Thinking, Speaking & Believing In the Postmodern Landscape-Some Gathered Links

One path through the postmodern landscape lies in cultivating some appreciation for math and the sciences, direct observation and statistical analysis within the social sciences, and plumbing the depths of a good humanities education (you know, the stuff universities pretty much ought to be teaching).

Receiving or pursuing such an education doesn’t necessarily require religious belief, nor does it necessarily dislodge religious belief.

Aside from the craziness of love, dedication to family, the pressures of work and career, the inevitably of sickness and death, such cultivation can prevent against the sublimity of nihilist and existentialist despair, the Romance of collective primitivism, and the dangers of ideological possession (quick to judge, quick to be judged, forever resentful).

Many readers of this blog don’t necessarily share my views on the importance of limited government and economic growth, tolerance for religious belief and skepticism regarding political idealism (joining an ‘-Ism’ is only the beginning, as hopes soon follow into politics and visions of the good, the true and the beautiful).

You have your reasons.

In the meantime, here are some links gathered over the years from the New Atheists and many independent-minded thinkers of the Left pushing against many excesses of the American and Global Left.

It’s pretty clear to me that many mainstream publications and political debates occur downstream of many intellectual debates.

-An Oldie But A Goodie, Hitchens on Speech:

The Brothers Weinstein are pretty smart-Repost-Moving Towards Truth And Liberty, But What To Conserve?-Some Thoughts On The Bret & Eric Weinstein Interview

A Few Recycled Thoughts On That Sam Harris & Ezra Klein Debate-IQ Is Taboo

-James Lindsay offers a 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.

-Larry Arnhart, of Darwinian Conservatism, continued his careful reading of Jonathan Haidt’s work, to which Haidt responded.

-Daniel Dennett from 1998: Postmodernism and Truth

-You’ve got to watch out for human nature, and yourselves-From Slate Star Codex: ‘I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup’

-Martha Nussbaum on Judith Butler: ‘The Professor Of Parody

-Heck, even the computational, rational elements of Noam Chomsky’s thought provided him skeptical distance from postmodern jargon, despite the ‘anarcho-syndicalism’ and relentless post-socialist anti-Americanism: The radical and rationalist project, anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism: Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”Martha Nussbaum criticizing Chomsky’s hubris in Martha Nussbaum In Dissent–Violence On The Left: Nandigram And The Communists Of West Bengal

-Philosophical Idealism vs Empiricism: Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge

Roger Scruton (not of The Left, and not an Atheist):

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.’

Some Thoughts On That Camille Paglia Write-Up At The City Journal-Cosmic Reality? Also, Her Interview With Jordan Peterson

Lindsay also mentions the Stephen Hicks/Thaddeus Russell debate: ‘Postmodernism Is Necessary For A Politics Of Individual Liberty

Some Thoughts On That Camille Paglia Write-Up At The City Journal-Cosmic Reality? Also, Her Interview With Jordan Peterson

Full piece here.

Our author finds Paglia a welcome, often contrary, voice:

‘Behind that devotion to heterodoxy lies something softer. She [Paglia] admitted that she’s chosen to censor herself in front of her students, no longer teaching them, for example, Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” a song about lynching, which was for years an important part of her course “The Art of Song Lyric.’

I had a very competent, very good professor tell me she stopped teaching Sylvia Plath for somewhat similar reasons.  It was too much for some students.

‘In her slender 1998 book The Birds, for example, published by the British Film Institute, she [Paglia] writes that the Hitchcock classic is “in the main line of British Romanticism, descending from the raw nature-tableaux and sinister femmes fatales of Coleridge.”

One could do worse than study British Romanticism (Wordsworth, Keats, Mad Bad Byron), despite the problems that come in glorifying (M)an and (H)umanity.  Some people are so busy glorifying (M)an they treat actual men appallingly.  The record isn’t always so (I)deal.

One could do worse than the Romantic return to Nature as a worthwhile area of study, (despite a serious German problem, among others). The Modernist response to Romanticism (Bloomsbury, Eliot, Pound) and some current neo-classical retorts out of the postmodern soup could take up a few good semesters.

Heck, there’s plenty of good blank verse out there right now, and American Romanticism and American pragmatism have much to recommend.

So much to learn!

