Much is politicized into moral crusades: Many in The West have taken up Ukraine as a flag-waving cause (against the oppressor…so very brave), while some others have become vaguely pro-oppressor (are you really for Putin’s conception of Russia as chief mafia boss, oligarch and ex KGB ethno-nationalist?)
It’s a brutal campaign. The Russian military is likely trying to consolidate gains in the East, and they wiped out a city there, where bodies rot on the street. The Georgian/Belorussian playbook has faltered, and been altered. The Ukrainians are in an existential crisis, and fighting to win (though negotiation might still be a possibility).
The European response has been solid, and the border countries are handling this wave of humanity pretty well (the cause is pretty just and the war unnervingly close). Most of the refugees are women and children (nearly all Ukrainian men have been mobilized to win), and about one-quarter of Ukraine’s population of forty million have been displaced.
When people tell you their opponents are evil, that the world is a Messianic battleground, and that speech is violence in the quest for power, you’ve been warned.
You’ve been warned repeatedly. Much of the academy and the media have fallen into this particular trap of secular idealism, undercut by radical activism, captured by purity spirals and endless demands to destroy what has come before (gratitude and humility, Dear Reader).
You can’t count on such ‘leaders’ to not slip into soft and hard forms of authority against their enemies and for their moral lights in the wake of such ideas.
Elon Musk, so far, has said he will try and open up shop on Twitter, and stand for speech. If he maintains this much more tried and true method of maintaining freedom, I’m all for it. Claiming to stand for the most marginalized through sentimental idealism, or cynical radicalism, or ideological purity, is a recipe for further chaos, and further politicizes the new communication channels.
As you may have noticed, we have enough politicization of the personal and bad incentives on Twitter. Let’s figure out what this platform does best, utilize it, and maximize the best of it with clear rules.
Via Mick Hartley, Edward Luttwak on Putin’s gamble in Ukraine (somewhere between a dictator, a mafia boss, and the chief oligarch).
A reminder of past dark and similar times.
I amend my NY Times prediction to become like the Guardian (a few deep pockets, lots of smaller ones, nearly all activism all the time). Rather, maybe the Ochs/Sulzberger family will become the deep pockets, as the readers increasingly select to become activist donors (nearly all activism all the time). It’s a hybrid model.
My guess: It might end up reflecting the kinds of Left vs. Left-liberal tensions found in many universities. They might cave like the old liberal guard in most of our univerisities, or there might emerge a newer liberal consensus of sorts.
But if you’re merely skeptical of activists (the new religionists in the postmodern soup), or you’re conservative, or traditional, or religious, I’d say expect to be ‘the enemy’ and never really get a fair shake.
As posted, the NY Times is the private journalism model par excellence (the place journalists want to be). Here are some of the pressures to which NPR is subject (much less so, but dependent on some taxpayer money and the imprimatur of the government):
1. Market pressures-It’s easy to go for the lowest common denominator in the marketplace (sex sells). Resisting such tactics requires sticking to principles. NPR does a pretty good job at this, though my problem is with the judgment and principles they’re using; subject to the capture of liberatory radicalism (free your ‘Self’ politically, morally and sexually, replacing beliefs with overwhelmingly Democrat political allegiance, New-Age/Political idealism and State-funded Sex Education). There’s a combination of stiff moralism and weird license at NPR.
2. Technological pressures-I have many bookish and well-read friends who are terrified of technology. They have some good reasons and some ridiculously bad ones for this. NPR is not exactly cutting-edge though they are pretty mainstream. Success requires manipulating the latest technology.
3. The Problems Of Ideological Capture-What you think tends to become who you become regarding habit and character. Where your thoughts go, so go your moral sentiments, beliefs and actions. Liberal idealists argue for some pretty scalable post-Enlightenment ideals (universal humanism, open markets, free speech).
Problems tend to start, however, regarding a deeper base of Selves living in relative isolation; flirting with nihilism, existentialism, anarchy, and Communism/Socialism. Liberal idealists can easily become caught between a tradition or law they personally uphold, while simultaneously supporting the activist who may have no regard whatsoever for any particulary existing tradition or law.
