Update & Repost-Ken Minogue’s ‘Christophobia’ and the West

Full piece here.

Essay here.

There’s something almost religious about the way some people go about pursuing their non-religious ideas.

Minogue framed it thusly:

‘Olympianism is the characteristic belief system of today’s secularist, and it has itself many of the features of a religion. For one thing, the fusion of political conviction and moral superiority into a single package resembles the way in which religions (outside liberal states) constitute comprehensive ways of life supplying all that is necessary (in the eyes of believers) for salvation. Again, the religions with which we are familiar are monotheistic and refer everything to a single center. In traditional religions, this is usually God; with Olympianism, it is society, understood ultimately as including the whole of humanity. And Olympianism, like many religions, is keen to proselytize. Its characteristic mode of missionary activity is journalism and the media.’

And:

‘Progress, Communism, and Olympianism: these are three versions of the grand Western project. The first rumbles along in the background of our thought, the second is obviously a complete failure, but Olympianism is not only alive but a positively vibrant force in the way we think now. Above all, it determines the Western moral posture towards the rest of the world. It affirms democracy as an ideal, but carefully manipulates attitudes in a nervous attempt to control opinions hostile to Olympianism, such as beliefs in capital or corporal punishment, racial, and other forms of prejudice, national self-assertion—and indeed, religion

As previously posted, Minogue discussed ideology (Marxist ideology in particular), and modern promises of radical and revolutionary freedom: To go deeper and replace Science and Religion, Economics and Politics, on the way to some knowable end-point to human affairs.

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Perhaps the flip-side to liberal secular humanist faith is a lack of faith. Surely some deep, liberal thinker out there has become thoroughly convinced that people are no good, after all, and can’t be trusted with their freedoms apart from his/her thinking or ideological commitments. Perhaps there’s a secular humanist political leader somewhere thoroughly sick of humanity for the time being, simply accruing more political power and influence because they can.

As far as satire or mockery goes, they would be just as worthy, no?

Via David Thompson: ‘Don’t Oppress My People With Your White Devil Science

As a Straussian might see it: Once you set up (S)cience on the positivist definition, as the only arbiter of facts, one can very easily invite the anti-(S)cience response in kind, which manifests itself here as the retreat into a victimhood/oppressor ideology.

‘(S)cience’ was only a tool of the white oppressor, anyways, don’t you know (and no one actually has to do the hard work the sciences require…how convenient):

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As to these more radical groups splintering and applying pressure upwards upon institutions of learning (or at least remaining very vocal and demanding voices within them), I remain skeptical of merely relying upon an adaptable and healthy post-Enlightenment humanism to push back against them in the long-run.

It seems groups of post-Enlightenment individuals gathering to solve commonly defined problems is a risky business, indeed, or at least subject to the same old schisms and problems religious institutions underwent and continue to undergo regarding human nature. I think it’s fair to say people and institutions are often requiring of constraints, especially when it comes to political power and lawmaking; especially when it comes to the challenges our civilization faces from within and without in maintaining institutional authority.

I’d like to think that secularly liberal leadership, more broadly, including the people who want to be in charge of all of us (at their best operating from within moral communities of not too great a solipsism and self-regard) can resist such pressures. For there certainly are those who would fracture our institutions into rafts of post-Enlightenment ‘-isms’ and politicized movements often driven by illiberal ideologies; movements relying on the presumed self-sufficiency of reason while behaving quite irrationally.

I’m looking around and not seeing too much decency in American politics, lately.

A.C. Grayling makes one of the better cases for morality without religious doctrine, I’ve heard of late, but I’m not entirely sold these particular problems can be addressed sufficiently:

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Jonathan Haidt has infused the more modern field of moral psychology with some of David Hume’s empiricist theory of mind, the idea that intuitions come first, and our reasons for them are usually trotted out afterwards (when was the last time you walked away from an argument/debate/discussion totally converted and persuaded by the reasoning of the other guy?

Yet, how, exactly, did our institutions of higher-learning get to the point of catering to the loudest, often most naive, and often illiberal student-groups claiming their feelings and ideas deserve special treatment?

Isn’t this already a failure of leadership, to some extent?:

Related: A definition of humanism:

“‘…a morally concerned style of intellectual atheism openly avowed by only a small minority of individuals (for example, those who are members of the British Humanist Association) but tacitly accepted by a wide spectrum of educated people in all parts of the Western world.”

