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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Benefits of Culture

       People currently like to pretend that fields like literature, philosophy and other humanities are useless.  These people pretend that science and social sciences can exist without being grounded in the arts.  Matthew Arnold and Jose Ortega y Gasset argue in books from different centuries similar points--that culture is a necessary precondition for liberal democracy.
       Matthew Arnold, in his Culture and Anarchy, posits culture as the main remedy for the social problems of nineteenth century Britain.  He begins by subdividing moral thinking into Hebraism and Hellenism.  Hebraism is an emphasis upon proscribed behaviors.  (That is, do good things, and don't do bad things.)  Hellenism is the pursuit of truth and enlightenment.  Arnold felt that most of his contemporaries either embraced Hebraism to the exclusion of Hellenism, or vice versa.  Culture, for Arnold, meant embracing both Hebraism and Hellenism.  The groups rejecting culture Arnold called Barbarians and Philistines.  Barbarians extolled sports and the military;  they romanticized aristocracy and wished for absolute monarchy.  Philistines thought wealth was the greatest good;  they either thought free markets and trade were the answer or craved more social programs.  "The pursuit of perfection, then, is the pursuit of sweetness and light.  He who works for sweetness works in the end for light also;  he who works for light works in the end for sweetness also.  But he who works for sweetness and light united, works to make reason and the will of God prevail.  He who works for machinery, he who works for hatred, works only for confusion.  Culture looks beyond machinery, culture hates hatred;  culture has one great passion, the passion for sweetness and light.  It has one even yet greater!--the passion for making them prevail.  It is not satisfied till we all come to a perfect man;  it knows that the sweetness and light of the few must be imperfect until the raw and unkindled masses of humanity are touched with sweetness and light(p. 69)."  "Having, I say, at the bottom of our English hearts a very strong belief in freedom, and a very weak belief in right reason, we are soon silenced when a man plead the prime right to do as he likes, because this is the prime right for ourselves too;  and even if we attempt now and then to mumble something about reason, yet we have ourselves thought so little about this and so much about liberty, that we are in conscience forced, when our brother Philistine with whom we are meddling turns boldly round upon us and asks:  Have you any light?--to shake our heads ruefully, and to let him go his own way after all (p, 79)."  Arnold says that those who seek culture and perfection can look beyond social class.  "And this bent always tends to take them out of their class, and to make their distinguishing characteristic not their Barbarism or their Philistinism, but their humanity (p. 108)."  "Now, it is clear that the very absence of any powerful authority amongst us, and the prevalent doctrine of the duty and happiness of doing as one likes, and asserting our personal liberty, must tend to prevent the erection of any very strict standard of excellence, the belief in any very paramount authority of right reason, the recognition of our best self as anything very recondite and hard to come at (p. 109-110)."  Culture is seeking personal development.  "There is no unum necessarium,or one thing needful, which can free human nature from the obligation of trying to come to its best at all these points.  The real unum necessarium for us it to come to our best at all these points (p. 150)."  Arnold sees culture as a way of ending religious strife.  "The State is the religion of all its citizens without the fanaticism of any of them.  Those who deny this, either think so poorly of the State that they do not like to see religion condescend to touch the State, or they think so poorly of religion that they do not like to see the State condescend to touch religion.  But no good statesman will think thus unworthily either of the State or of religion (p. 156)."
       As stated above, Arnold saw culture as the uniting of moral excellence (Hebraism) and mental excellence (Hellenism).  Arnold saw it as the antidote for both overly clas-conscious British society and for lopsided personal development.
       Similarly, Jose Ortega y Gasset in his The Revolt of the Masses laments the fact that modern man has less pressure constraining his life;  that is, it has never been easier to live one's life due to advances in science and the triumph of popular government.  Excepting those who challenge themselves intentionally, the masses are like impatient, spoiled children.  They have forgotten the culture that made today's technological society possible.  Their political language devolves into violence.  "An idea is a putting truth in checkmate.  Whoever wishes to have ideas must first prepare himself to desire truth and to accept the rules of the game imposed by it.  It is no use speaking of ideas when there is no acceptance of a higher authority to regulate them, a series of standards to which it is possible to appeal in a discussion. . . .What I affirm is that there is no culture where there are no standards to which our fellow men can have recourse.  There is no culture where there are no principles of legality to which to appeal.  There is no culture where there is no acceptance of certain final intellectual positions to which a dispute may be referred (p. 72)."
       Due to the idea of equality, the masses actually see themselves as the ascetic's equal, and refuse to submit to his direction.  Not only does the average man celebrate vulgarity, he is "indocile," and refuses to accept authority.  The abandonment of mental standards and culture means totalitarian government becomes inevitable.  If men will become indifferent to what Arnold called Hellenism, Ortega y Gasset sees civilization itself at risk.
       Totalitarianism arises from rejection of the principles that undergird liberal democracy.  We have already discussed Arnold's treatment of culture as the solution for class-consciousness.  Now, Ortega y Gasset envisions the stifling of intelligent opinion by the tyranny of the mediocre.  "Can we be surprised that the world to-day seems empty of purposes, anticipations, ideals?  Nobody has concerned himself with supplying them.  Such has been the desertion of the directing minorities, which is always found on the reverse side of the rebellion of the masses (p. 46)."
       Arnold states:  "But in each class there are born a certain number of natures with a curiosity bout their best self, with a bent for seeing things as they are, for disentangling themselves from machinery, for simply concerning themselves with reason and the will of God, and doing their best to make these prevail;--for the pursuit, in a word, of perfection (p. 108)."  The ascetic man Ortega y Gasset envisions takes on mental challenges, pushing himself constantly.  "Contrary to what is usually thought, it is the man of excellence, and not the common man, who lives in essential servitude.  Life has no savour for him unless he makes it consist in service to something transcendental.  Hence he does not look upon the necessity of serving as an oppression.  When, by chance, such necessity is lacking, he grows restless and invents some new standard, more difficult, more exigent, with which to coerce himself.  This is life lived as a discipline--the noble life.  Nobility is defined by the demands it makes on us--by obligations, not by rights (p. 63)."  Where Arnold thought every man could potentially benefit from culture, Ortega y Gasset seems convinced many university graduates are uninterested in the subjects of philosophy and other humanities which constitute culture.  The fact that medical doctors were among the first to embrace National Socialism in Germany would seem to confirm Ortega y Gasset's theory that science unmoored from the humanities creates a technologically proficient barbarian.
       Although Ortega y Gasset does not discuss in as much detail what constitutes culture as does Arnold, both see political violence and an erosion in the possibility of democracy arising from the abandonment of culture.  How ironic is it that college campuses are becoming places where the free discussion of ideas has been replaced by trigger warnings and safe spaces!  How long will the liberal arts and sciences languish while people extoll business curriculum and STEM as the only fit fields of study?  Will fields such as political philosophy die of starvation when disconnected from the classics and literature?

