A good work of art can free your from the shackles of habitual perception. It can make you alive anew to the strangeness of life, drawing you onwards through beauty, symmetry, and a bit of wonder. Ars celare artem.
I believe the rush to contemporize all one’s experience and emotions into narrow ideological and political channels; to forego talent and skill for concept and blurb is a shame.
‘Ms. Hockley explained that these choices weren’t due to a fascination with all things “hot, young, new,” but rather grew out of traveling around the country and seeing how many artists were facing “an incredible amount of pressure coming from all sides,” including the burden of debt from M.F.A. programs, the collapse of smaller galleries that might help launch their careers and the difficulty of finding and keeping affordable studio space.’
And on one artist in particular:
‘For the biennial, Mr. Fernandes, a former ballet dancer who is based in Chicago, will present a new version of a piece titled “The Master and Form,” which consists of archaic-looking wooden scaffolding and devices that allow performers to hold the five basic ballet positions for long periods of time. “For me it is a social-political space, a piece that questions the agency of the body, the agency of the dancer and our labor,” said Mr. Fernandes.’
‘As America went abstract, the museum also never lost its taste for the real, a fact reflected in the strengths and weaknesses of its permanent collection now on display. This explains its abundance of American Scene hokum and WPA art as well as the artists who have defined the museum’s self-image, in particular Edward Hopper.
But it also explains its appetite for art that is strident, narrow, and of the moment, demonstrating a taste that has only become more bitter with age.’
‘For many years, the French writer Guy de Maupassant insisted on eating lunch every day at the restaurant in the Eiffel Tower. The reason, he explained, was simple: the restaurant offered the only spot in Paris where he could look out and not have to see the Eiffel Tower.’
How about popular culture from 30 years ago? Now, this is important. This blog is still looking for 80’s awesome badness, for nothing can predict the cultural trends of today like the lyrics of ‘Angel Of The City,’ the theme from Sylvester Stallone’s 1986 ‘Cobra.’
For what it’s worth: The two quotations highlight a current, unresolved conflict on this site, and in my life. If you have any suggestions for new reading material, I’m all ears.
‘I guess I’m trying to say that I remain skeptical the sciences can properly scale. Many people claiming to have a scientific worldview are curiously more committed to ideas downstream of scientific inquiry. This can involve an idealized or popular, mummified vision of ‘science,’ (the science is clear, it’s on on my side, we must act together or vote for x) or even ‘anti-science’ nihilism and destructive cultism (the universe is a meaningless void, you’re utterly alone, here’s exactly what the scientists don’t want you to know, so join us).’
‘It typically takes years to imbibe the necessary and often counter-intuitive tools to ‘see under the hood’ of Nature. Then, it often takes very long and close observation to make some kind of contribution. Unlike the Oakeshottian critique of rationalism in favor of tradition, I do think there are gains in basic competency from an education in the sciences that are not exclusive solely to the genius. Some of this can scale. Many laymen can become aware of how deterministic and probabilistically accurate these laws govern the world in which we live.’
‘Ideology is a philosophical type of allegiance purporting to transcend the mere particularities of family, religion, or native hearth, and in essence lies in struggle. The world is a battlefield, in which there are two enemies. One is the oppressor, the other consists of fellow ideologies who have generally mistake the conditions of liberation.’
‘Yet for all their differences, ideologies can be specified in terms of a shared hostility to modernity: to liberalism in politics, individualism in moral practice, and the market in economics.’
Shouldn’t one begin from the point-of-view of neutrality regarding Nature (beyond value-judgment?)
Nature can be: The sweetest-smelling spring meadow and the source of life. The enveloping tenderness of mother and child. It can be a series of renewing calls to adventure in which we find ourselves most alive. I’m guessing the subjugation of one’s ideas about Nature into (Nature), and God, or no God, is where we often find our thoughts returning.
