Jordan Peterson & former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia John Anderson have a debate on COVID:
What’s with the Australian tendency to go full-lockdown? From an American perspective, why did so many choose the idea of security over freedom (relative to risk and medical/political authority?).
What are some better ways to think about costs/benefits and COVID risks than the ones being discussed now in Britain, Canada, America and Australia?
Choose your external threat: Increasingly authoritarian, post-ish Communist Chinese party leadership, and the China/Russia axis are shaping up to pose many threats to the Anglosphere. Perhaps your favored external threat is Islamic terrorism, or increasing migratory pressure on your borders as a citizen. These threats are quite real. Maybe it’s the ideologues now within many American institutions, seeking to disrupt the bedrocks of freedom of speech and rule of law. Very real, indeed.
As John Anderson points out, what about during the Blitz in London?
Another possibilityof threat-ranking: We have a likely lab-created and enhanced corona virus, now on track to become another human free-rider, killing a few million of us every season. This is a very real threat. We have an ongoing problem that could end-up anywhere between same level of risk as a virulent strain of flu or higher. We have very real front lines to this disease. A fairly shitty, but unavoidable outcome?
What about people who refuse, claiming health or other reasons?
Your deeper principles often mirror evaluations of threat across dimensions (conservatives focused on the common defense against outside invaders, the political Left focused more on external threats (within the West) against health care/education and collectivist conceptions of the moral good)
COVID-19 in King County, Washington (Seattle Area). Well, here we go.
Progressive thinking, to me, gets human nature fundamentally wrong (recognizing human potential generally through the oppressed/oppressor lens as well as through collective and group identity). A lot of progressivism needs an oppressor (evil) for its existence and such evil is usually found within the West (the religious, the traditional, those with ‘power’ etc.) Radical and nihilistic thinking (including a lot of anarchism) is nothing if not ruthlessly cynical about power.
As I see things: The vaccine mandate expresses the counter-cultural, anti-establishment logic which was there all along: A two-tiered society based on vaccine status looks a lot like the vaguely aristocratic, two-tiered society increasingly shaping up in Seattle/Portland/San Francisco. ‘Authority is bad. Oh, look, I”m the authority now‘ doesn’t exactly inspire institutional trust.
Are all the homeless, now frozen out of businesses, for lack of a vaccine passport, better off than they were before the vaccine passport?
What about conscientious objectors or health objectors to the vaccine? What about many small businesses being asked to enforce the new rules?
The utopia on the horizon fades for ever and forever as they move.
‘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?’
If you do manage to develop a bedrock of secular humanism in civil society (subject to that society’s particular traditions and history), won’t that society still have need of its own myths?
Even though Fascism and Communism have been discredited in theory and in practice, adherents remain (look no further than most American academies).
Sandall notes the Popperian elements discussed as from ‘The Open Society And Its Enemies‘, which as a theory, stretches deep into human nature and the West’s Greek traditions.
Is Popper’s ‘critical rationalism’ some of what we’re seeing from the intellectual dark-webbers, or at least many bright people pushing against the fascistic elements found within many far-Left movements, just those movements endorse and feed a far-right, identitarian and ideological response?:
‘…the people and institutions of the open society that Popper envisioned would be imbued with the same critical spirit that marks natural science, an attitude which Popper called critical rationalism. This openness to analysis and questioning was expected to foster social and political progress as well as to provide a political context that would allow the sciences to flourish.’
Sandall again on Popper:
‘His 1945 The Open Society and Its Enemies started out from the contrast between closed autarkic Sparta and free-trading protean Athens, and used it to illuminate the conflict between Fascism and Communism on the one hand, and Western democracy on the other.’
‘Is an ‘open society’ also supposed to be an ‘open polity’ with open borders? Médecins sans Frontières is all very well: but states cannot be run on such lines. Popper’s is a theory of society, not a theory of the state—and it seems to me that his book offers no clear account of the wider political preconditions that enable ‘open societies’ to both flourish and defend themselves.’
So, how did Sandall see the idea of ‘culture’ having its orgins?:
‘But at a higher philosophical level, and starting out in England, it owed more to the energetic publicising of Herder’s ideas by the Oxford celebrity Sir Isaiah Berlin — ideas of irresistible appeal to the post-Marxist and post-religious liberal mind.’
