YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

March 8, 2014

“America is in decline”: cui bono?

decadencemeaninglessnessFirst read these: https://clarespark.com/2011/04/03/progressives-the-luxury-debate-and-decadence/, and https://clarespark.com/2012/09/22/materialist-history-and-the-idea-of-progress/.

Would be rescuing heroes love the idea that an “America in decline” desperately requires their services to lift “America” out of the Slough of Despond.* These malefactors could be politicians or pundits. Each has its intertwined sets of villains: creeping fascism, laws legalizing marijuana, gay rights (especially flamboyant parades and gay marriage), uppity feminists, the “do-nothing” Republican establishment, hip-hop culture that destroys the black family, modern technology that harnesses us to “the machine”, noisy atheists and other “haters” out to get “Christianity”– hence the heart and soul of American [Christian?] identity.

The most interesting item in this turn toward pessimism and fear of “weakness” is the widespread premise that America was once a “superpower.” The same persons may tell us to read Jean-François Revel, who complained that America did not fight the Cold War hard enough. See https://clarespark.com/2011/04/09/jean-francois-revel-and-father-mapple/. (Would the US ever had been a superpower had not Europe destroyed itself in the follies of two world wars? Is our power to be defined in military might or in industrial capacity, respect for entrepreneurship and the work ethic, science/technology, encouragement of intellectual and cultural diversity (the marketplace of ideas), and natural resources?)

supermanentrepreneur

As far as I can tell, “power” is a contested term, so argued over and vague that it is almost useless in ordinary conversation. What is it, who has it, who wants it, and how do we measure it? Unlike the powerful followers of Michel Foucault and the postmodernists for whom all texts are ambiguous, I go with the Frances Bacon definition “knowledge is power.” Bacon was an empiricist and a father to the scientific revolution and thus the confidence-builder for ordinary people wanting to improve their mastery of the self, the world and its institutions. (Nothing that I have written here should indicate that I approve of Obama’s and Kerry’s weakness in the face of real threats from communist nations, Islamic jihadists, or antisemites. National security is crucial, while personal emotional identification with an aggressive dictatorship is despicable.)

It is my view, constantly reiterated on this website, that European aristocrats and their social democratic offspring (see https://clarespark.com/2011/07/16/disraelis-contribution-to-social-democracy/) have indulged in psychological warfare to bind “the lower orders” to views that undermine knowledge and the habits that spur competence. These aristocratic radicals have created the pseudo-progressive movement with its dire view of the paranoid people (see https://clarespark.com/2009/08/24/the-people-is-an-ass-or-a-herd/), popular unteachability, and indecipherable documents from the past. Meanwhile “experts” have offered “compassion” and the informed “heart”) i.e., self-control and social control as the best methods to govern the unruly masses. Similarly, they have demoralized ordinary people with proclamations of decadence and decline, apocalyptic fantasies, escapism and pervasive death imagery (horror movies and “Romantic necrophilia” for instance).

opheliaimitator

The same miscreants deceptively align themselves with “science” but fail to define their terms; they support unlimited government (and all institutional) secrecy, so that ordinary people are deprived of the facts and skills that enable them to test their “betters.” In my playbook, all political factions are scaredy cats. Why do “conservatives” lobby for local control, while failing to address the curriculum that could enable their children to test all authority, including their own? Why do “progressives” deflect the curiosity of their children into channels that do not threaten the authority of their own world view?

Why will health care professionals, parents, and all teachers not agree that the search for truth is superior to “adjustment” to a misery-making and unhealthy status quo? With all the chatter around socialized medicine or the ACA, why are not the questions I have posed more widely publicized and addressed?