Nature is also: A volcano scorching thousands of men, women and children at a time. The river dangerously rising. Rabies, A.I.D.S. and an uncompromising, relentless disregard for our hopes. It can be the casual disregard of the old by the young, and the sad fading of a loved one into oblivion. Imagine, if you will, the last thoughts and experiences of someone eaten to death by a predator (but my spirit animal is a bear..I’ve always practiced bear/human moral recognition).
No wonder our default is to explain through mythology, idealization, and highest conceptualizations along with the calling forth of deepest desires during intensest experience.
The modern flavors of myth veer into Romantic Primitivism and Collectivism, Radical Western animism and the ideological discontents of the ‘Modern’ age.
How’s that stuff working out?
Beware the modern theologies of (M)an? Back to the old theologies of God and all those attendant problems?
What are the artists up to? How have so many, so often, come to undervalue, and overvalue, the Arts, and the (S)elf?
The search for meaning goes on.
Land-art pieces are site-specific. They require you to be there and experience them, designed as they are to be within the specific spaces they occupy.
In so doing, they break from previous modernist ‘Readymades‘ and reproduced images (I don’t know about you, but I’m tiring of so many commentaries on consumerism, the desire for craft over mass production, a certain collective vagueness against such disposability…the dream of unique Selfhood, celebrity even, amidst a thousand urinals).
As a viewer, you’re supposed to interact with these pieces and start feeling and thinking differently than perhaps you might have otherwise. Walk around, through, and over them.
Time is clearly intended to be an element, here; the long sweep of geologic and/or historical time as the artist understands it, as well as the relative brevity of personal time during just a 10-minute visit.
These pieces can act as signposts towards Nature and what we can begin to observe of our specific natural environments (steel rusts in unique, but perhaps underlying, patterns…winds blow at different angles and around different obstacles in one grove as opposed to another, these lichens are growing here…other lichens over there, are they the same species?).
If you pull the piece out of its specific environment, it may just wither and die, looking out-of-place as many other products of civilization do amidst natural settings (a jar in Tennessee). Perhaps, though, they won’t look quite so out-of-place as mass-produced objects because of such careful design and attention to detail.
That said, these pieces will eventually look quite awkward undergoing the changes they will undergo if Nature’s Laws are any guide (Romantic/Modernist recreations of Nature can promise the comforts of Home).
Here’s Wikipedia, keeping it simple:
‘Land art, earthworks (coined by Robert Smithson), or Earth art is an art movement in which landscape and the work of art are inextricably linked.’
‘Robert Smithson and Richard Serra both believed that sculpture should have a dialog with its environment. This program explores the challenging dialectic of the site-specific sculpture of Smithson and Serra through examples of their work. In an interview, Serra discusses the aspects of time and context in relation to his art as well as the influence of Smithson.’
Maybe it’s worth pointing out that Serra seems interested in symmetry, visualizing and realizing abstract shapes with the help of some mathematics and the practice of drawing/drafting. Interesting problems can arise from tooling around with shapes on paper (a practice of Serra’s), the kind I’m guessing folks fascinated by puzzles and software and math love to solve.
But Serra’s not a mathematician nor an engineer nor an architect. He’s not writing a proof for its own sake nor building bridges nor houses for practical use.
Rather, the intuitive and creative impulses of the artist take over in his work, a kind of creative exploration, as well as the dialog between fellow artists, living and dead.
Much (A)rt, of course, is useless for most, if not all, purposes. It’s one of the things that can make it meaningful for people. There can be a significant gap between what the artist may have felt, thought and realized, and which emotions, thoughts and experiences any viewer/listener might have in interacting with a particular piece.
Serra, in his work, wants to alter the thinking of anyone moving through the space he creates by manipulating specific substances like steel (he has a facility with the material), and by getting viewers to a point of reorientation of spatial and temporal awareness.
Of course, this involves reorientation towards certain ideas as he understands them, and by promising people a return to themselves, or a state of experience and creative play perhaps similar to that of the artist.