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

Related On This Site: From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.… Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Roger Scruton In The American Spectator: The New Humanism…From Nigel Warburton’s Site: A Definition of Humanism?…From The City Journal Via Arts And Letters Daily: Andre Glucksman On “The Postmodern Financial Crisis”

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-The Duran Duran Phenomenon, High And Low Art In The Modern Anglosphere

For you kids out there, Duran Duran are a band from Birmingham, England who made it big in the 80’s. They succeeded with genuine musical talent, technical and marketing prowess, a new-romantic visual-style, and presumably, somewhat deeper artistic aspirations.

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There are, no doubt, trade-offs people in the Anglosphere make, living with our particular Anglo-focus upon government, law, trade, and generally speaking, more open markets. There are reasons English is spoken so widely, after all, while the food has remained so bad.

Traveling abroad while younger, I often observed the American genius as a kind of egalitarian gathering of talent; general and specialized, ambitious and organized.

Such ‘Americanness’ can be shrewd, though it often comes with a certain optimism and idealism, for which Americans are known.

This is the stuff of American diplomacy, international lawyering, and business management. American advertising techniques, Hollywood movies, franchises like Starbucks and Apple, all can earn almost instant global recognition (if you’re not too far off the beaten path).

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That said, deeper artistic aspirations also tend to seek nourishment apart from such commercial populism and American egalitarianism in particular.

The accomplished artist probably had a lot of natural talent to begin with, but also joins in conversation with serious past talent and endures critique of his development, spends years of life engaged in hard work, and perhaps profits from greater tilt in the culture towards admiration for artists in general.

See: ‘Tradition And The Individual Talent’

This can send many American artists out on a mission to gain technique and skills elsewhere. This can fill many American cultural critics with a sense of European yearning and envy, and this can leave some Americans indulging in rather cheap, unimaginative commercialist America-bashing that usually lines-up with preconceived political/ideological commitments.

It’s here in the modern to postmodern to wherever-we’re-heading-now that, as an American, I find much of my daily life being lived.

For me and many of my fellows, the latest shows, pop-music, games and movies are the culture, even though we all have deeper ambitions and aspirations, and even if much of that culture has deeper roots of which we remain unaware.

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Here’s Robert Hughes from The Guardian on Damien Hirst: ‘Day Of The Dead’

‘If there is anything special about this event, it lies in the extreme disproportion between Hirst’s expected prices and his actual talent. Hirst is basically a pirate, and his skill is shown by the way in which he has managed to bluff so many art-related people, from museum personnel such as Tate’s Nicholas Serota to billionaires in the New York real-estate trade, into giving credence to his originality and the importance of his “ideas”. This skill at manipulation is his real success as an artist. He has manoeuvred himself into the sweet spot where wannabe collectors, no matter how dumb (indeed, the dumber the better), feel somehow ignorable without a Hirst or two.’.

I’m guessing Hughes loathed such confusion over money, art, fame, and our deepest aspirations, and thought such an approach prevents everyday people from entering into conversations with the everyday in great works of art. I find myself attracted to his marriage of Anglo-tradition and more ‘high’ European art-criticism.

For my part, I’d simply argue that more open markets in the Anglo-sphere offer a lower bar to reach a larger audience with one’s artistic ambitions. Such a marriage of art + market may be less likely to happen, in, say, Spain or France.

Perhaps this is true of Duran Duran, Damien Hirst, and various others with some natural talent and access to a wider audience through a global supply-chain.

This lower bar, in turn, can allow for perhaps more questionable art and marketing jargon; postmodern concept-shilling and various bullshit promising freedom within stale ideology and often poorly-executed art.

Or, at least, the above comes with its own Anglo-character.

(Addition: I should add that it gives more people easier access to make and gain exposure to the arts, which benefits a lot more people, but also puts the artist, and modernists, especially, in tension with the really hard task of making something beautiful which can last. Does good art have to be hard, and be made free of ‘The People?,’ or at least the passing fads, genres and styles that come and go?)

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Thanks to a reader for the link:

From The Daily Beast: ‘Get Into Bed With Tracey Emin For $2 million: The Sale Of A British Art Icon.’

“My Bed” will be sold at auction at Christie’s on July 1, and has been given an estimate price of between £800,000 and £1.2m (approximately $1.35 million to $2 million), which seems astonishingly low given the piece’s cultural impact. Indeed, David Maupin, Emin’s dealer in New York who sold the bed to Saatchi in 2000 for £150,000 (about $252,000), has said he thinks the Christie’s estimate is too low. “It’s historic. It’s priceless.”

