Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Moon Yields to a Sober Sun

It was a long night for everyone
The moon yields to a sober sun
And her virgin light

Can't unsee the things I saw
Fallen devils, false gods
In the violet light

Was it always this magnificent?
'Cause it feels so different
In the morning light

Wasn't ready for what I'd find
Whatever it is has turned the knife
It was a long, long night

— Guster, "Long Night"

Nick Cohen:

In the past, people would head to the exits saying, ‘Better the centre right than the far left.’ Now they can say ‘better the centre right than the far right’. The shift of left-wing thought towards movements it would once have denounced as racist, imperialist and fascistic has been building for years. I come from a left-wing family, marched against Margaret Thatcher and was one of the first journalists to denounce New Labour’s embrace of corporate capitalism — and I don’t regret any of it. But slowly, too slowly I am ashamed to say, I began to notice that left-wing politics had turned rancid.

...In the years since What’s Left was published, I have argued that the likes of Corbyn do not represent the true left; that there are other worthier traditions opposed to oppression whether the oppressors are pro-western or anti-western. I can’t be bothered any more. Cries of ‘I’m the real left!’, ‘No I’m the real left!’ are always silly. And in any case, there is no doubt which ‘real left’ has won.

Laetitia Strauch-Bonart:

Encompassing all those thinkers under the umbrella of the New Left is inevitably limiting and doesn’t capture all the nuances of their thoughts. Some are Marxists, others Structuralists or Keynesians, still others sui generis. But they have many features in common, the first being that they represent everything that a conservative like Scruton dislikes. They have inherited from the Old Left an enduring quest for liberty and equality, without any acceptance of the possible contradictions between them. They interpret all institutions as features of domination and oppression, and their purpose is always to change everything. They see the state as the main instrument for the new order “that will rectify the ancient grievance of the oppressed”. For them, politics is everything while civil society or the rule of law doesn’t interest them much. They are utterly negative: they are often filled with resentment.

...It explains also why the New Left still manages to attract people despite the lessons of experience. It is because its ideal is not supposed to be realised: it is here to be dreamed about, and so never to be questioned. These thinkers will never describe anything practical that they wish to achieve.

...I don’t see how the New Left faithful can answer all the arguments deployed in these pages. But they are rarely asked to defend any of their views, as their prose has often been taken for granted, at least in the intellectual arena. Conservatives are always asked to justify their conception of life, to defend what already exists. The Left is rarely asked to do so, even though it wants to disrupt many things — including things that are cherished by ordinary people. Scruton has struggled with this paradox his whole life, but it is also what gives his work its exceptional character: he argues when others have left the battlefield or don’t see the point of entering it. To argue, he has to engage with the texts of his opponents, and to recognise where he agrees and disagrees with them. He argues in favour of conservative answers to the claims of the New Left, and not everyone will agree. But at least he has read his opponents, and I don’t think the contrary is true.

Ever since I read Russell Jacoby's book The End of Utopia a few years ago, I've been fascinated with the ontology of leftism. What's it all about? How has it changed over the centuries? What does it actually mean to call yourself a liberal or leftist anymore?

As always, the answer is, "It depends." I think there are certain bedrock positions that can be identified, but that's not the sort of discussion suited for this environment. At any rate, from my perspective as an American in the early 21st century, the distinctions are now more cultural than political. Most partisans are uninterested in logical quibbles over the finer points of philosophy; they're only concerned with signaling their membership in the tribe of right-thinking people. But as Cohen remarked in a different piece, it's simply untrue that you can differentiate between the righteous and the wicked based on their positions in the culture wars. Many conservatives are good, reasonable people. Many liberals and leftists are dogmatic fanatics. Both sides have been right and wrong about major issues. Political philosophy doesn't translate neatly into modern-day partisan politics in a two-party system. People are complex; t'was always thus. If these truisms sound odd to you, it's only because you've spent too long locked inside your media silo.

