A Few Humble Links On Afghanistan

Through my indirect experience, most of the people who serve are called. Honor, duty and sacrifice figure heavily. Smashing things, adventure, skill-development and money tend to be important variables, too. Over time, money and stability become more important, as they do for anyone aging up, or through, an institution. Few of us spend time imagining waking up every morning, with thirteen intricate steps to put on a prosthetic, seeing what the day holds.

That’s where our duty comes in, as fellow citizens, to make the losses more bearable.

As for Afghanistan..:

-Dexter Filkins at The New Yorker: ‘Last Exit From Afghanistan

-The Soviets didn’t scurry away in ignominy? This was written in 2012, mind you.

-The Silk Road, and the geo-strategic importance of this area….will remain in play. The world has never been, and will forever remain, a chessboard.

Time to leave?

From where I stand: Yes, the New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, NPR, and most major media outlets are in a process of negotiation/conflict with elements of a radical and activist Left. Some will follow the logic towards Good/Evil with their own countrymen, in a pose of childish and irrational rebellion (utopia always better to any reality). Others will settle into some kind of protagonism/antagonism with new authority; major Tech companies having to make and enforce rules, in relation with many lawmakers.

If you didn’t solve the problems of authority/hierarchy, totalizing and authority-beholden types beneath your Ideals, well…you haven’t solved those problems.

You’ve probably noticed this, too-Deeper and emergent Western thinking, along humanistic lines, is becoming more dominant: Conceptualizing the main purposes of war as advancing humanistic ideals (War vs Peace, (G)lobal (M)an vs the (I)nhumane) motivates much American institutional authority and leadership. No institution has avoided the rising waters of presumed freedom, diversity and inclusion, pushed often by liberation activists (making the personal political). I’m not sure of all the deeper currents and reasons, but this seems pretty unstable.

To be a ‘Kennedy Liberal’, Nationalistic and proud, has begun to emit a curious odor, a moral stench in the culture-at-large (as long ago has anything Christian, traditional, patriotic, and proud).

Perhaps it’s true: Today’s liberal idealist might well find himself where yesterday’s ‘neo-conservative’ found himself, willing to underwrite the Western project, with American military force if necessary, to vindicate highest ideals.

This blog’s thinking: The cultural revolution of the 60’s is a more consequential beast than most Boomer’s and Gen X’ers have realized. We’ve pretty much all of us internalized elements of these ideas, doing with them as we will.

If you are joining the armed services, for reasons of honor, duty, and sacrifice, you’d probably do okay to think about these elements of American leadership and political authority.

Some past links, Dear Reader:

Related On This Site: From CSIS: ‘Turmoil In The Middle-East’Lawrence Wright At The New Yorker: ‘The Man Behind Bin Laden’…perhaps Bacevich is turning inward upon religious belief, and doesn’t have a larger analysis to put the war within, despite his insight: From Commonweal: Andrew Bacevich “The War We Can’t Win: Afghanistan And The Limits Of American Power”

Robert Kaplan makes the argument that geography and history are destiny in Pakistan’s case:

Pakistan encompasses the frontier of the subcontinent, a region that even the British were unable to incorporate into their bureaucracy, running it instead as a military fiefdom, making deals with the tribes. Thus, Pakistan did not inherit the stabilizing civilian institutions that India did. Winston Churchill’s first book as a young man, The Story of the Malakand Field Force, wonderfully captures the challenges facing colonial border troops in British India. As the young author then concluded, the only way to function in this part of the world is through “a system of gradual advance, of political intrigue among the tribes, of subsidies and small expeditions.’

and:

‘The term AfPak itself, popularized by the late diplomat Richard Holbrooke, indicates two failed states — otherwise, they would share a strong border and would not have to be conjoined in one word. Let me provide the real meaning of AfPak, as defined by geography and history: It is a rump Islamic greater Punjab — the tip of the demographic spear of the Indian subcontinent toward which all trade routes between southern Central Asia and the Indus Valley are drawn — exerting its power over Pashtunistan and Baluchistan, just as Punjab has since time immemorial.’

