Brian Eno Mix

I noticed a week or so back that the masthead on this blog includes, as one of our topics, “a little music.” There hasn’t been any music on here, though, or any discussions of it, not that I recall. I am thinking that should change.

Nothing I would write about Brian Eno would be short. Let’s just say that I discovered his work my freshman year in college (I was 18) when he had just two vinyl records out, had appeared on a handful of other records (e.g., the first two Roxy Music releases), and was clearly someone to watch. Now, over 40 years later, I’ve no fully reliable count of all his releases official and unofficial, some of them extremely difficult to obtain (not to mention expensive). His latest is called Reflection, and was released on January 1, 2017. Although his name has never exactly been a household word, he’s produced significant groups such as the Talking Heads and U2, shaping their sound in new ways, and has become the subject of biographies and even academic studies. It was clear, back when I was an undergraduate, reading his interviews, that I’d encountered a keen intellect who was always pushing the envelope.

His thoughts about the nature of art are as interesting as how he came by them. David Sheppard, in his biography On Some Faraway Beach: The Life and Times of Brian Eno (2008), records a definitive incident in Eno’s life that happened when he was 18 and about to enter art school. The mother of his then-girlfriend had dismissed the idea, telling him he would be “wasting his time” and wondering why someone as obviously bright as he was would want to be an artist. Eno said later, “it set a question going in my mind that has always stayed with me, and motivated a lot of what I’ve done: what does art do for people, why do people do it, why don’t we only do rational things, like design better engines? And because it came from someone I very much respected, that was the foundation of my intellectual life” (Sheppard 2008, p. 45).

It struck me, when reading those words (variations on them have been circulating since the 1970s), that the same questions could be posed about philosophy. It’s hardly “rational” in the sense that designing better engines is “rational.” But for some of us, it became an obsession practically on the day we encountered it. We knew it wasn’t the world’s obsession. But neither is art the world’s obsession. At the same time, would a society without both art and philosophy seem fully civilized? So what does philosophy do for us? Why does it do whatever it is that it does? Why can those of us captured by this obsession not leave it alone, and not just do other things (especially those of us who have left academia, the one place in the world where philosophers are at home, kind of, sort of). What should philosophy do? and should it do the same thing for all of us who do it? These all seem like questions worth exploring.

But back to Eno. I’ve learned to appreciate his work on at least two levels. One is that of a mind hard at work, conscious of what he is doing, the media in which he is working, and exploring its possibilities. He’s a trained artist who is comfortable with technology and able to use it to generate sound. He’s studied systems thinking and made use of it, having composed pieces illustrating how very simple repetitive systems can be used to generate seeming great complexity — in visual art as well as music. He (more or less) invented “ambient music,” drawing on antecedents such as Terry Riley and John Cage and influencing the atmospheric “chill out” music we began to hear in the 1990s. He’s also invented “generative music,” played with software instead of regular CD players, as it consists of multiple randomized tracks that never play the same way twice.

Eno’s body of work opens quite a number of listening possibilities, as “ambient” tracks like Discreet Music, Thursday Afternoon, and Neroli are perfectly suitable as backing material on which other things can be laid. One has to be careful in doing this. Knowing what not to do, which tracks not to use, is clearly as important as knowing which ones to use. I don’t know who Tamás Károly Tamás is (the name is Hungarian, which may or may not be obvious) or if he has any connections to Eno, but he clearly knew what he was doing when he assembled this. Recommended listening for a quiet Sunday evening.

Posted in Music, Philosophy | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

And So It Begins. Thoughts on What Might Happen Next

Two days ago, Donald J. Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. His inauguration speech was unique (read it here; there are a few errors, all minor). It may go down in history as one of the more significant inaugural speeches, even if (as I suspect will be the case) Trump has made promises he won’t be able to keep.

Trump’s speech has been described (commentaries too numerous to cite individually) as “dark,” or “dystopian.” It was “populist” insofar as that term is thrown around today. “Populism” is not a systematic philosophy of political economy, beyond the idea (common to all conceptions of democracy) that political and other elites should answer to the people. “Populism” is reactive. It is suspicious of elites and rejects elite control, real or imagined. What it is rejecting, given the present environment, is quite real. There is a superelite, as I’ve called them in my book Four Cardinal Errors (2011). Advanced civilizations are basically plutocracies. Various authors have used other terms for the world’s ruling class: globalists, global elites, the one percent (a misnomer, since we’re talking about a group that would fit into a large university auditorium and so does not quite rise to being the point-zero-zero-one percent). Perhaps if rejection of globalism by a substantial fraction of a nation’s population is considered “dark” and “dystopian,” then from the globalist standpoint that might be where we are going.

What we’ve just seen is the end of one era of U.S. history and the beginning of a new one, a new era that could go in more than one direction.

The previous era, which arguably began when the Soviet Union collapsed leaving just one superpower, could be called the neocon-neoliberal era, because it represented the rise to global power of these ideologies, flipsides of one another. Neoconservatism was concerned primarily with establishing the Indispensable Nation as the world’s ruling power, while neoliberalism focused primarily on economics, establishing the dominance of global corporate actors and describing this as the “triumph of the free market.” We saw the catchphrases “liberal democracy” and “market capitalism” — more recently, the “global liberal order” as the term capitalism is again leaving a sour taste in some mouths — even if these were forced on peoples at gunpoint (and they often were, with the price tag of refusing to participate being death and destruction: ask the Iraqis, the Libyans, the Syrians).

This era, which also witnessed the rise of “free trade” deals starting with NAFTA (which Trump has promised to renegotiate or scrap), enriched a very few who sat at the helm of global corporate empires but was a disaster for nearly everyone else — especially the U.S. middle class, many of whose members had become former middle class by the time the Meltdown of 2008 had run its course. At best, the common family’s income flatlined during this era. Employment gravitated towards the part-time and the precarious. I hardly need observe that it made very little difference which party controlled either Congress or the White House. From Bush #41 to Bill Clinton to Bush #43 to Barack Obama, essentially the same agendas of globalism and war went forth into the world from Washington, D.C. While supposed pundits of the “left” have offered one set of diagnoses for rising inequality all over the world while those of the “right” have offered another, to my knowledge no one questions the basic fact of rising inequality in a world where your social mobility was dictated by your ability and/or willingness to “monetize yourself.”

Trump claims to speak for those left behind by globalism. The “carnage,” he called it, stops now.

So what happens next? I am not thinking of policy specifics, such as what will likely be the dismantling of the (Un)Affordable Care Act; those are important but this is not the time or place to discuss them. I am thinking of the broader and longer tendencies that may define the next 30 years, just as the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of the neocon-neolib axis defined the past era, just short of 30 years in length.

