There Are So Many Ways To Do Better-Philosophy & Humanities 101

In light of the rather pathetic and predictable news out of the University Of Chicago’s English Department:

“For the 2020-2021 graduate admissions cycle, the University of Chicago English Department is accepting only applicants interested in working in and with Black Studies,” the program said in a statement on its website.

In light of the rather pathetic and predictable news out of the University of Edinburgh. They’ve renamed Hume Tower (after arch-empiricist David Hume and one of the greats) at the University of Edinburgh.

Some academics stood up to the administration and the decision:

The letter’s signatories include several of the university’s most respected academics, including Professor Sir Tom Devine, Scotland’s pre-eminent historian, Dr Michael Rosie, senior lecturer in sociology, Lindsay Paterson, professor of education policy, and Jonathan Hearn, professor of political and historical sociology.

During my humanities education, I developed an increasing suspicion of the postmodern rejection of tradition, rules, laws, rituals and beliefs, at least with regard to reading, writing and thinking.  In engaging with some dull, and other absolutely mesmerizing, works of the creative imagination, I realized many of my own rituals and beliefs were being challenged. There are many experiences, and views, and ways to understand both myself and the world.

This is a good reason to get a good education!

It also slowly dawned on me that the lack of pedagogy, endless deconstructionist academic discussions, canon-less syllabi and increasing identitarian drift (is this person a professor because he/she’s the best poet/teacher or because he/she’s black/female or some mix of both?) were a problem.

A lot of this aimlessness and rebellion had ramped-up in the 1960’s, but since then, I’ve come to understand there are even deeper problems.

I aim to be open-minded, but not so much as to notice my brains falling out.

More here.

Link sent in by a reader.

Interesting paper presented by Erika Kiss, beginning about minute 32:00 (the whole conference is likely worth your time for more knowledge on Oakeshott).

According to Kiss, Oakeshott’s non-teleological, non-purposive view of education is potentially a response to Friedrich Hayek, Martha Nussbaum, and Allan Bloom, in the sense that all of these thinkers posit some useful purpose or outcome in getting a liberal education.

Friedrich Hayek’s profound epistemological attack on rationalist thought is still a system itself, and attaches learning to market-based processes which eventually drive freedom and new thinking in universities. The two are mutually dependent to some extent.

Martha Nussbaum attaches liberal learning to ends such as making us ‘Aristotelian citizens of the world’, or better citizens in a democracy, which has struck me as incomplete at best.

Allan Bloom is profoundly influenced by Straussian neo-classicism, and wants love, classical learning, honor and duty to perhaps be those reasons why a young man or woman should read the classics. This, instead of crass commercialism, the influences of popular music, deconstructionism and logical positivism.

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.

Isaiah Berlin pretty much blackballed Roger Scruton, so it’s not all roses.

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.

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?

See Protein Wisdom for a discussion about language and intentionalism, and how it gets deployed.

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

The nihilist claims are deeper than you may think, and the Nietzschean, and Will–>Will to Power German influence is also deeper than most people think; offering profound criticisms of the scientific project, liberalism, liberal institutions, and a secular humanism which is the air many folks breathe these days.

Here’s a somewhat similar vein of thought.  From friesian.com:

Although Anglo-American philosophy tended to worship at the feet of science, the drift of academia to the left has led to characteristically totalitarian political attacks on science itself — this despite the leftist program to use “climate science” to impose a Sovietized command economy on energy and the tactic to smear climate skeptics, i.e. “Deniers,” through associaton with Creationism or Neo-Nazi Holocaust denial. None of that has stopped the “post-modern” move…’

Alas, this blog has been writing about such issues for over a decade, and I’ve been thinking about them for more than two decades:  Should You Bother To Get A Liberal Arts Education? Allan Bloom, Camille Paglia and Anthony Kronman

Repost-From Scientific Blogging: ‘The Humanities Are In Crisis-Science Is Not’

Click here for a quite a varied discussion of Allan Bloom’s surprise 1987 bestseller: ‘The Closing Of The American Mind

Repost-From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Civil Right logic, and protest alone, isn’t likely deep enough to prevent against ideological capture: Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

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’

The George Floyd Arrest Video, Google, And A Reminder Of Some Better Standards For Speech & Reasonable Discussion-This Thing Won’t Land Itself

Rod Dreher and commenters have a discussion about the George Floyd arrest video.  Eleven Updates.  It’s a hot topic.

‘Please don’t use my real name – there are issues where taking a stand is worth risking a job, but this isn’t one of them.
I’ve been a practicing attorney for 12 years, mostly doing civil litigation but with a little bit of criminal defense work. The big point you and many others, left and right, have missed about the new bodycam footage is that it’s likely to get Chauvin and the other officers acquitted–not because it shows Floyd resisting, but because combined with the autopsy results, it’s likely to prevent the government from proving causation beyond a reasonable doubt.’

