Senex / Puer

Senex                 -           Puer
Tyhrric               -           Odinic
Innovate             -           Endure
Novel                 -           Traditional
Achievement      -           Limits
Aspire                -           Accept
Dynamic            -           Static

The parallels between the domestic cults among the [Indo-European] branches suggest that ancestor worship was originary, and ancestor worship is usually tied to a place, especially a barrow or tomb.

In historical times, IEs were loath to move, and the only ones who would were the lower status individuals. The noble classes stayed put, it was generally the junior familial branches who went off to found colonies. Seasonal cattle rustling is one thing, but leaving your homeland wasn't something you did for fun and adventure—you did it because of hard necessity.

This fits much better with the Odinic/Tyrrhic conception than the Faustian, where the Odinic is the side of the young Koryos, the explosive warband of youths who were at once esoteric, initiatic, and utterly realist, Dumezil's magician-king. They weren't idealistic adventurers, they were a hard-headed warrior band who filled an important role in their society.

The complement, the Tyrrhic, is the venerable, exoteric state cult, the picture of traditionalism. When Dave says that "space is gay", he is expressing the Tyrrhic. A lot of you prefer the Odinic—the Aryan encompasses both.

If you want an Aryan sentiment along the same lines, look no further than Homer. After the Trojan War, Odysseus is thrust into adventure after adventure. He defies gods, courts a princess, and is even offered immortality by a goddess. He wants none of that though—the one thing he wants is to see his hearth again. He wants to get back to his wife, his family, the seat of his ancestors. Odysseus would have understood very well what Dave is getting at, and this too is Aryan.

[Mike from Imperium Press]

But inquiry into the interpersonal relationships of neurotics reveals a lack of maturity, a failure to progress beyond a childish preoccupation with being worse than, or better than, others; an inability to love and be lovable; a failure to achieve that relationship of whole person to whole person which is the outward sign of an inward integration.

[Anthony Storr]
The Integrity of the Personality, p.167

Related posts:

Free Space

Free                             -        Connected
Context independent   -        Context dependent
Present-at-hand           -        Ready-to-hand
Conscious                    -        Unconscious
Abstract                       -        Concrete
State                             -        Process

Truth in Native science is of a very different order. Truths are not value-free but depend upon tradition and social and spiritual sanctions.

Dreams and visions are systems of validation. Truth is contained within origin and migration stories, songs and ceremonies. And the source of truth is found in nature and in the direct experience of individuals through dreams and visions; conversations with rocks, trees, and animals; and patient observation of the world around them.

[F. David Peat]
Blackfoot Physics, p.264


With the present-at-hand one has (in contrast to "ready-to-hand") an attitude like that of a scientist or theorist, of merely looking at or observing something. 

In seeing an entity as present-at-hand, the beholder is concerned only with the bare facts of a thing or a concept, as they are present and in order to theorize about it. This way of seeing is disinterested in the concern it may hold for Dasein, its history or usefulness. This attitude is often described as existing in neutral space without any particular mood or subjectivity. However, for Heidegger, it is not completely disinterested or neutral. It has a mood, and is part of the metaphysics of presence that tends to level all things down. Through his writings, Heidegger sets out to accomplish the Destruktion (see above) of this metaphysics of presence.

Present-at-hand is not the way things in the world are usually encountered, and it is only revealed as a deficient or secondary mode, e.g., when a hammer breaks it loses its usefulness and appears as merely there, present-at-hand. When a thing is revealed as present-at-hand, it stands apart from any useful set of equipment but soon loses this mode of being present-at-hand and becomes something, for example, that must be repaired or replaced.

Heidegger, who in Being and Time claimed that the theoretical attitude of pure presence is parasitical upon a more originary involvement with the world in concepts such as the ready-to-hand and being-with.

'Heideggerian terminology' and 'Metaphysics of presence', Wikipedia

Related posts:


Separate      -           Connected
Future         -           Past
New            -           Old
Open           -           Closed

As with some later feminist criticisms of Freud, Horney attempted to retrieve female sexuality, and by extension a valid form of feminine existence, by appealing to a genuinely independent nature and holding culture culpable for women's subordinate status.

Beauvoir's misgivings about Freud's account of femininity stem from two sources, a feminist suspicion that women, in psychoanalytic discourse, are understood on the basis of a masculine model, and an existentialist conviction that human beings are self-defining, choosing themselves through their own actions. Following her existentialist convictions, Beauvoir insists that even when women abdicate their freedom, they do so as agents responsible for their own destinies, not merely as passive victims following a developmentally determined fate.

Following her feminist convictions, Beauvoir recognizes that women's choices may be constrained by powerful social and bodily forces, but insists that women nonetheless bear ultimate responsibility for realizing their own possibilities by emancipating themselves.

Nonetheless, Beauvoir's dispute with Freud appears to be less about whether constraint is part of our being in the world, and more about where that constraint is located: psychoanalysis locates constraint internally, in the constitution of the psyche itself, not only in the situations of social life, whereas Beauvoir locates it externally, in the cultural forces that impact even the most intimate sense of our own agency.

Beauvoir thus claims that her own interpretations of women's femininity will disclose women in their liberty, oriented freely by the future and not simply explained by a past. She thereby ratifies the promise of existentialism for feminism.

Irigaray seeks to create a representation for women that would not be a designation of what she is, defining her by and holding her to some concrete essence, but would allow her to exist on her own terms and speak for herself.

The erasure of sexual difference enables a metaphysics of substance in which sexual identity is a matter of fixed and pre-determined being, of underlying essences or common properties, rather than a form of becoming and self-generation.

[Emily Zakin]
‘Psychoanalytic Feminism’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Related posts:

Shallow Feminism / Deep Feminism

Shallow      -           Deep

I’ve recently been trying to tease out a fundamental division within the broad church of feminism, between what I’ll call ‘deep feminism’ and ‘shallow feminism.’ Both appear to be in conflict with what they call ‘patriarchy’ (or ‘the Patriarchy’), but upon closer examination it seems to me that only deep feminism wishes to ‘smash the patriarchy’, whereas shallow feminism wishes only to change its internal structure.

To deep feminism, ‘patriarchy’ can be broadly understood as an overemphasis on structure. Deep feminism is influenced by thinkers like Derrida and Lacan, who point out that while certain structures might seem ‘real’, every structure is in fact lacking, and so ‘unreal’. In Lacan’s work, femininity can be understood as that which works against structures and masculinity, conversely, as faith in structures - or as Lacan would put it, a belief in ‘presence’ (i.e. a belief that objects really are solid). ‘Patriarchy’ occurs when we take structures too seriously and deny their inherent inconsistency. It is a denial/retreat from absence, into presence; from weakness, into strength.

Shallow feminism takes for granted the necessity and ‘reality’ of structures, and concerns itself instead with their internal ordering. To shallow feminism, ‘patriarchy’ is apparent not so much in our epistemological understanding of ‘structures’, rather, in the way in which structures are ordered so that certain groups are favoured over others.

Beneath our structures lies what Lacan calls ‘the Real’ (and what I’ve referred to in the past as ‘the Sea', which is, as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy admits, "tricky to encapsulate and evades being pinned down through succinct definitions.” The Real can be understood as the negative space between our categories and definitions, and is analogous to the waveform of quantum physics - a state of possibility that precedes, or undergirds a ‘collapse’ into form. To Lacan, the Real is akin the state of nature, and it is our use of language - the tool with which we conceptualise and compartmentalise experience - that separates us from this primordial domain. ‘Real’ is how we could describe our ‘animal’ existence in the Garden of Eden, with our use of language (i.e. symbolism/structures) precipitating our fall from the Real.