It could go two ways, and it depends both on if Trump is who he says he is and is as sincere as he sounded in yesterday’s inaugural speech.

For the past year and a half, he’s confounded the so-called “experts” and helped bring on what could be called as the crisis of “expertism”: the sense that whatever the reason, the “experts” no longer know what they’re talking about, especially on political-economic matters. Perhaps the Kuhnian paradigms governing their bailiwicks are no longer functioning; perhaps they simply can’t see the forest for the trees. In any event, at first, back in Summer 2015 when Trump first announced his candidacy, no one took him seriously, including me. This was a joke; it would go nowhere. But then it did. Trump seemed to command the media, getting away with things no other candidate could have gotten away with (e.g., the comment about Megyn Kelly having “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever”). I’ll return to this point below.

His growing legion of supporters loved what they saw!

One by one, Trump’s GOP opponents fell by the wayside as he racked up delegates. Two things were clear, or should have been: Trump’s messages on jobs, on immigration, on trade, and on political correctness, were resonating with the GOP base. The second: the other candidates, with the sole exception of Ted Cruz, were empty suits. They had nothing to say, and often just embarrassed themselves.

Still, Trump would never win the GOP nomination. The “experts” said so. Even I thought the nomination would be taken from him at the last minute, even if it precipitated a civil war within the GOP that practically handed the election to Hillary Clinton, by then the presumptive Democratic Party nominee.

And then Trump won the GOP nomination, giving a firebreathing “populist” speech that had both left-liberals and “movement conservatives” nearly wetting their pants.

I considered Trump’s victory over his empty-suited rivals to be evidence that “movement conservatism” had collapsed. It was not just that the GOP had lost touch with its base, although that much is true. There was nothing left in the culture to conserve. This was empowering the Trump insurgency. “Movement conservatives” weren’t engaging in constructive discussion of how to take the culture back, or even how to develop a parallel culture via new media and other institutions and raising the money to support them. Instead (just read the constant stream of articles in the Washington Post) they whined about their party’s “uneducated” rabble out in flyover country, those who rejected a worldview steeped in globalism, war, and political correctness. There had been discussion of culture in the 1990s, however inadequate. “Movement conservatism” had kicked out its Pat Buchanans, not to mention its Ron Pauls. Neither neocons nor neolibs had any interest in the culture. Common people did. They encountered it daily. When they saw an alternative to someone on the increasingly despised neocon-neolib axis, someone who spoke to their concerns in their language, they turned towards him. In the end, there was nothing left at the GOP center except for corporate donors and the war machine. The former knew only money as influence; the latter knew only brute force.

Surely Trump wouldn’t defeat Hillary, though! The “expert” pollsters said not. Even when James Comey reignited the debate over her emails just days before the election, Hillary didn’t drop beneath The Donald in the “expert”-run polls.

And then Donald Trump won the election!

He won in the Electoral College, the “experts” reminded us. Hillary won the “popular vote.” In the American electoral system, as everybody knows, it is the Electoral College victory that counts.

Trump’s march into the White House would not be derailed — not by the feeble reports about “fake news” on the Internet, not by the evidence-free allegations about “Russian hackers” coming from an intelligence community that had distrusted Trump from the start, not even by those Democrats, e.g., John Lewis of Georgia, who openly denounced his presidency as “illegitimate” (as if their shouting this made it so).

Trump said that unlike his predecessors, he would return government to its people. Imagine that!

Trump wants a peaceful working relationship with Russia! Fancy that!

His speech contained what could be a call for an end to the U.S. imposing its will on other nations of the world by force: “We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world — but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example, for everyone to follow.”

The repudiation of globalism in statements like America First could not be more evident.

The problem, however: the globalists and those working for them — including the “useful idiots” making mayhem in the streets of Washington and elsewhere, possibly still, even as I write — are not going to go away.

No one in his right mind believes that because of one rogue billionaire, they are simply going to relinquish a project they’ve been at work on for longer than I’ve been alive: undermining and destroying the very concept of national sovereignty, first economically and then politically, in order to build a global state or world government answering to private corporations. This is, I think, a fair statement of the primary long term goal of globalism.

So what follows from this? A number of questions, surely.

How was it that Trump was able to get away with those attacks on Megyn Kelly and other incidences of political incorrectness that would have felled any other GOP candidate in a heartbeat? Was his ownership over corporate media, based on ratings, that total? Surely there were people in media smart enough to realize that even when attacking him, they were giving him hours of free publicity, and that not just he but his supporters were actually relishing these attacks! His base was growing, not shrinking! Many of his supporters later “reclaimed” the deplorables label, after all!

So why didn’t mainstream media simply black him out, as they did Ron Paul?

And, what was really behind Comey’s 11th-hour announcement of new interest in Hillary Clinton’s emails, just days before the election? However one interprets this, Hillary was made to look very bad. The Democrats had already been made to look utterly corrupt, if only by their treatment of the Bernie Sanders insurgency. This was extremely unusual for someone powerful people wanted to win!

Unless those powerful people didn’t want her to win!

Which brings me to the final segment of this piece, doubtless its most disturbing segment. Is Trump the rogue he’s led us to believe he is? Or is either working for the globalists behind the scenes, or being used by them as a kind of Plan B, as they’d realized that had they rigged a Clinton victory they might have had an American Spring on their hands ready to start right about now?

Brandon Smith thinks Trump has been a tool all along, and offers some compelling reasons (here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). His claim to credibility is that he predicted not just the Trump victory but the outcome of the Brexit vote, the timing of the first Federal Reserve rate hike, the inclusion of China in the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights, and the Fed’s tapering of QE. He has the most interesting superelite-conscious analysis of recent events I’ve encountered this past year.

For our purposes here Smith’s most important warning is that the “populist” movement is being set up to take the fall for what the globalists have orchestrated and are preparing for: the worst economic crash of all time, the result of decades of governments, corporations, and individuals living beyond their means on unbacked, central bank created money, made readily-available via a brand of “capitalism” based on financialization instead of production. Financial author Bill Bonner has pointed out (numerous videos) that the amount of money that exists electronically in the U.S. alone, in bank accounts, in stocks, in derivatives, etc., created by what amounts to nothing more than data entered into computers, now exceeds the amount of physical wealth in the entire world, several times over. We are talking about a sum of perhaps one quadrillion dollars (that’s one thousand trillion dollars) in derivatives, on the electronic books of very large banks like Deutsche Bank, Bank of America, HSBC, CitiBank, Credit Suisse, and so on! An appearance of “recovery” has been created and is currently maintained via central bank activity alone (as Smith also notes). Anglo-European civilization is sitting atop the largest bubble in human history, a Dow just narrowly missing 20,000 absent any actual economic fundamentals being just one example.

