Political Idealism, Bureaucracy & Ideological Capture-Some Stray Links Have Escaped The Public’s Network Of Attention

From The Spiked Review of Books: ‘Rescuing The Enlightentment From Its Exploiters

Hmmmm….

While the Enlightenment, ‘one of the most important shifts in the history of man’ as one recent account put it, has certainly had its detractors, who blame it for anything from the Holocaust to soulless consumerism, it now also has a veritable army of self-styled heirs. Militant secularists, New Atheists, advocates of evidence-based policy, human rights champions… each constituency in their turn will draw justification from the intellectual emanations of that period beginning roughly towards the end of the seventeenth century and culminating – some say ending – in the 1789 French Revolution and its aftermath. And each in their turn will betray it.

If you turn all your hopes to the salvation of (M)ankind or (H)umanity, while dealing with the same old human nature, you’re bound to run into problems.

It’s not merely doing Social Science, per se, but taking the benighted walk from Ivory Tower to Senate Hearing which probably animates many passions.

One criticism I’ve found useful (but about whose postmodern roots I do worry): Ignore those violent anarchists and anti-fascists, they’re doing the work of (M)an.

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.’

Jerry Pournelle’s (R.I.P.) Iron Law of Bureaucracy:

‘Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people”:

 First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.’

From friesian.com, the Practical Rules of Bureaucracy.  Within Governmental and Corporate Bureaucracies, responsiveness and competence are not what you necessarily get.

  1. Spend Your Budget
  2. Fail:  ‘Screw up, move up’
  3. Cover Your Ass
  4. Replace Useful Work with Useless Work
  5. Multiply Procedures and Paperwork
  6. Pass the Buck
  7. Join the Union
  8. Jerk People Around
  9. Preserve Your Anonymity

Thomas Sowell used to work in Chelsea, apparently, for Western Union.  He’d sometimes take the 5th avenue bus back up to Harlem, on 5th Avenue for a while, and wonder why there was such inequality from neighborhood to neighborhood.

Marxism seemed like a good explanation while he was in his 20’s.

During that time he went to work for the Department Of Agriculture in D.C. He discovered that in thinking of empirical tests designed to measure if the Departments’ own policies were working and solving the actual problems they claimed to solve, such thinking about results over intentions were…..not welcomed.

Book here.

“The purpose of bureaucracy is to devise a standard operating procedure which can cope effectively with most problems.  A bureaucracy is efficient if the matters which it handles routinely are, in fact, the most frequent and if its procedures are relevant to their solution.  If those criteria are met, the energies of the top leadership are freed to deal creatively with the unexpected occurrence or with the need for innovation.  Bureaucracy becomes an obstacle when what it defines as routine does not address the most significant range of issues or when its prescribed mode of action proves irrelevant to the problem.”

and:

“Moreover, the reputation, indeed the political survival, of most leaders depends on their ability to realize their goals, however these may have been arrived at.  Whether these goals are desireable is relatively less crucial.”

Kissinger, Henry. American Foreign Policy:  Three Essays.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc.  1969.

***Bonus-One of the ‘-Isms’ we’re bound to get is ‘Safety-ism,’ which seems to run as follows:

This poor class/group of people is oppressed by the ‘system.’ It’s ‘systems’ all the way down. These oppressed peoples are good-hearted and will be welcomed into our political vision of Democracy, Equality and Peace

Wait….what? There’s still rape, robbery, gangs and murder? Impossible!

Defund the police and get the budget for another 10,000 street cameras and activity monitoring online. We’ll have another hearing…:

There Are So Many Ways To Do Better-Philosophy & Humanities 101

In light of the rather pathetic and predictable news out of the University Of Chicago’s English Department:

“For the 2020-2021 graduate admissions cycle, the University of Chicago English Department is accepting only applicants interested in working in and with Black Studies,” the program said in a statement on its website.

In light of the rather pathetic and predictable news out of the University of Edinburgh. They’ve renamed Hume Tower (after arch-empiricist David Hume and one of the greats) at the University of Edinburgh.

