Religion

Downward To Darkness: Friday Poem From A Reader-Wallace Stevens’ ‘Sunday Morning’

A return to Nature?  To origins of faith?  To a simple freedom in a wild land, and new understandings, with death in view? To visions of Romantic Primitivism becoming modern?:

VII

Supple and turbulent, a ring of men
Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn
Their boisterous devotion to the sun,
Not as a god, but as a god might be,
Naked among them, like a savage source.
Their chant shall be a chant of paradise,
Out of their blood, returning to the sky;
And in their chant shall enter, voice by voice,
The windy lake wherein their lord delights,
The trees, like serafin, and echoing hills,
That choir among themselves long afterward.
They shall know well the heavenly fellowship
Of men that perish and of summer morn.
And whence they came and whither they shall go
The dew upon their feet shall manifest.

Wallace Stevens

Full poem here.

Read it aloud, for God’s sake, as the meaning lies in the experience of saying.

The Perilous State Of The University: Jonathan Haidt & Jordan B. Peterson

Jonathan Haidt (moral/social psychologist) and Jordan Peterson (clinical psychologist) discuss how they view what’s going on within our universities:

I’d like to think that there’s a reasonable conservative position which is agnostic, and respects the depths and dangers of religious experience, faith claims to knowledge, and the profound impact Christianity has had upon our legal and social institutions.

In essence, this blog believes such moral reasoning can provide a profoundly wise framework for understanding one’s own nature.  It can also help understand the problems which arise from our interactions with each other, with positions of authority, and with the world.  These depths can orient one towards what’s worth conserving (just as can a good humanities or social sciences education), despite being at odds with many other things of value.  Discovering what is true is a continuing job (and blessing) belonging to each of us, especially since the Enlightenment, but this apparently comes with the dangers of ideology, bad ideas, radical resentment, and totalitarian dead-ends still with us.

This agnostic position can, I believe, with some accuracy, view the depths and dangers of fundamentalist Leftism; how swiftly it can take over institutions, and how it appeals to many of the same old human nature problems with often pseudo-religious claims to knowledge.  Marxism, after all, is designed to take people up towards a promised endpoint to human history, and incite individuals into action towards ideals (revolutionary praxis-radical liberation) happy to trammel over the Sciences, the Social Sciences, the Humanities, and much truth besides.

See Also On This Site: The comments section of Theodore Dalrymple In The City Journal: Atheism’s Problems…Repost-Theodore Dalrymple: ‘What The New Atheists Don’t See’

From New York Magazine: If God Is Dead, Who Gets His House?

A Brief Defense Of Agnosticism

Did the ground shift some time ago?  Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On YouTube

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

Related On This SiteFrom 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-From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution Of War And Lethal Violence’

Full post here.

‘Over the years, I have written a long series of posts on whether evolutionary science can adjudicate the debate between Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau over whether our earliest human ancestors were naturally violent (as Hobbes argued) or naturally peaceful (as Rousseau argued). Many social scientists have been vehement in taking one side or the other in this debate. But I have argued that John Locke took a third position that is closest to the truth–that our foraging ancestors lived in a state of peace that tended to become a state of war. Hobbes is partly right. Rousseau is mostly wrong. And Locke is mostly right.’

Much depends on where you start, for in seeking a definition of man’s State in Nature, enough to claim a moral and legal foundation for the justification of authority, this definition matters a lot. Much modern political philosophy has been engaged in trying to define who has the moral legitimacy to be in charge (I personally find myself attracted to the government having a role to secure life, liberty, and property…and little else).

Arnhart:

It’s easy to understand why the Rousseaueans love the bonobos–there’re the hippie apes who make love not war.

On the other hand, it’s also easy to understand why the Hobbesians love the chimps and not the bonobos, because the chimps are closer to Hobbesian expectations for a evolutionarily close human relative. Frances White once observed…’

Darwinian science can explain quite a bit about our behavior, both individually and in the aggregate, yielding insights grounded in data and close observations of how we actually behave, and how our closest ancestors in the wild also actually behave.

