Universal Enlightenment Truths & Politics In The Academy-Two Links

Theodore Dalrymple at the Library of Law & Liberty:  ‘The Impotence Of The Kantian Republic.’

Many proposed Enlightenment universal truths, truths used to make moral claims, and truths often used to guide modern institutions and political movements (and a lot secular global humanism besides) come into conflict with local, religious, traditional, patriotic and national truths, a conflict which can be witnessed in much current political debate here in America.

I think Dalrymple is leveraging such a gap to highlight the downside realities of Muslim immigration to Europe:

‘When I learned of the provenance of the Manchester bomber, namely that he was the son of Libyan refugees, I asked myself a question that is now almost disallowable, even in the privacy of one’s own mind: whether any authority, in granting them asylum in Britain, asked whether it was in the national interest to do so. In all probability, the answer is no. The officials concerned probably thought only that they were applying a universal rule, or pseudo-universal rule, that in the name of humanity all political refugees (as Salman Abedi’s parents were) have an automatic right of asylum. And if they, the officials, were to be criticised, they would no doubt reply that there were a thousand, or five thousand, refugees for every suicide bomber, and that therefore the admission of Salman Abedi’s parents was a risk that had, on humanitarian grounds, to be taken.’

Via Heterodox Academy (& Jonathan Haidt)-‘On The Intrusion Of National Politics In College Classrooms:

A student suggests (with the necessary caveat of having the proper politics) that point of entry to Shakespeare really shouldn’t be solidarity around current political ideals, especially solidarity as advocated by professors:

‘Students I spoke with after class appreciated the “relevance” of the lecture, noting how the election had revitalized the otherwise inaccessible works of Shakespeare. It’s been over 7 months since Trump was elected, yet my professors show no signs of putting their political digressions on hold. The spread of this phenomenon to subjects like Literature and English reflects a troubling trend: the growing partisanship of higher education.’

It’s hard to see how playing fast and loose with much of the humanities curriculum these past generations, while simultaneously inviting much political idealism, activism and radicalism to settle into academies won’t also invite a subsequent political response by those who don’t share in the ideals (if it’s got ‘studies’ after it…).

If you’re going to gather around political ideals, don’t be surprised when you’ve carved up the world into a series of political fiefdoms.

If it’s any consolation-I discovered similar trends occurring about twenty years ago: The vague notion there had actually been, and should be, a canon, along with much overt and covert political idealism uniting people in the academy.

But, I also found a lot to absorb, experience and hold dear.

It can be a bitter pill to swallow realizing how much shallowness, group-think and moral cowardice there is in a place dedicated to the pursuit of truth and wisdom, especially regarding radical ideologies, but that’s not all there is.

Try and leave things a little better than you found them.

There’s a lot to learn.

Heather McDonald At The WSJ: ‘ The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity’

Repost-From Scientific Blogging: ‘The Humanities Are In Crisis-Science Is Not’…Which Way The Humanities? Five Links & Quotes Gathered Over The Years, Culture Wars Included

Sunday Quotation: From Jonathan Bennett On Kant…Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge…From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On Kant

Some People In The Humanities Don’t Like Humanity All That Much-Some Links

Many people aren’t content to live with the idea of conservation, nor tradition. It’s unseemly, backwoods, and quaint. Tradition is the place from which change must occur and new thinking must arise. You can’t step in the same river twice. The only constant is change.

All these aphorisms and heuristics, a clever saying or joke passed off as one’s own, or the sometimes chilling ‘that’s always the way we’ve done things around here.’ There’s no shortage of rules thoughtlessly accepted, blindly followed, and sometimes ruthlessly enforced.

Often heard : A lot of what came before isn’t merely an expression of what and who we are, to some extent, it’s just the winners talking. ‘They’ know when to break the rules and when to merely bend them. The main purpose of (H)istory, if such a thing exists, is to develop tools in the space modernity has created. ‘We’ must curate our (S)elves and make a society worth living in, towards the sacred secular ideals based on (S)cience.

