John Gray At Unherd-British Politics, Tragic Realism and Some Predictions: Caught Between Populism & Institutional Dysfunction

Predictions are hard, especially about the future. Thanks for reading, and for stopping by.

My two cents:

  1. Technological dislocation is still going strong, and the recent developments in chat AI offer some predictive power. Labor costs, for most companies, are among the highest. Many smart and not-so-smart people never learn how to write well, nor persuasively. But they have other skills. The technology is here to utilize software prosthetics to do a lot of writing for us, instead of paying a writer. Writing well is a practical, creative and mind-changing journey, and will continue to influence entire civilizations, but paying for labor is an even tougher sell. This makes me wonder: How many specialized, well-educated 135 IQ thought-leaders will fall into a kind of resentful, punitive criticism? It’s tough to say, but, there will be many (writing well requires understanding and synthesis, but quickly surpasses knowledge and experience). This is why journalism generally loses money, with activists and deeper billionaire pockets funding most outlets.
  2. An older American order, with aristocratic W.A.S.P. gatekeepers, more private religious belief and public square rule-making has eroded considerably. I view this set-up as having corrected many excesses of the market and maintained a lot of trust required between personal behavior and public office. Rules, rule-makers and maintaining legitimate authority can be tricky, but are found among the most important things. So, too, is maintaining a government of the people, by the people and for the people. I’d argue that a secular, technocratic humanism more common in Europe is now a likely majority in American life. Whether or not this is driven by a default, watered-down Marxism in the ‘collective-mind’ is debatable, but challenging the ideal requires wounding an idealist in the place where belief lives. It can even become deadly or disqualifying when a person challenges considerable power. This has lots of implications for speech, rules, and dissent. It will probably even affect what’s ‘cool.’ It’s tough to say what the new personal behavior and public office connection is going to be, but, as mentioned, I think it matters more than most things.
  3. The postmodern pull is still very strong, and deep, as currents go. This blog has discussed Schopenhauer’s Will to Nietzsche’s ‘Will to Power’ nihilism, the Straussian response, and various downstream consequences. There are some pretty good reasons to be liberal, but in America, I’d like to stop the lurch leftward towards true-believing, anti-speech activism and predictably stodgy, out-of-touch liberal idealism. That way lies disorder and potential violence. This blog, at least, has offered a nod to David Hume’s empiricism, J.S. Mill’s utilitarianism, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s self-reliant gnosticism, and Isaiah Berlin’s positive and negative freedoms. At the very least, I’m realistically hoping these could become brighter lights in the nihilist fog. We’ll see…

How might this translate into American politics? While I reject even Conrad’s ‘Heart Of Darkness’ existential nihilism (say…the craziness of Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse Now’), which Gray has espoused in the past, I often fall into tragic realism. I’ve called it ‘depressive realism’ but it’s actually full of optimism. There’s a lot to be optimistic about, accounting for reality and human nature, and how mostly local and personal the good things in our lives are.

But, you’ve got to aim to be good, especially to your loved ones. I think life has a mystery to it, beyond most of our conceptions of life. That said, I view human nature as generally fixed in many ways (religious belief, traditions, the arts and many sciences are simply reflections of what we are, what the truth is, and how we interact with the world). But I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t necessarily know what’s right for you. I support the creative arts and the penetrating truths of the natural sciences and independent thinkers.

Personally, I look for the optimism found in home and hearth where love lives, and promises are made. I look for the looking-out for each other generally found in town and country, in friendships, and in some reasonable, capable talented people found in functional at-scale institutions within cities.

To be vulgar: There are dicks, pussies and assholes everywhere, so try not to be any one of these things, nor for very long. There are decent people everywhere, expanding their skills, talents and including others, with right aims and good minds, while generally avoiding too much f**king around.

In the public square: I favor a free-speech, no-nonsense skepticism, casting a cold eye on life and how institutional incentives actually work. I think Natural Law offers something of a lockbox to keep some of the true-believers and politicians from trying to engineer all parts of our lives (bound for failure…just as are most attempts to make a theology of ‘Man’). Unfortunately, Nautral Law is being replaced with a lot of (S)elf-centered therapeutics, the ‘personal-is-political’ empathy abstractions, anti-human movements, ‘-Isms’ and various flavors of ideology.

