‘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.”
I wonder what this would mean when applied to American foreign policy, the Cold War, and Western influence when it comes to world order at the moment…this call for a return to tradition, local politics and religion.
Scruton saw postmodern nihilism as one of the greatest threats to Western civilization right now. Is the Hegelian conceptual framework really a good one to hang the Lebenswelt upon, and a kind of finding yourself in the eyes of others and the works of the world?
My current frustration: The rush away from tradition, towards liberation, and towards the Left has rearranged many of our institutional arrangements and ‘what’s cool’ away from duty, responsibility, much common sense, and many elements of the American past.
It’s not clear at all that what’s replacing such traditions won’t be worse, and not better, especially when you measure people as capable of great evil and good, and mobs as dangerous, and liberation as not liberty.
It’d be nice if many liberal idealists said ‘I didn’t realize the postmodern problems were so deep, the cost of simply ‘change for its own sake’ so steep, in terms of institutional stewardship, speech, and liberty.
Yoram Hozany takes two institutional data points, the NY Times and Princeton University, to argue that whatever you want to call it (‘Marxism’, ‘Neo-Marxism,’ Postmodern ‘Wokism’); these institutions increasingly have a new moral, ideological orthodoxy in place.
From Hazony’s reasoning then, it follows that this new moral, ideological orthodoxy is driven by committed and competing factions of radicals and true-believers, ideologically purifying towards revolutionary praxis.
It also follows that on the American political scene many moderate, opposing groups will have to deal with this new reality: Religious believers, social conservatives, traditionalists, constitutionalists, economic conservatives, libertarians, classical liberals, moderate and reasonable liberals, and even the populist, union Left, will be in some kind of tension with this group of radicals and true-believers.
A lot of people I know resist such arguments, often because they’re caught up in the pro-Trump, anti-Trump battles of the day. Or they’re older and can’t process the levels of institutional capture, rot and over-build we’ve got.
Or they haven’t seen the glazed eyes and closed minds up close.
If you’ve been keeping tabs on this stuff, from a perspective like mine (small ‘c’ conservative), it’s been a long, depressing ride.
**Note: One must remain non-hostile to Christianity in order to earn ire beneath the new liberal ideals, ideologies, and ideologues. I think a respect for tradition is a must for anyone, ultimately, responsible for gatekeeping (learning from and upholding a tradition which extends into the past).
Sure, such folks (politicans, especially) pay lip-service to the latest moral cause, but they also have duties to the dead, the living, and to their own families. I”m expecting some sort of rift between liberal idealists and activist/radicals to manifest more often in American politics going forwards. That said, such a coalition will still mobilize against anything traditional, religious and conservative most of the time.
Our author finds Paglia a welcome, often contrary, voice of the Boomer generation. Peterson and Paglia remain true in their own experiences and principles against prevailing orthodoxies (Peterson from frontier-town Canada, and Paglia teaching at the Philadelphia University Of The Arts). Paglia, perhaps, can be a good thermometer for the radical, heated core of 60’s activism (everything must go, utopia awaits).
‘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.
‘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.
‘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.’
There’s something almost religious about the way some people go about pursuing their non-religious ideas.
Minogue framed it thusly:
‘Olympianism is the characteristic belief system of today’s secularist, and it has itself many of the features of a religion. For one thing, the fusion of political conviction and moral superiority into a single package resembles the way in which religions (outside liberal states) constitute comprehensive ways of life supplying all that is necessary (in the eyes of believers) for salvation. Again, the religions with which we are familiar are monotheistic and refer everything to a single center. In traditional religions, this is usually God; with Olympianism, it is society, understood ultimately as including the whole of humanity. And Olympianism, like many religions, is keen to proselytize. Its characteristic mode of missionary activity is journalism and the media.’
‘Progress, Communism, and Olympianism: these are three versions of the grand Western project. The first rumbles along in the background of our thought, the second is obviously a complete failure, but Olympianism is not only alive but a positively vibrant force in the way we think now. Above all, it determines the Western moral posture towards the rest of the world. It affirms democracy as an ideal, but carefully manipulates attitudes in a nervous attempt to control opinions hostile to Olympianism, such as beliefs in capital or corporal punishment, racial, and otherforms of prejudice, national self-assertion—and indeed, religion‘
As previously posted, Minogue discussed ideology (Marxist ideology in particular), and modern promises of radical and revolutionary freedom: To go deeper and replace Science and Religion, Economics and Politics, on the way to some knowable end-point to human affairs.
Does Nature need to lead, follow or get out of the way? Can we know Nature’s Laws?