Donald Trump has not, to my knowledge, said a word about this aside from noting the favorable “market response” to his victory, a response very much aligned with the idea that his victory was something the superelite had wanted and planned for, and while he’s criticized Barack Obama’s policies, I do not recall his having said anything about the elephant in the front living room of the present decade: that under Obama’s watch the national debt nearly doubled, going from around $11 trillion to almost $20 trillion. Much of this went to create the sense or appearance of an economic recovery that would not otherwise exist. Many on Main Street voted for Trump, after all, partly because they no longer trusted “expert” pronouncements on the economy. They hadn’t seen any evidence of the supposed Obama-era recovery.

Now Donald Trump could conceivably continue to confound the “experts” by setting the country on course for a jobs renaissance ­ — the “experts” having written a gigabyte-sized quantity of material from their academic and journalistic cubicles about how “protectionism does not work,” that tariffs are a bad idea, that Smoot-Hawley caused the Great Depression, etc., etc. The “experts” contend, and they appear to be right about this, that Trump ignores present and future technological change as a cause of unemployment, as corporations embrace robotics and similar technology to do more with less. Jobs are eliminated, but profits soar.

Be that as it may,  Trump won’t be able to enact a whole new set of, e.g., trade policies overnight, and he won’t be able to control what foreign governments do regarding their corporations (this translates into the real danger of a trade war with China). Following what now seem to me the likely victories of Geert Wilder in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen in France, in those countries’ looming elections, the globalists, their ideological foes the economic nationalists right where they want them, may decide to blow down the financialized, house-of-cards economy they have erected. They will do what they did in 2008 on a much larger scale: pull billions out of the system all at once, threatening a massive collapse of banking and credit systems. With credit frozen, everything that depends on credit will stop almost overnight. Deflation (not hyper-inflation) will ensue. This will happen not just in the U.S. but all across Europe. Via their control over corporate (“mainstream”) media, globalists will regale a panicked public with the contention that the debacle is the fault of the “populists,” as evidence that “populism and protectionism do not work.” These are Brandon Smith’s suggestions, in any event.

Smith accuses Trump of lying about “draining the swamp,” and it’s true: he’s almost exclusively appointed fellow billionaires to cabinet posts, some with ties to Goldman Sachs — after the Federal Reserve probably the most important superelite-controlled entity in the U.S. Ties to Goldman Sachs don’t necessarily translate to insider status, but they both do and ought to raise red flags. Once we peer behind the curtains of Trump’s rhetoric, it is easy to believe that the superelite is going to remain in control, even if they are taking some temporary lumps and portraying themselves as under attack (see, e.g., this). Trump has also put a lot of military men in positions of great authority: positioning them perfectly in case the administration has to deal with bouts of the sort of unrest likely to erupt if the economy really does go into a tailspin.

So who is Donald Trump, really? And does “populism” portend change — or the setting of the stage for something magnitudes worse than the past 30 years have been?

I don’t have answers to these conundrums. I could be wrong about the upcoming elections in Europe. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. But if I am right, and by the second half of 2017 we see “populist” governments settling in and getting comfortable all around the West, what I would not do is get too comfortable right alongside them. The financialization bomb is still there! Dozens of contrarian economists have been arguing for years that we have been in the “eye of the hurricane” since 2008. We might not reenter the storm until 2018 or even 2019, but it could be as soon as September 2017.

As that storm exacts its effects, which will be the literal disappearance of trillions of dollars back into the thin air from which they came, the probable end of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, a massive decline in the U.S. standard of living outside elite-owned enclaves and gated communities, and the likely appearance of globalist-sponsored political saviors with a worldview to contrast with Trump’s, all bets are off. The globalists will be in a position to dictate terms to hungry populations. Get with the program, or die in poverty! We may not see a return to the neocon-neoliberal order. More likely, we’ll be looking at a future headed toward of de facto or de jure world government, rapid progress toward a “global union,” whatever they decide to call it, answering to global corporations — its supportive media filling airwaves and bandwidth space with attacks on “populism” in all its stripes. These will ensure that real conservatism and national sovereignty are dead as doornails. The solution to the problem of “blue” versus “red” cultures may be had through the extinction of the latter, even if the former is also under a de facto tyranny of technocrats. The “experts,” in that case, will be back!

Posted in Culture, Donald Trump, Election 2016 and Aftermath, Political Economy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pivotal Western philosophers no longer welcomed by students at this British university because of their color.

Plato? Descartes? Kant? Pivotal figures, all, who irreversibly changed the direction of what Richard Rorty called the conversation of the West. But to the up-and-coming generation of students, there’s a problem.

Weren’t they all white males?

With Plato it might be hard to tell. He was whatever ethnicity the ancient Greeks who lived on the Mediterranean Sea could be classified as, assuming it different, and he might have one redeeming feature among today’s students. He was gay.

Read all about it here.

I find it interesting that the “prestigious British university” is not named until very late in the article. Presumably the author didn’t want to embarrass the institution too badly.

This is coming primarily from students, and one has to wonder what the dickens is going on at the secondary level these days. (Although we see similar stuff occurring in U.S. institutions.)

The motivation seems to be an effort to “decolonize” Western philosophy: to “address the structural and epistemological legacy of colonialism.” I have to place this in the same category with those “scholars” who are attacking the very idea of “whiteness.” I have no idea what they mean. Somehow, I don’t think it’s my ignorance at fault.

To their credit, there is pushback from the faculty, and from British philosophers worth listening to. Roger Scruton, for example, said, “You can’t rule out a whole area of intellectual endeavour without having investigated it, and clearly they haven’t investigated what they mean by white philosophy …  If they think there is a colonial context from which Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason arose, I would like to hear it.”

So would I, including what a phrase like white philosophy could conceivably refer to that is specific enough to give it content. Need I observe that Western nations and peoples, however we classify their ethnicity, have produced many different philosophies and kinds of philosophy?

Professional philosophers should resist this nonsense, although the generational tide being what it is, and the phenomenon being international, and not limited to the U.S. or probably even to the Anglophone world, I imagine resisting the increasingly irrational demands of Generation Snowflake will be easier said than done. With “populism” on the rise within the larger culture as a countervailing force, it is hard not to envision major conflicts ahead, especially if those of us who defend essentially traditional approaches to doing philosophy and teaching it decide we are going to stand our ground, and that Generation Snowflake’s anxieties about “whiteness” and other irrational feelings are their problem, and not ours.