Monday, April 24, 2017

Get Outta My Way Johnny, I'm Gonna Spit!

       This is a post apropos of everything, and nothing at all.  Its title is a quote from the 1931 movie Scarface.  Above is a gratuitous shot of Zooey Deschanel.
        How on earth did we get to this juncture?  Years of dumbed down schools, years of politicians promising the moon, and delivering steaming piles of crap.  A GOP establishment that is a solopicism:  fundraising on a set of values, while in actuality accomplishing next to nothing.  A set of people (often entrusted with platforms where they pretend to speak for conservatives as a whole) like Rush Limbaugh, jumped on board with a New York progressive with no political experience.
        And the result?  A presidency that seems even more like amateur hour than the Clinton White House.  (And that's saying something!)  A putatively conservative network where their lead broadcaster has been sacrificed to the Gods of Feminism!  (Don't get too emotional about O'Reilly--just regret that it wasn't Hannity.)  It all makes you want to say, as Cicero did, "What times!  What values!"
      Only, the current crop of conservatives remind me more of 30s gangster movies than they do of Marcus Tullius Cicero.  Indeed, Paul Ryan is making me feel like quoting Little Caesar, played by Edward G. Robinson:  "I guess that's what I get for liking a guy too much!"  Oh, for the pigshit Irish gunman Tom Powers, who was so pugnacious in The Public Enemy that he went on a suicide mission against Schemer Burns' gang even though his boss wanted him off the streets.  Tom Powers' fighting spirit is only seen in the Freedom Caucus;  unfortunately, O.B. wants them to end up the same way Tom Powers did--dead at Mother's front door.   Tommy gun heroes are so much more likeable than gutless politicians.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Conservatives Without Chests, Part Two

