We were supposed to do a job in Italy and, full of our feeling for ourselves (our sense of being Poets from America) we went from Rome to Fano, met the mayor, mulled a couple matters over (what’s a cheap date, they asked us; what’s flat drink). Among Italian literati
we could recognize our counterparts: the academic, the apologist, the arrogant, the amorous, the brazen and the glib — and there was one
administrator (the conservative), in suit of regulation gray, who like a good tour guide with measured pace and uninflected tone narrated sights and histories the hired van hauled us past. Of all, he was most politic and least poetic, so it seemed. Our last few days in Rome (when all but three of the New World Bards had flown) I found a book of poems this unprepossessing one had written: it was there in the pensione room (a room he’d recommended) where it must have been abandoned by the German visitor (was there a bus of them?) to whom he had inscribed and dated it a month before. I couldn’t read Italian, either, so I put the book back into the wardrobe’s dark. We last Americans
were due to leave tomorrow. For our parting evening then our host chose something in a family restaurant, and there we sat and chatted, sat and chewed, till, sensible it was our last big chance to be poetic, make our mark, one of us asked “What’s poetry? Is it the fruits and vegetables and marketplace of Campo dei Fiori, or the statue there?” Because I was
the glib one, I identified the answer instantly, I didn’t have to think — “The truth is both, it’s both,” I blurted out. But that was easy. That was easiest to say. What followed taught me something about difficulty, for our underestimated host spoke out, all of a sudden, with a rising passion, and he said:
The statue represents Giordano Bruno, brought to be burned in the public square because of his offense against authority, which is to say the Church. His crime was his belief the universe does not revolve around the human being: God is no fixed point or central government, but rather is poured in waves through all things. All things move. “If God is not the soul itself, He is the soul of the soul of the world.” Such was his heresy. The day they brought him forth to die, they feared he might incite the crowd (the man was famous for his eloquence). And so his captors placed upon his face an iron mask, in which
he could not speak. That’s how they burned him. That is how he died: without a word, in front of everyone. And poetry — (we’d all put down our forks by now, to listen to the man in gray; he went on softly) — poetry is what he thought, but did not say.
Heather MacDonald pits the goals of diversity and equality (pursued zealously within many an administrative hierarchy) against the quest for knowledge in the sciences.
I’m fairly certain that many people, in pursuit of their religious beliefs and in holding sacred the metaphysical doctrines which frame those beliefs, can and do bear hostility to the natural sciences, free-thinkers, and any challenge to those beliefs. The truth of such a statement seems self-evident.
But often in many educated circles, the ‘Grand Inquisitor‘ scene from the Brothers Karamazov seems to be playing on an endless loop, and all the darkness within the human heart, all the potential for stupidity, corruption, and incompetence within human organizations (the incredible difficulty of design and stability), is still directed against the Church (not the Mosque, of course) or some barely recognizable conception of authority.
Many current dangers are conveniently ignored, misunderstood, and/or tacitly supported under an umbrella of political idealism. Movements which support radical and revolutionary freedom tend to shift the beliefs and moral sentiments beneath the umbrella and within our institutions, but with little discussion of the costs involved.
Question the telos at the end of the rainbow, for which the umbrella will one day be shed, and all the old human problems return.
‘For Minogue, freedom led to “oppositionality,” a topic he explores in “The Conditions of Freedom and the Condition of Freedom.” Oppositionality is the idea that citizens may exercise an independent judgement on questions of their obligations that were once off-limits for discussion; everyone simply accepted them. Opposition and is seen both as a “disruptive and dynamic” part of freedom but also a threat to it – “fundamentally parasitic” on society and often praising dissent for its own sake.
This leads naturally to “The Modern Liberal’s Casebook,” which contains Minogue’s well-known comparison of liberalism to the legend of St George and the Dragon. In his telling, St. George didn’t know when to stop fighting battles and grew breathless in pursuit of smaller and smaller dragons, as big dragons were harder to come by. In this Minogue is quite correct. Taking his analogy further, there must come a time when dragons become extinct and younger versions of St. George are misguided into pursuing chickens and other desirable species instead.’
It also seems individuals tend to come in out and of belief, whatever their experiences, choices, genetic and biological proclivities. We constantly negotiate personal commitments and obligations, needs and wants. This is to say nothing of basic self-interest. There are too many variables to count and I can’t proclaim to count nor understand them all (I doubt the social sciences can either, and I’m wary of the belief they can and/or should, at least in the context of popular culture as they incorporate more data science, mathematics and empirical evidence.