Our author finishes with:

‘Cosmic reality is both wondrous and terrifying to her. “The sublime,” she said, “opens up the vastness of the universe, in which human beings and their works are small and nothing!” The world may be less enchanted than it was when Paglia was a child, but she still stands in awe of it. Her life’s work has been to share that message with others.’

There’s plenty to share, and, for what it’s worth, John Williams playing Isaac Albeniz’ Cordoba can induce a sublime state for me (especially at minute 1:20):

I think this is more reflection and a desire for the holy and larger-than-myself (ducking away from busy streets, into the quiet interplay of shadow and sun, observing the stars carved into the ceiling and looking for patterns).

Dear Reader, I’m accustomed to my own little corner of the internet, where I traffic in low-traffic.  I synthesize many of my own experiences, ideas and other people’s thoughts into occasional bursts of competency.

In the video below, Camille Paglia and Jordan Peterson discuss a shared view that post-structuralism (Foucault, Lacan, Derrida) has impoverished much of the humanities.  As Paglia notes, the older-school New Criticism at least had some devotion to truth in its close textual readings.

She might share some similar intellectual ground with Peterson in using Nietzsche’s nihilist toolkit to examine many modern problems in the arts and where people are finding meaning in their lives (the move from Schopenhauer’s Will To Nietzsche’s Will To Power).  Deploying Nietzsche’s Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy, too, into pop culture gives Paglia some depth as she tries to synthesize high and low (Madonna, George Lucas, Alfred Hitchcock).  Despite her affinity for actual 60’s Marxist radicals which I don’t share (many of whom LSD’d their way into oblivion), Paglia pushes against many feminists and careerists from this radical point-of-view.

She’s a popularizer appealing to a large audience and a contrarian in the sense of the word for which I have some respect.

In fact, both have an ability to appreciate and understand many knowledge claims made by many Englightment and post-Enlightenment fields of study.  One shouldn’t have to become anti-empiricist (including nihilism), nor anti-humanist, in seeking a good humanities education.

Many postmoderns (and some Nietzscheans, for that matter) dislike being called-out their on relative ignorance of the sciences. From mathematics to statistics, from chemistry to biology, from psychology and on down the line to history, many institutionalized folks imagine themselves often standing outside, and in radical opposition to, the civilization and institutions they are entrusted to maintain.

One of the reasons I suspect both Paglia and Peterson are in a currently ‘semi-banished’ cultural space is that they both openly claim a respect for the wisdom and depth found in the Bible (whatever your thoughts on the transcendent claims to truth and knowledge found therein).  It appears both take a deeply tragic view of life and human nature, and both reject the rejection of traditions so much in vogue these days.

Notice this is enough to upset the apple-cart of many  ‘-Ists,’ from feminists to gender activists to many Left-leaning coalitions of political utopians and social justice seekers, often seeking institutional authority while claiming all current institutional authority is illegitimate. Many such ideas have become very mainstream, indeed.

If you haven’t noticed such ‘-Ists,’ it seems they and I’d argue, too, that you maybe should be paying more attention.

Related On This Site:  Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…See the comments Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was SuccessfulUpdate And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

Repost-From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Nietzsche–Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?’

Kant chopped the head off from German deism and the German State has been reeling every since…is value pluralism a response?: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Is there a move afoot in America away from religion, social conservatism, and toward morality via secular Enlightenment ideals…towards value-free relativism?  toward secular morality?:  Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’Repost-Steven Weinberg’s Essay ‘On God’ In The NY Times Review Of BooksRoger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’ …Will Wilkinson At Forbes: ‘The Social Animal by David Brooks: A Scornful Review’..

Via A Reader-Isaiah Berlin’s Lectures On The Roots Of Romanticism

Bonus interview with Roger Scruton on his ‘Fools, Frauds, & Firebrands:’

Repost-Roger Scruton At The New Atlantis: ‘Scientism In The Arts & Humanities’

Full piece here (link may not last).

Scruton:

‘It is true that the theory of the meme does not deny the role of culture, nor does it undermine the nineteenth-century view that culture properly understood is as much an activity of the rational mind as is science. But the concept of the meme belongs with other subversive concepts — Marx’s “ideology,” Freud’s unconscious, Foucault’s “discourse” — in being aimed at discrediting common prejudice. It seeks to expose illusions and to explain away our dreams. But the meme is itself a dream, a piece of ideology, accepted not for its truth but for the illusory power that it confers on the one who conjures with it. It has produced some striking arguments, not least those given by Daniel Dennett in Breaking the Spell, in which he explains away religion as a particularly successful but dangerous meme.’