Of course, the condition of ''not being affected by issue [x]'' is in fact a lubricant fluid like oil in an engine: often beneath notice until the day it makes its absence known

The thing is, to see the truth of what people like Cohen and Bonart/Scruton are saying here, it's not necessary to monogamously embrace something called "conservatism"; it's enough to simply get over what Christina Hoff Sommers accurately called "the liberal fear of looking conservative". Of all the counterfeit pieces of intellectual currency being passed around online, one of the most common is the idea that liberals, throughout history, have always been in favor of whatever is good and beneficial, and conservatives have uniformly resisted changing anything, no matter how obviously broken or corrupt it is. If you don't agree with us as to the nature and severity of this problem, if you aren't willing to give us a blank check to "fix" it as we see fit, and if you are starting to suspect that we'll never be content with anything less than an unreal perfection, well, you must be one of them. Like a lot of people, I've merely encountered this fanatical attitude often enough to immunize me against its manipulative tactics.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Nothing Actual

Clement Knox:

Far from being a Vernichtungskrieg waged without mercy upon the hallowed figures of the left-wing intellectual canon, this is a remarkably evenhanded hatchet job, with Scruton staying true to the promise made in the foreword “to explain what is good in the authors I review as well as what is bad.” This commendable sense of fairness might leave some readers who came expecting blood somewhat peeved.

...Whatever one’s politics, one cannot help but admire Scruton’s willingness to subject himself to tome after tome of New Left verbiage. Some of the passages he quotes from Lacan and Deleuze are astonishingly abstruse. However, he does not excerpt them merely in order to hold them up to ridicule, but so that he can translate them, consider their merits, and then deliver his verdict. Many conservative critics would skip the first two stages; most, I imagine, would not even bother to read Lacan in the first place.

I read Scruton's book last week, and I concur. Not only was it impressively informative, the man has such a delightfully poetic way with a simile, a metaphor, a flowing paragraph. Here's my favorite examples:

"The promise of full communism is a noumenal promise, a ghostly beckoning from the Kingdom of Ends."

"(Habermas) has continued to receive accolades for books that have achieved a rare prestige in Germany, and which are printed in luxury editions for the better class of living room. Few people have read these books from cover to cover; few of those who have read them remember what they say. Nevertheless, with somewhat greater frequency than the lines of Shakespeare that fall from the monkey's typewriter, interesting ideas surface in the great waste-paper basket of Habermas's prose..."

"It is true that the metaphysical idiom of 'subject' and 'object' revitalized the rhetoric of socialism — to such an extent that 'reification' became an important cult word during May 1968 in Paris. But the subsequent discussions of the term in the New Left Review added nothing to the rhetoric except pseudo-theory: a morose prowling of the intellect around an inexplicable shrine."

"Lukács here displays the Stalinist method in its essential vacuity. With the stupid allusion to de Sade he is able to dismiss all Western political institutions in a single gesture, and to return to his favored terrain of brutalizing dichotomies: capitalism versus socialism, reaction versus revolution, bourgeois versus proletarian, Lukács versus the enemy. Safe behind such tangled barbed wire, Lukács continued to ruminate..."

"At this point a certain liturgical quality enters the writings of the Frankfurters. Incantations are uttered against the 'bourgeois' order and the thinking that stems from it, but in a changed tone of voice, indicating the proximity of mystery. Language changes character from the voice of critical theory to the exorcist's spell."

"Tedium is the vehicle of an abstract authority, and the reader waits in the corridors of Habermas's prose like a petitioner to whom truth has been promised, albeit only abstractly, on a document that is perhaps already out of date."

"As is surely apparent from that instance, the scientific idiom is no more than a twitch: a new rubber stamp which Habermas has not quite got the hang of and which he applies upside down."

"The ritual deference to Marxism is not a conclusion of the argument, which has no real conclusion, although it wheezes at a certain point to a halt."

"The axioms of Marxist theory appear in Althusser's prose like blinding flashes of total darkness, within clouds of grey on grey. This 'darkness visible' is like a photographic negative, and Althusser intimates that there is a process that will reverse it, changing light into dark and nonsense into sense. Read Capital, he insists, look on this text, look intently at it, hold it upside down, sideways, high in the air, but don't let your eyes stray from it. Then, and only then, will the great reversal occur."

"This passage indicates the ponderous, suspicion-laden circularity of Althusser's prose, which goes round and round monotonously on its own heels, like a lunatic trapped in an imaginary cage."

"It is a well-known difficulty for the materialist theory of history that, taken seriously, it seems to deny the efficacy of intellectual labor, to dismiss it as a mere epiphenomenon, a nebulous offshoot of processes over which it asserts no real influence. It is of the first importance, therefore, to give a role to 'intellectual labor' in the 'material conditions' of existence, so making it a genuine 'motive force' in history, unlike the mere 'ideology' of the bourgeois enemy. Hence the distinction between science and ideology: my thought is science, yours is ideology; my thought is Marxist (since only Marxism penetrates the veil of ideology), yours is 'idealist'; my thought is proletarian (Lukács), yours is bourgeois; my thought belongs to the 'material conditions' of production, and can be called 'theoretical praxis', your thought belongs to the false consciousness that arises like a cloud above the place where history is made. My thought is at work in the factory; yours is puffed from the chimney and dissolves into air."