Open borders and open societies? A desire a ‘culture’ has to forge and solidify its own identity?
‘Now, I do not regard Berlin’s value pluralism as objectionable or even as wrong, except to the extend that it is irrelevant to the MORAL issue and so proves nothing for or against liberalism. Liberalism will indeed recommend itself if one wishes to have a regime that will respect, within limits, a value pluralism.
‘J.S. Mill, etc., continue to be better philosophers than Berlin or Gray because they understand that there must be an absolute moral claim in the end to fundamental rights and negative liberty, however it is thought, or not thought, to be justified. Surrendering the rational case does not even mean accepting the overall “value pluralism” thesis, since Hume himself did not do so. ‘
Back to Sandall:
‘Then something happened: the English word “culture” in the sense employed by Matthew Arnold inhis 1869 Culture and Anarchy got both anthropologized and Germanised — and anthropological culture was the opposite of all that. It meant little more in fact than a social system.’
Any thoughts and comments are welcome.
A rather tangled web indeed…
Further entanglements on this site, possibly related:
‘Popper’s World 3 is in some respects reminiscent of Plato’s realm of the Forms, but differs in that Popper takes World 3 to be something man-made. As I noted in the earlier post just linked to, this makes his positon at least somewhat comparable the Aristotelian realist (as opposed to Platonic realist) view that universals are abstracted by the mind from the concrete objects that instantiate them rather than pre-existing such abstraction.’
“…and if there could be such a thing as socialism combined with individual liberty, I would be a socialist still. For nothing could be better than living a modest, simple, and free life in an egalitarian society. It took some time before I recognized this as no more than a beautiful dream; that freedom is more important that equality; that the attempt to realize equality endangers freedom; and that, if freedom is lost, there will not even be equality among the unfree.”
‘One plausible view would be that this detachment of rightness from both custom and religion begins with Socrates, who rejected the customers and the gods of Athens in order to make the care of the soul a free-floating concern whose content would be elaborated in philosophical criticism of the received ideas of his milieu. Philosophy was clearly a necessary element here in facilitating the project of detaching the right thing to do from its religious and customary incrustations, and some capacity to isolate the moral from the customary and religious has lived an intermittent life in Western experience ever since. A great deal of philosophy in the Hellenistic and Roman periods was concerned with how one ought to live, and Stoic, Epicurean, and Skeptical ideas have seldom been without influence on modern thought.‘
Minogue, Kenneth. The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes The Moral Life. Encounter Books. 2010. Print. (Pg 131).
‘One of the grim comedies of the twentieth century was the fate of miserable victims of communist regimes who climbed walls, swam rivers, dodged bullets, and found other desperate ways to achieve liberty in the West at the same time as intellectuals in the West sentimentally proclaimed that these very regimes were the wave of the future. A similar tragicomedy is being played out in our century: as the victims of despotism and backwardness from third world nations pour into Western states, the same ivory tower intellectuals assert that Western life is a nightmare of inequality and oppression.’
Often, I choose to see the world through the lens of the conserve vs change axis, coming down on the ‘conserve’ side.
We all depend upon independent thinkers, men of system, men of scope and genius, and men particularly concerned with injustice for innovation in the West, but I’d prefer most such men to be innovating systems and the natural world directly, not men. Those seeking to change (reform, overturn) what works in our habits, customs and laws, are less likely to understand what works well enough to change very many habits, customs and laws for the better.
Each of us knows relatively little, and what we know is usually a mixture of our natural gifts, fortunes of birth, direct experiences, hard work and luck out in the world.
I’m rather persuaded that in our modern world, many, many people, begin by believing that the West must fundamentally be changed, often without direct deduction to the animating source of the knowledge and truth claims behind the belief.
‘It’s those goddamned corporations’. ‘The whole Catholic church is rotten.’ ‘Every union member is a willing dupe.’
It’s much easier to nurse resentment at the mortal coil, after all, without any specific practice nor satisfying reasons for our impending demise. It’s much easier to blame the personal and professional failures we all experience at the hands of others, living for a time in anger and payback fantasies (I’ve met some who’ve forgiven, but no one really forgets). It’s much easier to blame the jealousy attendant to any lack of status and wealth outwards at the ‘they’ or ‘them’ who are ‘running things.’