Here’s a Charlie Rose interview:
More about Land Artists:
Any thoughts and comments are welcome. Feel free to highlight my ignorance…
Making the ‘personal political’ tends to politicize all aspects of life. It’s unsurprising that a few good artists will fall on more conservative sides of topical political discussion.
As I see the world: Radical doctrines weaponize personal confessions into political (C)auses. Envy is a deep and nearly constant human emotion, and when the green eyed monster appears, honest self-criticism is much harder than righteous indignation (maybe this guy is smarter/better than me…what can I learn from him?).
I should add: There are plenty of religious prigs who are, essentially, failures at life. More than a few have traced their bitterness into a God-shaped mold.
It’s no surprise the basics learned in youth sports (how to lose honorably, the long hours of toil and sacrifice, the daily practice) are eschewed by most ideologues. If you’re weak and/or losing, becoming anointed into an ideology plugs into one of the deepest human desires: Defining yourself by what you are not, and finding group membership and meaning. The thought that ‘they’ are winning, and thus, I’m (we’re) losing is powerful stuff.
I’m somebody. I can win. I’m less racist than you. I’m more deeply (H)uman than you. I feel more authentically than my enemies. Sister Nancy is the most God-fearing gal in the whole convent.
Human nature hasn’t changed all that much, as every revolutionary radical seems to find out the hard way.
For anyone not in dire straits (genuine need and/or actual oppression), inviting the clumsy hands of ideological (C)ause into the bedroom is a kind of lunacy. Liberation doctrines valorize anti-heroes, medicalize illnesses and glamorize vices into badges of authenticity.
This tends to lead to a lot more failure, and more ideology to fill the holes.
I’m pretty sure: Deep down, rebels and anti-heroes still have authoritarian tendencies and tragic flaws: See History. Most sane people don’t idealize sickness and disease. When it comes to drugs, alcohol and the Zubercocks of this world, what awaits is often just a sad lonely death and a whimper.
Word to the wise: Placing your eggs in the activist basket is a long-term losing game (gays/lesbians/actual minorities) as I see the world. Short- and mid-term gains gather into an ever-growing list of human ‘rights’ which normalize the marginalized and politicize the personal. But politics is a thing. It’s about distributing unequal resources and making decisions. It’s contentious and corruption is usually the rule, not the exception. Believing in politics won’t bring more ‘peace’. Bureaucracy is a large organization where power and authority accrue, but instead of corporate bureaucracies subject to market forces, they continue on with bad incentives and the same amount of inequality as before.
Individual eggs get scrambled into unrecognizable omelettes of mass justice. Many individuals find out too late there’s no real space for individuals in mass movements and passionate (C)auses.
This blog welcomes lenses with which to view works of modern art.
‘Clarity: As I’ve said, the movie abstracts from concrete reality certain general character types, purges from them the nuance and complexity in which we find these general patterns embedded in everyday life, and re-embodies them in extreme characters so that we might more carefully consider those types. Just as we know more clearly what it is to be a triangle by abstracting from particular triangles (red ones, green ones, triangles drawn in ink, triangles drawn in chalk, etc.) and considering the general pattern, so too does the movie allow us to see more clearly what it is to be a desperate man, a cruel man, a weak man, a dishonest man, a broken man, and so on, by way of its skillful caricatures.
So, in its integrity, proportion, and clarity, Glengarry has the marks of a beautiful thing, despite its grim subject matter. One need not admire and approve of Satan in order to admire and approve of Dante’s or Milton’s literary representations of Satan, and one need not admire or approve of the sorts of people represented in a film like Glengarry in order to admire and approve of the representation itself.’
‘You call yourself a salesman you son-of-a-bitch?:’
For those who’ve ever had a real job, and seen people at their best and worst, or been reasonably honest about their own motivations and willingness to be do right by others under duress, well, there’s a lot of truth to be found in this particular work of art.
