Here are two response tweets to The Atlantic’s new edition, 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!
Maybe within modern liberalism lie movements of radical liberation; authoritarian, totalitarian, utopian, which are byproducts of failed theories of (H)istory like Marxism, which are byproducts of Europe. Maybe our founders gird against theories which colonize academies & media
Maybe many modern liberal intellectual sorts become obsessed w/ fascism & authoritarianism, seeing them everywhere in rivals, because they themselves don’t have deep enough moral lights to create stable political orders…until elections which ‘confirm’ their views anew.
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, and I suspect the editors are pivoting in a new direction, away from a two-year freakout and the rather sad spectacle of our current politics.
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.
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.”
Day by day, given the economic failures of the current newspaper model, combined with the embedded logic within Left-liberalism and political activism, this blog is expecting the NY Times to more closely resemble Britain’s Guardian newspaper:
–Ideological purity/belief will often override genuine diversity of thought and fidelity to facts. Even dog-bites-man stories can’t stray too far from narratives of victim-hood on the way to eventual liberation at the Guardian. Beat reporting costs time and money, and the race to ideological moral purity is always on [display] in order to generate revenue (when it isn’t provided by deep pockets).
–Continued drift towards radical opposition to tradition, religion, or any established political order in the real world. Slate, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The New Republic…today’s low buy-in radical chic so often becomes tomorrow’s radical liberation and idealist outrage. All reasonable people, genuine victims or not, should think twice about joining a cadre of political idealists (what does membership cost, exactly, and what happens to my mind when I believe in a political ideal?). Reasonable people, however great the injustice, certainly ought to question the downsides of joining that mob out in the street.
Of course, there will be the usual tensions between establishment liberal political idealism and the radical activist base.
Sadly, a general climate of national idealism, American patriotism, and more religiously inspired civic nationalism to which previous generations of Times’ writers were forced to adapt, or (gasp) even shared (JFK), may no longer form a majority in this country.
David Thompson keeps an eye on the Guardianistas, particularly, George Monbiot, so you don’t have to:
‘Yes, dear readers. The odds are stacked against us and the situation is grim. Happily, however, “we” – that’s thee and me – now “find the glimmerings of an answer” in, among other things, “the sharing… of cars and appliances.” While yearning, as we are, for an “empathy revolution.” What, you didn’t know?’
How did money actually work among those in America’s elite?:
But the old monopoly of power had gone, and the country was the poorer for it. “The tragedy of American civilization,” Auchincloss wrote in 1980, “is that it has swept away WASP morality and put nothing in its place.”
Here’s another Auchincloss quote from a reader (haven’t checked this one out…probably a quote site). The prose strikes me as kind of post-Wharton, mannered and dull:
“I used to go to church. I even went through a rather intense religious period when I was sixteen. But the idea of an everlasting life — a never-ending banquet, as a stupid visiting minister to our church once appallingly described it — filled me with a greater terror than the concept of extinction…”
If such things be true, then many of the best and the brightest seem busy contructing a meritocracy in the old WASP establishment’s place; an enterprise of many unresolved personal conflicts between political ideals of activist change, progress, and ever-expanding personal freedoms on one hand and deeply held religious beliefs, traditions and customs on the other.
There seems to be an ex post facto character to much of the ol’ meritocratic enterprise, in my humble opinion, where a healthy skepticism is warranted.
In fact, it’s probably made [more] room for the same old Socialism.
On that note, I have a healthy respect for contrarians, frankly, when merely speaking out in favor of…:
‘the importance of traditional marriage values in ensuring children’s future success…’
…involves controversy and professional censure.
It’s so bland!
In fact, what will you do with your own blandness, dear reader, entombing the flaming desire to be woke within; the little half-opened doors of ecstasy and ‘environmental justice’?:
I’m not sure the intellectual provenance of such ideas, nor even if they form any kind of coherent doctrine, but they strike me as a melange of Christian principles, liberal idealism and radical activist causes.
I still don’t see the greatest threats to political liberty coming from the political right at the moment:
“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.”
Jordan Peterson’s epistemological foundations can be challenged, his assumptions probed, his ideas teased-out to some foreseen/unforeseen logical consequences, but let’s not forget that he’s been taking a huge personal hit (with some personal gain) in standing-up for the ability to debate foundations, assumptions and ideas freely in public.
A defense of tradition by way of the social sciences (psychology, in this case) can make one a heretic.
A defense of the social sciences (IQ research) with policy implications can make one heretical against those whose assumptions guide them to try and save the world through potentially dangerous utopianism and political activism:
On the Sam Harris/Ezra Klein debate regarding race, IQ and Charles Murray.