Those concepts according to Scruton, are not science, but rather scientism.

And he focuses back-in on judgment, or the capacity for judgment attached to ‘I,’ and an ‘I’ which looks towards transcendence:

‘Surely human beings can do better than this — by the pursuit of genuine scientific explanation on the one hand, and by the study of high culture on the other. A culture does not comprise works of art only, nor is it directed solely to aesthetic interests. It is the sphere of intrinsically interesting artifacts, linked by the faculty of judgment to our aspirations and ideals. We appreciate works of art, arguments, works of history and literature, manners, dress, jokes, and forms of behavior. And all these things are shaped through judgment. But what kind of judgment, and to what does that judgment lead?

Interesting quote by Scruton in a debate about Islam, at min 6:35 of video 4/4:

‘Universal values only make sense in a very specific context…the attempt to universalize them, or project or impose them…just leads to their appropriation by sinister forces.”

Worth a read.

-Steven Pinker, Harvard experimental psychologist and cognitive scientist wrote a piece in the New Republic, entitled: ‘Science Is Not Your Enemy

-Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of the New Republic since the 60′s, responded at The New Republic:  ‘No, Science Doesn’t Have All The Answers.

-Ross Douthat, conservative Catholic columnist at the Times jumped in the fray: ‘The Scientism Of Steve Pinker’ 

-Jerry Coyne, evolutionary biologist, responded to Douthat.

-Wieseltier jumped back in with: ‘Crimes Against Humanities: Now science wants to invade the humanities.  Don’t let it happen.

-Now Daniel Dennett, philosopher, cognitive scientist, one of the New Atheists and Boston-based secularist responds to Wieseltier:

‘Pomposity can be amusing, but pomposity sitting like an oversized hat on top of fear is hilarious. Wieseltier is afraid that the humanities are being overrun by thinkers from outside, who dare to tackle their precious problems—or “problematics” to use the, um, technical term favored by many in the humanities. He is right to be afraid. It is true that there is a crowd of often overconfident scientists impatiently addressing the big questions with scant appreciation of the subtleties unearthed by philosophers and others in the humanities, but the way to deal constructively with this awkward influx is to join forces and educate them, not declare them out of bounds.’

So, how do you teach the arts and tilt the culture? Camille Paglia has some ideas, including the idea that George Lucas has taken root in more 20th-century minds than anyone else with his space opera:

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Related On This Site: Repost-Adam Kirsch At The New Republic: ‘Art Over Biology’…From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’

Evolutionary psychology and moral thinking: Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’From The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy: Charles Sanders Peirce

Larry Arnhart At Darwinian Conservatism Reviews E.O. Wilson’s ‘The Social Conquest Of Earth’Heather McDonald At The WSJ: ‘ The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity’

From Nigel Warburton’s Site: A Definition of Humanism?…A Debate: Would We Better Off Without Religion?…Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?From YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism

Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’

A Wolf In Wolf’s Clothing?-Some Links On Humanities ‘Scholarship’

What I think I see:  It’s one thing to seek continued mass-market relevancy, fame and celebrity ($$$) for it’s own sake.  It’s quite another to do so while claiming the mantle of rigorous scholarship, getting called-out for appallingly bad scholarship on-air.

The finest hypocrisy:

Naomi Wolf can’t possibly speak for all women (let alone all feminists), but her apparent impulse to discover injustice within the English Common Law Tradition and make a book-tour out of it, regardless of fact and evidence, is probably shared amonst many ideological cohorts.

The truth, apparently, is another matter.

I believe a lot of these problems can be solved by reading prose, novels and poems you like, regardless of the gonads of the author.  Sometimes you go along to get along, sometimes you read someone speaking to your very core.

A lot of the problems of bad humanities scholarship can be solved by allowing the more rigorous scholars teaching the better poets and writers in our universities to rise, and not giving the fakers, ideological true-believers and bureaucrats any more influence than they already have.

The good books and classic utterances will continue their dialogue with the living, outstripping the needs, causes and casuistry of the moment.

What can’t last, won’t.

