I tend to be skeptical of guys who, upon their deaths, freeze their heads into perpetuity. Probabilistically, though, I suppose it could be a bet worth taking.
We could use more outside-the-box thinkers with real-world experience making bets on where to fruitfully think.
Our institutions have more rot than usual, and dangerous capture. There are too many prizes, too many piles of old money, and not enough brains and courage.
I’m of a mind to say Nature is beyond value judgment (I judge things all the time, but Nature doesn’t seem to care). The people I love and who love me, do care about me (as long as we’re here).
God? Maybe. The universe: Unclear. The little I know of the laws of the universe suggest more of the same Nature I’ve known here on Earth.
Beauty plays a key part in understanding the world. It can both anchor us into our own bodies and experiences, while keeping us searching for new experiences. Truth has a clear empirical element in my thinking, and refers to a world I believe genuinely exists. Collecting data about the world is a lot like actually referring back to the book you’re quoting, or asking the other person what they’re really thinking…then listening.
Beautiful and dangerous. Maybe the tornado is telling you something? Maybe not.
Roger Sandall, Australian critic of romantic primitivism and the Western’s Left’s penchant for the Noble Savage: His home page where his essays can be found. Here’s “The Rise Of The Anthropologues“ and…
Bhattacharya’s view of the potential Covid-19 end-game: Everyone’s likely to get the disease, and you may even end-up getting it twice. It will circulate like the flu.
In the meantime, for your consideration: Get vaxed, and/or accept the much, much higher risk of severe illness and harm against the much lower risk of vaccine damage. The older you are, and the more co-morbidities you have, the more risk you carry. The goal is to reduce the severity of the disease upon first contact. Try not to get it, but deal with risk appropriately, balancing your interests accordingly. If you get it, increase your odds to get over it with as little loss as possible.
Of note: This logic runs counter to many current political and bureaucratic incentives to contain the disease, claim credit for current institutional authority and outcomes, or write it off altogether. A lot of people are heavily invested (personally, emotionally, identity-wise, money-wise, career-wise and ideologically etc.) in all kinds of stuff.
Unfortunately, the disease has coincided with our crises of instutional authority.
‘Interesting times’ indeed…what’s your strategy?
My dead horse: If you accept that (S)cience only gives you a method and a process for arriving at truth, you’re a lot closer to living reasonably than not. Such ideas can be life-altering enough.
A caveat: If you find (S)cience to be a source of moral worth and political identity, suffusing you within the warm glow of belonging, you’ve probably missed a lot of the plot.
I expect a lot of scientists, many ‘rationalists’ and many New Atheists to continually become disappointed with human nature, the depth of ignorance found therein, and the incentives of politics and bureaucratic authority. Sooner or later, folks find themselves exasperated with the ideological zealot demanding to be heard from the back pews, claiming ideological certainty from a position of emotional righteousness.
So, put this method of knowing and arriving at truth in its proper place, and appreciate just how wonderful and useful it is. Integrate it and pursue it with respect. Have some courage when it’s needed. Know that it will always have skeptics and enemies, too.
—On that note:
How about we reclaim a good Humanities education?
Trying to ‘nudge’ good ol’ classical liberals back to sources of moral philosophy which prevent ideological takeover?
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.
“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.”
“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?
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…’
-On that note, a reader links to Paul Kingsnorth (former environmentalist looking for deeper meaning) regarding the vaccines and the current state of many institutions (related to the search for deeper meaning)
A reader sends a link: Curtis Yarvin is questioned by David Friedman in Yarvin’s debate with Robin Hanson over the truth claims of Futarchy.
Potential deeper subtexts-Monarchy vs anarcho-capitalism as forms of political arrangement and maybe some Hobbes v Locke in terms of property and incentives.
Just as the Universitarian Universalists promote a mish-mash of secular humanism, ‘religion’-lite ethics and alignment with many progressive causes (rainbow flags aloft), some of what’s in the air is an undermining of legitimate forms of authority into the postmodern soup.
I’m pretty sure members of the activist Left have driven much of the social change beneath the banner of liberal ideals (rainbow flags aloft), and further entrenched an incredibly cynical and ruthless take on all forms of authority (generally people you don’t want in charge of anything).