How Best To Serve Man?

Current social institutions should be ‘critically’ examined, texts ‘deconstructed,’ and laid end-to-end on the table.

What I’ve encountered: Artists can live wildly in their thought and souls, and their lives, and sometimes all of the above. If the talent is deep, the skill fashioned for purpose, and the thing well-made, the work might live on. Many artists die unrecognized (a thousand tiny deaths until the real one). The mental state of artistic production can be a messy, glorious thing to behold.

The Romantic period brought the individual genius, towering above all else, to a central place in what I’d call ‘modern’ and ‘postmodern’ conceptions of the (S)elf.

Many in the humanities likely believe the goal is to challenge humanity itself. Via Hegelian dialectic, or various flavors of Marxist/post-Marxist thought, and through what I call the ‘-Isms’ (secular idealism up top, radical roots beneath).

What about a good ‘ol Humanities education with such profound institutional failure? What are some possibilities?

Interesting paper presented by Erika Kiss, beginning about minute 32:00 (the whole conference is likely worth your time for more knowledge on Oakeshott).

According to Kiss, Oakeshott’s non-teleological, non-purposive view of education is potentially a response to Friedrich Hayek, Martha Nussbaum, and Allan Bloom, in the sense that all of these thinkers posit some useful purpose or outcome in getting a liberal education.

Friedrich Hayek’s profound epistemological attack on rationalist thought is still a system itself, and attaches learning to market-based processes which eventually drive freedom and new thinking in universities. The two are mutually dependent to some extent.

Martha Nussbaum attaches liberal learning to ends such as making us ‘Aristotelian citizens of the world’, or better citizens in a democracy, which has struck me as incomplete at best.

Allan Bloom is profoundly influenced by Straussian neo-classicism, and wants love, classical learning, honor and duty to perhaps be those reasons why a young man or woman should read the classics. This, instead of crass commercialism, the influences of popular music, deconstructionism and logical positivism.

Via A Reader-Isaiah Berlin’s Lectures On The Roots Of Romanticism.  Romanticism–>Modernism–>Postmodernism–>Wherever We’re Heading Now

Maybe it all started with Beethoven:  Everyone’s a (S)elf.

Isaiah Berlin pretty much blackballed Roger Scruton, so it’s not all roses.

Scruton had some keen insights:

“The works of Shakespeare contain important knowledge. But it is not scientific knowledge, nor could it ever be built into a theory. It is knowledge of the human heart”

“…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.”

Repost-From The Spiked Review Of Books Via The A & L Daily: ‘Rescuing The Enlightenment From Its Exploiters’

Full review here.

Tzvetan Todorov is primarily a literary theorist, but it’s often worth highlighting the following:

“Or take the current fetishisation of The Science, or as Todorov calls it, ‘scientism’.”

and

“We experience this most often, although far from exclusively, through environmentalist discourse. Here, science supplants politics. Competing visions of the good are ruled out in favour of that which the science demands, be it reduced energy consumption or a massive wind-power project. This, as Todorov sees it, involves a conflation of two types of reasoning, the moral (or the promotion of the good) and the scientific (or the discovery of truth).”

On this analysis, those who would defend skepticism and political conservatism against climate change politics (demanding less, much less and in some ways more, from their politics …and with a healthier understanding of what politics can do) are boxed out.

But our author is somewhat critical of Todorov’s approach:

Any redemption of the hopes of the Enlightenment, any revival of the core principles of Enlightenment, from autonomy to secularism, can never be a purely intellectual exercise.”

Is that a dose of Historicism?