This quote has stuck with me over the last few months:
‘They are, in fact, idealists: and idealism is a cast of mind that Conrad questions even more than he questions radicalism. The logical end of radicalism, in his view, is terrorism; but idealism is the mental aberration that allows terrorism to be brought about. Conrad’s originality was to see that a new tyranny could be generated by people who thought that their rebellion against the old tyranny was rational. Thus his writings seem prescient about what was to happen in the Soviet Union. He didn’t predict the Nazi tyranny because he had underestimated the power of the irrational to organise itself into a state. But then, nobody predicted that except its perpetrators; and anyway, mere prediction was not his business. His business was the psychological analysis made possible by an acute historical awareness. Under Western Eyes is valuable not because it came true but because it rang true even at the time, only now we can better hear the deep, sad note.’
Personally, I am persuaded such pressures orginate in insufficiently deep maps of human nature, Nature, and how hard it can be to maintain legitimate authority.
(S)cience, Social (S)cience and Free Speech & Assembly: As we can see with true radicals and revolutionaries, the ideological capture within our institutions comes from a presumed moral authority; a moral authority drafting off of the truth and knowledge claims made by the Sciences, the Social Sciences, and ‘The Expert.’
Listening to the Beatles, watching episodes of Nature with David Attenborough, and supporting the latest moral cause may placate radicals for a while, but only for a while. Often such habits make liberals easier targets.
This is, I believe, how we’ve arrived at many conservatives, libertarians, some broader disaffected moderates and a Newer Left (the Weinsteins, much of the ‘Dark Web’) suddenly having to defend the truth and knowledge claims of the Sciences, the Social Sciences, free assembly and free speech.
For those especially drawn to observe, and be alone amongst a crowd, seeking moments of beauty, grace, and transcendence. Where have you put your hopes?
What kind of relationship might you be in with such abstractions as that of human nature (your own deep impulses, passing thoughts, and possible motivations, as well as those of the people around you)?
What kind of relationship might you be in with such abstractions as nature and reality (the world your senses perceive, those laws and patterns likely enduring thought, the old knowledge become practice and the new knowledge on the edge of understanding, the truths which seem to little give nor receive, forgive nor remember)?
‘Earlier this summer marked the 50th anniversary of C. P. Snow’s famous “Two Cultures” essay, in which he lamented the great cultural divide that separates two great areas of human intellectual activity, “science” and “the arts.” Snow argued that practitioners in both areas should build bridges, to further the progress of human knowledge and to benefit society.’
My two cents: This blog tends to worry about modern ‘one culture’ visions, too.
On the one hand, you’ve got your ‘scientific socialism;’ the clear dead-end, totalizing Marxist theories of history and various neo-Marxist movements having since colonized many faculty-lounges, HR departments, and media pulpits across America.
Deep, bad ideas tend to live on once plugged into many deep, human desires and dreams. The radical pose will be with us for a while.
Of course, it’s rather sad to witness the sheepish, suburban apologetics of identity amongst the chattering classes; the moment of surprise and fear when a previously insulated writer (leaning upon traditions) realizes today just might be their day in the barrel.
Sooner or later you’re going to have to stand up for your principles.
You’ve also got many modern ‘-Ist’ movements, which, whatever truth and knowledge claims they may contain (some quite important ones, I think), are often quick to conflate the means of science with the ends of politics. ‘Join us,’ they say, and become a part of the modern world. The mission of ‘Education’ is easily mistaken for knowledge, learning with wisdom, collective group action with individual achievement.
There is a kind of a high middlebrow drift towards….I’m not sure where, exactly.
Alas, if you’re still with me, here are some links:
‘Mirrors and pools of water work pretty much the same way. Light interacts with electrons on the surface. Under the laws of quantum mechanics, each photon interacts with ALL of the electrons on the surface, and the net result is the sum of all possible pathways. If the surface is perfectly smooth, then most of the pathways cancel each other out, except for the one where the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection. ‘
Click through for the illustrations to help explain Feynman’s theory, which fascinated me when I first came across it; much as I understand of it.