As for contrarian voices, on this site, see:

Camille Paglia has her own take, from 40 years spent within, and on the fringes of, American academia. This is quite a curious mix of 60’s radicalism, art theory, history and criticism, some political philosophy, pop culture and various other influences.

A body-positive, quite radical/anti-anaesthetic and associative Nietzschean feminist art historian (with deep Italian Catholic roots)?

Free Speech And The Modern Campus:

‘However, these boundary-dissolving expansions were unfortunately not the route taken by American academe in the 1970s. Instead, new highly politicized departments and programs were created virtually overnight — without the incremental construction of foundation and superstructure that had gone, for example, into the long development of the modern English department. The end result was a further balkanization in university structure, with each area governed as an autonomous fiefdom and with its ideological discourse frozen at the moment of that unit’s creation. Administrators wanted these programs and fast — to demonstrate the institution’s “relevance” and to head off outside criticism or protest that could hamper college applications and the influx of desirable tuition dollars. Basically, administrators threw money at these programs and let them find their own way. When Princeton University, perhaps the most cloistered and overtly sexist of the Ivy League schools, went coeducational after 200 years in 1969, it needed some women faculty to soften the look of the place. So it hastily shopped around for whatever women faculty could be rustled up, located them mostly in English departments at second-tier schools, brought them on board, and basically let them do whatever they wanted, with no particular design. (Hey, they’re women — they can do women’s studies!)’


Martha Nussbaum had a rather profound take via this review of ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.

Nicholas C Burbules on her book:

Between these two lines of attack, she believes, the university must articulate a conception of itself that defends the standards of reason, while remaining open to new points of view; that preserves the intellectual traditions and canons that define U.S. culture, while consciously broadening the curriculum to expose students to traditions which diverge from their own and which, in their difference, may confront students with an awareness of their own parochialism; that remain respectful and tolerant of many points of view without lapsing into relativism; and in short, that manages to prepare students simultaneously to be citizens of U.S. society, and cosmopolitans, “citizens of the world.”

This has always struck me as a little too broad of a vision to maintain (too heavy on the gender and equality side of things, deep the shards of disruptive radicalism embedded),though I certainly respect the attempt. We should aim to be citizens of the world and in the best Aristotelian sense (such depth and breadth may be in fact necessary). But is it enough within this framework?


On that note, Roger Scruton had some keen insights:

“The works of Shakespeare contain important knowledge. But it is not scientific knowledge, nor could it ever be built into a theory. It is knowledge of the human heart”

“…in the days when the humanities involved knowledge of classical languages and an acquaintance with German scholarship, there was no doubt that they required real mental discipline, even if their point could reasonably be doubted. But once subjects like English were admitted to a central place in the curriculum, the question of their validity became urgent. And then, in the wake of English came the pseudo-humanities—women’s studies, gay studies and the like—which were based on the assumption that, if English is a discipline, so too are they.”

Quite importantly:

“And since there is no cogent justification for women’s studies that does not dwell upon the subject’s ideological purpose, the entire curriculum in the humanities began to be seen in ideological terms.”

Much like Paglia…

Terry Eagleton, British Marxist and professor in the humanities, debates Scruton below.

Will Marxism & continental philosophy become further guiding lights for the humanities here in America as we find much more so in Britain?

Are we really that thick into the postmodern weeds?:

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Judgment, as Scruton points out, shouldn’t necessarily be subsumed to political ideology. I would agree, and I generally default in assuming that each one of us is the ultimate arbiter of our own judgment.

But, no man is an island.

Does Scruton’s thinking eventually lead us back to the problems that religion can have with artists and writers?

Is there anybody whom you trust to decide what you should and shouldn’t read?

Parents? Great authors? Public intellectuals? Professors? God? Laws and lawmakers? Religious leaders? A school-board? A democratic majority? People who think like you? A Council of Cultural Marxists?

The Department of Institutionalized Idiocy?


As to the policial/social climate, did the 60’s counter-culture and the conservative counter-counter culture both win, in a sense?

Christopher Hitchens, William F. Buckley and Peter Robinson discuss below, including the sexual revolution:


Robert Bork’s ‘Slouching Towards Gomorrah’ here. Bork died as of December 19th, 2012.

What did a man who eventually became an openly practicing Roman Catholic witness during the 60’s protests on campus?