Repost-From Michael Yon: ‘The Battle For Kandahar’Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”Monday Quotations-Henry KissingerTom

Welcome To The Western Skies Motel-Some Old & New Links On Place In America

Ernst Haas-Western Skies Motel, Colorado, 1977. It’s a wonderful use of color, along with those clouds and that light. A mood is created, and not much extra visual information is provided.

Ernst Haas-There’s so much visual information, but is there? What is communicated through your eye and to your brain? Route 66 Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1969

As posted:

Via Mick Hartley, British photographer Mark Power’s Good Morning, America, vols. 1 (mostly Arkansas) & 2 (mostly across the South).

Power:

‘I keep a physical and metaphorical distance between myself and the subject. It’s a way of delineating my ‘foreignness’ and is a similar stance to the one I took while working in Poland making The Sound of Two Songs (2004-09). It’s comes very naturally to me; I’ve always felt I’m better at observing than participating, so to stand back and watch from afar suits me very well.’

I often find myself drawn to photos with some distance.

As posted:

Via Mick Hartley, Steve Fitch Photography has neon motel signs glowing into the Western night.

He also has a book simply titled ‘Motel Signs:’

What’s more American than an exiled member of the Russian aristocracy intimately making his way into the English language and peering out from a thousand Motor Lodges?

Nabokov in America:  On The Road To Lolita.

Michael Dirda review of the review here.

“Nabokov in America” is rewarding on all counts, as biography, as photo album (there are many pictures of people, Western landscapes and motels) and as appreciative criticism. Not least, Roper even avoids the arch style so often adopted by critics faintly trying to emulate their inimitable subject.’

Well, there’s Donald Judd and Marfa, Texas, which looks interesting:

As previously posted, The Critic Laughs, by Hamilton:

Do you long for the days of unabashed American consumerism? Are you nostalgic for nights lit only by a soft, neon glow on the underbellies of clouds? Return to a time when America broadcast its brash, unironic call to the heavens.

But it can be empty, and lonely, and full of hard work and suffering:

MT-3 Storm Breaking-3

Montana Pastoral    

I am no shepherd of a child’s surmises.
I have seen fear where the coiled serpent rises,

Thirst where the grasses burn in early May
And thistle, mustard and the wild oat stay.

There is dust in this air. I saw in the heat
Grasshoppers busy in the threshing wheat.

So to this hour. Through the warm dusk I drove
To blizzards sifting on the hissing stove,

And found no images of pastoral will,
But fear, thirst, hunger, and this huddled chill.  

J.V. Cunningham

Detroit Nocturne‘ found here. Via Mick Hartley.

I’m partial to ‘Joey’s Meatcutter Inn, Bar & Grill 2017‘:

Joey's Meatcutter's Inn, Eastside, Detroit 2017

Immediately, I think of Edward Hopper: The lonely cityscape at night or the familiar glow of gas station lights cast into the American wilderness. The eye might want to linger among the colors, shapes and clouds even though the mind knows this is pretty much an empty street in a ‘post-industrial’ zone.

Perhaps it has do with another strand of expression: The break into free verse from past forms. The move from American Romanticism to Modernism which occurred this early past century. William Carlos Williams produced many good poems from a process of earnest, scrapbook-style intensity in trying to discover, redefine, and order a new poetic form within a modern ‘urban landscape.’

The individual artist is quite alone in the task he’s set before himself, and like much of modernism, it’s a rather big task.

Pastoral

When I was younger
it was plain to me
I must make something of myself.
Older now
I walk back streets
admiring the houses
of the very poor:
roof out of line with sides
the yards cluttered
with old chicken wire, ashes,
furniture gone wrong;
the fences and outhouses
built of barrel staves
and parts of boxes, all,
if I am fortunate,
smeared a bluish green
that properly weathered
pleases me best of all colors.