Have you ever seen sunlight reflecting off a body of water from a few thousand feet up in a plane? A rainbow in a puddle with some oil in it? A laser reflecting off a smooth surface like a mirror?
As Richard Rorty sees it, no standard objective for truth exists but for the interpretation of a few philosophers interpreting whatever of philosophy they’ve read. It’s all just an author’s “stuff.” Here’s an excerpt discussing the debate between him and Hilary Putnam:
Addition: Western mind shifted to “science?”…well as for poetry T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens had some fairly profound religious influences.
‘The promise of de-communisation was rather more personal for Putin. While he admired the power of the Soviet empire, he and many other intelligence officers who had lived in the West harboured little respect for communist ideology. Indeed, for Putin, Lenin’s revolution was not a triumph, but the infiltration of Russia by a German-sponsored agent who had destroyed the Russian Empire. Now facing the threat of contagion from a revolutionary democratic government in Kyiv, the threat of de-communisation speaks to a pervasive fear of subversion through “colour revolution”.
Maybe there are elements of Peter the Great, the Russian Revolution, and the Cold War experience all at play. As for Putin’s intentions, I’ll go by his actions in Georgia, Belarus, and now, Ukraine.
Notice it’s the older, Eastern empires which went and imported Marxist code, possibly because Marxism leads to a kind of tyranny of the autocrat (more endemic to the human condition and Eastern empires).
Other Western exports could have conceivably saved tens of millions of lives.
In the meantime, many radicals in the West harbor similar dreams (the Revolutionary’s righteous action is much preferable to, say, George Washington after victory).
Everything must go!
The below is probably worth reposting, as to why elements beneath Western liberalism bear much more resemblance to Marxist doctrine (identity politics and collectivism) than J.S. Mill.
Many mainstream publications (NPR, The Atlantic, The New Yorker) are in constant negotiations with activists and radicals (driving the change they’d like to see, leading to a kind of utopian ideal). They tend to be most comfortable with visible enemies who are oppressing them, as I suspect the light of liberation and resentment of ‘the oppressor’ is a primary motivation (not necessarily real freedom and the responsibility that come with freedom). This, of course, leads to deeply undemocratic outcomes and the kinds of law and order breakdown we’ve seen in cities like Seattle, Portland, NYC and San Francisco.
Many folks have explained why Communist revolutions begin in violence and end in such misery, and why so many followers cling to these doctrines (in our universities) with a sort of religious fervor, selectively blind hope, and continued loyalty.
Or at least some folks held their ground and documented the mess:
‘The preceding days have demonstrated that information peddled by Castro’s legion of academic and celebrity apologists has deeply penetrated the mainstream media consciousness, with credulous reporting sundry revolutionary “successes” of the regime: not so good on free speech, but oh-so-enviable on health care and education.’
‘And how does Reuters describe Castro? After 50 years of brutal one-party rule, to apply the appellation “dictator” seems a rather contentious issue: “Vilified by opponents as a totalitarian dictator, Castro is admired in many Third World nations for standing up to the United States and providing free education and health care.” And again, we return to education and health care.’
Democratic socialism, and social democracy, are often just the distance some folks have migrated from their previous ideological commitments (tolerating market reforms and ‘neo-liberal’ economic policy out of necessity, not necessarily a change of heart nor mind).
For others it may be the distance they’ve unconsciously drifted towards such ideas more recently.
For other brave souls, it may be the distance required to stick one’s fingers into the political breezes which blow over the floor of the EU, in order to ‘stay engaged’:
Remember, this is the non-elected President of the EU Commission.
‘He told me about what happened at his sister’s elementary school a few years after Castro took over.
“Do you want ice cream and dulces (sweets),” his sister’s teacher, a staunch Fidelista, asked the class.
“Yes!” the kids said.
“Okay, then,” she said. “Put your hands together, bow your heads, and pray to God that he brings you ice cream and dulces.”
Nothing happened, of course. God did not did not provide the children with ice cream or dulces.
“Now,” the teacher said. “Put your hands together and pray to Fidel that the Revolution gives you ice cream and sweets.”