Bork argues that during the 1960’s, likely starting with the SDS, a form of liberalism took shape that promotes radical egalitarianism (social justice, equality of outcomes) and radical individualism (excessive freedom from the moral and legal doctrines which require an individual’s duty and which form the fabric of civil society). This is the New Left.

Bork is quite explicit about the violence and threats of violence he witnessed, the barbarism on display, and the confused, tense years that unfolded (culminating in the Kent State debacle). He was one of two conservative law professors at Yale during the late 1960’s and he argues that events have rarely been represented accurately as he saw them. It is a personal account.

Related On This Site: Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…See the comments Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was SuccessfulUpdate And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

Out of the Valley of modernism, post-modernism, and relativism…one path from Nietzsche’s nihilism is through Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom: Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo StraussFrom Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’

Peter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

One More Revolution Ought To Do It-Some Links

-Mobbing Camille Paglia-At some point, not just contrarian individuals, but administration officials might even stand up and defend things that matter, but they need the right signals.

-Via Marginal Revolution, that’s a lot of money sloshing around.

Ah, who needed projected tax revenue of $27.5 billion over 25 years anyways?  You’re in good hands, Revolutionary Peoples Of New York.

Sometimes, you just have to laugh:

But I suppose there’s humor in other places as well:

If that’s too much political ideology for you, come join our Community Of Humans Embracing primitive, tribal possibilities and collectively Romanticizing political identities at Peace Pavilion West:

There have been rumors that our Leader is becoming more controlling, but repeated comparisons to this below video are NOT WARRANTED:

Namaste.

This is very serious business.

Update & Repost-From The LA Review Of Books-‘Death By Prefix? The Paradoxical Life Of Modernist Studies’

Full piece here.

What is modernism, exactly?

This blog is still trying to work towards a definition:

‘Like many scholars of modernism, I’m often asked two questions: What is modernism? And why is modernist studies, it seems, all the rage right now? I don’t have a good, succinct answer to either question — and I’ve no doubt frustrated plenty of friends because of that — but the reasons why I don’t are pretty telling.’

From the comments:

‘The most useful definition of modernist fiction I’ve encountered comes from Brian McHale’s Postmodernist Fiction. He says modernist fiction tends to “foreground epistemological questions” such as “How can I interpret the world I’m part of? What is there to be known?Who knows it? What are the limits of that knowledge?” In contrast, postmodernist fiction tends to “foreground ontological questions” such as “What is a world? What kinds of worlds are there and how are they constituted? What happens when…boundaries between worlds are violated?’

As previously posted:

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

Repost-‘Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?’

Land Art Links Along A With A Quite Modernist W.S. Merwin Poem

William Logan At The New Criterion: ‘Pound’s Metro’…Monday Poem: ‘A Pact’ By Ezra Pound

Of some note:

James Lileks responds to an Atlantic piece

‘There is no morality in art. There is morality in religion; there are philosophical objectives embedded in politics. The two are intertwined in a society and reflected in its art. When you sever art from its cultural moorings and make “newness” the overriding criterion by which the merits of a work are judged, then anything is possible. This results in crap. Not always’

James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Ezra Pound, the Bauhaus, the imagists, the futurists etc. Some of those influences have morphed into post-modernism or where such currents have flowed and keep flowing.  Were they the best models, or has much been lost in translation?

Lileks’ take:

‘The primary urge of the revolutionary and the modernist and the adolescent: impatience.’

So, do we aim for maturity?  Reverence?  Good old Longfellow?  Sonnets?  Rhyming couplets delivered by higher powers to monks in haylofts?

Perhaps there is a growing body of intellectual and cultural pushback against the ‘-Isms’ (environmentalism, feminism, utopian political idealism) as these ideals and idealists continue their contact with current institutions, Nature and human nature.

It’s tough to get an education in the arts and humanities these days, moving through the postmodern landscape, without running into pockets of ‘-Isms.’

Results vary:

It’s not that the sciences, nor even the social sciences, don’t contain valid truth and knowledge claims.

This isn’t worrying so much as the cults of rationality and irrationality out and about; the reefs of radical discontent and group-thought hardening into new rules.

It’s not that change doesn’t need to happen, nor that what’s true remains even if we don’t want it to be so, rather, it’s the inability of many moderns to provide deep enough wisdom, truth and understanding so as not not slip into the same old problems with authority and hierarchy.

