Repost-Roger Scruton At The New Atlantis: ‘Scientism In The Arts & Humanities’

Full piece here (link may not last).

Scruton:

‘It is true that the theory of the meme does not deny the role of culture, nor does it undermine the nineteenth-century view that culture properly understood is as much an activity of the rational mind as is science. But the concept of the meme belongs with other subversive concepts — Marx’s “ideology,” Freud’s unconscious, Foucault’s “discourse” — in being aimed at discrediting common prejudice. It seeks to expose illusions and to explain away our dreams. But the meme is itself a dream, a piece of ideology, accepted not for its truth but for the illusory power that it confers on the one who conjures with it. It has produced some striking arguments, not least those given by Daniel Dennett in Breaking the Spell, in which he explains away religion as a particularly successful but dangerous meme.’

Those concepts according to Scruton, are not science, but rather scientism.

And he focuses back-in on judgment, or the capacity for judgment attached to ‘I,’ and an ‘I’ which looks towards transcendence:

‘Surely human beings can do better than this — by the pursuit of genuine scientific explanation on the one hand, and by the study of high culture on the other. A culture does not comprise works of art only, nor is it directed solely to aesthetic interests. It is the sphere of intrinsically interesting artifacts, linked by the faculty of judgment to our aspirations and ideals. We appreciate works of art, arguments, works of history and literature, manners, dress, jokes, and forms of behavior. And all these things are shaped through judgment. But what kind of judgment, and to what does that judgment lead?

Interesting quote by Scruton in a debate about Islam, at min 6:35 of video 4/4:

‘Universal values only make sense in a very specific context…the attempt to universalize them, or project or impose them…just leads to their appropriation by sinister forces.”

Worth a read.

-Steven Pinker, Harvard experimental psychologist and cognitive scientist wrote a piece in the New Republic, entitled: ‘Science Is Not Your Enemy

-Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of the New Republic since the 60′s, responded at The New Republic:  ‘No, Science Doesn’t Have All The Answers.

-Ross Douthat, conservative Catholic columnist at the Times jumped in the fray: ‘The Scientism Of Steve Pinker’ 

-Jerry Coyne, evolutionary biologist, responded to Douthat.

-Wieseltier jumped back in with: ‘Crimes Against Humanities: Now science wants to invade the humanities.  Don’t let it happen.

-Now Daniel Dennett, philosopher, cognitive scientist, one of the New Atheists and Boston-based secularist responds 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.’

So, how do you teach the arts and tilt the culture? Camille Paglia has some ideas, including the idea that George Lucas has taken root in more 20th-century minds than anyone else with his space opera:

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Related On This Site: Repost-Adam Kirsch At The New Republic: ‘Art Over Biology’…From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’

Evolutionary psychology and moral thinking: Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’From The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy: Charles Sanders Peirce

Larry Arnhart At Darwinian Conservatism Reviews E.O. Wilson’s ‘The Social Conquest Of Earth’Heather McDonald At The WSJ: ‘ The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity’

From Nigel Warburton’s Site: A Definition of Humanism?…A Debate: Would We Better Off Without Religion?…Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?From YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism

Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’

Repost-Via Youtube: Eric Hoffer-‘The Passionate State Of Mind’

Continuing on a theme on this blog.

Hoffer was a man deeply suspicious of top-down organization and intellectuals running things, yet he is a man deeply curious and taken with ideas: He strikes this blog as something of an anti-intellectual’s intellectual. He worked as a longshoreman for much of his life in San Francisco and was not formally educated, but read many of the great books. In the video he discusses how he thought he was observing a change from an interest in business to an interest in ideas in American culture and society in the 1960’s, among other things.

From a Thomas Sowell piece, the Legacy Of Eric Hoffer:

‘Hoffer said: “The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause.”

People who are fulfilled in their own lives and careers are not the ones attracted to mass movements: “A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding,” Hoffer said. “When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business.”

What Hoffer was describing was the political busybody, the zealot for a cause — the “true believer,” who filled the ranks of ideological movements that created the totalitarian tyrannies of the 20th century.’

Related On This Site: Are we still having the same debate…is it manifest destiny?: A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”Repost-Heather MacDonald At The City Journal: ‘The Sidewalks Of San Francisco

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.Richard Rorty tried to tie postmodernism and trendy leftist solidarity to liberalism, but wasn’t exactly classically liberal: Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Still Relevant-Karl Popper Quotation

Popper:

“…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.”