Most radicals mostly see liberal idealism and pragmatism as obstacles to be defeated on the way to….liberation and revolutionary praxis.
From another reader: Has the Homo lineage, Homo Sapiens particularly, domesticated himself by forming coalitions of beta-males to resist the natural tendency towards one alpha male among a group of breeding females? Is utilizing fire (cooked food, protection) a primary means of this domestication? Have we carved out a little spot for guided evolution?
Bio-anthropology might have some insights.
The cleaner sciences tell us only about the laws of nature, and relatively little about the (how/why/what does it all mean?) questions we’re bound to ask about ourselves.
A minor aside: What’s with the academic and Romantic tendency to additionally celebrate broad and general categories like ‘women’ and ‘minorities’ under the idea of secular humanism (readers know I harbor skepticism towards the latest moral cause and the ‘-Isms’)?
I’d argue such skepticism is a political third-rail these days, but likely a longer-term good position to hold (you can support individuals and other people without such ideas).
I have feet in many camps, but I think each of us is subject to constant reinforcement and reification of our group’s basic beliefs (academics are no different). Tell me who you walk with and I’ll tell you who you are…to some extent.
Of note: When the economic and military strength of one nation (let’s say America) is over-estimated and due for an update, and that of another (let’s say China with cutting-edge AI capabilities) also doesn’t match current many estimations, treaties, and alliances…watch out. Conflict is more likely.
My take: There are, and will be, rules, and authority. This emerges from deep within us. Leaders are stewards. Sometimes the authority’s pretty corrupt (serving the wants/needs of individuals claiming to serve all but incentivized to serve their faction while enriching themselves). There’s always some corruption and politics is a necessary evil. Existing institutions can easily be co-opted, and usually will, by less honorable, loud, and driven people.
We can all actively benefit, but must be very careful handling, coalitions of men. Men in committed marriages, having earned respect for their judgment and experience, with large networks of business and social connections, motivated by an urge towards decency and protection of their families, are often the ones you want in charge.
On Mars, Curiosity Rover helped establish the existence of flowing, liquid water on the Martian Surface some billions of years ago. This water would have been highly acidic, pooling up in the lower places, and probably (from what I currently know) not part of a water cycle with condensing and precipitating water (rain).
Long ago, Mars had enough of an atmosphere to support this liquid water, but lacking the size and electro-magnetic field generated by Earth’s core, Mars slowly had all the water molecules combine with other particles blasting away at the surface from space. Slowly, the water dwindled, as the atmosphere drifted away, and so the temperatures dropped.
So did protection from the Sun’s radiation.
Imagine sub-freezing temperatures and free radicals bombarding the near atmosphere-less Martian surface (oxidized and rusted red, barren), but below the Martian surface lurk big blocks of briny ice; ice with freezing cold, incredibly salty water and maybe just enough O2 to support some microbes.
Worth thinking about.
What are you doing with your imagination?
‘Due to the scarcity of O2 in the modern Martian atmosphere, Mars has been assumed to be incapable of producing environments with sufficiently large concentrations of O2 to support aerobic respiration. Here, we present a thermodynamic framework for the solubility of O2 in brines under Martian near-surface conditions. We find that modern Mars can support liquid environments with dissolved O2 values ranging from ~2.5 × 10−6 mol m−3 to 2 mol m−3 across the planet, with particularly high concentrations in polar regions because of lower temperatures at higher latitudes promoting O2 entry into brines’
Jezero crater, where Perseverance has landed, has both inflow and outflow channels, like a holding tank. There is a deposit plain near the inflow channel. If you’re going to go digging in the Martian dust, digging through what was once muck, hoping to find some evidence of microbial Martian life, Jezero crater is as good place as any to do it.
I noticed a tear in my eye watching video of the rover touching down. So much hard work. So many deep dreams and aspirations made into reality. A functional robotic exploratory team is slowly being built, with little outposts on other worlds.
