See the interview below for a discussion of what Steele has lived through and how he came to doubt the rise of Identity and power politics during the 1960’s (people speaking out against the dominant ‘narratives’ actually are in a minority these days, and subject to censure by many new gatekeepers):
As I see things, establishing facts while arguing and applying the law (A Nation Of Laws) is one of the cornerstones of our Republic.
Legitimate moral authority, institutional competence and public trust are hard to come by, and will likely be harder still in the years to come.
In my experience, there is some other value or ideal placed higher than law, fact and freedom of speech regarding the issues Steele discusses (Ideologies which support (V)ictims against (O)ppresors, (I)dentity above Citizenship, (E)quity or (S)ocial (J)ustice) above individual choice and equality under the law. The flaws in internal logic and real-world conflicts created in pursuit of many such ideas will always be resolved in the utopia to come.
I can think of many currents affecting this state of affairs, including postmodern drift (individuals isolated from all tradition and responsibility,.. narratives all the way down), the baptized Marxism of Reverend Wright’s church and the Democratic Socialism of Cornel West.
A lot of Steele’s thinking comes down to the support of what he calls ‘poetic truths’ over the establishment of empirical fact.
In fact, applying this thinking to the reparations debate, I’d say Ta Nehisi Coates was the voice of ‘poetic truth’, while Coleman Hughes’ was defending empirical fact:
‘He had not walked five hundred yards down the road when he saw, within reach of him, the plaster figure of a Negro sitting bent over on a low yellow brick fence that curved around a wide lawn. The Negro was about Nelson’s size and he was pitched forward at an unsteady angle because the putty that held him to the wall had cracked. One of his eyes was entirely white and he held a piece of brown watermelon.’
Redemption, mercy, original sin, and a decent short-story leaving you not knowing what to think, exactly.
================ Also As Sent In: Martin Luther King’s intellectual development came mainly through theology and seminary, social gospel (addressing social injustices), but also depended on various other sources, including Gandhi’s non-violent resistance (not acquiescence) to displace the force of the laws used against blacks for centuries. He welcomed a broad definition of rights enacted into law to include black folks, and a vast involvement of Federal authority…
And…where some of that energy has gone…further Left.
‘Being a leftist is a calling, not a career; it’s a vocation not a profession. It means you are concerned about structural violence, you are concerned about exploitation at the work place, you are concerned about institutionalized contempt against gay brothers and lesbian sisters, hatred against peoples of color, and the subordination of women.’
‘In the Letter of Commitment, the Foundation staff and the Board pledged action in response to the June Community Letter’s call for us to become proactively antiracist. The Foundation is grateful to these poetry communities for continuing to hold it accountable, as it speaks to a belief in the capacity for change. The Foundation holds itself accountable as well, and has begun to move forward with short- and long-term equity efforts.‘
Such bad use of language!
Blink if you can hear me.
The money which someone earned in the world, often passed down to those who didn’t earn the money, is further donated to those who haven’t earned the respect of poets. Often, the support a decent poet needs to get better is diverted to the loudest voices in the organization and wasteful, bureauratic, mastubatory ends.
I think the best response is just posting good poetry. Maybe it strikes you, maybe it doesn’t.
Those Winter Sundays
Sundays too my father got up early and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold, then with cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekday weather made banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. When the rooms were warm, he’d call, and slowly I would rise and dress, fearing the chronic angers of that house,
speaking indifferently to him, who had driven out the cold and polished my good shoes as well. What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?
‘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.’
‘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.
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.’
‘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.’
‘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:
‘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.
‘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.
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.
‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’
‘Recognizing the ancient ideas at work in these modern arguments puts those of us committed to America’s parrhesiastic tradition of speaking truth to power in a better position to defend it. It suggests that to defeat the modern proponents of isegoria—and remind the modern parrhesiastes what they are fighting for—one must go beyond the First Amendment to the other, orienting principle of American democracy behind it, namely equality. After all, the genius of the First Amendment lies in bringing isegoria and parrhesia together, by securing the equal right and liberty of citizens not simply to “exercise their reason” but to speak their minds. It does so because the alternative is to allow the powers-that-happen-to-be to grant that liberty as a license to some individuals while denying it to others.’
Further exploration in the video below…:
My brief summary (let me know what I may have gotten wrong): Bejan appeals to two ancient and somewhat conflicting Greek concepts in order to define two types of ‘free speech.’