No one
will believe this
of vast import to the nation

William Carlos Williams

Do you believe any of that to be of vast import to the nation? Are you no one?

Hung Upon The Bones-A Link Here & There

-James Lindsay on ‘Critical’ Theory, with some references to the radical roots.

Merely pushing back against the influence of Foucault and Lacan in the academy, or perhaps questioning the motives of student radicals during Paris ’68, can be enough to torpedo an academic career:

My two cents: If your metaphysics is hung upon the bones of a failed theory of (H)istory, with the goal of dismantling civil society, through violent revolution if necessary, then guerilla-style tactics are your best bet.

You don’t have much influence if you don’t gain traction within universities, co-opt many administrative and political institutions, and come to control the largesse of many wealthy donors, seeking to sway opinion through ‘culture.’  Many aesthetes and good critics can end up here, too.

This seems to be the case now in many quarters.

Many other products of the Enlightenment, the rather Romantic idea of (M)an, and (M)an returning to (N)ature through the exultation of the Poets and the Romantic genius, or the mission of bettering all (H)umankind through Western (R)eason and (P)rogress, these seem to be default ideals within the West, often pursued through political idealism.

Liberal idealists, from my point of view, tend to live on similar real estate as many radicals when it comes to change as a first principle (generally a good), and can share similar attitudes regarding religion, tradition, and the rule of law as things which should be looked at, primarily, to change.

If your primary personal, professional, and moral commitments are to the (E)nvironment, (W)omen’s Liberation, or (L)iberation in general, then you are possibly sympathetic to the aims (if not always the methods) of critical theorists. They often speak your language. Fairness and Equality, against some injustice, or perceived injustice, are likely shared moral lights.

As previously posted:

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

Repost-‘Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?’

Land Art Links Along A With A Quite Modernist W.S. Merwin Poem

William Logan At The New Criterion: ‘Pound’s Metro’…Monday Poem: ‘A Pact’ By Ezra Pound

Of some note:

James Lileks responds to an Atlantic piece

There is no morality in art. There is morality in religion; there are philosophical objectives embedded in politics. The two are intertwined in a society and reflected in its art. When you sever art from its cultural moorings and make “newness” the overriding criterion by which the merits of a work are judged, then anything is possible. This results in crap. Not always’

James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Ezra Pound, the Bauhaus, the imagists, the futurists etc. Some of those influences have morphed into post-modernism or where such currents have flowed and keep flowing. Were they the best models, or has much been lost in translation?

Lileks’ take:

‘The primary urge of the revolutionary and the modernist and the adolescent: impatience.’

So, do we aim for maturity? Reverence? Good old Longfellow? Sonnets? Rhyming couplets delivered by higher powers to monks in haylofts?

Repost-From Roger Sandall: ‘The Slave Girl and the Professor’

Full piece here.

Sandall discussed a book and move titled I Am Slave as well as Kwame Appiah’s essay entitled “What’s Wrong With Slavery.” On some of Appiah’s thinking:

“What he calls “the central moral questions” about liberating slaves are the author’s main concern, and he affirms that freedom comes first. But according to Appiah “freedom is not enough”. After the act of liberation we also have a duty to guarantee every freed slave respect, dignity, and both social- and self-esteem.”

In the ‘best of all possible worlds’, perhaps we do, as far as self-esteem is concerned. Sandall finds Western liberal establishment thinking a target when it comes to the depths of moral arguments necessary to address such an issue:

‘According to the title of a recent book by the amiable Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal we live in The Age of Empathy, something he attributes to our warmly social hominid instincts. Also recently published is a book by Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature, arguing that the modern era has been one of moral progress accompanied by a steady decline in violence. It seems that what Norbert Elias called “the civilizing process” is nowadays on many minds, and Kwame A. Appiah’s 2010 book, The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen, might be seen as broadly in the same vein. Taking an idiosyncratic view of moral and social progress, he sees national and social honour playing a key role in the outlawing of the duel, in the abandonment of Chinese foot-binding, in the abolition of slavery, and in the ongoing struggle by enlightened men and women in Islamic lands against the horror of “honour killings”. All these changes are what he calls “moral revolutions.”