Belief in secular ideals becomes something like a religion given the human nature I think we’re all dealing with (engaging the moral sentiments). Furthermore, direct political action becomes, for many, a moral imperative.
On that note, Socrates’ moral corruption of Athenian youth was the primary charge for which he was put to death. This conundrum, and Plato’s work in making the moral case for leaders having moral obligations to the led (some transcendent source for our truth and knowledge), is still worth thinking about.
Is it good to be ambitious? In which domains? Who should be in charge, and of what? For how long?
Are our habits, customs and laws merely the delayed reception by the many from the few?
Andrew Sullivan and Antonio Garcia Martinez have a discussion (Judaism vs Christianity, time and distance shortening technologies, the darkness potentially coming as we dissolve our common, civic bonds).
Surely you trust the people in the Federal Government?
Here’s James Lindsay on the ideologies and ideologues filling many gaps within our institutions. The Humanities is the education where you can actually learn about your own human nature through dialog with the great voices of the past.
It’d be nice if such a defense weren’t necessary, but it is.
Alas, The New Yorker.
Don’t think the postmodern void and the search for meaning won’t suck on your legs as the tide goes out.
It’s okay to like the long-form stuff, high-quality cover art and criticism but…
…you will increasingly find reference to political violence, narrow true-belief and a rigid, cloying moralism. The logic was there, all along, beneath the human rights universalism, secular liberal idealism and profound moral concern for the ‘culture.’
The radicals haven’t changed all that much, but here’s one major difference: The new rules involve mainstreaming political violence and blaming your political enemies for it.
‘One study suggests that two-thirds of Americans between the ages of fifteen and thirty-four who were treated in emergency rooms suffered from injuries inflicted by police and security guards, about as many people as the number of pedestrians injured by motor vehicles.’
– Jill Lepore, New Yorker
Perry on Lepore’s piece:
This in a 5,000 word feature on the history of policing in the United States, which draws a link between the early role of police in suppressing slave rebellions, and police killings of Black Americans in the twenty first century.
‘We know that political bias warps cognition, sometimes catastrophically, and this is, I think, an example of that in action. Lepore read Feldman’s research and she misunderstood part of it, despite being an exceptionally intelligent person. Like many other Left-leaning Democrats, she is convinced that police brutality is a huge, under-acknowledged problem in the United States, and she therefore jumped to the conclusion that this wildly inflated ‘two-thirds’ figure was plausible.’
Previous links on this site from The New Yorker:
Our sacred National Parks and EPA regions, uniting all races, classes, genders, and species in a non-corporate, environmental utopia, are being despoiled by the dirty masses:
Carefully balanced rock towers make a pretty picture, but the proliferation of cairns, fuelled by social media, has negative consequences for the environment. https://t.co/q4BGmJtAHC
‘These developments owe much to the recent prominence of French postmodernist thought. Many young feminists, whatever their concrete affiliations with this or that French thinker, have been influenced by the extremely French idea that the intellectual does politics by speaking seditiously, and that this is a significant type of political action. Many have also derived from the writings of Michel Foucault (rightly or wrongly) the fatalistic idea that we are prisoners of an all-enveloping structure of power, and that real-life reform movements usually end up serving power in new and insidious ways. Such feminists therefore find comfort in the idea that the subversive use of words is still available to feminist intellectuals. Deprived of the hope of larger or more lasting changes, we can still perform our resistance by the reworking of verbal categories, and thus, at the margins, of the selves who are constituted by them.’
Not the ‘right’ kind of emptiness for Richard Brody, at The New Yorker, in Todd Phillips’ ‘The Joker.’
‘“Joker” is an intensely racialized movie, a drama awash in racial iconography that is so prevalent in the film, so provocative, and so unexamined as to be bewildering.’
Brody’s review is as much about historical events (The Central Park Five), and moral judgments surrounding these historical events (racist and nothing else, Trump is horrible) as it is about the movie.
Basic plot, aesthetics, and stylized choices are kind of what I’m after in a movie review, with some of the reviewer’s own expertise and respect for the reader’s intelligence thrown-in (should I see this movie?).
The Boston Evening Transcript
The readers of the Boston Evening Transcript Sway in the wind like a field of ripe corn.