‘Since 2000, the combination of stagnation, widening inequality, and the increasing cost of maintaining elite status has arguably had a more pronounced impact on the professional elite than on the working class, which was already largely marginalized by that point. Elites outside of the very top found themselves falling further behind their supposed cultural peers, without being able to look forward to rapidly rising incomes for themselves.
This underappreciated reality at least partially explains one of the apparent puzzles of American politics in recent years: namely, that members of the elite often seem far more radical than the working class, both in their candidate choices and overall outlook. Although better off than the working class, lower-level elites appear to be experiencing far more intense status anxiety.’
‘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.’
‘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.’
Whittaker Chambers, David Horowitz, and other heretics having fled from the radical ideologies of the Left are explained as part of a movement that helped define a century in which, for Packer, the American right has come to dominate.
In fact, he finishes with:
‘The downward slide from Chambers and Reagan to Coulter and Trump has surely swept along a few young idealists who thought they were joining the side of freedom and truth, then realized too late that they had signed on for junk science and white identity politics. Ted Cruz’s vision would require the toppling of just about every pillar of the country’s social and economic structure. You don’t have to look elsewhere for the destructive utopianism that turns believers into apostates. In a few years’ time, we’ll be reading the chilling inside story, written by a campaign aide who barely got out alive.’
I can imagine the view from the New Yorker office in Manhattan might be magnifying the various and sundry evangelicals, mouth-breathing gun-nuts, racist xenophobes and ‘junk-scientists’ gathering at the Black Gate Of Mordor. These are simple folk, really. The J6 event (at least a riot) simply acted as confirmation.
Traditional folks, country folks, religious folks and unmodern folks have all become out-groups, treated with scorn, pity or, perhap; sad rubes to be rounded-up by the new fields of knowledge implemented within a benevolent managerial state.
Welcome to the minority! There sure was a lot of dishonesty, cowardice and injustice in how this profound shift is playing out.
We all know that even if ideal human societies with ever more freedom and equality aren’t possible, we should still try and make them a reality, right? Many people’s hearts are in the right place, after all.
Or do ‘The People’ possess one big heart they all have to share?
Do ‘real-scientists’ all read the New Yorker for the latest scientific discoveries explained in 2,000 word long-form essays?
Of course, while there is a special kind of concern-trolling on display in Packer’s piece, there is also a fair amount of truth: It is the heretics ‘mugged by reality’ who’ve helped to lead the conservative movement in the U.S.
Irving Kristol is just one example. I like to imagine his son, Bill, employing his talents as a regional franchise manager for some Honda dealerships in central Ohio or Wendy’s in Tennessee. Would his views remain the same in the salons of the Upper East side?
Would anyone care?
Longer-term, I suspect it’s bound to happen that more ‘neoconservatives’ fall-out of the intellectual grace of worldviews like those often found at the New Yorker, where liberal-Left democratic and secular humanism rule the roost. There’s plenty of soft-collectivism on display, (with its own attendant hippie and post-hippie utopian idealism), safe-spaces for feminism and environmentalism (alarming levels of enviro-dread, lately), along with much post 68′ civil-rights radicalism and what I call ‘brownstone activism.’
Such views are having more and more real-world consequences.
Human nature and reality await.
I don’t know if such observations make me conservative (surely, they do to some), but I often find myself wondering where such ideals lead, exactly? What responsibilities do they impose upon me?
How much equality is enough? How will you know when it is enough? What kinds of moral authority do these ideals rely upon and what kind of institutions do they actually produce in the real world?
Which freedoms and opportunities have they brought me? Are these worth the trade-offs?
If such arguments are well-made, they always have a chance of convincing me.
In the meantime, however, there’s Packer’s piece, where at least there’s some recognition of the following:
‘In the twentieth century, the void left by the loss of religion was sometimes filled by totalizing political systems, and the result was a literary genre of confession that is as powerful and probing as the Augustinian kind.’
Addition: Nice wild swing at Augustinians, there.
Let me know what I’ve got wrong, as so much depends upon where you start:
Technology: Chapt GPT will likely create an assistive-technological training platform for the ambitious and reasonably bright. Many jobs now done by people will simply be automated; and many more technological skills will likely live on steeper curves of obsolescence. There’s no replacement for competence, reliability, and focused attention, of course. People are expecting a lot more choice in their lives, and are self-selecting based on their current preferences (most of us are doing this, to some extent).
Globalization: Both India and China are producing hundreds of thousands of high IQ, specially trained, hard-working software and hardware engineers competing for slots in American higher Ed and the American tech sector. There is global competition in many sectors of the economy.
