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’.”
“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.”
As I see things: When institutions are decayed, and stewardship involves addressing systemic problems with short-term incentives, and where technology pushes towards relentless ‘now’ bubbles and ‘moral crusades,’ you can end-up with a mess.
I remember watching the split in the conservative movement between the rising, populist Trump (border issues, economic growth, personal attacks and hucksterism) vs the Republican crowd (pro-Bush, pro-D.C., sometimes never Trump). If you think a small government is better precisely because it helps avoid such issues, you may feel like an individual lost in the wood, or a member of yet another competing faction jostling in a sweaty pit.
It’s mostly gotten worse.
I’m still bracing for a potential surge from the populist Left, against establishment politics. Obama often played the activism cards subtly (rule of law and sometimes anti rule of law with a lot of energy on controlling his image and placating different factions from a minority position). Joe Biden has been in D.C. for a few generations and is perilously old and grubby. We clearly have an institutional structure which likely reached its highest growth with peak Boomer influence (early to mid 70’s). It seems to have been calcifying ever since.
With general movements away from religion towards secularism, away from the family towards (S)elf, and away from Natural Rights/Law towards postmodernism and moral relativism, this wouldn’t be surprising. I figure we’re on currents heading towards a more hierarchical, ‘class-based’, slow-growth politics and economics, in the academy and media especially. The New Left (60’s surge), the New, New Left (identity movements), the dirtbag Left (glamorously nihilist), and the newer pro-speech Left (Weinsteins, Greenwald, Taibbi) are not particularly pro-Boomer.
I’m missing a lot, here, folks, but doing my best with current resources. Thanks, as always, for reading.
Horses I pleasurably beat: It’d have been nice if the old liberal guard within our universities had said something like ‘no‘ to many of the radicals roiling in front of them. ‘You are still required to read The Canterbury Tales by the 25th.’ ‘Also, you have to let other people think and speak.‘
This old nag: Many a rationalist, secular humanist, and liberal idealist likely believes that while activists get carried away, the cause is mostly just. Religion is still poisoning everything, and the new fields of knowledge can bear the weight of humanity’s ignorance, suffering and hope. Math + data + new social science research + applied policy + conventional wisdom through the academy and media = sufficient moral orthodoxy. The moral force of change against injustice can be directed into a liberal order all individuals can get behind (and not be ground under).
The Appaloosa is a proud breed. I’m skeptical of the view that marginalized people, the meekest and poorest among us, are generally served by the kind of inverse religious logic a radical Marxist employs, even as the Marxist goes too far. The prediction I hear from the liberal mainstream is this: Such malcontents can be kept below deck. (S)elf still comes first, but (S)elfhood will require allegiance to the old/new institutions as long as these are run by the right people with the right moral lights. In the control room, where the sea spreads before the best and brightest, (H)istory is capable of producing the right men to steer the Ship of State.
It’s odd to have those who conserve finding themselves out of conservation, wishing for the roiling and disruption of existing institutions, still while being called ‘Hitler.’
Populism is all around, and for good reasons.
More like a draft horse: The pipers calling are human nature, truth and reality. Can you hear the tune?
Many radical discontents exhibit the chaotic minds, troubled souls and controlling tendencies of the all-too-familiar religious zealot (always there amongst the pews). We still live in a world of limited resources and hard choices where life ain’t fair. Politics calls forth a few 1st-rate men but a majority of ambitious 2nd and 3rd raters who think they’re 1st-rate (a surprising number of scoundrels).
In lieu of an older, more religious American idealism, a new moral and moralizing force forms in the gaps, where old money gets co-opted by new zealots. A lot of change, very quickly, compels towards new rules and new authority.
This is coming from Left and Right, and the newer Lefts and newer Rights.
I guess I don’t trust any one man, (this is why we have our Constitutional constraints and separation of powers).
We’ll see about if my hope for better speech rules have been misplaced…
The previous two cents and two cents more gets you close to a nickel: Twitter as a platform is what it is (especially good at brief bursts of condensed information, data gathering, and disasters). It’s the kind of internal, open chat platform within a company, scaled more broadly. All you need is a device, free software to download, and voila, you’ve become a node on a vast network. This has advantages.
Communication, however, is obviously a pathetic prosthetic for human contact and real conversation. I suspect the people curating Twitter of playing a dumb, dumb game by favoring their favored biases (like all of us, to some extent) instead of just letting speech flourish.
So, what about the loss of manufacturing jobs in the U.S….and the rise of technology?:
‘Let’s talk about the social impact of these changes. Those stagnating median wages basically translate into a guy who had been working in the auto industry or the steel industry at $15 or $20 an hour but is now a very downwardly mobile checker at Walmart. So does the government have a role in protecting that kind of individual?’