For those who didn’t ask, Dear Reader:
Liberal Idealism–>I want to live in a free and human world, constantly progressing, full of human compassion, equality and justice. People, and people like myself, are generally good. Our change is good, and ought to be in charge–Output 1: Technocratic Bureaucracy–>Process 1: Change-focused ideas are in positions of key institutional leadership and authority (conserving certain elements of the past according to liberal ideals, excluding others). Science is invoked by many non-scientific actors. Process 2–>Institutional Capture by Ideologues and True-Belief from radical-change agents who believe that no authority is legitimate, and that it’s all power and no truth.–>Behind the Scenes: The people dedicated to an institution’s mission and purpose are fighting with the people who control the promotions within the institutions, and the loudest activist voices often win (see Jerry Pournelle).
Examples: See the NY Times, many Grant Foundations (Ford, Poetry), and many colleges and universities. See also, Health and Education departments. Most Liberal publications are now negotiating with the radical discontents within them. Such radicals, when not claiming collectivist supremacy, claim, from within the postmodern morass, a certain kind of feeling-first irrationality and primacy of Self (an irrational and mystic response to the ‘oppression’ of reason and the sciences).
Deeper Reasons Why: The Liberatory model of freedom (freedom against the oppressor, supposedly for the ‘victim’ and ‘oppressed minorities’) is an utopian and ideological model. Such a worldview has profound authoritarian/totalitarian implications. The ‘personal is political’ makes all areas of life (knowledge, sports, break-rooms) into political arenas. The Utopian promise of people actually getting along is pushed ever further into the future at the cost of people…you know….getting along in the present. Mediocre people and bad ideas are in charge. The easiest outlet for blame is anything standing in the way of progress (religion, tradition, liberal dissension, those who conserve).
What the Liberal idealist (and many anarchists) likely get wrong about human nature: People need ‘low-resolution’ ideas to make sense of reality, hierarchy, death, uncertainty and fear. This is an emergent feature within ourselves, and ignored at our peril. Human behavior, in aiming to be morally good and true, must be restrained, honorable and focused on consent. If such ideas and behavior are not incentivized into models of authority, then worse men, and the worse in men, will come to be in charge.
The more religious, frontier and freedom, flag and country type of America I once knew (with all its flaws) is looking more like a minority position these days.
Any pushback is welcome.
Some interesting links:
Shelby Steele and his son, Eli, have made a documentary about the killing of Michael Brown, and what happened in Ferguson. A lot of what seems to be the truth is not what many people claiming to have the truth are saying. Many of those people are in charge:
Who can afford to speak out?
Maybe if you’re a Stoic living on the fringes, whose needs are lesser than the punishment exclusion can bring. Maybe if you don’t have anyone directly dependent on you for love, security and safety.
Maybe the people with ‘F-You’ money who actually say ‘F-You’. The really well-to-do and the academic. I’m not holding my breath.
Let’s say there are many untruths, and conceits, floating through the modern world. One such conceit, I believe, is that (S)cience scales in dealing with all the dark parts and native ignorance of human nature. The latest (S)cientific knowledge need only be understood, interpreted and implemented by an expert technocratic management class into policy. Such ‘technocrats’ will lead all of us, through their expertise, into a better future (they have the knowledge of (H)istory and where (H)istory is going).
Adapting to the Enlightenment is a process, Dear Reader, from Hobbes To Locke To our Founders.
Something like this is happening as we speak, of course. There is a virus, furiously making copies of itself, unlocking the machinery of our cells, mutating and adapting as it goes. Many nurses, doctors and health-employees are seeing this virus kill people up close, exposing themselves to a fair amount of risk. Biologists, virologists, immunologists and medical professionals do have important knowledge and truth to impart. We all ought to be grateful.
If (S)cience is a coattrack, however, there are all manner of bureaucratic second-raters, political idealists, ideologues and demagogues hanging ratty coats, hopes and promises upon it. The particular racial history of the U.S, for example, makes for a lot of awkward silences and social chasms. Have no fear, though, as activists-cum-bureaucratic idealists need only regulate the economy, move some money around, and claim the mantle of (S)cience to succeed in (U)nity. The Climate Apocalypse is Upon Us.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, where any politician is being handed a tough task, such debate comes to the fore.
I hope to be proven wrong.
So, as to what the Sciences can do, Avi Loeb at Harvard has some interesting ideas.