Some academics stood up to the administration and the decision:

The letter’s signatories include several of the university’s most respected academics, including Professor Sir Tom Devine, Scotland’s pre-eminent historian, Dr Michael Rosie, senior lecturer in sociology, Lindsay Paterson, professor of education policy, and Jonathan Hearn, professor of political and historical sociology.

During my humanities education, I developed an increasing suspicion of the postmodern rejection of tradition, rules, laws, rituals and beliefs, at least with regard to reading, writing and thinking.  In engaging with some dull, and other absolutely mesmerizing, works of the creative imagination, I realized many of my own rituals and beliefs were being challenged. There are many experiences, and views, and ways to understand both myself and the world.

This is a good reason to get a good education!

It also slowly dawned on me that the lack of pedagogy, endless deconstructionist academic discussions, canon-less syllabi and increasing identitarian drift (is this person a professor because he/she’s the best poet/teacher or because he/she’s black/female or some mix of both?) were a problem.

A lot of this aimlessness and rebellion had ramped-up in the 1960’s, but since then, I’ve come to understand there are even deeper problems.

I aim to be open-minded, but not so much as to notice my brains falling out.

More here.

Link sent in by a reader.

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.”

Quite importantly:

“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?

See Protein Wisdom for a discussion about language and intentionalism, and how it gets deployed.

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

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…’

Alas, this blog has been writing about such issues for over a decade, and I’ve been thinking about them for more than two decades:  Should You Bother To Get A Liberal Arts Education? Allan Bloom, Camille Paglia and Anthony Kronman

Repost-From Scientific Blogging: ‘The Humanities Are In Crisis-Science Is Not’

Click here for a quite a varied discussion of Allan Bloom’s surprise 1987 bestseller: ‘The Closing Of The American Mind

Repost-From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Civil Right logic, and protest alone, isn’t likely deep enough to prevent against ideological capture: Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

How might this relate to the Heglian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Via Youtube-‘Week 2 Leo Strauss-The Three Waves Of Modernity’

Repost-Michael Totten: ‘The Ghost Of Communism In Asia’ And A Few Thoughts

More from Michael Totten on his then trip to Vietnam:

‘Vietnam’s one-party state, despite being much more relaxed than it used to be, still spends hours each day broadcasting bullshit into everyone’s ears whether they like it or not. I couldn’t help laughing at the absurdity.’

It’s good to start off your day with a little propaganda, comrade.

———————

I occasionally visit Left Bank Books here in Seattle, and gaze out upon the river of ideology floating by: Worker’s Rights handbooks, oppressed victimhood guides, queer-theory radicalism, Gramsci, Chomsky, and Adorno. Perhaps in some small way, as Totten may have experienced in North Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam, seeing so much in one place can crystallize one’s thoughts.

A lot of the lesser streams in the mainstream media can make more sense after these little visits:  The current progressive activism, red and pink populism, feminism and more radical feminism, environmentalism and radical environmentalism, excessive and ideological egalitarians and communal types, gray ponytails, fringe radical individualists and anarchists….and on and on.

For all the talk of China, it’s important not to forget how recent the Great Leap Forward was, and why many in the Western media still seem attracted to the authoritarian imposition of high-speed rail and economic Statism found there.

Such affinity for top-down impulses isn’t so liberal, really.

I’m guessing if some people get their way, after the erosion of much that keeps us free and responsible, and after some radically individual and anarchic void were actually to be created, it wouldn’t be the secular liberal moralists, humanists, lost-in-the-wood liberals and bien-pensants which would necessarily fill it.

For all that, I’m thinking a continued danger in the U.S is still just European and Californian cultural drift: Bureaucracy and bloat. A larded-up, over-promising, under-delivering group of techno and bureau-crats regenerating from a privileged class up-top, and a base that’s always in need of saving according to their lights.

Feel free to highlight my ignorance.

***Thanks to everyone who’s stopped by over the years, and so as the blog bends with the times, I try never to break with principle.

Even if you don’t comment or email, it’s appreciated.

On This Site See: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty” …The End Of History?: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Michael Totten At World Affairs: ‘The Once Great Havana’

Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”

Repost-How Much Am I Missing? Two Old Response Tweets To The Atlantic And Readers Of Popular Publications Swaying In The Wind Like Fields Of Ripe Corn

Here are two response tweets to The Atlantic’s edition two years ago, and I’m probably not alone in thinking it’s hard to take some people seriously, though it’s probably important to take them as seriously as they take themselves.