At the moment, it’s tough to see where all the people who relied on clerical, manufacturing, textiles, etc. go…
And Thiel on higher education:
‘There’s an education bubble, which is, like the others, psychosocial. There’s a wide public buy-in that leads to a product being overvalued because it’s linked to future expectations that are unrealistic. Education is similar to the tech bubble of the late 1990s, which assumed crazy growth in businesses that didn’t pan out. The education bubble is predicated on the idea that the education provided is incredibly valuable. In many cases that’s just not true.’
And on parts of the problem, with some mention of Leo Strauss:
‘It’s a mistake to simply fixate on the problem of political correctness in its narrow incarnation of campus speech codes; it’s a much more pervasive problem. For instance, part of what fuels the education bubble is that we’re not allowed to articulate certain truths about the inequality of abilities.’
Perhaps that’s what makes Thiel lean libertarian; many people on the Left will likely only address the inequality of abilities through the pursuit of equality, usually through Statism. I suspect that political correctness isn’t going anywhere, and will simply become more entrenched in our institutions and drive political and social change. It’s in the interest of many people backing it to do so.
It can be pretty interesting and make for good content.
The individual travels alone or with small groups (usually with a camera), trespassing through city-scapes and abandoned buildings as though they were archeological ruins. Breaking the law or possibly breaking the law is part of the appeal.
Perhaps such folks are traveling as well through their own imaginations, romanticizing themselves as transgressive outsiders; inviting viewers on a mythic, imaginative quest, where some camaraderie, historical meaning and beauty are to be found.
It certainly comes with the risk and rewards newer platforms can offer.
Maybe they could just be figuring out how things work and how infrastructure is built, too. And where the margins are.
Naturally, one impulse expressed here is the desire for group membership and meaning. Like kids who’ve found something new and cool to do, some recognition is desired from others or from society at large, even if it’s tinged with the negative.
Along with many other genres (documentaries are a glaring example), I tend to believe that if a group gathers behind a cause (ideological/political) and seeks to confirm a pre-existing belief, this doesn’t necessarily mean everyone gets along, nor is persuaded, nor agrees on matters of deeper principle.
It can lead to fracture, art and politics mixing in unholy union, and a public square where moralizing abounds (Dear Reader, have you heard about ‘The Message‘).
Readers will know I tend to think some of this is a sign of a newer, more anarchic/nihilistic individualism manifesting within our culture. The failures of many older relationships and institutional arrangements have created a lot of space.
Welcome to it.
Don’t you want to live in Austin, or Boulder, or Portland, or Williamsburg, Brooklyn?
Don’t you want to live and compete with the best in an outward facing American city like San Francisco or New York, or maybe even an international city if you can manage it?
What about the downsides (political leadership/corruption/crime/high and low)?
Don’t you want to live in Salt Lake City, or some small town with a church and organized civic life? Don’t you just want order, relative peace, obligations and decency?
‘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.
‘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.
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:
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.
Attention feels good, especially when you’re not getting attention anywhere else–It’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.
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:
***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.
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.’
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.
Bhattacharya’s view of the potential Covid-19 end-game: Everyone’s likely to get the disease, and you may even end-up getting it twice. It will circulate like the flu.
In the meantime, for your consideration: Get vaxed, and/or accept the much, much higher risk of severe illness and harm against the much lower risk of vaccine damage. The older you are, and the more co-morbidities you have, the more risk you carry. The goal is to reduce the severity of the disease upon first contact. Try not to get it, but deal with risk appropriately, balancing your interests accordingly. If you get it, increase your odds to get over it with as little loss as possible.
Of note: This logic runs counter to many current political and bureaucratic incentives to contain the disease, claim credit for current institutional authority and outcomes, or write it off altogether. A lot of people are heavily invested (personally, emotionally, identity-wise, money-wise, career-wise and ideologically etc.) in all kinds of stuff.
Unfortunately, the disease has coincided with our crises of instutional authority.
‘Interesting times’ indeed…what’s your strategy?
My dead horse: If you accept that (S)cience only gives you a method and a process for arriving at truth, you’re a lot closer to living reasonably than not. Such ideas can be life-altering enough.
A caveat: If you find (S)cience to be a source of moral worth and political identity, suffusing you within the warm glow of belonging, you’ve probably missed a lot of the plot.
I expect a lot of scientists, many ‘rationalists’ and many New Atheists to continually become disappointed with human nature, the depth of ignorance found therein, and the incentives of politics and bureaucratic authority. Sooner or later, folks find themselves exasperated with the ideological zealot demanding to be heard from the back pews, claiming ideological certainty from a position of emotional righteousness.
So, put this method of knowing and arriving at truth in its proper place, and appreciate just how wonderful and useful it is. Integrate it and pursue it with respect. Have some courage when it’s needed. Know that it will always have skeptics and enemies, too.
—On that note:
How about we reclaim a good Humanities education?
Trying to ‘nudge’ good ol’ classical liberals back to sources of moral philosophy which prevent ideological takeover?
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.
“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.”
“And since there is no cogent justification for women’s studies that does not dwell upon the subject’s ideological purpose, the entire curriculum in the humanities began to be seen in ideological terms.”