Arrest video here, via Youtube via the Daily Mail.

On that note, New Tech is New Media, to a large extent, and it is displaying signs of the same ideological capture as much as Old Media and many of our educational institutions.

Youtube is balancing interests by moving away from independent content-creators and towards larger, existing media players.  Money is probably a main reason, but there’s also this:

Wojcicki said that she decided to start prioritizing authoritative sources in the wake of the terrorist attack in Nice, France on Bastille Day (July 14) in 2016.

“I remember reading about it and being just extremely upset and thinking our users need to know about it,” Wojcicki said.’

Equality–>Equity–>Ideological Capture.

From Google’s CEO:

‘Today we are announcing a set of concrete commitments to move that work forward: internally, to build sustainable equity for Google’s Black+ community, and externally, to make our products and programs helpful in the moments that matter most to Black users.’

The more I think about how complex the search algorithms, how many iterations I’ve performed with them while I/They alter my behavior, and how much information I am giving data stakeholders, well, Dear Reader, I’m a bit chilled.

When I see ‘equity’ language, however, specifically coming from the CEO at the company responsible for many of those algorithms, then I know it’s only a matter of time before that portion of the company becomes toxic, if it doesn’t break Google apart.

Towards understanding why ‘Equity’ is a word which will be used to shut down the pursuit of truth, new knowledge and reasoned debate.  All Enlightenment values many liberals, and now increasingly conservatives, will have to defend:

Come with me to my ‘field of gathered abstractions’:

Why I think the ‘modern’ maps greatly underestimate the depth and wisdom of the religious and humanities’ maps of human nature, rather than the ideological maps of oppressor/oppressed and the postmodern capture.

Highlighting ideological capture with libertarianism:

Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy:

‘Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people”:

 First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.’

Highlighting ideology with Darwinian Conservatism, as Larry Arnhart is dealing with many of these ideas.  Here’s the banner from the site:

‘The Left has traditionally assumed that human nature is so malleable, so perfectible, that it can be shaped in almost any direction. By contrast, a Darwinian science of human nature supports traditionalist conservatives and classical liberals in their realist view of human imperfectibility, and in their commitment to ordered liberty as rooted in natural desires, cultural traditions, and prudential judgments.’

The move from Romanticism–>Modernism–>Postmodernism is a deeper and very important current in the Western World, and it is isolating many of us into (S)elves, and promoting a radical posture of first the artist, now each individual, as existentially apart from and outside of all institutions.

Highlighting postmodern skepticism with postmodern skepticism and some British Idealism:

Review here of a book by author Luke O’Sullivan on 20th century British conservative and thinker Michael Oakeshott. Other books by O’Sullivan on Oakeshott can be found here.

Highlighting ideology with 20th-century liberal philosophy

Before modernism, there was the Romantic break of the individual artistic genius driving all this change forward on his own. Isaiah Berlin had some thoughts about this (as well as the horrendous totalitarianism which emerges when you start-out thinking the Ends Of Man are already known).

Thanks, reader. Probably worth revisiting:

Highlighting ideology and speech with older liberalism: How about speech?:

“First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.’

‘Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied. ‘

‘Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds. ‘

And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from reason or personal experience.”

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

Postmodern Conservatism, Celebrity As Currency, Protest Art, Politics And Some Bad Prose

Dear Reader, lately I’ve been lurking in the shadows, strolling from streetlight to streetlight, leaning and loitering. I feel like the character you confront while skirting the edge of the park, dimly established, on your way home.

Well, no, not really. Life is often boring, full of work and loved ones, and what’s good.

True tales from my twenties, while on brief vacation: I remember lying on a hotel bed in Vienna, restless with the euphoria of travel, the sounds of a foreign city alive in my ears. I remember arising, standing at the window and staring at the moon and the mansard rooves across the street.

I had seen the same rooftops in the changing light of late afternoon and dusk; the clotheslines swaying and the water stains on the walls, my eyes darting from small detail to facade to vast, unfamiliar horizon.

Life is so strange!

Now, in the middle of the night, I was with unlit cigarette (one or two a day for a year as I was very, very, cool). I remember striking the lighter and my eyes catching a flash of light from across the street. From the mansard rooves.

I flashed the lighter again. One flash.

One flash in return came from the mansard rooves. Fourth floor. Dormer window.

I gave two flashes.

Two flashes came from the window.

I held my flame for about five seconds, about chest-level. I heard the sounds of a few cars down below.

I finally saw a light and the face of girl with dark hair, much younger, bigger nose, nice eyes, olive skin.

Was she alone? Was she a Muslim immigrant? Why is she awake? Is she too young? Am I a creep? Should I try morse code?