I can say that trying to criticize and contextualize many modern and postmodern movements and thinkers seems a lonelier task at the moment, as is casting a skeptical eye upon many liberal political ideals currently reigning within many Western institutions.
Here’s another take, building upon an anti-Hegelian, pro-Kantian, pro-Popperian metaphysical platform:
‘Although Anglo-American philosophy tended to worship at the feet of science, the drift of academia to the left has led to characteristically totalitarian political attacks on science itself — this despite the leftist program to use “climate science” to impose a Sovietized command economy on energy and the tactic to smear climate skeptics, i.e. “Deniers,” through associaton with Creationism or Neo-Nazi Holocaust denial. None of that has stopped the “post-modern” move, which may even be called the “post-Copernican” move, where the “de-centering” of meaning and objectivity, returns the “marginalized” literary critic or theorist to the Ptolemaic center of the universe, whence modern science, now demystified and unmasked as an instrument of white, male, homophobic, Euro-centric oppression, had proudly thought to have dislodged an arrogant humanity. This has given new meaning to the words “obscurantism” and “sophistry.” Where the arrogance (let alone the intolerance and “extremism”) has settled now is all too plain to those familiar with American academic life, where a majority of American colleges have “speech codes” or equivalent regulations that openly violate the First Amendment.’
Guilt and shame are the primary teaching tools of the old religion and the new, woke religion. If you don’t care, no one can make you care. This leaves many sociopaths with competitive advantage. For the rest of us, being an asshole to the ones you love and with whom you deal isn’t a laudable goal. As much as this is true, decent people have to strike a balance. Sometimes, when you think you have the truth, you must speak that truth, even to loved ones and even when it hurts.
You also need to hear the truth. This hurts, too. It’s really one of the only ways to make your life better and deal with the problems you have. Growth isn’t possible without it.
In the public square, I believe it’s necessary to fight against the true-belief of zealots and fools, while doing my best not to become either of these things myself. What truth I might have to tell, should be told. This [often] puts me on the side of religious liberty and tradition in the good old U.S. of A.
Sometimes it puts me on the side of (S)cience and (R)eason.
Such skepticism also recognizes the danger of bad ideas. A lot of people will find the framework of radical resentment to be sufficient in their lives.
Guilt and shame are also how ideologues make headway. This has consequences for all of us:
Below is a poem by Wendell Berry. Berry is chiefly agrarian, anti-technology and pro-environmental in his outlook. He’s also a traditionalist, who believes family and local associations come first.
For Berry, (M)an must return to family, traditional values and to the Earth. Technology corrupts and while business might scale, both create alienation and unrooted individuals.
Of course, a return to (Man) and (N)ature is not an uncommon view amongst poets, especially since the Romantic Poets in England. Around that time, (M)an, instead of God, became one of the highest things around. Serving the poor and dispossessed is the work of those who care about (H)umankind. Oh, how some people care. Man, did mad, bad Byron care.
It’s a mixed bag.
Here is a tweet by a MoMA curator of Architecture & Design. I mean, she’s Italian and likely has fellow-feeling for the guy, and he probably saved a lot of lives under rough circumstances, but….you know.
I worry about ‘maestros of humanity,’ because the same old human nature and reality await. In the meantime, what kind of world we live in has a lot to do with how well our maps of human nature and reality align with….human nature and reality.
Beneath Humanism and the sentiment now being extended to all living things (except the bugs we’ll all eat while singing Kum-ba-ya), are a lot of unsavory characters, ideologues, and future politicians.
To my mind, making heroes out of men, necessary though it is, often leads to disappointment; a reasonable part of life. Making something like a religion out of (H)umanism seems to be a permanent feature of ‘modern’ life, and a much deeper problem.
One thing Berry seems to be saying: A route to truth lies in overcoming shame.
Do Not Be Ashamed
You will be walking some night in the comfortable dark of your yard and suddenly a great light will shine round about you, and behind you will be a wall you never saw before. It will be clear to you suddenly that you were about to escape, and that you are guilty: you misread the complex instructions, you are not a member, you lost your card or never had one. And you will know that they have been there all along, their eyes on your letters and books, their hands in your pockets, their ears wired to your bed. Though you have done nothing shameful, they will want you to be ashamed. They will want you to kneel and weep and say you should have been like them. And once you say you are ashamed, reading the page they hold out to you, then such light as you have made in your history will leave you. They will no longer need to pursue you. You will pursue them, begging forgiveness, and they will not forgive you. There is no power against them. It is only candor that is aloof from them, only an inward clarity, unashamed, that they cannot reach. Be ready. When their light has picked you out and their questions are asked, say to them: “I am not ashamed.” A sure horizon will come around you. The heron will rise in his evening flight from the hilltop.