— When evening quickens faintly in the street, Wakening the appetites of life in some And to others bringing the Boston Evening Transcript, I mount the steps and ring the bell, turning Wearily, as one would turn to nod good-bye to Rochefoucauld, If the street were time and he at the end of the street, And I say, “Cousin Harriet, here is the Boston Evening Transcript.”
‘There was a wonderful article by an editor at the magazine, Mary Norris, about commas. Wonderful, that is, until this passage, “That was during the Reagan Administration, when many of us suspected that Reagan had some form of dementia, but no one could do anything about it. The country was running on automatic.”
Such politicization can make for bad stewardship of the arts, certainly.
Perhaps New Yorker features are increasingly flogged to maintain readership in a competitive marketplace, or are being put to use for other purposes, like reaffirming political ideology and identities to signal the right beliefs and in-group/out-group loyalties. Many of the liberal pieties can be found on display at the New Yorker.
***Who do you trust for discussions of the arts and culture, and would you just rather publications be up front about their ideological bents and loyalties?
Or will this simply take care of itself?
As posted: Maybe some deeper currents from Romanticism to Modernism to Postmodernism are worth thinking about. As I see things, many people who care deeply about the avant-garde also can bind themselves to ever narrower political and ideological commitments.
The journey of The Western Self bears proper care.
According to some folks at The New Yorker magazine, the only answer to injustice is radical and revolutionary equality.
To be fair, the logic embedded within much radical chic usually reveals itself to be cool at first, the same old murderously bad doctrinaire utopianism a little later on:
My summary of Smith’s take: ‘I still read Andrew Sullivan and his thoughtful, potentially evil views, but when the mob comes to town, I’ll pretty much cave to the mob (The ‘-Ism’quisition). Although the NY Times is increasingly displaying the ideogical capture of the radical Left, as have many institutions, I really do need the paycheck.’
‘The New York Times, by its executive editor’s own admission, is increasingly engaged in a project of reporting everything through the prism of white supremacy and critical race theory, in order to “teach” its readers to think in these crudely reductionist and racial terms. That’s why this issue wasn’t called, say, “special issue”, but a “project”. It’s as much activism as journalism.’
A link on this site in support of Sullivan’s Oakeshottian political philosophy:
‘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‘
My rather cynical take on California, for which I harbor deep fondness: Many folks on the political Left tend to imagine that most deep knowledge and truth questions have been, or will soon be, settled in favor of their ideals (Equality, Peace, Diversity). They often make what I see as category errors when it comes to (R)eason and (S)cience.
If the big questions are settled, then, all that’s Left is to build the collective, human-rights based institutions which will guide (H)umanity to its (E)nds.
Ignore those radicals over there, they’re simply reacting against Enlightenment year-zero fascism:
To someone with such a point of view in California: Religious and social conservatives become a bothersome, backwards minority, while the honor and duty required to maintain a military are seen as antiquated, often ‘male’ and agressive (Colonial). The prudence required to maintain a balanced budget, and many basic rules, are increasingly seen through the ideological, tribal lens of identitarian politics (shut up, Karen).
Freedom comes with responsibility, but ‘liberation’ comes with many violent radicals, crazies, and true-believers.
How many actual individuals are leaving California because of the increasing social disorder in the cities, high costs of living and one-party politics?
‘I’m writing in response to your “Goodbye, Blue America” post, with its large “Leaving California” graphic. I left California four years ago. (It happens that I live in a different blue state now, and I want to leave this one, too.) There are so many reasons I left, but the urban unrest was a big part of it.’
Many people from other States (and countries)–>California
Many people from California–>Other Western States (Arizona/Nevada/Colorado/Oregon/Washington/Idaho) and back to their home States.
‘Noyce was like a great many bright young men and women from Dissenting Protestant families in the Middle West after the Second World War. They had been raised as Baptists, Methodists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, United Brethren, whatever. They had been led through the Church door and prodded toward religion, but it had never come alive for them. Sundays made their skulls feel like dried-out husks. So they slowly walked away from the church and silently, without so much as a growl of rebellion, congratulated themselves on their independence of mind and headed into another way of life. Only decades later, in most cases, would they discover how, absentmindedly, inexplicably, they had brought the old ways along for the journey nonetheless. It was as if . . . through some extraordinary mistake . . . they had been sewn into the linings of their coats!