This is serious business!

And:

I’m guessing a lot of Atlantic readers have expressed shock at the relative loss of political influence and structural stability they’ve experienced since the election of Trump.  But as I see things, despite Trump’s many faults, accepting the claims of radical activists, critical theorists and postmodern types, is a structural failure of liberal idealism, leading us to become a lot more like Europe.

Below is a previous tweet and a poem from T.S. Eliot.

I’ve long been thinking both the Arts & Sciences could use better stewardship and popular representation. I remain skeptical that many current conceptions of ‘The Self’ and that their immediate liberation are imminent. At least, such ideas seem to have been deeply oversold.

Rather, I see a lot of new rules emergent from the latest moral ideas, many of the same old ideas active in the field of play, and a lot more people ecouraged to join political coalitions under political ideals in order to express very basic human desires.

Many things regarding human nature and human affairs aren’t apt to change that much, I suppose.

Ah, well:

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.”

T.S. Eliot

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Messianic, Manichean and Millenarian-Peter Hitchens, James Lindsay & The Late Ken Minogue-Some Links

If you have an ideology, a loosely connected set of doctrines and ideas, built upon revolutionary ‘praxis’ and radical liberation, you also have a place to put your moral sentiments and judgments about reality and the world.

Where your thoughts go, so tend to go your habits, character and beliefs.  You are cleared to act in the world.

Human beings, likely at the structural level, require profound concepts to make sense of reality and the world, as well as our own sensory apparatus, emotions and desires.

Messianic, Manichean and Millenarian doctrines of revolutionary praxis and liberation (moral, sexual, political), generally propose tearing down everything which exists, usually towards the aim of liberation, without necessarily replacing our current institutions with anything.

This is fine if you don’t mind generally dysfunctional institutions, more easily exerting unaccountable power (fulfilling the prophecy).

Some people in the modern world are following ideas which haven’t addressed the hard problems of maintaining moral legitimacy in positions of authority, nor reasonable mastery of one’s (S)elf and the passions, creating adult human beings.

Peter Hitchens used to be a Bolshevik, and his late brother Christopher Hitchens a Trotskyist (I’m speculating that some gruesome family tragedy might be at play).

Such youthful radicalism has tilted him back towards religious conservatism in Britain:

Failure to recognize these deep human problems, at the personal and political levels, and the consquences of the ideas in play, are, what I see as a failure of many custodians of our current institutions.

The Human Nature and Nature problems are still in play, such as they always have been.

James Lindsay helps to clarify some intellectual strands of the radical, revolutionary, and more pedestrian postmodern types, and how such thinkers and ideas are exerting pressure upon all of us.

Why do antifa members believe they have the right to justified violence, and how has the space for them in civil society been created and supported at the highest levels?:

Is conservatism an ideology in the same way?

Where might the symmetries lie?

On That Liberal Project And Many Nihilist Claims Against It-Some Links To Fukuyama And John Gray

Aris Roussinos makes the case for Fukuyama’s ‘The End Of History And The Last Man‘ in:

Why Fukuyama was right all along:

In The Last Man, the under-discussed addendum to The End of History, Fukuyama took his intellectual cues from Nietzsche rather than Hegel, observing that “it is impossible to complete our present discussion without refer­ring to the creature who reportedly emerges at the end of history, the last man,” a creature who is, “in essence, the victorious slave”. With all his demands met and material wants assuaged, will the last man be content at last, pausing the endless revolving wheel of history?

This blog has applied a Straussian approach (reason/revelation distinction) to question the Hegelian–>Marxist–>post-Marxist (via Alexander Kojeve) view that (H)istory in fact should be conceptualized as Hegelians do, and can claim to be known, as many have.

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

The (H)istoricist approach tends to lead to an ever-expanding bureaucratic state, importing many problems much German philosophical idealism has had in conceptualizing God in the face of Englightenment claims to truth and knowledge, Nature, Man in Nature, and perhaps even the fact that Germans rather enjoy fighting, and the piety of ‘we’ Germans.

