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

Via The Rubin Report:

As I currently see events, a self-directed life and the freedom to live such a life is a blessing of the Enlightenment, indeed, but much Enlightenment thinking has also helped produce many Shrines-Of-The-Self which currently dot the landscape, and which come with many downside risks.

Reserving judgment about such Shrines (should they exist), I suspect many in the West feel a tidal pull towards Romanticized-Modernized-Postmodernized visions of Nature, and the triumph of the individual artist, revealing and having revelations, creating, striving, and making anew in a process of casting old models aside. Towering genuises abound. Many are European.

Generations and centuries later, however, such ideas have also saturated Western civil society enough to create many of our familiar tensions: Some individuals are in a process of fully rejecting religion, science, mathematics and many products of reason in favor of modern mysticism, ideology and the nihilist denial of objective reality.

I think other individuals in the modern world have placed a lot of hope and meaning into political ideals and political movements gathered around what I’ve been calling the ‘-Isms’ (feminism, environmentalism, racism etc…where group identity can easily crowd out the pursuit of truth and individual autonomy). Such movements have important moral truths to offer and arguably freedoms for all (such is always the claim), but they don’t come without costs, dangers and downsides either (spin-cycles of utopia/dystopia as Eric Weinstein points out in the video above).

I consider these movements to be in serious need of critique, resistance and context, especially in dealing with hard problems of human nature like war and conflict, potential evil, and the incredible difficulty of maintaining legitimate moral decency aligned with positions of authority. Process can often matter as much as outcome.

Last but not least, still other individuals have been taken up into radical movements staying true to the totalitarianism and misery guaranteed within doctrines of revolutionary praxis, and such individuals are still busy activating beneath the deeper bedrock of secular humanism and liberal thinking, pushing upwards.

The Weinsteins are engaged in a lot of the pushback:

That mathematics, the natural sciences and evolutionary biology offer profound truth and knowledge should go without saying, expanding human understanding of the natural world, more accurately explaining empirically observed patterns and relationships within that natural world, and actively disrupting most old models many of us have long since internalized.

This is what free and rigorous thinking, often at great personal cost, can offer to an open and free society. May it long continue.

I don’t know if I’m with the brothers Weinstein when it comes to their radicalism regarding all current institutional arrangements, but I could be persuaded by their ‘panther-in-the-china-shop’ model of reform. Frankly, many of our most important institutions are proving over-inflated, cumbersome, and full of rot: Buffeted as we all are are by migration and mass communication, global labor markets, and very rapid technological rates of change.

***Perhaps if there’s a spectrum of change, I fall more on the conservative side. At the moment, I’m skeptical of the defense of experts and expertise (despite the truths), the panther-reformers (despite our common interests), and the populist discontent so active in our politics right now (boiling over, but accurately, I think, representing many of the fissures and chasms in civil society right now).

I should add that I think much that’s being conserved is arguably not worth conserving at any given time, but I doubt any one of us, nor any group, has accesss to full knowledge of what should stay and what should go. In fact, I’m pretty certain one of the main points of good governance lies in prohibiting any one of us, nor any particular faction, no matter how reasonable, to have very much power for very long (and it’s definitely the job of good people and the good in people to keep the demagogues, zealots, career bureuacrats and grubby strivers from too much power).

Let me know what I may have gotten wrong. Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

As always, thanks for reading. That’s a blessing in and of itself.

Related On This Site:

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’

The radical and rationalist project, anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism: Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”

Somewhere from the old aristocratic Russia softly speaks a keen mind in beautiful, strange English: Michael Dirda At The Washington Post Reviews ‘Nabokov in America’

How might this relate to the Heglian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Via Youtube-‘Week 2 Leo Strauss-The Three Waves Of Modernity’

From The NY Times Via A & L Daily: Helen Vendler On Wallace Stevens ‘The Plain Sense Of Things’

Happy New Year! Let’s Do 2019! Gird Your Loins for An Unbidden Lecture On (A)rt, (S)cience And American Institutions These Days

I don’t know how you ended-up on this blog, but here you are:  Welcome old and new readers, to this little carved-out corner of the web.  May you subtly calculate how and why you disagree with me as you click back to that latest favorite video/recipe/game.

Or do yourself a favor and just click through to Zombo.com already.

It’s free!

Personally, I see many Wild-West attributes of online platforms as increasingly coming into contact with existing institutions and interests, and becoming less wild, but still Western.