Terry Eagleton, British Marxist and professor in the humanities, debates Scruton below.
Will Marxism & continental philosophy become further guiding lights for the humanities here in America as we find much more so in Britain?
The nihilist claims are deeper than you may think, and the Nietzschean, and Will–>Will to Power German influence is also deeper than most people think; offering profound criticisms of the scientific project, liberalism, liberal institutions, and a secular humanism which is the air many folks breathe these days.
Here’s a somewhat similar vein of thought. From friesian.com:
Although Anglo-American philosophy tended to worship at the feet of science, the drift of academia to the left has led to characteristically totalitarian political attacks on science itself — this despite the leftist program to use “climate science” to impose a Sovietized command economy on energy and the tactic to smear climate skeptics, i.e. “Deniers,” through associaton with Creationism or Neo-Nazi Holocaust denial. None of that has stopped the “post-modern” move…’
Somewhere up in the clouds of Venus, there’s Phosphine [possibly]. So far, there’s no known naturally occurring reason for this, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. On Earth, when bacteria farts in our guts and in swamps, that’s when you get Phosphine. I’ll bet it smells nice.
Maybe in those clouds of sulfuric acid, racing above surface temperatures high-enough to melt lead, there’s some ammonia? Maybe this ammonia is neutralizing the cloud PH balance enough for some kind of bacteria to survive?
These are questions to which a little exploration can provide answers.
You know the moment you notice that the world has fallen away for awhile? You’re leisurely enjoying a photograph, or a painting, or a poem…
‘In the critical terminology of the time, Ghirri’s close-up photographs of the details of atlases and other maps question the link between signifier and signified, referring to a supposedly ‘natural’ environment that has long since become a simulacrum, and revealing the specific aesthetics harboured within ‘objective’ representation.’
The NIGHT of the BLURB! It’s postmodern, it’s (S)elf referential, it’s….alive. It’s dead. It’s…subjectivity and objectivity combined!
And now for a ‘modern’ poem.
The Snow Man
One must have a mind of winter To regard the frost and the boughs Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time To behold the junipers shagged with ice, The spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think Of any misery in the sound of the wind, In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land Full of the same wind That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow, And, nothing himself, beholds Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
‘It is not that the average person is not concerned about the environment. Everyone weighs the balance of economic gain against a respect for nature. It is only the truly affluent, however, who can be concerned about the environment to the exclusion of everything else.‘
On this analysis, It’s the people who’ve benefitted most from industrial activity that are using their wealth and leisure to promote an ideology that is ultimately harmful to industrial activity, and the people who live by it. Tucker has been following how such ideas actually translate into public policy and political organization for a while. Tucker also invokes Thorstein Veblen, and highlights how environmentalism can make for strange political bedfellows:
‘But the Keystone Pipeline has brought all this into focus. As Joel Kotkin writes in Forbes, Keystoneis the dividing line of the “two Americas,” the knowledge-based elites of the East and West Coasts in their media, non-profit and academic homelands (where Obama learned his environmentalism) and the blue-collar workers of the Great In- Between laboring in agriculture, mining, manufacturing, power production and the exigencies of material life.’
Aside from the political and sociological analysis, I would offer that there are many to whom environmentalism serves as a kind of religion (or at least a political and organizational entity offering purpose and membership, as a religion has a pretty particular definition).
On this view, man has fallen away from Nature, and built civilized society atop it through harmful, unsustainable means. He must atone, and get back in harmony with Nature, as he has alienated himself from his once graceful state (tribal? romantically primitive? collectively just? equal and fair? healthy? “spiritually aware?” morally good?). This obviously gives meaning to people’s lives, a purpose, belonging and group identity as well as a political and secularly moral political platform. A majority of these folks are almost always anti-industrial, and it’s worthy of note how environmentalism has grown in our schools, marketplace, and in the public mind.
It’s often tough to tell where the sciences end (and they are often invoked to declare knowledge that is certain, or near-certain, and worthy of action) and where a certain political philosophy (usually more communal, politically Left, Statist…regulatory, centrally planned economically) begins.
What say you?
Nuclear makes a lot of sense, but so does recognizing all the rather lost souls looking for some purpose in their lives, and making activism their purpose.
“Only when humans are again permitted to build authentic urbanism — those cities, towns, and villages that nurture us by their comforts and delights — will we cease the despoiling of Nature by escaping to sprawl.”
How to separate reasonable environmentalism from the totalitarian impulses, the Malthusians and various other people who “know” how many people is enough? Now that environmentalism is a primary focus in our schools, it’s probably worth thinking about.
If you visit my Twitter feed, you’ll quickly realize the genius of Peace Pavilion West, a global peace raft overseen by a strong authority. Join us, fellow human (this is very serious business):
Who shall hear our cries? Gaia, Gaia. Who shall heal her wounds? We shall. We shall. Who shall clean our air? The Western Wind. -Community Morning Prayer from The Human Pagoda. Namaste, NPR.