On what happened when Charles Murray tried to speak at Middlebury College and encountered a frenzied mob of cult-like intensity, which eventually became violent:
On what happened when Bret Weinstein (whose progressive ideals I generally don’t share, but whose intellectual freedom, evo-bio research and freedom of speech I obviously do) stood up to a day of exclusion at Evergreen State:
It wasn’t exactly peaceful:
As previously posted:
From Darwinian Conservatism, as Larry Arnhart is dealing with many of these ideas. Here’s the banner from the site:
‘The Left has traditionally assumed that human nature is so malleable, so perfectible, that it can be shaped in almost any direction. By contrast, a Darwinian science of human nature supports traditionalist conservatives and classical liberals in their realist view of human imperfectibility, and in their commitment to ordered liberty as rooted in natural desires, cultural traditions, and prudential judgments.’
‘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.’
As to these more radical groups splintering and applying pressure upwards upon institutions of learning (or at least remaining very vocal and demanding voices within them), I remain skeptical of merely relying upon an adaptable and healthy post-Enlightenment humanism to push back against them in the long-run.
It seems groups of post-Enlightenment individuals gathering to solve commonly defined problems is a risky business, indeed, or at least subject to the same old schisms and problems religious institutions underwent and continue to undergo regarding human nature. I think it’s fair to say people and institutions are often requiring of constraints, especially when it comes to political power and lawmaking; especially when it comes to the challenges our civilization faces from within and without in maintaining institutional authority.
I’d like to think that secularly liberal leadership, more broadly, including the people who want to be in charge of all of us (at their best operating from within moral communities of not too great a solipsism and self-regard) can resist such pressures. For there certainly are those who would fracture our institutions into rafts of post-Enlightenment ‘-isms’ and politicized movements often driven by illiberal ideologies; movements relying on the presumed self-sufficiency of reason while behaving quite irrationally.
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:
Who are the actual stakeholders in refusing the tactics of ostracism, intimidation, and threats of violence on campus curently coming from the far Left?:
Jonathan Haidt continues to have interesting ideas:
It may be as simple as just letting the true-believers, zealots, and ideologues have their own place, having to compete in the marketplace of ideas ($80k a year….for this?). Yes, often it’s a form of capitulation, but such true-believers, zealots, and ideologues depend upon the institutions they colonize for their survival (disrespecting the rules and legitimacy of the institutions from the get-go; seeking radical transformation and control of the institutions nonetheless).
It will also require the backbone of many in academia and intellectual pursuits to stand-up to charges of thinking differently and violating the holy ‘-Isms’ from time to time. Especially when it has to do with one’s own discipline, domain, and methods.
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.
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.
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 ne0-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.
‘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.’
‘What is really being appropriated, in other words, is not culture but the right to police cultures and experiences, a right appropriated by those who license themselves to be arbiters of the correct forms [of] cultural borrowing.’
The collectivization of one’s own suffering, and politicization of the personal, doesn’t necessarily require the maturity, freedom and strength to think for one’s self. Self-love isn’t necessarily a virtue, after all, nor either is it honest self-reflection.
If an individual can’t persuade others with ideas and argument, they always have the recourse of grievance and collectivized victim-hood in which to retreat. It’s easy to melt back into the crowd and call others horrible names just for bringing up contrary ideas and arguments (declaring them violators of all that is right, true and good in the world, while declaring yourself closer to good intentions and the holy causes (‘-Isms’).
This taps into a pretty universal human desire: To gain as much as possible with minimal possible effort, and to view one’s self as virtuous, and one’s enemies not merely as lacking in virtue, but evil.
Whether such ideas are true is another matter, because there clearly are genuine victims suffering all manners of injustice in this world, but this particular set of doctrines far outstrips the possibilities of individuals to honestly self-reflect, learn from experience, and solve the kinds of problems which can be solved through politics.
‘There is a difference between creating a society in which we have genuinely reduced or removed certain forms of hatreds and demanding that people shut up because they have to conform to other people’s expectations of what is acceptable. To demand that something is unsayable is not to make it unsaid, still less unthought. It is merely to create a world in which social conversation becomes greyer and more timid, in which people are less willing to say anything distinctive or outrageous, in which in Jon Lovett’s words, ‘fewer and fewer people talk more and more about less and less’…’
-Minogue, Kenneth. Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. (Pg 111).
On the many dangers of political idealism, and using political theory as the limits of your field of vision:
‘We may sum this up by saying that the more the style of what used to be called politics becomes theorized, the more political problems come to be reintrepreted as managerial. Working out the least oppressive laws under which different and sometimes conflicting groups may live peaceably together is being replaced by manipulation and management of the attitudes different groups take towards each other, with the hope that this will ultimately bring harmony. In other words, in the new form of society, human beings are becoming the matter which is to be shaped according to the latest moral idea.’
‘Increasingly in our daily lives we find ourselves in analogous situations, especially if we have the misfortune to work for bureaucracies, whether governmental, quasi-governmental, supposedly independent, or commercial. We must not only keep silent about propositions that we find not only false but ridiculous, but assent to them, to show willingness and demonstrate that we are (to use a vile modern locution, redolent of a tyranny exercised over us) on message. The message must never be of our own devising, or indeed attributable to anyone in particular. It must be absurd and unassailable at the same time.’