Of course, one moral injunction might run: “One should not enslave another” which sounds straight-forward enough, but as we see in Africa and increasingly in Britain via Africa, some people are still engaging in the practice. In fact, for much of American history, and in various other parts of the world in the past, now, and presumably in the future, many people can be said to violate such an injunction. Human cruelty and indifference, the spoils of war, economic and competitive advantage, and the complex relationship between master and slave just to name a few, are reasons that one person will enslave another, and which allows other people to look away.

‘As a result, what amounts to an uncivilizing processis now flourishing on Europe’s fringes. For that is what the modern slave trade represents — the trade that trapped a 12-year-old girl in the Sudan and has doomed hundreds more African youngsters from elsewhere. This also relates to Appiah’s respectful anthropological account of the several grades of domestic servitude and patriarchal subordination in traditional West African society, grades blandly euphemised by apologists as “our regional family culture,” and that all too easily collapse into subjection and brutality’

Interesting essay.

Some truth and courage in the face of barbarism, but also a lot of sentiment, and dramatic romanticization of Africa: Kony 2012.

Related On This Site: Repost-Roger Sandall At The American Interest: ‘Tribal Realism’

Romantic primitivism in Australia: ….Roger Sandall At The New Criterion Via The A & L Daily: ‘Aboriginal Sin’

Did Jared Diamond get attacked for not being romantic enough…or just for potential hubris?: Was he acting as a journalist in Papua New-Guinea?: From The Chronicle Of Higher Education: Jared Diamond’s Lawsuit

Hirsi Ali seems to have found the embrace of the West out of both tribal localism and its customs, Islam, and the short-sightedness of multiculturalism. Notice non-Muslims are not the ones threatening her with death: Tunku Varadarajan Reviews Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s ‘Nomad’ At The Daily BeastRepost-Ayan Hirsi Ali At The CSM: ‘Swiss Ban On Minarets Was A Vote ForTolerance And Inclusion’

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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”‘

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

Blackburn not so impressed with the Blank Slate: Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy DepartmentAt 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”‘

Repost-Roger Sandall’s Blog: What Are Right And Left Anyways?

Here’s Roger Sandall’s blog (smart arguments against Romanticism, among other good ideas).  I’ll snag two quotes:

His own description of his essays:

They attack modern decadence, defend science, and laugh at academic follies. Sometimes controversial but never party political, they might praise the Pope in one place and Al Gore in another.”

and…

“His [Sandall’s] guiding philosophy is suggested by the saying that life is a comedy for those who think, and a tragedy for those who feel.”

Reading his blog reminded me of the differences between John Stuart Mill and Thomas Carlyle as expressed in this New Yorker article.

What struck me most is that Mill applies highly rational thinking to liberal principles.  This seems strange in light of our current two-party split, where liberalism is too readily associated with “feeling.”  It’s odd to think that of the two men, Carlyle (who grew more conservative) is the more choleric, intuitive, and less rational in many ways, and Mill the more tempered, logical and rational.

I could be persuaded that investigation into liberal, rational principles wouldn’t hurt right now, and of course, I’m not the first nor last to think such thoughts.

See AlsoChristopher Hitchens’ long arc from committed Trotskyite to anti-religious atheist…but maybe what I’m noticing here is that habit and one’s relation to the passions (artististic or otherwise) die hard.  I was glad that the Independent noticed it too.

Addition:  Review of a new Mill biography here.

My belated condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of Roger Sandall, who passed away on August 11th, 2012.  He was an Australian thinker and critic of cultural relativism, romantic-primitivism and the Noble Savage.  He was a keen observer of the ways in which certain strains of Western thought interact with the non-Western, and often, tribal worlds.