Posted in Academia, Academic Politics, Culture, Higher Education Generally, Where Is Philosophy Going? | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The “Two Americas”: Further Reflections

Last month’s lengthy post received some worthy feedback. I’d discussed the clash of two cultures in America (and elsewhere, but America was my focus). They both claim legitimacy for themselves but deny it to the other.  There is a distinct power-asymmetry, as the “blue” culture of the cities, the corporations (especially the banks), the centralized federal government, etc., has far more of it than the “red” culture outside the cities and suburbs. My suggestion was that these two cultures are not just incompatible but incommensurable, and that they cannot exist indefinitely under a single governing structure without eventually pulling that structure apart. Hence we need to begin thinking about the forces and factors that will eventually partition and dismantle the U.S. Empire, with an eye to its happening as peacefully as possible; although in a lot of cases it is clear, peaceful separation won’t happen, as no one obsessed with power gives it up willingly.

A friend of mine posted a lengthy response on Facebook. I invited him to copy and paste it here, but he never did. I’m not assuming he wants to be identified over here, so I’ll respect his privacy by not doing so. His response still seems to me worth discussing, a month later:

… [w]hat about those of us who seem to be crossovers, or some fractional combination thereof, of your diametrically opposed Blue and Red people?

We get left out of the equation, most of the time. We drink whatever tastes best to us, our drug of choice is reality after having decided to give up drugs entirely years ago in order to raise families, we have degrees as well as work with our hands, we embrace diversity, we fight racism, sexism, and whatever the hell you call fear of LGBT and poly people. We are legion, we are neither blue nor red, but we blend the best virtues of both while rejecting utterly the hate one may have for the other. And we are ignored, largely, by both blue and red as outcasts, lepers, unclean because we have no hate to bring to the table.

The first thing worth noting: dichotomous thinking is a philosopher’s occupational hazard. The history of the discipline is full of dichotomies, and any good dissection of them and of their dangers would require a separate post that would probably be longer than anything I’ve done so far! And so no, it wasn’t my intention to imply an absolute dichotomy between “red” and “blue” cultures, or that there aren’t people who mix and meld aspects of each according to their own judgment, tastes, proclivities, and so on. There are, of course, people who live in cities and embrace its values who work well with their hands; and people who enjoy small town life who reject what they see as unconscionable intolerance. They are embracing aspects of both cultures, that is. There are large swaths of the American population that fit my original description, especially those associated with universities and large mass media corporations, but there are also people who don’t fit completely into either camp.

I probably don’t, either, when you get right down to it.

I tend to identify with the ideals of independence and self-reliance championed by those in the “red” culture, but to me this doesn’t warrant whatever “hatred” they may bear for those in the “blue” culture. I certainly don’t want homosexuals persecuted or beaten up, as some in the “red” culture might well do. And when some deranged soul like Dylann Roof walks into a black church and murders nine innocent people, we are as horrified as anybody! Those in the “blue” culture surely mean well in rejecting discrimination, intolerance, hatred; and likewise; but this doesn’t translate into an endorsement of their implicit belief that they know what is best for those in the “red” culture in any general way. One of the features of the  “reds,” after all, is weariness at being told what to think and what to do.

But too many of them would describe me as “too intellectual” or simply “too educated” (or maybe “overeducated” or just “too longwinded” for them). Many of the “blue” people would reject my thinking as too unconstrained for them, as I have no problem entertaining and sometimes experimenting with (without actually endorsing) ideas they reject out of hand, in some cases as horrifying. Their professors would describe my approach to the world of ideas as undisciplined and irresponsible; I would answer that it reflects healthy pluralism and an awareness that I at least am aware, I don’t have all the answers. But like a curmudgeon, I don’t mind barbecuing an occasional sacred cow!

Finally, I certainly did not mean to imply that all or even most members of either culture have a “drink of choice” or a “drug of choice.” Again, there are enough members of each to make the idea meaningful, but there are also plenty of others who, as this gentleman put it, “decided to give up drugs entirely years ago in order to raise families …” which, I happen to know in his case, he has done so with great success, and in my response to his post I told him so.

He’d continued:

Politics embraces hate for whatever other the red or blue sees in their fantasy opponents. The world is neither red or blue, black and white value judgements strictly enforced by whatever temporal power that happens to have control from moment to moment. The world is infinite shades of whatever elitist color wheel the political hacks deem most useful to obtain power. And we are not amused by the antics of global power elites, or racist elites, or any pseudo-populist elites who wish to decide what is best for us “cattle.”

In many respects, politics is a Grand Illusion. Iconoclastic libertarian psychologist Thomas Szasz distinguished between work which “pushes matter around” and politics which “pushes people around.” Sin comes in many manifestations, which affect the sinner differently: some, as I’ve noted in multiple places, are obsessed with power and drawn to it. They sometimes use ideas to rationalize what they want to do; sometimes just symbols such as waving a flag or other symbol.

Although I’m not a theoretical anarchist, I understand why some philosophers are. The theoretical anarchist believes there is no rational or moral justification for a special institution to be invested with a monopoly on the exercise of force: the state. The theoretical anarchist believes governance — order (social, economic, etc.) — can be had without any such institution. If he’s erred, it’s in looking for some universal justification for the state which numerous philosophers claim to have found: some obvious statists such as Plato or Hobbes but others well within the proto-libertarian pantheon of thinkers such as John Locke or John Stuart Mill, finding that such absolutist views fall short, and condemning the whole project. For better or for worse, in practice as opposed to theory, states tend to have the legitimacy we give them.

Even so, there may be reasons for not giving them or their appendages any legitimacy! Our remote ancestors made a horrendous discovery we have been paying for ever since. As toolmakers able to use an ever-widening variety of tools to build agrarian communities, they discovered they could do more than use tools to move matter around. They could turn people into tools to be used:

They could invent institutions devoted to turning people into tools: educational, corporate, and so on. That way lies the development of the corporate state, which merges corporate power derived from an obsession with obtaining wealth as an end in itself into the state derived from an obsession with power as an end itself. And as twentieth century political philosopher Leopold Kohr observed, the larger such orders get, the more they tend to turn to bullying to accomplish their goals. The more they can assume their victims have no means of organizing and retaliating, the more abusive they get.

