The Stupefying Boredom of Latter Day Public Life in the West

So it’s election season again in the US, and the press is all abuzz over the recent declarations of candidacy. Last time around, I still cared a bit, mostly out of habit I suppose. I liked Romney, who I think is a fundamentally decent man, and I was disappointed to see such a talented, intelligent and enterprising fellow rejected in favor of an inept fool like Obama. So I was interested to that extent. 

But Christian reaction had by then so permeated my being that I knew the only difference the election might possibly make is that of a few percentage points in my federal tax rate. Not that those percentages are unimportant, for they are, and the welfare of millions hangs upon them; but thanks to the mind-boggling deficits of the first four Obama years, they are upward bound, for the foreseeable future, almost no matter what. Obama spent so much money that no future administration is going to be able to cut taxes. Obama has eliminated all room for such maneuvers. It’s a genius move, albeit not the move of a genius. 

Evil is fundamentally stupid. You can be ingeniously evil, but to be evil in the first place is stupid. E.g., you can devise a brilliant plan to rob a bank, but robbing a bank is an essentially stupid thing to do. 

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An Orthogonal Turn at First Things

From its founding, First Things has been the premier journal of high Christian engagement with the public square in the West. The basic proposition of the journal has been that American liberal democracy could be domesticated to Christ by a concerted ecumenical effort of philosophical evangelism. First Things intended to provide a forum for that discourse, and a rally point. Much good has come of this project. But with the recent spate of stunning reversals on sexual policy, and with Christianity ever more clearly in the crosshairs of our secular overlords, the writers of First Things seem to be recoiling from the profane culture of the West and its liberal cult of Moloch. They begin to see that their project has failed, and that perhaps it was doomed to fail from the start. More and more, they seem to realize that rapprochement with liberalism is in any case a pact with the devil.

It’s not just that the editors saw fit to publish an article by our own Jim Kalb back in December. In the February issue, First Things took a decided turn toward orthogony to secular political discourse, as if they all with one mind awoke to a realization that dawned on most traditionalists several years ago: America is too far gone to be saved. As Lawrence Auster then began to say, “It’s their country now.” Likewise also for the West in general.

First Things seems now to have reached the same conclusion.

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The Great Metaphysical Heresies

The Great Christian Heresies crop up again and again, and the Church will probably have to deal with them all the way out to the eschaton. They tempt the mind because they are simply easier to take on board than many of the most difficult and mysterious Christian doctrines, such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Atonement. Being easier to make sense of, they seem to make more sense. And they all start from, and partake of, some kernel of theological truth. This too increases their credibility. But they are all errors.

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Nominalism & Genocide

If nominalism is true, and there are no universals, then there is no God; for, God is the very universal of universals, the sum and source of the whole category of the universals, and so he is the universal in virtue of whom all other universals subsist, and operate, and participate.

If there is no God, then there is no image of God. In that case, men are not made in that image, or for that matter in the image of any other universal – such as, e.g., the universal, “human nature.” There is then nothing to man but whatever we happen to call man, for whatever reason, or no reason.

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Beauty

The only way that our apprehensions of beauty might not be illusory is if they are possibly true – if, that is to say, the beauty we apprehend in things is objectively real, regardless of our apprehensions, so that our apprehensions of it can then be either accurate, or not. But as only finitely scient, creatures cannot establish what is objectively real. They can establish, rather, only what is real to them in their partiality and incomprehension. They can establish, to put it plainly, only what is subjectively real. So it is beyond our powers to establish objective truths of any sort, such as mathematical truths. At most, we can discover them (this incapacity of ours to establish objective truths is but a department of our incapacity to create objects of any sort – to bring things into actual existence from nothingness). So then likewise also with beauty. We don’t establish it, but only apprehend it – or, fail thereat.

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Wrongheaded Reduction Redounds

When you explain something away, the explanation is no longer about anything, for the explanation has deleted the thing explained from among the things that are real, and that are therefore amenable to explanation. But this means that the explanation itself signifies nothing. Statements of the form, “x is nothing but y,” then, are strictly meaningless. If there is no such thing as x, but only y, then there is no relation between x and y, and so no way to explain such relations. If there are no unicorns, then we might be able to discuss and explain the *idea* of unicorns, but not unicorns themselves, there being no such thing to explain. Explanations of fabulous things are all themselves fabulous.

So, technically, eliminative materialism is just meaningless noise. Thoroughgoing eliminative materialists do not disagree with this statement.