I like to envisage the Real as a sea - as something liquid, in motion - upon which we float, safe within our various vessels. Within the bowels of something as substantial as a cruise liner we may even forget that we’re at sea at all, but those paying close attention can still feel the slight motion of the waves beneath (a stray iceberg helps to provide a more vivid reminder). The sea is a constant threat to our safely anchored structures.

We can distinguish our two forms of feminism by their attitude towards the Real. Deep feminism seeks an exposure to the Real, whereas shallow feminism wants to be protected from it; and it is in this sense that we can say that shallow feminism wants to preserve the shell of ‘patriarchy’, which acts as a protection from the anxiety-provoking complexity of the Real. A confrontation with the Real - a plunge into cold, dark water - is, after all, more than most people can take. It’s a niche activity, and most aren't well suited to it. Those that seek the real tend to have a relatively unique constitution, and proclivities - artists, philosophers, poets, mystics. For the uninitiated, exposure to the Real can result in nihilism - in fact, ‘over-exposure to the Real’ (or ‘over-exposure to complexity’) could serve as a good definition for nihilism.

Todd McGowan suggests that ‘feminism is the recognition that nothing lies beneath, and the subsequent embrace of the nothing-beneath.’ But embracing the nothing-beneath is a tall order, and a risky one at that. An artist may eschew rules, boundaries, order, and convention, but most people can’t afford to.

And perhaps this is what our deep/shallow division comes down to: deep feminism is the preserve of the esoteric, the initiated; and shallow feminism the preserve of the exoteric and profane.

Mystics like Lacan may seek an exposure to the Real, and a radical reevaluation of the notion of ‘structure’ itself, but most feminists take for granted the necessity of some form of ‘patriarchy’ and seek rather an equal footing within it, or a shake-up of the established order.

While Lacan is criticized for constituting sexual difference on the basis of the phallic function and subjectivity on the basis of paternal authority, what the Lacanian project does provide for feminism is not the idea of a malleable culture, susceptible to human mastery, as distinct from a fixed nature that escapes it, but the more disconcerting idea that human mastery, of ourselves, of others, of nature and culture, is itself illusory.

Rather than the promise of a rational progress toward greater and greater equality, respect for individual difference, and universality, Lacan's insights, like Freud's, point toward the precariousness of identity and social bonds and to the instability of the drives that attach us to one another.

In addition to the distinctiveness of his method, focus, and insight, this willingness to grapple with the limits of self-mastery is one reason why Lacan has been taken as an innovative and amenable resource for some feminist theorists. In exposing the inadequacies of social or empirical accounts of sexual difference, identity, and the power relations built upon them, Lacan confronts the fundamental structures at the root of empirical socio-historical circumstances.

[Emily Zakin]
‘Psychoanalytic Feminism’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

[…] for Irigaray, both Beauvoir and Freud fail to address sexual difference insofar as they retain a singular notion of masculine subjectivity, Freud because he presumes the libido is always masculine, and Beauvoir because she reckons the aim of women's emancipation as equality with men (for instance by concluding the Second Sex with a call to brotherhood and seeming, arguably, to be calling for women to assimilate to masculine norms of selfhood). 

Irigaray rejects the project of equality, since ‘equality’ can only ever mean equality to men, and proposes instead doubling the notion of subjectivity in line with the subject's own self-division.

Irigaray also challenges the Lacanian idea of the law of the father and the phallic signifier, pillorying the way in which natural birth has been assigned to maternity while cultural birth is assigned to paternity, equating the woman-mother with body and the man-father with language and law, and relegating the bodily process of parturition (maternity) to mute nature while valorizing the symbolic process of legitimation (paternity) as constitutive of civilization.

Irigaray's affirmation of sexual difference does not mean affirming the feminine traits that have been ascribed to women, since these are actually, in her view, the traits of sexual indifference, defined only with reference to men. Sexual difference has yet to appear and it is her task to bring it into being.

Unlike Irigaray, who wants to retrieve the pre-Oedipal period in order to reclaim feminine genealogies, Kristeva wants only to redescribe it in order to reassess its import for individuation and creative self-transformation. She takes infantile matricide (separation from the mother) to be a necessary condition of subjectivity and not a remnant of patriarchal violence.

Where Irigaray aims to introduce sexual difference into the social contract and the domain of law and rights, Kristeva proposes that we introduce self-discord.

[Emily Zakin]
‘Psychoanalytic Feminism’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


Irigaray wants a stake in civilisation, but a deeper critique would question the inherent 'patriarchal' assumptions that give rise to civilisation in the first place. 

In wanting to introduce 'sexual difference', which has yet to appear in history, Irigaray seems to chase the impossible, an ill-formed fantasy.

Related posts:


Optimism      -           Hope
Utopian         -           Tragic
Inflation        -           Deflation
Puer               -           Senex
Fragile           -           Resilient

I think we’re in the grip of what I call the ‘Optimiser’ mindset, which can be understood as a form of problem-solving fundamentalism. 

The Optimiser thinks that every problem is convergent, and that really there are no such things as divergent problems (a belief that goes hand in hand with a malleable view of human nature). To the Optimiser, there is a fix for everything - if it can be solved, it will be solved; and if it can’t, then we’re working on a solution! The Optimiser is obsessive and zealous, and can’t just let things be. ‘Bad’ things are unacceptable and must be remedied: bacteria sanitised, odours eliminated, pain killed, sadness medicated, anger purged, violence quelled, risks minimised, wildness domesticated, darkness illuminated, and death defeated. It is fear of death lies at the bottom of the Optimiser mindset.

Nietzsche viewed tragedy as a humbling reminder that, in the words of Alexander Nehamas, “ultimately we are not different from the rest of nature, that we are part and parcel of it, and belong totally to it,” a realisation that he described as “indestructibly powerful and pleasurable.” The Optimiser views tragedy as a regrettable mistake and holds inquiries to make sure that it never happens again. Beneath this is the desire to negate tragedy by making everything completely safe, so that none of us have to suffer pain or loss, or be reminded that we are merely “part of nature.” As a result, the Optimiser seeks total control in as many domains as possible.

If every problem is convergent, it follows that there must always be a ‘best practice solution’ or optimal choice in any given situation. ‘Freedom’, then, is simply the ability to make the wrong choice, to err. The idea that, as Alicia Juarrero puts it, “all phenomena must be ultimately subsumable under a covering law” is redolent of the kind of deterministic thinking that Nietzsche criticised in Christianity; a one-size-fits-all approach that squeezes the “novelty and creativity” out of life. The idea that there is ‘one true path’ is the myth that underwrites the Optimiser mindset.

The world of the machines in The Matrix is the ab absurdum of such determinism. The human element has been more or less removed and highly optimised machines have inherited the Earth, programmed to take the right path every time. As we become more efficient we become more machine-like and conversely as we become less efficient we become more human-like. What makes us human, then, is our errors - indeed, we can define humanity as ‘that which errs.’ Our tech allows us to transcend error and become optimal - maximally efficient - which means a remoulding of the lumpen specimen to a more ‘universally preferable’ standard. The more problems we solve, the more machine-like and determined we become.

