‘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?
This is a depiction (thanks to impiousdigest.com) of British troops burning the White House.
Here are some quotations, coming from my reading lately (when I have time to share some of what I’m reading, but not all :). Basically, I’m working full-time and have lots of obligations that make life worth the living, quite apart from this blog:
‘We moderns (and especially those who think of themselves as post-moderns) are peculiarly liable to fall into confusion about the nature of politics: we have invented ingenious reasons for thinking that our ideas are superior to those of our ancestors. All cultures believe that their own ideas are the only right ones, but educated people today are unually locked into the prejudices of the present moment. The doctrine of progress, for example, suggested to many people that our convictions were grander than the obviously defective ideas of the past. Contemporary intellectual fashion does indeed reject the idea of progress, and emphasizes how much we bear the imprint of our place and time; it affirms that one culture is the equal of another. This has the appearance of a form of scepticism liberating us from the arrogance of our ancestors, for it seems to reduce our opinions to the same level as those of everyone else. That appearance is an illusion. Contemporary scepticism is a fake humility, masking a dogmatic conviction that our very openness makes our relativist humanism superior both to the dogmatism of the past and the intolerance of other cultures.’
Minogue, Kenneth. Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. (Pg 8).
I’ll just keep posting voices of dissent. What else is a blog for, exactly?:
A quote that stuck out:
‘There’s an attempt to produce a universal, objective morality, but without any conception of where it comes from.’
Further onwards and as previously posted:
Salman Rushdie at about minute 57:00:
‘This idea of separate treatment for separate cultures…I think essentially if we follow that to its conclusion…destroys our ability to have a really moral framework for society.’
‘The doctrine of multiculturalism arose, at least in Holland, as a response to the immigration influx, believed initially to be temporary. The original purpose of multiculturalism was to preserve the culture of European “guest workers” so that when they returned home, having completed their labor contracts, they would not feel dislocated by their time away. The doctrine became a shibboleth of the Left, a useful tool of cultural dismantlement, only after family reunion in the name of humanitarianism became normal policy during the 1960s and the guest workers transformed into permanent residents.’
“Nigel: Has relativism had its day as an influential philosophical position?
Simon: No – and I don’t think it should ever die. The danger is that it gets replaced by some kind of complacent dogmatism, which is at least equally unhealthy. The Greek sceptics thought that confronting a plurality of perspectives is the beginning of wisdom, and I think they were right. It is certainly the beginning of historiography and anthropology, and if we think, for instance, of the Copernican revolution, of self-conscious science. The trick is to benefit from an imaginative awareness of diversity, without falling into a kind of “anything goes” wishy-washy nihilism or scepticism….”
“It’s a mistake, I think, to condemn multiculturalism in general, just as it’s a mistake to praise multiculturalism in general. Rather, we should think about which forms of toleration, accommodation, and embrace of differing cultural values and behaviors are good for America — in the light of American legal and social traditions — and which are bad.‘
Here’s a quote from a previous post, at the request of a friend:
“As Strauss understood it, the principle of liberal democracy in the natural freedom and equality of all human beings, and the bond of liberal society is a universal morality that links human beings regardless of religion. Liberalism understands religion to be a primary source of divisiveness in society, but it also regards liberty of religious worship to be a fundamental expression of the autonomy of the individual. To safeguard religion and to safeguard society from conflicts over religion, liberalism pushes religion to the private sphere where it is protected by law. The liberal state also strictly prohibits public laws that discriminate on the basis of religion. What the liberal state cannot do without ceasing to be liberal is to use the law to root out and entirely eliminate discrimination, religious and otherwise, on the part of private individuals and groups.”
“But it is not just that old tunes are being replayed, but that they are being replayed badly. The classic performance was given by David Hume in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, written in the middle of the 18th century. “
and Blackburn’s last paragraph:
“The upshot ought to be not dogmatic atheism, but sceptical irony. Of course, the latter is just as infuriating to those making special claims to authority, perhaps more so. Men and women of God may find it invigorating and bracing to meet disagreement, but even benevolent mockery is mockery. They would find that it is much harder to bear the Olympian gaze of the greatest of British philosophers.”
Dalrymple claims that the new round of atheists, (or at least some of the current spokesmen of popular atheism) are glossing over the deep metaphysical questions surrounding the existence of God. Very few popular thinkers who attempt to address the depth of the God arguments succeed, but those who do so within Christianity strike me, as does Dinesh D’Souza, as ignoring a few hundred years of thought as they gaze out from within their own doctrines.
Isn’t the pursuit of scientific inquiry and truth (fortunately) a separate enterprise from the religious pursuit of truth?
Some atheists seem to be in danger of becoming adherents rather than free thinkers.
Addition: More on Roger Sandall’s blog here, as he discusses Roger Scruton.