On that note, as posted, on the profound and what I’d call ‘Will’ tradition nihilist skepticism of modernity, progress and high liberalism, as Simon Blackburn also reviews John Gray’s new book ‘Seven Types Of Atheism

Blackburn on the book:

‘After this taxonomy the book is largely an indictment of misguided thinkers and writers since the Enlightenment, peppered with discreditable stories from their biographies. The examples are sad enough, and Gray uses them to support a general pessimism about human beings altogether, other people being just as bad as religionists. Woe to those who think that things have been or could be improved! Eventually the list becomes reminiscent of Monty Python’s “What have the Romans ever done for us?” substituting the Enlightenment for the Romans. We are all lying in the gutter, and the right things to look at are not the stars above, but the rubbish all around us. The only thing we progress towards is death’

If you’re interested, the below are from past related posts on this site:

Thomas Nagel review of John Gray’s previous book, ‘The Silence Of Animals,’ here.

Simon Critchley reviewed the book at the L.A. Times.

Nagel starts with:

‘John Gray’s “Silence of Animals” is an attack on humanism. He condemns this widely accepted secular faith as a form of delusional self-flattery.’

and:

The question Gray poses is of fundamental importance, so one wishes the book were better. It is not a systematic argument, but a varied collection of testimonies interspersed with Gray’s comments.’

Clearly humanism could use more serious critics and pushback.

Nagel finishes with:

‘Gray thinks the belief in progress is fueled by humanists’ worship of “a divinized version of themselves.” To replace it he offers contemplation: “Contemplation can be understood as an activity that aims not to change the world or to understand it, but simply to let it be.” Though he distinguishes this from the ideal of mystical transcendence toward a higher order of being, it, too, seems more like a form of escape than a form of realism. Hope is a virtue, and we should not give it up so easily.’

Gray discusses the book below.

While science may proceed and real progress is taking place, in the realms of ethics and politics, Gray suggests things are learned but they don’t stay learned.

Are we rational beings? Rational animals?

Also On This Site: Francis Fukuyama, a neconservative up until the Iraq War or so, student of Huntington’s, and author off The End Of History, has a view that modernization and Westernization are more closely united.  Yet Fukuyama envisions a Western State which has an endpoint that the minds of men might be able to know.   This breaks with Karl Marx’s end point of Communism rising from the ashes of capitalism, is more Hegelian via Alexander Kojeve in Paris, and advocates for a State that ought to be bigger than it is now in the U.S.  This requires a more moral bureaucratic class to lead us here at home and perhaps an almost one worlder-ish type Super-Government for all.  Can you see limited government, life, liberty and property from here?:  From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s WorkFrom The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel HuntingtonFrom Foreign Affairs Via The A & L Daily: ‘Conflict Or Cooperation: Three Visions Revisited’

Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen have plans for America and India to address some of the corruption there, and it may involve much more state involvement here in America by extension.  Amartya Sen In The New York Review Of Books: Capitalism Beyond The CrisisMartha Nussbaum On Eliot Spitzer At The Atlanta Journal-Constitution..
Liberalism has plans for you and me, and supremely abstract ideals which would bind us together: Martha Nussbaum At The Chronicle Of Higher Education Responding To The 10th Anniversary Of 09/11: ‘Justice’

Do we try and invest in global institutions as flawed as they are…upon a Kantian raft?:  Daniel Deudney On YouTube Responding to Robert Kagan: Liberal Democracy Vs. Autocracy

The ‘Ism’quisition May Yet Come For You, Wearing Something Like A Secular, Technicolor Dreamcoat-Some Links & Thoughts On Andrew Sullivan & California

Coleman Hughes links to Ben Smith’s piece on Andrew Sullivan:

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.’

Don’t speak against the orthodoxy, now:

Andrew Sullivan on the ‘1619’ project, at the NY Times:

‘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:

Full piece here.

Essay here.

There’s something almost religious about the way some people go about pursuing their non-religious ideas.

Ken Minogue framed it thusly:

‘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.’

And:

‘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 other forms 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 not sure how many pronouncements I might make. A bunch of readers write to Rod Dreher:

‘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.

Here’s Tom Wolfe, referring to Californians in this piece by Michael Anton:

‘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!