Repost: At Google-Lawrence Wright’s Discussion Of Al Qaeda In ‘The Looming Tower’

Lawrence Wright offered a decent profile of many Al Qaeda top-men in ‘The Looming Tower.

They tended to be smart, educated sorts away from home. Ambitious men with deep grievances and wounded pride. Men seeking purity and strength of purpose, as well as a lost kingdom.

Like many Muslim men relative to those in the West, they’d spent most of their lives segregated from women, with many fewer opportunities to have their educations match a deeper sense of purpose and vocation. These were men, who in that rush of youth, perhaps saw little purpose in merely dedicating their lives to family, work and being connected to others through the kind of civil society and associations we have here in the West.

Of course, some men are pretty sadistic to begin with, but certainly not all.

There was righteous glory to be had, and bloody battles to be fought in driving the infidel from the Arabian peninsula, and eventually Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In fact, most of these men were often exposed to political oppression and brutality within the kinds of States common throughout the Muslim world these days.

As for the new recruits: Some of them had a bomb strapped to them same day. Not much room for franchise growth…in this life!

Wright piece on Al Qaeda’s number two man, Ayman Al-Zawahiri.

Some of Roger Scruton’s essays here. Interesting quote in this video, which may line-up with Wright’s observations about the pursuit of purity, and how it tends to end:

‘Universal values only make sense in a very specific context…the attempt to universalize them, or project and impose them…just leads to their appropriation by sinister forces.”

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Feel free to highlight my ignorance.

[Addition]: Of course, what do we do in defense against people who want to kill us where we live, whose ideals are fairly deluded and corrupted from the start?

Related On This Site: From Slate: ‘In Aleppo, Syria, Mohamed Atta Thought He Could Build The Ideal Islamic City’From The NY Times: Review Of Christopher Caldwell’s Book “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West”

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

Repost-What Would Hitchens Say? Via The NY Times: ‘Six PEN Members Decline Gala After Award for Charlie Hebdo’

Such a brave stance to take:  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.

Have these six happened upon an implacable standard of truth that perhaps might guide them in the eminently mysterious creative process of their own writing?  Do they all share the same truth?  Would they even know if they did?

Such a standard seems at least enough to guide their decision, then, to hold the folks at Charlie Hebdo to such a standard and protest the PEN award:

‘The decision by PEN American Center to give its annual Freedom of Expression Courage award to the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo has prompted six writers to withdraw as literary hosts at the group’s annual gala on May 5, adding a new twist to the continuing debate over the publication’s status as a martyr for free speech.

The novelists Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selasi have withdrawn from the gala, at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan.’

The reasons?  Here are a few:

‘In an email to PEN’s leadership on Friday, Ms. Kushner said she was withdrawing out of discomfort with what she called the magazine’s “cultural intolerance” and promotion of “a kind of forced secular view,”’

Salman Rushdie knows a lot about ‘Islamophobia:’

“If PEN as a free speech organization can’t defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organization is not worth the name,” Mr. Rushdie said. “What I would say to both Peter and Michael and the others is, I hope nobody ever comes after them.”

In their exercise of freedom, let such writers be one day judged by their own truth.

============================

Here’s 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  

Problems Of The Minority-Cross Your Heart

Via Althouse on a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.

‘That’s the line up in American Legion v. American Humanist Association, the case about the 32-foot cross on public land that honors soldiers who died in WWI. The American Legion won — the case is reversed and remanded. It will take me a little time to find my way through those opinions. The precedents in this area of the Establishment Clause have been very confused, and (as someone who taught those cases for many years) I want to know how the Court puzzled through them this time.’

As posted many years ago now:

Strausberg Observers post here

Sometimes a cross isn’t just a cross, as Stanley Fish notes.  All parties involved didn’t think it’s a good idea to strip the cross from it’s religious meaning in law.

Aside from an interesting comparison on a specific legal question, perhaps there are underlying currents as well.

Full post here.