"For Althusser the enemies of theoretical practice are all 'empiricists', characterized by their belief in 'abstraction'. This accusation is fired at the rationalist Descartes, the absolute idealist Hegel, and Kant, the greatest critic of empiricism. All are gathered in a common grave."

"Within Althusser's linguistic redoubt the opponent does not exist except as the darkly defined enemy, whose identity can be guessed by the boundaries from which Althusser's thought recoils into itself, undefeated, because untried in combat."

"Deleuze sometimes comes down a notch or two, in order to explain himself to the ordinary reader. But he does so in an endless stream of abstractions, from which all reference to concrete reality and the flow of human life has been removed. He does not argue, but encloses his key words in fortified boxes, which he firmly locks against all questioning before throwing the key away."

"The reader is being granted brief glimpses of a store of hidden knowledge, to which the authors have the only key. The exultant tone, which one might read as a sign of a mental disorder, shows total confidence in the revelation, displayed like a tantalizing ankle beneath a burqa."

"The monsters of unmeaning that loom in this prose attract our attention because they are built from forgotten theories, forged together in weird and ghoulish shapes, like gargoyles made from the debris of a battlefield. And always the gargoyles are sticking out their tongues at the bourgeoisie."

"But (fascism and communism) resemble each other in all other aspects, and not least in their public art, which displays the same kind of bombast and kitsch — the same attempt to change reality by shouting at the top of the voice."

"Thus to the realist who asks how, in this society of the future, conflicts are to be accommodated or resolved, Gramsci has no reply. The communist shares with the fascist an overriding contempt for opposition. The purpose of politics is not to live with opposition, but to remove it — to achieve the condition in which opposition no longer exists. The question of opposition is, though, the single most important issue in politics. Conflicts between individuals lead, by free association, to conflicts between groups to rivalries and factions that will inevitably express themselves in competitions for power. How is that competition to be managed? In particular, how is the Communist Party to respond to opposition to its rule? The Leninist prediction is that there will be no opposition, and in a sense that prediction was verified when the opposition disappeared. What else was the Cheka for?"

"The jargon here is that of a writer who has imprisoned his thought in language over which he exerts no intellectual control. While we can all guess what follows from this — that the categories of 'art' and 'the aesthetic' belong integrally to capitalist modes of production, and that they come into prominence with the manufacture of commodities for exchange — it follows with the logic of ritual, and not with the logic of argument. Only the emotional tension of the prose reminds us of the writer, shaking his fist on a dwindling horizon, as the boat of history sails out to sea."

"To rewrite bourgeois history in Marxese, as Anderson has done, is like rewriting a Haydn sonata movement with a continuous drum-roll on the dominant, so that all is infected by a premonition of catastrophe and nothing quite resolves."

"If Thompson proved occasionally so disturbing to the New Left, it is partly because of his ability to clear away the ideological junk that had been piled against the doors where such facts might enter."

"The curious thing, however, is that this woolly-minded subjectivism goes with a vigorous censorship. Those who put consensus in the place of truth quickly find themselves distinguishing the true from the false consensus. And inevitably the consensus is 'on the left'. Just why that should be so is a question that I am trying in this book to answer."

"For a while it seemed as though the whole revolutionary program was at an end...But it was just at this moment, at the turn of the twenty-first century, that the monster began to stir in the depths. And when it rose from the sea of our complacency, it spoke as Marx and Sartre had spoken, in the language of metaphysics. It pushed aside the tinsel of the consumer culture, to appear in its primordial guise, intruding into the world of phenomena like Erda in Das Rheingold, as the voice of Being itself." (Thus begins the chapter on Badiou and Zizek.)

"They suck the being from whatever they latch upon, leaving only the withered forms of destroyed reality, as they rise on vulture wings toward their next assignment. At one point Badiou, having picked up the music of Dutilleux and dropped it writhing to the ground, refers to the 'terror of the matheme'. Maybe that is what he has in mind."

"Indeed, if there were no greater reason to regret the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, the release of Zizek onto the world of Western scholarship would perhaps already be a sufficient one."