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‘Cultural impact.’ So, a lot of people noticed it? It took a lot of technical skill? People were shocked by it? People had a strong reaction after seeing it in person?

It made her a celebrity?

I generally prefer the art dealer’s self-interested marketing bulls**t to a journalist’s ‘cultural impact’ claptrap.

Quote found here at friesian.com:

‘Oddly enough, it is the intellectual snobbery and elitism of many of the literati that politically correct egalitarianism appeals to; their partiality to literary Marxism is based not on its economic theory but on its hostility to business and the middle class. The character of this anti-bourgeois sentiment therefore has more in common with its origin in aristocratic disdain for the lower orders than with egalitarianism.’

Related: From Darwinian Conservatism: Nietzsche-Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?

Another pomo quote from Dr. Stephen Hicks:

‘In the shorter term, postmodernism has caused an impoverishment of much of the academic humanities, both in the quality of the work being done and the civility of the debates. The sciences have been less affected and are relatively healthy. The social sciences are mixed.

I am optimistic, though, for a couple of reasons. One is that pomo was able to entrench itself in the second half of the twentieth century in large part because first-rate intellectuals were mostly dismissive of it and focused on their own projects. But over the last ten years, after pomo’s excesses became blatant, there has been a vigorous counter-attack and pomo is now on the defensive. Another reason for optimism is that, as a species of skepticism, pomo is ultimately empty and becomes boring. Eventually intellectually-alert individuals get tired of the same old lines and move on. It is one thing, as the pomo can do well, to critique other theories and tear them down. But that merely clears the field for the next new and intriguing theory and for the next generation of energetic young intellectuals.

So while the postmodernism has had its generation or two, I think we’re ready for the next new thing – a strong, fresh, and positive approach to the big issues, one that of course takes into account the critical weapons the pomo have used well over the last while’

 

Monday Poem-Wallace Stevens & Some Quotes, Links & Thoughts

Six Significant Landscapes

I
An old man sits
In the shadow of a pine tree
In China.
He sees larkspur,
Blue and white,
At the edge of the shadow,
Move in the wind.
His beard moves in the wind.
The pine tree moves in the wind.
Thus water flows
Over weeds.

II
The night is of the colour
Of a woman’s arm:
Night, the female,
Obscure,
Fragrant and supple,
Conceals herself.
A pool shines,
Like a bracelet
Shaken in a dance.

III
I measure myself
Against a tall tree.
I find that I am much taller,
For I reach right up to the sun,
With my eye;
And I reach to the shore of the sea
With my ear.
Nevertheless, I dislike
The way ants crawl
In and out of my shadow.

IV
When my dream was near the moon,
The white folds of its gown
Filled with yellow light.
The soles of its feet
Grew red.
Its hair filled
With certain blue crystallizations
From stars,
Not far off.

V
Not all the knives of the lamp-posts,
Nor the chisels of the long streets,
Nor the mallets of the domes
And high towers,
Can carve
What one star can carve,
Shining through the grape-leaves.

VI
Rationalists, wearing square hats,
Think, in square rooms,
Looking at the floor,
Looking at the ceiling.
They confine themselves
To right-angled triangles.
If they tried rhomboids,
Cones, waving lines, ellipses
As, for example, the ellipse of the half-moon
Rationalists would wear sombreros.

Wallace Stevens

I quite like this one. Perhaps it’s because of what I see as a Romantic sensibility fitted to imagistic purpose.

As to that final stanza: That’s a lot of very lush language to describe what are, to my mind, very visual-field, mathematical concepts. Stevens was a poet of lush language, celebrating it like the old dandy he was, but also translating the Romantic arrangment of language to the spare, image-based aims of modernism. Make it new and strip it down.

Perhaps, this is more the tension occurring here rather than that of a frustrated mathematician.

I’ll try and stir the pot a bit:

‘…modern rationalism is what commonplace minds made out of the inspiration of men of discrimination and genius.’

Oakeshott, Michael. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991. Print. Pg 6.

One might ask what kind of genius? Artistic, linguistic and poetic? Or rather mathematical and physical? Parts of this debate could be said to stretch back to the Greeks, at least. They exist [such debates] all around us today, within our universities, politics and lives.

