In late October in the park the autumn’s faults begin to show: the houses suddenly go stark beyond a thinning poplar row; the edges of the leaves go brown on every chestnut tree in town.
The honking birds go south again where I have gone in better times; the hardy ones, perhaps, remain to nestle in the snowy pines. I think of one bold, raucous bird whose wintry song I’ve often heard.
I live among so many things that flash and fade, that come and go. One never knows what season brings relief and which will merely show how difficult it is to span a life, given the Fall of Man.
The old ones dawdle on a bench, and young ones drool into their bibs; an idle boffer, quite a mensch, moves fast among the crowd with fibs. A painted lady hangs upon his word as if his sword was drawn.
Among so many falling fast I sometimes wonder why I care; the first, as ever, shall be last; the last are always hard to bear. I never know if I should stay to see what ails the livelong day.
I never quite know how to ask why some men wear bright, silver wings while others, equal to the task, must play the role of underlings. “It’s what you know, not who,” they swore. I should have known what to ignore.
I started early, did my bit for freedom and the right to pray. I leaned a little on my wit, and learned the sort of thing to say, yet here I am, unsatisfied and certain all my elders lied.
A middle man in middle way between the darkness and the dark, the seasons have tremendous sway: I change like chestnuts in the park. Come winter, I’ll be branches, bones; come spring, a wetness over stones.
‘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.
‘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.’
‘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.
Spend Your Budget
Fail: ‘Screw up, move up’
Cover Your Ass
Replace Useful Work with Useless Work
Multiply Procedures and Paperwork
Pass the Buck
Join the Union
Jerk People Around
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.
“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.”
“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…:‘
Christopher Rufo’s also in Seattle, pushing back against the Left-radicals taking over the public square. Oh yes, they would do violence against you. Oh no, you will not believe the lunatic ideas and people running Seattle, condoning the violence.
‘These developments owe much to the recent prominence of French postmodernist thought. Many young feminists, whatever their concrete affiliations with this or that French thinker, have been influenced by the extremely French idea that the intellectual does politics by speaking seditiously, and that this is a significant type of political action. Many have also derived from the writings of Michel Foucault (rightly or wrongly) the fatalistic idea that we are prisoners of an all-enveloping structure of power, and that real-life reform movements usually end up serving power in new and insidious ways. Such feminists therefore find comfort in the idea that the subversive use of words is still available to feminist intellectuals. Deprived of the hope of larger or more lasting changes, we can still perform our resistance by the reworking of verbal categories, and thus, at the margins, of the selves who are constituted by them.’
The Weinsteins discuss how reasonable people committed to progressive social and political causes, both biologists, got driven out of a public university dedicated to similar progressive social and political causes.
A longer, thoughtful, detailed piece.
One notes it’s not progressive nor even ‘mainstream’ publications offering a platform for the Weinsteins to speak-out at the moment, partially due to what I consider the Brockman effect (sugar caves):
Wouldn’t a ‘canoe meeting’ qualify as ‘cultural appropriation?’:
‘And then came the canoe. First, senior administrators were called by name, invited to walk down to the stage, and to step into a large and imaginary canoe. Then, everyone in the room was invited to come aboard, en masse. Finally, everyone walked in a line, as if in a canoe, out of the building together, on a fantastical voyage toward campus equity. An Indian drum beat and the recorded sound of crashing surf were in the background.’
Who needs the arts, science, social science when you’ve got righteous certainty, ideology, and grievance on your side?
Francis Fukuyama and his influential essay are mentioned, as well as Immanuel Kant, Marx, and Isaiah Berlin.
‘Who, then, are ideologists? They are people needy of purpose in life, not in a mundane sense (earning enough to eat or to pay the mortgage, for example) but in the sense of transcendence of the personal, of reassurance that there is something more to existence than existence itself. The desire for transcendence does not occur to many people struggling for a livelihood. Avoiding material failure gives quite sufficient meaning to their lives. By contrast, ideologists have few fears about finding their daily bread. Their difficulty with life is less concrete. Their security gives them the leisure, their education the need, and no doubt their temperament the inclination, to find something above and beyond the flux of daily life.’