And here's the first page of the final chapter:

Question-Beggars Can't Be Choosers

Anil Dash:

How do we fix it? Simple: Hold platforms accountable. Whether it’s a big news publisher or a large social network, if we’re sharing information or ideas on a platform and are immediately overrun by abuse that threatens to silence smart conversation or the potential for meaningful connections to be made, put the burden on the platform. Instead of “Never read the comments”, we can simply say the name of the publisher, owner or CEO of the site in question, and then mention that they don’t want to invest in solving abuse on their site. If we’re being charitable, we can say they simply haven’t invested enough in preventing abuse.

But either way, the solution is about sharing the pain of online harassment with those who have the resources and the power to prevent it before it starts. Right now our tendency is to treat it like a joke, so there’s no wonder why those in charge, who don’t face the abuse dished out from the communities they host, treat online abuse like a joke too.

Well, it may be simple to invent a new slogan, but despite Dash's false advertising, it's far from clear what, exactly, tech CEOs are supposed to do to prevent people from behaving badly online. No, wait, let me amend that. The obvious implication is that commenting online should require one to provide all sorts of verifiable real-life information up front, while agreeing that anything you say can and most certainly will be used against you in the kangaroo court of public opinion. The fact that Dash avoids spelling this out explicitly is probably just due to the unpalatable optics of doing so.

I thought it was bizarre last year when Choire Sicha, in a review of Jon Ronson's book about public shaming, whined that the real problem was that tech companies aren't doing enough to protect women from being harassed online. Now, I'm seeing this as a symptom of what Jonathan Haidt described as a transition between moral cultures — our default option now is to authorize powerful overseers to protect us from all the bad people. And what will we do about the predictable, inevitable abuses of that system? I'm sure there will be a "simple" fix there as well.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

In Conversation No One Ever Remembers, I Start Thinkin' About Life on the Outside

Sean Blanda:

But this holier-than-thou social media behavior is counterproductive, it’s self-aggrandizement at the cost of actual nuanced discourse and if we want to consider online discourse productive, we need to move past this.

The post is fine, as far as it goes. Nothing in it is inaccurate. It would be better if we could all strive to live up to Spinoza's ideal and seek to understand rather than laugh, cry, or hate when confronted by people who disagree with us. But I have become increasingly convinced that the structural factors of social media make it impossible for this to happen. What I mean is, social media, by design, facilitates the absolute worst habits of communication. It's not that any misanthropic villain intended it that way; it's just the cumulative effect of all the individual elements that define the platform. Rapid-fire conversation, between groups of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people, about contentious topics, is bound to end badly. Complaining as if people just need to be disciplined enough to behave themselves online is like wandering into a crowded bar and getting frustrated that you can't start a Socratic dialogue. Nobody is there for that purpose, and even if they were, all the distractions and raucous din make it too difficult. You're misunderstanding the very nature of the social environment. If it's high-minded camaraderie you want, why do you keep hanging out in bars talking to belligerent drunks? And if it's nuanced conversation you want, why do you look for it in an environment populated by people who think within the linguistic limits of text messages?

Monday, January 25, 2016

Bourgeois Buffoon

Calvin and Hobbes

Bill Watterson was such a genius, he was satirizing stunningly stupid articles twenty-four years before they even appeared.

A Familiar Motif

In what now has become a familiar motif
Nothing is good enough
For people like you
Who have to have someone take the fall
And something to sabotage
Determined to lose it all
Ladies and gentlemen,
Here's exhibit A... 

Aimee Mann

Kathleen Geier:

For all his political virtues, Sanders has had difficulty connecting his message of economic populism to the other major social justice concerns of the modern left, such race, gender, and sexuality. And unless he overcomes these problems, he will be unable to achieve his goal of expanding beyond his base and sparking a popular mass movement.

His treatment of the reparations issue, on the other hand, is a political cock-up of the first order. Bernie’s first mistake was his failure to engage the reparations issue in any depth. He dismissed reparations as “divisive” and impractical (“its likelihood of getting through Congress is nil”). Though opposing reparations is a defensible position, discussing the issue in such thoughtless and insensitive way is distasteful.

However, politics is not only about walking the walk, it’s also about talking the talk. Unfortunately, when it comes to race and gender issues, Bernie sometimes sounds like who he is: an occasionally clueless 74-year old white guy (witness his language about paid leave as a program that would allow “mothers”—as opposed to parents—to stay home with their kids).

Sanders’s Achilles heel is that because he focuses so singlemindedly on economic inequality, he is not always able to speak to the needs and desires of the modern left, a left that is passionate not only about economic injustice but also about injustices tied to race, gender, and sexual identity and orientation. Today the left urgently needs leaders who are fully comfortable with and fluent in the politics of intersectionality...