Personally, I’m reminded of many modern debates over reason, what it can do , what it can’t, and also many rationalist/anti-rationalist reactions to it.

The Romantic impulse generally involves a return to Nature and the countryside, away from civilization. The poet and the artist also invite one back to one’s own sense experience anew; the ambitious attempting to celebrate the emotions and grand themes without a hint of irony (love, death, war).

At least, many try and show us as we are and can be to ourselves.

But, this is also having some downstream effects, at least in German theory: Tom Wolfe on Max Weber on one conspicuous use of art in the ‘modern’ world:

aesthetics is going to replace ethics, art is going to replace religion, as the means through which educated people express their spiritual worthiness…

The first modern?

Full slide show here.

“Fantasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of their marvels.”

See Also On This Site: Goya’s Fight With Cudgels and Goya’s Colossus. A very good Goya page here.

A ‘Postmodern Conservative’ View?-Some Links

Via David Thompson’s Greatest Hits: ‘A discussion on the state of the left with Ophelia Benson, editor of the rationalist website Butterflies & Wheels and co-author of Why Truth Matters.’

‘Our criticism of [Judith] Butler was quite independent of the merits or lack thereof of Derrida – but perhaps a criticism of his defender amounts to a criticism of him and is therefore not allowed. At any rate, Butler’s open letter to the Times is a classic example of precisely this evasive non-substantive suggestion of impropriety that you mention. It’s basically an argument from celebrity. ‘How dare you publish such a snide obituary, Derrida was hugely influential, he was celebrated, he was a big deal.’

Hmmm….Martha Nussbaum on Judith Butler: ‘The Professor Of Parody

‘These developments owe much to the recent prominence of French postmodernist thought. Many young feminists, whatever their concrete affiliations with this or that French thinker, have been influenced by the extremely French idea that the intellectual does politics by speaking seditiously, and that this is a significant type of political action. Many have also derived from the writings of Michel Foucault (rightly or wrongly) the fatalistic idea that we are prisoners of an all-enveloping structure of power, and that real-life reform movements usually end up serving power in new and insidious ways. Such feminists therefore find comfort in the idea that the subversive use of words is still available to feminist intellectuals. Deprived of the hope of larger or more lasting changes, we can still perform our resistance by the reworking of verbal categories, and thus, at the margins, of the selves who are constituted by them.’

Strolling along, Avital Ronell, professor of German and Comparative Literature at NYU, invites you for a walk in the park, for whom 10 minutes of profound explication can never be enough:

I’m guessing that in the past, and maybe still in the present, some Nimrods find both the Catholic Church and/or the Priesthood of Impenetrable Jargon attractive life options.

‘In September 2017, New York University launched a Title IX investigation into Avital Ronell, an internationally acclaimed professor who had been accused of sexual harassment by her former graduate student, Nimrod Reitman.’

Roger Scruton suggests that the co-opting of university philosophy and literature departments by similar postmodern schools of thought (post-ish Marxist) does a disservice to young people interested in both philosophy and literature:

On that note, it doesn’t matter so much if ideas are true, or falsifiable, but rather if they can be held with conviction, made into policy, and acted upon in the world. People are going to do politics, whether you like it or not. It’s a basic human activity.

I’d argue that the decline of religion along with the intellectual currents in many academies have conspired to produce enough space for the following in our politics: Morally righteous people interested in how you should live your life. People who are deeply anti-religious and narrowly ideological:

Moving along still, Sam Harris and Ezra Klein (editor of Vox) debate Charles Murray’s work, which goes to a central critique of progressive doctrines which conflate moral and political reasoning: How to live and what to do become intimately united with immediate political action and coalition-building (forgetting, or perhaps never understanding, what politics can actually do and at what costs).

My take: There’s an inherent belief that political activism is ‘scientific.’ This belief is strong enough that when decent and conflicting social science comes along, it becomes morally suspect and a threat to money, politics and identity (the royal road to utopia):

It’s actually less important whether or not you agree politically with Charles Murray, but rather whether or not you’ve understood what he’s saying. It used to be, at least, that if you couldn’t understand what someone was saying, you still didn’t prevent his saying it in public.

Both Sam Harris and John Derbyshire (of differing political views) seem to understand quite well the crux of Murray’s reasoning:

Notice the people trying to shut Murray down are not reading his book, nor really interested in what he’s saying.