Related On This Site: Perhaps after Kant’s transcendental idealism, Chomsky really does believe that morality, like Chomsky’s innatist theory of language, is universal and furthermore hard-wired into the brain. This could possibly lead to a political philosophy of either universalism or nihilism (a central postmodern problem), or at least his retreat into anarchism or anarcho-syndicalism away from such idealism. There’s little to no room for the individual in such a vision. Perhaps Chomsky has never seen life, liberty and property and the individual except from such a vantage point: Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge…
What is a ‘public intellectual’ anyways, and how can it relate to journalism?
On a recent conference our author went to, the following was offered to journalists:
No more quoting political scientists: It’s lazy and signals the reporter couldn’t find any other apparently neutral or objective source to talk. These people work in academics, not politics, so I’m not interested in their opinions on anything but their own research.’
This is often lazy journalism; an easy way for journalists to reinforce their beliefs and get a soundbite, while the quoted professor might receive a little flattery and perhaps star power if it happens often enough.
‘The important thing to understand about journalists is that they are the lowest ranking intellectuals. That is to say: they are members of the intellectual class, but in the status hierarchy of intellectuals, journalists are at the bottom. That is why they have traditionally adopted the status cues of the working class: the drinking and the swearing, the anti-establishment values and the commitment to the non-professionalization of journalism.’
and on professors:
The important thing to understand about academics is that they are the highest rank of intellectuals. That is why they have traditionally adopted the status symbols of the 19th-century British leisured class—the tweeds and the sherry and the learning of obscure languages—while shunning the sorts of things that are necessary for people for whom status is something to be fought for through interaction with the normal members of society (such as reasonably stylish clothing, minimal standards of hygiene, basic manners).
The ideas of original thinkers and those of thinkers in academia often trickle down into popular thought anyways, but the easy quote is often just a way to reinforce one’s own beliefs or ideology, or get a quick fix.
‘In a philosophical debate, what everyone involved is trying to get at is the truth. In contrast, what is at stake in the political realm is not truth but power, and power (unlike truth) is a “rival good”—one person or group can wield power only at the expense of another. This is why politics is inevitably adversarial. Political power is ultimately about deciding who shall govern, and part of governing is about choosing between competing interests’
Politics ain’t beanbag. The pursuit of truth and thinking new thoughts is difficult, tedious and often ill-explained and poorly understood by most of the public.
‘At the same time, our culture retains many of the themes and concerns that exercised writers of earlier generations; there is little sign of a radical literary avant garde sweeping away the old to make way for the new. Postmodernism might not be as emphatically over as some critics like to claim, but it does seem to be in retreat. Its devices have become so commonplace that they have been absorbed into mainstream, commercial and popular culture. Postmodernism has lost its value in part because it has oversaturated the market. And with the end of postmodernism’s playfulness and affectation, we are better placed to construct a literature that engages earnestly with real-world problems.’
‘Wittgenstein was hostile to modern philosophy as he found it. He thought it the product of a culture that had come to model everything that matters about our lives on scientific explanation. In its ever-extending observance of the idea that knowledge, not wisdom, is our goal, that what matters is information rather than insight, and that we best address the problems that beset us, not with changes in our heart and spirit but with more data and better theories, our culture is pretty much exactly as Wittgenstein feared it would become.’
‘It’s de rigueur on college campuses to pledge allegiance to the climate agenda, denouncing Luddites who impede progress on the climate policies that all right-thinking people support. Those of us who work in academia are used to this ritual, but every once in a while an academic decides to distinguish himself by making his denunciation louder and more strident than the rest of the crowd. ‘
Personally, as someone interested in reserving my right to skepticism and following my limited understanding of climate science data (quite possibly happening, not clear how drastic, predictions are hard, especially about the future), climate change activism suspiciously resembles an ideological refugee camp for many followers of failed theories of history.
This is off-putting, to say the least.
From a reader: Christopher Essex discusses ‘Believing In Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, And Climate Models:’
It really shouldn’t be that difficult a thing to keep a strong interest in the natural world and a desire to understand it quite apart from such true-belief, collectivist virtue-signalling, hyperbole and ideology.
This stuff is complicated!
It also seems obvious that some climate radicalism has congealed into an idealism guiding much establishment conventional wisdom, producing an enormous gravy-train of special interests, economy-stifling regulations and questionable incentives. At present, it would seem a vast majority of people busy scribbling for media outlets believe in climate change as much as they believe in anything.