Like boxing gyms and MMA matches, or call-centers full of debt collectors, or daily life on public city buses, the stuff of humanity is pretty much the same as anywhere else, just more raw and closer to the surface.
On fuller display, perhaps.
Feser provides some reasonable context, here, the kind that forms the backbone of a good Catholic education, and which this blog considers to have enriched the debate.
For those who didn’t ask!:
As this blog sees things, the modernist project is not explicitly ideological, but it is extremely ambitious: Make it new. Start from the ground up, or go back to the foundations and take a really good look, and have the individual genius start building his own, new foundations (alone or in contact with others, such as the Bloomsbury Group).
It takes really talentedindividuals to pull this off; often individuals with previous exposure to tradition; young practitioners with enough talent and perseverance, as well as enough of a pedagogy to inherit and rebel against should they choose.
As this blog has noted, it’s not hard to witness a string of causation between high modernist aims and a lot of the modern and postmodern aimlessness we see all around us. There sure are a lot of poseurs and would-be artists bobbing in the postmodern stew, left to sort out the entire world and their relation to it alone, or upon a stage (as alone and not alone as one can be).
They write these f**king art blurbs before they have any art! What the f**k is this lady doing?:
‘The most useful definition of modernist fiction I’ve encountered comes from Brian McHale’s Postmodernist Fiction. He says modernist fiction tends to “foreground epistemological questions” such as “How can I interpret the world I’m part of? What is there to be known? Who knows it? What are the limits of that knowledge?” In contrast, postmodernist fiction tends to “foreground ontological questions” such as “What is a world? What kinds of worlds are there and how are they constituted? What happens when…boundaries between worlds are violated?’
The above can invite all manner of despair and isolation, and perhaps a deeper cynicism we see in upcoming generations’ rather pervasive desire for fame and recognition.
The above can also exacerbate the spiritual and meaning-making demands individuals place upon the Marketplace, the Church, and in The Media and The Academy (where an authoritarian/totalitarian radical Left seeks to control institutions, institutions where a kind of Western secular humanism and standard-issue political idealism often dominates).
As I see it, I cannot call myself a believer in the questions the Catholic Church claims to to be able to answer, but many modern political and politico-philsophical movements are incomplete at best, and dangerously wrong at worst.
Ah well…there’s my two cents.
There’s good art to be found, of course, but like most well-made things, good art is relatively rare, its ultimate value and quality endlessly disputed, but perhaps, enduring.
–Born and raised in Chicago, Mamet seems pretty old-school and pretty tough. He reminds me a bit of Norman Mailer, verbally pugilistic and combative, though unlike Mailer he’s taken a different turn into ju-jitsu, instead of boxing, as well as into a different set of motivating principles. Alec Baldwin’s Death-Of-A-Salesman-on-steroids speech from Glengarry Glen Ross is a well-known example of Mamet’s work (demonstrating the kind of balls-out truth-telling dialogue from which Baldwin has possibly not recovered). I’m guessing Mamet grew-up back before anti-bullying campaigns and excessive political correctness became the norm.
***As I understand it, Thomas Sowell, after becoming a young Marxist eventually became a young ex-Marxist, embracing a hard-bitten empiricism regarding outcomes and results, not the intentions, of economic and social policies. See him discuss his later vision of human nature and political organization in a Conflict Of Visions.
–Mamet cites the Bible, but mainly the Talmud as a source of wisdom and knowledge to draw upon as a guide for flawed human nature. Jewish folks in the U.S. have traditionally formed a reliably liberal/Democratic voting bloc, so unlike many Christian religious conservatives, they aren’t necessarily voting Republican. There are no doubt many reasons for this, but to be sure, there are also many tales of neoconservatives ‘mugged’ out of the social sciences and policy-making halls of the liberal establishment into doubt and skepticism, some chased away by the New Left. There is also a conservative Christian/Jewish pro-Israel alliance which has traditionally been strong on national defense (some fundamentals of that American/Israeli relationship may be changing).