On that note, I am pretty pro-technology and science. While I have no particular quarrel with neuroscience on its own, pop-neuroscience is often a repository for the modern search for legitimate experiences and theories of the Self. In some quarters, this becomes the window-dressing to sell discredited ideologies.
Readers often come for the anti-woke sentiment, and stay for the personal charm and winning personality (kidding). I get complaints that I am too anti-woke. Or that I’m not anti-religious enough. Or that I’m too pro-religious.
A while ago, I wrote about Jeff Koons, and the removal of religious guilt and shame as a central idea in his work. I also frequently write about Marxism and neo-Marxism as relying on both liberation and revolutionary praxis for their survival. Such doctrines get nature and human nature horrifically wrong, but they get enough of both right, it seems.
Robert Hughes wasn’t a big fan of Koons, and looked at him with a skeptical, suspicious eye:
Celebrity, money, art and fame are mixed in a big bowl:
As posted, I think this except highlights the idea of liberating one’s Self from not only guilt and shame, but judgment. Artists and the avant-garde thrive in such space, but so do ideologues and the worst kinds of people, and a lot of what’s bad in people.
Many avant-garde have become avant-huitard.
Jeff Koons’ Made In Heaven blurred the line between art and porn, private experience and public show, innocence (so easily corrupted) and naive, narcissistic indulgence.
“7. What is meant by enthusiasm. This I take to be properly enthusiasm, which, though founded neither on reason nor divine revelation, but rising from the conceits of a warmed or overweening brain, works yet, where it once gets footing, more powerfully on the persuasions and actions of men than either of those two, or both together: men being most forwardly obedient to the impulses they receive from themselves; and the whole man is sure to act more vigorously where the whole man is carried by a natural motion. For strong conceit, like a new principle, carries all easily with it, when got above common sense, and freed from all restraint of reason and check of reflection, it is heightened into a divine authority, in concurrence with our own temper and inclination.”
If many folks at NPR could be like the CBC, or the BBC (forced licensing fees since WWII), I’m guessing they would.
True Story: Over a decade ago, there was a story on one of the local Seattle NPR stations I haven’t been able to track down (Seattle or Olympia). The topic was toys imported from China; some potential problems with toxicity.
There was one interviewee. She was neither lawyer nor doctor, nor chemist. She didn’t work in politics, nor in trade policy. She didn’t work in the toy business and didn’t know about freight/transport/toy sales. She might have had a child, but that seemed to be about the extent of knowledge. She had some interesting potential facts and information, but that was about it.
‘This is curious,’ I thought, ‘why is she on the air?‘
An activist is someone who becomes active. Activists activate. Becoming morally and emotionally engaged on some topic or other, for activists, is a good thing. Virtuous, even. Activists have had enough. Activists, of The People, stand up and speak for The People. Activists are in a kind of war with the world as it is, with injustice, and activists are always busy going to war with the truth and knowledge they have, against their enemies.
Whatever your thinking and/or experiences, Dear Reader, inevitably, some questions arise.
What if the activist is wrong? What if the activist has bad or missing information? Would a such a person as the activist, with the incentives and passion of the activist, ever admit to being wrong?
Do they justify violence in the name of their cause?
A bigger problem at NPR: For all my life, before I was born, back when NPR was created in the hoary mists of time and 60’s Civil Rights idealism, the activist has been at the core of their business model. Interview an activist and a guy in the oil industry. Split the difference. Get some jazz musicians and some good photographers and do a money-losing piece on both (I am grateful for these, thanks, NPR). Get a lady from Code Pink in here along with Senator so-and-so to mainline some pure democracy into the discussion.
Well, the activist capture is clearly catching up with them (along with a failing business model).
As this blog has been arguing for over a decade, there might not be much stable ground beneath liberal idealism, enough to maintain the consent of the governed and legitimate moral authority.