The kids closed their eyes and bowed their heads. They prayed to Fidel Castro. And when the kids raised their heads and opened their eyes, ice cream and dulces had miraculously appeared on the teacher’s desk.’
As previously posted:
Michael Moynihan reviewed Michael Moore’s ‘Sicko’ which praised the Cuban Health Care System.
Christopher Hitchens took a helicopter ride with Sean Penn, and that tracksuit-wearing strongman of the people, Hugo Chavez-Hugo Boss:
It’s a long way out of socialist and revolutionary solidarity, which continually occupies the South American mind. One more revolution: Adam Kirsch takes a look at Mario Vargas Llosa. The Dream Of The Peruvian.
‘Planetary health views human health from the perspective of multiple intersecting systems.’
Dear Reader, within this first sentence alone, I’m hovering, ‘Gaia-like’ out of my postmodern body in space, able to witness all humans criss-crossing, ant-like, beneath my transcendent vision. Standing upon the shoulders of Marx, verily, I gaze down from the position of ‘Director Of Budget’ at whichever institution I shakedown choose.
Oh, how I will lecture you!
In a mighty display of my educational credentials (justifying so much pseudo-scientific gobbledygook), I might quote something like the following:
I met a traveller from an antique land, Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. . .
Such lines sprinkled in casual, high coversation demonstrate that I am no mere anti-technological, Neo-Romantic ideo-crat, worpshipping Gaia with a thousand inchoate thoughts. Nay, my yearly salary alone commands respect as an intellectual anointed by ‘The People’ to bend all of (H)istory towards a New Age.
Come and sign this ‘social contract’ with our blood.
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.
Here’s the view through a radical lens at The Lancet, one of the world’s oldest and most respected medical journals. Keep this in mind the next time there’s an important announcement to the public from a respected institution.
It doesn’t exactly inspire public trust to have obvious anti-scientific ideologues operating within institutions which depend upon scientific discovery and authority.
‘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.‘
From Mike Nayna’s Youtube channel: Radical students and some of their thought-leading administrators have a talk at Middlebury:
The visual arts, painting and architecture are all areas where Spaniards thrive, and where much genius is funneled and compressed through the culture. Madrid’s also a governing city, with a certain staid heaviness found in such places.
Earthlings were visited, many times this past century, by beings from the planet Utopia. Little is known about these curious creatures, but they were advanced, and went about vigorously erecting structures across our planetary surface.
What were they trying to tell us?
Concrete, as a material, was used, presumably because it was so common and functioned as our ‘lingua franca’ (so hard to use well). Shapes were decided upon that might please and delight us (flowers, blocks, dodecahedrons), but also shapes that could disconsole, consigning some souls to work and live in an eternal present, possible futures winking upon the horizon.
Dear Reader, rumor has it these beings whispered in Esperanto, but only into the ears of those most ready to receive such comprehensive knowledge and advanced understanding; humans beings closer to knowledge of Universal Shapes and Human Destinies.
As posted, come to the University of Washington, where neo-Gothic meets brutalism. The Global People’s Revolutionary Movement is just around the corner within the Department of Studies’ Studies:
We should be comforted when corporate/bureaucratic art is bland, bad, and uncommunicative. After all, do you think you’d trust a bank more or less if it had a shocking modern/pop art sculpture in the lobby?
What about when their marketing team tells you how you should think, behave and act?
The attempt to seek collective purpose and postmodern meaning in modern art, music and even cartoons etc. is fast upon us. The flirtations with nihilism can encourage more desperate collectivist/ideological impulses to fill the void. The excesses are many.
As for a critique of Albany Plaza, another modernist/bureaucratic concrete wonderland, here’s Robert Hughes:
‘We now have Russia and Turkey involved in two proxy wars in the region: Syria and Libya. While we have serious issues with Turkish “adventurism” on the part of President Erdoğan in both theaters, the bottom line remains: Russia presents a threat to the United States across a variety of fronts; Turkey is a key NATO ally.’
‘America’s alliance-level relations were formed in the context of the Cold War with Egypt, Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. These contacts and programs have been successful and should not be dismantled or downgraded, but redesigned.’
Let’s not forget Nagorno-Karabakh.