* I do not mean to imply that there are no problems in American society. I reject the notion that a cultural entity called “America” is “in [irreversible] decline.” Compare to Richard Epstein’s concrete specifying of problems that he would correct with a classical liberal constitutionalist approach to what are now “progressive” “solutions.” From the “Conclusion” to The Classical Liberal Constitution (Harvard UP, 2014, p. 569): “The motivation for [my] argument should be apparent from the major disarray that infects every area of modern American life: steady decline in the average standard of living; constant battles over debt limits and fiscal cliffs; uncertainty over key elements of the tax structure; massive overregulation of the most productive sources in society (health care and financial services); government-inspired brinksmanship in labor negotiations; and runaway redistribution programs that undercut the economic production that makes these programs viable.” (See http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674724891)

Professor Epstein has responded by email to my blog as follows: “You raise some hard and fair issues. There is no doubt that most people in this country work hard, have decent values, do actions that help advance their welfare and that of those around them.  It is indeed the politics that draws the situation down.  But there is little doubt that these policies from above have had their long lasting effect.  It is not that the situation is irreversible .  It is that we need to find the collective will to reverse it, which depends on taking specific measures of the sort that I talked about in the book.  It is sad that most constitutional theorists either ignore how the system runs and leave it all to Congress, or are so concerned with issues at the periphery that they pay no attention to the organization of basic systems from production to education and so on. Just think of the new NYC mayor Bill who will wreck education if he can and whose vision of the real estate market will not produce 1 percent of the new affordable units that he wants and that the city needs (but which can only come by liberalization, not by further edicts.”

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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.

REAL CRISES.

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.

DUMBING DOWN.  THE CONFUSION OF PAIN WITH PLEASURE (systemic masochism).  LOSS OF FOCUS (CHANGING THE SUBJECT). THE LEFTIST TAKEOVER OF THE HUMANITIES AND MASS MEDIA. USE OF THE INTERNET TO FIND PARANOID CONSPIRACY THEORIES OR TO VENT RAGE. COUNTER-ENLIGHTENMENT/ANTI-SCIENCE. POSTMODERNISM. NEEDLESS POLARIZATION. NONCHALANCE and DROPPING OUT. THE ADMINISTERED STATE.* MULTICULTURALISM/IDENTITY POLITICS. INDIFFERENCE TO TERRORIST THREAT FROM ISLAMIC JIHADISM.

*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.

April 16, 2011

Index to Ayn Rand blogs

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 2:35 pm
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Note that these blogs are not unqualified endorsements of Ayn Rand. I am trying to understand her social critique in light of her personal experience with Soviet Communism. For a view more consistent with my own, see the writings of legal theorist Richard Epstein, who understands that government regulation is at times appropriate, but must be designed with great caution and constantly tested.  For this reason, I especially recommend the blog on We The Living, which tells you more about the young Rand and the Soviet Union’s “totalitarianism” than any other work of hers. But I have reread all three blogs, and they are well worth your time, if you want to resist collectivist propaganda.

https://clarespark.com/2011/01/12/ayn-rands-we-the-living/

https://clarespark.com/2011/01/04/railroading-ayn-randalissa-rosenbaumdagny-taggart/

https://clarespark.com/2010/12/29/ayn-rands-rational-modernism/.

April 3, 2011

Progressives, the luxury debate, and decadence

Thos. Cole, The Course of Empire: Destruction, 1836

Our nation is currently embroiled in a turmoil over finances, the debt, and the potential fall of the  American Republic, indeed, of the West itself. This blog sketches contrasting theories of progress and decadence. The purpose is to identify the eclectic character of history as written by the Progressives and their progeny. I propose that there are three primary schools of interpretation: one is entirely religious, and two are secular, but are not identical. All three are infused with what historians call “the luxury debate,” the secularism debate, and the danger of cities.

1. Many Christians take the position that there was a Golden Age in Eden before Eve ate of the Apple. Since that fatal bite, the world is fallen, and all hopes for amelioration are transferred to Paradise. The world we inhabit is a vale of tears and we “see through a glass, darkly.” The author Hilaire Belloc was of this view, and, like other ultra-Catholics, fixated his attention on the Crucifixion as the moment when Christ’s passion  purified humanity of its sins, promising a better place for the faithful after death. Arthur Lovejoy’s book, The Great Chain of Being, spelled out the Platonic-Christian world view very clearly. If an historian is known by the ability to distinguish between change and continuity through the accumulation of empirical evidence, then such “periodization” is irrelevant within this anti-materialist world view. See my blog on Nicholas Boyle for an example: https://clarespark.com/2009/07/04/unfinished-revolutions-and-contested-notions-of-identity/.

