YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

December 31, 2016

Political correctness revisited

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 7:40 pm
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Zero Hedge.com

Zero Hedge.com

I have written about Political Correctness (including its origins) many times on the website, but the moral seems to be this: conservative objections to PC miss the point and may even antagonize minorities and women by appearing to lobby for incivility.

It is not the entire Left that has imposed speech codes, but a particular branch of it: the postmodernists who believe, like other trendy mystics, that language (as mediated by institutions) creates reality. So social democrats and Leninists alike may emphasize changing speech all by itself. But their protocols do not improve institutional controls that would indeed further the goal of intellectual diversity (also known as the marketplace of ideas; see https://clarespark.com/2015/12/29/milton-friedmans-capitalism-and-freedom-1962/).

(Real) leftists reject all capitalist institutions as bogus leftovers from earlier set-ups, while social democrats are out to stop the far Left through co-opting and erasing class as an analytic consideration; also the same phony liberals erase fact-based history and perception as “vulgar.”

(To the extent that Marxist-Leninists believe in the “telos “of history, they participate in the same mystical folly. The materialism of the Enlightenment is rejected by Leninists favoring dialectical materialism.)

Nonconformist society

Nonconformist society

When I brought this subject up on Facebook, I saw that one or two friends, believed that minorities and women were deficient in those qualities that make (what passes for) success in the modern world. That too is a rejection of history—for instance the astounding vanguard that created the US Constitution minus all the Founders’ class positions (i.e., their historical situation)—which accounts for their racism and sexism.

How odd that some “conservatives” idealize those aspects of the Constitution that suit them, while undermining politeness—a very democratic, if bourgeois, concept.

Zero Hedge.com

Zero Hedge.com

February 19, 2016

Is the word “liar” un-PC?

liar-woman-lyingNumerous pundits on the Right have been stigmatizing certain candidates for calling one another “liars.” I found this startling, for in the theater of politics “anything goes.”

I have been aghast at this turn of group criticism, for in my youth, I assumed that fact-checking would be a prime responsibility of citizen-journalists and the candidates too, but I was unaware then, that “the search for truth” was considered a fool’s errand, indeed, a form of “monomania.” I blame the bad reputation that rationalism and empiricism have earned in this long period of irrationalism and the elevation of “feeling” as “freedom” over critical thought; i.e., digging into the archives with appropriate skepticism and the resuscitation of relevant contexts. https://clarespark.com/2014/05/08/index-to-blogs-on-postmodernism-and-its-spawn/.

The reason that scholars are supposed to use footnotes when challenging older versions of history harkens back to the early phases of modernity, but “postmodernism” has made the use of footnotes a bad joke, for “inter-subjectivity” and the unreliability of all “texts” fits all too snugly into multiculturalism and its “perspectivism” in which “facts” are relegated to the realm of “group facts”—indecipherable to other races, though you have to dig a bit to find that out.

Or the curious reader might consider this: an alarming number of persons, world-wide, believe in the real existence of the Devil, the Great Liar, whose antithesis is the Truth conveyed by either the Gospel or by the deity “in a better place” than “this vale of tears”; i.e., the inevitable deceptions of our earthly existence.

Of course, “everybody” knows who the greatest liars are: women and Jews. No kidding. https://clarespark.com/2014/01/16/hitler-and-the-big-lie-corrected/

British professor Simon Schama addresses a seminar entitled 'Facing the Climate Crisis' at the St James's Palace Nobel Laureate's Symposium in London, on May 27, 2009. The Symposium convenes Nobel Laureates from a variety of disciplines and world experts in climate change. AFP PHOTO/Shaun Curry/WPA POOL/AFP (Photo credit should read SHAUN CURRY/AFP/Getty Images)

SHAUN CURRY/AFP/Getty Images); found on Eddie Izzard’s AZL page

May 31, 2015

Nietzsche on “the Jews” (and non-Aryan Christians)

Aryan Christ

Aryan Christ

(This the second of two blogs; read this first. https://clarespark.com/2015/05/30/constructing-the-moderate-men-with-the-classics/.)