Religious belief can ground one in a kind of traditional and tragic view of human nature. This, say, as opposed to human nature understood as simply a blank slate or existentialist absurdity, or by some political movements as human clay to be molded with the right knowledge and right people in charge of our social institutions (they always seem to nominate themselves). As Mamet discusses in the video, there are distinctions to be made between Talmudic justice and social justice.
I’m guessing he might agree there are distinctions to be made between abstract equality and equality under the law (the exception of Civil Rights and black folks held under the civil laws is discussed). I’m also guessing he’d argue there are distinctions to be made between life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness on one hand, and liberation theology and/or individual freedom granted by a rights-based cohort in charge of government on the other.
–Mamet also touches on the fact that the arts aren’t a political endeavor. If writing a play is simply a didactic enterprise and/or a vehicle for deploying a political philosophy (Ayn Rand?), then I think the artist has probably failed in some fundamental way to show the audience/reader a unique truth which only that work of art has to show. Didactic art can come across as clunky at best, pure propaganda at worst.
Personally, I tend to believe that politics, religion, convention and popular thinking all have trouble with the arts.
Anyways, this is just a brief summary. Any thoughts or comments are welcome.
Predictions are hard, especially about the future. Thanks for reading, and for stopping by.
My two cents:
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.
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.
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.
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 incentives of print/online clickbait aside, our author can’t just write about something so boring and conventionally dull as taking a walk through the city at night, partaking in the pleasures of the flaneur.
A self-date is about reclaiming that control. The choice is yours: What would you do with your time if no one else got to call the shots? For how long would you do it, and when?
I’m assuming most men don’t read stuff like this, so the targeted reader needs to remind (W)omen there are responsibilities that go with (R)ights. The targeted reader ought think about the duties of (S)elf-Care, the burdens of market liberation, as well as how to (T)hink and what to (D)o as an Independent (W)oman and (S)elf in the (M)odern World.
I mean, you can’t handle that kind of freedom to take a walk, right? Nor be alone with your thoughts?
Therapeutic, conformist psycho-babble is pretty common out there.
As I age-out into irrelevance (Gen X), spinning sadly into forgetting, weakness and oblivion, I’d like to remind younger folks: I didn’t ask to be born in something like a Great Unwinding, either. I’ve found some poems, photographs, music and paintings which I love. I hope you come to appreciate them, too. I’ve found work which challenges me, and some principles I find worth defending (speech, property, and the honor freedom requires).
Everybody wants to be a (S)elf, nobody wants to be a (S)elf.
I’m pretty sure: The nihilist fog has settled in and will be here for awhile. American politics will likely become even more contentious. Political parties will be increasingly full of (S)elves and (C)auses, as well as the odd principle. Cynicism and ironic detachment will wear much easier than patient duty. Many institutions are becoming captured by true-believers and thus, much less efficient. Righteous people, of course, will often prevail (not necessarily right, nor truthful, nor reasonable…especially in groups and through the laws).
If you’ve read thus far, thank you, so here are some past thoughts and links for free:
We should be comforted when corporate/bureaucratic art is bland, bad, and uncommunicative. After all, do you think you’d trust a bank more or less if it had a shocking modern/pop art sculpture in the lobby?
What about when their marketing team tells you how you should think, behave and act?
The attempt to seek collective purpose and postmodern meaning in modern art, music and even cartoons etc. is fast upon us. The flirtations with nihilism can encourage more desperate collectivist/ideological impulses to fill the void. The excesses are many.
As for a critique of Albany Plaza, another modernist/bureaucratic concrete wonderland, here’s Robert Hughes:
Arguably, American aristocratic elements (older money, older institutions) are becoming much less religious; the older W.A.S.P. habits and networks less rooted in Church teaching. This has implications for engagement with the market (love, lust, sex, technology, booze, money, work), where a zealous progressivism rules the day.
Where gather the influential true-believers? Can the market and the individual bear that much weight?