Wit, irony, satire, skepticism and independence of mind can be problematic: Many activists have doctrinal interests, motivating and organizing political ideals within which solidarity, identity, friendship and life’s purpose can be found. Like all forms of belief (gathered around the doctrines), most people aren’t satisfied most of the time, so seeking influence within political institutions, universities, and various other cultural pulpits is required to bring about the ideal world to come.
‘Conversations’ must be had to spread the gospels of social justice, equality, and ideal, harmonious societies. Protests must express the will of ‘the People’. The poorest, most wretched, most unjustly treated victims (genuine and less genuine) must be held up as proof of systemic injustice and championed as allies in the fight against oppression.
If you, dear reader, can’t be made to properly understand the truth and knowledge the activist offers; the profound suffering and injustice of the world of which you are a part (and which can be made whole through activism), you will continue as the heathen you are: Unjust, falsely conscious, selfish, polluting, and privileged (racist, sexist, classist etc.)
From Rolling Stone a while back, on Mayor Bill de Blasio of NYC, who was recently re-elected:
‘After attending graduate school at Columbia University, where he studied Latin American politics, de Blasio took a job as a political organizer at the Quixote Center, a social-justice organization rooted in radical Catholic liberation theology, and later engaged in protests designed to raise awareness about U.S. foreign policy. “I’m a big believer in street theater,” he says.’
‘Hoffer said: “The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause.”
People who are fulfilled in their own lives and careers are not the ones attracted to mass movements: “A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding,” Hoffer said. “When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business.”
What Hoffer was describing was the political busybody, the zealot for a cause — the “true believer,” who filled the ranks of ideological movements that created the totalitarian tyrannies of the 20th century.’
Carving the world into ‘-Isms’, doesn’t necessarily require thought beyond the ideological framework in which it often arrives to new adherents, but it does usually require an emotional commitment and solidarity with others who find common cause. This requires common enemies.
Should you make Civil Rights the highest bar in your moral universe, you’re bound to miss other points of view, much other moral reasoning, and eventually, if you’re intellectually honest, the shortcomings and consequences of activist politics. Are you building things in your life (skills, relationships?) or are you drifting down the river of supposed liberation, justified in your anger, blame, political radicalism and idealism?
Why would you defer so much of what is in your power to make better, step by step, day by day, to a politician you’ve probably never even met?
To a bunch of people who have all the incentives to treat you as a means to an end?
‘Next month, on September 25, the Kurdistan Regional Government in Erbil will hold a binding referendum on whether or not to secede from Iraq. It will almost certainly pass.’
We nearly overthrew Saddam the first time, encouraged the Kurds to rise up only to leave them to suffer horribly as he regained power. We went in and removed Saddam, broke the nation of Iraq as drawn, and encouraged them again. Now they’re pretty much left to fend for themselves, except for tactical, some arms, and anti-IS support.
With the recent announcement in Afghanistan, it’s almost enough to make one think there are tactical, practical and deeper reasons to engage with the radical and violent people willing to do us harm at home (aside from the ‘world community concept and with actual allies with skin in the game):
In his book Where The West Ends, Totten describes visiting Northern Iraq briefly as a tourist with a friend, and the general feeling of pro-Americanism in Kurdish Northern Iraq that generally one can only feel in Poland, parts of the former Yugoslavia etc.
The broader issue as I see it: Some students are gathering around a set of political and social doctrines in a pseudo-religious, pseudo-scientific, ideologically motivated fashion. Many of these doctrines share logical foundations which promote revolutionary change on the way towards radical liberation.
The truth and knowledge claims required to implement such changes are supposedly contained within a broad range of texts, as well as in common, collective beliefs which solidify membership and group identity. Action and activism further solidify group loyalty against all presumed injustice, oppression, and morally illegitimate authority (generally, carving up people and the world into groups and ‘-Isms’).
Race is a primary motivator here (the genuine injustice of American racial history and the personal experience of many activists), and can help explain the frenzied and rather ritualistic chanting of James Baldwin’s writings during Murray’s event. As though chanting in unison and earnestly seeking ‘solidarity’ will simply banish unwanted ideas.
Some Middlebury professors, of course, may be surprised (bemused, ashamed?) at the whirlwind being reaped, but in receiving other people’s money to interpret texts, influence young minds, and sit at faculty meetings much of the time, it’s probably not often the feedback is direct (some even took a stand on principle).
Other Middlebury professors, however, well, let’s just say this: While talking with them, don’t be surprised if they keep telling you to shut up and then maybe hit you in the head.
‘The sit-in corresponded with greater efforts from faculty members to seek information from administrators regarding the disciplinary proceedings. Laurie Essig, associate professor of sociology and gender, sexuality, and feminist studies, Linus Owens, associate professor of sociology and Sujata Moorti, professor of gender, sexuality and feminist studies, were among a group of faculty members who reached out to the administration. Initially, they were hoping for more information from the meeting to better understand the disciplinary process and help students who are facing hearings.’
Furthermore, as previously and often posted:
“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.”