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

Full piece here

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’

Larry Arnhart at Darwinian Conservatism:  ‘Roger Scruton, 1944-2020: The Romantic Conservatism of Atheistic Religiosity:’

As is often true of the traditionalist conservative thinkers today, his thought was shaped by the Kantian Romantic tradition of the Nineteenth Century that saw a religious attitude as essential for a healthy moral order, so that traditional religious experience needed to be defended against a Darwinian science that claims to explain the place of human beings in the natural world without any reference to a transcendent realm beyond nature. And yet–again like many traditionalist conservatives–Scruton did not believe in the literal truth of Christianity or any other religion.’

Kelley Ross at Friesian.com, discussing ‘Scruton’s treatment of Wittgenstein:’

‘At the same time, there is the irony and paradox of this treatment that Scruton is “considered to be one of the world’s leading conservative philosophers” — which is what it says on the cover of his own book. Now I see Scruton called “Our greatest living conservative thinker,” by Daniel Hannan (an “author, journalist, and politician”), and “One of the most eminent philosophers in the world,” by Robert P. George (a Princeton University professor of jurisprudence). But “conservative” thinkers are not generally happy with the cognitive and moral relativism, if not nihilism, that follows from anything like Wittgenstein’s thought, and even from, as we shall see, Scruton’s own analysis of Wittgenstein’s thought. This is particularly surprising given the devastating critique in Scruton’s Fools, Frauds and Firebrands, Thinkers of the New Left [Bloomsbury, 2015], which exposes the irrational “nonsense machine” of “post-modernism” and “Critical Theory” Marxism. But even in that book, and in the passage I have just quoted, there is a clue to what is going on and to what kind of “conservative” Scruton may be. And that is, in the former, his benign and complacent attritude towards Hegel, and, in the latter, the impression he gives that the “ambition” of Kant and Hegel is comparable or even equivalent.’

Uncool, Unpopular, Anachronistic, Morally Suspect And Perhaps Even Diabolical-Some Links On Angels

From Conservative Minds, I very much enjoyed this discussion: Alexander Hamilton & James Madison-The Federalist Papers.

As to human nature, and taking a longer, deeper view of human nature in the face of many current liberatory movements (sexual, spiritual, political), spearheading what appears to be a deeper Statist, ‘human-rights’ and Civil-Rights based political and economic order.

One clear problem is this:  If our rights come from not from God, nor Natural Law, nor Natural Right, then often they are inferred to come from (M)an or sufficiently abstract conceptions of (M)an or (M)ankind.   In practice, this often becomes the (Right) Men or (Right-Thinking) Men/Women/People (me/us) against (T)hem.

This, in turn, does not exactly lead to Peace, Equality, and ever more Freedom.

One way to understand many of our current institutions and traditions is that they are living representations, to some extent, of who/what we already are.  It remains prudent not to confuse liberation for freedom, nor mistake the claims of equality absolutists as desirable for all.

Karl 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.”

James Madison:

‘If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.’

Sometimes ya gotta tell Donahue straight to his face:

The Race To Freedom-Andrew Sullivan At The NY Mag On The NY Times ‘1619 Project’

Colonists practicing freedom, becoming slowly habituated to running their own lives and affairs, taming an often hostile wilderness, ruled by a distant and increasingly controlling crown, require certain conceptual definitions of freedom.

They were written down in case you’re interested.

Activists practicing liberation, colonizing existing newsrooms and administrative hierarchies, tending to totalize all personal and public relationships into an oppressor/opppressed worldview, require other conceptual definitions of freedom.

Andrew Sullivan on the ‘1619’ project, at the NY Times:

‘The New York Times, by its executive editor’s own admission, is increasingly engaged in a project of reporting everything through the prism of white supremacy and critical race theory, in order to “teach” its readers to think in these crudely reductionist and racial terms. That’s why this issue wasn’t called, say, “special issue”, but a “project”. It’s as much activism as journalism.’

and:

‘But it is extremely telling that this is not merely aired in the paper of record (as it should be), but that it is aggressively presented as objective reality. That’s propaganda, directed, as we now know, from the very top — and now being marched through the entire educational system to achieve a specific end.’