Worthy replacements?

Like Gray, I see a lot of political contention ahead, and even dangerous instability because of these misalignments. I’m something of an optimist, BUT, within a depressive realism and a certain tragic view of life.

Of course, take me and my views with a grain of salt.

I’ve heard few liberals really accounting for these increasingly obvious failures of liberal ideas and leadership, but a few have, and a few older-school Lefties (change-first, injustice-focused) are actually the new civil libertarians and defenders of speech.

Global technocracy and authoritarianism will become a default for many idealists when human nature and reality bear down.

On that note: I’ve heard few conservatives really admit that the older tent has mostly fallen down, and the neo-cons, Bushies, Reaganites, religious folks, unmodern folks, war-hawks (when attached to home and hearth) are now in disarray while attacking each other. Most people I know live in-between personal reality, populist anger and a kind of institutional malaise and dysfunction.

Blame is all around. I see Trump as a kind of untrustworthy, narcissistic standard-bearer for ideas which few conservative thinking types will actually defend, given the currents in our lives and politics.

I don’t think this is a healthy situation.

Meanwhile, a lot of obvious realities go unsaid for ALL citizens, and such problems aren’t merely local, but many of the solutions probably will be.

The Public Square (Meet The New Authority), COVID Origins & Safetyism-Some Links

Carlo Lancellotti put up this quotation by Augusto Del Noce:

‘Its historical perspective is, essentially, the following: in history there has been a permanent break coinciding with the Second World War; what was defeated was not just Fascism and Nazism, but the whole old European tradition; and Fascism and Nazism must be interpreted as phenomena caused by fear of historical progress … As a consequence of this judgment, those who draw inspiration from tradition are always “reactionaries” or “Fascists” (two terms that are stupidly equated), whether they know it or not.

Out?: The old town square, where patriotism, freedom of thought and expression, and statues, were more secure (and more religiously influenced, Catholics included)

In?: ‘History’ has a right side, and you’d better get on it. Pick a team…for now. If you have more resources, pick a cause (or fund them). Squares are oppressive.

I’m glad some people are dedicated to discovering the truth. How many other research labs are taking big risks? Who runs them? What about downstream technology in the hands of anyone/any group/any autocrat/any guerilla with a grievance?

Which benefits have already come?

More two cents: Impulses to consolidate power, tighten laws and restrict freedoms come during times of crisis and consequence (people are gonna die immediately). Wars, among other things, can mobilize people society-wide towards victory (also survival).

What if the crisis is a virus? The folks in more amenable to counter-culture liberal idealism are now running many of our institutions during this particular crisis. Their highest goods are often ideals like ‘democracy’, ‘safety’ and ‘communal-health-in-a-modern-society-by-inclusion-of-the-most-marginalized’. (these are the ideas they run on and the statements they tend to issue, anyways).

Behind the scenes, it’s usually the same mixture of principle, self-interest, favor-repayment, coalitions strategy, paybacks, ambition, fear, vanity, personal relationships etc.

This often affects how they wield authority.

It also probably affects how a lot of people are viewing their (S)elves, Nature, and giving the central dramatic meaning to their lives (this virus reaffirms a belief in the ideals).

At least with Christians, violence is limited in principle.

Clive James revisits many quite original, quite accomplished works of Joseph Conrad.

‘They are, in fact, idealists: and idealism is a cast of mind that Conrad questions even more than he questions radicalism. The logical end of radicalism, in his view, is terrorism; but idealism is the mental aberration that allows terrorism to be brought about. Conrad’s originality was to see that a new tyranny could be generated by people who thought that their rebellion against the old tyranny was rational. Thus his writings seem prescient about what was to happen in the Soviet Union. He didn’t predict the Nazi tyranny because he had underestimated the power of the irrational to organise itself into a state. But then, nobody predicted that except its perpetrators; and anyway, mere prediction was not his business. His business was the psychological analysis made possible by an acute historical awareness. Under Western Eyes is valuable not because it came true but because it rang true even at the time, only now we can better hear the deep, sad note.’