‘The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rendered by 15:2 in Lautsi v Italy (App. No.: 30814/06) on the 18th March 2011 that it is justifiable for public funded schools in Italy to continue displaying crucifixes on the classroom walls.’

Here’s a quote from The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy:

“The philosophy of human rights addresses questions about the existence, content, nature, universality, justification, and legal status of human rights. The strong claims made on behalf of human rights (for example, that they are universal, or that they exist independently of legal enactment as justified moral norms) frequently provoke skeptical doubts and countering philosophical defences.”

And further on down the line, some humanists are pretty ‘aspirational’ as well as having a logo and a revised manifesto.

Martha Nussbaum argues profoundly for more equality but also removing religion as a source for the laws:  From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum

…Sometimes a cross isn’t just a cross, as Stanley Fish notesFrom Law At The End Of The Day: ‘Torn Between Religion And Law In Spain’

Low European Birth Rates In The NY Times: No Babies?

I’ll repost the below again because, in America,  I believe we’ve likely tipped from a majority religious civic fabric and culture to something more like a majority secular culture.   This likely brings a lot of European problems over (people searching for meaning, membership, group belonging).  We’ve got less frontier and more hierarchy and more reactions to inequality and the same old socialism gaining deeper representation in our politics.

Ack, mutter, so much German theory and deep, metaphysical maps:

I’m sure some will be eager to note that this took place in Budapest, Hungary, a country currently under politically right leadership, out from under tradition and institution-destroying Communist bureaucracy, in the news these days for refusing many Middle-Eastern refugees.

I recommend the video, as Scruton spent many years behind the Iron Curtain, working with folks to help chart a course out of Communist rule.

Moral Relativism is actually quite hard to define:

========

A quote that stuck out:

‘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?

As this blog has often noted, such secular idealism can lead to an ever-expanding list of human-rights, demands, and obligations; these in turn leading to rather sclerotic, over-promising, under-delivering, deeply indebted European states and poorly functional international institutions. It can also produce a kind of liberal bien-pensant worldview, which can catch a radical cold every now and again, but which generally supports political leaders claiming such ideals and causes. Oh yes, most folks nowadays believe we’re progressing, but where was that we were progressing to, exactly? How do you know this to be true?

Many Christians in the West tend to see such secular idealism and humanism as being birthed from Christianity, and as being unmoored from the duties and obligations that come with religious belief in a transcendent God. People haven’t changed that much, after all, nor has human nature, they often subtly argue, pointing out the many consequences such secular humanist claims have in the world by placing all kinds of laws, duties, and obligations upon us all.

Ross Douthat made similar arguments some years ago while promoting his book ‘Bad Religion:

‘…what is the idea of universal human rights if not a metaphysical principle? Can you find universal human rights under a microscope?

===============

As previously posted:

Part 10 of a discussion between Douthat and Will Saletan here.

Natural law, Christian theology and metaphysics meet liberalism, gay rights, and a more rights-based definitions of liberty. Saletan and Douthat are discussing Douthat’s new book Bad Religion and having a back and forth.

Douthat puts forth the following:

‘Indeed, it’s completely obvious that absent the Christian faith, there would be no liberalism at all. No ideal of universal human rights without Jesus’ radical upending of social hierarchies (including his death alongside common criminals on the cross). No separation of church and state without the gospels’ “render unto Caesar” and St. Augustine’s two cities. No liberal confidence about the march of historical progress without the Judeo-Christian interpretation of history as an unfolding story rather than an endlessly repeating wheel’

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

“Strauss taught that liberalism in its modern form contained within it an intrinsic tendency towards extreme relativism, which in turn led to two types of nihilism. The first was a “brutal” nihilism, expressed in Nazi and Marxist regimes. In On Tyranny, he wrote that these ideologies, both descendants of Enlightenment thought, tried to destroy all traditions, history, ethics, and moral standards and replace them by force under which nature and mankind are subjugated and conquered. The second type – the “gentle” nihilism expressed in Western liberal democracies – was a kind of value-free aimlessness and a hedonistic”permissive egalitarianism”, which he saw as permeating the fabric of contemporary American society.”