Yet, this field will also interact with what we already know of our natures based on the political, civil and religious institutions we see around us every day which I presume also reflect much of who we are and how we behave…especially with power (and why the separation of powers is so important).

This blog is concerned with a fundamental problem in the West since the Enlightenment: Some people are seeking to mold human nature and smash civil society and its laws (to be replaced with something else, often the remnants of failed authoritarian/totalitarian rationalist systems or…nothing).

Other folks are seeking inclusion into civil society from previous injustice and oppression by vast expansions of Federal authority. This has had important consequences for the moral claims to authority which currently justify that authority.

Still others are claiming legitimate moral authority from the Sciences and Human Reason which can easily outstrip the ability of the Sciences and our Reason to justify such claims. I often find myself retreating to a position of Skepticism regarding many such claims.

As has been pointed out to me, Lockean liberty does correct for Hobbes’ Leviathan, but when did individuals consent to such authority in the first place?

As previously posted:

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Presented by Lawrence Cahoone, at College Of The Holy Cross, and focusing on ‘An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.’

Via a previous post:

‘If a man in the state of nature be so free, as has been said; if he be absolute lord of his own person and possessions, equal to the greatest, and subject to nobody, why will he part with his freedom? Why will he give up this empire, and subject himself to the dominion and control of any other power? To which ’tis obvious to answer, that though in the state of nature he hath such a right, yet the enjoyment of it is very uncertain, and constantly exposed to the invasion of others. For all being kings as much as he, every man his equal, and the greater part no strict observers of equity and justice, the enjoyment of the property he has in this state is very unsafe, very insecure. This makes him willing to quit this condition, which however free, is full of fears and continual dangers: and ’tis not without reason, that he seeks out, and is willing to join in society with others who are already united, or have a mind to unity for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and estates, which I call by the general name, property.’

*Locke, John. Two Treatises Of Government. London: Everyman, J.M. Dent, Orion Publishing House. 1993.

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And the comments:

–Chris, do you have the exact date when man agreed to “join in society with others”

My response which has not really answered the question:

I’m still trying to figure out exactly when, or how, it was that each man was granted rights derived from God, or reason, or some sufficiently abstract principle(s) that keeps him free enough to be neither master nor slave, and at least free enough to choose voluntary association through protection of law, property, contract, and some of the ‘negative’ liberties.

Given my understanding of human nature and my own experience, I don’t see how this is possible without family, the dependence upon institutions, tradition and the habits derived from them forming the backbone of civil society. That may well be a lack of faith in human nature, but I consider it quite realistic

How the voluntary association and the obligations and duties to these institutions fit together is a matter of deep debate and one I clearly haven’t resolved.

Related On This Site: From Darwinian Conservatism-‘Smith and Strauss on Bourgeois Liberalism and the Philosophic Life’…Repost-From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Nietzsche–Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?’

 

Timothy Snyder Responds To Steven Pinker’s New Book At Foreign Policy: ‘War No More: Why The World Has Become More Peaceful’

Repost-Thomas Sowell Discusses ‘A Conflict Of Visions’

A Few Links On Human Rights Idealism

There are many people pursuing secular human rights ideals within many a Western governmental agency, international institution, and activist quarter these days.  They claim the person who seeks to be virtuous, pursuing an ideal vision of the good society, simply by sharing in this ideal, has immediate access to a global human community and as such, moral duties to this community.

Many ambitious and reasonably well-intentioned young people are hearing its call.

On some level, most of us seek some kind of greater life purpose (guiding ideals and principles) and we seek for our inborn talents and natural abilities to merge hopefully, with our responsibility to feed ourselves and serve others in making a living.

These ideals allow some people, some of the time, to transcend many personal responsibilities along with many of the duties of family, neighbor, friend, the local, the state, the national.

Yet, at what cost? How are they working out in the world, our institutions, and in our lives?

During the recent migration crisis, Sweden took in more refugees per capita than any other country in Europe. However, the exact link between sex crimes and immigration is not known, since the Swedish government will not update its statistics, and the data, which are still being collected, have not been made available to the public.

If there’s anything universal in human affairs (math, the sciences, music, self-interest?), how is the universal to be codified into laws (rules), rights and responsibilities, and who makes the laws and who enforces them?

