Philosophy, This Modern Life

Spengler: You Are Not Original. Be Glad of It.

Why You Won’t Find the Meaning of Life:

Most people who make heroic efforts at originality learn eventually that they are destined for no such thing. If they are lucky, they content themselves with Kierkegaard’s pot roast on Sunday afternoon and other small joys, for example tenure at a university. But no destiny is more depressing than that of the artist who truly manages to invent a new style and achieve recognition for it.

He recalls the rex Nemorensis, the priest of Diana at Nemi who according to Ovid won his office by murdering his predecessor, and will in turn be murdered by his eventual successor. The inventor of a truly new style has cut himself off from the past, and will in turn be cut off from the future by the next entrant who invents a unique and individual style.

This is why we all hate modern art. It’s not made for us, it’s almost made in contempt of us. It’s half a joke and half a screed and all scam. It. Does. Not. Mean. Anything.

Philosophy, Religion

Camus and Karamazov, “The Rejection of Salvation.”

A Continuing series in which I post my notes of reading this engaging book.

In The Rebel, Camus frames Metaphysical Rebellion in the words of Dostoyevsky’s Ivan Karamazov (among other ways). God is to be not denied, but refuted and condemned. The Problem of Evil on steroids, as it were.

From pgs. 56-57:

Ivan rejects the basic interdependence, introduced by Christianity, between suffering and truth. Ivan’s most profound utterance, the one which opens the deepest chasms beneath the rebel’s feet, is his even if: “I would persist in my indignation even if I were wrong.” Which means that even if God existed, even if the mystery cloaked a truth, even if the starets Zosime were right, Ivan would not admit that truth should be paid for by evil, suffering, and the death of innocents. Ivan incarnates the refusal of salvation.

In addition, Ivan is the incarnation of the refusal to be the only one saved. He throws in his lot with the damned and, for their sake, rejects eternity. If he had faith, he could, in fact, be saved, but others would be damned and suffering would continue. There is no possible salvation for the man who feels real compassion. Ivan will continue to put God in the wrong by doubly rejecting faith as he would reject injustice and privelege.

My Response: This comes to me as nothing more than a metaphysical temper tantrum: “If I cannot have existence my way, I will not have it at all.” Or more properly, “an existence that requires suffering is not ‘worth it’.”

This is empty vanity. Suffering will continue regardless of how sullenly you refuse to countenance it. What child does Ivan save from suffering? If none, then we must conclude the the intellectual solidarity with the suffering is a sham, or at any rate, a means to an end. And the end is power, moral power as a precursor to political power, the power over life and death.

The desire to be Better Than God rests on the mistaken notion that God’s mystery is a false veil, a smokescreen hiding a lie, rather than a necessary consequence of our nature. If we had infinite minds, we could be God’s equal. We do not and never will. We continually frame Him in our own tiny conceptions, and are indignant when those conceptions will not hold Him.

Existence is not yours to justify. Deal with it.


Camus is a Rebel, and Custer is a Hero, and I Read Books

In my pre-Christmas book splurge, I picked up Kafka’s The Trial, which has so far reminded me why I wait 1.5 decades between reading Kafka books, and Camus’ The Rebel, which has delicious bits of tasty absurdity.

And deliberately so. One cannot be a rebel without a set of values to hold higher than the powers-that-be, but one cannot — pace Nietzche — create one’s own value system without arriving at absurdity and nihilism.

So Camus fails here:

The final conclusion of absurdist reasoning is, in fact, the repudiation of suicide and the acceptance of the desperate encounter between human inquiry and the silence of the universe.

It cannot wash. Absurdism with values is a contradiction. The “encounter” with the silent universe has no purpose. It is to encounter nothing. One can just as easily do that dead.

This sickness will run its course. Either the fever will break and sanity will return to civilization, or it will kill the host and give rise to a new age of innocent barbarism.

But from where will the barbarians come? We have made them scarce of late.

Revisionism in the name of the oppressor? The worm be turning.

Philosophy, Pop Culture

Fun With Camille Paglia

Earlier this month, when some highly educated matron or other had to reach for her smelling salts upon hearing “Under My Thumb” whilst shopping for groceries (the Trader Joe’s manager who refrained from saying “Lady, I’ve heard that song so many times in the last month I don’t even notice it anymore. All possibility of enjoyment of it has been systematically driven from me. I couldn’t care any less if you held a gun to my head. Now, are you gonna put that second package of gluten-free wheat germ back, or are you going to vacate the ’12 Items or Less’ aisle?” deserves a raise), I got a fillip of the familiar. Lester Bangs used to write about what the “woman’s libbers” were going to do to Jagger every time he toured, but I recalled something from Camille Paglia in particular, dealing with how “Under My Thumb” began her conflict with respectable feminism.

To wit:

This was where I realized — this was 1969 — boy, I was bounced fast, right out of the movement. And I had this huge argument. Because I said you cannot apply a political agenda to art. When it comes to art, we have to make other distinctions. We had this huge fight about the song “Under My Thumb.” I said it was a great song, not only a great song but I said it was a work of art. And these feminists of the New Haven Women’s Liberation Rock Band went into a rage, surrounded me, practically spat in my face, literally my back to the wall. They’re screaming in my face: “Art? Art? Nothing that demeans women can be art!” There it is. There it is! Right from the start. The fascism of the contemporary women’s movement.