Nietzsche famously proclaimed that “God is dead.” Nietzsche’s fame, however, is not, nor is his professed affiliation with the Christian Middle Ages, noted in The Birth of Tragedy. We find his amorous influence in the Charles Manson cult (an emblem for the flower children of the counter-culture (?), including such immortal pop idols as the late Jim Morrison), in the hip followers of Foucault, and among postmodernists. These late 20th century (sex-obsessed) cultists were preceded by the Nietzsche followers in the earlier 20th century, George Bernard Shaw for one. Nietzsche’s Supermen were later made notorious in the Leopold and Loeb case that was dramatized in the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Rope.

I was first introduced to Nietzsche in the works translated by existentialist Walter Kaufmann, who tried to rehabilitate him from charges of proto-Nazism and antisemitism, explaining in one postwar essay that Nietzsche separated Jesus from the Jews, finding them antithetical. I find it incomprehensible how he could have failed to notice this passage from Genealogy of Morals, aphorism VII:

[Nietsche, transl. Francis Golffing:] As we all know, priests are the most evil enemies to have—why should this be so? Because they are the most impotent. It is their impotence which makes their hate so violent and sinister, so cerebral and poisonous. The greatest haters in history—but also the most intelligent haters—have been priests. Beside the brilliance of priestly vengeance all other brilliance fades. Human history would be a dull and stupid thing without the intelligence furnished by its impotents. Let us begin with the most striking example. Whatever else has been done to damage the powerful and great of this earth seems trivial compared with what the Jews have done, that priestly people who succeeded in avenging themselves on their enemies and oppressors by radically inverting all their values, that is, by an act of the most spiritual vengeance. This was a strategy entirely appropriate to a priestly people in whom vindictiveness had gone most deeply underground. It was the Jew who, with frightening consistency, dared to invert the aristocratic value equations good/noble/powerful/beautiful/happy/favored-of-the-gods and maintain, with the furious hatred of the underprivileged and impotent, that “only the poor, the powerless, are good; only the suffering, sick, and ugly, truly blessed. But you noble ones will be, to all eternity, the evil, the cruel, the avaricious, the godless, and thus the cursed and damned!”…it was the Jews who started the slave revolt in morals; a revolt with two millennia of history behind it, which we have lost sight of today simply because it is has triumphed so completely. [end, Nietzsche quote]

This was the translation ordered by professors who taught my daughter while she was in graduate school, studying with leftist superstars Samuel Weber and Jacques Derrida.

It is but a short step from Nietzsche’s verdict on “the Jews” to social democracy and the aristocratic principle that seems to reign in the elitism of (anticommunist) social democracy, in the celebrity-worship of mass culture, and in sectors of the far Right that blame “commie Jews” for all their woes. Such is the persistent influence of the Aryan Christ. Indeed, an Eric Gill sculpture of the Christ with his whip graces one of the reading rooms in the William Andrews Clark Jr. library in Los Angeles–the same library that houses a sizeable Gill collection.

Christ and the Money-Changers 1919 Eric Gill 1882-1940 Tate Library

Christ and the Money-Changers 1919 Eric Gill 1882-1940 Tate Library

May 5, 2015

What is “context” and how is it relevant to the Pamela Geller flap?

Context-is-king-1024x7681Lots of pundits, bloggers, and non-writers have been talking about free speech and the affronts to it. The occasion for all this jabber is the event managed by activist Pamela Geller and her event at Garland, Texas, that resulted in the death of two would-be invading Islamist gunmen.

Some commentators have complained that the drawing of a cartoon of Mohammed was provocative and incendiary, while others have vigorously defended untrammeled free speech, let the chips fall.

I am most concerned with the widespread notion that we actually have free speech and exercise it at will. That is one subject on this blog. (https://clarespark.com/2015/01/12/what-free-speech/.)

But I am also amazed by William J. Donahue’s statement on Fox News Channel, referring to the larger “context” of Geller’s alleged provocation.  (He had already written about angry Muslims earlier this year with respect to the bombing of the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris: http://www.catholicleague.org/muslims-right-angry/.)