Update And Repost-From The Spiked Review Of Books: ‘Delving Into The Mind Of The Technocrat’

Dream big: Via Reason: ‘California’s Public Transportation Sinkhole’

A great city deserves great art extravaganzas…: L.A.’s New Public Art Piece ‘The Levitated Mass,’ Or As The American Interest Puts It: ‘A Moving Rock’

Richard Epstein At The Hoover Institution’s Defining Ideas: ‘California’s Kafkaesque Rent Control Laws’

California Dreamers From The Atlantic-A Brief Review Of Kevin Starr’s History Of California

The people who promise solutions to poverty and homlessness seem to be engaged in a utopian cost-shifting exercise which favors their interests and overlooks crime, violence and personal responsbility…hardly a way to balance the budget: Repost-Heather MacDonald At The City Journal: ‘The Sidewalks Of San Francisco’

Some concentrated wealth on top, a stalled legislature with members who know how to play the game…and a service sector beneath…that probably can’t go on forever: …From The WSJ: ‘Joel Kotkin: The Great California Exodus’

 

Repost–Romancing The Stones-Your Day In The Barrel: A Few Links On Roger Scruton & The Lottery

Roger Scruton (R.I.P.) discussed being recently misrepresented in the pages of a major publication, effectively purging him from an unpaid government architectural committee job.

So it was, and so it is:

Tim Hunt was a witch. Larry Summers, briefly became a witch.

Come to think of it, Charles Murray and the Middlebury College administrator he rode in on.

Definitely witches:

On a semi-related note, a reader points out that a major flaw in utilitarian logic (attached to probably the most comprehensive moral liberal philosophy thought and written) might find some expression in Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery.

Dear Reader, I’m not entirely persuaded while skimming Jackson’s story. The townsfolk didn’t necessarily have stated reasons for their collective act, other than ‘this is the way we’ve always done things.’ That’s kind of the point, which is to say people don’t always have have good points for long-established traditions, but many rocks do.

The people claiming sound reasons and empirical evidence for creating national seatbelt laws to save the lives of X number of citizens had, well, a lot of empirical evidence. One visualization technique, as I understand it, to aid in this particular critique of utilitarian logic involves building a machine in the town square, which will, with good evidence, save about twenty lives a year.

The problem is you’ve got to feed one person into it every year.

This machine is working for other towns, though. In fact, it’s so important it’s become law for all towns. Regional machines will be necessary. Have you guys visited The Machine in D.C.?

Thousands saved.

Come to think of it, maybe I could see the selection process being somewhat akin to what occurred in The Lottery. People haven’t changed much and most of the village elders run on how well The Machine is run.

It’s just a new tradition.

Sound logic?

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

Charles Murray’s Account Of The Middlebury College Affair

Link To Roger Scruton’s First Of Three Charles Test Lectures Hosted By Princeton University

From The Internet Encyclopedia Of Knowledge: Immanuel Kant And Utilitarianism

Institutional Capture, Old Money Piles & Poetry-What Is Poetry For, Exactly? Some Links On Elizabeth Alexander

Alas, the Mellon Foundation?

‘Elizabeth Alexander never expected to go into philanthropy. Now she’s in her third year as the president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the largest supporter of the humanities and the arts in the U.S., where she’s quickly applied her vision to foster a more just society.’

Via Mellon’s Website bio, regarding Alexander’s work at the Ford Foundation:

‘There, she co-designed the Art for Justice Fund—an initiative that uses art and advocacy to address the crisis of mass incarceration—and guided the organization in examining how the arts and visual storytelling can empower communities.’

I like the idea that poems are actually not supposed to engage you in direct action, neither political, nor personal.  They usually take some work to understand, but they can come alive on the tongue and live like wisdom in the brain for years.

As posted:

Adam Kirsch On Elizabeth Alexander’s Bureaucratic Verse

Kirsch was not so impressed with the 2009 inauguration ceremony nor Elizabeth Alexander’s use of poetry to commerorate political power:

‘In our democratic age, however, poets have always had scruples about exalting leaders in verse. Since the French Revolution, there have been great public poems in English, but almost no great official poems. For modern lyric poets, whose first obligation is to the truth of their own experience, it has only been possible to write well on public themes when the public intersects, or interferes, with that experience–when history usurps privacy.’