I think for some people, there’s an appealing critique of liberal rationalism contained within nihilism, but also something deeper which draws folks to seek out other ideas:  An instinctive defense of the arts, myth, music, and tradition; the complexities of the human heart and mind, the long sweep of history, the wisdom contained within religious texts.

Defending tradition, even perhaps having been influenced by Nietzsche to some extent, has become heretical in parts of the academy and the media.

Merely pushing back against the influence of Foucault and Lacan in the academy, or  perhaps questioning the motives of student radicals during Paris ’68, can be enough to torpedo an academic career:

Before modernism, there was the Romantic break of the individual artistic genius driving all this change forward on his own.  Isaiah Berlin had some thoughts about this (as well as the horrendous totalitarianism which emerges when you start-out thinking the Ends Of Man are already known).

Thanks, reader.  Probably worth revisiting:

Related On This Site:Appeasement Won’t Do-Via A Reader, ‘Michael Ignatieff Interview With Isaiah Berlin’

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”…

Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Anyways, let’s enjoy a poem:

Cousin Nancy

Miss Nancy Ellicott
Strode across the hills and broke them,
Rode across the hills and broke them—
The barren New England hills—
Riding to hounds
Over the cow-pasture.

Miss Nancy Ellicott smoked
And danced all the modern dances;
And her aunts were not quite sure how they felt about it,
But they knew that it was modern.

Upon the glazen shelves kept watch
Matthew and Waldo, guardians of the faith,
The army of unalterable law.

T.S. Eliot  

Matthew=Matthew Arnold. Waldo=Ralph Waldo Emerson

Two AI Links And Some Thoughts On Political Philosophy

Sam Harris & Eliezer Yudkowsky-‘AI Racing Towards The Brink

Should the primary focus be on questions of alignment?  If spiders are to mice are to chimps are to humans, could independent human actors be creating general AI which is a similar order above our own thinking?  Yudkowsky argues that the time to think about such issues is now.

From Quanta Magazine: ‘New Theory Cracks Open the Black Box of Deep Learning

Not exactly reassuring, but the ‘bottleneck’ theory likely mirrors neuronal networks and something which occurs when we humans learn.

Even as machines known as “deep neural networks” have learned to converse, drive cars, beat video games and Go champions, dream, paint pictures and help make scientific discoveries, they have also confounded their human creators, who never expected so-called “deep-learning” algorithms to work so well. No underlying principle has guided the design of these learning systems, other than vague inspiration drawn from the architecture of the brain (and no one really understands how that operates either).

And now for something mostly different…a note on political philosophy (because you didn’t ask 🙂):  Let’s say, for a moment, that questions of fact and questions of value are orthagonal to one another. Whether or not something is true is not necessarily connected to whether or not the thing is good.

One clear problem arising from Marxist and neo/post Marxist thought is that many of the ‘is’ claims contained therein are simply not true.  Marxism, relying upon a singular variable (let’s say L) for all types of labor, is not really describing the world as it is accurately enough to work (capable of planning economies and organizing societies led by a revolutionary ‘vanguard’).  Although Marxism isn’t an explicit moral theory, it clearly animates the moral sentiments and provides value hierarchies to which Marxists still cling and neo-Marxists still seek to produce.  Some variant of Marxism is good enough for a lot of people, frankly, and a lot of people with a religion-sized hole in their lives.  Marxist confusion regarding its own epistemological value as a ‘science’ tends to reflect within its followers, too, many of whom still seem to think what they do is ‘science.’

To my mind, J.S. Mill went a good deal deeper in trying to provide ‘is’ cases for why one should act liberally, maximizing liberty for one’s self by banding together with others also speaking against custom and taboo and the current rules (Benthamites, Puritans, heretics, various outcasts etc.) in pursuit of the truth.  Utilitarian logic doesn’t entirely scale, of course, at least not without sacrificing some individuals for the whole, but both individual autonomy and political liberty in pursuit of the truth are much better preserved.

Within my own trajectory, I do suspect that some of the current neo-Kantians, neo-Platonists (neo-classicists) and Straussians are displaced and/or current religious believers, engaged in some pursuit (confirmation bias included) of what is both true and good (and perhaps, beautiful) within one philosophical whole.

At the moment, on the issue of being pro free-speech, I reasonably align with neo-Marxist (Brendan O’Neill) and post 60’s radical Camille Paglia, but I’ve got deep doubts as to where their thinking leads.