This is from a transcript of a lecture she gave at M.I.T. in september of 1991. I read it as part of her first anthology Sex, Art and American Culture, which is a good companion piece to Sexual Personae. It contains what I believe to be Paglia’s initial cir-de-coeur “Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders: Academe in the Hour of the Wolf.” This was published in Arion in 1991 and although it reviews two contemporary books before unleashing hell at post-structuralism, I believe it entirely relevant today, based on what I recall of college in the mid-to-late 90’s and grad school four years ago. She pulls no punches with Derrida, Lacan (“The French fog machine”), or especially Foucault, whom she finds guilty of being a boring, snide poseur, full of facile wordplay and bereft of learning. An appropriate passage:

Foucault is the high-concept pusher and deal-maker of the cocaine decades. His big squishy pink-marshmallow word is “power”, which neither he nor his followers fully understand. It caroms around picking up lint and dog hair but is no substitute for political analysis. Foucault’s ignorance of prehistory and ancient history, based in the development and articulation of cultures and legal codes, makes his discussions of power otiose. He never asks how power is gained or lost, justly administered or abused. He does not show how efficient procedures get overformalized, entrenched, calcified, then shattered and reformed. He has no familiarity with theories of social or biological hierarchies, such as the “pecking order” universally observed in farmyards and schoolyards. Because, in the faddish French way, he ridiculously denies personality exists, he cannot assess the impact of strong personalities on events nor can he, like Weber, catalog types of authority or prestige.

She goes on like this, sticking shaft after shaft in the old dead fart until it starts to look like the Martyrdom of St. Sebastian. But that line about picking up lint and dog hair is giggling genius. Post-modernism and post-structuralism are nothing more than the Sophists laughing at us from beyond the grave of their cultures. The whole goddamn thing is so brainless, a bot can do it.

Click to be Whisked, Whisked away to Amazon!

Click to be Whisked, Whisked away to Amazon!


Deconstruction is Almost A Thing…

…at least according to this apparently famous 1993 essay by Chip Morningstar, linked from Ace. He pretty much covers the steps of writing like Judith Butler in order to inflate your ideas, such as they are. It’s all great fun and the disciples of Derrida deserve every bit of trivialization.

However, he says there’s a tiny tiny point.

The quality of the actual analysis of various literary works varies tremendously and must be judged on a case-by-case basis, but I find most of it highly questionable. Buried in the muck, however, are a set of important and interesting ideas: that in reading a work it is illuminating to consider the contrast between what is said and what is not said, between what is explicit and what is assumed, and that popular notions of truth and value depend to a disturbingly high degree on the reader’s credulity and willingness to accept the text’s own claims as to its validity.

Which would be fine if they could end the pretense that they’re doing something new, instead of something that’s been going on since the Greek Sophists (in fairness, Stanley Fish explicitly calls himself a modern sophist). Everything in Gorgias is a question of the validity of language, and the relationship of speech to reality. We get it: language is imprecise and carries assumptions.

Hey, how’d this get here.

One supposes that this is cyclical in nature: at a certain level, you have to start tearing language apart in order to say something that hasn’t been repeated a thousand million times. Of course, when you can have a web site randomly create a po-mo essay, it’s harder to claim that such musing are the result of towering intellects struggling with truth. But then again, since the author is “dead”, these randomly generated essays can have whatever meaning the interpreters assign to them. Jeff Goldstein, call your office.



“Planning is the Kiss of Death to Entrepreneurship”

Via Protein Wisdom.

I seem to recall a saying that “the poor need nothing but the spur of their poverty.” That’s not precisely true, but the poor know what they need better than anyone else trying to help them. Collective responses to poverty create massive instituions but do not give the poor what they truly need, which is a chance to unleash what they can do.

Now, true, not all of the poor will be entrepreneurs. Some will be willing to serve entrepreneurs for a paycheck. All the same, empowering the entrepreneurs among the poor will create opportunities for the rest.

Books, Philosophy

A Man May Never Have Too Many Books

A writer quickly moves from one project to another, and I have one suited for these troubled times.

I am fascinated, and long have been, by the dynamics of revolution, ever since first tasting the heady brews of Pareto and de Tocqueville. A while back, I wrote an essay, which some of you may have read on my now-defunct Essays page, called “The Right of Revolution,” comparing justifications for revolt as understood by The Bible, The Declaration of Independence,  The Communist Manifesto, and Aristotle. It’s not a bad essay, but it needs fleshing out.

So my new goal is to turn this slim essay into a proper book, which will of course necessitate some more reading:

  1. Two Treatises on Government by Locke
  2. Leviathan by Hobbes
  3. As much of Das Kapital as I can stand
  4. The Ancien Regime and the French Revolution by de Tocqueville
  5. Anything by Pareto I can get. (there doesn’t seem to be a Kindle edition of his political writings. Opportunity knocks!)

I am the sort of nerd who delights in such things. I think some “Happy Birthday to Me” presents are in order.

By the way, there’s a books already out!