One question seems to be whether we choose to give religious arguments any quarter at all. The hard atheist line seems to be no. Mine is…perhaps…
Another Addition: Agnosticism, right? Thanks to a friend for bringing this up. Here’s a pretty nasty critique of agnosticism from the atheist point of view.
Link sent in by a reader. A British affair, but interesting:
‘For those who don’t believe in God, but do believe in humanity, how should we view religion? O’Neill argues for tolerance. That means we should be free to express our beliefs as we see fit, and others should be to criticise and even ridicule those beliefs’
But radical humanism, or renewed faith in humanism, must still ground itself in claims to knowledge and truth, in rationality, or in some thinking which can maintain civil society and mediate other competing claims according to its lights. Why and how should humanists manage the public square?
Here in America, we’re arguably witnessing the decline of organized religion in public life and in many of our institutions, and perhaps the rise of greater numbers of unaffiliated individuals exercising their freedoms and arranging their lives in other ways.
It’s become quite easy to mock the religious and religious figures (Christian, mostly) as representatives of a defunct/backwards way of thinking, thus marginalizing them from public debate. Of course, in my opinion, there remain good reasons to be skeptical of many claims to knowledge and truth made by the Church, to satirize the ignorance and abuses of earthly power, as well as the zeal of religious belief, but I’m generally content to leave it up to the individual should they choose turning inward to a relationship with God, to religious texts, or a church.
Perhaps the flip-side to liberal secular humanist faith is a lack of faith. Surely some deep, liberal thinker out there has become thoroughly convinced that people are no good, after all, and can’t be trusted with their freedoms apart from his/her thinking or ideological commitments. Perhaps there’s a secular humanist political leader somewhere thoroughly sick of humanity for the time being, simply accruing more political power and influence because they can.
As far as satire or mockery goes, they would be just as worthy, no?
Recently, British popular thinker Alain De Botton floated the idea of building an ‘atheist temple’ in the heart of London. He recommends combing through religious practices for useful organizing principles in response to the New Atheists. You can read more about it here, which includes a radio interview/podcast.
Towards a theme: Perhaps you’ve also heard of the Rothko chapel, in Houston, Texas:
‘The Rothko Chapel, founded by Houston philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil, was dedicated in 1971 as an intimate sanctuary available to people of every belief. A tranquil meditative environment inspired by the mural canvases of Russian born American painter Mark Rothko (1903-1970), the Chapel welcomes over 60,000 visitors each year, people of every faith and from all parts of the world.’
“‘…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.”
‘But in the year 2000, with Fascism and Communism both discredited, why, I wondered, were so many turning back toward Rousseau? What was the attraction of romantic primitivism? How had ethnic culture become a beau ideal? Cities certainly have their problems, but why did New Yorkers see tribal societies as exemplary and tribespeople as paragons of social virtue?’
If you do manage to develop a bedrock of secular humanism in civil society (subject to that society’s particular traditions and history), won’t that society still have need of its own myths?
Even though Fascism and Communism have been discredited in theory and in practice, adherents remain (look no further than most American academies).
Sandall notes the Popperian elements discussed as from ‘The Open Society And Its Enemies‘, which as a theory, stretches deep into human nature and the West’s Greek traditions.
Is Popper’s ‘critical rationalism’ some of what we’re seeing from the intellectual dark-webbers, or at least many bright people pushing against the fascistic elements found within many far-Left movements, just those movements endorse and feed a far-right, identitarian and ideological response?:
‘…the people and institutions of the open society that Popper envisioned would be imbued with the same critical spirit that marks natural science, an attitude which Popper called critical rationalism. This openness to analysis and questioning was expected to foster social and political progress as well as to provide a political context that would allow the sciences to flourish.‘
Sandall again on Popper:
‘His 1945 The Open Society and Its Enemies started out from the contrast between closed autarkic Sparta and free-trading protean Athens, and used it to illuminate the conflict between Fascism and Communism on the one hand, and Western democracy on the other.’
‘Is an ‘open society’ also supposed to be an ‘open polity’ with open borders? Médecins sans Frontières is all very well: but states cannot be run on such lines. Popper’s is a theory of society, not a theory of the state—and it seems to me that his book offers no clear account of the wider political preconditions that enable ‘open societies’ to both flourish and defend themselves.’
So, how did Sandall see the idea of ‘culture’ having its orgins?:
‘But at a higher philosophical level, and starting out in England, it owed more to the energetic publicising of Herder’s ideas by the Oxford celebrity Sir Isaiah Berlin — ideas of irresistible appeal to the post-Marxist and post-religious liberal mind.’
Open borders and open societies? A desire a ‘culture’ has to forge and solidify its own identity?
‘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.