If I have drawn your interest, I will say I remember that after a few more flashes and some rather innocent, thrilling moments of communication across the darkness under a strange moon in a strange city, I eventually found my way back to bed and to sleep.

I hope she’s well, and now too has a happy life.

As I’ve been called a ‘postmodern conservative’ (not so sure about that…), here’s an interesting piece from Matt McManus at Quillette: ‘Understanding Postmodern Conservatism: A Response To Aaron Hanlon:

‘…I do not believe postmodern conservatism emerged in a historical or ideological vacuum. It is not just the product of contemporary postmodern culture, which provided the necessary but not sufficient conditions for postmodern conservatism’s emergence. Rather, certain strands of conservative thinking that—while not in themselves postmodern—have nevertheless recently mutated into postmodern form. The two most prominent of these are Burkean historicism and De Maistrean irrationalism.’

and:

‘Theorists of postmodern culture…argue that the emergence of postmodern skepticism indicates a broader cultural shift within developed societies. What Jameson calls ‘postmodern culture’ is characterized by growing social skepticism about the stability of truth claims in general, but particularly truth claims related to identity and values.’

Personally, I remain open to much skepticism and many critiques of many parts of the ‘modern’ project. I find myself interested in people providing reasons to support various traditions (music, art), religious faith (wouldn’t call myself a believer), patriotism (haven’t served, but necessary to the survival of our Republic) and rule of law (even more necessary to the survival of our Republic).

I think all of the above deserve a fair hearing.

On that note, Jesus Christ already

Yes, there’s nudity, and it’s not nearly so unappealing as a lot of art-activist-nudity out there.

The shock for shock’s sake, childishness, and resemblance to political protest arguably demean without much reward. I doubt this ‘artist’ has reached the sensibilities of any pilgrims nor nuns (the foolish and childish, the mature and wise). In fact, this isn’t really art, nor even political protest nor does it reasonably address the various matters of deep disagreement for which people can end up killing each other.

Go learn how to sketch, draw and paint. Appeal to truth, pleasure, or beauty.

Or get paid for being naked and become an artist’s model.

‘In a statement to Hyperallergic, the artist has questioned Christianity’s exploitation of female figures like the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene, who are often portrayed on opposite sides of the stereotypical spectrum of female chasteness: virgin or whore.’

Admittedly, I don’t think the Virgin Mary above displays as shamelessly little talent as did ‘Mattress Girl,’ who after the hysteria and histrionics of lugging a mattress around NYU [correction: Columbia] campus, eventually did ‘classy’ pornography a disservice.

Thanks for the memories, Mattress Girl:

I do think that nowadays, art pieces can include whatever the artist desires, and in this performance art piece, it utilizes elements of protest, because that is what’s relevant to my life right now.’

Why should I, you, he, she it or they care?: ‘Mattress Girl’ got a ticket punched to the State of The Union by Kirsten Gillibrand, a U.S. Senator from the state of New York. It seems worth asking what the people making our laws believe and what they are saying they believe.

What do they do? How do they behave?

Liberation is next!

Previously on this site,

Interesting piece here.

What is modernism, exactly?

This blog is still trying to work towards a definition:

‘Like many scholars of modernism, I’m often asked two questions: What is modernism? And why is modernist studies, it seems, all the rage right now? I don’t have a good, succinct answer to either question — and I’ve no doubt frustrated plenty of friends because of that — but the reasons why I don’t are pretty telling.’

From the comments:

‘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?’

As previously posted:

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

Repost-‘Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?’

Land Art Links Along A With A Quite Modernist W.S. Merwin Poem

William Logan At The New Criterion: ‘Pound’s Metro’…Monday Poem: ‘A Pact’ By Ezra Pound

Of some note:

James Lileks responds to an Atlantic piece

‘There is no morality in art. There is morality in religion; there are philosophical objectives embedded in politics. The two are intertwined in a society and reflected in its art. When you sever art from its cultural moorings and make “newness” the overriding criterion by which the merits of a work are judged, then anything is possible. This results in crap. Not always’

James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Ezra Pound, the Bauhaus, the imagists, the futurists etc. Some of those influences have morphed into post-modernism or where such currents have flowed and keep flowing. Were they the best models, or has much been lost in translation?

Lileks’ take:

‘The primary urge of the revolutionary and the modernist and the adolescent: impatience.’

So, do we aim for maturity? Reverence? Good old Longfellow? Sonnets? Rhyming couplets delivered by higher powers to monks in haylofts?

Perhaps there is a growing body of intellectual and cultural pushback against the ‘-Isms’ (environmentalism, feminism, utopian political idealism) as these ideals and idealists continue their contact with current institutions, Nature and human nature.

It’s tough to get an education in the arts and humanities these days, moving through the postmodern landscape, without running into pockets of ‘-Isms.’