If it isn’t a sad-eyed Christ, endlessly bearing the suffering of your sins, around which hope-giving subjects do spinsters gather?
‘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 it isn’t their own families and challenges at which to aim their compassion and energy, is it the W.H.O? Is it the latest raft of policy ideas to address early childhood education (sure to transcend the hard choices/failures and realities of this world)?
It’s unclear to me if this lady fancies herself a member of an artistic aristocracy (museum-docent avant-garde), or is more the humorless, Quaker scold-type. If what you regard as beyond reproach are your political ideals…and political activism is where to find your true-belief (hopes)…don’t be surprised when other people have other ideas, and your (C)ause wins or loses in the bare-knuckled bruising of politics-on-the-ground.
(Can I stay out of the Trump/anti-Trump ridiculousness? I earn my money elsewhere, and while I don’t really consider myself above the fray…this fray is really dumb).
From a few years ago.
If we imagine an individual, late into the night, tossing and turning during a crisis of faith, identity, or some regular tragedy, such an individual will likely find the world anew within the habits and networks of majority liberal idealisms (environmentalism, feminism, anti-racism etc.). I’d argue a secular humanism and various flavors Left-leaning progressivism have become closer to a majority (Dear Reader, we can talk about the postmodern well of the (S)elf later, and the Will/Will to Power later).
Freedom is next. Activism is generally a moral good.
‘…aesthetics is going to replace ethics, art is going to replace religion, as the means through which educated people express their spiritual worthiness…‘
We’ve got a lot of free-market dynamism within the latest wave of genuine technological progress (Musk, Bezos, Gates et al.); men of scope scaling to build empires generally within the law, or with a nod to the laws. The more lawgivers there are, the more unholy unions of public sentiment and private empires gather into authority.
To whom the institutions they’ve created must tithe, tells us quite a bit about beliefs, habits and institutions.
‘…if I understand your thesis correctly, you argue that the beliefs, mindsets and manners that animated earlier Protestantism have not been abandoned, but instead have been projected on to the political realm.’
‘The Mainline churches helped define American culture in several ways. First of all, the churches were mostly apolitical, which has had a profound effect on American culture. For instance, there’s never been a great American political novel. The average French streetwalker in a novel by Zola knows more about politics than the heroes of the greatest American novels. What is it to be an American? At the highest artistic level, it is to be concerned about the cosmos and the self. Politics is incidental to Moby Dick, The Scarlet Letter and Huckleberry Finn. And that’s because Mainline Protestantism rendered politics secondary to what it deems is most important — namely, salvation and the self.’
How did money actually work among those in America’s elite?:
But the old monopoly of power had gone, and the country was the poorer for it. “The tragedy of American civilization,” Auchincloss wrote in 1980, “is that it has swept away WASP morality and put nothing in its place.”
Here’s another Auchincloss quote from a reader (haven’t checked this one out…probably a quote site). The prose strikes me as kind of post-Wharton, mannered and dull:
“I used to go to church. I even went through a rather intense religious period when I was sixteen. But the idea of an everlasting life — a never-ending banquet, as a stupid visiting minister to our church once appallingly described it — filled me with a greater terror than the concept of extinction…”
In fact, what will you do with your own blandness, dear reader, entombing the flaming desire to be woke within; the little half-opened doors of ecstasy and ‘environmental justice’?:
Earth Quaker Action Team is ON IT. (I’m not sure the Quakers ever had much institutional authority…so this could well be a marketing ploy to start more Quaking)
Reasonably smart people and relatively deep thinkers feel the need to matter, just like everyone. They also feel the need to explain.
How much do you really know?
Patrick Deneen discusses recovering the ancients to re-orient the present and modernity towards flourishing (likely on the Straussian curve). The elites and the people each have their talents, but right now everyone seems to be either within or against a faltering structure of elites.
Is that really what’s going on?