'The Problem with Problem Solving', Metaxy, Substack

Heroic pessimism, Sorel argued, had nothing in common with the bitter disillusionment experienced by those who blindly trust in the future only to stumble against unexpected obstacles to the march of progress.

The pessimist understood that “our natural weakness” obstructed the path of social justice. The optimist, “maddened by the unexpected resistance that his plans encounter," sought to assure the “happiness of future generations by butchering the egoists of the present.”

Humanitarians condemned violence on principle but resorted to a particularly brutal and vindictive form of violence when their plans went awry.

Pessimism rested on a love of life and a willingness to part with it. It expressed an awareness of the "grandeur and beauty of the world,” including man's own powers of invention, together with a recognition of the limits of those powers.

What Sorel called pessimism was close to what Carlyle, Emerson, and James called wonder—an affirmation of life in the teeth of its limits. Sorel understood that the modern mood is one of revolt, born of the growing impatience with limits that stubbornly persist in spite of all the celebrated advances in science, technology, and organized benevolence.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.308

From the wrong side of the tracks, the dominant culture looked quite different from the way it looked from the inside.

Its concern for creativity and self-expression looked self-indulgent. Its concern for the quality of human life seemed to imply a belief that life has to be carefully hoarded and preserved, protected from danger and risk, prolonged as long as possible. Its permissive style of child rearing and marital negotiation conveyed weakness more than sympathetic understanding, a desire to avoid confrontations that might release angry emotions.

Its eagerness to criticize everything seemed to bespeak a refusal to accept any constraints on human freedom, an attitude doubly objectionable in those who enjoyed so much freedom to begin with. The habit of criticism, from a lower-middle-class point of view, appeared to invite people to be endlessly demanding of life, to expect more of life than anyone had a right to expect.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.493

Electroshock owes its efficacy to paralyzing and annihilating the contents of the psyche. Its essential trait is negativity.

In contrast, neoliberal psychopolitics is dominated by positivity

Instead of working with negative threats, it works with positive stimuli. Instead of administering 'bitter medicine', it enlists Liking. It flatters the psyche instead of shaking it and paralyzing it with shocks.

Neoliberal psychopolitics seduces the soul; it preempts it in lieu of opposing it. It carefully protocols desires, needs and wishes instead of 'depatterning' them. By means of calculated prognoses, it anticipates actions - and acts ahead of them instead of cancelling them out.

Neoliberal psychopolitics is SmartPolitics: it seeks to please and fulfil, not to repress.

[Byung-Chul Han]
Psychopolitics, p.36


Liberalism pleases and 'fulfils' in superficial ways - quick fixes, CBT, etc. Real fulfilment would mean a slowing or damming of the Flow. And so everything becomes superficial; surface; spectacle; simulacrum.

Neoliberal psychopolitics is always coming up with more refined forms of exploitation. Countless self- management workshops, motivational retreats and seminars on personality or mental training promise boundless self-optimization and heightened efficiency.

They are steered by neoliberal techniques of domination, which aim to capitalize not just on working time but on the person him- or herself: all the attention the individual commands and, indeed, his or her very life. Neoliberalism has discovered integral human being as the object of exploitation.

The neoliberal imperative of self-optimization serves only to promote perfect functioning within the system.

Inhibitions, points of weakness and mistakes are to be therapeutically eliminated in order to enhance efficiency and performance. In turn, everything is made comparable and measurable and subjected to the logic of the market. It is not concern for the good life that drives self-optimization. Rather, self-optimization follows from systemic constraints - from the logic of quantifying success on the market.

The neoliberal regime is in the course of inaugurating the age of exhaustion. Today, the psyche itself is being exploited. Accordingly, psychic maladies such as depression and burnout define our times.

In contemporary American self-help literature, the magic word is healing. The term refers to self-optimization that is supposed to therapeutically eliminate any and all functional weakness or mental obstacle in the name of efficiency and performance. Yet perpetual self-optimization, which coincides point-for-point with the optimization of the system, is proving destructive. It is leading to mental collapse.

Self-optimization, it turns out, amounts to total self-exploitation.

The neoliberal ideology of self-optimization displays religious - indeed, fanatical - traits. It entails a new form of subjectivation. Endlessly working at self-improvement resembles the self-examination and self-monitoring of Protestantism, which represents a technology of subjectivation and domination in its own right. Now, instead of searching out sins, one hunts down negative thoughts. The ego grapples with itself as an enemy.

Today, even fundamentalist preachers act like managers and motivational trainers, proclaiming the new Gospel of limitless achievement and optimization.

It is impossible to subordinate human personhood to the dictates of positivity entirely. Without negativity, life degrades into 'something dead'. Indeed, negativity is what keeps life alive. Pain is constitutive for experience.

Life that consists wholly of positive emotions and the sensation of 'flow" is not human at all. The human soul owes its defining tautness and depth precisely to negativity

[Byung-Chul Han]
Psychopolitics, p.29-32

The imperative of boundless optimisation even manages to exploit pain. Thus, the famous motivational speaker Tony Robbins has written:

When you set a goal, you’ve committed to CANI (Constant, Never-Ending Improvement)! You’ve acknowledged the need that all human beings have for constant, never-ending improvement. There is a power in the pressure of dissatisfaction, in the tension of temporary discomfort. This is the kind of pain you want in your life.

Now, the only pain that is tolerated is pain that can be exploited for the purposes of optimization.

Neoliberal psychopolitics, with the consciousness industry it promotes, is destroying the human soul, which is anything but a machine of positivity. The neoliberal subject is running aground on the imperative of self-optimization, that is, on the compulsion always to achieve more and more.

[Byung-Chul Han]
Psychopolitics, p.31-2

Related posts:


[…] The Authoritarian Personality, by defining prejudice as a "social disease," substituted a medical for a political idiom and relegated a broad range of controversial issues to the clinic - to "scientific" study as opposed to philosophical and political debate.

This procedure had the effect of making it unnecessary to discuss moral and political questions on their merits.

Thus "resistance to social change," "traditionalism," and the absence of the ability or disposition "actively to criticize existing authority” became pathological by definition. The tendency to see political issues "in moral rather than sociological terms” fell under the same suspicion. A perception of the world as a jungle, a belief in strict sex roles, a "rigid” sexual morality, a “punitive" and "moralistic" style of child rearing, and a "rigid adherence to existing cultural norms" identified the authoritarian "syndrome" and could therefore be dismissed without arguing the pros and cons of these positions or considering the possibility that many people, for example, may have had good reason to hold a "conception of a threatening and dangerous environment” or to reject a middle-class conception of easygoing parental discipline.

The Authoritarian Personality revealed more about the enlightened prejudices of the professional classes than about authoritarian prejudices among the common people.

The authors found evidence of "authoritarian submission” in an affirmative answer to the proposition that "science has its place, but there are many important things that can never possibly be understood by the human mind." They saw "authoritarian aggression" in the belief that "an insult to our honor must always be punished" or that “if people would talk less and work more, everybody would be better off.” They detected "anti-intraception" in the view that "nowadays more and more people are prying into matters that should remain personal and private."

By identifying the “liberal personality" as the antithesis of the authoritarian personality, they equated mental health with an approved political position.