Donahue as posted by Daily Kos

Donahue as posted by Daily Kos

As I have described here before, the once fact-based profession of history has been taken over by postmodernists, who, following Hayden White, view all published history as “literature.” I myself have advanced the observation that we are “prisoners of our contexts,” (https://clarespark.com/2014/12/18/rape-culture/), though I would never go so far as the postmodernists by throwing out all science as a swindle insofar as it affects “objectivity.”

As I discovered when first conducting my Melville research, finding the relevant context for artists and their critics (or for our own cherished beliefs) is a challenge. For instance, Freudians will focus on Melville’s family situation; Marxists will scrutinize him for class, racial, and gender prejudices; “progressives” attempting to co-opt both Freud and Marx will, and have, looked at his family very selectively, and then will praise him to the extent that they believe that he generally reflects their own “moderation.” If they have to suppress documents that contradict progressive notions, they will do that too. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/06/10/herman-melville-dead-white-male/.) And the preferred “moderate” position is “multiculturalism” for it keeps us divided and racism and collective categories are  intact,. (See https://clarespark.com/2011/03/28/index-to-multiculturalism-blogs/.)

The relevant context for the Pamela Geller/free speech flap is “multiculturalism”. No one sees this, for the assumption is either that Geller is a “hater” who “incites” Muslims, or, conversely, that we have untrammeled free speech and we must go to the wall on its behalf, lest we betray the First Amendment.

This latter position ignores case law, and worse, often reads back into English history the precedents for free speech, ignoring that the common law originated in medieval times when perfect obedience to orders and personages above oneself in the Great Chain of Being was taken for granted. Kings, Popes, and the nobility were at constant war with one another over conflicting rights, but the notion that peasants and townspeople should enjoy the same privileges was unheard of.

Get used to it, readers. The progressive bourgeoisie and growing mass literacy brought us such free speech as we currently enjoy, and “free speech” has always been contested by special interests that want freedom of expression for their own causes, but would deny it to their adversaries.

Do academics enjoy free speech and academic freedom, as they proudly proclaim? It depends on their superiors. As sociologist Stephen Turner has observed over and over, all scholarship is subsidized. But even if academics could get jobs based on pure merit and objective criteria, we would still be faced with our own limitations. As the lady said, we are to some unknowable extent, all prisoners of our contexts (personal and institutional).

Herman Melville would agree with me.


November 2, 2014

“The Affair” and the Country versus the City


[Update 12-14-2015: there were minor errors in my first impressions of this series, which got a Golden Globes award for Drama after the first season. 1. The murder victim is Cole’s brother, Scottie, a junkie. 2. Alison’s baby died of drowning (hence the pervasive water images). 3. Alison has become a symbol of the persistent attraction of small town life, and has gone darker, as has Noah. 4. Oscar (the red-headed Jew (?) is apparently the father of Alison’s baby owing to an impulsive one-night stand. 4. The most favorable characters are now the discarded spouses, Helen and Cole. Indeed, Maura Tierney (Helen) has been nominated for a Golden Globes Award, which she will probably win. To conclude: the 1960s turn to primitivism (in emotion, hence in closeness to “Nature”  is probably the most obvious theme of this (anti-modern) series.]

Showtime has a new drama series about two married persons living in Montauk (one is vacationing there) that I would thought would be no more than the usual soft porn directed at a middle class cable audience, but it is more interesting than that.

Here are the features that I find indicative of current politics:

First, the hero (“Noah Soloway,” played by Dominic West), a writer with one published work of fiction to his name, has married above his socio-economic class and must cope with bourgeois, success-driven in-laws, an intelligent wife (Maura Tierney) and four children. His successful father-in-law is also a writer, but a best seller author who taunts him. His mother-in-law, also outspoken and nasty, calls him a [loony] “idealist” in front of the protagonist’s family.


Second, the anti-hero has a meeting with his wife’s father’s agent (arranged by dad), in which he telegraphs the theme of the series: it will about the decline of “the American pastoral” and the struggle to preserve small town values in the face of modernization and urbanization. In the end, the married protagonist will kill his small-town lover. That alone interests the agent.