And another quote on Strauss, which seems more compelling to me:

“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.”

I’m more interested in the many people who are claiming that more freedom is necessary to reach a liberal ideal as they go about extending it to another group of people. They aren’t just asking for a little more freedom, for as we humans do, they are striving to make their ideal the highest thing around, as well as a source for the laws, and a way to organize people and a path to political power and influence. That seems to be part of the deal, but rarely discussed and I think should be open for debate a la Strauss. Christianity certainly has a lot of experience in that realm.

Related On This Site: While politically Left, Slate used to be a bit edgy, thoughtful, occasionally more of a haven for artists, writers, creative thinkers and iconoclasts (Christopher Hitchens was a good example). At least Saletan thinks pretty deeply From Slate: William Saletan’s ‘White Men Can’t Jump’

Douthat’s The Grand New PartyRoss Douthat At First Principles: ‘The Quest for Community in the Age of Obama: Nisbet’s Prescience’

Nussbaum argues that relgion shouldn’t be a source for the moral laws From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum…More on Strauss as I’m skeptical of his hermeticism and his strong reaction to Nietzsche and some things he may have missed about the Anglo tradition: From Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’From The Selected Writings By And About George Anastaplo: ‘Reason and Revelation: On Leo Strauss’

How does Natural Law Philosophy deal with these problems, and those of knowledge?

Bodies Juxtaposed In Space-Do Radical Acts Of Performance Art Overlap With Anarchy And The Slide Into Ever More State?

***I’m working full-time, so this is the intellectual bandwidth I’ve got (it’s never been stellar).

Via David Thompson, this is the good stuff:

Via the artiste:

‘Since his travel in Greece, one of Claude’s main questioning is about the states of insurrection that exist in people and can be revealed through performance art. In 2016, Claude started Pressio, a serial of performances that plays with riot’s imaginary. It was a way to confront the body of the performer to elements from road traffic that must protect their users ; then the question was more about how security and protection finally restrict liberties.’

There is some mimesis going on, and frankly, Admiral Benson had something to say about ‘accordion factories and mime schools.’

On that note, Jesus Christ already, the Catholic Church is no less immune to radical and performative protest, which doesn’t take much in the way of talent:

A profound libertarian position remains skeptical of granting authority to any institution that isn’t freely chosen by the individual, but this position also requires a lot of high abstractions and top-down re-design (seasteads are pretty utopian).  There’s anarchy embedded within, though, that said, I think it’s also fair to say this anarchy doesn’t necessarily overlap with the nihilist position (the denial of objective reality and the artistocratically radical Nietzschean re-design).

Personally, I believe good art, good citizenship and good science all require functioning institutions and individual moral responsibility, beyond private enterprise, but obviously this is a matter of deep debate.

Meanwhile, both major American political parties have broken apart along populist lines, with as much infighting within as [with]out.

I’m pretty sure I haven’t responded to the argument of privatizing functions of the state (legislatures, courts, police): Repost-Youtube Via Libertarianism.Org-David Friedman: ‘The Machinery Of Freedom’…CATO also has a post.

Speaking of anarchy and institutional authority, Buckley and Chomsky had it out:

Also, CATO has a post on the late Ken Minogue:

The titles of his first and last book are not accidental. Over time, Mr Minogue came to believe that the modern, progressive version of liberalism led to a corruption of our language and moral sensibilities. Instead of assuming individual responsibility for addressing moral and social problems, liberalism invites individuals to delegate that responsibility to the state. The result is the “politico-moral posturing” on causes ranging from global warming, to securing peace or gender equality.

Making the ‘correct’ noises and showing the ‘correct’ opinions has become, according to Mr Minogue, a substitute for moral action. The results are twofold: the growth of government and proliferation of bad policies, and an atrophy of genuine moral sensibilities. And that is destructive of free societies, which Mr Minogue saw as sustainable only with free, responsible, self-governing citizenry.