Past and current trade deals are trying to address the inherent dislocation that comes when capital chases cheap labor, when industry dies out in one area and blooms in another.
America has an aging population (less so than China and many European countries), and many hopelessly insolvent social programs based on somewhat Ponzi-like projections that can’t be maintained as they currently exist. This is a serious, serious problem.
Aren’t you glad we’re so busy politicizing many personal problems?
The American university and current government models are bloated, with a lot of waste and poor incentives, producing a lot of people with unforgivable student-loan debt and degrees of questionable value in current job markets. Our public sector is woefully unable to handle such change. With the postmodern move, and all the ‘studies’ departments and busy-work administrators, I don’t see how pretty dramatic change isn’t forced upon a lot of people unwilling to move their food bowls.
As previously posted-A breath of fresh air from George Packer at the New Yorker: ‘Mute Button:‘
‘The problem with free speech is that it’s hard, and self-censorship is the path of least resistance. But, once you learn to keep yourself from voicing unwelcome thoughts, you forget how to think them—how to think freely at all—and ideas perish at conception. Washiqur Rahman and Avijit Roy had more to fear than most of us, but they lived and died as free men.’
Maybe this kind of moral courage will make a comeback…
Cowen mentions something I’ve often thought: Changing institutions to include female representation will have costs and benefits, and change the character of many institutions themselves, and many parts of our civilization (marriage, incentives, parenthood, politics etc). Pretty unremarkable, but a highly charged and consequential topic nonetheless.
Robert Putnam, author of ‘Bowling Alone‘, seems to agree with Charles Murray about what much of what the data highlights: Working-class whites are behaving more like working-class non-whites, and college-educated non-whites are behaving more like college-educated whites.
You don’t have to agree with all of the ideas, but traditional views have their merits:
‘In sum, the Joint Chiefs have taken a clear long-term risk for an unclear near-term political gain, perhaps hoping to diminish budgetary cuts. The question is whether increasing the individual rights of the female soldier decreases the combined combat effectiveness of the killing pack. We won’t know the answer until we fight a hard ground war sometime in the future.’
Something many Boomers probably still take for granted: If you have a sexual, moral and political liberation movement sweep parts of your civilization (generation of ’68), there are gonna be some consequences, good and bad. Some radicals and social revolutionaries (professing to not believe in the legitimacy of any institution) will join and co-opt many parts of the institutions themselves; enjoying the sudden stability, influence and money gained.
The institutions, however, may arguably become less stable, so a previous stability might have been taken for granted by those Boomers.
I usually prize stability, moral decency, slow change, and rule of law (political/economic freedom) more than any one cause.
It’s probably a matter of time until you get a counter-revolution, and what worries me is a less stable system overall.
Subject: ‘Is England Still Influencing America?’ on Hitchens’ book ‘Blood, Class, & Nostalgia: Anglo-American Ironies‘ when Hitchens’ was pushing the idea that ’empire’ was the primary transmission, apparently due to his ideological commitments at the time. America must have seemed a classless paradise with institutions well-functioning and ripe to achieve justice and equality for the whole world…for some folks in the Generation of ’68.
You tossed a blanket from the bed You lay upon your back, and waited; You dozed, and watched the night revealing The thousand sordid images Of which your soul was constituted; They flickered against the ceiling. And when all the world came back And the light crept up between the shutters And you heard the sparrows in the gutters, You had such a vision of the street As the street hardly understands; Sitting along the bed’s edge, where You curled the papers from your hair, Or clasped the yellow soles of feet In the palms of both soiled hands.
Has there been a better poet writing in English in the past 150 years? Probably not.
The depth of commitment to his metaphysical vision and the breadth of that vision is remarkable. Look at the rhyme and meter! Sinful.
‘Romanticism (also known as the Romantic era) was an artistic, literary, musical, and intellectual movement that originated in Europe towards the end of the 18th century, and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1850. Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical.‘
For my piece, seeking poetic meaning, through the written and spoken word, moves many hearts and minds most deeply. Within such mediated and heightened, experiences of reality, many people forget their own senses and reason. A creative genius has created a work (a poem, a cathedral, your favorite song) where the creator’s senses and reason has become yours. You’re a bit like a walker on the forest floor; the creative genius the canopy overhead, filtering the sunlight to this tree and that. One need only look to revelation and myth, religious and ideological, to understand how powerful such works of the imagination are, and how such impulses within us, can be.
In the Romantic Age, this was channeled in specific directions.