They defended liberalism not on the grounds that liberal policies served the ends of justice and freedom but on the grounds that other positions had their roots in personal pathology. They enlarged the definition of liberalism to include a critical attitude toward all forms of authority, faith in science, relaxed and nonpunitive child-rearing practices, and flexible conceptions of sex roles. This expansive, largely cultural definition of liberalism made it easy to interpret adherence to liberalism as a "psychological matter."

The replacement of moral and political argument by reckless psychologizing not only enabled Adorno and his collaborators to dismiss unacceptable opinions on medical grounds; it led them to set up an impossible standard of political health-one that only members of a self-constituted cultural vanguard could consistently meet. In order to establish their emotional "autonomy," the subjects of their research had to hold the right opinions and also to hold them deeply and spontaneously. They had to show a professorial capacity for “critical analysis.” It was not enough to have liberal ideas; one had to have a liberal personality.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.452-4

Generalizations about the “role of personality in the formation of social beliefs," in the words of Herbert McClosky, served to put objectionable beliefs beyond the pale of political debate and to justify the contention that educated elites were the best guardians of democracy.

Drawing on Eric Hoffer's study of the "true believer" as well as on The Authoritarian Personality, McClosky traced political conservatism to "psychological rigidity." A belief in man's wickedness, in the need for strong social controls, and in the stabilizing influence of the family and the church derived from unhealthy "psychological impulses," "projections of aggressive personality tendencies."

As "doctrinal expressions of a personality pattern," such ideas did not have to be discussed on their merits.

They appealed to the wrong sort of people, suspect on socioeconomic as well as on psychological grounds: "the uninformed, the poorly educated, ... the less intelligent, ... the more backward and frightened elements of the population." The “articulate and informed classes," on the other hand, were “preponderantly liberal in their outlook" and accordingly constituted the major repositories of the public conscience." They alone, it appeared, were capable of "reasoning out and forming attitudes on complex social questions” in a "purely disinterested way and of rising above the “ideological babble of poorly informed and discordant opinions.”


Workers believed that "big business is running this country," Robert Lane noted. Instead of asking himself whether there was any truth in this perception, Lane explained it as the product of a "cabalistic” mentality or "usurpation complex." Subject to "whim and impulse," workers adopted conspiracy theories as a "counterweight to the chaotic forces of drift and change welling up in anarchic fashion within themselves.”

Lane's Political Ideology, widely regarded as the leading study of political alienation, reduced working-class discontent to personal pathology. Lane wondered why workers did not see the President or Congress as running things," instead of attributing so much power to big business. The explanation, he decided, was that people with an underdeveloped "ego or self" demanded an image of "absolute power” that was “clearly hard to find in Congress or the President." Only a handful of Lane's subjects, "free of cabalist thinking," realistically perceived power as "generally shared and limited" and respected "legitimate power as superior to and containing ... the power of private groups."

As in The Authoritarian Personality, liberal ideology in this case, the dogma that political power in the United States was distributed so evenly among a plurality of interest groups that none achieved overweening influence - furnished the standard of mental health.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.463-4

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Victim Status

In the early days of the civil rights movement, King had resisted the temptation to define black people simply as victims of white oppression. Instead he tried to encourage initiative, self-reliance, and responsibility. 

He understood that people who thought of themselves as victims either remained helplessly passive or became vindictive and self-righteous.

His later attempt to organize a national alliance of "disadvantaged" groups, however, forced him to rely on just this kind of morally flawed appeal, since a common feeling of marginality was the only thing that could hold such an alliance together.

As victims of racism, exploitation, and neglect, King now argued, outcast groups had a right to "compensatory treatment." In his earlier account of direct action in Montgomery, he tried to assure whites that "the Negro, once a helpless child, has now grown up politically, culturally, and economically" and that "all he seeks is justice, for both himself and the white man." The Negro, King said, "understands and forgives and is ready to forget the past."

Ten years later, he went out of his way to remind people that blacks had suffered a special history of discrimination that set them apart from white immigrants. "When white immigrants arrived in the United States in the late nineteenth century, a beneficent government gave them free land and credit to build a useful, independent life.” Blacks, on the other hand, experienced nothing but prejudice and persecution.

Their history of oppression, as King explored its implications, appeared to justify a double standard of political morality. Black rioters, he admitted, had engaged in "incontestable and deplorable” crimes, but those crimes were "derivative," "born of the greater crimes of the white society."

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.406

Related posts:
Dependent / Independent

The Aristocratic Ideal

Sorel believed that the bourgeoisie, having derived its moral ideas from eighteenth-century absolutism and from the decadent aristocracy fostered by absolutism, was now attempting to instill this ethic of irresponsibility into the workers, seducing them with the promise of endless leisure and abundance.

He argued, in effect, that the aristocracy of the old regime, with its cultivation of the "art of living,” had anticipated the modern cult of consumption. Aristocrats had traded their power for the brilliant, feverish delights of the Sun King's court. Without civic functions, they determined at least “to enjoy their wealth with relish"; they "no longer wanted to hear of the prudence long imposed on their fathers." The assumption that improvement had become automatic and irresistible relieved them of the need to provide for times to come. “Why worry about the fate of new generations, which are destined to have a fate that is automatically superior to ours?”

Aristocrats tried to avoid their obligations not only to the future but to the poor; this escape from responsibility, according to Sorel, was the dominant theme in eighteenth-century aristocratic culture. 

“At the dawn of modern times, anyone who held any authority aspired to liberate himself from the responsibilities that archaic conventions, customs, and Christian morality had, until then, imposed on the masters for the benefit of the weak.”

The idea of progress furnished the theoretical justification for the abrogation of reciprocal obligations, the foundation of aristocratic morality in its heroic phase, before enlightened aristocrats were corrupted by easy living.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.307

The second position, advanced by Thorstein Veblen, Frank Lloyd Wright, John Dewey, Randolph Bourne, Lewis Mumford, Van Wyck Brooks, and Waldo Frank, among others, rested on a very different idea of both culture and democracy.

These writers distrusted the missionary impulse they detected in the progressives' program of cultural uplift. Instead of popularizing leisure-class values, they advocated a new set of values based on the dignity of labor.

Their program derived from William Morris rather than from Arnold. They did not necessarily share Morris's enthusiasm for handicraft production, but they followed him in making a revival of craftsmanship the prerequisite of a democratic culture. In his influential essay "The Art and Craft of the Machine" (1901), Wright tried to show that craftsmanship could be reconciled with machine production.

Dewey thought of his educational reforms - the clearest expression of this prewar speculation about the democratization of culture - as another method of bringing about a rehabilitation of labor. Like Veblen, Dewey deplored the "cultured" contempt for honest labor - a legacy, as he saw it, from the aristocratic past.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.346

Related posts:

The Rise of the Managers

Simple          -              Complex

As “good determinists,” liberals knew that history always marches forward. “The human race never turns back to an old order.” 

The best hope lay in an orderly “transition to that which Dewey and Beard have called a ‘technological-rationalist society.’” even if the “more valid equality” it promised meant the “inevitable sacrifice” of individual liberties.

“There is something ponderously fatal about such a transition,” Josephson mused, “but if it results in order, enthusiasm, harmony, we will be content with our sacrifice.”