This seems to be happening while many of our institutions have been seriously over-leveraged and are undergoing tremendous populist pushback. Trust in political parties, lawmakers and institutional leadership are at all-time lows.

Is America becoming more like Europe?

Mid and longer-term, there is still a fair amount of high-end innovation and intellectual incubation going on.  I tend to see mathematicians, AI innovators, computer scientists and software engineers as trying to solve particular kinds of problems, and generally not worrying too much about ‘culture,’ at least while not actively solving these problems.

Nevertheless, the ‘culture’ is interested in them.  At many companies and institutions, there is a tendency towards aligning with the loudest voices and most committed social reformers, which is to say favoring oppressed identity groups (women, minorities etc) on a rather simplified trend-line towards ever-more freedom and progress.

This tends to be where a lot of moral and public sentiment is currently being directed, regardless of deeper truths.

Such platforms also interact with a general decline in organized religious and cultural expectations in nearly all of our lives (my simplified trend-line of less religion in our lives).  I see a good deal of increased choice and freedom about where to work, whom to marry and how to make decisions these days.

Therefore, not all of these changes are bad.  Many of these changes, in fact, have been very good for very many people, but they come with costs.

It’s not clear what the new rules are nor upon which foundations they will rest.

What’s going on with the intellectual dark-web?: If not all change is for the better, and if you’re counting on liberation driven by radicals decrying all existing institutions in favor of utopian ideas and revolution, then you’re counting on deeply authoritarian and totalitarian ideologues to defend liberty.

This is where many in academia, the media and positions of cultural influence find themselves these days, having backed-into into institutional and bureaucratic capture by illiberal voices.

As for the current Patreon dustup, I see Patreon as primarily having to make a business decision in the ‘culture’ wars between the more activist and socialist Left and the IDW (intellectual dark-web).

A vigorous, robust defense of freedom of speech so common a generation ago has now sadly, but unsurprisingly, become a cultural battleground.

And on major platforms like Patreon, the IDW folks standing-up for broader and more open speech have become an unprotected minority, and likely a business liability:

Many deeply committed socialists tend to be surprisingly good art and film critics, focusing sharply on ‘culture.’  Many economic Marxists tend to congregate in the academy and politics as they produce little of value beyond spreading the gospel of Marx.  They can be particularly adept at politics, gaining special traction while institutions are over-leveraged.

If you allow them to drive the latest moral idea, then eventually standing up for any law, tradition or practice makes you an enemy and part of the ‘system’ they claim to know so much about:

As for my take on artists, most good ones tend to the bohemian, operating on the fringes of the ‘culture’, wanting to develop particular skills, talents as well as their own unique voices (good artists earn appropriate respect for their skills and talents, despite often harboring fruitcake economic and philosophical ideas).

Generally, they are not members of a ‘creative class,’ as this tends to be a favored fiction of many a softly collectivist type, dreaming rosy dreams.

More broadly, many in the culture at large have gone down deeply nihilistic and existentialist pathways.  On the ‘cutting-edge’ where what’s cool easily becomes culturally and politically influential, many individuals see themselves as bitterly isolated from all meaning and purpose, on their own against the void, much like the tragic anti-hero become so popular these days.

I see this as occuring on a much longer trend-line, or at least, Isaiah Berlin offers some useful thoughts as to when and where Western artists started adopting this Romantic vision and outside-looking-in approach so common these days:

As to my own paltry contributions (using other people’s platforms to link to other people discussing past great contributions), here ya go.

There are many entry points into Western canon, so here are just a few:

Music + Math=Symmetry?:

And just a passing dream:

A Few Thoughts On Steven Pinker’s Appearance On The Rubin Report

Via a reader, Pinker’s book here.

My current views on Pinker’s four categories, for what they’re worth:

Reason-I’ve been exploring philosophically ideal Oakeshottian ‘modes of experience’ lately.  Our thoughts and basic sensory experiences are intertwined within modes, but these modes are not necessarily connected to a larger, hierarchically arranged superstructure.

‘The modes that Oakeshott identifies in Experience and Its Modes—history, science, and practice, to which he later added “poetry” (art)—are epistemological categories, not ontological ones. And although the modes are mutually exclusive, they do not form a closed set. They are constructions that have emerged over time in human experience. They could change or even disappear and other modes might yet appear.’

I view this approach as particularly useful for the humanities, as it could be tonic for the nihilism, existentialism and post-Romantic, post-Modern individual isolation found throughout the Western World (arts, academies, ‘culture’).  This approach could be especially useful where narrow ideologies and righteous belief go about picking up the slack.