     It is astounding to Estase how many people act as though there is something conservative about Orange Blatherskite.  O.B. is the Republican Bill Clinton:  an oversexed demagogue with no coherent foreign policy.  During the campaign, O.B. acted as though he would avoid enmeshing us with the attempt to remove Bashar al-Assad from power.  The Syrian civil war is a quagmire that even Oh Blah Blah was smart enough to only talk about engaging us in.  But now, before his first one hundred days have even elapsed, O.B.'s dubiously qualified Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is talking regime change!  
       Despite promising a pro-life Supreme Court justice, O.B. named a milquetoast Anthony Kennedy clone to replace Justice Scalia.  Unfortunately, the Republican voter is a fool who was gulled into choosing a candidate for his image rather than for substance.  O.B. talked a big game, and that made up for his lack of fluency on actual policy.  The ignorant red state voter is himself a conservative without a chest;  this is why they fell for someone who was all talk and no emotion.  "Make America Great Again" means being eighty percent identical to Peace and Love Incorporated (AKA the Clinton mafia).  Wesley Clark may as well be our head of the JCS.  Merritt Garland may as well be our newest Supreme Court justice.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Selective Usage of Aristotle

       In its decision in Roe v. Wade, the Court of King's Bench cited Aristotle's approval of abortion in support of abortion on demand.  What the proper interpretation of Aristotle is has been cause for the spilling of oceans of ink.  (Averroes versus Avicenna being just a small part of that controversy.)  It is a sign of how little the black-letter Constitution counts for in the deliberations of King's Bench when the Praetors start invoking 3,000 year-old philosophy in their opinions.  Just to show how phony and selective the Court of King's Bench's interest in Aristotle is, will be demonstrated by this quote occurring a few paragraphs after the passage on abortion.

"The Directors of Education, as they are termed, should be careful what tales or stories the children hear, for the sports of children are designed to prepare the way for the business of later life, and should be for the most part imitations of the occupations which they will hereafter pursue in earnest.  Those are wrong who (like Plato) in the Laws attempt to check the loud crying and screaming of children, for these contribute towards their growth, and, in a manner, exercise their bodies. . . .For until they are seven years old they must live at home;  and therefore, even at this early age, all that is mean and low should be banished from their sight and hearing. . . .A freeman who is found saying or doing what is forbidden, if he be too young as yet to have the privilege of a place at the public table, should be disgraced and beaten, and an elder person degraded as his slavish conduct deserves.  And since we do not allow improper language, clearly we should also banish pictures or tales which are indecent. . . .And therefore youth should be kept strangers to all that is bad, and especially to things which suggest vice or hate."  Aristotle Politics Book VII 1336-1337.

So, obviously, if King's Bench legalized abortion because Aristotle thought it best, King's Bench should also censor speech, music, and pornography, because Aristotle favored that too!

Monday, April 03, 2017

Plato on Immigration

     "The intercourse of cities with one another is apt to create a confusion of manners;  strangers are always suggesting novelties to strangers.  When states are well governed by good laws the mixture causes the greatest possible injury;  but seeing that most cities are the reverse of well-ordered, the confusion which arises in them from the reception of strangers, and from the citizens themselves rushing off into other cities, when any one either young or old desires to travel anywhere abroad at whatever time, is of no consequence.  On the other hand, the refusal of states to receive others, and for their own citizens never to go to other places, is an utter impossibility, and to the rest of the world is likely to appear ruthless and uncivilized;  it is a practice adopted by people who use harsh words, such as xenelasia or banishment of strangers, and who have harsh and morose ways, as men think."  Plato Laws Book XII Paragraph 950.