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’

Martha Nussbaum says the university needs to be defend Socratic reason and still be open to diversity:  From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’…Leo Strauss says The Enlightenment and the dangers of the project of Reason can be gotten around through his reason/revelation distinction:  Harry Jaffa At The Claremont Institute: ‘Leo Strauss, the Bible, and Political Philosophy’

Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers?:  From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantA Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty” …

Repost-Is Psychology A Science? From Richard Feynman’s ‘Cargo Cult Science’Repost-From Scientific Blogging: The Humanities Are In Crisis-Science Is Not

Some City By City Photography Links, Some Questionable Philosophy, Some Reason/Anti-Reason Recycled Links Touching Along The Edges Of Postmodern Problems

-As posted: Beauty, ugliness, youth, strength, and decay: Via Mick Hartley Bruce Davidson at Magnum’s ‘Subway (NYC subway during the 1980’s).

-Cool 5:38 video at the link. Mick Victor walks down the streets and alleyways of L.A. with camera in tow, his focus eventually drawn to some forms, shapes, colors or configuration. Some of those abstract photos here.

-Vivian Maier, the mystery street photographer from Chicago.

-It’s Vice (oh how tiresome the radical pose and how soon dull those who gather), but there’s earnest artistic ambition and innocence.

Bruce Gilden is mostly self-taught, and the accent couldn’t be any more Brooklyn.  Street photography can become muggy and full of kitsch, but I imagine it’s really hard to get right.

Coney Island!

For those especially drawn to observe, and be alone amongst a crowd, seeking moments of beauty, grace, and transcendence.  Where have you put your hopes?

What kind of relationship might you be in with such abstractions as that of human nature (your own deep impulses, passing thoughts, and possible motivations, as well as those of the people around you)?

What kind of relationship might you be in with such abstractions as nature and reality (the world your senses perceive, those laws and patterns likely enduring thought, the old knowledge become practice and the new knowledge on the edge of understanding, the truths which seem to little give nor receive, forgive nor remember)?

Are you really that alone?

Via a Reader via Scientific American: ‘An Update On C.P. Snow’s “Two Cultures:”

Essay here (PDF).

‘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 might be 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:

M.H. Abrams here.

“…in the days when, to get a Ph.D., you had to study Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, Old French, and linguistics, on the notion that they served as a kind of hard-core scientific basis for literary study.”

and of the New Criticism he says:

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?

Does this necessarily lead to the Reason/Anti-Reason debate we seem to be falling into?  The postmodern problems?

Interesting quotation from Quora, on Richard Feynman’s discussion of light in ‘QED: The Strange Theory Of Light And Matter’:

‘Mirrors and pools of water work pretty much the same way. Light interacts with electrons on the surface. Under the laws of quantum mechanics, each photon interacts with ALL of the electrons on the surface, and the net result is the sum of all possible pathways. If the surface is perfectly smooth, then most of the pathways cancel each other out, except for the one where the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection. ‘

Click through for the illustrations to help explain Feynman’s theory, which fascinated me when I first came across it; much as I understand of it.

Have you ever seen sunlight reflecting off a body of water from a few thousand feet up in a plane?  A rainbow in a puddle with some oil in it?  A laser reflecting off a smooth surface like a mirror?

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.

See Also: Should You Bother To Get A Liberal Arts Education? From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Repost-Heather McDonald At The WSJ: ‘ The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity’

***Whom 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?

Beauty is no quality in things themselves, it exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.

David Hume

Goya, that modern, had to make a living from the royal family: Goya’s ColossusGoya’s Fight With CudgelsGoethe’s Color Theory: Artists And ThinkersNASA Composite Image Of The Earth At Night…Beauty?Garrett Mattingly On Machiavelli-The Prince: Political Science Or Political Satire?

Repost-From The NY Times: Schlieren Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

A briefer introduction here:

Girard and Libertarian thought?:

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

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

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

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

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

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

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

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

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

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

The Public Square (Meet The New Authority), COVID Origins & Safetyism-Some Links

Carlo Lancellotti put up this quotation by Augusto Del Noce:

‘Its historical perspective is, essentially, the following: in history there has been a permanent break coinciding with the Second World War; what was defeated was not just Fascism and Nazism, but the whole old European tradition; and Fascism and Nazism must be interpreted as phenomena caused by fear of historical progress … As a consequence of this judgment, those who draw inspiration from tradition are always “reactionaries” or “Fascists” (two terms that are stupidly equated), whether they know it or not.