As previously posted:

Jason Hill’s open letter to Ta-Nehisi Coates here.

Theodore Dalrymple’s review of Coates:

‘Coates fails to notice that his blanket exoneration of the perpetrators actually dehumanizes them. On his view, when the young perpetrators pull the trigger or thrust the knife in they are only vectors of forces, not agents with purposes, desires, plans, or motives. Therefore they are not really men at all, so that, ironically enough, they become for him Invisible Man writ large.’

Many black writers in America should be recognized as having crossed bridges over chasms in communicating their experiences, experiences which have often made even the best radicalize to some degree in the face of such injustice.

Regardless, I’m guessing we’re all best off if the same high standards are universally applied when it comes to quality of prose, depth of thought, scope of imagination and moral courage. Good writing deserves as much: Genuine, even if grudging or even if unfettered, respect.

Works of art are going to do what they’re going to do, polemics what they do, and I tend to believe that respect for the freedom, responsibility, agency and complexity of the individual ought to be central. Realizing the interior lives of others, especially if they’re just characters in a novel, even when they fail miserably and do horrible things, is what I’ve taken to be a core feature of writing which has moved me. This, much more than ideological solidarity and what may be the shared popular sentiment of the moment.

To my mind, there’s something comic about a man (and I can’t be alone) espousing rather radical political views (theories of victim-hood, a lack of individual agency and anti-white racism, postmodern ‘body’ talk etc.) while being feted, possibly with the intent of appeasement and assimilation, by mostly less radical (and often very white) audiences.

That’s got to create some tension.

As to politics and social institutions, sent in by a reader, here’s a talk given by John McWhorter about his views in ‘Losing The Race‘, a man who strikes me as politically amorphous, unsatisfyingly moderate for some, and often very sensible. As has been the case for a while, there [are] a whole range of views out there:

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From The Liberal Bastions-James Baldwin, Often

James Baldwin’s works are there to be read and thought about, his words and ideas echoing in your mind; your words formed in response.

Take or leave those words and ideas. You can write a paper, and forget them. They may deeply move and stir your moral imagination, or not.

Such is freedom.

A lack of freedom is demonstrated by uttering James Baldwin’s words as incantations seeking solidarity; chanted mindlessly by a mob of moral/ideological purists, shouting down anyone who might disagree.

Most of these low-rent, post-Enlightenment ideological re-enactors are happy to become stars; each of their own scripted passion-plays and soapy little dramas; tacitly cradled by the academics and administrators off-camera.


In this blog’s opinion, John Derbyshire has extended his own experiences into broader truth claims about race and empirical reality. He uses statistics and evidence to bolster his arguments. There are, frankly, quite a few people who agree with him.  What he says may simply be true, or contain truths, partial truths and misconceptions.  Some central claims may not be true.

Should one disagree, it must be demonstrated to him, and to others, why he might be wrong. Derbyshire’s intellectually honest enough to present his arguments clearly and cogently, as presumably he believes what he’s saying is true.

Become part of a much nobler process, dear reader. Most decent people already know better than to claim all the truth, moral goodness and virtue for themselves.

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”

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?

Via The Portal-Eric Weinstein & Peter Thiel

Both men are plugged-in to mathematics, the mathematical sciences, technology, tech investment, and to some extent, the political economy.  The genuine, and most rapid, progress affecting all of our lives tends to come out of such knowledge.

I appreciate the depth, breadth and openness both offer.  Perhaps both also see themselves as outside much mainstream thought, and somewhat iconoclastic, if the substance of their thinking and insight does, in fact, place them ahead of one or many curves.