Not a good sign:

Repost: Within A Bank Of Modern Fog-Robert Hughes On Jeff Koons & Bullshit Is No Laughing Matter

‘The notion of carefully wrought bullshit involves, then, a certain inner strain. Thoughtful attention to detail requires discipline and objectivity. It entails accepting standards and limitations that forbid the indulgence of impulse or whim. It is this selflessness that, in connection with bullshit, strikes us as inapposite. But in fact it is not out of the question at all. The realms of advertising and of public relations, and the nowadays closely related realm of politics, are replete with instances of bullshit so unmitigated that they can serve among the most indisputable and classic paradigms of the concept. And in these realms there are exquisitely sophisticated craftsmen, who with the help of advanced and demanding techniques of market research, of public opinion polling, of psychological testing, and so forth, dedicate themselves tirelessly to getting every word and image they produce exactly right.’

From Harry Frankfurt’s On Bullshit.’

There is ocassionally such a commitment to bullshit I imagine the bullshitter blowing up a balloon; the bright shiny surface mesmerizing; the spirit of creative play engaged. It grows bigger and more beautiful as it expands with each breath.

There are many balloons like it, but this bullshit-balloon is mine. We’re going places.

Making up fans, a record label, a press outlet, awards and a fake web design company just to get your metal band (yourself, really) some Euro-gigs is next-level stuff:

‘I’ve spent the past 24 hours enraptured by the story of Threatin, the Los Angeles-based “band” (actually a vanity project for the solo artist “Jered Threatin”) who used wildly misleading YouTube live videos, paid-for Facebook likes and YouTube views, grossly exaggerated ticket counts and an imaginary booking agent to set himself up with a European tour which is now falling flat on its face with next to no one showing up to gigs.’

On that note, what I’m saying is 100% true: I don’t think it’s mere satire to point out that Dale Lonagan’s bestselling ‘Ismology In The 21st Century: Self-Wonder, Collective Consciousness & Global Harmony’ continues to inspire modern-day pilgrims to arrive at his thriving compound in the desert: Peace Pavilion West.

Imagine Frank Lloyd Wright wasn’t a profoundly talented architect, but rather a visionary wordsmith and ecological warrior, capable of genuine modern leadership. Imagine through a colossal writing output at Sandstone Mountain, one man realized Eastern visions and Western (S)cience and (A)rt could create a locally-sourced, globally aware community.

I’m certainly not making this character up. His books have changed the lives of millions.

In fact, here’s a quote of his:

Please check out Jeff Koons:

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There’s always been a bit of the showman about Jeff Koons; the kind of young man who could put on a bow tie and try to give many museum-goers their time/money/aspirations’ worth at the membership desk.

This blog forgives people trying to explain what their art ‘means,’ exactly, but confesses to pleasure in seeing Koons put on the spot under the suspicious eye of an ornery old Robert Hughes.

I don’t fault Koons for finding himself firmly within modernism, searching for universal forms and broader historical context within those confines, but I admit it’s nice to see him held to account for his bullshit, and perhaps the broader, deeper bullshit he shares with many modern and postmodern artists: Pursuing novelty and recognition and thus making art into a business and often commercializing it, aiming for celebrity while offering meta-critiques on celebrity, making the personal and private very public (masturbation into social commentary, sex into meta-critques of religious shame, ‘culture’ and pornography).

Two quotes by Hughes that stood out:

Religion is diminished into celebrity..a kind of reverse apotheosis.

‘This alienation of the work from the common viewer is actually a form of spiritual vandalism.’

It’s tough to say that art is really about religion (though much clearly is), but rather more about an experience Hughes wants as many people as possible to have, and that such experiences can elevate and expand.

Aside from the above, there’s something that strikes me as not just late 20th century-modern about Koons, but also very American.

As previously posted:

Is street-art, or the use of graffiti & mixed-materials performed illegally out in public (on public and privately owned property) partly due to the success of capital markets?

-Banksy’s website here.

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

Response To A Reader On ‘Radical Chic’ And A Link to Banksy’s ‘Dismaland’

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.

Many modern artists, from Andy Warhol to Jeff Koons to Damien Hirst are people with some artistic talent and native gifts, but not as much in the way of classical and/or formal training. They may be trying to have a conversation with the old masters, but they are clearly also the products of, and speaking to, ‘modern’ audiences. Much of this has become a world of shallow depth, especially among the less talented. Drawing and drafting can be underdeveloped skills while ‘mixed-media’ presentations, celebrity, marketing, money and fame are all thrown into the same pot.