2.  In the eighteenth century, Volney and others (Vico, earlier) dramatically intervened in the conservative Christian world-view with the cyclical view of history. That secular and “scientific” view is illustrated in Thomas Cole’s famous series The Course of Empire. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Course_of_Empire.) Cole’s bleak prognosis remains the preferred interpretation for organic conservatives who liken the course of history to the life cycles of plants (Goethe, for instance). A seed germinates, flourishes, then drops to the mold. Similarly, a warrior class is feminized by excessive love of luxury, and fails to maintain its defenses, hence  is invaded by warrior-barbarians, is destroyed, and we are left with romantic  ruins only. Such was the vision of those who posited a sequence of inevitable stages in the history of humanity. Keep in mind that “the Jews” have been seen as agents of feminization,  illicit luxury, and debauchery by such as the Nazis and New Dealers alike. Asceticism was the ticket to neoclassical order,  a point challenged by romantic Nietzsche in Genealogy of Morals.

3. With the development of capitalism and industry, innovations grounded in a scientific (materialist) and worldly view of humanity and its future, various optimistic proposals emerged before and during the American and French Revolutions. The most famous intervention was by Marx, but he was competing with various Utopians, also believers in Progress: Turgot, Condorcet, Saint-Simon, Fourier, and Comte.  But in all these cases, human nature was not fallen or doomed, but rather susceptible to changes in the environment and particularly in institutions that brought out the best in [malleable] human nature. Although the new industrial working class did not turn out to be the revolutionary class that would bring about emancipation and utopia(for Marxists), there was enough servile revolt (actually starting with the English Civil War) to implant the continued fear of the red menace in the upper classes. Their pre-emptive strategy was to make concessions to social movements originating from “below” or to attempt to co-opt them through various motions of conservative reform. The Populist-Progressive movement is the most prominent and still powerful of these tendencies in America; they were following that master strategist Bismarck, originator of social insurance even as he made the German Social Democratic Party illegal. Populist-Progressives may be found in either the Democratic or Republican Parties (the latter as “moderates”) and are spurned by “social conservatives” today.

Since the moderate men must deal with a constituency that is internally conflicted, they take pieces of earlier world-views and incorporate all of them in an incoherent and confusing mix. But mostly, they are slippery and hard to pin down, except where the Marxist-Leninist Left is concerned.  That Left is either purged or marginalized, so that current journalists can simply describe what was originally a “moderate conservative” movement as “the hard Left” fading gently into left-liberalism. State power in the service of redistributive justice unites all these tendencies—Marxist-Leninist Left and progressives alike. The moderate men support science, but attempt to halt the inevitable warfare between science and religion.  The recent British movie Creation (2009), a recounting of Darwin’s emotional struggles as he moved toward publication of The Origin of Species (1859), is one example. Yes, Darwin finally puts out into the world his completely destabilizing view of evolution and natural selection, removing God from direct interference in the plan for humanity, but he is buried with full Christian honors in Westminster Abbey. Goethe, with his Pelagian heresy (we are not fallen, there is no original sin), is memorialized throughout the progressive West as the greatest cosmopolitan intellectual ever, but Goethe’s view of human society and progress is grounded in the life of plants and follows Herder’s cultural relativism and rooted cosmopolitanism. His American utopia has no modern Jews—they lack “reverence” and “roots.”

Who then are the moderns? We are left with the classical liberals or libertarians. These thinkers, following Adam Smith, von Mises, Ayn Rand, Hayek, and the Friedmans, see competitive markets as the route to wealth creation and a better life on earth. They are worldly, but not immoralists, for some see the need for state action (see especially the legal theorist Richard A. Epstein). Their European predecessors were the “mechanical materialists” denounced by all the ultra-conservatives, faux liberals, and dialectical materialists who followed. It is this school (not necessarily united within their ranks) , who put the future in the laps of our assessing, choosing, individual selves, who reject the fatalism of Vico, Volney, or their Greek and Christian-Platonic predecessors. (For more on this subject see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/22/materialist-history-and-the-idea-of-progress/.)

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