Saturday, December 07, 2013

Well, If I Don't Say Nothing, You Say Now Tell Us What to Do

Issac Chotiner:

But Gray’s largest problem is that he offers nothing positive to hold onto, no reason why we should or shouldn’t act in any way, other than to avoid some of the excesses he scorns. He gives no insight into what he values or cherishes, or why. I can’t recall a person who has written so much about ideological commitment, and yet who draws no lesson beyond: look at the waste and tragedy.

His largest problem? Chotiner outlines several issues one could fairly have with Gray's ideas, but this is absurd. This is a personal gripe, not a philosophical shortcoming. I know very well from experience that it can be annoying to hear incisive criticism of ideas for which you have a soft spot. If you hear such criticisms frequently from the same source, it's all-too-human to want to personalize your annoyance, to wonder who the hell this arrogant fucker is who keeps talking about how this and that is misguided and mistaken, to want to ask: oh yeah, well, what would you do differently, smart guy? Luckily, I recognize such peevishness for what it is and concentrate on whether the ideas are true or useful, regardless of the possible personal shortcomings of the source. There is a long, rich tradition of wisdom being expressed "negatively", where, like sculpting, the aim is to reveal by chipping away at the material. Some forms of teaching involve removing the perceptual and conceptual excess rather than adding more layers of it. Calling it "ideological" to refuse on principle to replace one ideology with another is just semantics. Like Arthur said about Nietzsche, those who want to become lawgivers end up setting themselves in stone along with their commandments; history will keep flowing and pass them by.