Isegoria: More associated with reason, argument, and debate. You may feel, believe and think certain things to be true, but you’re a member/citizen of a Republic and you’ve got to martial your arguments and follow the rules (not all people may be members/citizens either, depending on the rules). Many Enlightenment figures (Locke, Kant, Spinoza) appealed to reason more through isegoria according to Bejan (given the tricky course they had to navigate with the existing authority of the time). Think first, speak later.
Parrhesia: More associated with open, honest and frank discussion, and with much less concern as to consequences: ‘Say-it-all’ Socrates was voted to death by the People after all, despite his reasoning prowess. She brings up Diogenes (the lantern guy), who flaunted convention, tooks serious risks and even masturbated publicly. She brings up all the racy stuff even Quakers and various other sects said against each other in the early days of our Republic.
So, why create this particular framework, and why is it necessary to ‘go around’ the 1st amendment upon it in pursuit of Equality?: Perhaps one of Bejan’s aims is to resuscitate an American liberalism which would allow old-school liberals to appeal to young activists and a lot of young people influenced by activists, obliquely routing all back to the Constitution. Only through becoming aware of their own assumptions can liberals better address the ‘hate-speech’ concept (with no Constitutional basis) which has taken root in our universities, for example.
Bejan relies on some data and some anecdotal evidence from her own teaching experience to justify a potential shift in public sentiment, requiring of her approach. Such evidence might line-up with elements of libertarian/conservative critiques of liberalism, too, which tend to focus on liberals lacking a sufficiently profound moral framework to justify why liberals should make and enforce laws, and run our institutions, especially when those institutions are judged by outcomes, not intentions, bound as they are within a Constitutional framework.
So far, I’m not sure I’m persuaded by Bejan’s reasoning, for why not just stick to teaching, promoting and discussing the Constitution? Has Bejan really punched a hole back to the Greeks, or has she fashioned a tool-at-hand to grasp certain products of Enlightenment modernity to address more crises of modernity?
***In the video Bejan mentions, in non-Burkean, non-conservative fashion, our founding documents, the French Revolutionaries, and the U.N. charter as examples of rights-based thinking. Of course, beyond debates about liberalism, there’s quite a lot of dispute about where our rights might come from in the first place (from God, from a Deity, from Nature, from Nature’s Laws, from past Laws and Charters, from knowledge gained through the Natural Sciences, from the latest Social Science, from coalitions of like-minded people, from majorities/pluralities of people, from top-down lists of rights and ideological platforms etc.)
‘I keep hearing about a supposed “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment, or statements such as, “This isn’t free speech, it’s hate speech,” or “When does free speech stop and hate speech begin?” But there is no hate speech exception to the First Amendment. Hateful ideas (whatever exactly that might mean) are just as protected under the First Amendment as other ideas.‘
‘A true devotee of freedom of speech says, ‘Let everyone speak, because it is important that all sides are heard and that the public has the right to use their moral muscles and decide who they trust and who they don’t’. The new, partial campaigners for friends’ speech effectively say, ‘Let my friend speak. She is interesting. She will tell the public what they need to hear.’ These are profoundly different positions, the former built on liberty and humanism, the latter motored by a desire to protect oneself, and oneself alone, from censorship. The former is free speech; the latter ‘me speech.’
“First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.’
‘Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied. ‘
‘Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds. ‘
And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from reason or personal experience.”
“7. What is meant by enthusiasm. This I take to be properly enthusiasm, which, though founded neither on reason nor divine revelation, but rising from the conceits of a warmed or overweening brain, works yet, where it once gets footing, more powerfully on the persuasions and actions of men than either of those two, or both together: men being most forwardly obedient to the impulses they receive from themselves; and the whole man is sure to act more vigorously where the whole man is carried by a natural motion. For strong conceit, like a new principle, carries all easily with it, when got above common sense, and freed from all restraint of reason and check of reflection, it is heightened into a divine authority, in concurrence with our own temper and inclination.”
If many folks at NPR could be like the CBC, or the BBC (forced licensing fees since WWII), I’m guessing they would.
True Story: Over a decade ago, there was a story on one of the local Seattle NPR stations I haven’t been able to track down (Seattle or Olympia). The topic was toys imported from China; some potential problems with toxicity.
There was one interviewee. She was neither lawyer nor doctor, nor chemist. She didn’t work in politics, nor in trade policy. She didn’t work in the toy business and didn’t know about freight/transport/toy sales. She might have had a child, but that seemed to be about the extent of knowledge. She had some interesting potential facts and information, but that was about it.