But in fact, no abusive state has ever ruled easily, and nor do their heirs. Populations do have breaking points, as King Louis XIV of France learned the hard way. Our gentleman’s post ends ominously:

Do whatever you wish. Boost the economy, or ruin it for your own mere score-keeping dominance games. We find your power games boring. You elitists have lost track of the larger vision, the proverbial Big Picture. Once you have “ultimate power,” what will WE allow you to do with it? Best case scenario for you? We, the people, ignore your existence and your power-mad bloviating. Worst case scenario for you? Study the French Revolution, then multiply that by 300 million pissed off “cattle” who can reach out and touch you from miles away. You want to rule? Uneasy rests the head which wears a crown. And if you kill us, just whom would you have to lord it over during your rule? Think carefully. Choose wisely. A cash cow can be milked for it’s entire lifetime, but if it is butchered for meat? It provides only a limited number of steak dinners before the meat is forever gone.

I have elsewhere written about rising global technofeudalism as the most plausible name for the system of political economy the globally-minded elite that has greatly (and deleteriously) influenced the “blue” culture is working to advance. I note, in that place, that like any form of empire, technofeudalism would have a distinct life span. It would be vulnerable to all the weaknesses of its creators and maintainers (and their over-indulged offspring). Their corruption could bring it down from within, as factions unavoidably begin to appear and start quarreling amongst themselves. Or the system’s downfall could be its rulers’ inability to respond effectively as a natural disaster destabilizes some region. Or, finally, the sense of massive inequity between rulers and ruled over could simply undermine the willfulness of the latter to continue producing for it. If they find their own leaders, which they will invariably do even under conditions of surveillance, and their situation is made clear to them, that is when the pitchforks will come out. Only in the future, they may take the form, e.g., of hackers able to compromise and torpedo telecommunications systems from great distances away.

Some believe this last is what happened to the Democrats prior to this past election. While I won’t go into my reasons here for thinking the Russians weren’t involved, it is clear that this mindset has enemies able to subvert from within, which saw the Clinton campaign as worth subverting. Clinton drew her main support from the “blue” culture. But Trump, whose main visible support came from the “red” camp, has hardly proven himself to be free of elite influence. His proposed cabinet is filled with former Goldman Sachs employees. Goldman Sachs is as “blue” as “blue” gets! A pseudo-populist? We’ll have to wait and see, although to prove he’s the real deal, here is a good list of goals Trump will need to begin pursuing during 2017 to prove it. Otherwise he’ll be the one to deal with the  “300 million pissed off ‘cattle’ …”

Posted in anarchism, Culture, Election 2016 and Aftermath, Political Economy, Political Philosophy, Where is Civilization Going? | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two Cultures, Two Americas — Post-Election 2016 Edition (Philosophical Reflections on an Empire In Decline)

Part of me is still reeling: one of the reasons I haven’t posted on the topic yet. While I certainly was not pulling for Hillary Rodham Clinton to win the election, I believed she would win. I believed she was the favorite of the globalist elites or the Establishment or the international financial oligarchy or whatever you want to call it, and that they had engineered her path to the White House. I began to doubt that judgment when James Comey reopened the FBI investigation against her practically one week before the election. She dropped in the polls. But not to a spot beneath Trump. I still thought she would win.

I was wrong. Many of us were wrong. A minority, from across the political spectrum, from leftist Michael Moore to conservative (sort of) Brandon Smith, called it right. Respected musician, experimental composer, visual artist and occasional commentator Brian Eno also got it right. So did economist and former Syriza finance minister Yanis Varoufakis. Donald Trump would win, all said. These are intelligent people. Except for Moore, who seems to me a blowhard extraordinaire, I hadn’t encountered their views earlier. While one may not agree with all their assumptions or conclusions, their considerations are worth a look. Hence the links.

Trump won, and will be the next U.S. president. I am working under the assumption that attempts to overturn the results of November 8 via lobbying the Electoral College or via a revolt within the Electoral College itself will fail, as surely it is obvious that so unprecedented an action would open a legal and constitutional Pandora’s Box, not to mention potential civil unrest that could lead to violence. I sincerely hope that I am not wrong again!!

I’d stayed up on November 8 until past midnight, watching election returns. I thought I remembered Hillary getting ahead in the electoral vote count. My friends say she didn’t. I look back at my live journal notes from that night and cannot find where I actually wrote down that she’d gotten ahead. I am not sure what happened. Maybe I dozed off at my computer and dreamed it. In any event, I went off to bed, still sure Hillary would win. I awakened with a jolt at around 6:30 am (these are all Santiago, Chile times, by the way). It was light outside. The sky hadn’t fallen. I made my way to my computer.

The U.S. had elected Donald Trump President.

Later I saw the electoral map, broken down county by county. It showed geographically small areas of blue, clustered around big cities and larger population centers mostly on coastal regions … surrounded by vast seas of red elsewhere. The latter, of course, elected The Donald president, when denizens of the former who had polled, broadcasted, and predicted from their safe havens (or are they echo chambers?) said Hillary would be a shoe-in, in some cases by a landslide. Even some mainstream Republicans preferred her to Trump, thinking they could make some kind of a comeback for 2020. Dream on. It wouldn’t have happened.

Trump did not win by a landslide. He did not win the popular vote, assuming his claims about millions of illegal aliens voting for Hillary Clinton are groundless. This has a lot of people up in arms. They do not appear to accept that the Electoral College elects the president, not the popular vote. They believe it should be the popular vote. In fairness, Trump inveighed against the Electoral College in the past; after the election he conveniently decided he approved of it. The Founders designed the Electoral College because they did not trust the popular vote. An irony is that Trump came under attack for his ambiguous remark about accepting the results of the election should he lose. He didn’t lose. Those who did are the ones trying to resist the outcome. Not My President say their signs.

The implications of the stark contrast between those who voted for Hillary Clinton and those who voted for Donald Trump are what I wish to discuss. Two cultures. Two Americas. Unequal, unyoked, mutually hostile, and — other things being equal — on collision course. A philosopher should have something to say about this situation, especially a philosopher with a sense of history and its relevance, as well as one aware of the existence of contrasting worldviews. That would be a philosopher such as myself, schooled in the work of Thomas S. Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend, long aware of the incommensurability problem (it was my dissertation topic, after all!), and thus aware not just of the philosophical problems created by accounting for vast divides but the dicey practical problems involved in communicating across them.

These sorts of events are not limited to the U.S., obviously. The British voted for Brexit on June 23, which many pundits also thought would fail. Nigel Farage, one of the most visible Euro-skeptics, was one of the brains behind Brexit. The French might well put National Front president Marine Le Pen in charge of their country when the time comes. At this point, it wouldn’t surprise me. What some call “populism” and others, “economic nationalism” (and still others, simply racism and xenophobia) is on the rise around the world. What it is, is a mass rejection of globalism / globalization. Many common people have figured out that what globalism / globalization has done is enrich a tiny elite, destroying middle classes in its wake in places like the U.S., and destabilizing their communities without bringing them tangible benefits. In Europe, much anti-globalism is in response to the flood of Middle Eastern migrants, primarily Muslims, from third world countries, and the rising tides of terrorist attacks, sexual assaults, and other violent crimes they’ve brought with them. Eurocrats, CEOs, and bankers may think open borders are a good idea, but they don’t have to wipe up the blood!