Also, as posted:

A reader sends a link to a SF Gate review of poet Jorie Graham’s ‘Sea Change:

‘In “Sea Change,” Graham becomes Prospero, casting spells by spelling out her thoughts to merge with ours, and with the voices of the elements. The result is a mingling of perceptions rather than a broadcasting of opinions. Instead of analysis, the poems encourage emotional involvement with the drastic changes overwhelming us, overwhelming the planet.’

and:

‘Strengths and weaknesses, flows and ebbs, yet every poem in “Sea Change” bears memorable lines, with almost haunting (if we truly have but 10 years to “fix” global warming) images of flora and fauna under siege. Jorie Graham has composed a swan song for Earth.’

And still also more on institutional capture and old piles of money, as posted:

Full review here.

Jack Shakely on Ken Stern:

‘Ken Stern knows an awful lot about nonprofits, having spent the better part of a decade as chief operating officer, then president of NPR, one of the best-known, and controversial, nonprofits in America.’

Charity has limits.

This blog likes to keep an eye on NPR, as they’re a child of the 60’s, and but for the work of LBJ’s Great Society lobbying to include ‘radio’ in the Public Television Act of 1967, they might not be around. Many NPR stories, in reaching out to the wider world, often return to the touchstones of feminism, environmentalism and some form of diversity multiculturalism. Amidst high standards for journalism and production values lies the tendency towards positive definitions of equality, justice and peace. They tend to assume their ideals are your ideals as they filter new input from the world.

In turn, many feminists, environmentalists, and multiculturalists/activists rely on foundation money and/or private donations, and/or public institutions, for survival. They aim for broad definitions of the public good, and seek to influence both the culture and political outcomes.

Everyone’s starting a non-profit these days:

‘The ability to survive, even thrive, with programs that have been proven not to work is just one of the many oddities ‘With Charity for All’ documents in the topsy-turvy, misunderstood, and mostly ignored world of nonprofits’

Non-profits have become big business, partially following the ‘greatness model’ that worked so well for the boomers, when the getting was good. Unfortunately, there are limits to any model, and we’ve got serious economic issues and a lot of political dysfunction. The money has to come from somewhere.

Shakely again:

‘To clean up the messy nonprofit landscape, Stern offers some suggestions that are sure to cause concern in some nonprofit quarters, including increased government oversight, increasing the application fee to cover the cost of better IRS review and, most radical of all, putting a life span on the charitable status afforded nonprofits, then requiring a renewal after a certain period of time (maybe 10 years). It’s an admirable goal, but in a sector where the stated goal of private foundations is self-preservation and “once a charity; always a charity,” is the mantra, it ain’t gonna happen. Stern knows this, of course, but it doesn’t stop him from asking this and many other valid questions about a sector that is loath to engage in self-evaluation’

It may be as simple as following the money.

On Stern’s third point, putting a life span on the charitable status afforded nonprofits, Stern might agree with David Horowitz, of all people. He’s a red-diaper baby, an ex-Marxist activist cum anti-Leftist, anti-Communist crusader. Making foundations and constantly agitating is what he knows how to do.

He had a then a new book out entitled: ‘The New Leviathan, How The Left Wing Money-Machine Shapes American Politics And Threatens America’s Future

Horowitz argues that such foundations as Ford (which donates to NPR) have become vehicles for the interests of political activists, portraying the matter of as a fight between capitalism/anti-capitalism and/or socialism. He mentions the Tides foundation here. They are big money, he points out, and Obama’s political career was largely made possible by activist political organization, and the money and manpower behind them:

——————–

Stern and Horowitz potentially agreeing on some regulation of non-profits makes for strange bedfellows. Obama, true to form, was seeking a permanent form of activism. Activists, and the political idealists with whom they often find common cause, often don’t produce anything of value independently, and must rely upon existing institutions for their support.

It’s worth thinking about who wants to be in charge, and why, and what that means for everyone else. Following the money never hurts, and it’s a necessary evil, just a politics is. If you tend to agree with the ideals, you tend to focus on the sausage, not how it’s getting made.