Mr Minogue’s intellectual project was more humble than the grand theories advanced by John Rawls or Robert Nozick, who thought that political life needed to be based on an abstract set of principles. In contrast, for Mr Minogue, the life in a free society was based on a set of skills that needed to be cultivated and nourished. Wisdom embodied in cultural norms and traditions was central to freedom, even if the rationale for specific norms could not be articulated explicitly. And therein lied the danger of modern liberal tinkering with the West’s institutions for the purpose of addressing existing social ills.’

On this site see: Catholic libertarianism? Youtube Via Reason TV-Judge Napolitano ‘Why Taxation is Theft, Abortion is Murder, & Government is Dangerous’

A Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”

Anarcho-syndicalist, libertarian socialist and sometime blind supporter of lefty causes:  Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of KnowledgeTwo Sunday Quotations By Albert Jay Nock in ‘Anarchist’s Progress’

From Over Ten Years Ago, A Post On The Agnostic Point Of View

The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an agnostic.”

Charles Darwin

I want to point out to many atheists that while I support a critique of the metaphysical doctrines of religion (transcendant God, afterlife, original sin), I don’t find that I can be certain of the non-existence, or existence, of that which is beyond our knowledge and understanding.

Much of atheism has the difficult work of clearing space for thought from religious doctrines.  A healthy skepticism here is worth much more to me than the terrifying certainty of true believers.  I do not have faith in a God where my reason fails me, but rather, I am not certain reason itself can prove God’s existence or non-existence successfully.

I don’t think I’m seeking comfort here, nor a way out of the moral obligations of Godlessness, but rather I’ve found the reasoning is deeper than I suspected.

Here’s a quote from Betrand Russell:

As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one can prove that there is not a God.

On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.”

Since added:

What The New Atheists Don’t See (Theodore Dalrymple)

See Also:  Wikipedia’s article on Agnosticism, from which the Russell quote is taken, and where you can find more information about Robert Ingersoll and Thomas Huxley.

Some atheists seem to be in danger of becoming adherents rather than free thinkers.

Addition:  More on Roger Sandall’s blog here, as he discusses Roger Scruton.

One question seems to be whether we choose to give religious arguments any quarter at all.  The hard atheist line seems to be no.  Mine is…perhaps…

Here’s a pretty nasty critique of agnosticism from the atheist point of view.

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As previously posted:

Short piece here (video discussion included)

(approx 33.oo minutes long)

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Link sent in by a reader. A British affair, but interesting (actual Marxists):

‘For those who don’t believe in God, but do believe in humanity, how should we view religion? O’Neill argues for tolerance. That means we should be free to express our beliefs as we see fit, and others should be to criticise and even ridicule those beliefs’

It’s nice to see some pushback against the zeal of ‘activist’ and New Atheism, as well as eliminative materialism. Humanism can become anti-humanist after all, especially among environmentalists (some secular doomsday groups know how many people is enough).

But radical humanism, or renewed faith in humanism, must still ground itself in claims to knowledge and truth, in reason, or in some thinking which can maintain civil society and mediate other competing claims according to its lights. Why and how should humanists manage the public square?

Here in America, we’re arguably witnessing the decline of organized religion in public life and in many of our institutions, and perhaps the rise of greater numbers of unaffiliated individuals exercising their freedoms and arranging their lives in other ways.

It’s become quite easy to mock the religious and religious figures (Christian, mostly) as representatives of a defunct/backwards way of thinking, thus marginalizing them from public debate. Of course, in my opinion, there remain good reasons to be skeptical of many claims to knowledge and truth made by the Church, to satirize the ignorance and abuses of earthly power, as well as the zeal of religious belief, but I’m generally content to leave it up to the individual should they choose turning inward to a relationship with God, to religious texts, or a church.

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?

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.

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.

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

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’

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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?’

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

Charles Murray At The New Criterion: ‘Belmont & Fishtown’