I’ve previously commented on the so-called “alt-right” in the U.S. which has little use for a “movement conservatism” it sees as impotent, and which clearly was already dead in the water: one of the most basic reasons Trump rose to the top despite attacks from within his own party. One wonders how much soul-searching will go on within the upper echelons of the GOP to figure out that Trump, with his media-savvy and ability to use even media hostility to his advantage, had very little to compete with. There wasn’t much in the way of ideas discussed in the GOP debates, because Trump’s competitors didn’t have any! Had Trump not run, however, issues such as globalism, immigration, trade agreements, and border controls wouldn’t have been on the table! Everyone with a functioning brain knows this!

Be this as it may, the open antagonism that developed over Trump’s candidacy, and now over his victory, are indicative of more going on. One could argue that the culture war has just gone to the next level. The left thought it had won hands down (largely because of the collapse of “movement conservatism”). But that was before Donald Trump, and now we are seeing a rising clash between the two cultures, two Americas, both pre- and post-election 2016?

How can we best characterize these two cultures?

The “blue” culture of the big cities and population centers is sophisticated-appearing and sounding, urban and urbane, and accepting of anonymity as its members pass hundreds of (like-minded?) people in crowded city streets or in traffic or on subways they have never seen before and may never see again. Typically they are well educated in the formal sense (advanced degrees; Ivy League credentials are best). They work in banks or in other big businesses or for government agencies or in the professions, usually full-time and sometimes more. They are career- and money-oriented, investment-savvy, and on top of the latest technology. Cosmopolitan and secular, they have little use for religion. They tend to trust government and technocratic expertise. Globally-focused, multicultural, valuing diversity (of faces that is, at least on paper), they are tolerant of any and all lifestyle choices, and committed to “equal rights.” They easily affect a casual sense of superiority, perhaps a natural product of their formal educations and urbaneness. Late children of the Enlightenment, one might call them, the walls of their offices feature their diplomas; those of their condos are adorned with sometimes expensive classic paintings. Knick-knacks brought back from that trip to Europe stand on bookshelves displaying trendy bestsellers they probably haven’t read, like Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs.

The “blues” tend to move around, whether renting or buying and then selling McMansions or upscale condos with multiple guest bedrooms; there is always something bigger and fancier, after all. Unless they are inside gated communities, however, they lock their doors and throw deadbolts at night because of fear of crime: this despite the “experts” telling them violent crime has been falling for years. They have no cognitive dissonance about this.

They do not like guns. Basically, they are afraid of guns, associating them with violent crime and criminals because of what they see on TV. What they know about their groceries is that they come from grocery stores, and that if they want to shop for “health food” there is always Whole Foods. A few can perhaps change the oil in their car or change a tire or do basic household repairs, but it’s easier to hire some marginally visible flunky to do it so they can go back to TV or video games when not at work. Their favorite drinks are wine, foreign beers, and perhaps Scotch; their drug of choice (for those who indulge) is likely to be cocaine (a few may deign to smoke marijuana, because it should be legal, you know). Their musical tastes run to jazz, reggae, so-called world music, maybe some classical, or just the classic rock they grew up with — or whatever is trendy.

The “red” culture of rural regions — such as so-called “flyover country” — is locally oriented, filled with people who have lived in one place and known each other most if not all of their lives. They live with far more green and open space than do city-dwelling “blues,” the latter accustomed to concrete and asphalt and steel. Their pace of life is slower and more relaxed. Ability to work with their hands is something they prize, whether in farming or in assembly-line manufacturing. Earning one’s living solving practical problems with your hands is a badge of manhood, in their view. Their preferred method of education, were they allowed to choose it, would be the apprenticeship, learning a trade by doing, from someone who has already mastered it. “Reds” are family-focused, with extended family dwelling in small towns or on farms (or what is left of them) or down in “the holler.”

They are Christian in a broad sense which can include all sorts of denominations or none at all; what they can’t fathom is a world without a God of some kind in it to provide a basis for salvation and morality. While few will think about the matter much, if they did they might tell you that the hardships and sufferings of this world only derive meaning through insight into some other existence. They don’t tend to trust button-down bureaucrats and other so-called professionals from outside their personal orbits: whether rightly or wrongly, we aren’t here to judge this just now. “Reds” prefer a smaller government that provides basic services such as keeping the streets and roads maintained, delivering the mail and also jailing the handful of troublemakers; but is not otherwise meddlesome, telling them what to do, who to hire in their workplaces, who they must do business with, where they can place Nativity scenes at Christmas, or otherwise micromanaging their lives and communities. A reason they disdain workplace meddling was once stated to me: “Nothing big city liberals do ever works!”

Government bureaucrats and professionals with no callouses on their hands are one thing: aware of vaster differences, “reds” have even less trust for strangers or people who do not look, speak, or act like them; this is akin to indigenous cultures of the past who did not know if gestures from newly-arrived strangers in large ships from elsewhere were overtures of friendship or preludes to an invasion. (Ask Native Americans about this.) “Blue” city-dwellers condemn this as racist or xenophobic, not realizing they are condemning what has been the norm for almost all of human history, the past couple of centuries or so in the West being an anomaly. They haven’t studied history in any depth, though, because it doesn’t make them money.

“Reds,” unlike them, grew up with guns, have known how to use them from childhood, and so are comfortable with them. Seeing guns as a source of protection and safety, as they swill down Miller Lite they find themselves making fun of the “blue” culture’s fear, hidden behind city-bound superiority. They worry, however, that the big city mindset is spreading uncontrollably, like weeds or insects. Their parents and grandparents could leave their doors unlocked at night, but they cannot anymore because of the sense that their surroundings are changing and their culture is under attack. Crime is definitely worse than it used to be, and there are too many people around they don’t know anymore. Some, building the houses, mini-malls, fast-food franchises, and other signs of the “blue” invasion along the interstate highway, don’t speak or understand English.

Since the factories closed and went to Mexico, the “reds” don’t have ready cash to spend, as Walmart and the fast food franchises don’t pay as well. The drying up of local clientele has forced local shops and generations-old restaurants to close, turning once-vibrant areas of downtown into boarded-up structures in front of vacant lots: increasingly run down, dark, quiet, and vaguely frightening. The “reds’” children used to take for granted the availability of work in farming or manufacturing but cannot anymore, and so are forced to leave home and move to the cities or suburbs to go at least to community college to have any hope of finding work. All have a distressing sense of having lost control over their lives. Walmart is full of cheap Chinese crud that breaks or falls apart after a few months or even weeks, as opposed to the products of those skilled craftsmen who, now unable to earn their livings, are drinking themselves into oblivion.