On individual and political liberty as well as economic freedom, I tend to align with many Millians, Hayekians and various flavors of libertarians.  This tends to be, philosophically, where I’m most at home.

On upholding tradition (the wisdom in traditions of which I may be ignorant), and upholding current rules and a deeper scepticism regarding human nature in favor of anything new, I tend to be in alignment with that rather neo-Kantian, neo-Hegelian, Church Of England conservative Roger Scruton.  I still have my worries regarding the modern touchstone of Kant, and the religion-sized hole filled by Hegelian metaphysics and the significant problems of the German State, but the defense of both individual and family within potentially scalable political economies is welcomed.

Patriotism, the desire for limited government, the importance of citizens united under Laws as a nation, and citizens perhaps guided by Natural Law are not entirely unamenable to me, but the case for their goods must consistently, openly, and reasonably be made.

Feel free to highlight my vast and deep ignorance, fellow human (or impostor).

I’ve got a lot of ignorance.

Related: From Darwinian Conservatism: Nietzsche-Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?

A Few Thoughts On The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy Entry: Nietzsche’s Moral And Political Philosophy.

Out of the Valley of modernism, post-modernism, and relativism…one path from Nietzsche’s nihilism is through Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom:Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers of Kantian reason?: From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantA Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Peter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.…

Repost-Some People In New York Are At The Center Of The Universe-A Few Links

***A lot of re-posts lately.  Busy at work.  If you have any questions, drop me a line.

From a reader: The New York Observer-The Trial Of Ryder Ripps: ‘An Embattled Artist On Haters, Angry Muses, And Threats:

One brander calling out another in the marketplace in a bid for fame, celebrity and self-promotion?:

‘The show is called “Ho,” as all the paintings are based on Instagram posts from the feed of model Adrienne Ho—the self-curated building blocks of her own personal brand—and to see the huge diptychs in person, the torrent of bilious blog posts hellbent on exposing Mr. Ripps as a misogynist, seems a little overblown. They’re just oil works on square canvas, but I was a tad surprised at how skillful they were, given that my exposure to Mr. Ripps had thus far been through the ad campaigns of his design firm, his internet hijinks, and his collaborations with fashion designers like Nicola Formichetti and rap producers like Mike Will Made It. Not through painting.’

Where post-pop, (some) art history and theory, meets coding and game design, meets post-Koons art marketeering?

Some people from Jeff Koons’ workshop were involved with the oil paintings.

Robert Hughes really didn’t like the lack of acquired skill and mastery of materials many moderns lack.

There have been a lot of virulent reactions to ‘modern’ life and technology ranging from utopian futurism to nihilism to consumerism and a kind of dejected anti-consumerism and spiritual malaise.

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Camille Paglia wants to tilt the culture more towards art education, but manages to resist the more virulent strains of secular ideology filling the modern hole, pushing back against the radicalism of feminist ideology when it encroaches upon aesthetics:


Hughes wrote a review for Time entitled the “Princeling Of Kitsch.”

As previously posted, The Critic Laughs, by Hamilton:

The modern doubt, ironic detachment and profound unease:

Beauty is no quality in things themselves, it exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.

David Hume

Russian Hackers, A Link On el-Sisi’s Egypt & A Little Less Mephistopheles For This Kindergarten

This blog believes fundamental conflicts within the West, fermenting within our institutions, foaming-over into our politics, invite the calculated meddling of those who think differently.

In the world of Statecraft, I’d prefer cold-eyed realism and calculated bastardry, when necessary, in the pursuit of American interests (ideally attached to decent human beings with checked, limited powers).  Overreach and hubris is easy.  Humility and good strategy is hard.

It’d be nice if Russia wasn’t being run as a kleptocracy by an ex-KGB agent, incentivizing a lot of bright hackers with little economic opportunity into the service of State propaganda and espionage…but:

C.S. Dickey:  ‘Putin Outfoxes Obama, Lies In Wait For Trump

Populist steam seems to be translating directly into policy these days.  Maybe it’s a kind of passive-aggressive placation of outrage in the service of ‘optics’.

That would be short-sighted and petty.


Link from a reader:  The Deep State in Egypt has been controlled by the military for a long time…’Egypt’s Failed Revolution.’