‘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. ‘
Back to Sandall:
‘Then something happened: the English word “culture” in the sense employed by Matthew Arnold in his 1869 Culture and Anarchy got both anthropologized and Germanised — and anthropological culture was the opposite of all that. It meant little more in fact than a social system.’
Any thoughts and comments are welcome.
A rather tangled web indeed…
Further entanglements on this site, possibly related:
‘Popper’s World 3 is in some respects reminiscent of Plato’s realm of the Forms, but differs in that Popper takes World 3 to be something man-made. As I noted in the earlier post just linked to, this makes his positon at least somewhat comparable the Aristotelian realist (as opposed to Platonic realist) view that universals are abstracted by the mind from the concrete objects that instantiate them rather than pre-existing such abstraction.’
“…and if there could be such a thing as socialism combined with individual liberty, I would be a socialist still. For nothing could be better than living a modest, simple, and free life in an egalitarian society. It took some time before I recognized this as no more than a beautiful dream; that freedom is more important that equality; that the attempt to realize equality endangers freedom; and that, if freedom is lost, there will not even be equality among the unfree.”
As posted, someone called me a Postmodern Conservative a while back, and I’d just like to say that there are many identities juxtaposed at the intersectionality of bodies in space. Dominant narratives, meta-narratives, and counter-narratives serve to liber…
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.”
‘John Gray’s “Silence of Animals” is an attack on humanism. He condemns this widely accepted secular faith as a form of delusional self-flattery.’
‘The question Gray poses is of fundamental importance, so one wishes the book were better. It is not a systematic argument, but a varied collection of testimonies interspersed with Gray’s comments.’
Clearly humanism could use more serious critics and pushback.
Nagel finishes with:
‘Gray thinks the belief in progress is fueled by humanists’ worship of “a divinized version of themselves.” To replace it he offers contemplation: “Contemplation can be understood as an activity that aims not to change the world or to understand it, but simply to let it be.” Though he distinguishes this from the ideal of mystical transcendence toward a higher order of being, it, too, seems more like a form of escape than a form of realism. Hope is a virtue, and we should not give it up so easily.’
Gray discusses the book here:
While science may proceed and real progress is taking place, in the realms of ethics and politics, Gray suggests things are learned but they don’t stay learned.
Certainly there are no deeply rooted religious impulses underlying many of these modern politico-moral movements, are there? This blog sees a deeply Romantic-Modern-Postmodern Self-seeking artistic and philosophically-backed Western tradition unfolding before our eyes, sometimes falling into the vortices of radical, dead-end ideologies, resentment and ressentiment filled utopianism, and non-scientific modern mythic doctrines.
‘In “Sea Change,” Graham becomes Prospero, casting spells by spelling out her thoughts to merge with ours, and with the voices of the elements. The result is a mingling of perceptions rather than a broadcasting of opinions. Instead of analysis, the poems encourage emotional involvement with the drastic changes overwhelming us, overwhelming the planet.’
‘Strengths and weaknesses, flows and ebbs, yet every poem in “Sea Change” bears memorable lines, with almost haunting (if we truly have but 10 years to “fix” global warming) images of flora and fauna under siege. Jorie Graham has composed a swan song for Earth.’
Now, perhaps, this filtering out into the culture:
At Peace Pavilion West, our Leader encourages his Children to re-connect with Gaia’s rhythms, channeling primal, hippie cries into produced hipster wails. Upon this raft of global sound will Humanity be Saved. Namaste.
-Daniel Dennett, philosopher, cognitive scientist, one of the New Atheists and Boston-based secularist responded 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.’
For those especially drawn to observe, and be alone amongst a crowd, seeking moments of beauty, grace, and transcendence. Where have you put your hopes?
What kind of relationship might you be in with such abstractions as that of human nature (your own deep impulses, passing thoughts, and possible motivations, as well as those of the people around you)?
What kind of relationship might you be in with such abstractions as nature and reality (the world your senses perceive, those laws and patterns likely enduring thought, the old knowledge become practice and the new knowledge on the edge of understanding, the truths which seem to little give nor receive, forgive nor remember)?
‘Earlier this summer marked the 50th anniversary of C. P. Snow’s famous “Two Cultures” essay, in which he lamented the great cultural divide that separates two great areas of human intellectual activity, “science” and “the arts.” Snow argued that practitioners in both areas should build bridges, to further the progress of human knowledge and to benefit society.’
My two cents: This blog tends to worry about modern ‘one culture’ visions, too.
On the one hand, you’ve got your ‘scientific socialism;’ the clear dead-end, totalizing Marxist theories of history and various neo-Marxist movements having since colonized many faculty-lounges, HR departments, and media pulpits across America.
Deep, bad ideas tend to live on once plugged into many deep, human desires and dreams. The radical pose will be with us for a while.