As for Hitler, that reminds me to plug my remaindered pulp title: ‘Hitler’s Hell-Girls And The Venetian Platform Of Doom‘
Back cover blurb: ‘It’s 2076, and the Climate Wars have broken-out. Earth hangs in the balance. Quietly, Hitler’s head has been kept alive on a sub-station orbiting Venus, doing quality research on surface conditions and geology. When the first band of refugees arrives however, old ways return. Soon, Goering’s space-ghost is leading an army of Catholic school girls who’ve traded-in their plaid-skirts for brown-shirts. Can anything stop this nightmare from reaching Earth?‘
He’s right…you know zat?
The problem with people needing to believe in something begins with the idea that ignorance is the rule, not the exception. It begins anew every time a baby is born, and we want babies to be born, but we really don’t like the idea that as individuals, our personal catastrophe awaits (at best, we leave something behind).
Some people will turn observation, data collection, statistical modeling and possible future outcomes into something like a religion/belief system. This can threaten free speech and thought, which helps us arrive at the truth:
As previously posted: Bathe in the bathos of a warming world:
‘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, overwhelm- ing the planet.’
‘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.’
What are these poems being asked to do?
***Who do you trust for discussions of the arts and culture, and would you just rather publications be up front about their ideological bents and loyalties?
‘Many social conditions have been identified as part of the change, but behind most of them, I suggest, is a massive change in our moral sentiments: notably, a rise in the currency of politicised compassion. This is a sentiment so much part of the air we breathe that it does not even have a name of its own.‘
‘This sentiment is not, of course, the niceness and decency that we rightly admire when individuals respond helpfully to others. It is a politicised virtue, which means that it is focused not on real individuals but on some current image of a whole category of people. Correspondingly, it invokes hostility towards those believed to have caused the pain and misery of others. Public discussion thus turns into melodrama.’
Perhaps there has been much movement away from existing authority towards liberation (often against an oppressor), towards the feminine (often against the masculine), towards emotion (often against ‘rationality’ and ‘(R)eason), and towards ‘niceness.’
‘This does not mean, of course, that there will not be a backlash against politicised decency as its nastier consequences become intolerable.‘
Everyone gets a degree, joins the ‘middle-class’, and our institutions just maintain course?
‘They wrote that 24 hours had passed, and Kane had not addressed the allegations that he authored racist posts on his website EphBlog over the course of several years under the pseudonym “David Dudley Field ’25.”
Kane denied endorsing white supremacy and anti-Blackness but did not reference the posts in a Friday response on a Gov 50 Slack channel obtained by The Crimson.‘
It’s perhaps worth reminding many well-educated Americans: Movies, T.V. shows, and various image-based narrative platforms in many senses ARE the culture (used to identify, construct, visualize and communicate narrative reference points for people’s lives).
Michael McCluskey has driven round northern Michigan to put together a collection of images of neon-lit buildings, distant floodlights, isolated houses, and misty interiors. They have the eerie feel of film stills where something is about to happen – an alien landing, perhaps, or a zombie lurching into view…
Sometimes the edge-cases reveal a lot of information about more central clusters of belief:
‘Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment (RSE) is an American spiritualsect near the rural town of Yelm, Washington. The school was established in 1988 by JZ Knight, who claims to channel a 35,000-year-old being called Ramtha the Enlightened One.’
Let’s just say if you don’t believe there are lizard-people out there, waiting to remorselessly devour tasty, human flesh after the impending and catastrophic eruption of Mt.Rainier, well, buddy, you’re the one with problems.
This stuff is funny until you’re on your own, wandering an unknown road at dusk, just trying to find a source of warmth to regulate your body-temparature for the night:
Dear Reader, this means I may have to leave The Human Pagoda. Please click through to read about our spiritual and material Leader, raised in the ducts of the United Nations.
Dorothy Thompson speculates who would go Nazi in a room full of people at a dinner party.
‘Kind, good, happy, gentlemanly, secure people never go Nazi. They may be the gentle philosopher whose name is in the Blue Book, or Bill from City College to whom democracy gave a chance to design airplanes–you’ll never make Nazis out of them. But the frustrated and humiliated intellectual, the rich and scared speculator, the spoiled son, the labor tyrant, the fellow who has achieved success by smelling out the wind of success–they would all go Nazi in a crisis.’