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.363

"The public interest in a problem," Lippmann argued, "is limited to this: that there shall be rules. ...The public is interested in law, not in the laws; in the method of law, not in the substance." Questions of substance should be left to experts, whose access to scientific knowledge immunized them against the emotional "symbols" and "stereotypes" that dominated public debate.

Lippmann […] rejected the "mystical fallacy of democracy" and the "usual appeal to education as the remedy for the incompetence of democracy." Democratic theory presupposed an "omnicompetent citizen," a "jack of all trades" who could be found only in a "simple self-contained community." In the "wide and unpredictable environment" of the modern world, the old ideal of citizenship was obsolete.

In a complex industrial society, government had to be carried on by officials who were expected to "conceive a common interest." In their attempt to stretch their minds beyond the limits of immediate experience," these officials would be guided either by public opinion or by expert knowledge. There was no escape from this choice.

Public opinion was unreliable, according to Lippmann, because it could be united only by an appeal to slogans and “symbolic pictures.” In a society ruled by public opinion, government became the art of "manipulation" - the "manufacture of consent." "Where all news comes at second-hand, where all the testimony is uncertain, men cease to respond to truths, and respond simply to opinions. The environment in which they act is not the realities themselves, but the pseudo-environment of reports, rumors, and guesses. ... Everything is on the plane of assertion and propaganda."

At best, public debate was a disagreeable necessity - not the very essence of democracy, as Brownson or Bourne would have argued, but its "primary defect," which arose only because "exact knowledge," unfortunately, was in limited supply. Ideally public debate would not take place at all; decisions would be based on scientific "standards of measurement" alone. Science cut through "entangling stereotypes and slogans," the "threads of memory and emotion" that kept the "responsible administrator" tied up in knots.

Like Edmund Burke, Lippmann distrusted memory as an important source of conflict and disagreement. He proposed to counter its influence, however, not with custom but with “organized intelligence."

An earlier theory of democracy had considered ordinary citizens at least competent to manage their own affairs, if not consistently capable of self-denial and sacrifice. Their opinions were held to command respect, as Lippman saw it, because the business of government did not greatly exceed their experience. But it was “not possible to assume that a world, carried on by division of labor and distribution of authority, can be governed by universal opinions in the whole population.”

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.366

The "practical comfort of the moment" outweighed the "great moral issues of the future.” The question of how to provide practical comfort" was a technical question, not something that could be settled by an appeal to first principles. It was a question for "experts," not for "orators.”

As a lawyer, Arnold might have been expected to recognize the intractability of conflicting interests and to doubt the possibility of making politics an exact science. His faith in expertise, however, exceeded even that of many social scientists.

He measured intellectual progress precisely by the absence of debate. 

Doctors, he argued, no longer engaged in pointless controversies about the rival claims of homeopathic and allopathic schools of medicine. The medical profession had been "taken over by men of skill rather than men of principle," with the result that there was "little left in medicine for thinking men to debate.”

Whereas medical learning had become "technical rather than philosophical,” however, economic and legal learning remained “predominantly philosophical” - a sure sign of cultural lag.

He too dismissed as "irrational" the notion that "the cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy." "Public argument never convinces the other side," he wrote; its only function was to rally the true believers. The "noise of competing theories" drowned out the voice of the expert. To submit social questions to the "feeble judgment of the common herd" was the height of folly.

Arnold did not have to engage in this kind of self-deception, since he held no brief for democracy in the first place. Insofar as the idea of democracy had any substance, it was simply another name for “humanitarian imperialism,” in his view. It meant the universalisation of material well-being, engineered by “fact-minded persons” and “competent diagnosticians.”

A democratic regime, to be sure, had to “carry its people along with it emotionally”; but that did not imply that the people should take an active part in governing themselves. As long as the governing classes grasped the nature and importance of political symbolism, they could satisfy the public demand for inspiring slogans and “ceremonials” without allowing public “ritual” to interfere with production and distribution.

When the public came to value “practical results” more highly than “preconceived principles,” a “competent, practical, opportunistic governing class” would find it possible to get on with the serious work of making people comfortable, without having to inspire and amuse them as well.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.432, 434-6

[…] from ancient Rome to medieval England, there were bureaucracies also in the pre-modern world.

With industrialisation and the emergence of mass society, however, the bureaucratic apparatus has expanded to the point that a quantitative difference has become a qualitative one. In their scale, complexity, and their power, modern bureaucracies are like nothing the world has ever seen before, and they cause states to behave in new and incomprehensible ways.

Above all, power has been steadily diffused downwards, through the ranks of countless even mid-level functionaries, and government policies are subject to enormous inertia.

Those who doubt this, should look at the military. This is one sector of the bureaucracy, which for operational reasons has tried to avoid the unmanageable diffusion of powers and prerogatives. They have gone to extreme lengths to establish clear lines of command, ensure obedience to orders, and avoid excessive consensus-based decision making.

Without this overt command discipline, it is impossible for any single person to direct bureaucratic structures, or for the bureaucrats themselves to shift strategies, absorb new information, or take up fresh initiatives quickly.

The one thing I want to convey here, more than anything else, is the complexity and extent of modern western governments. These are unbelievably elaborate systems, and they are not easily controlled or understood by individuals or confined groups.

‘Stupid and Evil in Equal Measure: II - Mass containment as conspiracy and as emergent phenomenon’ and 'Spontaneous Order in Complex Systems', eugyppius: a plague chronicle

Related posts:

One True Path

Reason                  -          Nature
One                       -          Many
Global                   -          Local
Clear                     -          Complex
Closed                   -          Open
Predetermined       -          Free
Transcendent         -          Immanent

Christians opened to door to infinity; rationalists walked through it.

Pre-modern rationalism was contained within a (religious) tradition. Modern rationalism is uncontained. The problem is not rationality per se, but 'rationality without a cause'.

The progressive, focused on a dream of universal consensus, attempts "to escape the agonistics of the network." Argumentation, confusion, conflict, and error disappear in a higher synthesis.    

The global vision can be reductionist or pluralist. The former attempts to unify under a "single privileged vocabulary" (e.g. physics or maths) whereas the latter attempts to synthesise all vocabularies and levels of description into an "integral" vision.

Niebuhr found another example of this misguided search for unity - for an "absolute perspective which transcends the conflict” between competing loyalties - in Dewey's little book on religion, A Common Faith (1934).

Niebuhr considered Dewey's plea for a "religious faith that shall not be confined to sect, class, or race" as an attempt to “eliminate conflict and unite men of good will everywhere by stripping their spiritual life of historic, traditional, and supposedly anachronistic accretions." Dewey's position exemplified the "faith of modern rationalism in the ability of reason to transcend the partial perspectives of the natural world in which reason is rooted."

Liberals like Dewey mistakenly put their faith in moral suasion, education, and the scientific method. They imagined that “with a little more time, a little more adequate moral and social pedagogy and a generally higher development of human intelligence, our social problems will approach solution."

Dewey did not understand that competing loyalties were rooted in "something more vital and immediate than anachronistic religious traditions.” The fervor they evoked could not be modified or resolved, as Dewey seemed to think, by a "small group of intellectuals" who enjoyed the "comparative neutrality and security of the intellectual life."

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.370, 375

Niebuhr distinguished prophetic religion not only from scientific rationality, which cannot justify hope, but from mystical religion, which cannot justify it either, except by turning its back on the "facts of incoherence.”