Alas, Gatekeepers-Some Links To Andy Ngo & Eric Weinstein

Andy Ngo at The City Journal-‘Inventing Victimhood

Some radical professors, some loud students, and many parasitic administrators are quite like true-believing cultists, spilling particularly bad ideas into our public discourse.  These ideas tend to get human nature, institutional authority, and the pursuit of truth dangerously wrong.

Ngo:

‘With their preoccupation with identity, privilege, and oppression, our institutions of higher education increasingly promote a paranoid climate of perpetual crisis. Is it surprising, then, that participants in this hothouse environment would respond to an incentive structure that rewards victimhood by manufacturing it?’

Well, I wouldn’t say ALL institutions of higher education, nor all departments, nor all people, but education is certainly getting a bad rap, much of it deserved.

This blog is still operating as though the only way to win the identity game is by not playing.  The loaded terms ‘privilege,’ ‘narratives,’ and ‘(H)istory, ‘ might indicate a person is playing such games, and I generally leave them be, avoiding the game, and if necessary, the player.

The best defense against becoming the master to someone else’s slave, oppressor to someone else’s oppressed, is by treating others as you’d want to be treated.   Don’t assume that your grouping of ‘women’ accounts for the woman in front of you, even if some women are playing the ‘all women are victims,’ game.  She’s her own person and has thoughts about you, too.  Some of [those] thoughts are likely quite true, and maybe not so flattering.

Aim for win/win situations and solutions.

On the right, I suspect the warmer welcome for the Brothers Weinstein (still of the Left) is due to a common enemy.  Also, it’s probably due to their thoughtfulness, and the more recent minority status of conservatism in the mainstream.

Strange bedfellows these days as human nature hasn’t changed much, and there will be institutional authority.

There is increasing pressure for the rules of that institutional authority to become more open, if those rules be routed through algorithms:

There are also going to be ‘low-resolution’ ideas uniting people within institutions, and it’s important to get these more right than we’re doing now:

“Those teach who can’t do” runs the dictum,

But for some even that’s out of reach:

They can’t even teach—so they’ve picked ’em

To teach other people to teach.

Then alas for the next generation,

For the pots fairly crackle with thorn.

Where psychology meets education

A terrible bullshit is born.’

Robert Conquest

 

Data Breaks In The Global Dawn-A Few Peace Pavilion West Updates

If there’s anything certain data can tell us, it’s that people with various levels of understanding of certain data should use it to create laws, rules, and edicts the rest of us must follow.  Once the knowledge claims are established, accurately predicting the future, then favored data glitters like a thousand stars in the morning sky.

Global Utopia!

All of the local, old oppressive laws, rules and edicts are no longer load-bearing anyways.  Some international institutions can stay, but only if they accept the new knowledge.  Okay, go:  Right NOW.  Or now.

Please note that there is absolutely no sarcasm below.   No somewhat ham-handed attempts at satire.  All of the below is absolutely true.  Peace Pavilion West is just waiting for People to fill the pews of the Human Pagoda:

You know, instead of the arts reinforcing religious beliefs or biblical stories, or the Romantic return to Nature, or the aims of high-modernism, music just ought to reflect the feelings of bodies juxtaposed in postmodern space.  Music should echo thoughts about the Self seeking other Selves within global communities awaiting climate catastrophe:

Will all roads pass through the solar and wind energies of Peace Pavilion West, and the rooftop kale gardens of Manhattan’s Peace Plaza East (in the international, brutal style, of course)?

Will all (P)olitics, (H)istory, (A)rt and (S)cience finally be united in the utopia to come?

We shall have to wait and see.

Possibly related:

The Founder Of Peace Pavilion West-The Early Years

Repost-Cass Sunstein At The New Republic: ‘Why Paternalism Is Your Friend’

Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”

Who Wants To Help Build A Technocracy? Repost-Megan McArdle At The Daily Beast: ‘The Technocratic Dilemma’

 

A Wolf In Wolf’s Clothing?-Some Links On Humanities ‘Scholarship’

What I think I see:  It’s one thing to seek continued mass-market relevancy, fame and celebrity ($$$) for it’s own sake.  It’s quite another to do so while claiming the mantle of rigorous scholarship, getting called-out for appallingly bad scholarship on-air.

The finest hypocrisy:

Naomi Wolf can’t possibly speak for all women (let alone all feminists), but her apparent impulse to discover injustice within the English Common Law Tradition and make a book-tour out of it, regardless of fact and evidence, is probably shared amonst many ideological cohorts.

The truth, apparently, is another matter.