Lucubratio (XX)

Phillip Lopate, “Hazlitt on Hating”, To Show and to Tell:

Nature seems (the more we look into it) made up of antipathies: without something to hate, we should lose the very spring of thought and action. Life would turn to a stagnant pool, were it not ruffled by the jarring interests, the unruly passions of men. The white streak in our own fortunes is brightened (or just rendered visible) by making all round it as dark as possible, so the rainbow paints its form upon the cloud. Is it pride? Is it envy? Is it force of contrast? Is it weakness or malice? But so it is, that there is a secret affinity, a hankering after evil in the human mind, and that it takes a perverse, but fortunate delight in mischief, since it is a never-failing source of satisfaction. Pure good soon grows insipid, wants variety and spirit. Pain is a bitter-sweet which never surfeits. Love turns, with a little indulgence, to indifference and disgust: hatred alone is immortal.

We can interpret this passage as representing both Hazlitt’s underlying psychology of human behavior and his aesthetics. From the psychological standpoint, he seems to be saying that the happiness we seek is not arrived at through a cessation in tension but through the proper amount of stimulation, which must be endlessly recalibrated. We go through life like an electromagnetic needle nervously agitating between the undesirable poles of alpha-flat zombie and tortured suffering, trying to find the right voltage of bracingly vivifying pleasure/pain in the middle.

Friday, January 22, 2016

No Escape from Politics

Adam Kirsch:

What escapes Losurdo is the fact that all the evils he attributes to liberals—colonialism, racism, slavery, class oppression—were overcome, after great struggles and suffering, precisely in the liberal West and nowhere else. And by the end of his book, Losurdo more or less admits that his historical critique of liberalism makes sense only according to the values of that same liberalism. His real complaint is that the most advanced progressives of eighteenth-century Europe and America did not share the moral intuitions of the average citizen of today’s West. But it was precisely the progressive energy of liberalism that is responsible for the difference. Far from retarding the movement of history, liberalism—the politics of freedom, fairness, and human rights—has been the great engine of social progress, as it gradually overcame what Losurdo calls the “exclusion clauses” that marked its origins.

Part of the strength of that liberalism has been its power of self-criticism. As Fawcett insists throughout Liberalism: The Life of an Idea, what differentiates liberalism from socialism and premodern conservatism is its conviction that there is no permanent solution to the problems of politics: “The task of containing and utilizing conflict was never over, just as the task was never over of resisting power. For liberals . . . there was no escape from politics.” This Isaiah Berlin–like conclusion means that liberalism is seldom celebratory. Today, Fawcett concludes, we may have to make do with a “liberalism of melancholy,” as we come up against environmental and economic limits to progress. The conclusion is premature. Much of the globe still lacks the freedom that the West takes for granted; and it is precisely at moments of discouragement that liberalism itself is most vulnerable to attacks from more confident and simplistic ideologies. The beleaguered tradition needs, and deserves, not just critics but celebrants.

Of the three books being reviewed here, Losurdo's is the only one I haven't read, but it sounds as worthless as most left-wing perspectives, so I doubt I'm missing much. Kirsch's article, on the other hand, was absorbing. I read the whole thing and went back for seconds and thirds. I'd recommend reading it in conjunction with the Yuval Levin article I linked to recently.

My Need Is Such, I Pretend Too Much

Marjorie Romeyn-Sanabria:

Now Coates, who recently moved to Paris and has been awarded a MacArthur genius grant, is lambasting Democratic presidential candidate hopeful Bernie Sanders for failing to tackle what Coates calls “white supremacy.” His anger has been aroused by Sanders’s sensible observation that reparations are, first and foremost, impractical. Coates reasons that much of Sanders’s platform is impractical, so why not indulge black voters one more fantasy?

Here Coates tips his hand. Coates doesn’t actually believe that Sanders can make good on any of his campaign promises, racially motivated or not, but Coates wants Sanders to earnestly pretend that he will. In other words, Coates wants Sanders, in effect, to peddle illusions. Why? What would that achieve? Haven’t black Americans had enough of being lied to? How would being lied to change anything for blacks in this country? It wouldn’t, and that’s the point. Coates does not believe things for blacks will change, even if they should. Thus Coates is validated in his narrative that blacks are perpetual victims of a vicious history.