Results vary:

It’s not that the sciences, nor even the social sciences, don’t contain valid truth and knowledge claims.

This isn’t worrying so much as the cults of rationality and irrationality out and about; the reefs of radical discontent and group-thought hardening into new rules.

It’s not that change doesn’t need to happen, nor that what’s true remains even if we don’t want it to be so, rather, it’s the inability of many moderns to provide deep enough wisdom, truth and understanding so as not not slip into the same old problems with authority and hierarchy.

I think for some people, there’s an appealing critique of liberal rationalism contained within nihilism, but also something deeper which draws folks to seek out other ideas: An instinctive defense of the arts, myth, music, and tradition; the complexities of the human heart and mind, the long sweep of history, the wisdom contained within religious texts.

Defending tradition, even perhaps having been influenced by Nietzsche to some extent, has become heretical in parts of the academy and the media.

Merely pushing back against the influence of Foucault and Lacan in the academy, or perhaps questioning the motives of student radicals during Paris ’68, can be enough to torpedo an academic career:

Before modernism, there was the Romantic break of the individual artistic genius driving all this change forward on his own. Isaiah Berlin had some thoughts about this (as well as the horrendous totalitarianism which emerges when you start-out thinking the Ends Of Man are already known).

Thanks, reader. Probably worth revisiting:

Related On This Site:Appeasement Won’t Do-Via A Reader, ‘Michael Ignatieff Interview With Isaiah Berlin’

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’

Anyways, let’s enjoy a poem:

Cousin Nancy

Miss Nancy Ellicott
Strode across the hills and broke them,
Rode across the hills and broke them—
The barren New England hills—
Riding to hounds
Over the cow-pasture.

Miss Nancy Ellicott smoked
And danced all the modern dances;
And her aunts were not quite sure how they felt about it,
But they knew that it was modern.

Upon the glazen shelves kept watch
Matthew and Waldo, guardians of the faith,
The army of unalterable law.

T.S. Eliot

Irreverent Reverends & Anti-Technological, Anti-Bureaucratic Technocrats-Some Climate Links

I don’t mean to imply some people have turned their limited understanding of climate data into an anti-human, anti-science cult. Given human nature, such a turn of events is completely unforseeable!

Aside from passionate crazies, however, there are certainly not people who’ve turned global warming into a gnawing, apocryphal certainty; certain enough to offload their own fears of death into abstract ideals which might live beyond them.  This can lead to technocracy as a form of leadership; knowledge implemented through institutional bureaucracy and more diffuse accountability.  Plenty of journalists and aspiring professionals will follow those incentives into careers, opportunity and authority.

Some poets, even, and there’s certainly not any postmodern mysticism, anti-science rationalism and irrationalism to be found around and about:

A reader sends a link to a SF Gate review of poet Jorie Graham’s ‘Sea Change:

‘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, overwhelm- ing the planet.’

and:

‘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.’

Oh boy.

Older folks are left to display one’s virtue, good behavior and rule-following among the living.  That Tesla sure is sleek. Show off that new canvas bag.  Scowl at the plastic one. This binds people up together and keeps social harmony.  The knowledge is here, all that’s left is the wise, equal, and just enforcement of new rules.  Don’t you want to be good?

Maybe we can turn this thing around after all, discovering that Romantically primitive modern Eden upon the horizon.  We must act.

Alas, young, true believers, reformers and the narrowly righteous see deeper, of course, through the hypocrisy of a more settled complacency.  Tim Black at Spiked: “The Ongoing Creation Of Greta Thunberg.

They can become heroes to some, rather pathetic ciphers to others:

‘It is all very disconcerting. From her breakdown, to her recitation of carbon-emission facts, the Greta that emerges in Our House is on Fire doesn’t feel like an individual. She feels like a fictional device. A God’s fool-style character, descended down to Earth to expose our folly.’

And by no means are those on the political Left, often seeking radical revolution and ‘Capitalism’s’ overthrow for the new ‘scientific’ Socialism to come, involved here.   Institutions are clearly not susceptible to committed ideologues, operating upon failed theories of (H)istory, forcing themselves into institutions (which radicals don’t normally recognize as having moral legitimacy, unless and until it’s their moral legitimacy).

What if you have an opposing, or different view to a majority?  Isn’t that the point of free speech?

Bruce Everett on this book:

‘It’s de rigueur on college campuses to pledge allegiance to the climate agenda, denouncing Luddites who impede progress on the climate policies that all right-thinking people support. Those of us who work in academia are used to this ritual, but every once in a while an academic decides to distinguish himself by making his denunciation louder and more strident than the rest of the crowd. ‘

From a reader: Christopher Essex discusses ‘Believing In Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, And Climate Models:’

It really shouldn’t be that difficult a thing to keep a strong interest in the natural world and a desire to understand it quite apart from such true-belief, collectivist virtue-signalling, hyperbole and ideology.