I believe a lot of these problems can be solved by reading prose, novels and poems you like, regardless of the gonads of the author.  Sometimes you go along to get along, sometimes you read someone speaking to your very core.

A lot of the problems of bad humanities scholarship can be solved by allowing the more rigorous scholars teaching the better poets and writers in our universities to rise, and not giving the fakers, ideological true-believers and bureaucrats any more influence than they already have.

The good books and classic utterances will continue their dialogue with the living, outstripping the needs, causes and casuistry of the moment.

What can’t last, won’t.

As for contrarian voices, on this site, see:

Camille Paglia has her own take, from 40 years spent within, and on the fringes of, American academia. This is quite a curious mix of 60’s radicalism, art theory, history and criticism, some political philosophy, pop culture and various other influences.

A body-positive, quite radical/anti-anaesthetic and associative Nietzschean feminist art historian (with deep Italian Catholic roots)?

Free Speech And The Modern Campus:

‘However, these boundary-dissolving expansions were unfortunately not the route taken by American academe in the 1970s. Instead, new highly politicized departments and programs were created virtually overnight — without the incremental construction of foundation and superstructure that had gone, for example, into the long development of the modern English department. The end result was a further balkanization in university structure, with each area governed as an autonomous fiefdom and with its ideological discourse frozen at the moment of that unit’s creation. Administrators wanted these programs and fast — to demonstrate the institution’s “relevance” and to head off outside criticism or protest that could hamper college applications and the influx of desirable tuition dollars. Basically, administrators threw money at these programs and let them find their own way. When Princeton University, perhaps the most cloistered and overtly sexist of the Ivy League schools, went coeducational after 200 years in 1969, it needed some women faculty to soften the look of the place. So it hastily shopped around for whatever women faculty could be rustled up, located them mostly in English departments at second-tier schools, brought them on board, and basically let them do whatever they wanted, with no particular design. (Hey, they’re women — they can do women’s studies!)’


Martha Nussbaum had a rather profound take via this review of ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.

Nicholas C Burbules on her book:

Between these two lines of attack, she believes, the university must articulate a conception of itself that defends the standards of reason, while remaining open to new points of view; that preserves the intellectual traditions and canons that define U.S. culture, while consciously broadening the curriculum to expose students to traditions which diverge from their own and which, in their difference, may confront students with an awareness of their own parochialism; that remain respectful and tolerant of many points of view without lapsing into relativism; and in short, that manages to prepare students simultaneously to be citizens of U.S. society, and cosmopolitans, “citizens of the world.”

This has always struck me as a little too broad of a vision to maintain (too heavy on the gender and equality side of things, deep the shards of disruptive radicalism embedded),though I certainly respect the attempt. We should aim to be citizens of the world and in the best Aristotelian sense (such depth and breadth may be in fact necessary). But is it enough within this framework?


On that note, Roger Scruton had some keen insights:

“The works of Shakespeare contain important knowledge. But it is not scientific knowledge, nor could it ever be built into a theory. It is knowledge of the human heart”

“…in the days when the humanities involved knowledge of classical languages and an acquaintance with German scholarship, there was no doubt that they required real mental discipline, even if their point could reasonably be doubted. But once subjects like English were admitted to a central place in the curriculum, the question of their validity became urgent. And then, in the wake of English came the pseudo-humanities—women’s studies, gay studies and the like—which were based on the assumption that, if English is a discipline, so too are they.”

Quite importantly:

“And since there is no cogent justification for women’s studies that does not dwell upon the subject’s ideological purpose, the entire curriculum in the humanities began to be seen in ideological terms.”

Much like Paglia…

Terry Eagleton, British Marxist and professor in the humanities, debates Scruton below.

Will Marxism & continental philosophy become further guiding lights for the humanities here in America as we find much more so in Britain?

Are we really that thick into the postmodern weeds?:

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Judgment, as Scruton points out, shouldn’t necessarily be subsumed to political ideology. I would agree, and I generally default in assuming that each one of us is the ultimate arbiter of our own judgment.

But, no man is an island.

Does Scruton’s thinking eventually lead us back to the problems that religion can have with artists and writers?

Is there anybody whom you trust to decide what you should and shouldn’t read?

Parents? Great authors? Public intellectuals? Professors? God? Laws and lawmakers? Religious leaders? A school-board? A democratic majority? People who think like you? A Council of Cultural Marxists?

The Department of Institutionalized Idiocy?


As to the policial/social climate, did the 60’s counter-culture and the conservative counter-counter culture both win, in a sense?