Russian and Chinese interests and leadership, as well localism within interconnected networks, might be evidence working against many Western Universalist claims. Distance-shortening technologies won’t simply manifest a world any one of us, alone, or in groups, might be working towards.

It looks to me more like liberalism in the U.S. has been heading towards rule with technocratic elements, bureaucratic elements, liberation elements, and a rather authoritarian hand.

Freedom is next!

Now, what about Safetyism? Might it be a sub-category of above described liberal thinking?

Wear a mask! Don’t go outside! Cars are dangerous! Put that helmet on, mister.

No, really, put it on.

Matthew Crawford discusses:

Seeds Of Collectivism & State Of Fear-Some Links

Stephen Hicks, Michael O’Fallon and James Lindsay have a discussion.

Mentioned: Hegel, Marx, the Existentialists, Rousseau, and trying to mold mankind within social constructionist philosophies:

Worth revisiting: Michael Crichton examines a lot of common knowledge surrounding environmental claims. A lot of these claims don’t add up.

A kind of Romantic Primitivism prevails (we must return to Nature and worship Her. We must return Man to a primitive state in order to mold Mankind with the right knowledge).

Also, I did a mock-up ad:

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

Correspondence here.

Link sent in by a reader.

Without a stronger moral core, will liberalism necessarily corrode into the soft tyranny of an ever-expanding State?

Since the 60’s, and with a lot of postmodern nihilism making advances in our society, is a liberal politics of consent possible given the dangers of cultivating a kind of majoritarian politics: Dirty, easily corrupt, with everyone fighting for a piece of the pie?

As an example, Civil Rights activists showed moral courage and high idealism, to be sure, but we’ve also seen a devolution of the Civil Rights crowd into squabbling factions, many of whom seem more interested in money, self-promotion, influence, and political power.

The 60’s protest model, too, washed over our universities, demanding freedom against injustice, but it has since devolved into a kind of politically correct farce, with comically illiberal and intolerant people claiming they seek liberty and tolerance for all in the name of similar ideals.

Who are they to decide what’s best for everyone?  How ‘liberal’ were they ever, really?

Kelley Ross responds to a correspondent on Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism, while discussing John Gray as well:

‘Now, I do not regard Berlin’s value pluralism as objectionable or even as wrong, except to the extend that it is irrelevant to the MORAL issue and so proves nothing for or against liberalism. Liberalism will indeed recommend itself if one wishes to have a regime that will respect, within limits, a value pluralism. I have no doubt that respecting a considerable value pluralism in society is a good thing and that a nomocratic regime that, mostly, leaves people alone is morally superior to a teleocratic regime that specifies and engineers the kinds of values that people should have. However, the project of showing that such a regime IS a good thing and IS morally superior is precisely the kind of thing that Gray decided was a failure.

Thus, I believe Gray himself sees clearly enough that a thoroughgoing “value pluralism” would mean that the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini is just as morally justified as the regime of Thomas Jefferson. Gray prefers liberalism (or its wreckage) for the very same reason that the deconstructionist philosopher Richard Rorty prefers his leftism: it is “ours” and “we” like it better. Why Gray, or Rorty, should think that they speak for the rest of “us” is a good question. ‘

and about providing a core to liberalism:

‘Why should the state need a “sufficient rational justificaton” to impose a certain set of values? The whole project of “rational justification” is what Gray, and earlier philosophers like Hume, gave up on as hopeless. All the state need do, which it has often done, is claim that its values are favored by the majority, by the General Will, by the Blood of the Volk, or by God, and it is in business.’

And that business can quickly lead to ever-greater intrusion into our lives:

‘J.S. Mill, etc., continue to be better philosophers than Berlin or Gray because they understand that there must be an absolute moral claim in the end to fundamental rights and negative liberty, however it is thought, or not thought, to be justified. Surrendering the rational case does not even mean accepting the overall “value pluralism” thesis, since Hume himself did not do so. ‘

Are libertarians the true classical liberals?  Much closer to our founding fathers?