Out?: The old town square, where patriotism, freedom of thought and expression, and statues, were more secure (and more religiously influenced, Catholics included)

In?: ‘History’ has a right side, and you’d better get on it. Pick a team…for now. If you have more resources, pick a cause (or fund them). Squares are oppressive.

I’m glad some people are dedicated to discovering the truth. How many other research labs are taking big risks? Who runs them? What about downstream technology in the hands of anyone/any group/any autocrat/any guerilla with a grievance?

Which benefits have already come?

More two cents: Impulses to consolidate power, tighten laws and restrict freedoms come during times of crisis and consequence (people are gonna die immediately). Wars, among other things, can mobilize people society-wide towards victory (also survival).

What if the crisis is a virus? The folks in more amenable to counter-culture liberal idealism are now running many of our institutions during this particular crisis. Their highest goods are often ideals like ‘democracy’, ‘safety’ and ‘communal-health-in-a-modern-society-by-inclusion-of-the-most-marginalized’. (these are the ideas they run on and the statements they tend to issue, anyways).

Behind the scenes, it’s usually the same mixture of principle, self-interest, favor-repayment, coalitions strategy, paybacks, ambition, fear, vanity, personal relationships etc.

This often affects how they wield authority.

It also probably affects how a lot of people are viewing their (S)elves, Nature, and giving the central dramatic meaning to their lives (this virus reaffirms a belief in the ideals).

At least with Christians, violence is limited in principle.

Clive James revisits many quite original, quite accomplished works of Joseph Conrad.

‘They are, in fact, idealists: and idealism is a cast of mind that Conrad questions even more than he questions radicalism. The logical end of radicalism, in his view, is terrorism; but idealism is the mental aberration that allows terrorism to be brought about. Conrad’s originality was to see that a new tyranny could be generated by people who thought that their rebellion against the old tyranny was rational. Thus his writings seem prescient about what was to happen in the Soviet Union. He didn’t predict the Nazi tyranny because he had underestimated the power of the irrational to organise itself into a state. But then, nobody predicted that except its perpetrators; and anyway, mere prediction was not his business. His business was the psychological analysis made possible by an acute historical awareness. Under Western Eyes is valuable not because it came true but because it rang true even at the time, only now we can better hear the deep, sad note.’

Russian and Chinese interests and leadership, as well localism within interconnected networks, might be evidence working against many Western Universalist claims. Distance-shortening technologies won’t simply manifest a world any one of us, alone, or in groups, might be working towards.

It looks to me more like liberalism in the U.S. has been heading towards rule with technocratic elements, bureaucratic elements, liberation elements, and a rather authoritarian hand.

Freedom is next!

Now, what about Safetyism? Might it be a sub-category of above described liberal thinking?

Wear a mask! Don’t go outside! Cars are dangerous! Put that helmet on, mister.

No, really, put it on.

Matthew Crawford discusses:

Repost-A Fight Is On, But It Will Be Generations

If a tendency towards true-belief, occasionally visible in one’s (S)elf, and like all behaviors, transparently visible in others, means anything, it must mean less truth-seeking, less tolerance and less openness in the minds and institutions captured by such true-belief.

The resentment within some need only find expression through narrow, rigid ideologies (destroying what’s here for the utopia to come, promoting action with epistemologically questionable areas of knowledge), for there to be consequences for all.

As I see things, this is still the greatest threat to freedom found within American educational, cultural and political institutions right now.

Many dangers of a particular ideological true-belief occur in the enormous blind spot beneath many liberal idealists and secular humanists/rationalists, who, as I see things, often mistake all 60’s radicalism for benign, well-intentioned change. Beneath the doctrines of (M)an are actual men, and the same old human nature.

There are also deeper currents, dragging us this way and that, often only making themselves clear after many years and some quiet reflection. Some of these currents push and pull the (S)elf (where self-knowledge begins of course) along, but downwards towards the nihilism, existentialism and radical stance of a (S)elf outside of all tradition, religion, obligation and custom.