Christopher Hitchens, William F. Buckley and Peter Robinson discuss below, including the sexual revolution:


Robert Bork’s ‘Slouching Towards Gomorrah’ here. Bork died as of December 19th, 2012.

What did a man who eventually became an openly practicing Roman Catholic witness during the 60’s protests on campus?

Bork argues that during the 1960’s, likely starting with the SDS, a form of liberalism took shape that promotes radical egalitarianism (social justice, equality of outcomes) and radical individualism (excessive freedom from the moral and legal doctrines which require an individual’s duty and which form the fabric of civil society). This is the New Left.

Bork is quite explicit about the violence and threats of violence he witnessed, the barbarism on display, and the confused, tense years that unfolded (culminating in the Kent State debacle). He was one of two conservative law professors at Yale during the late 1960’s and he argues that events have rarely been represented accurately as he saw them. It is a personal account.

Related On This Site: 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…See the comments Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was SuccessfulUpdate And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

Out of the Valley of modernism, post-modernism, and relativism…one path from Nietzsche’s nihilism is through Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom: Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo StraussFrom Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’

Peter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

Repost-Toxic Feminity, Identity Medicine & Facebook-Some Links

Via a reader: Heather Heying, evolutionary biologist, and wife of Bret Weinstein, offers reasonable insight.

The sexes obviously can work together collaboratively, but I’m guessing neither a vast majority of women, nor some plurality of men, desire a return to previous traditional and religiously conservative sex roles, especially in the workplace.

One key will be continuing to identify, satirize and freeze-out radicals and narrow, rigid ideologues pursuing conformity and true-belief. Such resistance requires the labor and firmness of the knowledgable and reasonable before this process becomes even more personal and political.

Many people are still getting passes for their questionable knowledge claims, agressive behavior and totalizing movements to contemporize all towards their utopia/dystopia. These ideological maps tend not to line-up well with human nature (as a good humanities education can reveal), and furthermore, cloud the moral imagination.

Please let’s not politicize medicine. Our very lives may depend on it.

Theodore Dalrymple here;

‘Two items in the British Medical Journal last week caught my eye. The first was an editorial titled “Tackling Female Genital Mutilation in the UK,” and the second was an article titled “Diversifying the Medical Curriculum.”

Speech and thought are intimately intertwined, and the crude stuff you might say at the bar may not entirely be true, nor is it necessarily what you ought to say to your boss, amongst neighbors, or at the town hall meeting.

Personally, I don’t trust any one institution, neither public nor private, to manage all my data.

Why do I keep harping the folks posing the clearest and most immediate dangers to liberty?

Because they pose the clearest and most immediate dangers to liberty…

Facebook Has A Right To Block ‘Hate Speech’ But Here’s Why It Shouldn’t

‘By the time the 2016 U.S. election craze began (particularly after Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination), however, things had changed. The combination of Facebook’s corporate encouragement to “bring your authentic self to work” along with the overwhelmingly left-leaning political demographics of my former colleagues meant that left-leaning politics had arrived on campus’

 

‘Urban Anthropology’-A Tweet And Some Links

It’s hard to get everything right, in fact, humility and wisdom recognize you must already have some things wrong.  So, which things?

Better to spend more time thinking such thoughts, though what gets one’s blood up enough to write, even, alas, blog posts, is pettier stuff.

Meanwhile, in the Valley of Self, onward ride the avant-garde, merging the arts with rather naked political ideology:

The other day, on the subway, I observed an American male in contemporary business-casual costume. The color of his trousers was richly nondescript.

Urban anthropology and woke cultural criticism is a burgeoning field.  All you have to do is start putting people into identity categories, good and evil, oppressed and oppressor, and you too can get published in the New Yorker.

Better be in a favored identity category, regardless of your talents.

Zoe Satchel is searching for Self through ideological and group membership, environmental awareness, and inward-looking re-affirmation within communities of identity.  She is a leading popularizer, writer and communicator.

She can take these games up to 11 (this is very serious business, and she is very real):

Ralph Lauren logo here.

Just as many old-guard institutional members of the liberal arts and humanities were overrun by the radical, righteous ideologues of their day, many companies and regular citizens, sooner or later, deal with the consequences.

Politics, ‘culture,’ the arts, and the social sciences are attracting many people who already have a core set of beliefs, ideas and assumptions, and the totalizing true-believers often have undue influence amongst them.

Maybe the popular ‘narrative’ of the 60’s being about personal freedom and individual Self-expression has helped lead to many of the current political and institutional failures, though many rates of change have increased dramatically, often much faster than our insitutions, traditions and laws.