If science dismissed the existence of moral order and coherence in history as an illusion, mysticism dismissed the natural world itself as an illusion, together with the whole course of human history. For the mystic, reality dwelled in the timeless realm of pure essence, the contemplation of which, undistracted by unruly historical facts, became the goal of religious aspiration.

Mysticism, according to Niebuhr, was rationalism's mirror image. It carried the “rational passion for unity and coherence to the point where the eye turns from the outward scene, with its recalcitrant facts and stubborn variety, to the inner world of spirit."

The prophetic tradition found moral significance in history (since history is under God's judgment) without denying the reality of incoherence and evil. The achievement of the “prophetic movement in Hebraic religion," Niebuhr wrote, lay in its ability “to purge its religion of the parochial and puerile weaknesses of its childhood without rationalizing it and thus destroying the virtue of its myth."

His reference to the “virtue” of the prophetic myth, when we recall the rich associations and multiple meanings of the term, provides the clearest indication of the meaning of mythology, as Niebuhr understood it.

In the prophetic tradition, virtue is the truth that breaks the cycle of excessive optimism and disillusionment. It asserts the goodness of life without denying the evidence that would justify despair. Thus "Hebrew spirituality," Niebuhr argued, "was never corrupted by either the optimism which conceived the world as possessing unqualified sanctity and goodness or the pessimism which relegated historic existence to a realm of meaningless cycles.”

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.372

In policy evaluation, “there is never a point at which the thinking, research, and action is 'objective' or 'unbiased’. It is partisan through and through, as are all human activities, in the sense that the expectations and priorities of those commissioning and doing the analysis shape it, and in the sense that those using the information shape its interpretation and application.”

The top-down models of policy evaluation and formulation do not suggest that elites never disagree about public policy. Elites may share a consensus about goals and values yet disagree on how to achieve them [...] Foundations sometimes fund studies that make conflicting policy recommendations, and think tanks compete with one another for preeminence in policymaking [...] And it is unlikely that there ever was a society in which elites did not compete among themselves for power and preeminence.

But interelite conflict and competition takes place within a broader consensus on the goals of public policy, especially economic growth, global expansion, and the protection of corporate enterprise [...] Disagreement occurs over the means rather than the ends of public policy.

It is the shared consensus among elites over the fundamental values of American society that allows public policy to be guided by “the intelligence of democracy." Political scientist Charles E. Lindblom explains the intelligence of democracy: “Strategic analysis and mutual adjustment among political participants, then, are the underlying processes by which democratic systems achieve the level of intelligent action that they do."

"The staid and dignified policy-formation process is very different from the helter-skelter special-interest process. ... It appears as disinterested and fairminded as the special-interest process seems self-seeking and biased."

The foundations, think tanks, and policy planning organizations generally try to remain above partisan politics. Their tax-exempt status under Section 501C3 of the Internal Revenue Code requires that they remain nonpartisan, that they do not endorse political candidates, and that their policy recommendations be presented as “civic and educational” activities.

They describe themselves as “independent,” “nonpartisan,” “objective,” “problem-solving,” and “public-spirited.”

But strategic analysis and mutual adjustment - the keys to intelligent policymaking - cannot develop in the absence of agreement on fundamental values.

[Thomas R. Dye]
Top Down Policymaking, p.63-4, 174

Science's goal of ultimate law and ultimate level also reflects the prevailing notion in the West of a single, unified deity.

Rather than seeking a single, most fundamental ground, the Native mind prefers to dance among the ever-changing movements of a living, subtle nature. Harmony and balance must accommodate change and the activities of the trickster.

[…] Native science works with a multiplicity of symbols, images, and stories. There is no single, unique reading to a story, but rather many enfolded and interpenetrating levels, none of which needs be thought of as being more fundamental than any other. Understanding comes from a direct experience of the dance between these levels of meaning.

In this sense, understanding within Indigenous science has something in common with Niels Bohr's notion of complementarity. Bohr's complementarity states that a single consistent description will never exhaust the meaning of what is happening at the quantum level. Rather, what is required are a number of complementary, mutually contradictory descriptions.

An electron is described as being both delocalized and wavelike, but also localized and particlelike. Likewise, the meaning of a traditional story depends upon a variety of contexts and can be unfolded in a variety of ways.

[F. David Peat]
Blackfoot Physics, p.262, 264

[...] what Wilber is presenting in his theory of evolutionary stages is perhaps the most detailed and consistent attempt yet to shoehorn mystical spirituality into the modern belief in progress.

[John Michael Greer]
'Against Enchantment I: Ken Wilber', Ecosophia

The traditional (or modern) way of confronting complexity was to find a secure point of reference that could serve as foundation, a passe-partout, a master key from which everything else could be derived.

Whatever that point of reference might be - a transcendental world of perfect ideas, the radically sceptic mind, the phenomenological subject - my claim is that following such a strategy constitutes an avoidance of complexity.

The obsession to find one essential truth blinds us to the relationary nature of complexity, and especially to the continuous shifting of those relationships. Any acknowledgement of complexity will have to incorporate these shifts and changes, not as epiphenomena, but as constitutive of complex systems.

[…] the suggestion will be that the postmodern approach is inherently sensitive to complexity, that it acknowledges the importance of self-organisation whilst denying a conventional theory of representation.

Scientific knowledge […] habitually legitimates itself by appealing to a coherent metadiscourse that performs a general unifying function. Should such a metadiscourse be found, it will be possible to incorporate all forms of knowledge into one grand narrative. This is the dream of modernism. Postmodernism is consequently defined as 'incredulity towards metanarratives' […]

[Paul Cilliers]
Complexity and Postmodernism, p.112-4

The postmodern denial of single meta-narratives, and its emphasis on the importance of difference and opposition, is not normally formulated in terms of 'population thinking' (to use the biological expression for the kind of systems thinking referred to here), but the similarities are undeniable.

Although strains of thought that value the importance of relationships - and look for patterns rather than essences - can be found throughout the intellectual history of the West, they have usually been trampled over by more macho theories claiming to have found the Truth: Platonic idealism, rationalism, Marxism, positivism.

In our analysis of complex systems (like the brain and language) we must avoid the trap of trying to find master keys. Because of the mechanisms by which complex systems structure themselves, single principles provide inadequate descriptions.

We should rather be sensitive to complex and self-organising interactions and appreciate the play of patterns that perpetually transforms the system itself as well as the environment in which it operates.

[Paul Cilliers]
Complexity and Postmodernism, p.107

Lyotard's insistence on dissension and destabilising forces, as opposed to consensus - notions which also form the core of Lyotard's critique of Habermas - has serious implications for philosophy in general, and specifically for the philosophy of science.

The role of science has traditionally been understood as one that has to fix knowledge in a permanent grid. Experimental evidence was used to verify theories. Sufficient verification would ensure a permanent place in the grid. It soon became clear, however, that the conditions for objective verification were problematic, that experimental evidence could support a theory, but not prove it.

The experimental process cannot include all the factors that could possibly be involved, nor can it predict how new knowledge would change the interpretation of experimental results. Since one could still disprove theories, the process of verification was replaced by one of falsification. If one could not add to the grid, one could at least disqualify unwanted members.

This strategy of 'throwing away' has the result of making the body of knowledge qualifying as 'scientific' leaner and leaner. Everything too complex or containing uncertainties or unpredictability is, for the time being at least, left aside.