This stuff is complicated!
As previously posted:

Repost-‘Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?’

Land Art Links Along A With A Quite Modernist W.S. Merwin Poem

William Logan At The New Criterion: ‘Pound’s Metro’…Monday Poem: ‘A Pact’ By Ezra Pound

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

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.

I’d argue that this ‘postmodern’ problem also likely bleeds out into other causes, and abstract ideas, like the Climate.

Repost-Michael Moynihan At The Daily Beast: ‘The Death Of Stalin’s Songbird’

In honor of this NPR tweet, and the pinkness all over:

I’d like to kindly point readers back to the following:

Michael Moynihan on Pete Seeger:

‘Seeger never really did abandon the dream of communism, despite the inconvenient fact that it had long since (starting around 1918) transformed into a pitiful nightmare. So it was unsurprising that in 1995 he would provide an effusive blurb for a book of poetry written by Tomas Borge, the brutal secret police chief and interior minister of Sandinista Nicaragua (“An extraordinary collection of poems and prose”).’

I was hoping for a piece that would note Pete Seeger’s songwriting talents and decency in dealing with people, but push back against the hagiography and highlight, you know, the Communism.

All together now, 1, 2, and a 1 2, 3, 4…

Wait a minute, wasn’t Bill de Blasio sympathetic to the Sandinistas?

You know, I remember reading a piece at the NY Times about Trotsky’s great-grandaughter, the neuroscientist Nora Volkow:

Free will is a tricky concept:

‘Dr. Volkow generally forswears any interest in politics per se, but midway through a long day of meetings last month she sighed and acknowledged, “science and politics are intertwined.” We think we have free will, she continued, but we are foiled at every turn. First our biology conspires against us with brains that are hard-wired to increase pleasure and decrease pain. Meanwhile, we are so gregarious that social systems — whether you call them peer pressure or politics — reliably dwarf us as individuals. “There is no way you can escape.”

This brought me back to Frenchman of The Left Bernhard Henri-Levy’s piece before the 2008 election:

“And one of the reasons I am so much in favor of [Senator Barack] Obama is that his election might be, will be—because I think he will be elected—a real end to this tide of competition of victimhood, and especially on the specific ground of the two communities, Jews and African Americans, who were so close in the 1960s”

…”The Obama election would reconstitute the grand alliance.”

Hail the grand alliance!

Samuel Bronkowitz may have gotten there first to celebrate the black-Jewish Leftist alliance in Hollywood.

It seems to me you’ve got a few options once you’ve become a member of a favored identity group, as like pretty much all of life, the clock is ticking.

  1. Game the identity system by using it to full personal advantage to try and escape its orbit (understandable, but maybe not the most honorable because of the bad people and the bad in people which come to lead, even if you just want a leg-up because you actually are poor and oppressed).
  2. Play the identity game and pursue your ambition within its orbit. After all, there’s meaning and purpose in treating enemies as evil in a War and the game of politics as rigged. Retreat to the ideological purity of your group when attacked and advance upon the enemy positions whenever possible. Until larger failures and/or the money runs out, rinse and repeat.
  3. Wait around long enough until the same underlying logic is used against you and/or your group, religion and/or ethnicity (Jewish folks seem to be on the outs lately, Muslims in—Asians being disfavored at elite schools). The identity politics game marches onwards towards utopia, against the oppressor. Being forced to choose between model failures or seeing the world anew outside your model, generally choose to project your personal and group failure onto your enemies, because after all, you’re Human, all too Human.

———————

It’s not race, it’s class. It’s not ideology, it’s settled science. Look at all this equality!

What do you mean by equality, exactly? How will you achieve that?

See Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic: That Party At Lenny’s… for a rich account of the times

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

A Few Thoughts On NPR And Current Liberal Establishment Thinking Under Obama

From FIRE.org-’Federal Government Mandates Unconstitutional Speech Codes At Colleges And Universities Nationwide’

Greg Lukianoff At FIRE.Org: ‘Emily Bazelon And The Danger Of Bringing “Anti-Bullying” Laws To Campus’

 

The Cultural And Artistic Self, The ‘Dirtbag Left’, And The Excesses Of Identity Politics-Whence Liberalism?

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.

A new strand of radical chic is all about ‘it’s not race, it’s class’ traditional Marxism, combined with lots of Democratic Socialist sympathies (Bernie over so many ‘neo-liberal‘ sellouts).

It probably takes some familiarity with deeper traditional roots (stable family environment), as well as a decent mind and a good education to play the part of the possibly doomed, tragically-hip art and cultural critic.