What is right, exactly, and where do ‘rights’ come from?

How does one person do lasting good for another while pursuing his/her own self-interest within the institutions and organizations that have developed and are often controlled by those adhering to such ideals?

As posted (may you find the thread running through the post, dear reader.  I know it’s a lot to ask…especially with all the unanswered, open-ended questions):

What is 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.”

A Roger Scruton quote that stands out in the video below, while discussing moral relativism to an audience in a country once behind the Iron Curtain:

‘There’s an attempt to produce a universal, objective morality, but without any conception of where it comes from.’

Where does the moral legitimacy come from to decide what a ‘human right’ is? A majority of ‘right-thinking’ people? A political majority? Some transcendent source? German Idealism?

As sent in by a reader: Louise Arbour displays this thinking in spades below (you are bad, and maybe even wrong for disagreeing):

Full paper here.

Perhaps modern American liberalism can claim other roots for itself.  Here’s a quote on Leo Strauss, who has influenced American conservative thought heavily:

“As Strauss understood it, the principle of liberal democracy in the natural freedom and equality of all human beings, and the bond of liberal society is a universal morality that links human beings regardless of religion. Liberalism understands religion to be a primary source of divisiveness in society, but it also regards liberty of religious worship to be a fundamental expression of the autonomy of the individual. To safeguard religion and to safeguard society from conflicts over religion, liberalism pushes religion to the private sphere where it is protected by law. The liberal state also strictly prohibits public laws that discriminate on the basis of religion. What the liberal state cannot do without ceasing to be liberal is to use the law to root out and entirely eliminate discrimination, religious and otherwise, on the part of private individuals and groups.”

 

Via A Reader-Douglas Murray Speaks At ‘The Danish Muhammad Cartoon Crisis In Retrospect’ Conference

~39:00 min speech with some questions at the end.  Most of what Murray says strikes this blog as factual and true, and in the face of many beliefs and incentives created for politicians and authorities, those facts and truths remain mostly unaddressed as the years roll on (the cartoons were published in 2005).

It’s unfortunate that people only seem to gather after each violent murder and attack, such as Charlie Hebdo, as a relative minority, and that many in positions of authority display such cowardice in addressing the issue.

Most on the British Left, liberal-Left, and near center seem to accept the logic that Islam is one of the minority groups which must be identified and protected as oppressed on the way towards an ideal, inclusive vision of the good society (under the extended logic that the world and all things in it can, to some extent, be explained as people who have either seen the light against those who are merely ignorant, intolerant, oppressive, racist, xenophobic etc).

What about the differences between Islam and Islamic civilizations and the post-Enlightenment West?  Point them out at your own risk.

Violate the secular humanist conventional wisdom and be ignored. Stand against the oft radically driven causes of the Left and possibly be threatened with violence.  Draw cartoons insulting the central figure in Islam and maybe be murdered.

Those aren’t great options, but the underlying defense of Western institutions such as the freedom of speech (to criticize and mock) are happening right now.

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Salman Rushdie at about minute 57:00:  This idea of separate treatment for separate cultures…I think essentially if we follow that to its conclusion…destroys our ability to have a really moral framework for society.’

Six writers apparently know what is acceptable speech and what isn’t, and thus don’t think the folks at Charlie Hebdo engaged in acceptable speech.

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.”

Cartoons here.  The cartoonist is still in some danger.

Food for thought.

A British Muslim tells his story, suggesting that classical liberalism wouldn’t be a bad idea…as a more entrenched radical British Left and Muslim immigration don’t mix too well: From Kenanmalik.com: ‘Introduction: How Salman Rushdie Changed My Life’… Via YouTube: ‘Christopher Hitchens Vs. Ahmed Younis On CNN (2005)’

Free speech (used both well and unwell) meets offended Muslims: Mohammad Cartoonist Lars Vilks HeadbuttedDuring Lecture’From The OC Jewish Experience: ‘UC Irvine Muslim Student Union Suspended’From Volokh: ‘”South Park” Creators Warned (Threatened) Over Mohammed’