‘This is curious,’ I thought, ‘why is she on the air?‘
An activist is someone who becomes active. Activists activate. Becoming morally and emotionally engaged on some topic or other, for activists, is a good thing. Virtuous, even. Activists have had enough. Activists, of The People, stand up and speak for The People. Activists are in a kind of war with the world as it is, with injustice, and activists are always busy going to war with the truth and knowledge they have, against their enemies.
Whatever your thinking and/or experiences, Dear Reader, inevitably, some questions arise.
What if the activist is wrong? What if the activist has bad or missing information? Would a such a person as the activist, with the incentives and passion of the activist, ever admit to being wrong?
Do they justify violence in the name of their cause?
A bigger problem at NPR: For all my life, before I was born, back when NPR was created in the hoary mists of time and 60’s Civil Rights idealism, the activist has been at the core of their business model. Interview an activist and a guy in the oil industry. Split the difference. Get some jazz musicians and some good photographers and do a money-losing piece on both (I am grateful for these, thanks, NPR). Get a lady from Code Pink in here along with Senator so-and-so to mainline some pure democracy into the discussion.
Well, the activist capture is clearly catching up with them (along with a failing business model).
As this blog has been arguing for over a decade, there might not be much stable ground beneath liberal idealism, enough to maintain the consent of the governed and legitimate moral authority.
If you think, as I do, that human nature generally needs to be constrained, that we have a good Constitutional model to do so, and that Christian thinking (to be viewed with profound skepticism) at least prohibits violence in principle, then the activist model is to be viewed with profound skepticism.
Many of the true and good causes have already devolved into rackets (much Black activist leadership, the ACLU, Civil Rights). Look no further than the think-tank and activist Right to see that such devolution is probably inevitable.
If you can’t see that your own idealism is a point-of-view, then you’ve consigned yourself to be surprised and perhaps, attacked, by thought which disagrees.
‘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.’
This is what I think many New Atheists, Men Of System, Men of Reason, Rationalists/Idealists so often miss: A lot of what human nature is, is capable of, even, can’t necessarily be molded by you. At least not in the short and mid-term and not according to many current plans. Where you put your thinking is where your hopes follow. If you find yourself hating what humanity is, then your ideas aren’t good enough to understand humanity.
And they are certainly not good enough to be in authority.
A lot of what motivates those who want change is mobilized resentment against current authority, and this passes for everything that is ‘good.’
You don’t get to speak for all of the public. You don’t get to presume to curate the arts and sciences. You have to survive in a free market, with free speech.
Via Althouse via the NY Times, applying decontructionism to the works of Edward Hopper:
They’re coming for your ‘myths’, America.
Some of them, anyways:
“Yes, there’s a lot of talent and beauty and all that,” said Mr. Shadwick, who remains a big Hopper fan, “but there’s also a very conscious awareness of his place in history, and of the purported Americanness of the scenes he was painting.”
‘I think the “awareness” he’s referring to is in the minds of people who value Hopper. Maybe those minds are full of delusions and mythology. They’re only half-aware. Not… woke.‘
It’s not as clear to me a deconstructionist would go after obvious ‘woke’, so much as interrogate other things, driving towards (S)elves without myth nor national character in an increasingly flattened landscape.
From the author’s site, where he is making a career out of ideas about ideas about Hopper:
‘This relation of Hopper’s works to their broader social history will underpin an interrogation of the development and cultivation of Hopper’s Americanist persona, challenging notions of Hopper’s quintessential ‘Americanness’ and deconstructing the implications of such rhetoric in relation to the artist’s canonical reputation.‘
Hmmm….as to choices artists must make. From the NY Times piece:
In rendering his pioneering views of everyday life in average America (or, as Mr. Shadwick would say, in the America Hopper helped define as average), Hopper chose an everyday style that brings him closer to the modest commercial illustration of his era than to the certified old masters.
The arts can be one lens with which to look at these problems and places…
When it comes to the Old Masters, I can’t help but think of Auden:
Musee des Beaux Arts
About suffering they were never wrong, The old Masters: how well they understood Its human position: how it takes place While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along; How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting For the miraculous birth, there always must be Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating On a pond at the edge of the wood: They never forgot That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
Discussed in the video: James Lindsay’s cogent account of his experiences in the Atheism movement, and the emergence of Atheism Plus. He attempts to use moral psychology (he mentions Jonathan Haidt) to explain many religious-seeming elements of the woke, social justice crowd.