...It’s odd that Coates expects a white man to be in charge of ending what he calls white supremacy, as opposed to appealing to Barack Obama, a black man who holds the highest office in the land. There’s a reason for that. The tickle of authenticity comes cheap. But the second Coates looks to black leadership for change, his proposals are no longer radical chic, and reality must set in. As long as words like “reparations” can float freely in columns and cocktail parties, blacks are free to project their pain, past and present, on rhetoric that serves no purpose other than to titillate the American left.

And titillation is indeed what it's all about. I almost wish I could be naïve enough to still be surprised, but here you have a genuine socialist candidate for president, one who may yet even become the nominee, and yet one of the prominent left-hipster media darlings is condemning him for his stance on a complete non-starter of an issue that would never be within his power to act upon, even should he miraculously win the election. You might think this is an insanely counter-productive tactic, the inevitable left-wing circular firing squad, and you would be half-correct — it certainly is, for anyone interested in pragmatism over posturing. If what you want, though, is a steady supply of opportunities to position yourself as a member in good standing of the moral vanguard, then it makes perfect sense. No one can ever be allowed to profane your purity by speaking of the need for practicality or compromise. For people like Coates and his dime-a-dozen progressive flunkies, the worst thing that could happen would be for things to actually improve. If their complaints were ever framed in such a way as to be brought into practical reach, they'd be out of a job before long.

It's like the popular phrase "not even wrong" — this charade, which purports to be purely concerned with morality, this charade of taking to task the most left-wing politician of recent memory for failing to challenge "white supremacy", this charade of all the white progressives who trip over themselves to be seen publicly gushing over Coates' book and thus absolved of being the wrong kind of white people, is not even moral. It mimics the mannerisms of morality but improves nothing. It identifies nothing resembling an actual way forward. "In Coates’s view, no one has agency." That's convenient, because as you've heard me say before, and will hear me say again, many people consider agency a burden and would love to be rid of it. This charade is the moral equivalent of running in place, a means of appearing to exercise agency without getting anywhere or risking anything. What's really depressing is when you realize how much of progressive politics consists of nothing else but.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Le Mirth d'Arthur

As longtime readers are aware, I have a brilliant friend named Arthur with whom I keep a regular correspondence, two plodding thesaurus-sauruses trading emails in an age of smaller, twittering avians and scurrying social media rodents. I recently shared two risible tweets with him, and, as is often the case, his responses were far more cerebral and witty than anything I could have come up with. So, here they are for you to enjoy:

No, no, no, these running dogs have it all wrong. These reactionary hyenas snicker because they are blind to the nuances of cultural subversion as a tactic in the struggle against the Capitalist mode of production--either blind, or so intimidated that they force their awareness back into their Political Unconscious. Buying an expensive SUV from capitalists would in itself be treason against the proletariat who are so easily bought off by bourgeois-accommodationist labor unions and high salaries. Buying a Hummer that was originally a Humvee, a military tool of US imperialist aggression, and turning it into a counter-statement of solidarity with a martyr of the Revolution, is a blow against Power from which the corporate executives of General Motors are still recovering after shitting themselves in their terror--not to mention the Pentagon, where, being made of sterner stuff, the Fascist goons in brass hats are merely pissing themselves with fear. What makes this subversive PC virtue signal even more threatening to the capitalist stooges of Twitter-Land is that it references and re-appropriates for revolutionary ends the fact that Humvees were first deployed in the Afghan War: again, a gesture of solidarity, this time with the brave Third-World freedom fighters exacting just revenge for the depredations of Western Colonialism, sort of.

The complicated dialectical-materialist joke is on them. Hah hah hah. (Remember, not just sex but our senses of humor will be better after the Revolution.)

Because geologists have traditionally thought of mountains like Vesuvius, Krakatoa and St. Helen's as passive and inert.

Still, it is true that the agentic performativity of mountains has long been marginalized, leveled and even bulldozed by human exceptionalism, despite the obvious fact that they have read Nietzsche and had their will to power powerfully affirmed by his atheistic quasi-animism, which democratically distributes will-to-power throughout the universe without regard to race, creed, color, or mineral composition. Plus, he liked to hike in the mountains. This is a strong indicator that he was free of  hierarchizing bio-arrogance.

We need an oro-ontology to include mountains among the ranks of both Being and Becoming, not only among the known but among the knowers--and why not hills? The author shows xir own hierarchizing size-ism in this silencing of the colline voice, that music with the sound of which, as you point out, they are clearly, in a Nietzschean sense, alive. I find the author's blithe co-opting for careerist CV-fattening purposes of natural topography's independent capacity for lively engagement and animation (which they possess to the point of magmanimity and lava-ish self-affirmation) symptomatic of a residual human exceptionalism for which xe deserves to be Twitter-shamed and forced to undergo remedial sensitivity training. After all, isn't xe basically strip-mining the concept of mountains for thesis-ore from which to construct  tree-killing academic articles?