‘Earlier this summer marked the 50th anniversary of C. P. Snow’s famous “Two Cultures” essay, in which he lamented the great cultural divide that separates two great areas of human intellectual activity, “science” and “the arts.” Snow argued that practitioners in both areas should build bridges, to further the progress of human knowledge and to benefit society.’
My two cents: This blog tends to worry about modern ‘one culture’ visions, too.
On the one hand, you’ve got your ‘scientific socialism;’ the clear dead-end, totalizing Marxist theories of history and various neo-Marxist movements having since colonized many faculty-lounges, HR departments, and media pulpits across America.
Deep, bad ideas tend to live on once plugged into many deep, human desires and dreams. The radical pose will be with us for a while.
Of course, it’s rather sad to witness the sheepish, suburban apologetics of identity amongst the chattering classes; the moment of surprise and fear when a previously insulated writer (leaning upon traditions) realizes today just is their day in the barrel.
Sooner or later you’re going to have to stand up for your principles.
You’ve also got many modern ‘-Ist’ movements, which, whatever truth and knowledge claims they may contain (some quite important ones, I think), are often quick to conflate the means of science with the ends of politics. ‘Join us,’ they say, and become a part of the modern world. The mission of ‘Education’ is easily mistaken for knowledge, learning with wisdom, collective group action with individual achievement.
There is a kind of a high middlebrow drift towards….I’m not sure where, exactly.
Alas, if you’re still with me, here are some links:
“I’ve been skeptical from the beginning of attempts to show that for hundreds of years people have missed the real point,”
Did literature professors at one point have something more substantive to teach?
In a broader context, hasn’t the Western mind has shifted to “science,” instead of God as a deepest idea, and so too isn’t literature a part of this shift?
As Richard Rorty sees it, no standard objective for truth exists but for the interpretation of a few philosophers interpreting whatever of philosophy they’ve read. It’s all just an author’s “stuff.” Here’s an excerpt discussing the debate between him and Hilary Putnam:
Addition: Western mind shifted to “science?”…well as for poetry T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens had some fairly profound religious influences.
Guilt and shame are the primary teaching tools of the old religion and the new, woke religion. If you don’t care, no one can make you care. This leaves many sociopaths with competitive advantage. For the rest of us, being an asshole to the ones you love and with whom you deal isn’t a laudable goal. As much as this is true, decent people have to strike a balance. Sometimes, when you think you have the truth, you must speak that truth, even to loved ones and even when it hurts.
You also need to hear the truth. This hurts, too. It’s really one of the only ways to make your life better and deal with the problems you have. Growth isn’t possible without it.
In the public square, I believe it’s necessary to fight against the true-belief of zealots and fools, while doing my best not to become either of these things myself. What truth I might have to tell, should be told. This [often] puts me on the side of religious liberty and tradition in the good old U.S. of A.
Sometimes it puts me on the side of (S)cience and (R)eason.
Such skepticism also recognizes the danger of bad ideas. A lot of people will find the framework of radical resentment to be sufficient in their lives.
Guilt and shame are also how ideologues make headway. This has consequences for all of us:
Below is a poem by Wendell Berry. Berry is chiefly agrarian, anti-technology and pro-environmental in his outlook. He’s also a traditionalist, who believes family and local associations come first.
For Berry, (M)an must return to family, traditional values and to the Earth. Technology corrupts and while business might scale, both create alienation and unrooted individuals.
Of course, a return to (Man) and (N)ature is not an uncommon view amongst poets, especially since the Romantic Poets in England. Around that time, (M)an, instead of God, became one of the highest things around. Serving the poor and dispossessed is the work of those who care about (H)umankind. Oh, how some people care. Man, did mad, bad Byron care.
It’s a mixed bag.
Here is a tweet by a MoMA curator of Architecture & Design. I mean, she’s Italian and likely has fellow-feeling for the guy, and he probably saved a lot of lives under rough circumstances, but….you know.
I worry about ‘maestros of humanity,’ because the same old human nature and reality await. In the meantime, what kind of world we live in has a lot to do with how well our maps of human nature and reality align with….human nature and reality.
Beneath Humanism and the sentiment now being extended to all living things (except the bugs we’ll all eat while singing Kum-ba-ya), are a lot of unsavory characters, ideologues, and future politicians.