Also, the two touch upon Critical Theory, and the next generation of post-post-modernists, reacting against the previous generation.
I doubt movements like this ever really die, especially ones committed to the logic of radically standing apart from all institutions of authority, traditions, systems and social arrangments; the lone, brilliant artists and the academic poseurs cloaked within the glamour of nihilist jargon and bad epistemologies.
Lindsay also mentions the Stephen Hicks/Thaddeus Russell debate: ‘Postmodernism Is Necessary For A Politics Of Individual Liberty‘
“…in 1996 the radical “postmodernist” journal Social Text published an article submitted by Alan Sokal, a mathematical physicist at New York University, with the mouthwatering title “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.” Sokal then revealed the article to be a spoof…”
Sokal has been busy ruminating since that paper, and Blackburn, a Cambridge philosophy professor, reviews his ruminations.
Mentioned In The Review: Kant, Karl Popper, Einstein, postmodernism, a sympathetic account of the academic postmodernist climate, Heisenberg and Niels Bohr, (T)ruth, Richard Rorty…
‘When I was a young untenured professor of philosophy, I once received a visit from a colleague from the Comparative Literature Department, an eminent and fashionable literary theorist, who wanted some help from me. I was flattered to be asked, and did my best to oblige, but the drift of his questions about various philosophical topics was strangely perplexing to me. For quite a while we were getting nowhere, until finally he managed to make clear to me what he had come for. He wanted “an epistemology,” he said. An epistemology. Every self-respecting literary theorist had to sport an epistemology that season, it seems, and without one he felt naked, so he had come to me for an epistemology to wear–it was the very next fashion, he was sure, and he wanted the dernier cri in epistemologies. It didn’t matter to him that it be sound, or defensible, or (as one might as well say) true; it just had to be new and different and stylish. Accessorize, my good fellow, or be overlooked at the party’
Worth a read.
The arts and humantities can be given a seriousness of purpose, I’m guessing, but must that purpose necessarily be scientific?
Do creative musical/artistic geniuses really need to understand particularly well how the sciences advance? How much does it matter that a theater major understands how the sciences come to say true things about the world and predict with high accuracy how nature behaves beyond a science course or two?
I could be wrong.
Clearly, one problem is that out of the postmodern malaise comes the nihilism, moral relativism and general desperation where many can be found clinging to the sciences, or some standard of rationalism and reason that doesn’t seem sufficient in answering all the questions religion claims to answer, nor doesn’t seem sufficient as a platform to understand human nature, history, tradition, the wisdom in our institutions, and the experience past generations can offer beyond its own presumptions.
Lots of people can thus make ideology their guide and political change their purpose, or the State their religion and their own moral failings or moral programs everyone’s moral oughts through the law and politics.
‘Oddly enough, it is the intellectual snobbery and elitism of many of the literati that politically correct egalitarianism appeals to; their partiality to literary Marxism is based not on its economic theory but on its hostility to business and the middle class. The character of this anti-bourgeois sentiment therefore has more in common with its origin in aristocratic disdain for the lower orders than with egalitarianism.’
‘While I am complaining, I will also note that Scruton has nothing to say about how several of these figures—especially Žižek and Alain Badiou, along with Jacques Derrida, who is barely mentioned here—have played a role in the so-called “religious turn” of humanistic studies, in which various movements generally called “postmodern” find a significant place for religion in their reflections, if not in their beliefs or practices. This marks a significant departure from the relentless secularism of most earlier forms of European leftism, and that deserves note. Nor does Scruton account fully for Jürgen Habermas’s reputation as a centrist figure in the German and more generally the European context. (Habermas too has spoken more warmly of religion in recent years.’
I’ve heard Scruton’s rather sober vision of the good society referred to as ‘Scrutopia’ by dissenters:
So, what is all this Nothing-ness about? ‘My view’, says Scruton, ‘is that what’s underlying all of this is a kind of nihilistic vision that masks itself as a moving toward the enlightened future, but never pauses to describe what that society will be like. It simply loses itself in negatives about the existing things – institutional relations like marriage, for instance – but never asks itself if those existing things are actually part of what human beings are. Always in Zizek there’s an assumption of the right to dismiss them as standing in the way of something else, but that something else turns out to be Nothing.’
‘The first is that the world isintelligible. The phenomena we experience may be explained by principles that are more general than the phenomena themselves.’
‘The commitment to intelligibility is not a matter of brute faith, but gradually validates itself as more and more of the world becomes explicable in scientific terms.’