As posted:

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

As a Straussian might see it: Once you set up (S)cience on the positivist definition, as the only arbiter of facts, one can very easily invite the anti-(S)cience response in kind, which manifests itself here as the retreat into a victimhood/oppressor ideology.

‘(S)cience’ was only a tool of the white oppressor, anyways, don’t you know (and no one actually has to do the hard work the sciences require…how convenient):

Jonathan Haidt At Heterodox Academy on these new ‘blasphemy laws:’

In the wake of the violence at Middlebury and Berkeley, and in the aftermath of the faculty mob that coalesced to condemn gender studies professor Rebecca Tuvel, many commentators have begun analyzing the new campus culture of intersectionality as a form of fundamentalist religion including public rituals with more than a passing resemblance to witch-hunts.’

It’d be nice if many secularists and political liberals said something like the following:

If we continue to secularize society, we will entrench many postmoderns, activists, radicals, people steeped in resentment, and narrow socialist ideologues, but the gains in liberty will be worth it. We might even inspire a return to old-timey religion.  If this happens, we will freak-out about this turn of events. In the meantime, free speech and free thought will not be upheld, except with moral courage against the mob we’ve helped incubate and gestate.’

-Via an interview with Ken Minogue from 2006:

‘BC: What do you make of political correctness? There are those who would argue it’s a thing of the past. Frankly, I don’t see how that’s possible. It seems to me that cultural Marxism is more regnant than ever, would you agree?

KM: In my time, a great deal of what used to be intuitive and instinctive (such as good manners) has been replaced by the rule-bound and rationalised. Political correctness is a politicised version of good manners offering power to the kind of meddlesome people who want to tell others how to behave. As to Marxism, it was merely one more illusion that purported to be the key to life. It is significant in that it reveals one of the dominant passions still at work in our civilisation – the passion to create happiness by technology in the hands of a supposedly enlightened elite.’

I’m looking around and not seeing too much decency in American politics, lately.

A.C. Grayling makes one of the better cases for morality without religious doctrine, I’ve heard of late, but I’m not entirely sold these particular problems can be addressed sufficiently:

Via A Reader-Isaiah Berlin’s Lectures On The Roots Of Romanticism. Romanticism–>Modernism–>Postmodernism–>Wherever We’re Heading Now

Maybe it all started with Beethoven: Everyone’s a (S)elf.

On this site, see:

Repost: Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Correspondence here.

Link sent in by a reader.

Without a stronger moral core, will liberalism necessarily corrode into the soft tyranny of an ever-expanding State?

Since the 60’s, and with a lot of postmodern nihilism making advances in our society, is a liberal politics of consent possible given the dangers of cultivating a kind of majoritarian politics: Dirty, easily corrupt, with everyone fighting for a piece of the pie?

As an example, Civil Rights activists showed moral courage and high idealism, to be sure, but we’ve also seen a devolution of the Civil Rights crowd into squabbling factions, many of whom seem more interested in money, self-promotion, influence, and political power.

The 60’s protest model, too, washed over our universities, demanding freedom against injustice, but it has since devolved into a kind of politically correct farce, with comically illiberal and intolerant people claiming they seek liberty and tolerance for all in the name of similar ideals.

Who are they to decide what’s best for everyone?  How ‘liberal’ were they ever, really?

Kelley Ross responds to a correspondent on Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism, while discussing John Gray as well:

‘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. I have no doubt that respecting a considerable value pluralism in society is a good thing and that a nomocratic regime that, mostly, leaves people alone is morally superior to a teleocratic regime that specifies and engineers the kinds of values that people should have. However, the project of showing that such a regime IS a good thing and IS morally superior is precisely the kind of thing that Gray decided was a failure.