It’s often seemed to me like we were living off the grain in the storehouse.  But that may or may not be true.

As posted, here is an interesting piece of a larger puzzle:

—————–

Subject: ‘Is England Still Influencing America?’ on Hitchens’ book ‘Blood, Class, & Nostalgia: Anglo-American Ironies‘ when Hitchens’ was pushing the idea that ’empire’ was the primary transmission, apparently due to his ideological commitments at the time. America must have seemed a classless paradise with institutions well-functioning and ripe to achieve justice and equality for the whole world…for some folks in the Generation of ’68.

*Includes the Firing Line opening theme of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 (those damned Germans influencing us) followed by a Michael Kinsley introduction (founding editor of Slate, which has since gone more progressive under current management).

Repost-Shakedown, Breakdown, Takedown, Everybody Wants Into The Crowded Line

**I’m reposting as I believe this same dynamic between Socialist Left and Union Left, Activist Left and ‘Neo-liberal’ Left, Collective Identity Left and Individual Liberty Liberalism is now playing out in many American cities and increasingly in our National politics.

It’d be nice if many secularists and political liberals said something like the followingIf 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 understand human nature well enough to create lasting institutions which can preserve liberty.

If you haven’t heard, open socialist Kshama Sawant (yes, really) of the Seattle Council Of Nine, desires Amazon and others pay at least $150 million dollars as part of a ‘head-tax’ to address the ‘homeless crisis’ in the city. Four of her fellows agree.

‘They estimate the so-called “head tax” of about $500 per employee would apply to 500 to 600 companies and they are calling for it to be spent on low-income housing and emergency services for homeless people. The council has been planning to vote later this month.’

It’s just a start, mind you, phasing into a more permanent revolutionary revenue stream tax within a few years.

Amazon however, disagrees, and has halted construction on a downtown site in response (occupying something like 1/5 of premium office space in the city).

Long-story short: Seattle is growing rapidly. The housing prices are through the roof. Many arrivals are ambitious, skilled and entering the job market at the higher-end (Amazon works people pretty hard). There are many other less-skilled people looking to gain skills and jobs.

Seattle is also attracting many mentally-ill, drug-addicted people into the city. Many increasingly wander the streets and are encouraged to use public services and set-up tent cities alongside highways, taking-up settlement on public property (I’ll just link here as to final judgments about such matters…).

As for me: I’m currently [overhearing] a strategic political meet-up for the pro-head tax side in a coffee shop. Here’s what I’m picking up:

  1. Their opponents are clearly ‘immoral.’
  2. Their opponents clearly have a lot of money, but they simply won’t cough it up and clearly don’t care. In fact, their opponents are choosing to spend money to mobilize people against them unfairly (a lot of projection, that). Did I mention ‘opponents?’ There’s a lot of ‘opponent’ talk.
  3. ‘Leverage’, ‘narrative’, press releases, ‘messaging’, mobilization, planned protests are all mentioned. I infer a weakness in their position from their postures and subject matter. I’m thinking both realize this will take work. Both lament the label ‘socialist.’ I check the latest news and see that iron-workers shouted Sawant down.
  4. As I suspect is the case with most coversations based upon shared principles, ideology and future planned action, there is a curious mix of praise and competitive false praise, familiarity and convenience. There’s reinforcement of certain touchstones (class, industrialization, greed, the ‘industrial revolution’) and concrete action (Friday 5 pm, mayor’s office etc).

Having seen this a few times (my biases should be pretty clear :)):

Claim you have knowledge of how the world really is (usually some direct or warmed-over Marxism)–>

Claim that a better world is possible (utopia) through immediate political action–>

Claim that the ‘oppressor’ is responsible and blame the ‘oppressor’ for pretty much all injustices in life (filthy capitalist golden-geese like Amazon)–>

Claim anyone outside of your ideological lights is insufficiently ‘woke,’ falsely conscious, morally hollow and eventually either for or against you in supporting your conception of social justice–>

Organize protests/meetings/ to demonize and extract money, gaining political power while constantly projecting all of your intellectual/moral/ideological motives onto the ‘oppressor.’

We all need better advocates of liberty, and better ideas, than this.

Ah, Seattle:

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Fun fact: During times of stress, Josef Stalin is said to have marched his fingers just so across his desk, transgressing his own boundaries!

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

Via The Rubin Report:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Weinsteins are engaged in a lot of the pushback:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related On This Site:

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”…

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

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

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

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

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

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