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Related On This Site:  From The NY Times Book Review-Thomas Nagel On John Gray’s New ‘Silence Of Animals’From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

John Gray Reviews Jonathan Haidt’s New Book At The New Republic: ‘The Knowns And The Unknowns’

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

What about black people held in bondage by the laws..the liberation theology of Rev Wright…the progressive vision and the folks over at the Nation gathered piously around John Brown’s body?: Milton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’……Robert George And Cornel West At Bloggingheads: “The Scandal Of The Cross”

Race And Free Speech-From Volokh: ‘Philadelphia Mayor Suggests Magazine Article on Race Relations Isn’t Protected by the First Amendment’

Repost-Eugene Volokh At The National Review: ‘Multiculturalism: For or Against?’

Medieval Times-Roaming The Gloom With Theory: Interview With Michel Hollebecq

Interview sent in by a reader with French novelist Michel Hollebecq on his new novel, ‘Soumission,’ which, in his fictional world, imagines a soon-to-be Muslim candidate defeating a French nationalist candidate, followed by an ultimate submission of French society to Islamic law and political leadership.

Interesting discussion at the link (including a deflation of (R)acism as critical theory).

‘But now you’re asking words to mean something they don’t. Racism is simply when you don’t like somebody because he belongs to another race, because he hasn’t got the same color skin that you do, or the same features, et cetera. You can’t stretch the word to give it some higher meaning.’

On some of Hollebecq’s thinking behind the creative work:

‘Yes. It has to happen sometime and it might as well be now. In this sense, too, I am a Comtean. We are in what he calls the metaphysical stage, which began in the Middle Ages and whose whole point was to destroy the phase that preceded it. In itself, it can produce nothing, just emptiness and unhappiness. So yes, I am hostile to Enlightenment philosophy, I need to make that perfectly clear. ‘

Whoa, at least he’s relatively up front about that.

Isn’t it possible to reject Hollebecq’s modernity-is-dead worldview AND also put the universal claims of progressive, collectivist, ideological, postmodern, multicultural feminist discontents into their proper perspective…without suggesting the end of the modern world and some presumed next stage to be reached?

And as for discussions of art:  Is the book worth a read?

*******I’ve never been to Medieval Times, but I am told there will be flagons of mead and tournaments of strength:

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From the comments:

‘Those of you regarding e.g. feminism as somehow an antidote to the patriarchal impulses in enlightenment thinking or Islam, or in broader terms postmodern political and social movements as offering a ‘third way’, something totally new and immune from this dynamic of competitive decay and decline, forget the fact that these movements are themselves the most recent outgrowths of the emancipative instinct, one of the core features deeply rooted in Western thought ever since the renaissance, as Barzun described. As an Asian living in the West myself, I have to tell you that this instinct is simply not present as a core element in other civilisations, and is indeed distinctive about the West. That Japan and Korea, and for that matter every non-western nation, modernised without a countercultural ‘values’ rebellion is indicative in this regard. The west is going to be without allies as it goes with a whimper.

Under such a depressing worldview, hope is provided for by religion and mysticism, a return to medievalism. It is sad, because the West will truly die as it numbs its own most deeply embedded instincts in the process of conversion, but the mysticism is a form of hope for the masses, who never particularly cared for high ideals anyway.

Houellebecq seems to channel Spengler, who hardly anybody reads nowadays. But that such an interesting thinker is hardly glanced at today is an indictment of us, not of him.’

Also, from the comments.  Hubristic, but there’s something to the grandiosity and deflated nihilism:

‘This is why I love French writers and thinkers. Fascinating to read even if they are always wrong.’