I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud
I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o’er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine And twinkle on the milky way, They stretched in never-ending line Along the margin of a bay: Ten thousand saw I at a glance, Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they Out-did the sparkling waves in glee: A poet could not but be gay, In such a jocund company: I gazed—and gazed—but little thought What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude; And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.
William Wordsworth’s Lake District ain’t necessarily the cloud in front of you. Those clouds have come and gone. You are not really a cloud (though for a moment maybe you were, within the mind’s eye, the cloud and the looker and the poet, while reading the poem).
Who’s more likely to be Romantically inspired? Well, some temperaments more than others, I’m guessing. All of us to some extent, however, in the modern world. I think people whose education has come through modern channels are more likely.
In my experience, sometimes it’s the rationalist, the data scientist, or the physicist, when the brain-draining day’s work is done, who becomes most inspired to identify with modern, collectivist and Romanticized thought. These folks are often among the brightest, and the ones working with hardest data, and the most rigorous standards of getting at the truth. But, such folks are human, after all. Often, they want comforting fictions over harsh truths. Ideal utopias dot the horizon. Some rationalists can also be painfully naive when it comes to the motives others have in a shared enterprise (a bureaucracy, a political coalition etc).
Reality, the reality of privation, violence and criminality are still with us. Some people choose violence for dominance and leverage over others. Some people develop skills which involve harming you. Many people in rough neighborhoods are happy to get over on you, and that’s about it. Many people in rough neighborhoods choose not to live this way and cultivate and strive to keep what’s good alive, moving forwards.
Some very educated people, with good backgrounds, can be absolute assholes, and even dangerously criminal. This shouldn’t come as entirely surprising. Higher intelligence is certainly no guarantee of character.
‘Poverty’ has become a kind of big, conceptual bowl into which the imaginings of a post-Christian, humanistic, ethic have gathered. Some people have turned these ideas into what I regard as a rather idealistic (and ideological) platform, actualizing such ideas through emergent thought.
I suppose we’ll see.
On that note:
I remain skeptical of much environmental thinking, primarily in the realms of politics, law and ad hoc ethics. Many people here aren’t actually doing science. Many such knowledge and truth claims are serving various masters. Such ideas have become the glue holding many coalitions of humanists, anti-humanists, idealists and ideologues together, mediating the natural worlds and those of (M)an.
‘The real feat achieved by Gropius and his cohorts was to have recognized and exposed the sociopolitical and moral power of architecture and design. They wanted to exert “effective influence” on “general conditions,” fashion a more just world and turn all of this into a “vital concern of the entire people.”‘
‘Across all cultures, raising a child is considered one of the most rewarding things a person can do. Yet a chorus of campaigners, scientists, and journalists suggest that everyone should think twice before procreating.’
As I see things, many in the West are replacing belief in a deeper substrate of religious doctrines with belief in a substrate of secular humanist ideals and various flavors of political idealism.
There’s a kind of Neo-Romanticism going on, including religious impulses channeled through secular beliefs and in anti-capital, anti-technology and anti-human directions.
OUT: Old kooks
IN: New kooks
I’d like to remind folks that Peace Pavilion West, an Eco-Romantic Human Collective Going Back To Nature and Forward Towards Progress, is still accepting applications.
-Would you like to live in your OWN ecopodment as part of a living, working Community?
-Does 1,200 calories of guaranteed bug-paste and 8 glasses of fresh spring water a day sound good to you?
-Close your eyes: The day’s field labor is done. Honest sweat and natural musk mix with memory. Your mind, body and soul begin to rise towards the Cosmos, as each Community member joins hands, chanting Earthsong at dusk
True story: I was tutoring a girl in Seattle, and she was in the arts. Artists are often alone, more vulnerable, and she suddenly opened up about Climate Change.
This was one of the primary lenses through which she viewed the world, and it was predicting imminent disaster. Doom and gloom. The End Of The World Is Nigh. Her teachers and peers were eye deep in this acopalyptic thinking, and such ideas were clearly amplifying her anxiety.
I shared some of my interest in the Natural world, animals and experiences. We looked up some facts and discussed them for a bit. I told a bad joke or two. After both relaxing somewhat, I tried to suggest getting out a bit more and mixing it up. You got this.
“Only when humans are again permitted to build authentic urbanism — those cities, towns, and villages that nurture us by their comforts and delights — will we cease the despoiling of Nature by escaping to sprawl.”
‘A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation. Without such means it might even risque the loss of that part of the constitution which it wished the most religiously to preserve. The two principles of conservation and correction operated strongly at the two critical periods of the Restoration and Revolution, when England found itself without a king. At both those periods the nation had lost the bond of union in their antient edifice; they did not however, dissolve the whole fabric.’