Thus, I believe Gray himself sees clearly enough that a thoroughgoing “value pluralism” would mean that the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini is just as morally justified as the regime of Thomas Jefferson. Gray prefers liberalism (or its wreckage) for the very same reason that the deconstructionist philosopher Richard Rorty prefers his leftism: it is “ours” and “we” like it better. Why Gray, or Rorty, should think that they speak for the rest of “us” is a good question. ‘

and about providing a core to liberalism:

‘Why should the state need a “sufficient rational justificaton” to impose a certain set of values? The whole project of “rational justification” is what Gray, and earlier philosophers like Hume, gave up on as hopeless. All the state need do, which it has often done, is claim that its values are favored by the majority, by the General Will, by the Blood of the Volk, or by God, and it is in business.’

And that business can quickly lead to ever-greater intrusion into our lives:

‘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. ‘

Are libertarians the true classical liberals?  Much closer to our founding fathers?

Rainbows: Did the Unitarian Universalists get there first, with a mishmash of faith and secular humanism?

Strands of a New, New Left are likely forming out of the excesses of identitarianism. From anti-trans TERF feminists, to many anti-establishment, anti-Boomer types (anti- sisterhood of the travelling ‘bourgeois’ pantsuit criticism), the identity-center is probably not holding.

A new strand of radical chic is all about ‘it’s not race, it’s class’ traditional Marxism, combined with lots of Democratic Socialist sympathies (Bernie over so many ‘neo-liberal‘ sellouts).

Perhaps Tom Sowell’s ‘Black Rednecks and White Liberals‘ is worth revisiting, at least to break out of the white savior complex (which manisfests itself both in original Marxist class-warfare and current watered-down identity Marxism).

Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’

Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution

Related On This Site: From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

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”From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.… Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

One way out of multiculturalism and cultural relativism:

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

Love In The Time Of Brain-Scans-The Science Of Romantic Poets

How many post-Romantic, Modern and Postmodern hopes can be hung upon the coatrack of (S)cience?

Perhaps we’ll find out. Dear Reader, let me know if this is you:

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.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The full poem demonstrates where some Romantics and Moderns went wild and bad:

…loverhood
will swing your soul like a broken bell
deep in a forsaken wood…

We’re probably not as far from the below as you might think…the more you think about it:

LLOL (Loud Losers OnLine), Wikipedia, The Frontiers Of Knowledge With Spock, & Lawrence Krauss-Some Links

There are many reasons for the capture of existing and emergent communication platforms by loud voices and true believers.

Here are three I can think of:

  1. Liberation movements aren’t necessarily freedom movements-I suspect there is an inability of some secular humanists and liberals to realize their ideas have provenance, and limitations in reality. The knowledge transformations going on within many intellectual fields won’t necessarily translate to conceptualizations of ‘shoulds’ nor ‘oughts’ for all of ‘society.’ Don’t hold your breath expecting too much honor nor honest reflection regarding your politicians, either, especially when you give them bad incentives. One may find out well past a popular opinion, fervently held, how wrong many elements of that popular opinion have been. Also, radicals may simply come to destroy you last, or first.
  2. Attention feels good, especially when you’re not getting attention anywhere elseIt’s not all losers online, but the people with the most time on their hands, and/or the most reasons to be marginalized by everyone else, often gain the most through the time and distance shortening elements of online platforms. This can be quite a good thing, mobilizing talents and skills. This also partially explains the allure of ideology, identity politics, and the downstream dangers of political idealism (making political causes into morally virtuous crusades). Quite a bit of human activity boils down to resentment, jealousy, and the same human vanity, pride and prejudice there’s always been. A lot of religious doctrine, as I see the world, at least has foundational limiting principles when mobilizing human passions into direct political action (as if that were enough to prevent the worst abuses and cycles of dysfunction). Watch out for this stuff within yourself.
  3. The regression to the mean of human behavior as it appears on the new communication platforms. Do you remember Craigslist? It was the new want ads and a useful place to communicate. Many years later, it still serves some of these functions, but has regressed to an online flea market with the the usual stuff found in the alleyways of all marketplaces (scam artists, scoundrels, junkies, prostitutes and johns etc.)