This blog has accepted the deeper critique that without limiting principles against violence, one can not simply dine ‘a la carte’ at the buffet of radical change.

Human nature, whether understood through the lens of Christian faith, the humanities, our founders’ framing, the social sciences and even the mathematical sciences, is inherently corruptible by ideas many modern, radical and historically revisonary doctrines promote.

In other words, I’m much closer to Thiel’s commitment to the classical liberal/libertarian approach, and perhaps even a bit more conservative, but always open to revision.

As posted on this site.  The Oakeshottian/Minogue critique of ideology:

The discussion hinges on the idea of whether or not you and I are already free, and whether or not we somehow need liberating from something. The world and society are full of injustices, and discontents, and inequalities. Sure, we needed liberating from King George III for various reasons during our revolution, but not in the radical, ideological, rationalist sense (addition: a reader points out John Locke’s right of revolution…duly noted).

Black folks in America certainly needed liberating, held under the laws and subject to extreme injustice. But how?

In Marxist ideology, this liberating hinges on a form of revolutionary praxis, according to Minogue. It operates as a closed system of ‘first principles’ which goes deep and purports to function as a science and claims to undercut the sciences, philosophy, capitalism and theology in order to liberate. This is why it lives on, and on, and on. Despite its failures it remains ultimately untestable, neither proved nor disproved, not being a form of knowledge we’ll know ever lines up with reality, or that can be falsifiable, a la Karl Popper.

In the video, liberation theology is briefly discussed as well, described by Buckley as a kind of ‘baptised Marxism.’  In it, we see a charged movement against the injustices of slavery moving towards ideas of liberation (think Rev. Wright’s church).   I’ll put up a quote from a few posts ago by Cornel West.:

‘Being a leftist is a calling, not a career; it’s a vocation not a profession. It means you are concerned about structural violence, you are concerned about exploitation at the work place, you are concerned about institutionalized contempt against gay brothers and lesbian sisters, hatred against peoples of color, and the subordination of women.’

Related On This Site:  Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution

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’

One way out of multiculturalism and cultural relativism:

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

Repost-It Ain’t What You Know, It’s What You Know That Ain’t So?-Eric Weinstein At the Rubin Report: The Four Kinds Of Fake News

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

Full piece here.

-Koons gets the Annie Leibovitz treatment (an unfortunate photo at the link).

-This is not a commentary on Koons’ art, some of which I like well enough, it’s a much worse beast; another attempt at cultural criticism.

In the talk around Koons, what often stands-out to me is how much talk there is about Koons himself, and the search for meaning in all that talk. The concept of artist-as-individual is nothing new; an isolated Self, quite apart from society, mining his interior life and experiences in order to represent beauty, meaning, and some attempt at expressing universal truths through his work and craft. This is unsurprisingly part of what all artists do, and the extreme individuality of this process is what Western artists somewhat consciously have been doing for a few centuries now, from musicians to writers to sculptors, from romanticism to modernism to post-modernism and beyond.

The fact that Koons is doing this with such relentless self-promotion and while also courting celebrity is arguably a much more ‘modern’ phenomenon. A certain amount of melliflous, abstract bullshit seems part of the Koons’ game, as if you’d walked onto a used-art lot as Koons tours you around, asking what’s-it-gonna-take-to-get-you-into-one-of-his-pieces. He offers you an invitation and a return to part of your Self.  He can make you whole again within the work produced by his Self.

Jeff Koons is a brand.

Perhaps this is what it takes these days to make a living by schmoozing with wealthy art-buyers, but in some ways, it has a distinctly American feel. High and low culture mix in a highly commercial, utilitarian way. The urge to merge abstract art and the avant-garde with mass, pop-culture is expressed. Fame and meta-critiques on fame, celebrity, money, and the Self amplified for all the other Selfs to see has implications for much of our culture, I suspect.

As to establishing Koons’ bona fides enough to merit attention by Vanity Fair, here are a few quotes from the piece:

Everyone’s getting in on the bullshit!