Also On This Site: 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’

Repost-No More Western Art Survey Courses At Yale-Some Links

Via the Yale Daily News: ‘Art History Department To Scrap Survey Course:’

Art history department chair and the course’s instructor Tim Barringer told the News that he plans to demonstrate that a class about the history of art does not just mean Western art. Rather, when there are so many other regions, genres and traditions — all “equally deserving of study” — putting European art on a pedestal is “problematic,” he said.’

As posted:

Click here. Thanks to a reader. Quite a varied discussion on Bloom’s surprise 1987 bestseller: ‘The Closing Of The American Mind

Heather McDonald At The WSJ: ‘ The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity’

Camille Paglia: ‘The Modern Campus Cannot Comprehend Evil

Some people are trying to erode common sense until it becomes less common:

‘The horrors and atrocities of history have been edited out of primary and secondary education except where they can be blamed on racism, sexism, and imperialism — toxins embedded in oppressive outside structures that must be smashed and remade. But the real problem resides in human nature, which religion as well as great art sees as eternally torn by a war between the forces of darkness and light.’

Christopher Hitchens (nearly a free speech absolutist, railing against many of his former friends on the Left) discussing the Yale Press, which was genuinely afraid that publishing this book could lead to violence in the Muslim street:

“…Yale had consulted a range of experts before making its decision and that “[a]ll confirmed that the republication of the cartoons by the Yale University Press ran a serious risk of instigating violence.”

Theodore Dalrymple on Medical Correctness here.

It Didn’t Take A Rocket Scientist To See A Lot Of This Stuff Coming-Some Links On The New Sources Of Meaning And The Same Old Human Nature

This blog is currently operating as follows: Many radical and doctrinal ideologues aim to co-opt institutions, bending them toward utopian goals, and often in dysfunctional and authoritarian directions.  First come the promises of liberation (sexual, political, moral), then for most, a new set of rules, authority, mob logic and the same old human problems.

Jonathan Haidt At Heterodox Academy on these new ‘blasphemy laws:’

‘In the wake of the violence at Middlebury and Berkeley, and in the aftermath of the faculty mob that coalesced to condemn gender studies professor Rebecca Tuvel, many commentators have begun analyzing the new campus culture of intersectionality as a form of fundamentalist religion including public rituals with more than a passing resemblance to witch-hunts.’

It’d be nice if many secularists and political liberals said something like the following: ‘If we continue to secularize society, we will entrench many postmoderns, activists, radicals, people steeped in resentment, and narrow socialist ideologues, but the gains in liberty will be worth it. We might even inspire a return to old-timey religion.  If this happens, we will freak-out about this turn of events. In the meantime, free speech and free thought will not be upheld, except with moral courage against the mob we’ve helped incubate and gestate.’

-Via an interview with Ken Minogue from 2006:

‘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:

Kinda still reminds me of The Wave:

The Boston Evening Transcript

The readers of the Boston Evening Transcript
Sway in the wind like a field of ripe corn.


When evening quickens faintly in the street,
Wakening the appetites of life in some
And to others bringing the Boston Evening Transcript,
I mount the steps and ring the bell, turning
Wearily, as one would turn to nod good-bye to Rochefoucauld,
If the street were time and he at the end of the street,
And I say, “Cousin Harriet, here is the Boston Evening Transcript.”

T.S. Eliot

Such a brave stance to take:  Six writers apparently know what is acceptable speech and what isn’t, and thus didn’t think the folks at Charlie Hebdo engaged in acceptable speech.

British popular thinker Alain De Botton floated the idea of building an ‘atheist temple’ in the heart of London. He recommends combing through religious practices for useful organizing principles in response to the New Atheists. You can read more about it here, which includes a radio interview/podcast.

Did the Unitarian Universalists get there first, with a mishmash of faith and secular humanism?

A brief introduction to Adam Smith’s ‘Theory Of Moral Sentiments’

Beware the men of systems, moralizers, rationalists, idealists and utopians:

Related: A definition of humanism:

“‘…a morally concerned style of intellectual atheism openly avowed by only a small minority of individuals (for example, those who are members of the British Humanist Association) but tacitly accepted by a wide spectrum of educated people in all parts of the Western world.”