If you think, as I do, that human nature generally needs to be constrained, that we have a good Constitutional model to do so, and that Christian thinking (to be viewed with profound skepticism) at least prohibits violence in principle, then the activist model is to be viewed with profound skepticism.
Many of the true and good causes have already devolved into rackets (much Black activist leadership, the ACLU, Civil Rights). Look no further than the think-tank and activist Right to see that such devolution is probably inevitable.
If you can’t see that your own idealism is a point-of-view, then you’ve consigned yourself to be surprised and perhaps, attacked, by thought which disagrees.
‘Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people”:
First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.
Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.
The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.’
This is what I think many New Atheists, Men Of System, Men of Reason, Rationalists/Idealists so often miss: A lot of what human nature is, is capable of, even, can’t necessarily be molded by you. At least not in the short and mid-term and not according to many current plans. Where you put your thinking is where your hopes follow. If you find yourself hating what humanity is, then your ideas aren’t good enough to understand humanity.
And they are certainly not good enough to be in authority.
A lot of what motivates those who want change is mobilized resentment against current authority, and this passes for everything that is ‘good.’
You don’t get to speak for all of the public. You don’t get to presume to curate the arts and sciences. You have to survive in a free market, with free speech.
As previously posted: I can’t speak to Britain’s Green Party, but neither can anyone else apparently. Via David Thompson: ‘Incredibly Awkward Interview With Natalie Bennett.’ A train-wreck on the air with a lot of coughing… If some Britons aren’t engaged in the magical and doomsday cult thinking of back to nature utopianism, they’re apparently channeling that magical thinking into the Green Party political platform of free houses and money-tree utopianism.
In many instances, the loyalty that many people had for Communist and Socialist ideals has been transferred over to green causes. Many moral commitments that came with these ideologies, frustrated by the horrendous consequences and totalitarian regimes that resulted (Stalinist North Korea and Communist Cuba still sputter onwards), have been re-directed or can even appear re-branded within environmental movements.
YOU should feel guilty about the poor, the downtrodden, and the global victims of industrial activity. WE should ‘re-wild’ nature and bring it to a state it achieved before man came and despoiled it. Humans have the power to shape their world, but only if they follow the right ideals and the right knowledge, as well as perhaps feeling the guilt and commitment and passion that come with those ideals. WE should aim for a simpler, collective life, and feel ’empathy’ with everyone (oft times the noble savage) around the globe.
We must exalt (M)an, but men are bad (the men who run the ‘System’). ‘Capitalism’ (the free flow of capital) is bad, and ‘We’ will return to Nature just after this Industrial Technological Revolution abides. Why, you merely need to lay upon a hillside and listen to Nature. She will reveal herself to you. Religious conceptions of God–Man–Nature are no longer valid (God, if there is such a thing, does not reveal Himself to you). All of the Sciences, including Climate Science, along with wise leaders and politicians, are building the infrastructure needed to allow every (S)elf and every (C)reature to live have new rights extended to them.
Global Harmony is next:
Whatever your thoughts on the natural world and conservation, I think it’s fair to say that from cartoons to schools to movies, there’s also been remarkable popular success in making environmental activism mainstream conventional wisdom; easy, cool and fun to join.
Rarely though, is there much discussion of the costs environmental laws can impose on private landowners and consumers (not just big real-estate developers and industrial interests) through compliance with the laws and higher prices. Supporters of environmental causes don’t often connect the dots between their interests and the potential for bureaucratic waste and mismanagement, nor the downright twisted incentives that can result for citizens, lawmakers and even budding scientists looking for grant money.
As we see in California, I think once you get enough public sentiment believing in the basic tenets of green thinking, then climate science, whatever its merits, often becomes a sideshow, while politics and money can become the main event.
Nature? That can become harder to understand.
***I think Monbiot was on much more stable ground when he appealed to J.S. Mill’s harm principle regarding people harmed by industrial activity. Sometimes people in industries just don’t care about some of the consequences of their actions, and legal recourse can be hard to come by for those without money or connections. There have been beneficial consequences to individuals’ health and to those parts of nature sought to be conserved…but again…at what cost?
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.’
‘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‘
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.
As previously posted:
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?
Those who rebel against authority, mindlessly, are more likely to embody a new authority.
Recently, 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.
Towards a theme: Perhaps you’ve also heard of the Rothko chapel, in Houston, Texas:
‘The Rothko Chapel, founded by Houston philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil, was dedicated in 1971 as an intimate sanctuary available to people of every belief. A tranquil meditative environment inspired by the mural canvases of Russian born American painter Mark Rothko (1903-1970), the Chapel welcomes over 60,000 visitors each year, people of every faith and from all parts of the world.’