Hilary Putnam and Bryan Magee discuss the ‘treasure chest’ vision of science, where you just keep filling up the chest with more and more knowledge.
Pinker’s second ideal is as follows:
‘The second ideal is that the acquisition of knowledge ishard. The world does not go out of its way to reveal its workings, and even if it did, our minds are prone to illusions, fallacies, and superstitions.’
One of the other debates here is about where meaning shall be found, in politics, in ethics, as a foundation for the humanities, and religion, as all manner of other ideas fill the void.
Addition: I guess I’m trying to say that I remain skeptical the sciences can properly scale. Many people claiming to have a scientific worldview are curiously more committed to ideas downstream of scientific inquiry. This can involve an idealized or popular, mummified vision of ‘science,’ (the science is clear, it’s on on my side, we must act together or vote for x) or even ‘anti-science’ nihilism and destructive cultism (the universe is a meaningless void, you’re utterly alone, here’s exactly what the scientists don’t want you to know, so join us).
I suppose ‘anarcho-syndicalism’ and/or ‘libertarian socialism’ is better than the dead-ends of socialist doctrine. Noam Chomsky actually had enough computational/scientific training to be dismissive of postmodern thought. 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 lead to a political philosophy of either universalism or nihilism, 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…
If a tendency towards true-belief, occasionally visible in one’s (S)elf, and like all behaviors, transparently visible in others, means anything, it must mean less truth-seeking, less tolerance and less openness in the minds and institutions captured by such true-belief.
The resentment within some need only find expression through narrow, rigid ideologies (destroying what’s here for the utopia to come, promoting action with epistemologically questionable areas of knowledge), for there to be consequences for all.
As I see things, this is still the greatest threat to freedom found within American educational, cultural and political institutions right now.
Many dangers of a particular ideological true-belief occur in the enormous blind spot beneath many liberal idealists and secular humanists/rationalists, who, as I see things, often mistake all 60’s radicalism for benign, well-intentioned change. Beneath the doctrines of (M)an are actual men, and the same old human nature.
There are also deeper currents, dragging us this way and that, often only making themselves clear after many years and some quiet reflection. Some of these currents push and pull the (S)elf (where self-knowledge begins of course) along, but downwards towards the nihilism, existentialism and radical stance of a (S)elf outside of all tradition, religion, obligation and custom.
As a Straussian might see it: Once you set up (S)cience on the positivist definition, as the only arbiter of facts, one can very easily invite the anti-(S)cience response in kind, which manifests itself here as the retreat into a victimhood/oppressor ideology.
‘(S)cience’ was only a tool of the white oppressor, anyways, don’t you know (and no one actually has to do the hard work the sciences require…how convenient):
‘In the wake of the violence at Middlebury and Berkeley, and in the aftermath of the faculty mob that coalesced to condemn gender studies professor Rebecca Tuvel, many commentators have begun analyzing the new campus culture of intersectionality as a form of fundamentalist religion including public rituals with more than a passing resemblance to witch-hunts.’
It’d be nice if many secularists and political liberals said something like the following:
‘If we continue to secularize society, we will entrench many postmoderns, activists, radicals, people steeped in resentment, and narrow socialist ideologues, but the gains in liberty will be worth it. We might even inspire a return to old-timey religion. If this happens, we will freak-out about this turn of events. In the meantime, free speech and free thought will not be upheld, except with moral courage against the mob we’ve helped incubate and gestate.’
‘BC: What do you make of political correctness? There are those who would argue it’s a thing of the past. Frankly, I don’t see how that’s possible. It seems to me that cultural Marxism is more regnant than ever, would you agree?
KM: In my time, a great deal of what used to be intuitive and instinctive (such as good manners) has been replaced by the rule-bound and rationalised. Political correctness is a politicised version of good manners offering power to the kind of meddlesome people who want to tell others how to behave. As to Marxism, it was merely one more illusion that purported to be the key to life. It is significant in that it reveals one of the dominant passions still at work in our civilisation – the passion to create happiness by technology in the hands of a supposedly enlightened elite.’
I’m looking around and not seeing too much decency in American politics, lately.
A.C. Grayling makes one of the better cases for morality without religious doctrine, I’ve heard of late, but I’m not entirely sold these particular problems can be addressed sufficiently:
Via A Reader-Isaiah Berlin’s Lectures On The Roots Of Romanticism. Romanticism–>Modernism–>Postmodernism–>Wherever We’re Heading Now
Maybe it all started with Beethoven: Everyone’s a (S)elf.
