series of posts. Worth a read.
‘But despite the obvious brilliance of Nietzsche’s early and late writing, Lou shows that his middle writing has a scientific basis that makes it far more intellectually defensible than is the case for the other writing, which shows a delusional religious fantasy that has no grounding in reality and thus leads to the madness into which Nietzsche fell.’
‘The third insight is that the deepest motivation for Nietzsche was his religious longing, so that once he lost his childhood faith in the Christian God, he had to find a replacement for God that would give the world some eternal meaning; and he did this by divinizing himself as Dionysus and eternalizing human experience through eternal return’
Nietzsche’s project against Christianity was deeply personal.
Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) tendencies:
Predictions are hard, especially about the future. Thanks for reading, and for stopping by.
My two cents:
Technological dislocation is still going strong, and the recent developments in chat AI offer some predictive power. Labor costs, for most companies, are among the highest. Many smart and not-so-smart people never learn how to write well, nor persuasively. But they have other skills. The technology is here to utilize software prosthetics to do a lot of writing for us, instead of paying a writer. Writing well is a practical, creative and mind-changing journey, and will continue to influence entire civilizations, but paying for labor is an even tougher sell. This makes me wonder: How many specialized, well-educated 135 IQ thought-leaders will fall into a kind of resentful, punitive criticism? It’s tough to say, but, there will be many (writing well requires understanding and synthesis, but quickly surpasses knowledge and experience). This is why journalism generally loses money, with activists and deeper billionaire pockets funding most outlets.
An older American order, with aristocratic W.A.S.P. gatekeepers, more private religious belief and public square rule-making has eroded considerably. I view this set-up as having corrected many excesses of the market and maintained a lot of trust required between personal behavior and public office. Rules, rule-makers and maintaining legitimate authority can be tricky, but are found among the most important things. So, too, is maintaining a government of the people, by the people and for the people. I’d argue that a secular, technocratic humanism more common in Europe is now a likely majority in American life. Whether or not this is driven by a default, watered-down Marxism in the ‘collective-mind’ is debatable, but challenging the ideal requires wounding an idealist in the place where belief lives. It can even become deadly or disqualifying when a person challenges considerable power. This has lots of implications for speech, rules, and dissent. It will probably even affect what’s ‘cool.’ It’s tough to say what the new personal behavior and public office connection is going to be, but, as mentioned, I think it matters more than most things.
The postmodern pull is still very strong, and deep, as currents go. This blog has discussed Schopenhauer’s Will to Nietzsche’s ‘Will to Power’ nihilism, the Straussian response, and various downstream consequences. There are some pretty good reasons to be liberal, but in America, I’d like to stop the lurch leftward towards true-believing, anti-speech activism and predictably stodgy, out-of-touch liberal idealism. That way lies disorder and potential violence. This blog, at least, has offered a nod to David Hume’s empiricism, J.S. Mill’s utilitarianism, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s self-reliant gnosticism, and Isaiah Berlin’s positive and negative freedoms. At the very least, I’m realistically hoping these could become brighter lights in the nihilist fog. We’ll see…
How might this translate into American politics? While I reject even Conrad’s ‘Heart Of Darkness’ existential nihilism (say…the craziness of Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse Now’), which Gray has espoused in the past, I often fall into tragic realism. I’ve called it ‘depressive realism’ but it’s actually full of optimism. There’s a lot to be optimistic about, accounting for reality and human nature, and how mostly local and personal the good things in our lives are.
But, you’ve got to aim to be good, especially to your loved ones. I think life has a mystery to it, beyond most of our conceptions of life. That said, I view human nature as generally fixed in many ways (religious belief, traditions, the arts and many sciences are simply reflections of what we are, what the truth is, and how we interact with the world). But I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t necessarily know what’s right for you. I support the creative arts and the penetrating truths of the natural sciences and independent thinkers.
Personally, I look for the optimism found in home and hearth where love lives, and promises are made. I look for the looking-out for each other generally found in town and country, in friendships, and in some reasonable, capable talented people found in functional at-scale institutions within cities.
To be vulgar: There are dicks, pussies and assholes everywhere, so try not to be any one of these things, nor for very long. There are decent people everywhere, expanding their skills, talents and including others, with right aims and good minds, while generally avoiding too much f**king around.