There’s even a suite of music by Morton Feldman, entitled ‘Rothko Chapel’
“‘…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.”
Technology can affect each of us personally and intimately; vast distances suddenly bridged and scaled downwards. Endless distractions.
How to live and what to do? Family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, people in the academy; some people are handling this change better than others, personally and professionally.
High rates of technological change are likely a leading cause for our institutional chaos right now; the political extremes dominating discourse, the shifting middle, the more visibly grubby political class members ascendance and the social media mobbing.
It seems many on the ideological Left are thinking the same (back to the Commune), despite a longer, rather successful march through many institutions and likely being overstretched at the moment (the dark web cometh).
I figure if you know how to value that which matters most, you’ll navigate alright. Don’t forget to do right by those you love, and those who love you: Work, effort, and sacrifice. Take a look at the stars when you can. Keep learning. Take it easy, sometimes.
I explore the fine line between being "woke" about racism and indulging in a kind of replacement Christianity complete with original sin, an Old Testament God and judgement day. Too much of the latter since about 2014. https://t.co/xxqq5cGs8D via @aminterest
Dorothy Thompson speculates who would go Nazi in a room full of people at a dinner party.
‘Kind, good, happy, gentlemanly, secure people never go Nazi. They may be the gentle philosopher whose name is in the Blue Book, or Bill from City College to whom democracy gave a chance to design airplanes–you’ll never make Nazis out of them. But the frustrated and humiliated intellectual, the rich and scared speculator, the spoiled son, the labor tyrant, the fellow who has achieved success by smelling out the wind of success–they would all go Nazi in a crisis.’
Power through discipline! Strengthen your will!
Intellectuals running things…who joins mass movements?
There are definitely interesting things going on with light in Wyeth’s work. It fills his paintings. I also find my eye and mind hovering between realist depiction and abstract arrangement of objects on the canvas.
‘Beneath the frequent prettiness, most of the pictures are just this side of harrowing, not just lonesome and melancholy but portraits of life as it seeps inevitably away. The wind that lifts the lace curtain in Wind from the Sea makes the hair on your arms stand up. Jamie Wyeth, Andrew’s son and a celebrated artist himself, confesses to being puzzled by the benign view of Wyeth’s work. “My father’s work is terrifying,” he said. It’s not sentimental. It’s luminous! But in a creepy way.’
Like many Americans, I find myself drawn to what I would call a New England plainness and Yankee work ethic and aesthetic, which is evident is some of Wyeth’s landscapes, at least. Long winters and deep woods. Shorter distances and stonier soil in the meadows. Perhaps a Puritan, high-minded spiritual reserve.
Or perhaps the Shaker work song ‘Simple Gifts’ adapted by Aaron Copland might be a good example of what I’m trying to get at.
So, is this representative of Wyeth? Perhaps. He did much of his work in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and Maine, but according to Wikipedia there may be other influences as well:
‘N.C. also fostered an inner self-confidence to follow one’s own talents without thought of how the work is received. N.C. wrote in a letter to Wyeth in 1944:
“The great men [ Thoreau, Goethe, Emerson, Tolstoy] forever radiate a sharp sense of that profound requirement of an artist, to fully understand that consequences of what he creates are unimportant. Let the motive for action be in the action itself and not in the event. I know from my own experience that when I create with any degree of strength and beauty I have no thought of consequences. Anyone who creates for effect — to score a hit — does not know what he is missing!”‘
So, I’m speculating. Addition: There’s also a strong modernist-influenced creative imagination at work here too, and like Hopper, the American question of what to do with all that space and wilderness.
Yet, a man able to walk familiar land, seeing it anew with keen eyes, hoping his senses pick up more than he knows, having a medium with which to express his thoughts seems a man who’s had some success in life, regardless of popular appreciation.
Of course, a concupiscent eye must come into tension with other parts of a man’s character.
Or at least when there was a tittering about his ‘Helga‘ paintings a while back.
‘Stopping to rest near a group of European spring beauties, he saw on a trail above him a young woman on a walk. Assuming she was alone, she moved off the trail, lifted her skirt, and defecated in the grass. Wyeth was charmed. “The white curve of her bottom was amazing,” he told Meryman. The little lumps she left tumbled downhill and stopped in the patch of spring beauties.’