Without a stronger moral core, will liberalism necessarily corrode into the soft tyranny of an ever-expanding State?
Since the 60’s, and with a lot of postmodern nihilism making advances in our society, is a liberal politics of consent possible given the dangers of cultivating a kind of majoritarian politics: Dirty, easily corrupt, with everyone fighting for a piece of the pie?
As an example, Civil Rights activists showed moral courage and high idealism, to be sure, but we’ve also seen a devolution of the Civil Rights crowd into squabbling factions, many of whom seem more interested in money, self-promotion, influence, and political power.
The 60’s protest model, too, washed over our universities, demanding freedom against injustice, but it has since devolved into a kind of politically correct farce, with comically illiberal and intolerant people claiming they seek liberty and tolerance for all in the name of similar ideals.
Who are they to decide what’s best for everyone? How ‘liberal’ were they ever, really?
Kelley Ross responds to a correspondent on Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism, while discussing John Gray as well:
‘Now, I do not regard Berlin’s value pluralism as objectionable or even as wrong, except to the extend that it is irrelevant to the MORAL issue and so proves nothing for or against liberalism. Liberalism will indeed recommend itself if one wishes to have a regime that will respect, within limits, a value pluralism. I have no doubt that respecting a considerable value pluralism in society is a good thing and that a nomocratic regime that, mostly, leaves people alone is morally superior to a teleocratic regime that specifies and engineers the kinds of values that people should have. However, the project of showing that such a regime IS a good thing and IS morally superior is precisely the kind of thing that Gray decided was a failure.
Thus, I believe Gray himself sees clearly enough that a thoroughgoing “value pluralism” would mean that the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini is just as morally justified as the regime of Thomas Jefferson. Gray prefers liberalism (or its wreckage) for the very same reason that the deconstructionist philosopher Richard Rorty prefers his leftism: it is “ours” and “we” like it better. Why Gray, or Rorty, should think that they speak for the rest of “us” is a good question. ‘
and about providing a core to liberalism:
‘Why should the state need a “sufficient rational justificaton” to impose a certain set of values? The whole project of “rational justification” is what Gray, and earlier philosophers like Hume, gave up on as hopeless. All the state need do, which it has often done, is claim that its values are favored by the majority, by the General Will, by the Blood of the Volk, or by God, and it is in business.’
And that business can quickly lead to ever-greater intrusion into our lives:
‘J.S. Mill, etc., continue to be better philosophers than Berlin or Gray because they understand that there must be an absolute moral claim in the end to fundamental rights and negative liberty, however it is thought, or not thought, to be justified. Surrendering the rational case does not even mean accepting the overall “value pluralism” thesis, since Hume himself did not do so. ‘
Are libertarians the true classical liberals? Much closer to our founding fathers?
Strands of a New, New Left are likely forming out of the excesses of identitarianism. From anti-trans TERF feminists, to many anti-establishment, anti-Boomer types (anti- sisterhood of the travelling ‘bourgeois’ pantsuit criticism), the identity-center is probably not holding.
Perhaps Tom Sowell’s ‘Black Rednecks and White Liberals‘ is worth revisiting, at least to break out of the white savior complex (which manisfests itself both in original Marxist class-warfare and current watered-down identity Marxism).
‘With the empirical base of the discipline becoming undermined and discredited, it was inevitable that the dialecticians would move in. Inevitable, in the first place, because the affinities between the anthropologues and the Marxists are so close. Both share a common atavistic enthusiasm for BC — Before Commerce, Before Capitalism, Before Civilisation itself. The average academic Marxist, even while tippling convivially at the bar, betrays a deep unhappiness in modern industrial society, and is obviously pining for a more primitive social order than modern capitalism provides. And the anthropologue is no less unhappy — anthropology being, as the editor of the quarterly journal Dialectical Anthropology, Stanley Diamond, has so trenchantly said, “the most alienated of the professions.”
As to Stanley Ann Dunham’s early years on Seattle’s Mercer Island, before heading off to study Russian in Hawaii and Anthropology in Indonesia (it’s unseemly to say such things in public, but perhaps still relevant).
‘Obama plays up on his Methodist and Baptist grandparents in Kansas, when, in fact, Stanley Ann’s mother and father attended a Unitarian Church in Seattle, not Methodist or Baptist. Their church in Bellevue, Washington, was nicknamed “the little red church.”
Such radicalism is pretty standard fare for Seattle, and I’m not much interested in guilt by association nor political finger-pointing.