On that note, I enjoyed this discussion with one of the co-founders of Wikipedia on how he views Wikipedia now. I do agree with him a movement towards internet decentralization is one way to go, is beginning to happen now, and could bring a lot of good.

Just a reminder, a lot of people don’t know what the f**k they’re talking about, and I could be one of them.

Dear Reader, I can’t help notice a tendency to offload the fear of our own demise into causes likely to outlive us. The sweet nectar of catastrophizing and doomsaying is…sweeter than the vengeful lust fueling Khan’s relentless quest to defeat James T. Kirk.

Add the patina of scientific authority by way of character acting, the dipshittery of celebrity…and:

***Chef’s Kiss:

***Note that the video will probably not have a link to the U.N., nor Wikipedia, nor any other semi-functional authority with the same ol’ design problems.

This is how I choose to remember Spock:

You had me at ‘diamond-quilted red velvet.’

Perhaps you’re thinking that’s a standard 1978 ‘Custom Star Trek ‘boogie’ van: The kind you might see parked at a ‘Bad Company‘ concert, or maybe pulling next to you at a stoplight, blasting Journey’s ‘Wheel In The Sky‘ or  Heart’s ‘Barracuda.’

The interior certainly conjures some ‘If This Van’s A Rockin’, Don’t Come A Knockin‘ sentiment.

Move-in a little closer, however, and that sweet exterior paint-job begins to reveal mysterious depths of the human condition.

No, I’d say someone involved here has the soul of a poet.

Is Spock in possession of that bare-chested space Amazonian?

Have we, the observers, already stumbled unawares into a supreme space drama unfolding in real time?  Some potential new danger calling-up our best selves to triumph as we too gaze to the horizon along with them…to the heavens…to Dairy Queen or the gas station…to that final frontier?

You try and learn from people, especially from people who know stuff you don’t.

Just ’cause you know about physics (theories grounded in evidence and experiences explaining all known evidence and experiences), doesn’t mean you know everything, but you do know some important things.

Using Politics To Change Minds Means Others Will Use Politics To Change Your Mind-A Few Links

-Alas, the Scientific American! From Darwinian Conservatism: Was Edward O. Wilson a Racist? Monica McLemore’s Fraudulent Claim. I expect such ignorance and radicalism, as well as more knowledgeable disagreement to occur, but just not to be given a voice in the Scientific American.

It is a failure of stewardship.

As to Islamic terrorism: The same problem regarding FBI policy moral equivocation (it’s all terrorism and who knows what Malik Faisal Akram’s motives were?) could lead to an uncomfortable question: What institutional downsides have come through doctrines of social change?

My skepticism in electing Obama came from what I regarded as the illusion that electing someone with African ancestry would actually bridge our history. Was our political apparatus and political class up for such a task? I don’t know another, better way, around this especially difficult problem, but here we are.

The views of the old Civil Rights Squad, from my point of view, are understandable, emerging from long history and direct experience. The injustice is bone-deep, and one need only read a little of the Harlem Renaissance, on civil disobedience, or listen to a majority of American popular music to share in it enough to generate understanding and fellow-feeling (you know, some of what a good humanities education is for). Such injustice creates pain, loss, anger and despair. Radical doctrines create promises of healing, belonging, targets of resentment and hope/purpose/explanations. Radical doctrines also mobilize this sentiment into direct political action.

The success of these ideas, and all ideas, really, should be judged on results, not intentions. Over-promising and under-delivering usually leads to more suffering. The poorest and weakest among us will generally suffer the most. Such ideas will be followed to their logical conclusions until enough people get tired of such reality, and make different choices.

Many wrongs, piled together, don’t necessarily make rights. These are deeper problems.

Here’s a poem that’s stayed with me all these years:

The Bean Eaters

They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.
Dinner is a casual affair.
Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,
Tin flatware.

Two who are Mostly Good.
Two who have lived their day,
But keep on putting on their clothes
And putting things away.

And remembering …
Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,
As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths, tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.

Gwendolyn Brooks