Proper reduction never explains away; rather, it increases the specificity and concreteness of our understanding of things. So, not, nor anything like, “thoughts are nothing but neuronal firings,” but rather something like “thoughts are manifest in neuronal activity.” That thoughts are manifest in neuronal activity deletes no jot of the ontological facticity of thoughts. On the contrary; it fleshes out that facticity.

The Inhumanities

Over at What’s Wrong with the World the redoubtable Lydia McGrew has one of those posts making a point that’s obvious in retrospective, except that (almost) nobody said it before. When conservatives decry all the emphasis on sending students to major in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), and call for a renewed emphasis on the humanities to produce well-rounded persons, they’re ignoring the obvious: The humanities have almost uniformly become cesspools of leftist perversion and idiocy. Sending students there does far more harm than good.

In response, reader Gerry T. Neal proposes a name for the newly-befouled districts: The Inhumanities.

So we may define any department or discipline ostensibly dedicated to English, Philosophy, Classics, History, or one of the “Studies” (Queer, Chicana, Black, etc.) as part of the Inhumanities unless it demonstrates clearly that its purpose is the study of truth, goodness and beauty.

Resolving the Antithesis of the Manosphere’s and Traditionalism’s Views of Women

Note:  This post makes generalizations about women and men. Intelligent readers know that generalizations of this sort are generalizations: Not all women, and not all men, are like that.

When the Manosphere says NAWALT, which literally means “not all women are like that,” I believe that they really mean “Yes, not all women are like that, but most are, and you’re a fool if you deny it.” In other words, their NAWALT largely ironic. But mine is not. I acknowledge the existence, and the importance, of exceptions.

The Antithesis

Since this is a blog post rather than an in-depth analysis, and since most readers will doubtless possess a degree of sophistication, and since the basic truths of the world are fundamentally simple, I will define the antithesis as directly as possible, shorn of nuance:

In traditional societies of old (that is, through most of human history), most women were believed to endorse the ideals of pre-marital chastity and post-marital fidelity. And for that reason (among others) they were thought worthy of being treated with chivalry.  But the Manosphere says that the modern woman is different: Even if she doesn’t consciously think of it that way, she uses men and discards them when they’re used up. For that reason, says the Manosphere, men must be wary of women. And in extreme cases, MGTOW: Men Go Their Own Way.

Remember now, generalizations are generalizations. Continue reading

The Death of Eros: Higher Education in its Crisis

Flammarion Engraving II[These remarks formed one part of the total contribution to a panel on “English and Literature Programs” at the 1 November 2003 Pope Center Conference on Academic Standards, held in Raleigh, North Carolina. Bonald’s latest post prompted me to revisit the text.]

I would like to begin with two brief preambles. The first one is that I authored what I believe to have been the prototype of what later became a spate of reports on degraded curricula in the state college systems – my Declining Standards at Michigan Public Universities, published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in October of 1996. I mention this to indicate that I well understand the whole range of curricular, administrative, pedagogical, and political criticisms that conservatives and traditionalists characteristically bring against our existing distorted institutions of higher education. The other preamble is that, in my remarks today, I shall be departing in style and content from what I might call the standard technical admonitions – that ninety-nine per cent of humanities professors voted for Bill Clinton, that they have bounced Shakespeare in favor of Toni Morrison, that students now run a four-year gauntlet of tawdry, Marxisant propaganda – in order to take up another, as I insist a prior, issue.

Indeed, sufficiently different from the standard technical admonitions are the remarks I propose to make, that I should give a fair warning in advance. You should be prepared not to believe more than every other word that I utter, although I myself have come to believe it all quite implicitly, and it now informs my entire activity as a college literature teacher. Allow me to urge, then, that if I were you and you were me I should probably take me for a lunatic, and I shall lay no blame should you follow suit in so doing…

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Teaching by Lecturing

Bruce Charlton has a recent blog post about his piece in The Guardian in support of the academic lecture. He says,

 But when lectures are taken seriously, and conducted in the proper way, they are the best pragmatic way of teaching knowledge to people who want to know.  … when it ‘works’, a good lecture is an experience that may be remembered forever.

I agree. The best way to learn is to discuss the topic with a human teacher who is knowledgeable, articulate, and charismatic. There’s no substitute for having a personal relationship with a teacher.

I just want to add one point. There are many reasons why today’s educational authorities want to denigrate lecturing. But one big reason for contemporary antipathy to the lecture is that it’s a narrative. A person tells a true and compelling story and the listener can’t help but be drawn into it. And the narrative gives order to reality. It transforms a bunch of apparently unrelated facts and skills into a satisfyingly-ordered whole.

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