This blog wants to focus on what keeps our society open, healthy and dynamic, and what maintains our political and economic freedoms. The pie ought to be growing.

It’s 1968 all over again, see Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic: That Party At Lenny’s…

Related On This Site: A Few Thoughts On NPR And Current Liberal Establishment Thinking Under Obama

Race And Free Speech-From Volokh: ‘Philadelphia Mayor Suggests Magazine Article on Race Relations Isn’t Protected by the First Amendment’

Jack Shafer At Slate: ‘Nonprofit Journalism Comes At A Cost’From NPR: Grants To The NEA To Stimulate The Economy?…We’re already mixing art and politics, so…How Would Obama Respond To Milton Friedman’s Four Ways To Spend Money?

A Few Thoughts On Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest: “Why Blue Can’t Save The Inner Cities Part I”

The market will make people better off, but always leaves them wanting more and in a state of spiritual malaise, which invites constant meddling. Can economic freedom and free markets reconcile the moral depth of progressive big-State human freedom: Milton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Ken Burns makes a good documentary, but he’s also arguing he absolutely needs your tax dollars in service of what he assumes to be a shared definition of the “common good” as he pursues that art. The market just can’t support it otherwise. Repost-From ReasonTV Via Youtube: ‘Ken Burns on PBS Funding, Being a “Yellow-Dog Democrat,” & Missing Walter Cronkite’From NPR: Grants To The NEA To Stimulate The Economy?…We’re already mixing art and politics, so…
….here’s a suggestion to keep aesthetic and political judgements apart-Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment
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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.New liberty away from Hobbes?: From Public Reason: A Discussion Of Gerald Gaus’s Book ‘The Order of Public Reason: A Theory of Freedom And Morality In A Diverse And Bounded World’…Richard Rorty tried to tie postmodernism and trendy leftist solidarity to liberalism, but wasn’t exactly classically liberal: Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

 

Theodore Dalrymple On Making Graffiti Saints & Some Past Links-(M)an’s Ends

A longer-term, skeptical position held by this blog:  Attaching one’s sentiments and beliefs to certain ideological doctrines (Marxism, Socialism, Communism), leads toward violent revolution.

Many (H)istorical truth and knowledge claims, with an Enlightened elite claiming to possess knowledge of (M)an’s ends, have proven disastrous.

Attaching one’s sentiments and beliefs to socially liberal political ideals, claiming the mantle of moral progress (environmentalism, feminism, identitarianism, racism/non-racism), leads toward competing political factions.  Politics is, by its nature, coalitional and factional.

Universal truth and knowledge claims, coming from the (S)ciences and Social (S)ciences, or simply from many political idealists, unite some and divide others.

This can often lead to pretty bad outcomes for poor folks.

Dear Reader, what am I missing?

Here’s Theodore Dalrymple on using the social sciences as imprimatur, turning George Floyd into something like a grafitti saint. There’s always an ‘expert’ to be found, ready to justify the activist cause as virtuous and ‘normative’, reagrdless of the actual person and events.

An Orgy Of Self-Righteous Sentiment:

‘Blood does not boil without moral judgment, whether right or wrong. In other words, the passage I have quoted about prejudice and stigma is at best self-delusion; the author, unintentionally no doubt, for he is probably a kindly and well-intentioned man, is a corrupter of morals.

He presents himself as a man free of prejudice, but no one is, could or should be, free of prejudice. He clearly has a prejudice himself against prejudice and stigma, as if these were wholly bad and never good; but surely the most cursory self-examination would demonstrate to him that this is not so. One of the reasons one tries to be good, for example, is to avoid the stigma of being bad, and one avoids such stigma because man is a social creature. No one is a Kantian saint, pursuing the good only for its own sake, and if we met such a saint, he would not be very attractive. It is unexamined and rigid prejudice and stigma, impermeable to all evidence and human feeling, that are bad.’

As posted:

Apparently graffiti art does have a price, and it may be much more than $$$:

Ruling that graffiti — a typically transient form of art — was of sufficient stature to be protected by the law, a federal judge in Brooklyn awarded a judgment of $6.7 million on Monday to 21 graffiti artists whose works were destroyed in 2013 at the 5Pointz complex in Long Island City, Queens.