Many Westerners will probably go ahead and double-down on certain radical/semi-radical Western ideals just as those ideals are failing to translate into effective strategy by an exiting American administration.

Better keep James Taylor handy.

From Abu Muqawama: ‘Mubarak And Me’From Michael Totten: ‘The New Egyptian Underground’Michael Totten At The American Interest: “A Leaner, Meaner Brotherhood”

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Gore Vidal had a line that stuck with me in his review of Italo Calvino.

‘For the last year, Calvino had been looking forward to his fall and winter at Harvard. He even began to bone up on “literary theory.” He knew perfectly well what a mephitic kindergarten our English departments have become.

Well, that might be a little much.

Personally, I like to read people who don’t really think like me, especially when they satirize bureaucratic bloat and puffery as they find them.

I like folks on the outside looking in…tracing the shape of something.

Why do we have so many administrators, regulators, and overseers within our institutions?:

Incentives matter. A vigorous freedom and skeptical citizenry is hard to maintain, but vital nonetheless.

Climb aboard and hang-on, dazzled as you may be by the thrill of the thing.

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Beauty is no quality in things themselves, it exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.

David Hume

Megan McArdle At Bloomberg: ‘UVA Should Help Police Catch Alleged Rapists — Now.’

Full piece here

McArdle:

‘I wrote last week about the explosive rape allegations against a University of Virginia fraternity in Rolling Stone.  This morning I see that Richard Bradley, a former editor at George who had the unhappy distinction of having been taken in by Stephen Glass, is raising questions about the story and the reporting by the author,  Sabrina Rubin Erdely.’

There can be big rewards for using the victimhood bullhorn: Garnering internet traffic, making money, gaining political power and cultural influence etc. but facts often come later…in some cases…if at all.

If the facts are true, then use the bullhorn wisely.

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Camille Paglia’s take on modern campus politics here.

With freedom comes responsibility.

Via David Thompson, from Canada via the Agenda with Steve Paikin, notice how two panelists just can’t bring themselves around to the idea of other people speaking their minds, thinking differently and critically, and pursuing ideas freely in an open debate.

They really don’t seem to see a problem with where the logic of their own ideology leads:  To silence and shout-down opposing points of view, to constantly try and control the speech and thoughts of others.

Canada and Britain already have a more entrenched ideological/victimhood class of generally Left types, America.

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As I’ve gotten a few nasty e-mails myself on this subject, I want to reiterate this is not a dismissal of the seriousness of the moral horror and crime that is rape, but a freeing of such a horrible crime to be discussed in the public square calmly and reasonably by differing points of view.  The crime is bad enough without the cult of victimhood out to morally and ideologically dominate the issue.

This ‘holding the line’ is more an appeal to keep civil society civil, and wrenching a very serious subject away from ideologues who traffic in often questionable statistics, gin up moral outrage and panic, and gain advantage by using blind, rabid emotion to their advantage to shun, shame and attack anyone who disagrees. That’s really all it can take to have a less free society, and it’s really all some people have.

After six years of an administration which also benefits from bringing further Left activists into the public square (gun-rights, Keystone pipeline, Organizing For Action), and will likely do little to turn those ideologues away, some media outlets which have drifted in the same direction lately will find it hard indeed to even criticize the ideologues among them.

This ain’t liberal, nor open, nor civil.

Here’s George Will reasonably explaining his position, and the reasons for it:

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Cathy Young At Minding The Campus: ‘The Brown Case: Does It Still Look Like Rape?…The Personal Ain’t Political-Holding The Line Against Rape Ideologues-Conor Friedersdorf On George Will

Christina Hoff Sommers (wikipedia) is trying to replacing gender feminism with equity feminism. She also wrote The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men.

Are You Man Enough? Nussbaum v. MansfieldFrom The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Defending Eliot Spitzer…as a man who ought to be free of prostitution laws…but didn’t he prosecute others with those same laws?: Repost: Martha Nussbaum On Eliot Spitzer At The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A very Harvard affair: The Spelke/Pinker debate-The Science Of Gender And Science

Repost-Revisting Larry Summers: What Did He Say Again?

From FIRE.org-’Federal Government Mandates Unconstitutional Speech Codes At Colleges And Universities Nationwide’

Greg Lukianoff At FIRE.Org: ‘Emily Bazelon And The Danger Of Bringing “Anti-Bullying” Laws To Campus’