See Also:  If you thought the cartoons were bad, more on the Fitna movie here.  From The NY Times: Review Of Christopher Caldwell’s Book “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West”  Libertarians love this issue:  Repost-A Canadian Libertarian Making Noise: Ezra Levant 

A Response To Andrew Sabl’s ‘Liberalism Beyond Markets’

Andrew Sabl at the Niskanen Center: ‘Liberalism Beyond Markets

If I’ve understood Sabl correctly: Neo-Kantian libertarians are epistemologically mistaken in holding the individual inviolate, free but duty-bound from within Kant’s transcendental idealist framework (the starry heavens above and the moral law within).  They are being unduly and Continentally rationalist, beginning and ending with an abstract chain of reasoning which fails to understand the ‘normative’ and ‘realist’, non-teleological interactions going on between individuals and liberal institutions as Sabl presents them.

2. Sabl claims that a Hayekian classically liberal view is what makes his alternative understanding of liberal institutions possible (any order they possess is essentially undesigned and undirected, spontaneously emerging from human nature and human interactions, just as do bartering and currency). Thus, liberal institutions should be thought of much the same as individuals within a Hayekian market system:  We each possess more knowledge and unique experience than any top-down system can hope to order or direct, and like markets, liberal institutions need not necessarily meet the demands of neo-Kantian rationalists to provide sufficient moral justification before they start directing our lives, liberty and happiness.

So, what then are some of Sabl’s ‘normative’ and ‘realist’ knowledge claims as to which principles should guide liberal institutions…or at least: What’s going to fill the hole left by Neo-Kantian rationalists and insufficiently classically liberal Hayekians who haven’t made the leap from individual to institution?

Would anything need to fill the hole?

Sabl:

1. ‘A modern institution must be large-scale and anonymous; The guiding analogy is technological progress in response to experienced flaws and demonstrably useful innovations, not reverence for “the mores of our ancestors.’

Here, Sabl’s model of governance comes from the sciences, and from a debatable ‘building’ epistemological model of the sciences (building-up one floor at a time..Newton, you’ve got floor 8, Einstein, floor 10).  In turn, this depends upon a tenuous analogy that city councils, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and hashing-out problems with your neighbors etc. are really the same kind of knowledge as the Special Theory Of Relativity, and should be thought of as such.

This leaves a lot to be desired.

***Frankly, I think neo-Kantians get closer to a decent understanding of scientific naturalism and the mathematical sciences’ ability to discover, understand and predict nature even if I may not agree with some Kantian metaphysical claims.

***Notice the jab Sabl takes at what I’ve often considered to be a wiser, and more humane, Burkean formulation of the ‘mores of our ancestors’ (much more humane than anonymous and large-scale institutions, it would seem). For Burkeans, you have duties to your grandparents, parents, kids and grand-kids.  You try and leave things a little better than you found them. Institutions have longer histories, rules, and practical wisdom (not all worthy of conserving, but quite a bit is worth conserving and you may not yet know what’s there until you’re involved). Few of us are ever that far away from families, loved ones, and our own limitations and self-interest, even if one of us is President or happens to be serving in high office.

Sabl:

2. ‘Second, modern liberal institutions owe their past development and present stability to their ability to serve the interests of all members of society.’

I see this is an ideal, one I could be persuaded is a reasonable formulation of the common interest, but one that will probably always fall short in the real world.

There’s no question that civic duties like voting and public service stir deep pride and loyalty to one’s fellows, often bringing out the best in us to overcome challenges.  But, clearly, out in the political realm people get factional and coalitional, there are winners and losers every cycle, and it can get bloody.

I’m deeply skeptical that our vastly differing personal experiences, moral beliefs and guiding principles would be sufficiently united by liberal institutions alone according to this line of thinking (this sure does seem to me a lot like standard, technocratic Statism).

Thus, whether through religious affiliation, Sabl’s claims to emergent and non-teleological liberal institutions, Platonic idealism, Constitutional Republicanism etc. there probably need to be deeper values and virtues uniting people before they start looking to politics and liberal institutions to help address these deep disputes.

Sabl:

3. ‘Third, a modern liberal institution promotes indefinite and multiple values and purposes, rather than giving priority to any one.’