To my mind, making heroes out of men, necessary though it is, often leads to disappointment; a reasonable part of life. Making something like a religion out of (H)umanism seems to be a permanent feature of ‘modern’ life, and a much deeper problem.
One thing Berry seems to be saying: A route to truth lies in overcoming shame.
Do Not Be Ashamed
You will be walking some night in the comfortable dark of your yard and suddenly a great light will shine round about you, and behind you will be a wall you never saw before. It will be clear to you suddenly that you were about to escape, and that you are guilty: you misread the complex instructions, you are not a member, you lost your card or never had one. And you will know that they have been there all along, their eyes on your letters and books, their hands in your pockets, their ears wired to your bed. Though you have done nothing shameful, they will want you to be ashamed. They will want you to kneel and weep and say you should have been like them. And once you say you are ashamed, reading the page they hold out to you, then such light as you have made in your history will leave you. They will no longer need to pursue you. You will pursue them, begging forgiveness, and they will not forgive you. There is no power against them. It is only candor that is aloof from them, only an inward clarity, unashamed, that they cannot reach. Be ready. When their light has picked you out and their questions are asked, say to them: “I am not ashamed.” A sure horizon will come around you. The heron will rise in his evening flight from the hilltop.
On that note, I am pretty pro-technology and science. While I have no particular quarrel with neuroscience on its own, pop-neuroscience is often a repository for the modern search for legitimate experiences and theories of the Self. In some quarters, this becomes the window-dressing to sell discredited ideologies.
Readers often come for the anti-woke sentiment, and stay for the personal charm and winning personality (kidding). I get complaints that I am too anti-woke. Or that I’m not anti-religious enough. Or that I’m too pro-religious.
A while ago, I wrote about Jeff Koons, and the removal of religious guilt and shame as a central idea in his work. I also frequently write about Marxism and neo-Marxism as relying on both liberation and revolutionary praxis for their survival. Such doctrines get nature and human nature horrifically wrong, but they get enough of both right, it seems.
Robert Hughes wasn’t a big fan of Koons, and looked at him with a skeptical, suspicious eye:
Celebrity, money, art and fame are mixed in a big bowl:
As posted, I think this except highlights the idea of liberating one’s Self from not only guilt and shame, but judgment. Artists and the avant-garde thrive in such space, but so do ideologues and the worst kinds of people, and a lot of what’s bad in people.
Many avant-garde have become avant-huitard.
Jeff Koons’ Made In Heaven blurred the line between art and porn, private experience and public show, innocence (so easily corrupted) and naive, narcissistic indulgence.
Mind you, this is Australia, but there’s probably a lot of overlap:
‘I don’t mean to suggest that every bright-eyed PhD candidate in anthropology today sees himself in a priestly role, or feels inspired by a religious vocation. Most are as sceptical of sorcery as of perdition. But what George Feaver has called the New Tribalism is a proud creed, and its gods are jealous gods. Syncretised with the pride and jealousy of the Old Tribalism the result is a powerful endorsement of totem and taboo…’
‘The Institute had been set up to “do science”, a secular activity. Yet in a curious way it has ended up “doing religion.” In its own eyes the Institute may have seen itself as a producer of scientific records; but in the eyes of Tribalism, both Old and New, its true role was that of a manufacturer of religious artifacts. And having become an archive of sacred objects it was hard to refuse doing priestly duty as the temple guardian as well. In this way a scientific body found itself gradually moving from the world of fact to the world of faith—and from the dull routines of research to the higher excitements of revivalism.’
We’ve got a lot of museum directors and academics I could see sinking into a kind of nebulous, humanist, institutional mysticism, quite frankly.
What many modernists and humanists can ignore are the deep impulses they have to make meaning, and to draw distinctions between the sacred and the profane, which in the West can manifest as a kind of sentimental Romanticization of Nature and Man (religious and anti-religious, truthfully).
Everyone wants to transcend and seek the timeless, the immortal, and the pure, I’m guessing.
There is a particular myth of the ‘Noble Savage,’ alive and well in the Western World, where the local tribesman or displaced native is celebrated as an exotic but worthy adversary, or some kind of anachronistic adornment.