Monday, January 11, 2016

Blooper Scooper

Having gotten precisely nowhere in their laughable attempt to turn the Washington Redskins' name into the great moral issue of our time, it only makes sense that our heroes would now set their sights on an even more unrealistic target. Sense, that is, because as always with these kinds of crusades, the important thing is to be seen crusading, not to actually set achievable goals. The more quixotic the quest, the less likely you'll ever be short of opportunities to flaunt your moral superiority.

Anyway. Question: what did Orwell and Hitler have in common? Answer: they both understood, in contrast to simpletons like Dave Bry, that many human beings desire much more from life than ease, security and avoidance of pain. Some of them positively lust after struggle and danger. Bry acknowledges this, but says that "we should be more honest about how ugly and shameful our bloodlust is" even as he admits (in the same sentence) that it is also "natural" and "inherent to the human condition", which, of course, has proven to be such a psychologically healthy tension to maintain; just ask a random Catholic. William James had the right idea, even if his details seem a bit outdated; I'd say spectator sports like football are close enough to his moral equivalent to war.

This part is just plain funny:

[W]e should try to channel our need for catharsis in this regard into forms of entertainment that don’t leave real broken bodies their wake. Violent movies, I would argue, are far more easily defensible on moral grounds, as are gangsta rap and first-person shooter video games.

This is why opponents of this sort of weepy, whiny do-gooderism feel intensely frustrated, like they're fighting a guerrilla war. They're constantly having to take aim at moving targets. You'll never find one person who flat-out wants to abolish everything harmful, or even potentially harmful. But the cumulative tendency in our hypersensitive Nerf age is definitely oriented toward the goal of a world with no pain, tragedy, rough edges or sharp points. For every Dave Bry who is magnanimously inclined to let us enjoy our violent movies and video games, there's an Anita Sarkeesian who is doing everything in her power to stamp those out too. For whatever she's willing to overlook, there's a crusading Christian who wants to purify pop culture for the Lord. And so on. Well, as long as we're comparing dictators to dimbulbs, here's something Stalin was shrewd enough to understand: when confronted by a remorseless enemy who wants to destroy all you hold dear, you just have to hold firm and say "Not one step back!"

Verily, Verily, We Say Unto Thee

Evergreen truth right there. In fact, I'd suggest it's also true of those who treat living artists the same way.

Friday, January 08, 2016

The Dogs Will Howl and Yank the Leash from Tree to Tree

Mick Hume:

For Scruton, the left intellectuals’ apparent attachment to a higher cause only disguises what they really stand for: ‘Nothing.’ He writes that ‘when, in the works of Lacan, Deleuze and Althusser, the nonsense machine began to crank out its impenetrable sentences, of which nothing could be understood except that they all had “capitalism” as their target, it looked as though Nothing had at last found its voice’. More recently, ‘the windbaggery of Zizek and the nonsemes of Badiou’ exist only ‘to espouse a single and absolute cause’, which ‘admits of no compromise’ and ‘offers redemption to all who espouse it’. The name of that cause? ‘The answer is there on every page of these fatuous writings: Nothing.’

So, what is all this Nothing-ness about? ‘My view’, says Scruton, ‘is that what’s underlying all of this is a kind of nihilistic vision that masks itself as a moving toward the enlightened future, but never pauses to describe what that society will be like. It simply loses itself in negatives about the existing things – institutional relations like marriage, for instance – but never asks itself if those existing things are actually part of what human beings are. Always in Zizek there’s an assumption of the right to dismiss them as standing in the way of something else, but that something else turns out to be Nothing.’

As he notes, intellectuals have the ability to camouflage their nihilism with a dense cloud of verbiage. For clarity, it's best to put an open mic in front of some rank-and-file moron and let him speak unimpeded:

Of course, as with promises of eternal love, a profession of undying rage only serves to mark the speaker as a shallow, hormonal adolescent, or at least the intellectual equivalent thereof. But this is still interesting for the way in which it unwittingly — as is only fitting for a witless twit like Chu — reveals how even the ideals of social justice are, in many instances, nothing but a fig leaf of rationalization for a burning resentment. "Utopia" exists merely as the brilliant light which allows him to see evil shadows behind every actual, existing thing. The enduring presence of imperfection, and the false promise of its inevitable elimination, serve as justification for people like this to indulge their anger and hatred, which is all they really want. Righteous fury is their identity, and venting it on deserving sinners is their twisted form of pleasure. They don't want to relinquish that any more than your average employee wants his job to become obsolete.