Third, there is a mystery: the female lover’s boss wants to put a bowling alley next to his diner; “Cole” (played by Joshua Jackson) the husband of the Ruth Wilson character (“Alison Lockhart,” a bereaved parent whose son has recently died, perhaps of cancer), makes a substantial speech at a town meeting that is considering the over-commercialization of Montauk and the subsequent loss of “community.” At this point, we suspect that someone has murdered Cole (probably the upwardly mobile avatar of “progress”), for the two lovers are being interrogated by a detective, and a male murder victim is mentioned. Since Alison is present, and mentions missing “him” the suspense does not lie in who killed whom.


Fourth, each episode is divided in half. The first half describes events mostly from “Noah’s recollection, while the second half is told from the woman’s perspective. They are drastically different, with Noah recalling the sexual aggressiveness of his partner in deception, while Alison has much more on her mind, namely politics and her grief. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Affair_(TV_series).

Clearly, Showtime is run by progressives, who demonstrate their postmodern, hip commitments by criticizing the intact heterosexual family and showing the subjectivity of “perspectivism.” In addition to class and gender struggle, some nudity and forbidden sex, we have the critique of progress. Indeed, one of the characters sneers at the thought of Montauk turning into Easthampton.

And are not these identical themes being played out in our current political struggle for the US Senate? And it will be the redneck diner owner (“Oscar” played by Darren Goldstein) who probably did the dirty deed: how dare he strive for “development?”

June 1, 2014

The Hunger Games trilogy: reactionary and postmodern

Catching_Fire_Katniss_Everdeen_WallpaperI am going to try not to have any spoilers in this blog, so will be more general in my critique than usual.

I have now read all three volumes of Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, at the request of my daughter Jenny who studied with Jacques Derrida and Samuel Weber, champion promoters of postmodernism. It was she who made the connection between the film version of The Hunger Games and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, especially in its posing of the question “Real or Fake?”

Before this latest read, I had thought primarily of the anticapitalist, antimodern aspect of postmodernism: its emphasis on indeterminacy/uncertainty, the fallibility of the human senses, its critique of science as a bourgeois plot to snare the unwary mass man and woman (misappropriating Thomas Kuhn), but above all its assault on the ordinary, overly credulous reader of “texts.” And for the “pomo” everything is a text to be “deconstructed” for the purpose of revealing the silences of official language, the relevant clues pushed to the margins or entirely submerged. I find postmodern theory useful in many cases; see https://clarespark.com/2013/09/08/postmodernism-cultural-pluralism-and-the-will-to-power/–retitled “Reading between the lines.” Also https://clarespark.com/2014/08/07/modernity-versus-modernism/.

Postmodernists believe they are enablers of the voices that have been submerged by official inhuman modern cultures—worshippers of consumerism and nature-killing technology. Hence their primitivism, celebration of the archaic and/or tradition (potlatches!), including the empirical wisdom of hunting societies, but also peasant cunning and use of herbal remedies for injuries and disease, and above all the celebration of Greek popular culture as I laid out here: https://clarespark.com/2010/06/15/the-classics-as-antidote-to-science-education/.

Especially read this paragraph:”Think of the good king, the paternalistic welfare state, the touching loyalty of its servants, fatalism, magic, the intervention of wise god figures in daily life (grey-eyed Athena or a wise Latina), superheroes, shape-changing creatures, gorgeous tall women and men, the glitter of gold and silver along with artisanal triumphs designed for the aristocracy, the increasing blending of gymnastics with dance, but most of all, the aestheticization of violence that Walter Benjamin described as the culture of fascism and Nazism in his famous defense of modern mass media “The Work of Art in the Era of Mechanical Reproduction.” Writing at the same time as Freeman and Crossman, Benjamin declared that such artists as Marinetti had glorified war to the point where humanity was contemplating its own destruction as an aesthetic experience. What would Benjamin have said about the humanizing beauty of Odysseus’s slaughter of the suitors and the female slaves who had slept with them?– A slaughter that left the poet in awe of the “lion” figure of Odysseus, covered as he was with the blood and gore of his enemies.”