In the public square: I favor a free-speech, no-nonsense skepticism, casting a cold eye on life and how institutional incentives actually work. I think Natural Law offers something of a lockbox to keep some of the true-believers and politicians from trying to engineer all parts of our lives (bound for failure…just as are most attempts to make a theology of ‘Man’). Unfortunately, Nautral Law is being replaced with a lot of (S)elf-centered therapeutics, the ‘personal-is-political’ empathy abstractions, anti-human movements, ‘-Isms’ and various flavors of ideology.
Like Gray, I see a lot of political contention ahead, and even dangerous instability because of these misalignments. I’m something of an optimist, BUT, within a depressive realism and a certain tragic view of life.
Of course, take me and my views with a grain of salt.
I’ve heard few liberals really accounting for these increasingly obvious failures of liberal ideas and leadership, but a few have, and a few older-school Lefties (change-first, injustice-focused) are actually the new civil libertarians and defenders of speech.
Global technocracy and authoritarianism will become a default for many idealists when human nature and reality bear down.
On that note: I’ve heard few conservatives really admit that the older tent has mostly fallen down, and the neo-cons, Bushies, Reaganites, religious folks, unmodern folks, war-hawks (when attached to home and hearth) are now in disarray while attacking each other. Most people I know live in-between personal reality, populist anger and a kind of institutional malaise and dysfunction.
Blame is all around. I see Trump as a kind of untrustworthy, narcissistic standard-bearer for ideas which few conservative thinking types will actually defend, given the currents in our lives and politics.
I don’t think this is a healthy situation.
Meanwhile, a lot of obvious realities go unsaid for ALL citizens, and such problems aren’t merely local, but many of the solutions probably will be.
As posted, someone called me a Postmodern Conservative a while back, and I’d just like to say that there are many identities juxtaposed at the intersectionality of bodies in space. Dominant narratives, meta-narratives, and counter-narratives serve to liber…
Cowen mentions something I’ve often thought: Changing institutions to include female representation will have costs and benefits, and change the character of many institutions themselves, and many parts of our civilization (marriage, incentives, parenthood, politics etc). Pretty unremarkable, but a highly charged and consequential topic nonetheless.
Robert Putnam, author of ‘Bowling Alone‘, seems to agree with Charles Murray about what much of what the data highlights: Working-class whites are behaving more like working-class non-whites, and college-educated non-whites are behaving more like college-educated whites.
You don’t have to agree with all of the ideas, but traditional views have their merits:
‘In sum, the Joint Chiefs have taken a clear long-term risk for an unclear near-term political gain, perhaps hoping to diminish budgetary cuts. The question is whether increasing the individual rights of the female soldier decreases the combined combat effectiveness of the killing pack. We won’t know the answer until we fight a hard ground war sometime in the future.’
Something many Boomers probably still take for granted: If you have a sexual, moral and political liberation movement sweep parts of your civilization (generation of ’68), there are gonna be some consequences, good and bad. Some radicals and social revolutionaries (professing to not believe in the legitimacy of any institution) will join and co-opt many parts of the institutions themselves; enjoying the sudden stability, influence and money gained.
The institutions, however, may arguably become less stable, so a previous stability might have been taken for granted by those Boomers.
I usually prize stability, moral decency, slow change, and rule of law (political/economic freedom) more than any one cause.
It’s probably a matter of time until you get a counter-revolution, and what worries me is a less stable system overall.
Subject: ‘Is England Still Influencing America?’ on Hitchens’ book ‘Blood, Class, & Nostalgia: Anglo-American Ironies‘ when Hitchens’ was pushing the idea that ’empire’ was the primary transmission, apparently due to his ideological commitments at the time. America must have seemed a classless paradise with institutions well-functioning and ripe to achieve justice and equality for the whole world…for some folks in the Generation of ’68.
‘Oakeshott connected his perceptive account of tacit knowledge with a larger conception of modally distinct worlds of discourse, and, in this way, his account differed from Ryle’s. However, both thinkers contributed to the re-emergence of a kind of traditionalist and pluralist epistemology which rejects the reductionism of scientism and acknowledges the multitudinous ways in which human beings know things. For both writers, authentic knowledge always involves a capacity which cannot be reduced to articulable explicit propositions. Knowledge depends upon being capable of using it in some way.’