The “reds,” whose living room walls may be adorned with posters featuring local sports teams or NASCAR scenes, turn on their televisions (networks programmed by “blues” in the big cities) and watch facsimiles of themselves being ridiculed or degraded, while lifestyles they find depraved are promoted openly. “Are there no sitcoms without lesbians kissing in public anymore, and where the characters can speak three sentences without swearing?” one such person might ask out of frustration? Then, following the recent election coverage and still smarting somewhat from Barack Obama’s description of them a few years past as “bitter clingers” (to their guns and their God), they hear Hillary Clinton dismiss them as the “deplorables.” Most of them are now on the Internet and increasingly tech-savvy themselves, and so they know about Hillary’s long list of scandals from “alternative” sites. They have to laugh at her description of them, but find their distrust of what the city people have to say having gone up one more notch. Their favorite drinks, lest we forget, are the above-mentioned Miller Lite or Bud (“Beer’s beer!” I once heard one such person say dismissively of imported foreign brands like Becks or St. Pauli Girl); their drugs of choice are marijuana or meth. They don’t care whether these are legal or not; they are readily available, and with all the corruption it is clear: the big city people don’t respect the law, so why should they? Their music is Country & Western, obviously, as it tells hardship stories they can relate to. Some will listen to gospel for the same reasons; many of their youth prefer hard rock cranked up to earsplitting levels because it expresses what they feel inside. Rates of substance abuse and suicide are higher than ever before.

These descriptions are stereotypical, of course, and I don’t claim they apply to any one person or community or everyone in those environments. There are, after all, the construction workers and other common laborers in the cities, all but invisible to the sophisticates unless they need someone to fix that leak. Plus, there are the countless waiters and waitresses who, they will quietly remind you if you ask them, accept tips especially as you look like you can afford it. There are bound to be people with a few characteristics of both. Out in the “boonies” there is the occasional professional who may be fairly liberal in his political leanings but moved there because he thought he could make money more easily: perhaps he’s the only optometrist or podiatrist in town, or the only gastroenterologist at the local hospital. Finally, somebody had to be assigned to manage that Walmart, or oversee the hiring of surly teenagers in that Waffle House or McDonald’s out by the highway.

The “blues” with their formal educations, their secular cosmopolitanism, their respect for “diversity” and their global sensibilities, look down their noses at the tieless and unshaven rural rabble. They casually use words and phrases like redneck, trailer trash, white trash, and so on. Their affect says, “We know what’s best for you and your world, and we’re going to do it whether you like it or not.” Their candidate in this election was Hillary Clinton. With her Yale law degree and her six-figure Goldman Sachs speaking engagements, she was one of them. They might not like everything about her, but — her experience, her wonkish mastery of policy specifics, her superb qualifications generally, as opposed to that toad-faced, abrasive alpha male, that racist, xenophobic, woman-molesting, authoritarian proto-fascist who once spoke of how his celebrity allowed him to grab women’s … er, you know. And on top of that, he has no grasp of the economics of a global economy; he’s a nationalist and a protectionist, and we know what terrible things those are to be.

Stronger Together, Hillary’s slogan, resonated with the “blue” mindset, especially as she was the only real alternative to that nasty piece of alpha-male work who connived his way into the Republican nomination. Gary Johnson wasn’t going to get elected, nor was Jill Stein, not that any city-dwellers outside university campuses took either one seriously.

The rural people — the “reds” — in their “uneducated” fashion, lacking the sensitivities of the city dwellers, respond when they can, “Leave us the hell alone!” In the past, when this kind of response fell on deaf ears, they sucked it up, seeing as they had very little choice. Lose your good-paying factory job; go to work waiting tables in that Waffle House or flip those burgers in the McDonalds, or find a job in that slick new mall three exits down. Their parents had been card-carrying Democrats, but there’s nothing clearer to them now than that the Democratic Party kicked them to the curb years ago.

In 2016, however, they saw a champion and voted for him in record numbers both in the primaries and then in the general: Donald Trump, a businessman instead of a member of the political class, a known quantity from his television appearances, who they saw as speaking their language which isn’t politically correct, and representing their interests even if he is a New York real estate billionaire, and should therefore be a “blue.” Instead he told them, in effect, “your enemies are my enemies,” and gave them back hope for the future. They responded by attending his rallies by the thousands, even at the risk of being physically assaulted by “blue” troublemakers outside.

Make America Great Again resonated with their sense of living in a society with government run amuck, the local economy destroyed, the culture being trashed, the younger generation leaving for the cities out of sheer boredom and coming back from its universities with humongous debt, their heads filled with “socialist” pap from their left wing “blue” professors. America, that is, had stopped being great and the time had come to take their country back!

These two cultures, these two Americas, are incommensurable. What does it mean to say this? The word is tricky to define. The concept behind it is borrowed from basic mathematics: the relationship between rational and irrational numbers is one of incommensurability because the latter cannot be expressed in the form a/b, and so there is no single formal number system able to contain both without residue, a quantity left hanging and unaccounted for. Keeping the technicalities to a minimum, the same basic principle applies to contrasting conceptual systems (as Kuhn and Feyerabend both claimed were illustrated during scientific revolutions) or forms of life (the later Wittgenstein, a major influence on both) and their vocabularies, and to larger cultural systems and the values underwriting them. I would define it thus: two cultural systems are incommensurable if and only if they are unable to be subsumed under a single set of shared norms or values, or expressed within a single shared and larger vocabulary, or brought within a single consensus defined by a single set of rules for resolving conflicts, without residue or a sense of something important not properly accommodated. Were this a journal article we’d need more clarification and specification, but since this is a blog post this will do for now.