Has not Suzanne Collins aestheticized violence in her trilogy? And why do so many of our young people live without hope, expecting to die young?

During the second wave of feminism, there was a strong tendency on behalf of matriarchy and Amazon- or Goddess worship: the long-dead and discredited Bachofen was de rigueur in some circles. The left feminists thought that goddesses were bogus and reactionary, but to the extent that the audience for The Hunger Games is “feminist,” it is the goddess-worshipping counter-cultural tendency that has prevailed.

Suzanne Collins, a Roman Catholic and an admirer of Greek antiquity, the daughter of an officer in the Viet Nam war, probably set out to write a dystopian novel attacking war, income inequality, and modern mind-control, in the spirit of Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty Four. But she has instead arguably added to modern paranoia, and undermined the confidence of the ordinary people she ostensibly wishes to protect, like the Übermenschen (Gale, Peeta, and Katniss), oddly (given the multicultural times we live in), all white people of apparently Northern European extraction. (And who are the agricultural workers in District 11, obviously all black people, like Katniss’s pet “Rue”?)

By naming the President of the rebels “Coin,” Collins takes her place among petit-bourgeois populists of the past.

Prometheus, once the friend of humanity, is vanquished, along with world-destroying and Nazified industrial capitalism: Oh so “Green” Katniss Everdeen has taken their places. Has anyone noticed that the novels and movies are culture war events that deserve our close attention, especially as its target audience won’t know how to read its sub-text? For more on reactionary nostalgia see https://clarespark.com/2014/05/03/elie-kedouries-nationalism-am-i-stumped/ (retitled “The Good Old Days”).

The author in her favorite color

The author in her favorite color

May 8, 2014

Index to blogs on postmodernism and its spawn

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 6:20 pm
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Frank Gehry's Stata Center, MIT

Frank Gehry’s Stata Center, MIT

The following was just distributed by a discussion group involving art historians in academe. It is the latest startling move from the academic counter-culture. Apparently, postmodernism is out. The author seems to conflate postmodernism with “interdisciplinary” cultural studies/multiculturalism, preferring the [sacrificial?] gestures of mystical minimalism, a refutation of all Romantic tendencies in favor of neoclassical Order/simplicity/reductiveness– a value system that George Mosse associated with fascism.
Here is the confused (?) and anonymous call for papers:

“Neomodernism is a term in philosophy that describes the critique of modernism as promoting both universalism and human rights; the relativism of the one is said to contradict the universality assumed in the other. Neomodernism is also a term used by architects to describe sleek, contemporary skyscrapers and office complexes. In sound art, Neomodernism names an emerging generation of musicians committed to “sound-in-itself,” to abstraction, reduction, and self-reference; it makes perceptual links to the visual arts and particularly the minimalism of Mark Rothko, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, and James Turrell. Literary criticism—which has long recognized the NeoVictorian in contemporary fiction as a nostalgic return to the nineteenth century, its aesthetic principles, and moral sensibilities,—has no complementary understanding of a current fictional return to the early twentieth century. Neomodernism offers a conceptual alternative to the postmodern designation and indicates continuity in aesthetic principles across the twentieth century and into the present. This panel will explore the aesthetic, philosophical, historical, or ethical principles the Neomodern might express.”

The notion that modernists promoted “both universalism and human rights” is peculiar, and refutes Western civilization entirely. I saw modernists as mostly irrationalist, antiwar and primitivist, as theorists of decadence brought about by the feminization of culture as men left the traditional peasant households for white collar or industrial jobs during and after the Industrial Revolution. As for human rights, they are the West’s proudest achievement but the subversiveness of “rights” as a quality inhering in individuals (against arbitrary and tyrannical States), is not acknowledged by these pseudo-radicals.

To be sure, postmodernism rejected the 19th century turn toward realism and naturalism—creations of the despised hypocritical bourgeoisie and their science or technology that had ostensibly mechanized the world. The art historians who wrote this call for papers got the critique of Neo-Victorianism right.