I do think Pinker is properly humble about the influence of reason (it won’t scale to everyone, and only to those of interested in engaging their reason in a direction Pinker might help instruct and with which I find much to agree).

More on Oakeshott’s thinking:

‘The illusion that there are “correct” answers to practical questions Oakeshott called “Rationalism”. It is the belief that practical activity is rational only when it rests on moral or causal laws whose truth can be demonstrated. In Marxism, for example, one encounters the claim that laws of historical change can be discerned scientifically and that practical guidance can be derived from them. But this claim, Oakeshott thought, should be understood as a rhetorical one that presupposes a certain kind of audience: it can be persuasive only for those who already believe that such laws exist and that they dictate correct decisions (Oakeshott 2008: 168–177). The error of Rationalism is to think that making decisions simply requires skill in the technique of applying rules or calculating consequences.’

As a brief aside, Oakeshottian pluralism perhaps doesn’t have much overlap with Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism with regard to political philosophy, but it does remind me of the following: Oppressed individuals may actually have good reasons for change, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that oppressed individuals possess knowledge of the direction nor ends of (H)istory, nor those of (M)an.  In fact, some of the greatest dangers of the 20th century came from individuals believing they knew of such ends while instituting those ends into social and political revolutions.

Berlin:

“Everything is what it is:  liberty is liberty, not equality or justice or fairness or culture, or human happiness or a quiet conscience.  If liberty of myself or my class or my nation depends on the misery of a number of other human beings, the system which promotes this is unjust and immoral.  but if I curtail or lose my freedom in order to lessen the shame of such inequality, and do not thereby materially increase the individual liberty of others, an absolute loss of liberty occurs.”

Food for thought.

Science-I believe the sciences yield the best knowledge we have of the Natural world, and attract some of the best minds, but it takes many years of long practice, hard work and habit to gain a sufficient mental map and the mathematical problem solving skills necessary to advance a field.  Not all sciences are equal, and some social sciences, like psychology, have had serious reproducibility problems of late.

Just as the Oakeshottian critique of ‘rationalism’ display themselves with regard to reason, there is also a critique of ‘scientism‘ on this view.

In the wake of people actually doing science, are many people practicing in a field with scientific elements and varying but respectable degrees of probabilistic accuracy, and further downstream, people with little to no training in the sciences doing something quite different altogether (politics, journalism etc).

There is a reductionism, and a kind of fetishiziation of scientific knowledge around which many gather.  Should one usefully rank order the sciences, a little epistemological humility might still recommend that human knowledge may not all be successfully synthesized into one model nor accounted for within such a model.

Also (I’m sure you’ve probably noticed this, too) smart people, scientists included, are subject to the same blind spots, hubris and group-think as any of the rest of us.  Sometimes smart people are more likely to assume their knowledge in one domain qualifies them for knowledge in another, especially when others pay them a lot of attention.

Humanism & Progress Through Humanist Institutions (The Problem of ‘Isms’)

I wonder if Pinker would accept this definition of Humanism as found here:

“‘…a morally concerned style of intellectual atheism openly avowed by only a small minority of individuals (for example, those who are members of the British Humanist Association) but tacitly accepted by a wide spectrum of educated people in all parts of the Western world.”

Perhaps.

From an interview with Pinker:

Naff: Let’s talk about humanism itself. You say that progress without humanism really isn’t progress at all. And you’ve just made the point that humanism can occupy a place in various different perches. But there is a secular humanist movement that is at the forefront of humanism today.

Lots of other “isms” have faltered because of human foibles, jealousies, power divisions, ideological differences and so on. What makes humanism so special that you single it out as essential to progress?

Pinker: Not so much the humanist movement, although I do endorse it as a valuable development, but rather the overall morality of humanism [is what’s essential], namely that human wellbeing is the ultimate good—and also the wellbeing of other sentient creatures. “Humanism” is a bit of a misnomer in singling out Homo sapiens; it’s a larger commitment to sentient beings.

But the effect of humanistic institutions very much depends on how they organize, how they conduct themselves, how they manage their own affairs. Although they’ve been a force for good, I’m not calling for a blind trust in a particular organization that happens to have “humanist” in their title.

Of course, progress is possible and is actually occuring in many fields and such progress filters down to all of our lives through various channels. Yet, as Pinker notes, it’s not clear what prevents unfalsifiable ideas from becoming ascendant and dominant, and the loudest, most committed ideologues from gaining humanist institutional control through administrative maneuvering and confrontational shakedowns.