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

Related On This Site: From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’

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

Steven Pinker somewhat focused on the idea of freedom from violence, which tends to be libertarian. Yet, he’s also skeptical of the more liberal human rights and also religious natural rights. What about a World Leviathan?: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas HobbesFrom Reason.TV Via YouTube: ‘Steven Pinker on The Decline of Violence & “The Better Angels of Our Nature”‘Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department

Evolutionary psychology and moral thinking: Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

Repost-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

From 1998:

‘When I was a young untenured professor of philosophy, I once received a visit from a colleague from the Comparative Literature Department, an eminent and fashionable literary theorist, who wanted some help from me. I was flattered to be asked, and did my best to oblige, but the drift of his questions about various philosophical topics was strangely perplexing to me. For quite a while we were getting nowhere, until finally he managed to make clear to me what he had come for. He wanted “an epistemology,” he said. An epistemology. Every self-respecting literary theorist had to sport an epistemology that season, it seems, and without one he felt naked, so he had come to me for an epistemology to wear–it was the very next fashion, he was sure, and he wanted the dernier cri in epistemologies. It didn’t matter to him that it be sound, or defensible, or (as one might as well say) true; it just had to be new and different and stylish. Accessorize, my good fellow, or be overlooked at the party’

Worth a read.

The arts and humantities can be given a seriousness of purpose, I’m guessing, but must that purpose necessarily be scientific?

Do creative musical/artistic geniuses really need to understand particularly well how the sciences advance? How much does it matter that a theater major understands how the sciences come to say true things about the world and predict with high accuracy how nature behaves beyond a philosophy course or two?

I could be wrong.

Clearly, one problem is that out of the postmodern malaise comes the nihilism, moral relativism and general desperation where many can be found clinging to the sciences, or some standard of rationalism and reason that doesn’t seem sufficient in answering all the questions religion claims to answer. Nor does it seem sufficient as a platform to understand human nature, history, tradition, the wisdom in our institutions, and the experience past generations can offer beyond its own presumptions.

Lots of people can thus make ideology their guide and political change their purpose, or the State their religion and their own moral failings or moral programs everyone’s moral oughts through the law and politics.

Who has the moral legitimacy to be in charge?

Also On This Site: .Repost: Larry Arnhart At Darwinian Conservatism Reviews E.O. Wilson’s ‘The Social Conquest Of Earth’

Repost-From The Access Resource Network: Phillip Johnson’s “Daniel Dennett’s Dangerous Idea’From Edge: ‘Dennett On Wieseltier V. Pinker In The New Republic’

Maybe if you’re defending religion, Nietzsche is a problematic reference: Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy…

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’

Addition: If the British left, and Eagleton as somewhat representative of it, can’t sanely recognize that part of the problem is the way that Muslims seek a religious kingdom here on earth, and that there can’t be reasonable discussion of this, then…see here, where Roger Scruton suggests a return to religious virtue: From The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”

See Also: Roger Scruton In The American Spectator: The New Humanism…From Nigel Warburton’s Site: A Definition of Humanism?…From The City Journal Via Arts And Letters Daily: Andre Glucksman On “The Postmodern Financial Crisis”

Friday Poem-Pearl By Pearl Of Light

Flying Over The Nebraska Of My Life

So much of our lives dissolves.
What did I do the day before
I met you? You remember
what I was wearing that holiday.
What did I wear the next morning?
What did I write the day my mother died?

I fly at night over the plains.
There is a cluster of lights,
a starfish shape glittering. Then
darkness and darkness.
Then another clump bearing
long daisy petals of roadway.

Then nothing again. How much
of my living has fled like water
into sand. The sand is not
even damp to the hand.
Tears and wine and sparkling
water all vanish the same.

I know looking out the plane’s
dirty window that there are houses,
barns, roads, trees, stores
distinct in that darkness I once
drove through. I knew them and will
never know them again.

The plane is flying from lighted
place to lighted place, but
our arc is from the dark into
brightness then back into darkness.
I want to possess my own life like a
necklace, pearl by pearl of light.

Marge Piercy

A repost-For a special friend, you know who you are.

Are You Liberated? A Link To Carlo Lancellotti-Still Looking For Contrary Thinkers But Also Good Luck With Your Prognostications

Carlo Lancellotti, on the works of Italian political thinker, Augusto Del Noce.