Would you be willing to undermine property-rights and the rule-of-law?

NY Curbed had original 5Pointz coverage here.

A NY Times beat reporter shared in the suffering of those graffiti artists whose 5pointz canvas was whitewashed in preparation for demolition by owner Jerry Wolkoff.

‘One street artist, who would give his name only as Just, had at least two works painted over. He spent hours early Tuesday gazing at the whitewashed buildings, leaning against a red-brick wall across the street. Then he bought himself a tall glass of beer, which he sipped slowly from a brown paper bag.

“Heartbreaking,” he said. “This is not just about graffiti — it’s about the unity of people who met here from all over the world.” He paused and took a drink. “That’s what really hurts.”

Three photos and some backstory here. 5pointz had become something of a graffiti mecca, arguably more than the sum of its parts:

Once the real-estate market began heating-up in NYC, Wolkoff decided to whitewash his building overnight..

Every bit of graffiti scrawled there over 40-years was at his discretion.

Personally, I don’t take pleasure in the erasing of people’s hard work and creativity, nor in the breaking-up of a graffiti-collective which traveled far and wide to get to 5pointz, nor even in the iconic stature they gave the place, but David Thompson sums it up pretty well:

‘The moral of the story, gentlemen, is buy your own canvas’

The pathos in the Times article stops short of a familiar ‘art will unite all races, classes, & genders,’ type of Leftist political ideology.

I”m getting a sense that even should graffiti become a longer-lasting vehicle for artistic expression, beyond the street, it likely began for many non-taggers possibly in affect, driven by ideology, or the boredom and rebellion of the suburbs and people looking for some meaning in their lives.

What are they overlooking? What are they looking for? What do the people looking at the work might think they’re looking at?

Or perhaps it would have been better to celebrate the way street-culture and graffiti has interacted with money and market forces through tourism. 5pointz arguably was a tourism draw.

From The Times piece:

‘Though street art is meant to be temporary, 5Pointz became known as a graffiti museum. And the medium itself, once considered a symbol of urban unraveling, became a sought after gallery-worthy commodity, with work from street artists like Banksy commanding millions of dollars. Which is one of the reasons the whitewashing of 5Pointz’s walls was greeted with such vociferous dismay. “What?! What did they do?!” cried a tour guide named Hans Von Rittern, as he raced out of a tour bus early Tuesday, his arms wide, his face crumpling as soon as he caught sight of Ms. Flaguel. They embraced tightly and wept.’

I can think of some possible messages being sent by the law:

You don’t have to work and own something to have ownership in it (normalizing a collectivism which rejects the property-rights of others…thus your property rights as well…for what’s to stop the next guy from tagging over your tag?). Someone else owns all this building anyways, so screw him, and screw the guy who came before me too.

The value of artistic creation is yet again associated with money in the modern world (partially out of guilt, I suspect), and not so much with self-expression, technique, craft, freedom, and moments which can elevate and expand, offering meaning within a process.

The criminality associated with graffiti is also tactily rewarded/overlooked by a court of law (there are real victims to the kinds of activity that can accompany tagging). I would much rather have lawmakers and law enforcers hold a simple line, rather than set the wrong incentives.

It can’t have been a good day for those who lost something. It’s hard out there.

Here’s a video:

More broadly, romanticizing the logic of the street, and taggers, comes with its own risks. Celebrate the spirit of creative lawlessness and turf warfare with the full acceptance that there ain’t much law involved. I’m sure 5pointz served as an escape, and a positive environment for many, but all the other things going on in these neighborhoods aren’t so uplifting, hence, it’s importance.

That’s right Banksy, it’s still a tagger’s world:

Related On This Site:Heather MacDonald At The City Journal: ‘Radical Graffiti Chic’

So, You’re Telling Me What’s Cool?-Theodore Dalrymple At The City Journal: ‘Banksy In Neverland’

Trading Robert Moses for Brailia…an authoritarian streak?: Brasilia: A Planned CityAnd AestheticsRoger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?

Under A Green Moon-Ira Stoll At The New York Sun: ‘Comma in the New Yorker Opens Up Quite a Vista Of Liberal Parochialism’

From The New Yorker: ‘Writing Powered By Amtrak’