But as for postmodernism promoting universalism, that is just plain wrong. The pomos are radical subjectivists, and insist that all knowledge is local and “historically contingent”—that means we are entirely prisoners of our context and that the past is unknowable. To be anti-bourgeois and anti-intellectual at the same time, is to be populist and entirely petit-bourgeois.

Nicolai Soren Goodich, "Anamnesis & Aporia"

Nicolai Soren Goodich, “Anamnesis & Aporia”

Here are a few of my prior blogs explicating the very hip, yet reactionary, ideas promoted by Michel Foucault and his voluble followers (including Judith Butler):
https://clarespark.com/2013/09/08/postmodernism-cultural-pluralism-and-the-will-to-power/ (retitled “Reading between the lines”)

Frank Gehry: Walt Disney Music Hall, Los Angeles

Frank Gehry: Walt Disney Music Hall, Los Angeles

May 3, 2014

The Good Old Days

good-old-days-276x300[This is the second blog on Elie Kedourie: see https://clarespark.com/2014/04/09/disastrous-nationalisms-the-kedourie-version/, written before the second reading of his book.]
Usually I blog about subjects I understand well and can analyze with some clarity, but I admit to being at a loss to explain why arch-conservative intellectual historian and social theorist Elie Kedourie’s famous book Nationalism (1960) is considered to be a classic in the field of intellectual history. Nor can I explain why Blackwell Press (in the UK) brought out a fourth expanded edition (1993), for Blackwell is a publisher I associate with the Left: indeed they published Thomas Picketty’s Capital, which has lefties in a tizzy, calling Piketty the new Marx. “Everyone is talking about it.”

Kedourie’s book bears all the imprints of the reactionary: he blames the French Revolution for giving ordinary persons the notion that they could reject authority, even secede from or overturn despotic states; he loathes Romanticism as demonic; he prefers the catch as catch can “order” of the Middle Ages (and antiquity?) to modernity—even the “balance of power” is attributed to the sensible compromises that medieval dynasties/royal families were ostensibly prone to; he loathes John Locke’s empiricism, aligning himself with Kant’s radical subjectivism (anticipating postmodernist claims that “all knowledge is local”?); the invention of the printing press was a disaster for Order, as were the Industrial Revolution, machines in general, and the economic determinism they spawned; and the notion of the modern woman working outside of her traditional role is foreign to his mind-set. As for cities, they are home solely to anomie.

On the other hand, he attacks German philology and the notion of national character advanced by the Germans Herder and Fichte, leading, he says to Hitler’s deadly super-nationalism; he blames the settlement following the Great War for disturbing local communities and carving out artificial states that made no sense to either Central Europeans or to the Middle East. (I agree with this critique, and have traced cultural nationalism myself in numerous blogs on this website. But how odd is it that Kedourie uses the word “race” as if these races were real in the world, and not socially constructed: there goes his implicit critique of “multiculturalism”!)

For admirers of England and American constitutionalism, he blames neither the Reformation, the English Civil War, nor the American Revolution as contributing to the chaos he limns throughout his book.

It appears that democracy is his target, but not rule by a flexible hereditary elite. What leaves me bewildered is his affection for primitives on some pages (they comprise authentic communities and should not be disturbed by modernizers), while on other pages primitivism feeds into “nationalism” through the development of distinctive languages that embody popular “feeling”.

In the good old days that Kedourie admires, ordinary people went about their artisanal business and put up with whatever elites dished out: religion bound peasants to monarchs and the status quo (for more on the excellencies of this social bond, see https://clarespark.com/2010/02/10/a-brooding-meditation-on-intimacy-and-distance/). I give up and am open to comments that explain how an apparent anti-statist can appeal to a distinctively left-wing publishing house–unless the hidden agenda is a defense of Islamic principles. The target of Kedourie’s wrath may be “Jewish nationalism” as embodied in “the Zionist state.” See http://zioncon.blogspot.com/2007/07/yoav-gelber-disease-of-post-zionism.html.