The schisms within the Progressive movement, for example, and the radical liberationists often driving the latest moral cause are very interested in making all the world, all the people in the world, and all of our institutions [on top of that], reflect their moral and ideological lights, often through very illiberal means.

How much am I missing?  Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Thanks for reading.

Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department…

A Few Ken Minogue Quotations on Michael Oakeshott

Some Tuesday Links-On Ken Minogue, Some Doubt About Even Dealing In North Korea, And Free Speech

From Quadrant: ‘The Conservative Mind Of Kenneth Minogue:’

‘From the 1970s, Oakeshott was the key figure in what Ken termed a group of LSE conservative realists that included Shirley and Bill Letwin and Elie Kedourie as well as Ken himself. They shared the view, he averred, “that the activity of conserving an established way of life” was the “central, indeed, virtually the defining concern of politics”. Conservatism in this realist sense was a disposition, rather than a plan.’

Hmmm…via Mick Hartley:

‘Judging by Pompeo’s remarks, the chances that Trump and the US team will be outwitted by a smarter political operative are looking increasingly strong.’

North Korea’s leadership really is more cunning and ruthless than you might imagine (despite the ludicrous artifice):

It takes a lot of patience to deal with people who treat you as not worth listening to, and potentially evil:

It Ain’t What You Know, It’s What You Know That Ain’t So?-Eric Weinstein At the Rubin Report: The Four Kinds Of Fake News

More on Weinstein here.  Interesting guy.

His 4:

As this blog has noted:  One of the core functions of successful media outlets lies in aggregating information and sources of information, cornering a market if possible, and maintaining competitive advantage by implementing new technology ahead of others in the same market space. It’d be nice if they had an idea of the ‘public trust’ in mind, or reader-respect, or consumer responsiveness…but…there are no guarantees.  Also, they can easily become beholden to the people they rely upon for access.

What if the technology changes rapidly enough to make many old models obselete, or many of them obselete within a relatively short period of time?

The losers can be very vocal about their losses (some going-in for special pleading and the end-is-nigh handwringing….often with an inflated sense of their own importance).

A lot of the people who used the math to design the algorithms that now structure user interaction with information and sources of information have similar gatekeeping power/influence the old outlets had.

***Actual beat journalism costs time and money, is probably best done locally, and can be a vital check on those with power and influence (or more power/influence than the media outlet has, and more likely with conflicting political/business/ideological interests than the media outlet).

There is a risk calculation necessary for this type of journalism, because it often doesn’t pan-out.

Thanks to a reader.

Related On This Site:A Few Thoughts On Blogging-Chris Anderson At Wired: ‘The Long Tail’

Megan McArdle At Bloomberg: ‘The Slow, Painful Death Of The Media’s Cash Cow’

-(addition) Via a reader:  Eugene Volokh argues freedom of the press ain’t about saving the buggy whip industry:

‘I’ve often argued that the freedom of the press was seen near the time of the Framing (and near the time of the ratification of the 14th Amendment, as well as in between and largely since) as protecting the right to use the press as technology — everyone’s right to use the printing press and its modern technological heirs. It was not seen as protecting a right of the press as industry, which would have been a right limited to people who printed or wrote for newspapers, magazines and the like .

At least with the Weekly World News, you got the best of fakery:

batboy.gif

No!

More Links On Speech-Many Sustained Threats Are Still Coming From True-Belief On The Left

“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.”

-John Stuart Mill ‘On Liberty: Chapter II-Of The Liberty Of Thought And Discussion’

When it comes to the moral courage of people running our institutions, like politicians, I rarely trust in moral courage to make an appearance.

I mean, I’d like to, but some knowledge of the human heart and some experience of how people actually behave makes me, I think, more depressively realistic.

Many people, much of the time, prefer stability and knowing where they stand in hierarchies of some authority as opposed to the kinds of sacrifice required to defend principles under attack (illusory and real).  A steady paycheck is what many seek, frankly, with some bit of respect and some security (illusory and real).

In other words, tend to your own garden and look with much scepticism at any authority figures in your life (a few are genuinely admirable, many are opportunistically respectable, some are fools and knaves, and a few are genuine idiots).

Activists of course, many of them operating in a kind of mental slavery, seek to overthrow what they see as the morally illegitimate institutions which have oppressed them, and control those institutions, bending them to their will.

As for your freedoms…good luck.

—————

Of course, there are other forces at work.