Well, I’m quite partial to the Friesian formulation as to why Isaiah Berlin’s ‘value pluralism‘ may fail to provide sufficient justification to make the kinds of moral distinctions necessary to form stable institutions (even though I’ve ceded a flavor of pluralism/relativism above).

Some neo-Kantians also do a damned fine job of addressing the products of Hegelian rationalism and Marxism, as well as various idealists, some obvious authoritarians, and even totalitarian radicals in the modern world, often found simmering in a postmodern stew, constantly undermining institutions which they do not recognize as morally legitimate even as they take up positions within those institutions.

Such folks aim to bend our laws away from religious and traditional conceptions of the good, and generally toward their own conceptions of the good which can involve mild protest up to radical disruption.  For many, adherence to a grab-bag of various post-Enlightenment doctrines and ideologies is common on the way to radical change and the frequent politicization of all areas of life (functionally, I think, radicals over time succeed in destabilizing many existing arrangements and making obligations more a matter of individual choice and legal contract, gay marriage being a good example).

4. ‘Fourth, modern liberal institutions value diversity and conflict up to a point; and their first preference in dealing with agents who threaten to bring about truly dangerous conflict is to marginalize and discredit them, limiting their influence and impact, rather than resorting to direct coercion.’

Non-aggression works for me, but since we’re already talking principles and sufficient justification for coercion, that’s much easier said than done.

5. ‘Fifth, modern liberal institutions need not reflect a prior plan, nor a post-hoc consensus: they typically arise largely accidentally, and persist in the face of sharp disagreement (or, more commonly, mere ignorance and unconcern) as to their essential nature and proper working.’

Again, we’re back to the Hayekian liberal-institutions-as-markets formulation (how many other civilizations have produced similar institutions?) This is a formulation of which I’m skeptical, but remain open to further argument.

6. ‘Whether a certain realm of life will be subject to market exchange or not, or whether it will be subject to general laws or left to individual choice, is a question that is always important and interesting but rarely existential. Different societies can each have viable liberal institutions while answering these questions in somewhat different ways.’

Perhaps true, but we’re not in different societies, we’re citizens of this specific Constitutional Republic with a functioning democracy, in possession of its own legal history and political institutions.

According to Sabl, the value-pluralist conception of liberal institutions means sometimes they’ll weigh in, sometimes not.  Those running such institutions at any given time will try and marginalize violent actors, not simply use physical force at the first sign of any dissent. The market will be left to sort out some problems, the force of law guided by liberal institutions other problems.  These liberal institutions don’t necessarily have purposes, nor ends, and the people who make them up certain of their ends won’t be able to exert too much personal interest.  They’re like markets, springing up as they do rather spontaneously.

Dear Reader, are you persuaded?

Also as sent in by a reader this week:

On this site, see: A Few Responses To Kant’s Transcendental IdealismLink To An Ayn Rand Paper: The Objectivist Attack On Kant

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Fred Siegel On The German Influence And Kelley Ross On Some Of Roger Scruton’s Thinking

Martha Nussbaum says the university needs to be defend Socratic reason and still be open to diversity:  From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’ 

Where The Libertarian And Conservative Often Part Ways-Arnold Kling On Ken Minogue’s ‘The Servile Mind’

From Larry Arnhart At Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Does the Moral Flynn Effect Support Flynn’s Democratic Socialism or Murray’s Classical Liberalism?’

Repost-Roger Scruton Discusses Islam And The West

A few key arguments Scruton makes:

1.  The drive to expunge religion from public life in America is, in some cases, being pursued with a zeal that is not un-religious.  It is a largely unreasonable interpretation of the no-establishment clause.

I would even suggest that the argument allows that if such secularists are successful, they could open the door to government bloat (after all, welfare is given out for moral and moralistic reasons) if the church were gotten out of the way.  It is a key platform for most on the Western left to sacralize Muslims as the latest victim group against the forces they seek to overthrow within the West itself.  This makes them blind to many facts. Most people up-top in the Western liberal world are not as attuned as they should be to the potentially incompatible elements of Islamic civilization and the dangers of the radical and activist Left.