Well, there you go, America.
A discussion of ‘Christina’s World,’ a well-known work of his does more justice than this brief post.
The most morally righteous (not necessarily right) can be found most vocally pushing ‘Climate Justice’. The conflict between Conceptions of (S)cience as a tool of the ‘oppressor’, AND as intellectual justification for technocratic, dirigiste, authoritarian and Statist rule is never fully resolved, nor does it have to be. The (S)cience is clear. ‘We’ must act now!
When your own moral philosophy fails to resolve deeper problems regarding human nature, proper epistemological and metaphysical foundations, and the consent of the governed, you don’t necessarily have to resolve these conflicts. Rather, you just have to gather in the public square (pursuing a kind of ‘Rapture’).
This is a fairly influential coalition, now more visible in Congress and the Senate on the Democratic side of the aisle. Through recent legislation, they are now trying to consolidate political and economic power. The political economy is where we all lose our most important freedoms (to think and speak against authority, to get a job, to try a new venture, to manage our own time and energy). This is where new rules and ‘rule-following punishers’ will be made.
This blog has been seeking to anchor liberal thinking in more tried-and-true moral philosophies of J.S. Mill, Scottish Enlightenment empiricism, and a return to neo-classical thought, for starters.
“For today’s ecologists, their hope of regeneration presupposes a return to primitivism, and thus, whether they wish to enunciate it or not, concomitant anarchy, the burning before the replanting, the cutting down of the dead tree. The father of the movement is an utter rejection of all that is, and for at least three millennia all that was.”
Libertarians would generally see many environmentalists as a threat to their definition of liberty.
-Another environmentalist root comes by way of the’ Tragic Earth’ romantic lament, which may have as much to do with the rise and fall of post-modernism in American Universities as it does with Nature, and the restless attempt to fill the post-modern void in a post-Nietzschean world. I think part of this is due to the collapse of the modern liberal arts curriculum to its current state, which has followed excessive relativism and multi-culturalism to some of its logical conclusions. The “science is settled” may be appealing to many in filling that void. Of course, good poems and poets transcend the often strange things good poets can believe, but I suspect this has something to do with it. Al Gore has probably been influenced by this school of thought, though he is a politician, carbon-credit-salesman, and a poet.
Whatever your view of the science, its transition and use for ideological, economic and political purposes should give intelligent people pause, not just those who see threats to liberty.
Self-reliance may still be a better intellectual American influence, even with some downside to pragmatism.
I don’t mean to imply some people have turned their limited understanding of climate data into an anti-human, anti-science cult. Given human nature, such a turn of events is completely unforseeable!
Aside from passionate crazies, however, there are certainly not people who’ve turned global warming into a gnawing, apocryphal certainty; certain enough to offload their own fears of death into abstract ideals which might live beyond them. This can lead to technocracy as a form of leadership; knowledge implemented through institutional bureaucracy and more diffuse accountability. Plenty of journalists and aspiring professionals will follow those incentives into careers, opportunity and authority.
Some poets, even, and there’s certainly not any postmodern mysticism, anti-science rationalism and irrationalism to be found around and about:
‘In “Sea Change,” Graham becomes Prospero, casting spells by spelling out her thoughts to merge with ours, and with the voices of the elements. The result is a mingling of perceptions rather than a broadcasting of opinions. Instead of analysis, the poems encourage emotional involvement with the drastic changes overwhelming us, overwhelm- ing the planet.’
‘Strengths and weaknesses, flows and ebbs, yet every poem in “Sea Change” bears memorable lines, with almost haunting (if we truly have but 10 years to “fix” global warming) images of flora and fauna under siege. Jorie Graham has composed a swan song for Earth.’
Older folks are left to display one’s virtue, good behavior and rule-following among the living. That Tesla sure is sleek. Show off that new canvas bag. Scowl at the plastic one. This binds people up together and keeps social harmony. The knowledge is here, all that’s left is the wise, equal, and just enforcement of new rules. Don’t you want to be good?
Maybe we can turn this thing around after all, discovering that Romantically primitive modern Eden upon the horizon. We must act.
Alas, young, true believers, reformers and the narrowly righteous see deeper, of course, through the hypocrisy of a more settled complacency. Tim Black at Spiked: “The Ongoing Creation Of Greta Thunberg.“
They can become heroes to some, rather pathetic ciphers to others:
‘It is all very disconcerting. From her breakdown, to her recitation of carbon-emission facts, the Greta that emerges in Our House is on Fire doesn’t feel like an individual. She feels like a fictional device. A God’s fool-style character, descended down to Earth to expose our folly.’