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Robert Merry took a look at Oswald Spengler:

‘So it is with America and Europe. Hence, an analysis of American decline must lead to questions about Western decline. And an analysis of Western decline must lead to Oswald Spengler, the German intellectual who in 1918 produced the first volume of his bombshell work Der Untergang des Abendlandes (The Decline of the West), followed by the second volume in 1922. Spengler’s thesis forced his readers to look at history through an entirely new prism. They did, and he enjoyed a surge of influence. But the man and his work are in eclipse today, and there’s little evidence that scholars pondering American decline have consulted the dark musings of this German romantic or his overarching theory of history.’

As much as I’m hoping for a break-up of Islamist ideology, I suppose I’m hoping for some light into these dark, post-Enlightenment corners as well.  Something other than the existential void and the ideas and ideologies which so often rush in.

I have to give Hollebecq some credit, too, for as he points out, the major religions have been dealing with questions of purpose, suffering, telos, why, what, when, and the stuff human nature for a lot longer time…
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Denis Dutton suggested art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth…the money and the fame) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’…

Roger Sandall, Australian critic of romantic primitivism and the Western’s Left’s penchant for the Noble Savage: His home page where his essays can be found. Here’s “The Rise Of The Anthropologues“ and…

Robert Hughes, Australian and often fierce critic of modernism and post-modernism.

***I should add that Herzog’s ‘Into The Abyss‘ was worth my time. Herzog is probably not a proponent of the death penalty, but I thought he left me to decide what I thought, and he didn’t flinch from the crime, the tragedy and the loss.

Related On This Site:  From The NY Times Book Review-Thomas Nagel On John Gray’s New ‘Silence Of Animals’From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

John Gray Reviews Jonathan Haidt’s New Book At The New Republic: ‘The Knowns And The Unknowns’

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution

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

Full entry here.

Nietzsche’s critique of morality (referred to here as MPS) is as follows:

“…Nietzsche also does not confine his criticisms of morality to some one religiously, philosophically, socially or historically circumscribed example. Thus, it will not suffice to say that he simply attacks Christian or Kantian or European or utilitarian morality — though he certainly at times attacks all of these.”

This is one of the best attempts I’ve seen at systematizing the thinking of a man who willfully refused systems.

Christian morality is defunct because God is dead, and any attempt to ground morality in the thinking and doctrines of the church (herd morality, full of re-sentiment) won’t suffice.  Kantian and utilitarian morality have sprung out of the attempt to make the moral law sufficiently abstract (largely from Kant’s elaborate metaphysical framework designed to put metaphysics on the same footing as the mathematical sciences, or at least the sciences of his day, expanding and providing limits for knowledge and what we can know).

So, for many, many young people and those in Nietzsche’s wake (many thinkers since Nietzsche have taken his project quite seriously and been influenced by him from Heidegger to Strauss, to the existentialists to much of 20th century art)…it’s assumed  that morality is very much in doubt.

Yet, has Nietzsche addressed the problems at the heart of moral philosophy? Is he an extreme thinker/artist marking the culmination and end of romanticism?  which itself is a product and reaction to the Enlightenment?

You certainly take a lot on board when you take Nietzsche on board.

And what about politics?

“Nietzsche, then, has no political philosophy. He occasionally expresses views about political matters, but, read in context, they do not add up to a theoretical account of any of the questions of political philosophy. He is more accurately read, in the end, as a kind of esoteric moralist, i.e., someone who has views about human flourishing, views he wants to communicate at least to a select few.

He’s certainly had an effect on a lot of people who think and act in politics.

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It’s also worth nothing that Joshua Knobe and Jesse Prinz of the new experimental philosophy movement have a strong Nietzschean influence…(for Prinz moral progress is possible but not a moral law, he defends moral relativism…while for experimental philosophy the penchant Nietzsche had for psychologizing has created a lasting influence).

Again, these are obviously just a few thoughts.  Your thoughts and comments are welcome.

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…

Related On This Site:  A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche ConnectionDinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy

Was Nietzsche most interested in  freeing art from a few thousand years of Christianity, monarchy and aristocracy…something deeper?, at least with regard to Camille Paglia.  See the comments:  Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful

From Wikipedia’s Page On Leo Strauss: A Few QuotesFrom Wikipedia’s Page On Leo Strauss: A Few Quotes

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