There was an interstellar visitor cruising by Earth a few years ago. They called it Oumuamua (Wah-muah-muah). By the time we started training our optics upon it, it was on the way out, catching us by surprise. Our solar system mostly falls into a planar surface, and this thing was…coming in at an odd and somewhat perpendicular angle, doing a fly-by around Earth.
Given the probabilities of tracking its origins, it would be nearly impossible to know from whence it originally came. Due to the sunlight reflecting off the object as it rotated, it was shaped mostly like a pancake or cigar. It didn’t outgas quite like comets do (all the water ice in it sublimating into gas as it nears the sun, pushing it away from the sunny side in a predictable manner).
Realistically, one might assume it’s a piece of cosmic flotsam, of natural origins, yielding some interesting data. Loeb, however, is demonstrating, with a lot of scientific rigor, that it’s impossible to disprove that this object doesn’t have unnatural, or intentional origins. It’s an interesting and creative bit of Science.
Furthermore, Loeb believes there’s arguably too much conservatism in the astronomical community (he’s on a lot of boards). By the time the people who can do the math and have tenure ‘arrive’ as it were, they tend to be depressingly conservative in their approach. Of course, a lot of this conservatism is warranted. On the other hand, we may be leaving a lot of great ideas stillborn.
In addition, a LOT of people are naturally curious about the stars, and the possibility that we’re not alone, and many of these people even believe in something like aliens (usually without much evidence, but perhaps, not always).
‘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.’
Via a reader: Stephen Kotkin on Lex Fridman’s podcast:
Roger Scruton on creating museums to the failures of Marxism, much as we do other forms of fascism:
‘One thing we should surely learn from the Russian revolution is that resentment is always on the lookout for the theories that will justify it. And the lesson that bore in on me in vivid and unforgettable ways during my own journeys behind the Iron Curtain, is that resentment, when it finally takes power, spells the death of politics. The real purpose of politics is not to express resentment but to contain and conciliate it.’
A lot of people in positions of authority outside the West (Russia, China, Venezuela, North Korea, Vietnam etc.) are wedded to institutional structures forged out of the very same ideology. Their interests don’t necessarily align with ours, and these institutions and are often used to undermine U.S. interests and do harm (for a lot of other reasons as well).
It’s often very idealistic and utopian Westerners (some deeply resentful, indeed) who insist on bending Western interests ONLY towards global institutions. Presumably, they have access to universal ideals which will benevolently guide their behavior and the institutions they design towards some promised future, which has yet to materialize (there certainly are design, incentive, and capture problems at the U.N.).
A lot of people in the West are wedded to the doctrines of revolutionary praxis, too. There are real radicals out there and religious institutions, deeper legal and cultural traditions, universities, the family, the military etc. are looked on from this point of view as antiquated and cloying at best, oppressive and evil at worst.
All of the above deserve to be battered, destroyed, or co-opted according to followers of radical doctrines, and many liberal idealists are quite unwilling to challenge such radicals beneath them.
‘Marxism, Dalrymple explains, answers several needs:
‘It has its arcana, which persuade believers that they have penetrated to secrets veiled from others, who are possessed of false consciousness.
It appeals to the strongest of all political passions, hatred, and justifies it.
It provides a highly intellectualised rationalisation of a discreditable but almost universal and ineradicable emotion: envy.
It forever puts the blame elsewhere, making self-examination unnecessary and self-knowledge impossible.
It explains everything.
It persuades believers that they have a special destiny in the world. For disgruntled intellectuals, nothing could be more gratifying.’
Aside from the radical doctrines, it’s apparent that many in the West have placed their hopes and aspirations into various flavors of political idealism. Man’s nature is assumed to be fundamentally good, for the most part, merely in need of liberation from previous traditions, injustices and illegitimate claims to authority.
“…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.”
The below links are to whom I’m indebted in cobbling such posts together on alas…a blog:
How do the extremes, and the people desperate for meaning in their lives through anarchy, ideology and chaos come to dominate downstream of popular and mass liberation movements?
Who are the kinds of people attracting to 20th century mass movements?
Eric Hoffer-A man deeply suspicious of top-down organization and intellectuals running things, yet a man deeply curious and taken with ideas: He strikes this blog as something of an anti-intellectual’s intellectual.