Unless, as Ralph Nader rejoices in his latest book, Left and Right have not only converged, but their marriage is part of a historic political realignment where statist leftism gets thrown out the window.

March 6, 2014

Crises: real and manufactured

MAD“What, me worry?” Someone looked up this blog, written last year on the D-Day anniversary. https://clarespark.com/2013/06/06/morale-in-the-time-of-crisis-overload/. D-Day, 6 June, 1944, was a true crisis, not a mass media manufactured one. This blog is about both real crises and those emergencies that are ideological in origin.

Giving too much weight to crises that are not “real” can affect physical and mental health, not to speak of where we should put our primary efforts in coping with problems, both personal and social. I got the idea for this blog after reading all of “U” a periodical put out by the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Although positive in outlook, this important public health magazine is worried about the size of the Baby Boomer generation and the shortage of trained physicians who understand the needs of geriatric patients that is likely to result. It should be mentioned that this is a generally liberal magazine, optimistically progressive, reformist in tone, and certainly not alarmist, as they support ACA without reservation, including a warning about the pointless excessive cost of end of life critical care (i.e., death panels are not mentioned). As good multicultural liberals, they write to everyone (including veterans with PTSD and brain injuries), celebrating both recent discoveries in medicine (e.g. the Genome project, genetic sources of schizophrenia), and the healing power of “faith” and “happiness.”

And as good liberals, they published a letter from a doctor irate with the notion that faith heals, as opposed to science. But that letter is immediately followed by another celebrating faith and spirituality. There is no problem with the marketplace of ideas at UCLA, not here at least.

The rest of this blog lists some emergencies that I, from the distance of my years, can identify as real crises. Some are personal, some are social in origin. All affect personal and public health. As one example of a manufactured crisis, think of “anxiety and depression.” What sane person is not anxious and depressed given the real intertwined crises listed below in capital letters.


True of false? According to Marxist-Leninist theory, capitalism is in a permanent state of crisis, being a “weak and unstable system” [Hyman Minsky’s diagnosis]. For lefties I have known, such an emphasis on the past and future crises (that either should have led to socialism/communism, or are guides for future action, sans errors), can lead to a carelessness or minimizing of personal crises: the ageing and death of parents, divorces, troubled attachments to lovers, families and children. Such persons, it has been widely observed, are living in hopes of a future utopia, not a past Golden Age, as reactionaries do. Their Leninist critiques of the present tend to be framed as “will it advance the working-class revolution?”, or will this or that movement advance such disasters as “false consciousness” allegedly caused by mass media and consumerism. Or, they may infiltrate reformist groups such as environmentalism, in order to turn “Greens” into Reds. Such tactics can lead to alarm over irreversible climate change, an alarm that is intended to delegitimize current types of energy usage. Or, and this is the worst: leftists have bonded with Islamic jihadists on the theory that they are correct to destroy “imperialist” Israel.

Here are some crises that should receive more attention from those of us who give at least lip service to capitalism as either social democrats, neocons, libertarians, or conservatives. Each of these has preoccupied me for the last four or five years on the website. I will not attempt to specify the causes of the intertwined crises that I have emphasized, but I have no love for the progressive activist reading of the “living” Constitution.


*By including “the administered state” I do not imply that concern with progressive statism is not a crisis, but that it is the source of  most of the other crises as listed. In this I am following Richard Epstein’s new book The Classical Liberal Constitution: The Uncertain Quest for Limited Government (Harvard UP, 2014). By including “postmodernism” I am agreeing with Epstein’s claim that all text are not inherently ambiguous, hence unresponsive to interpretation. This postulate of his is more significant than many would imagine.

February 22, 2014

Healthy Skepticism

noimageThis blog is about healthy skepticism versus the sort of philosophical skepticism that is blatantly nihilistic and/or reactionary. In writing this piece, I am immersed in rereading my favorite passages in Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade (1857). Like most of his other works, the theme of the book is protest against the rule of the moderate man of the Enlightenment. Even another “Captain Ahab” makes an early, but brief appearance as a wooden-legged scoffer at the masquerades of the multiform confidence men who dot the book. These con artists are shape shifters, and include “Black Guinea, the herb doctor, the cosmopolitan, and more. The theme is “No Trust.”