“Jeff is the Warhol of his time,” proclaims Adam Weinberg, the Whitney’s director.’

You need an L.G.B.T. blessing to be truly avant-garde these days:

‘The reference to Curtis ties Koons to the last true avant-garde—a pedigree the artist likes. Curtis, who refused to be called a drag queen, was a pioneer of the L.G.B.T. movement and, like Candy Darling, was made famous by Warhol’

And:

‘What Warhol and Koons do have in common, though, is an uncanny ability to nail an image or an object so that it catches the Zeitgeist.’

Partially true, perhaps, but what if the Zeitgeist is nothing but a leafy suburb full of good schools, intact families, and moderate lives? Isn’t this why some youngish people (ahem…many hipsters) often leave their small towns and suburbs looking for meaning, group membership and purpose in what can end-up vaguely collectivist and vaguely individualist lives in cities?

Everyone’s an artist, these days.

Also, you must establish modernist credentials for the brand:

‘Koons’s job at MoMA gave him the opportunity to immerse himself in the history of modernism, in particular the ideas of Marcel Duchamp, who changed art history by showing how everyday objects, or “readymades,” could be elevated into the realm of art, depending on context. Duchamp’s theories were a revelation to Koons.’

Yes, dear reader, Piketty and Brecht in the same paragraph:

‘Barbara Kruger, the artist whose unsentimental pronouncements have been cutting to the chase about the art world for decades, says “Oh boy” when I call to discuss Koons, whom she has known since they both were starting out in New York. She needed to think about it and later wrote me: “Jeff is like the man who fell to earth, who, in this grotesque time of art flippage and speculative mania, is either the icing on the cake or some kind of Piketty-esque harbinger of the return of Brecht’s ‘making strange.’

And finally, while I have no quarrel with neurosicence, pop-neuroscience is often a repository for the modern search for legitimate experiences and theories of the Self:

‘Dr. Eric R. Kandel, a Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist, was so impressed with the show that he e-mailed Koons afterward. I asked Kandel why. He explained, “I have been interested in the ‘beholder’s share,’ an idea that came from the Viennese art historian Alois Riegl. It involves the concept that when a painter paints a painting or a sculptor makes a sculpture it is not complete unless a beholder, a viewer, responds to it.”

Kandel adds, “When you looked at the sculptures you saw yourself embedded in the gazing balls. Artists sometimes put mirrors in works, but they don’t design the work so that you find yourself in the arms or chest of a statue, which is what Jeff did.’

Go and find your Self and be made whole, dear reader, within Jeff Koons’ work and the Jeff Koons brand, and try and tell the dancer from the dance.

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Koons’ Made In Heaven only amplifies that sound, blurring the line between art and porn, private experience and public show, innocence (so easily corrupted) and naive, narcissistic indulgence.

I suspect Made In Heaven explores previous themes of high and low that were already emerging in his kitsch work, fleshed out in pieces like Michael Jackson And Bubbles, Winter Bears and on this site: ‘St John The Baptist’.

Some quotes from Koons:

‘This type of dislocated imagery is what motivates people. They’re amused by it, but they have a lot of guilt and shame that they respond to it. I was trying to remove that guilt and shame.’

Another quote which highlights an idea of some import to the nation:

Coming from a suburban, middle-class background, as he did, he felt that there was something, if not dignified, at least, too easily discarded about this kind of imagery and this kind of sentiment.’

Roger Scruton says keep politics out of the arts, and political judgment apart from aesthetic judgment…this includes race studies/feminist departments/gay studies etc.: Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

Goya’s Fight With Cudgels and Goya’s Colossus. A very good Goya page here.

Joan Miro: WomanGoethe’s Color Theory: Artists And ThinkersSome Quotes From Kant And A Visual Exercise

A Reaction To Jeff Koons ‘St John The Baptist’

Denis Dutton suggests art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’