Against this,  I think many reasonable people would say that they just want to keep religion out of politics for the sake of both, and that they’re not attacking religion per se, but merely adhering to a reasonable interpretation of the no-establishment clause. Scruton is casting light on the zealots here.  Religious belief however, especially Christian belief in the U.S., really isn’t going anywhere.

2.  Scruton also argues that under the banner of secular multiculturalism, the extremely intolerant views of some Muslims, and the religious idealism of most Muslims (and all true religious believers) has found too free a home in Britain.  For Scruton, the development of secular society and the rule of law is perhaps a uniquely Christian phenomenon (he makes the argument here).   The Christian doctrines that laid such groundwork are conveniently bashed while Muslims pour in from societies without such rule of law and a pretty frightening idealism (how much of this is due to being an immigrant is worth examining, but the separation of church and state is conspicuously absent in Muslim societies).

One of the most dangerous consequences of this approach by is the idea of concurrent Sharia law for Muslims, and British law for British subjects. This is basically an admission of many in British society that they can’t fully integrate many Muslims and they don’t have a way forward to include them either.  Many wanted cheap labor, felt guilty at the colonial past, and apparently desire to see their country as a kind of way station on the way to a global, one-world superstate and home for refugees.  Scruton points out that human nature, the locality and practicality of politics, and the reality of these universalizing, Western ideals directing politics and policy is unable to account for much reality on the ground.

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

See Also On This SiteFrom The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”/Roger Scruton In The American Spectator: The New Humanism/Repost: Martha Nussbaum Channels Roger Williams In The New Republic: The First Founder

Ayan Hirsi Ali in The NY Times: Lee Harris’s ‘The Suicide Of Reason’

Free speech and Muslims From Kenanmalik.com: ‘Introduction: How Salman Rushdie Changed My Life’… Via YouTube: ‘Christopher Hitchens Vs. Ahmed Younis On CNN (2005)’…  Mohammad Cartoonist Lars Vilks HeadbuttedDuring Lecture’From The OC Jewish Experience: ‘UC Irvine Muslim Student Union Suspended’From Volokh: ‘”South Park” Creators Warned (Threatened) Over Mohammed’… More From Spiegel Online After The Westergaard Attacks Via A & L Daily: ‘The West Is Choked By Fear’

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

Full post here.  (link may not last)

Perhaps Hawking is guilty of a little hubris in weighing in with such certitude on the God question?

Here’s a quote of his Hawking’s posted previously:

“His [Kant’s}argument for the thesis was that if the universe did not have a beginning, there would be an infinite period of time before any event, which he considered absurd.  The argument for the antithesis was that if the universe had a beginning, there would be an infinite period of time before it, so why should the universe begin at any one particular time?  In fact, his cases for both the thesis and the antithesis are really the same argument.  They are both based on his unspoken assumption that time continues back forever, whether or not the universe had existed forever.

-Stephen Hawking-A Brief History of Time

Not so much that time continues back forever, but that it’s impossible to conceive of a point outside of time.  Kant wished to argue that both time and space are not necessarily inherent characteristics of the universe (or any object at all…especially those objects with which we have no direct experience, like a black hole, though according to Kant we can have knowledge of objects) but rather time and space are part of our onboard apparatus, and preconditions for us have intelligible experience in the first place (unlike as is assumed in calculus, for example).  He constructed a vast metaphysics to make his point in the hopes of putting metaphysics on the same ground as the sciences (the Enlightenment was going strong around him, and he latched onto Newton’s laws especially).  It’s questionable as to whether or not he succeeded, but fascinating to think about nonetheless.

Also On This Site:  Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To JudgmentFrom YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism

Via The University Of British Colombia: Kant-Summary Of Essential PointsFrom Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantSunday Quotation: From Jonathan Bennett On Kant

From The Times Higher Education: Simon Blackburn On The The Atheist/Believer DebateFrom Bloggingheads: Adam Frank And Eliezer Yudkowsky

Repost: Two Links-Robert Hughes’ Take On America Through Its Art & Michael Heizer’s ‘City’

Maybe it’s Pilgrim’s pride, or perhaps the Puritan pursuit of image-less purity, or the Colonialists ecumenical style, or maybe even some Shaker weirdness that finds itself up for analysis.