Vice magazine: Totally woke, painfully edgy and ideologically captured at home, still some decent guerilla journalism in the hot-spots.
I have a nagging suspicion that within certain social sciences and fields of study, people are self-selecting for shared ideals. The discipline itself trains a method which can transcend such dynamics, but it becomes the air many breathe and the water many drink.
The subtle, subconscious way in which we are all influenced by others through our senses, language, behavior and thought drifts towards those shared ideals. In-group and out-group dynamics soon form, and heretics, disbelievers, or skeptics learn to keep quiet or join a tiny minority.
In the case of radical ‘-Ismologists,’ whole epistemologies are woven out of whole cloth, in a web of true-enough-sounding-bullshit, the heretics, disbelievers and skeptics are punished.
Many progressive knowledge claims involve the assumption that (H)istory can be known from one vantage point, and because this is true, the telos of (M)an is known or can be known, and ought to be reached through political activism any day now.
And now for something mostly different. As posted:
Gurri offered an interesting take on matters socio-cultural:
‘The dilemma is that this present is defined by a radical distrust of the institutions of industrial society, and of the elites that control them, and of their statements and descriptions of reality. The conference organizers got our predicament right. At every level of contemporary social and political life, we are stuck in the muck of a profound crisis of authority.’
‘One remembers Weber’s epitaph for the Protestant Ethic, as he contemplated a devitalised bourgeoisie spiritlessly tending the petrified mechanism their ancestors had raised. Adapted, without apology, it might also be used to depict that petrified Utopia of the New Ruling classes of the East.
There’s a popular narrative that drug companies have stolen the soul of psychiatry. That they’ve reduced everything to chemical imbalances. The people who talk about this usually go on to argue that the true causes of mental illness are capitalism and racism. Have doctors forgotten that the real solution isn’t a pill, but structural change that challenges the systems of exploitation and domination that create suffering in the first place?
No. Nobody has forgotten that. Because the third thing you notice at the American Psychiatric Association meeting is that everyone is very, very woke.
“The Peloponennisian War created the sorts of tension in Athens that would appear to support Thucydides’ analysis. Obligations to the community required greater sacrifice and presented a clearer conflict with the self-seeking “Homeric” pursuit of one’s status, power and pleasure. In political terms, people had to decide whether or not to plot against the democracy to bring off an Olgarchic coup. In moral terms they had to decide whether or not to ignore the demands of the community, summed up in the requirements of “justice,” in favor of their own honor, status, power, and in general their perceived interest. Plato was familiar with people who preferred self-interest over other-regarding obligation; his own relatives, Critias and Charmides, made these choices when they joined the Thirty Tyrants.
Arguments from natural philosophy did not restrain people like Critias and Charmides. Democritus argues unconvincingly that the requirements of justice and the demands of nature, as understood by Atomism, can be expected to coincide. Protogoras rejects the view that moral beliefs are true and well grounded only if they correspond to some reality independent of believers; admittedly they are matters of convention, but so are all other beliefs about the world. This line or argument removes any ground for preferring nature over convention, but at the same time seems to remove any rational ground for preferring one convention over another.”
‘Land art, earthworks (coined by Robert Smithson), or Earth art is an art movement in which landscape and the work of art are inextricably linked.’
We visited a Richard Serra piece in Seattle this past weekend, entitled Wake.
Click through for a Serra-released photo of four metal pillar-forms aligned in the deserts of Qatar, designed to inevitably rust. The piece has a slight ‘2001: A Space Odyssey‘ feel, but that could just be me.
Long ago in Atlantic City: I got my palm read by a girl under an aluminum scaffold covered with a cheap, white tarp. It cost $15. She took my hand in hers and led me through the other booths to a canvas folding chair. She traced my palm lines and told me I would be rich. There was salt in the air, and a smell of tar rising from the boardwalk. A fly kept landing on her cheek and she kept extending her lower lip, exhaling a breath to blow it away. She was busy looking into my hand, my eyes, then off into the sea or seemingly within herself, as if divining some deeper meaning. The fly would land again, crawl slowly over her cheek, and rub its two front legs together and over its eyes.