‘Modes, then, are provisionally coherent and distinguishable kinds or categories of understanding and inquiry. In Experience and Its Modes, Oakeshott aims to identify the presuppositions in terms of which a mode can be made coherent and distinguished from other modes. In philosophy, categorial distinctions are distinctions of kind rather than degree and what are called categories are often thought of as the most fundamental classes to which things can belong. But philosophers differ on whether the identified kinds are natural or real (ontological) or conceptual (epistemological). The former are categories of being (Aristotle), the latter categories of understanding (Kant). Philosophers also disagree about whether a categorial scheme must be exhaustive and fixed or, alternatively, can be open and mutable. The modes that Oakeshott identifies in Experience and Its Modes—history, science, and practice, to which he later added “poetry” (art)—are epistemological categories, not ontological ones. And although the modes are mutually exclusive, they do not form a closed set. They are constructions that have emerged over time in human experience. They could change or even disappear and other modes might yet appear.’
‘The idea of a hierarchy of modes is not particular to Idealism. Where there are different understandings, it can occur to someone interested in reconciling them to imagine that they represent different levels of understanding. In contrast to unifying philosophies, including philosophical Idealism, Oakeshott’s position is pluralist and anti-hierarchical. In this respect he has more in common with Wilhelm Dilthey, who struggled with the issue of relativity in metaphysics and how to distinguish the human from the natural sciences, than with the British Idealists—Bradley, Bosanquet, and McTaggart among others—with whom he is often associated (Boucher 2012). For Oakeshott, all knowledge is tentative and conditional. Theorizing is “an engagement of arrivals and departures” in which “the notion of an unconditional or definitive understanding may hover in the background, but … has no part in the adventure” (OHC 2–3). In attempting to construct a coherent view of the world the philosopher “puts out to sea” (OHC 40) and is perpetually en voyage: there are no “final solutions” in philosophy any more than in practical affairs.’
I’m guessing Oakeshott would NOT have taken the case of monarchy up, nor the divine right of kings via Robert Filmer. Nor, likely, would he have taken up Thomas Hobbes’s case for the Leviathan based on a synthesis of the burgeoning practice of the natural sciences of the time. This isn’t an empiricist account of the world either (all knowledge arises in experience, sensation is separated from its object).
An Oakeshotian might see technical manuals everywhere, and few practitioners. He might see a lot of category errors, especially amongst those who mistake their own brilliance, method and scope as being enough to design political systems, laws and rules for the rest of us. Especially when such folks have little to no experience of those political systems, laws and rules.
‘The “hidden spring” of rationalism, as Oakeshott explains, is a belief in technical knowledge–which, by its very nature, is “susceptible of precise formulation”–as the sufficient or even the sole form of knowledge. This goes with a ‘preoccupation with certainty’ and an obsession with method, of the sort that can be expounded in a book; what it excludes is the kind of practical knowledge that is acquired only through prolonged contact with an experienced practitioner (RP, 11-17). Here one is reminded of Hobbes’s frequent insistence that true “science,” which yields certain knowledge, is different from “prudence,” which merely extracts probabilities from experience. Hobbes believed that geometry was the prototype of a true science, and that his own civil science was modeled on it;…’
And now for something mildly different:
During my humanities education, I developed an increasing suspicion of the postmodern rejection of tradition, rules, laws, rituals and beliefs, at least with regard to reading, writing and thinking. In engaging with some dull, and other absolutely mesmerizing, works of the creative imagination, I realized many of my own rituals and beliefs were being challenged. There are many experiences, and views, and ways to understand both myself and the world.
This is a good reason to get a good education!
It also slowly dawned on me that the lack of pedagogy, endless deconstructionist academic discussions, canon-less syllabi and increasing identitarian drift (is this person a professor because he/she’s the best poet/teacher or because he/she’s black/female or some mix of both?) were coming down the pike.
It’s tough to say what conspires to make great artists and observers of life and their own experiences; but maybe it’s a little less tough to understand how some people forego the difficulty of creation in favor of political activism, religious certainty and belief, ideological certainty and second-rate moral scolding.
Oh, there are reasons.
Maybe I was just aging out or wasn’t so creative myself, anyways.