From Spiked (traditionally Marxist, pro-Brexit, pro free-speech, anti-identitarian British Left):  ‘Meet the anti-woke left:’

‘I’m in New York to try to understand the thinking behind the ‘dirtbag left’. The phrase was coined by Amber A’Lee Frost, a writer, commentator and activist, to describe a loose constellation of American leftists who reject the civility, piety and PC that has come to characterise much of the left.’

Some members of the pro-reason, pro-freedom of speech, pro-science Left in America seem to have taken note, having been ex-communicated from institutional respectability by many of the same enemies:  Technocratic-leaning liberal idealists (many counter-culture cultural elites) kowtowing to social justice warriors.

Eric Weinstein interviews one half of the ‘Red Scare’ duo: ‘Anna Khachiyan-Reconstructing The Mystical Feminine From The Ashes Of ‘The Feminine Mystique.’

Interesting note:  Weinstein picks a weak point:  Well-educated, culturally and artistically cosmopolitan aesthetes tend to be out of touch with the populist, working-man proles they claim to support.

There are many staircases up and away from the ‘man-on-the-street.’

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).

Frankly, I’m seeing a pretty serious anywhere/somewhere or elite/populist split in conservatism/Republican party politics, as well.

A broader point I’ve been trying pin down, is how, with the unspooling of Enlightenment thinking, there has also unspooled an individualism becoming nihilist, postmodern and deeply alone; artfully and glamourously trashy.  Out of such an environment, where many hip, avant-garde birds are flying, (S)elves flirt with Romantically primitive collectivism, epistemological faddishness, modern and failed theories of (H)istory like Marxism.

American egalitarianism, based in our founding documents, even as recently as two generations ago, was more able to effectively resist the rather unimaginative class-war critiques of Marxism.

Which kind of center would I like to see hold?

Some previously posted links:

The arts can be one lens with which to look at these problems and places…

Repost-Ah, Look At All The Lonely People-‘Jeff Koons Is Back’ Via Vanity Fair

-Banksy’s website here. Newsweek’s piece: ‘See You Banksy, Hello Invader.

I’d argue that it’s possible, especially with the constant cries of modernism to ‘make it new,‘ I think this is one way we’ve arrived at pop art, and the desire to blend conceptual art and popular music together. This is in evidence from The Talking Heads to Lady Gaga to Jay Z promoting his new album alongside Marina Abramovic at MOMA.

Update & Repost-From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Haidt’s Vindication of Fusionist Conservatism and Aristotelian Liberalism’

Jonathan Haidt At Minding The Campus: ‘Campus Turmoil Begins In High School’

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

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

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.

On this site, see:

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

Correspondence here.

Link sent in by a reader.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and about providing a core to liberalism:

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

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

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

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

————————————-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Shall Meaning Be Found? Some People Are Deeply Concerned With Your Pop, Funk & Soul Interests

The more one starts digging around at foundations, the trickier it gets.  It’s good to seek-out different opinions, and often knowlegeable opinions, to augment our vital pop-music discussions.  The future of the Nation may be at stake!

NY Times/Vox contributing USC musicologist, Nate Sloan, instructs a meaning-starved nation, turning its lonely eyes to him, that the Jonas Brothers have opened a ‘musical wormhole’ back to a funkier time.

Ah, the NY Times.

A piney backwoods, black-preaching, soul-screeching musical legend ran his band hard and got results. A real innovator.

Rick Beato, musician, music producer and potential Youtube purist, says no, the Jonas Brothers use quantized drum machines, so while syncopated and seemingly funky, like so much recorded music for the past twenty or twenty-five years, the feel is lost.  It’s all digitized.

Real music is real people in real time, speeding up and slowing down, often intuitively, in response to other real people in the band and out in the audience.  There are better standards.

You have to be there, man, or at least listen to Clyde Stubblefield recorded as he played.

What’s going on with all the attempts at meaning and all this ‘explanation,’ almost if saying something ‘performatively’ will make it true?:  Have you noticed how so many of the writers are talking about writing, and the comedians about comedy, and the cartoonists about cartoons?

Part of this can be explained by explosive growth in technology and a relatively open marketplace of ideas.  There’s just a lot of stuff out there.

Some good advice I’ve received in dealing with all this potential knowledge; to help protect your valuable time:  Learn something and keep learning.  Go pretty far in at least one field or area.  If you aren’t learning new things you aren’t doing it right. Even if you are a bit of a loner, or relatively deep, keep your family, friends, and professional and personal development active.  Have many irons in many fires so no single loss becomes catastrophic.

Other problems possibly afoot: There sure is a lot of talk about the person and not the person’s achievements.  There sure is a lot of focus on celebrities and so many of them famous just for being famous. There are all these media outlets are presuming to tell you how to understand the world, even though they can’t even pay reporters to get basic facts.

Everyone gets a trophy!

Some of these problems, I think, are related to what I’ll call the ‘postmodern’ problem, and I’ve been digging around at it for a while.  This blog is still trying to work towards a definition of modernism:

Interesting piece here.