Of course, it’s rather sad to witness the sheepish, suburban apologetics of identity amongst the chattering classes; the moment of surprise and fear when a previously insulated writer (leaning upon traditions) realizes today just might be their day in the barrel.
Sooner or later you’re going to have to stand up for your principles.
You’ve also got many modern ‘-Ist’ movements, which, whatever truth and knowledge claims they may contain (some quite important ones, I think), are often quick to conflate the means of science with the ends of politics. ‘Join us,’ they say, and become a part of the modern world. The mission of ‘Education’ is easily mistaken for knowledge, learning with wisdom, collective group action with individual achievement.
There is a kind of a high middlebrow drift towards….I’m not sure where, exactly.
Alas, if you’re still with me, here are some links:
‘Mirrors and pools of water work pretty much the same way. Light interacts with electrons on the surface. Under the laws of quantum mechanics, each photon interacts with ALL of the electrons on the surface, and the net result is the sum of all possible pathways. If the surface is perfectly smooth, then most of the pathways cancel each other out, except for the one where the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection. ‘
Click through for the illustrations to help explain Feynman’s theory, which fascinated me when I first came across it; much as I understand of it.
Have you ever seen sunlight reflecting off a body of water from a few thousand feet up in a plane? A rainbow in a puddle with some oil in it? A laser reflecting off a smooth surface like a mirror?
As Richard Rorty sees it, no standard objective for truth exists but for the interpretation of a few philosophers interpreting whatever of philosophy they’ve read. It’s all just an author’s “stuff.” Here’s an excerpt discussing the debate between him and Hilary Putnam:
Addition: Western mind shifted to “science?”…well as for poetry T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens had some fairly profound religious influences.
If a tendency towards true-belief, occasionally visible in one’s (S)elf, and like all behaviors, transparently visible in others, means anything, it must mean less truth-seeking, less tolerance and less openness in the minds and institutions captured by such true-belief.
The resentment within some need only find expression through narrow, rigid ideologies (destroying what’s here for the utopia to come, promoting action with epistemologically questionable areas of knowledge), for there to be consequences for all.
As I see things, this is still the greatest threat to freedom found within American educational, cultural and political institutions right now.
Many dangers of a particular ideological true-belief occur in the enormous blind spot beneath many liberal idealists and secular humanists/rationalists, who, as I see things, often mistake all 60’s radicalism for benign, well-intentioned change. Beneath the doctrines of (M)an are actual men, and the same old human nature.
There are also deeper currents, dragging us this way and that, often only making themselves clear after many years and some quiet reflection. Some of these currents push and pull the (S)elf (where self-knowledge begins of course) along, but downwards towards the nihilism, existentialism and radical stance of a (S)elf outside of all tradition, religion, obligation and custom.
As a Straussian might see it: Once you set up (S)cience on the positivist definition, as the only arbiter of facts, one can very easily invite the anti-(S)cience response in kind, which manifests itself here as the retreat into a victimhood/oppressor ideology.
‘(S)cience’ was only a tool of the white oppressor, anyways, don’t you know (and no one actually has to do the hard work the sciences require…how convenient):
‘In the wake of the violence at Middlebury and Berkeley, and in the aftermath of the faculty mob that coalesced to condemn gender studies professor Rebecca Tuvel, many commentators have begun analyzing the new campus culture of intersectionality as a form of fundamentalist religion including public rituals with more than a passing resemblance to witch-hunts.’
It’d be nice if many secularists and political liberals said something like the following:
‘If we continue to secularize society, we will entrench many postmoderns, activists, radicals, people steeped in resentment, and narrow socialist ideologues, but the gains in liberty will be worth it. We might even inspire a return to old-timey religion. If this happens, we will freak-out about this turn of events. In the meantime, free speech and free thought will not be upheld, except with moral courage against the mob we’ve helped incubate and gestate.’
‘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.’
I’m looking around and not seeing too much decency in American politics, lately.
A.C. Grayling makes one of the better cases for morality without religious doctrine, I’ve heard of late, but I’m not entirely sold these particular problems can be addressed sufficiently:
Via A Reader-Isaiah Berlin’s Lectures On The Roots Of Romanticism. Romanticism–>Modernism–>Postmodernism–>Wherever We’re Heading Now
Maybe it all started with Beethoven: Everyone’s a (S)elf.
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?
Strands of a New, New Left are likely forming out of the excesses of identitarianism. From anti-trans TERF feminists, to many anti-establishment, anti-Boomer types (anti- sisterhood of the travelling ‘bourgeois’ pantsuit criticism), the identity-center is probably not holding.
Perhaps Tom Sowell’s ‘Black Rednecks and White Liberals‘ is worth revisiting, at least to break out of the white savior complex (which manisfests itself both in original Marxist class-warfare and current watered-down identity Marxism).