In addition to rapid technological change (the technology IS the thing at most media companies) and the failure of many old media companies to properly adapt to these changes (sitting on their old business models), most publications usually need deep donor pockets or other revenue streams for purposes of survival.

Ideology, thus, can expand its influence into more media outlets and more lives in our Republic (imploring and shaming all to recognize special classes of victim groups, enter the grievance/guilt Olympics and ‘check privilege’ against the ‘history of oppression’ on the way to radical and revolutionary freedom).

Most of these people are simply not friends of speech.

——————

Sam Harris is a neuroscientist and professed member of the New Atheists, yet because of his apostasy in highlighting the actual beliefs of one the new protected class groups (Muslims) in the oppression hierarchy, he has come under scurrilous and constant attack.

—-

As previously posted: From TheFire.Org-‘The Condescending Paternalism Of Williams President Adam Falk:’

As FIRE co-founder Alan Charles Kors has said: “You cannot say to people, you’re too weak to live with freedom. Only that group is strong enough to live with freedom.”

But that’s exactly what Adam Falk, the patronizing president of Williams College, has said to the college’s student body. Yesterday, Falk unilaterally canceled a speech by John Derbyshire, who was invited as part of the student-run “Uncomfortable Learning” speaker series.

From Adam Falk’s letter to Williams students about the matter:

‘Today I am taking the extraordinary step of canceling a speech by John Derbyshire, who was to have presented his views here on Monday night. The college didn’t invite Derbyshire, but I have made it clear to the students who did that the college will not provide a platform for him.

Free speech is a value I hold in extremely high regard. The college has a very long history of encouraging the expression of a range of viewpoints and giving voice to widely differing opinions. We have said we wouldn’t cancel speakers or prevent the expression of views except in the most extreme circumstances. In other words: There’s a line somewhere, but in our history of hosting events and speeches of all kinds, we hadn’t yet found it.

We’ve found the line. Derbyshire, in my opinion, is on the other side of it. Many of his expressions clearly constitute hate speech, and we will not promote such speech on this campus or in our community.

We respect—and expect—our students’ exploration of ideas, including ones that are very challenging, and we encourage individual choice and decision-making by students. But at times it’s our role as educators and administrators to step in and make decisions that are in the best interest of students and our community. This is one of those times.’

John Derbyshire raised quite a stir after publishing ‘The Talk: Nonblack Version,’

‘There is a talk that nonblack Americans have with their kids, too. My own kids, now 19 and 16, have had it in bits and pieces as subtopics have arisen. If I were to assemble it into a single talk, it would look something like the following.

Of course, what better place than a liberal arts college to talk these matters out?

Sigh.

Read up. Get your reasons and arguments together.  Show up at the debate, alone or with friends. Listen to the other fellow.  Think.  Respond.  Think some more.  Debate.

Publishing and disseminating the thoughts and ideas of others is not necessarily an endorsement of those thoughts and ideas, but it is absolutely vital in maintaining a free and open society:

Out of principle alone, here’s Derbyshire discussing his general worldview:

—————-

Two older, but likely worthwhile links:

Brendan O’Neill At Spiked:

‘A true devotee of freedom of speech says, ‘Let everyone speak, because it is important that all sides are heard and that the public has the right to use their moral muscles and decide who they trust and who they don’t’. The new, partial campaigners for friends’ speech effectively say, ‘Let my friend speak. She is interesting. She will tell the public what they need to hear.’ These are profoundly different positions, the former built on liberty and humanism, the latter motored by a desire to protect oneself, and oneself alone, from censorship. The former is free speech; the latter ‘me speech’.

Back to Yale with Christopher Hitchens:

Full post here.

Reason post here.

NY Times piece here.

Old news I know, but it seems that the Yale Press was genuinely afraid that publishing this book could potentially lead to violence, and that they are responsible for the consequences of such potential violence.

Hitchens:

“…Yale had consulted a range of experts before making its decision and that “[a]ll confirmed that the republication of the cartoons by the Yale University Press ran a serious risk of instigating violence.”

See Also:  If you thought the cartoons were bad, more on the Fitna movie here.  From The NY Times: Review Of Christopher Caldwell’s Book “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West”  Libertarians love this issue:  Repost-A Canadian Libertarian Making Noise: Ezra Levant  

From THEFIRE.org Via Youtube: ‘Juan Williams On Firing From NPR, ‘Muzzled,’ And Threats Posed To Free Speech’

Free Speech & Mainstreamed Activism

Two Tuesday Links On Free Speech