‘Like many scholars of modernism, I’m often asked two questions: What is modernism? And why is modernist studies, it seems, all the rage right now? I don’t have a good, succinct answer to either question — and I’ve no doubt frustrated plenty of friends because of that — but the reasons why I don’t are pretty telling.’

From the comments:

‘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?’

As previously posted:

Repost-‘Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?’

Land Art Links Along A With A Quite Modernist W.S. Merwin Poem

William Logan At The New Criterion: ‘Pound’s Metro’…Monday Poem: ‘A Pact’ By Ezra Pound

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

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.

I’d argue that this ‘postmodern’ problem also likely bleeds out into other causes, and abstract ideas, like the Climate.

Media issues: Aside from the knowledge problems faced by all of us (oh, how little we know), but especially the knowledge and truth problems faced by people peddling information and influence or writing for money, there are other challenges.  There are problems of looking to political and ideological beliefs to define one’s (S)elf.  The showcasing of activist concerns and the consultation of ‘experts’ has become the glue of much academic, media and bureaucratic life.

To my eyes, the below is not necessarily the sign of a healthy movement, nor a movement properly grounded in the pursuits of knowledge and truth.  Some people are desperate to be a part of something, to have a righteous cause in common (one more protest), and to hate enemies if they must.

There’s actual binary logic, and systems of computation, models of the world, using data input channels to re-create and hopefully predict the world.  Sometimes when you think you know something, as you close-in on a higher level of resolution, the model can simply give way.  Christopher Essex discusses ‘Believing In Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, And Climate Models.’

This stuff is complicated, but it’s a lot like the music discussion above.

It seems obvious that some climate radicalism has hardened into an idealism guiding much establishment conventional wisdom, producing an enormous gravy-train of special interests, regulations and questionable incentives. At present, it would seem a vast majority of people busy scribbling for media outlets believe in climate change as much as they believe in anything.

But merely believing in something, having a guiding ideal and becoming politically active around that ideal, may not actually enough to actually be grounded in knowledge and truth. 

Beneath the political idealists, in fact, are still many radicals, utopians and crazies (though, admittedly, some pretty damned good gospel improv):

As previously posted: Bathe in the bathos of a warming world:

A reader sends a link to a SF Gate review of poet Jorie Graham’s ‘Sea Change:

‘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, overwhelm- ing the planet.’

and:

‘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.’

Oh boy.

What are these poems being asked to do?

Nothing Fishy Here-Collective Fingers On The Scales

Stanley Fish on being recently disinvited from speaking at Seton Hall (behind a paywall):

‘Recently I was invited, then disinvited, to speak at Seton Hall University.  Members of a faculty committee had decided by email that they didn’t want a university audience to be subjected to views like mine.  I had been writing on the emergence on campus of what I call a regime of virtue.  this was the first time I experienced it directly.’

A fairly typical pattern:  A group of student activists claim that a certain speaker’s views are so dangerous that this speaker cannot be heard.

Many ideologically aligned, sympathetic, or sometimes cowardly, faculty members encourage or endorse these student activists.

A worthwhile Stanley Fish piece, from many years ago, at the NY Times: ‘The Last Professor:

‘In previous columns and in a recent book I have argued that higher education, properly understood, is distinguished by the absence of a direct and designed relationship between its activities and measurable effects in the world.

This is a very old idea that has received periodic re-formulations. Here is a statement by the philosopher Michael Oakeshott that may stand as a representative example: “There is an important difference between learning which is concerned with the degree of understanding necessary to practice a skill, and learning which is expressly focused upon an enterprise of understanding and explaining.”

A few conservative folks have said to me:  Whether it be Kant, Mill, Locke or even Isaiah Berlin, conservatism (conserving what is) does not necessarily require a movement towards Continental and rationalist systems of thought.

It’s a trap!

There’s important truth in such a statement, of course, but I don’t think you know quite what you’re up against, here, and who my audience is.  I’m looking for anchors.

As posted:

More here.

Link sent in by a reader.

Interesting paper presented by Erika Kiss, beginning about minute 32:00 (the whole conference is likely worth your time for more knowledge on Oakeshott).

According to Kiss, Oakeshott’s non-teleological, non-purposive view of education is potentially a response to Friedrich Hayek, Martha Nussbaum, and Allan Bloom, in the sense that all of these thinkers posit some useful purpose or outcome in getting a liberal education.

Hayek’s profound epistemological attack on rationalist thought is still a system itself, and attaches learning to market-based processes which eventually drive freedom and new thinking in universities. The two are mutually dependent to some extent.

Nussbaum attaches liberal learning to ends such as making us ‘Aristotelian citizens of the world’, or better citizens in a democracy, which has struck me as incomplete at best.