This stuff can be true and inspiring in the arts, synthesized as part of the Romantic school:
Perhaps the native is to be included under the net of secular human idealism or given land, a casino or a museum somewhere on the Western Estate and left to many of his own devices (many further Left likely see a fellow oppressed class of victims with whom to feel solidarity on the way to radical and revolutionary freedom).
But certainly with the triumphs of trade and commerce, the many benefits and successes of Western expansion (the thousand injustices and brutalities of State and privately funded imperialism), comes a lot of doubt, guilt, and shame.
What is true and right?
How should I live and what should I do?
I can say Orwell, here, has caused me to think, reflect and take a look at myself in the mirror.
Much as the sciences require intellectual rigor, empirical evidence and much skepticism, there are bands of Western anti-science postmodernists in their wake, too, who can sink into a kind of nebulous modern mysticism, building museums as temples.
Just as there are humanists there are anti-humanists.
‘The paleo fantasy is a fantasy in part because it supposes that we humans, or at least our protohuman forebears, were at some point perfectly adapted to our environments. We apply this erroneous idea of evolution’s producing the ideal mesh between organism and surroundings to other life forms, too, not just to people.’
There’s a lot of confusion out there in the popular mind, apparently. Fascinating discoveries going on right now in genetics, genome research, and evolutionary biology, to name a few.
Because nobody asked, I tend to be skeptical of the Noble Savage, Rousseau’s State of Nature, and some products of the Nietzschean, tragic, romantic tradition in Europe. There are also lots of folks milling around America seeking a kind of collectivist utopian harmony in nature, as well.
It can be a long ways to travel to get from Darwin back to God and organized religion (too far for many people) and this blog remains generally agnostic, defensive of the broad, but fragile, traditions necessary for civil society and individual liberty.
It can also be a long way from Darwin to arrive at Natural Rights, Locke’s life, liberty and property, as well as Roman and classical ideas of law and even to Montesquieu.
Check out Darwinian Conservatism, as Larry Arnhart is dealing with many of these ideas. Here’s the banner from the site:
‘The Left has traditionally assumed that human nature is so malleable, so perfectible, that it can be shaped in almost any direction. By contrast, a Darwinian science of human nature supports traditionalist conservatives and classical liberals in their realist view of human imperfectibility, and in their commitment to ordered liberty as rooted in natural desires, cultural traditions, and prudential judgments.’
If you view the modern project as sailing the gulf between Nature (wonderful spring days, happy babies, Pompei, The Plague), and human nature (love, mercy, humility, hatred, cruelty, egoism), then a certain depressive realism seems reasonable.
Part of my journey has involved being interested in the arts, making my way to Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, Leo Strauss and Plato early on. After giving the arts a go, I made an attempt to broaden my scope, trying to better understand a particular set of problems.
While attending Penn State, I sat-in on a lecture by Jacques Derrida. He discussed his work on the work of Romanian Jewish poet Paul Celan. Listening to the arch-deconstructionist spending an hour discussing Ashglory was interesting, if a bit baffling. There was a lot of brilliance, gibberish, insight, ambition, and hubris in that room. Looking back, if I’m honest, I suppose some of it was mine.
I didn’t take notes and kept wondering why so many did.
In bearing witness to the modern quest of wringing every last drop of meaning from the Self (Self-Help books, confessionals, gurus), I get worried. When I look around and see so much energy spent ‘deconstructing’ comedy, cartoons, pop-culture and political ideals, I worry deeper trends are playing out (see the confessional postmodern poets of the 1950’s).
It’s not so much (R)eason, but the attempts to define Man’s (R)ational Ends within political doctrines I worry about. The less people have in their lives about which to feel purpose, the more many will look to political movements.
I worry that trying to synthesize the arts and sciences in popular fashion will not halt the turn towards postmodern anti-reason and irrational modern mysticism.
It’s not so much neuroscience and psychology as expanding fields of knowledge which worry, but the oft smug certainty of many institutionalized folks justifying personal and political interests in the wake of such thinking. It’s all too easy to mistake the edges of one’s thinking for the edges of the world.
It may be meritocrats all the way down, lightly tapping upon the heads of radicals.
It’s not so much progress which bothers me, but progressivism writ large (and so many other ‘-Isms’) uniting in-groups against out-group enemies insisting change ought to be the default position.
Where your thoughts are, your actions and hopes tend to follow.