Rather, how do people looking for an escape hatch from religion, tradition and convention, define their formative years? The questions and supposed answers tend to be deep and lasting.
What kind of truth and knowledge claims could such ideas bear upon the laws we all must follow?:
‘Two of the teachers from the school Stanley Ann attended were notorious for their Marxist views. Teachers Val Foubert and Jim Wichterman taught students to reject the things many people believe are the bedrock values of America, and the curriculum included attacks on Christianity, the traditional family, and pupils were assigned readings by Karl Marx. The hallway between Foubert’s and Wichterman classrooms was nicknamed “anarchy ally.” This is a website dedicated to the memory of Val Foubert who died in 2007. http://www.valfoubert.com/
What was a kid from the South Side of Chicago, growing up in a mostly segregated American society, looking for in North Africa?
Shelby Steele weaves Gustave Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary‘ into his insights about the world, coming to realize the Black Panthers..had problems.
‘What is Africa to me: Copper sun or scarlet sea, Jungle star or jungle track, Strong bronzed men, or regal black…‘
Do ‘The Black Panther‘, and what’s left of Superman fit together into the postmodern morass, or does the nihilist, radical turn swallow up much of what’s good within the old character, replacing such idealism with Political Identity?
A lot can be ‘swallowed’ up in the desert, lost in translation; across time, language and civilizations.
Things don’t always end well for the intellectually curious and naive…:
‘It occurred to him that he ought to ask himself why he was doing this irrational thing, but he was intelligent enough to know that since he Was doing it, it was not so important to probe for explanations at that moment.’
It’s hard to get everything right, in fact, humility and wisdom recognize you must already have some things wrong. So, which things?
Better to spend more time thinking such thoughts, though what gets one’s blood up enough to write, even, alas, blog posts, is pettier stuff.
‘The other day, on the subway, I observed an American male in contemporary business-casual costume. The color of his trousers was richly nondescript.‘
Just as many old-guard institutional members of the liberal arts and humanities were overrun by the radical, righteous ideologues of their day, many companies and regular citizens, sooner or later, deal with the consequences.
Politics, ‘culture,’ the arts, and the social sciences are attracting many people who already have a core set of beliefs, ideas and assumptions, and the totalizing true-believers often have undue influence amongst them.
Maybe the popular ‘narrative’ of the 60’s being about personal freedom and individual Self-expression has helped lead to many of the current political and institutional failures, though many rates of change have increased dramatically, often much faster than our insitutions, traditions and laws.
Human Evolution, Evolutionary Biology and Genetics are actual fields worth studying!
Political Theory is a rather different, but useful field. Carlo Lancellotti, on the works of Italian political thinker, Augusto Del Noce.
Full piece here, which could have some explanatory insight:
Del Noce’s emphasis on the role of Marxism in what I called the “anti-Platonic turn” in Western culture is original, and opens up an unconventional perspective on recent cultural history. It calls into question the widespread narrative that views bourgeois liberalism, rooted in the empiricist and individualist thought of early modern Europe, as the lone triumphant protagonist of late modernity. While Del Noce fully recognizes the ideological and political defeat of Marxism in the twentieth century, he argues that Marxist thought left a lasting mark on the culture, so much so that we should actually speak of a “simultaneous success and failure” of Marxism. Whereas it failed to overthrow capitalism and put an end to alienation, its critique of human nature carried the day and catalyzed a radical transformation of liberalism itself. In Del Noce’s view, the proclaimed liberalism of the affluent society is radically different from its nineteenth-century antecedent precisely because it fully absorbed the Marxist metaphysical negations and used them to transition from a “Christian bourgeois” (Kantian, typically) worldview to a “pure bourgeois” one. In the process, it tamed the Marxist revolutionary utopia and turned it into a bourgeois narrative of individualistic liberation (primarily sexual).’
Do you think most journalists won’t bend to the mob, throwing you to the wolves as they appeal to authority to advance career and reputation?
A few might, and you should support them on this issue.
What about politicians, standing up for principle, sometimes, but always with their fingers in the wind, navigating party and popular sentiment?
A few might, and you should find common cause on this issue.
What about the leadership at Twitter (holding tremendous control of information habit at the moment)?Clearly such adherence to various flavors of activism, idealism and a dominant ethos of empathy…is trustworthy?
What about the dominant Western liberal idealism and secular humanism found in the air and water these days? Surely you trust the stuff of most every faculty lounge, American and Silicon Valley boardroom?