Allan Bloom is profoundly influenced by Straussian neo-classicism, and wants love, classical learning, honor and duty to perhaps be those reasons why a young man or woman should read the classics. This, instead of crass commercialism, the influences of popular music, deconstructionism and logical positivism.

On this site, see: Mark Pennington Via Vimeo: ‘Democracy And The Deliberative Conceit’

A taste of her Nussbaum here. Also, see: From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Via C-SPAN-The Historical Context Of Allan Bloom

…Timothy Fuller At The New Criterion: ‘The Compensations Of Michael Oakeshott’John Gray At The Literary Review Takes A Look At A New Book On Michael Oakeshott: ‘Last Of The Idealists’

Repost-Theodore Dalrymple At The City Journal-The Persistence Of Ideology

Interesting read.

Francis Fukuyama and his influential essay are mentioned, as well as Immanuel Kant, Marx, and Isaiah Berlin.

Ideas matter, obviously, and the piece attempts to re-contextualize many ideological struggles which keep shaping our day-to-day lives (I have it on good intel that the guys down at the docks say ‘quotidian struggles’).

Dalrymple:

‘Who, then, are ideologists? They are people needy of purpose in life, not in a mundane sense (earning enough to eat or to pay the mortgage, for example) but in the sense of transcendence of the personal, of reassurance that there is something more to existence than existence itself. The desire for transcendence does not occur to many people struggling for a livelihood. Avoiding material failure gives quite sufficient meaning to their lives. By contrast, ideologists have few fears about finding their daily bread. Their difficulty with life is less concrete. Their security gives them the leisure, their education the need, and no doubt their temperament the inclination, to find something above and beyond the flux of daily life.’

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Related On This Site:

-Fukuyama’s Marxist/Hegelian influence and the re-purposed Christian metaphysics and Statism found within much German Idealism:  Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’…Fred Siegel On The German Influence And Kelley Ross On Some Of Roger Scruton’s Thinking

-Are we really progressing…can we be more clear about means and ends? Via Youtube-Samuel Huntington On ‘The Clash Of Civilizations’Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Sunday Quotation: From Jonathan Bennett On Kant…Link To An Ayn Rand Paper By George Walsh: The Objectivist Attack On Kant…From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On Kant

-The Englightenment/Romantic tension…the horror of rationalist systems which claimed knowledge of man’s ends, but also a defense of both positive and negative liberties-Appeasement Won’t Do-Via A Reader, ‘Michael Ignatieff Interview With Isaiah Berlin’…A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

***Why so many Britons on this site? (J.S. Mill, Isaiah Berlin by way of Riga, Michael Oakeshott, Roger Scruton, Bryan Magee, Theodore Dalrymple, John Gray etc.?)

I don’t know all the reasons, but there’s definitely an Anglophilia at work, our division by a common language, and perhaps an overall ideological predilection towards an Anglo-sphere alliance.  I think there is mutual benefit, security and leverage to be had in working for a more closely united English-speaking ‘liberal’ world order.   There are many sacrifices and risks, dangers and blind-spots, too.

Many of these writers/thinkers have had to face a more institutional and entrenched Left.  They can know intimately whereof they speak.

It’s easy to feel vaguely good about our relationship, but let’s not forget moments like these:

washingtonburns.jpg

This is a depiction (thanks to impiousdigest.com) of British troops burning the White House.

Repost-In Neo-Romantic Nature Poetry, Where Are You? How Should You Live And What Should You Do? -Photo & A Poem By Mary Oliver

Flare, Part 12

When loneliness comes stalking, go into the fields, consider
the orderliness of the world. Notice
something you have never noticed before,

like the tambourine sound of the snow-cricket
whose pale green body is no longer than your thumb.

Stare hard at the hummingbird, in the summer rain,
shaking the water-sparks from its wings.

Let grief be your sister, she will wither or not.
Rise up from the stump of sorrow, and be green also,
like the diligent leaves.

A lifetime isn’t long enough for the beauty of this world
and the responsibilities of your life.

Scatter your flowers over the graves, and walk away.
Be good-natured and untidy in your exuberance.

In the glare of your mind, be modest.
And beholden to what is tactile, and thrilling.

Live with the beetle, and the wind.

Mary Oliver (The Leaf And The Cloud: A Poem)

Hosta Shell 2


Via A Reader-Isaiah Berlin’s Lectures On The Roots Of Romanticism.

Thanks, reader:

Related On This Site:Appeasement Won’t Do-Via A Reader, ‘Michael Ignatieff Interview With Isaiah Berlin’ A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”…
See Also On This Site: Trying to stick something against his poems: Wednesday Poem: Wallace Stevens-Anecdote of The JarWednesday Poem: Wallace Stevens, The Snow ManFriday Poem: Wallace Stevens And A Quote By David Hume

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