Perhaps somewhere there’s a spare, Yankee work ethic resting on a simple, wooden shelf in the ‘American mind.’

Could such a thing be discovered within mid 20th-century modernism?

Robert Hughes takes a look at Donald Judd’s ‘Temple Of Aesthetic Fanaticism,’ and Richard Serra’s nod to Jackson Pollack and abstract expressionism in the rawness of material sculpture. You know, making stuff (a potentially sensitive subject with so many technological changes going on right now).

(link may not last):

As for Land Art, Michael Heizer’s life’s-work land-art project is apparently complete, if such a thing can be complete:

There’s a good piece in the New Yorker here.

There is an air of secrecy about the whole thing.

You can’t even visit?


Apparently, Heizer’s been working since 1972 on this sculpture in the Eastern Nevada desert, which was originally called ‘Complex One.’ It’s morphed into his life’s work, called City. It’s very large. It can’t be moved. You can’t reproduce it. It represents a break from traditional sculpture. It can’t be put in a museum and it’s not clear that it has a function.

In Brasil, they just started from the top-down and built a city that doesn’t work that well for people: Brasilia: A Planned City

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I have to confess that seeing that structure upon the wide open emptiness of Eastern Nevada is comforting for the familiarity it brings. It’s a little bit of order upon the unknown, and the design, or lack thereof (about which a man may wonder), within Nature herself. I think this is why a military installation out in the desert can captivate the imagination as it’s been known to in Hollywood and in the public mind (dreaming of aliens and conspiracies).

To expand on that theme, Wallace Stevens might shed some light. He was an American poet on the hinge between romanticism and modernism:

Anecdote of the Jar

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion every where.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

Wallace Stevens

You’ve changed all of nature with just one jar.

What do you do with an uncivilized, wild land? Import European learning and literature “atop” it? Christian tradition and the Natural Law? Import the triumph of the Western mathematical sciences and technology? Import its movements of the arts and the individual artist?

You can’t help but do this.

Related On This Site: L.A.’s New Public Art Piece ‘The Levitated Mass,’ Or As The American Interest Puts It: ‘A Moving Rock’

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

Denver’s Devil Horse may be flirting with kitsch: From The Wall Street Journal: Denver’s Mustang Or ‘Devil Horse’…and I like his work:…Joan Miro: Woman

From Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’…Marketplace aesthetics in service of “women”: Dove’s Campaign For Real Beauty: Pascal Dangin And AestheticsRoger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?Brasilia: A Planned City

Repost-The Moral Decline Of A Nation?-Ross Douthat At The NY Times: ‘The Perils of Anti-Decadence’

Full piece here.

(This piece has been altered to reflect an accurate reading of Douthat’s piece. Better late than never. Original copies can be provided.)

There’s certainly been a lot of Kennedy talk in the air, lately, and Douthat makes the Aldous Huxley/C.S. Lewis case for moral decadence regarding the heroic elevation of JFK, and the Kennedy clan.

‘So it isn’t quite sufficient to say that the cult of John F. Kennedy is merely a case where admirable energies and impulses have been misdirected toward an unworthy hero figure. Rather, the biggest problems with the Kennedy era — the way that “missile gap” rhetoric led inexorably to the Bay of Pigs fiasco and then a near-nuclear war, the sleepwalking escalation in Vietnam, and then what my colleague David Brooks rightly calls “the mirage of religiosity” around the modern presidency that Kennedy’s rhetoric and martyrdom helped conjure up — are all characteristic and recurring problems with the attempt to resist, through politics, the trends and tendencies that books like “The Abolition of Man” and “Brave New World” discerned and warned against.’

And:

‘These problems are among the reasons why so many contemporary writers, mostly liberal and libertarian, are inclined to dismiss the very concept of decadence … or at least to say that while we probably wouldn’t want to go the full Mustapha Mond, that kind of danger is still extremely remote, and so long as growth continues, living standards rise, and equality advances, anything that’s lost along the way is probably well worth giving up.’