Surely such folks won’t trample over any inconveniences?
What about the Catholic Church, with such lowered prestige and high-demands, attracting many who don’t know where else to go; many unable to meet a particular demand (celibacy) and subsequently molesting, deceiving and structurally covering-up the truth?
Would you trust this particular institution to back-up free thought if God is indicating, through the hierarchy, otherwise?
A few might, and you should support them on this issue.
Anyways, some links:
Politically and ideologically, I believe Left-activism generally leads to utopia/dystopia in practice, but Glenn Greenwald is standing up for speech.
From my humble, small ‘c’ conservative position, Trump was better than many alternatives, although the Federal deficit is now frightening. His anti-China tendencies have been nationalistic; coming from a more pro-union, working man perspective dating to his experiences in 1980’s New York City. Whatever you think of such ideas, Trump’s pushed, and reacted against, a lot of where future political action will be, namely with the citizens who work hard, save, and play by the rules. Mostly isolationist on foreign policy and liberationist on the economy, Trump’s had his influence.
He’s also challenged much Liberal Idealism directly (humanists and universalists, progressives and global internationalists and MUCH of the mainstream-media these days). For this, Trump will not be forgiven.
I would also include in this telling many Left-Of-Center ‘Ism-ologists’ (environmentalist bureaucrats and lawyers, feminists, race-industrialists) and ‘Wokists’ beneath them (SJW’s, identitarian and New New Left ‘woke’ activists). Such folks not only disliked Trump, but have openly HATED him. Trump was the uncouth, fascistic authoritarian trashing the traditions of our fair Republic [addition: don’t worry, they’ll take great care of it]. He simultaneously played the role of old and new heel quite successfully,
Trump’s also, from a position of character, in my personal opinion, kind of a piece-of-shit (as in a Jake-The-Snake Roberts old-school WWF heel). You could maybe trust him if you went in on the USFL together as stakeholders, but, then again, maybe not. He’s taken slights personally, often sinking to the level of most opponents. He’s been a womanizer for many, many years. He seems to claim credit for successes in a narcissistic, self-aggrandizing way and often shifts the blame of failures onto others. He’s used ‘lawfare’ in the past to achieve his aims..
Nevertheless, here we are, at the perpetual glorious dawn of the (S)elf, Dear Reader.
I expect a lot of what I see as overbuilt Federal institutions to continue having, at least partial, if not complete, capture by second and third-raters willing to endorse new moral orthodoxies.
From my position, I see new moral orthodoxies as insufficiently grounded in the tragedies and comedies of human nature to produce much mid and long-term institutional success. I may trust individuals I know (love your family, trust but verify with colleagues), but I don’t, in aggregate, trust even [principled] progressives to stand-up for the pursuit of truth as explained and understood by the sciences against mobs of ignorance. The production-line of ideas from the radical activist, to high ‘-Ismologist’, to Liberal Human Universalist continues.
Imagine yourself in a waiting room with an assortment of strangers. There’s some small-talk, some smiling, and some awkward tension (depending upon the reasons for which you might be waiting). A lot of the new ‘woke’ ideology takes as fuel the awkward tension of such strangers thrust together; these motley crews of friendly and not-so-friendly strangers in need of unifying ideas.
After liberation usually comes a new set of emergent rules and orthodoxies.
It still seems vast swathes of moral sentiment and public opinion have trouble aligning with positions of leadership and institutional authority these days, all across the board.
Some new links and a past quote:
British Historian Tom Holland sees the moral roots of the Christian faith as producing most of the new radical offshoots. For the Left, The Nazis are the devil (having rejected salvation and forgiveness). It’s always 1939 or so. For the Right, the current moral crisis is a rejection of belief, tradition and faith for atheism, liberal idealism and various dangerous ideologies coming out of the postmodern soup.
As for my thinking, the Platonic model found in the Republic (one of many models I’m using), keeps me up at night: Benjamin Jowett’s translation of Plato’s Republic can be found here.
‘Outrage supposedly felt on behalf of others is extremely gratifying for more than one reason. It has the appearance of selflessness, and everyone likes to feel that he is selfless. It confers moral respectability on the desire to hate or despise something or somebody, a desire never far from the human heart. It provides him who feels it the possibility of transcendent purpose, if he decides to work toward the elimination of the supposed cause of his outrage. And it may even give him a reasonably lucrative career, if he becomes a professional campaigner or politician: For there is nothing like stirring up resentment for the creation of a political clientele.’