Full piece here, which could have some explanatory insight:

Del Noce’s emphasis on the role of Marxism in what I called the “anti-Platonic turn” in Western culture is original, and opens up an unconventional perspective on recent cultural history. It calls into question the widespread narrative that views bourgeois liberalism, rooted in the empiricist and individualist thought of early modern Europe, as the lone triumphant protagonist of late modernity. While Del Noce fully recognizes the ideological and political defeat of Marxism in the twentieth century, he argues that Marxist thought left a lasting mark on the culture, so much so that we should actually speak of a “simultaneous success and failure” of Marxism. Whereas it failed to overthrow capitalism and put an end to alienation, its critique of human nature carried the day and catalyzed a radical transformation of liberalism itself. In Del Noce’s view, the proclaimed liberalism of the affluent society is radically different from its nineteenth-century antecedent precisely because it fully absorbed the Marxist metaphysical negations and used them to transition from a “Christian bourgeois” (Kantian, typically) worldview to a “pure bourgeois” one. In the process, it tamed the Marxist revolutionary utopia and turned it into a bourgeois narrative of individualistic liberation (primarily sexual).’

From where I stand: Many people can be seen clamoring towards (S)cience these days (or at least claiming some of its authority), but the people doing science are, well, doing science.  They might be informed by their political beliefs, but their political beliefs shouldn’t be present in their work.  Natural philosophy, mathematics, statistical modeling, empirical research etc. go on in the public and private sector, despite potentially serious supply/demand and other structural issues.

Institutional capture, however, also continues, and incentives within institutions.  Many Arts & Humanities departments have been over-run by the ‘studies’ types, especially within administrations.

Activist sexual, moral and political liberationists could be said to be the driving force behind much in American life right now.  Such movements tend to attract true believers who punish their enemies, seeking administrative/bureaucratic control of our institutions and political life.

The postmodern roots are pretty deep.  Good luck with your prognostications:

When it comes to the arts, do you know what’s coming next?:

It’s not so much that change is occuring, but in pointing out the change agents, and many ideas driving change, and questioning many such ideas opens one up to the mob.

Other critiques and criticisms along the same vein, gathered on this blog over the years:

-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”

Clive James revisits many quite original, quite accomplished works of Joseph Conrad.

This one’s 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.’

John O’ Sullivan at The New Criterion remembers Robert Conquest:

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

But for some even that’s out of reach:

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

To teach other people to teach.

Then alas for the next generation,

For the pots fairly crackle with thorn.

Where psychology meets education

A terrible bullshit is born.’

Ken Minogue:

‘Olympianism is the characteristic belief system of today’s secularist, and it has itself many of the features of a religion. For one thing, the fusion of political conviction and moral superiority into a single package resembles the way in which religions (outside liberal states) constitute comprehensive ways of life supplying all that is necessary (in the eyes of believers) for salvation. Again, the religions with which we are familiar are monotheistic and refer everything to a single center. In traditional religions, this is usually God; with Olympianism, it is society, understood ultimately as including the whole of humanity. And Olympianism, like many religions, is keen to proselytize. Its characteristic mode of missionary activity is journalism and the media.’

And:

‘Progress, Communism, and Olympianism: these are three versions of the grand Western project. The first rumbles along in the background of our thought, the second is obviously a complete failure, but Olympianism is not only alive but a positively vibrant force in the way we think now. Above all, it determines the Western moral posture towards the rest of the world. It affirms democracy as an ideal, but carefully manipulates attitudes in a nervous attempt to control opinions hostile to Olympianism, such as beliefs in capital or corporal punishment, racial, and otherforms of prejudice, national self-assertion—and indeed, religion

Not entirely unrelated:

John Gray begins a discussion of his book ‘The Silence Of Animals‘ with a quote from Conrad:

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Added bonus if you act now in the face of no possible objective knowledge.

Part of Bryan Magee’s series:

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Nietzsche directed his thought against Christian morality, secular morality (Kantian and utilitarian), was quite anti-democratic, and anti-Socratic.

Related On This Site: From The NY Times Book Review-Thomas Nagel On John Gray’s New ‘Silence Of Animals’.

A Few Thoughts On The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy Entry: Nietzsche’s Moral And Political Philosophy..

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’

-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

Wasn’t judge Napolitano a Catholic libertarian?: Youtube Via Reason TV-Judge Napolitano ‘Why Taxation is Theft, Abortion is Murder, & Government is Dangerous’

This blog seems to be drifting along deeper currents, leaving many issues unresolved.