And by no means are those on the political Left, often seeking radical revolution and ‘Capitalism’s’ overthrow for the new ‘scientific’ Socialism to come, involved here. Institutions are clearly not susceptible to committed ideologues, operating upon failed theories of (H)istory, forcing themselves into institutions (which radicals don’t normally recognize as having moral legitimacy, unless and until it’s their moral legitimacy).
What if you have an opposing, or different view to a majority? Isn’t that the point of free speech?
‘It’s de rigueur on college campuses to pledge allegiance to the climate agenda, denouncing Luddites who impede progress on the climate policies that all right-thinking people support. Those of us who work in academia are used to this ritual, but every once in a while an academic decides to distinguish himself by making his denunciation louder and more strident than the rest of the crowd. ‘
At Peace Pavilion West, breathing restrictions help keep the Collective healthy. Put the canvas bag over your head when entering the Human Pagoda. Zero-carbon. Zero-oxygen. Zero-waste. Namaste. Be safe.
From a reader: Christopher Essex discusses ‘Believing In Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, And Climate Models:’
It really shouldn’t be that difficult a thing to keep a strong interest in the natural world and a desire to understand it quite apart from such true-belief, collectivist virtue-signalling, hyperbole and ideology.
‘Communes being communal, they are invariably seen as uniquely virtuous, fair and compassionate forms of association. Yet they rarely turn out that way. Discipline and authority are always a problem.’
What do rich folks and the children of many rich folks happen to believe these days? Does it happen to be more vaguely Communal? Many are definitely (S)elf-Oriented, or have bathed in the waters of such thinking.
How might this bear on the consent of the governed, and those difficult things which must be carried to maintain the Republic?
What are you carrying, Dear Reader?
Gore Vidal from a while ago did a thing called a ‘book review’: ‘Rich Kids’. Words can become delightful daggers.
The fact that I seldom actually finish reading anything that he writes probably has to do with my own perhaps irrational conviction that Dr. Coles’s heart is so entirely in all the right places (mouth, boots, upon the sleeve) that nothing he has to say will ever surprise me despite the fact that he has traveled far and reasonably wide because “One hopes; one hopes against hope that somehow it will make a little difference; only a little, but still some, if people mostly unknown to almost all of us get better known to more of us.”
Liberalism, and many rationalists, New Atheists, and other bright types often overlook some basics about human nature; just why Churches undergo schisms, why (S)cience might not be enough, and the many darknesses of the human heart. The rationalists/irrationalists have many causal relationships.
Perhaps the postmodern ground has been cleared, and the appeal to property, free-markets, collective duties and personal liberation won’t exactly cut it against points further Left. The call to adventure, and purpose, is partly what drives violent ideologues, anti-humanists and the same old Communists. The existential void and the abyss are deep.
Activists, the most impassioned and zealous, are definitely seeking to remake the world, and other people, through politics and law.
And if they’re wrong about a particular policy or law?
When knowledge claims are insufficient, and disagreement reasonable, the failure to maintain open dialogue is a failure which many liberals I know will be loathe to acknowledge, offloading onto the same old targets: Anyone conserving anything.
Feynman (wikipedia) wonders what makes science science. He manages to argue quite well why he doesn’t think psychology meets a certain standard.
At least, he says the following:
I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science. In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas–he’s the controller–and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all theapparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.’
A potentially interesting thought: Let’s all take a moment to recall Jeffrey Dahmer, shall we?
What if through the social sciences and American institutional innovation (IQ tests for the military, academic placement testing), there dripped-down a battery of tests given to all American schoolchildren. After an hour or two taken out of a child’s day, a thick envelope would arrive at home a few weeks later; to be examined or unexamined by the parents and/or child:
While possessing above-average intellience, JEFFREY scored high for violent imagery and/or ideation. JEFFREYmight display a predilection to become fixated on objects, animals and/or other living things in his attempts to understand and navigate the world. Providing positive and rewarding outlets for JEFFREY will likely enhance learning opportunities and the chance to develop fruitful interpersonal relationships.
Oh, there are a few more out there…
As posted, someone’s going to be running our institutions and making rules out of a presumed universal and common sense set of knowledge claims:
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.