Click through.

Another addition: Just read Douthat’s article. He is critiquing something that progress and the creature comforts of a material culture provide and which both Huxley and Lewis warned against: A soporific attitude towards life because much immediate suffering has been vanquished. Our technology and progress can lead to a sleepy drift where we are happy to trade security for freedom because many of us don’t know any better, and don’t want to risk finding out.

JFK was a receptacle for national liberal greatness, and for a lot of Americans’ sense of civic duty, membership to the national identity, and perhaps cause for moral action like joining the Peace Corps. Such calls to ‘national greatness’ politics as in the case of JFK can be intended to take advantage of the sense of purpose such politics bring to individuals’ lives. This can lead to great error and consequences on down the road, especially surrounding the myth of politics. JFK admirers can be a rather deluded bunch when the facts of his Presidency are enumerated (to say nothing of the conspiracists) and a poor receptacle for such hopes and dreams.

There seems to me to be a deeply personal line of reasoning behind much of this argument, which might require an individual to enter into a complex relationship with God through church doctrine, or at least to recognize the dangers of false idols and the celebrification of our culture. We should be skeptical of such mythmaking and what ‘national greatness’ politics can do to our commitments in life. I can respect such an argument, even though I may not agree.

I should say it’s nice to have a contrarian voice around in the face of a popular, secular humanism promising ever more individual freedom, ever more equality, and ever more progress. Those goods will clearly come into conflict with one another. Douthat, as a conservative columnist, seems to be living up the the Buckley-esque mandate of standing athwart history yelling: ‘Stop.’

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A few more thoughts, for what it’s worth:

The progressive, activist Left seems perfectly happy to achieve its goals through charismatic, populist leaders engaged in majoritarian politics, often willing to push through ambitious laws impossible for even a competent technocracy to administer. This can easily go beyond science and wise policy-making into rabble-rousing street politics and a naive idealism wedded to the logic of political power.

Douthat, at least, gives me that courtesy of explaining his reasoning without immediately seeking control over my life through his political coalitions.

Of course, as Douthat points out, the decadence criticism would be applicable to the Right as well, and a surging conservative populism: Just repeating the names of Reagan, Churchill, and Calvin Coolidge doesn’t necessarily absolve one of one’s freedoms and responsibilities. Simply appealing to God and/or Ted Cruz comes with all the realities of human nature, policy-making, laws, and grubby politics, too. Skepticism is certainly warranted, and actions always speak louder than words.

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On that note:

Free-market libertarian Ira Stoll wrote ‘JFK, Conservative

Libertarian Virginia Postrel has a new book entitled ‘The Power Of Glamour: Longing And The Art Of Visual Persuasion.’ The Kennedys and their representation in the popular media and public mind certainly involves a lot of glamour. I like some of what she does:


The NY Times op-ed writer and a practicing Catholic? William Saletan and Ross Douthat At Slate: ‘Liberalism Is Stuck Halfway Between Heaven And Earth’…Douthat’s The Grand New PartyRoss Douthat At First Principles: ‘The Quest for Community in the Age of Obama: Nisbet’s Prescience’

Repost-From The Spiked Review Of Books Via The A & L Daily: ‘Rescuing The Enlightenment From Its Exploiters’… Behavioral economics and libertarian paternalism and below all that some liberal totalitarianism (the personal is political crowd)…Ross Douthat Responds To Paul Krugman At The NY Times: ‘Can We Be Sweden?’

Are these the enemies of the future?: Virginia Postrel At Bloomberg: ‘How The Elites Built America’s Economic Wall’

Repost-From The Spiked Review Of Books: ‘Delving Into The Mind Of The Technocrat’

Walter Russell Mead takes a look at the blue model (the old progressive model) from the ground up in NYC to argue that it’s simply not working.  Check out his series at The American Interest.

Once you take apart the old structure, you have to criticize the meritocracy you’ve helped create: David Brooks At The NY Times: ‘Why Our Elites Stink’

Monday Quotation From Charles Kesler And A Few Thoughts on ConservatismCharles Murray At The New Criterion: ‘Belmont & Fishtown’