There are people who can, and people who can’t. There are rules and ‘rule-following punishers’. There is constant reinforcement of what is good and what is not, and there are ends contained within ideas. We’re now selecting for abstract, symbolic and practical intelligence very strongly, and very early on.
But what about virtue amongst institutions full with a lot of virtue-signalling? What about small towns?
Oh, there will be ambitious people, strong and smart people, and warriors. But what about when people are or become rotten in some way? Or wrong and there too long? What constrains the folks making more important decisions and what constrains people downstream of them (from becoming violent, especially)?
A lot of folks on the dissident right see libertarianism/liberalism as two sides of the same, modern coin. Some folks on the far right live in identity politics and power-all-the-way-down theories (a natural reaction to the Hitler-year-zero Left…though some of it was always there…here I go again on the Straussian curve). Others are pointing out the virtues of neo-feudalism and monarchism (power matters) while still others are Catholics (certainly a hierarchy there).
There’s a lot of searching. Dear Reader, I still have my doubts.
Food for thought. Thanks for reading. I’m busy with life and work, mostly.
Whichever American cognitive elite is being formed, partially out of raw IQ and hard work, partially out of marriage, traditions and connections, partially out of a shared set of truths and fictions, it will have its work cut out for it. It will likely be more ‘European’ and further Left than what’s come before (less stable?).
Towards the very end of the video, Murray’s idea of treating religion and the religious with decency sounds a lot like a negotiated surrender.
Sad, but likely true.
Krauss, as something of a secular idealist, a humanist and someone more Left (government ought to provide for health/education), understands a lot, but to my mind, he doesn’t seem to understand certain truths about human nature which explain why Charles Murray has become persona non grata.
Understandably, if you share in the ideals, a major blind-spot is to those ideologues to your Left also often gathered under the ideals. Why do these ideologues constantly shut down discussion and free thought?
If you correct to allow the nature of human evil, the depths of ignorance, the problems of modernity and ideology, then I think the picture becomes a little more clear. Ideologies engage the mind, the passions (envy, particularly) and the moral sentiments. Throw in the problems rational thought has scaling into a kind of idealized society (we are each constrained by our own ignorance and experience), then you might end-up wanting to conserve more.
It’s a great discussion focusing more on Murray’s work. This is as it should be.
‘Drive through rural Sweden, as I did a few years ago. In every town was a beautiful Lutheran church, freshly painted, on meticu-ously tended grounds, all subsidized by the Swedish government.And the churches are empty. Including on Sundays. Scandinavia and Western Europe pride themselves on their “child-friendly” policies, providing generous child allowances, free day-care centers, and long maternity leaves. Those same countries have fertility rates far below replacement and plunging marriage rates. Those same countries are ones in which jobs are most carefully protected by government regulation and mandated benefits are most lavish. And they, with only a few exceptions, are countries where work is most often seen as a necessary evil, least often seen as a vocation, and where the proportions of people who say they love their jobs are the lowest.’
‘Fukuyama advanced three main claims, all of which he asserted were drawn not from the more abstruse realms of political theory (at a conference dominated by Straussian political theorists), but grounded in empirical observations about the world. His three main claims were:
Liberalism arose in the aftermath of the Reformation as a solution to the wars of religion, and provided a way of arriving at peace and political stability without requiring metaphysical or theological agreement by citizens.
What we today regard as the ills of liberalism (economic and social) in fact are pathologies that do not necessarily arise from a healthy liberal order. They are, rather, contingent and accidental and thus can be cured without killing off the patient.
Liberalism should look to its many past accomplishments for evidence of future results. Because liberalism abandoned an effort to achieve “the common good,” it allowed for the flourishing of individual goods that culminated in a wealthy, tolerant, and peaceful political order. Its ability to provide prosperity and peace are proven by appeal to evidence and reality.‘
On this site, see: At the Bari Weiss substack: Frank Fukuyama, Walter Russell Mead, and Niall Ferguson have a discussion about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
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).