What we are to distrust (says Melville) is the moderate Enlightenment theme of cosmic benevolence, and the very idea of progress from pre-industrial to market societies, where everyone wears a mask (role-playing) and bamboozles his or her victims. I remember the art critic Harold Rosenberg lauding this particular Melville text in the late 1940s, perhaps as his sour response to the weakly resisted Holocaust, the latter surely an example of an absent deity and the depraved indifference of humanity writ large. He read the text with understanding of its allover trajectory of nihilism and abandonment in an empty universe. Such are the ways of nihilism, a popular artistic theme in the immediate period following WW2. What do I think of this trend, still extant today? davidhume To a large extent, we are all prisoners of our particular families, personal and world histories. I will give “the new historicists” that. What is the engaged citizen supposed to do, given the imprisonment in specific contexts? Should we all turn ourselves into the figure of Pierrot, the spectator, who comments, but with blood on his hands because of his passivity? (For a picture of Picasso’s immobilized seated Pierrot of 1918, and a collage linking antisemitism and misogyny see https://clarespark.com/2009/10/24/murdered-by-the-mob-moral-mothers-and-symbolist-poets-2/.) Melville went back and forth on this question: sometimes roaring as the unmasker of frauds, sometimes soothing himself with reveries that returned him to the perfectly happy family.

[David Hume on moderation, History of England, Vol.8, pp 310-311, jousting with Locke:] “The Whig party, for a course of near seventy years, has, almost without interruption, enjoyed the whole authority of government; and no honors or offices could be obtained but by their countenance and protection. But this event, which in some particulars has been advantageous to the state, has proved destructive to the truth of history, and has established many gross falsehoods, which it is unaccountable how any civilized nation could have embraced with regard to its domestic occurrences. Compositions the most despicable, both for style and matter, have been extolled, and propagated, and read; as if they had equaled the most celebrated remains of antiquity. And forgetting that a regard to liberty, though a laudable passion, ought commonly to be subordinated to a reverence for established government, the prevailing faction has celebrated only the partisans of the former, who pursued as their object the perfection of civil society, and has extolled them at the expense of their antagonists, who maintained those maxims that are essential to its very existence. But extremes of all kinds are to be avoided; and though no one will ever please either faction by moderate opinions, it is there we are most likely to meet with truth and certainty.”

And why not embrace the manipulative moderates, rejecting Locke and empiricism as Hume did, to his everlasting glory in the political ruling class? Few of us have the inner strength and indomitable will to escape the prisons of our contexts, to strip ourselves and our institutions of pretense. And so we fail. Back in the days when I was friends with leftists, I remember reading that it was the task of each generation to determine what was possible, given the times, to accomplish something that would advance human liberation.  I still think that is a noble aspiration, and grown-up too, for only chiliasts and other apocalyptic thinkers and actors would imagine immediate utopian outcomes to our efforts at understanding the world with a modicum of accuracy. The point of this blog: to be skeptical of pretenses to expert knowledge, but, after much investigation, to make a stand for empiricism and  self-discovery, for human mental and physical health, even though present pressures and future developments could render our decisions flawed and ignorant. But not to succumb to utter nihilism, as Melville did during a difficult period in his own life, lived in a transition from a pre-industrial world to a new world that seemingly rewarded only frauds and phonies.

[From Moby-Dick:] “Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure.  Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks.  Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began.

     Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself?  For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half-known life.  God keep thee!  Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!”(Northwestern-Newberry edition, 363-364). Has Ahab seized the narration, or is it the survivor/spectator Ishmael who warns against knowledge of the self that could estrange him from the family of origin? Or is the narrator saying that to discover that we don’t know ourselves is an unbearable horror?

Pierrot can and should bend the bars of his prison to escape, at least for the moment. We should know when we bite our tongues, and forgive ourselves for not always speaking or writing what we most deeply feel and think. I feel an Ishmael writing here.

Lipschitz, Pierrot Escapes

Lipschitz, Pierrot Escapes

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