Consequently, large parts of the totality of human knowledge are disregarded as unscientific - most of the arts, most of psychology (for many scientists Freud remains the paradigm of a scientific charlatan), and often, human sciences in general. Working with a narrow understanding of what science should be, even the life sciences (biology) and the empirical sciences (engineering) become suspect.

Pushed to its limits, the theory of falsification implies that only abstract, a priori truths are really scientific.

Lyotard's suggestion is that we discard the idea of consensus since it is impoverishing. To proliferate knowledge, we have to proliferate discourses without trying to fix them into a permanent grid.

This position has some affinity with the position of Paul Feyerabend (1975). Feyerabend insists on a scientific anarchy' in which all the marginalised voices should participate. There should be no immutable 'method' that determines what forms part of the canon and what does not. Instead of throwing away everything that does not fit into the scheme, one should try to find meaningful relationships among the different discourses.

[Paul Cilliers]
Complexity and Postmodernism, p.118

The question that should be posed at this point is the following: can behaviour in accordance with an abstract, universal set of rules be called ‘ethical’ at all? What is at stake here is the very meaning of the word ‘ethics’.

It was part of the dream of modernism to establish a universal set of rules that would be able to regulate our behaviour in every circumstance. Taken by itself, this is a noble ideal, but if we wish to argue that human beings are constituted by their ethical behaviour, we run into problems. Following a universal set of rules (assuming such rules exist) does not involve decision or dilemma, it merely asks for calculation. Given the circumstances, what do the rules decree my behaviour should be? Can this be called ‘ethical’? What kind of human being would act like this? Clearly some kind of automaton, itself constituted by rational, rule-based principles. Modernist ethics, and an understanding of language and the mind in terms of rule-based systems, fit together perfectly.

This concurs with Zygmunt Bauman’s (1992, 1993) analysis of modern and postmodern ethics. For him, modernism’s attempt to structure our existence leads to nothing less than our imprisonment.

A postmodern attitude sets us free, not to do as we like, but to behave ethically. He acknowledges that this involves a paradox: ‘it restores to agents the fullness of moral choice and responsibility while simultaneously depriving them of the comfort of the universal guidance that that modern self-confidence once promised…. Moral responsibility comes with the loneliness of moral choice’ (Bauman 1992: xxii).

Actually this is just another formulation of the principle that has become a leitmotiv of this chapter: you cannot escape the agonistics of the network.

[Paul Cilliers]
Complexity and Postmodernism, p.137-8

In his criticism of Kant’s abstract idealism, Hegel realises that we are constituted within the social system, but for him it is a system that will ultimately be perfectly organised. Everybody will have their specified place.

Although Hegel realised that the (dialectical) process of organisation is still in progress, his view is, in the end, still a conservative one. At some stage there will be no further need for transformation.

Adorno argues that there are differences among human beings that remain irreducible to a totalising system. He thus reminds us of the importance of differences, not as something that prevents us from finding a comfortable place in the system, but as that which constitutes our humanity.

[Paul Cilliers]
Complexity and Postmodernism, p.138

[…] Rouse rejects the idea of the unity of science ‘which postulates as an epistemic ideal the unification of scientific representations of the world into a single all-inclusive and coherent picture.’

He motivates this rejection by denying that the goal of science is the ‘accumulation of a body of representations abstracted from the activity of research.’ The advance of science is centrifugal rather than centripetal, and in this process established results are often left by the wayside.

The concerns of science are practical rather than representational, and insofar as there is a concern for coherence, it is only local, more local even than the level of the applicable discipline, let alone that of the whole of science.

[Paul Cilliers]
Complexity and Postmodernism, p.132

This projected goal of a coherent world-picture has its reductionist versions, in which the coherence comes from explaining everything in a single privileged theoretical vocabulary (typically that of physics).

It also has pluralist versions, in which the results of different fields fit together as different levels of description appropriate for different levels of organization or complexity in the world.

[Joseph Rouse]
‘The Narrative Reconstruction of Science’

Construed in its traditional way, the unity of science is predicated upon a representationalist view of scientific knowledge, and postulates as an epistemic ideal the unification of scientific representations of the world into a single all-inclusive and coherent picture.

There are three respects in which I reject this construal of the unification of scientific knowledge. Most fundamentally, I do not believe that the accumulation of a body of representations abstracted from the activity of research is a goal of science at all.

Second, I am arguing that, far from inclusively bringing together all or most established scientific results into a single picture, the ongoing narrative reconstruction of scientific practices regularly excises established results from the background knowledge of a field, in order to focus its subsequent development. The coherence achieved through scientific research is thus practical rather than representational.

Third, the advance of scientific research seems centrifugal rather than centripetal.

New fields continually spin off with their own interests, methods, and interpretations. Their practitioners show little concern for how retrospectively to reconcile their interests and results with those of their progenitor disciplines. They will more typically consolidate their own results toward a new advance, perhaps in a still more divergent direction, than look back and try to see how it fits together with its origins.

Scientists' concern for coherence, at least in what they choose to investigate, is usually situated more locally than even the level of the discipline, let alone that of the whole of science.

What we get is not a single coherent picture of the world, but an ever more complex network of interconnections binding together various scientific endeavors. Achievements from one field get reworked and reinterpreted in order to serve the interests of another which may be at cross-purposes.

The loss in coherence is often happily compensated by the creation of new possibilities to explore, and new capabilities for doing that.

[Joseph Rouse]
‘The Narrative Reconstruction of Science’

Related posts:

The Tragic Life

Apollo        -          Dionysus
Inflate         -          Deflate
Complete    -          Lacking

The problem-solving fundamentalism of the Optimiser is a denial of the Tragic Life, because it is not willing to accept that difficulties - darkness, loss, misery and death - are all necessary parts of life.

“The true goal is veiled by a phantasm: and while we stretch out our hands for the latter, nature attains the former by means of an illusion.”

This mechanism, Nietzsche had argued, could be observed in the functioning of tragedy itself. Too much (“Dionysian”) insight into the reality of life leads to despair and inaction: “Knowledge kills action; action requires the veils of illusion: that is the doctrine of Hamlet.” 

The action of tragedy shows the most powerful individuals trying, and failing, to have an effect on the “eternal nature of things.”

But juxtaposed with this most powerful representation of the vanity of all effort is the tragic chorus, assuring its spectators that even in their efforts to change nature, the tragic heroes, like those spectators themselves, are its products and elements, and the realisation that one is a part of everything that lives makes life “indestructibly powerful and pleasurable” and therefore worth living after all.

A main reason for Nietzsche’s continuing admiration of the Greeks is what he takes as their ability to exploit mechanisms of this sort. Having glimpsed the truth, personified in The Gay Science as Baubo, they were, according to his unsettling view, revolted by it. Accordingly they turned away from its pursuit. They made the preliminary stages of its conquest their final purpose: “Oh, those Greeks! They knew how to live. What is required for this is to stop courageously at the surface, the fold, the skin, to adore appearance, to believe in forms, tones, word, in the whole Olympus of appearance. Those Greeks were superficial - out of profundity.”

[Alexander Nehamas]
Nietzsche: Life as Literature, p. 119

Nietzsche seems to have believed that there are some ultimate facts, some noninterpretive truths, concerning the real nature of the world. But he denied that these facts could ever correctly be stated through reason, language, and science.