But speaking of Scruton, and speaking of resentment:

Monday, January 04, 2016

In All the Years You Spent Between Your Birth and Death, You Know There's Lots of Times When You Shoulda Saved Your Breath

Stop dragging us down
With all your tick-tocking clocks that never seem to slow down
Stop dragging us down
Because eventually this future's gonna swallow you

Chad VanGaalen

Alan Jacobs:

In short, peer pressure is always terrible, and social media are a megaphone for peer pressure. And when you use that megaphone all the time you tend to forget that it’s possible to speak at a normal volume: thus my first protestor’s apparently genuinely-held view that if you’re not talking to peers on Twitter you can’t possibly be talking to peers at all. (We must all have been trapped in our silos of silence before 2006.) But the more general view of both of those who wrote to me — that rapidity of response is a virtue, and therefore that technologies that enable rapid response are superior to ones that enforce slowness — is the really pernicious one, I’ve come to believe.

I keep thinking about my first protestor’s complaint that if people can’t respond to me via Twitter or blog comments they might not respond at all. Given my experience of both public Twitter and blog comment threads, my thought is: feature, not bug. Indeed, I should probably have an auto-reply on my email featuring my postal address and encouraging people to write me letters. That might enliven the daily mail deliveries, which have for me, as for all of us, grown so gray and wan over the years. And maybe I would be doing my correspondents a favor also: if typing, printing, and mailing a letter is too much trouble for you, then it could be that the things you have to say aren’t that important, even to you, and you’d be better off using your time in a different way.

...It won’t be that long before I turn 60, though I struggle to keep that inescapable (and highly unpleasant) fact clear in my mind. I have ideas I want to pursue, stories I want to tell, and friends and colleagues I want to interact with. Things are happening in the world and on the pages of books that I want to meditate on.

I spent about seven years reading replies to my tweets, and more than a decade reading comments on my blog posts. I have considered the costs and benefits, and I have firmly decided that I’m not going to be held hostage to that stuff any more. The chief reason is not that people are ill-tempered or dim-witted — though Lord knows one of those descriptors is accurate for a distressingly large number of social-media communications — but that so many of them are blown about by every wind of social-media doctrine, their attention swamped by the tsunamis of the moment, their wills captive to the felt need to respond now to what everyone else is responding to now.

Last week, the legendary Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead died at the age of 70. While honoring the band's request to play their music loud in celebration of his life, I reflected on the sobering fact that when I first started listening to Motörhead all those years ago, Lemmy was then only a couple years older than I am now. It's trite but true — it seems like it was just the other day! We say that all the time while reminiscing. But one day I might be saying that again, while looking back upon this period of my life, as an old man dying of cancer.

Anyway. So, I'm back after taking nearly five months off from writing. It was a season of streamlining — I purged most of my bookmarks, severely curtailed my online reading, chopped down the giant redwood stack of unread books (I've since acquired many more), and exercised away the remaining weight I wanted to lose. It was as glorious as it sounds, living that deep life.

But like Newport says there, you have to protect and support your ability to focus and work deeply. For me, that meant that when I finally had the time and inclination to start writing again, one of the first things I did was to switch off the comments here. Not because I had a serious problem in that regard, but because even that little expenditure of energy and attention was too much of an unwanted distraction for me anymore. I don't want to waste time explaining and elaborating upon what I've already written. Say it for whoever can be bothered to read it, and leave them to think about it quietly while I move on. Life's candle burns ever shorter and free time is always limited.

Plus, as a general rule, I think it's time to classify comment sections as a failure. The experiment has been run, the data have been compiled, and it may have been a noble spasm of idealism worth a moment's recognition, but having a website with open comments is like leaving your porch light on all night in the summer with your front door open. You're going to have hundreds of retarded moths and beetles fluttering in your hair and bumping their empty little heads against your face, taking issue with some offhand remark, asking for tedious clarification, insisting you defend some point of view you never asserted, fighting with each other over who knows what, flying off on bizarre tangents, or simply filling the air with inane buzzing and chattering. I'm not as diplomatic as Jacobs, so I have no problem saying that most people who bother to comment online are indeed ill-tempered and/or dim-witted with nothing to say worth your time. Turn off the light and shut the door.