Yet he also believed […] that tragedy, primarily through the musically inspired, “Dionysian” chorus, can intimate the final truth that the ultimate nature of the world is to have no orderly structure: in itself the world is chaos, with no laws, no reason, and no purpose.

Tragedy gives a non discursive glimpse of the contrast between “the real truth of nature and the lie of culture that poses as if it were the only reality,” a contrast that “is similar to that between the eternal core of things, the thing-in-itself, and the whole world of appearances.” It shows that the orderly, apparently purposeful world within which we live is a creation we have placed between ourselves and the real world, which pursues its own course without any regard for our views, and our desires.

But what makes tragedy even more remarkable in Nietzsche’s eyes is that in the very process of revealing this painful truth, it offers a consolation for the negative and desperate reaction this is bound to generate. It shows that ultimately we are not different from the rest of nature, that we are part and parcel of it, and belong totally to it. 

It leaves its audience, which at least for a moment ceases to regard itself as separate from the rest of the world, with the “metaphysical comfort … that life is at the bottom of things, despite all the changes of appearance, indestructibly powerful and pleasurable,” and that its blind, purposeless, constant ebb and flow is to be admired and celebrated.

[Alexander Nehamas]
Nietzsche: Life as Literature, p. 42-3

A Blackfoot Elder said that the white race is the youngest race. It has great energy and potential, but, for the past few thousand years it has been playing like a child while it is watched by the black, yellow, and red peoples.

Now the time has come for the white race to begin to learn, and assume its responsibilities along with the three other colors in the world.

As we Western thinkers listen and learn, we will begin to understand the achievements of Native American societies and acknowledge their worldviews as viable alternatives to our currently dominant industrial worldview.

[F. David Peat]
Blackfoot Physics, p.311

Friedman’s mission, like Cameron’s, rested on a dream of reaching back to a state of ‘natural’ health, when all was in balance, before human interferences created distorting patters.

[Naomi Klein]
The Shock Doctrine, p.44

Related posts:


Contained        -          Uncontained
Receptive         -          Formative
Uncover           -          Create
Imitate              -          Imagine
Complete         -          Incomplete
Preserve           -          Innovate
Fixed                -          Plastic
Closed              -          Open
Past                  -          Future
Old                   -          New

John Locke made clear that the new political and economic system he proposed in his Second treatise of Government, liberalism’s foundational text, would result in a different ruling class. In one of its key chapters, “Of Property,” he divided the world into two sorts of persons: the “industrious and the rational” and “the querulous and contentious.”

In the world of prehistory, he wrote, both kinds of characters might have existed in some number, but a subsistence economy marked above all by absence of private property made it impossible to tell them apart.

In such a world, each person gathers only enough food and requirements for each passing day, and any differences of talent, ability, and promise are wholly unrealized. Locke offers the Indians in the Americas as an example of such a “pre-history”: subsistence societies in which neither "industriousness and rationality” nor "querulousness and contentiousness” can become salient.

In such a world, a potential Bill Gates or Steve Jobs is so busy hunting or fishing for each day's meal that his potential goes wholly unrealized.

[Patrick Deneen]
Why Liberalism Failed, p.136

Forms of oppressive “opinion” were mainly manifest in everyday morality—what Mill witheringly criticized as “Custom.” While Mill at times argued that a good society needed a balance of "Progress” and “Custom,” in the main, he saw custom as the enemy of human liberty, and progress as a basic aim of modern society.

To follow custom was to be fundamentally unreflective and mentally stagnant. “The human faculties of perception, judgement, discriminative feeling, mental activity, and even moral preference, are exercised only in making a choice. He who does anything because it is a custom, makes no choice.”

The unleashing of spontaneous, creative, unpredictable, unconventional, often offensive forms of individuality was Mill's goal. Extraordinary individuals - the most educated, the most creative, the most adventurous, even the most powerful - freed from the rule of Custom, might transform society.

“Persons of genius,” Mill acknowledges, “are always likely to be a small minority”; yet such people, who are “more individual than any other people,” less capable of “fitting themselves, without hurtful compression, into any of the small number of moulds which society provides,” require “an atmosphere of freedom.”

Society must be remade for the benefit of this small, but in Mill’s view vital, number. A society based on custom constrained individuality, and those who craved most to be liberated from its shackles were not “ordinary” people but people who thrived on breaking out of the customs that otherwise governed society. Mill called for a society premised around “experiments in living”: society as a test tube for the sake of geniuses who are “more individual.”

We live today in the world Mill proposed. Everywhere, at every moment, we are to engage in experiments in living.

[Patrick Deneen]
Why Liberalism Failed, p.145-6

For Cassirer the unity of culture across the separate spheres inter alia of science, technology and art is given by the human capacity for symbolic self-expression, our capacity to create whole worlds of objective meaning.

Cassirer derived from Kant this image of the human being’s constructivist or formative powers of world-making. Heidegger by contrast insisted on the image of the human being as gifted with a receptive openness to the world. Receptivity is the attitude which allows things to appear rather than challenging them forth.

The two normative images of humanity thus describe two fundamental relationships to the world, spontaneity and receptivity, and thus two fundamentally opposed understandings of technology, tied in the case of Heidegger to an originary ontology of disclosure and in the case of Cassirer to a ‘modernist ontology of construction.’

If Cassirer offers us a modern answer, it is not one premised on a distinction between ancient and modern technology. On the contrary, the very first use of tools set in train an ongoing process of revealing as unconcealment, that is, the uncovering of what is present but hitherto concealed in the world.

The nature waiting to be shaped and given form by technology is thereby revealed as essentially incomplete. From the beginning technological ‘discovery’ signifies the experimental path of formation and transformation mediated by the essential plasticity of nature.

The spirit of technology therefore resides for Cassirer in its capacity to reveal the latent in nature, waiting to be actualized. This spirit requires an attitude capable of withdrawing from a given reality in order to posit the possible.

Cassirer terms this ‘possibilization’ of the world ‘the greatest and the most remarkable achievement of technology.’

Modern art ‘discovers’ the spirit of creation, hitherto concealed by the doctrine of imitation, just as in turn the recognition of human creativity announces the metaphysical need of the moderns to discover the new and bring it forth.

The work of art, but also the work of technology, become ontologically original once the closed cosmos of tradition is left behind.

And what this signifies […] is nothing less than the displacement of nature by art and technology, which now express the exemplary possibilities of human being as creativity. The modern spirit is in this sense ‘after nature’: imagination takes the place of the imitation of nature, technology emancipates itself from the model of physis to become the evolutionary supplement of nature.

[David Roberts]
'Technology and modernity: Spengler, Jünger, Heidegger, Cassirer', Thesis Eleven, 2012, p.26, 31-2

[William James’s] uncertainty about the moral value of submission and self-surrender illustrates the difficulty of carrying on an essentially theological controversy without its theological context.

Even more than Emerson and Carlyle, James believed that this context could now be dispensed with. In its absence, however, Emerson’s affirmation of the goodness of being would tend to be construed either as fatuous optimism or as the product of an emotional need for absolute security and reassurance, while heroism, on the other hand - notwithstanding James’s warning that “mere excitement is an unworthy ideal” - would degenerate into Nietzsche’s “will to power.”

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p. 294

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