It should be clear: the two Americas are incommensurable in their basic outlooks. For starters, one is secular, therefore sees all values as products of this world, and focused primarily on economics (from a globalist standpoint). The other is basically Christian, sees values as rooted outside this world, and is more focused on family and culture, even if this means restricting the economic freedom of corporations to do as they please, such as shipping jobs to cheap-labor countries. Neither one sees as real what is most important to the other. The “blue” culture dismisses the “reds” as uneducated, but worked out, their views of what it means to be educated have almost nothing in common. The former trusts formal university classroom education, credentialing, and technocratic expertise, that which the Ivy Leagues produce being the concept’s center of gravity. It sees knowledge in global or universal terms, which justifies applying it everywhere, including to the recalcitrant “reds” tiny worlds. The “reds,” meanwhile, trust their collective eyes and ears as well as tradition — what has “worked” in the sense of maintaining stability and civility in the past — and otherwise go off immediate experience. They do not understand, much less trust or value, abstract formulations, economic or otherwise. There is a sense in which (although no one in the “red” culture would express matters this way) they see knowledge, apart from Biblical revelation, as local and tactile, based on what can be done with one’s hands by those one knows and trusts, as opposed to what is supposedly universal and abstract. Such ideas shouldn’t be all that unfamiliar: anthropologists such as Clifford Geertz worked out versions of them when investigating undeveloped cultures — undeveloped in the Western Enlightenment sense, of course.

The “blues” value “diversity” which is somehow always a diversity of faces; “conservative” ideas are not allowed in its Halls of Ivy because of their ties to tradition and religion. The “reds” see a diversity of faces as vaguely threatening because of its potential disruptiveness, and because they can view it as having been forced on them. Donald Trump, in this case, represents pushback. If they thought to do so, they could point to the disruptions Muslim migrants are causing all across the open-bordered and increasingly dysfunctional European Union, and which are doubtless contributing to the rising nationalism there: Greece’s Syriza Party was pushback against EU-imposed “austerity” even if it failed. Brexit was pushback which succeeded, as might Marine Le Pen.

The two cultures, the two Americas, are not just incommensurable, they are on collision course. Trump, the most visible product of the “red” culture, hasn’t even been officially elected president; this will not occur until December 19. His enemies in “blue” city civilization know this. I have never seen this level or hostility directed towards an Electoral College winner. Some, as I noted near the outset, are taking the unprecedented step of trying to thwart the Electoral College vote which is needed to officially place Trump in the White House on January 20, 2017. A few Electoral College members themselves are toying with the idea of a revolt. Doing anything this reckless and irresponsible, as I also noted, could bring the two cultures, the two Americas, into open and potentially very dangerous confrontation.

One of the most troublesome features of contrasting incommensurable spheres I haven’t yet mentioned: neither sees the other as legitimate, because each brings its own sense of legitimacy to the table. The “blues” see the “reds” (to use Obama’s phrase again) as “bitter clingers” whose world is doomed to its downward spiral, especially as demographics continue changing and if the manufacturing jobs do not come back. The “reds,” however they came by the conclusion, see the “blues” as bearing primary responsibility for these changes; they didn’t just happen by accident! Their view is indeed unacceptably (to “blue” sophisticates) paranoid and conspiratorial. They see the “blues” as having disrupted their world in the name of their secular gods, money and power, which authorized them to bully, insult, and humiliate because they can. Every time a “blue” columnist or commentator calls Trump a bully or an authoritarian proto-fascist, the “red” who reads or hears this wants to tell her that if she wants to see a bully or an authoritarian or a proto-fascist, she should go look in the mirror.

The problems created by two cultures, two Americas, will not go away, however we see them originating (that is a separate blog post). Existing commentary on both sides of the divide clearly indicates how little either side truly understands, or wants to understand, the other. Clearly, of course, the bulk of money and power lies with the “blues” who control the big banks and other corporations: many of whose footsoldiers surely want essentially the same things from life as the “reds”: a sense of achievement; meaning and purpose, of being somebody and not nobody; connection, companionship, and love. Despite the population concentrations in big cities and urban areas, the “reds” have plenty of numbers on their side; time will tell whether this matters. They are also sufficiently fed up that, having voted for Donald Trump and electing him, they could turn on him and his administration in a heartbeat if for any reason he fails to deliver!

I might as well just say it. The two cultures, the two Americas, cannot reconcile, and cannot exist indefinitely under the same governing roof. That means one of two things, or possibly both. The first: this election cycle has already seen the brewing of a cold civil war, which could turn hot if the “blues” continue with their efforts to impose their values and agendas on the “reds” by force, especially if this includes the continued destruction of their local economies by outsourcing, immigration, and replacing human workers with technology. The other: separation, with the formation of new and autonomous governments, outside each other’s immediate spheres of political authority. Secession stirrings in various states such as Texas and in the Southeast were described as malicious when not dismissed as nuts; but now that “progressive” Californians have floated the idea in the wake of the Trump victory, all of a sudden it isn’t malicious or nuts.

I predict we will see more such talk in the future, probably from both cultures, both Americas. Initially it may go nowhere, of course. But gradually, it will cease to be mere talk as moves are made by secessionists to gain seats in legislatures and then governorships, or perhaps in the form of efforts to partition states when, for example, the “red” hinterlands of Washington State and Oregon decide they want nothing further to do with the “blue” Seattle area, or Portland. Separatists will gain support in many of the same ways Trump has: by appealing to the frustration and anger of those who see themselves as having been thrown to the curb by those with money, power, and a will to humiliate. Their message to the city dwellers won’t be, Make America Great Again, but rather, We Want Out of Your Empire. To be sure, there will be huge hurdles to be crossed in any such move. What happens to Social Security, Medicare, etc.? Whether, and to what extent these will continue to be obstacles, will be an index of how costly it will seem to remain in the “blue” dominated Union, which after all includes Washington, D.C. even as many “reds” now openly sarcastically call it the District of Criminals.

Bottom line: the U.S. is indeed an empire, and it is doomed. It is in decline. Trump will not reverse this in four years, or even in eight, or in 20 if he had that long. The division between the “blues” and the “reds” has been allowed to develop and fester too long, is now too deeply rooted, and doubtless other divisions will emerge into the light of day once the right subjects are broached. Trump’s overriding platform, meanwhile, has been largely economic, so that even he is only partly responding to the concerns of the “red” culture which include myriad social and moral issues in which he has shown, when all is said and done, little interest.

Eventual peaceful partition of states, parts of states, or regions seeking independence and self-governance would be the logical choice. But human nature being what it is, and those who love money and power being who they are, I doubt very much that the coming break-up of the U.S. empire will be peaceful.

Posted in Election 2016 and Aftermath, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Spat Over A Christian Philosopher’s Presentation Reveals the True State of the Profession: Wretched!

A recent meeting of the Society of Christian Philosophers featured as keynote speaker Richard Swinburne, a well-established philosopher of religion of the rapidly dwindling “old school,” one might call it: the school for which professional philosophy really was the love of wisdom, and not a platform for professing one’s leftist ideology. Swinburne presented well-known and fairly obvious criticisms of homosexuality stemming from the natural law worldview dating to St. Thomas Aquinas and still believed by some elderly Catholic philosophers and theologians. I used to give these criticisms 15 minutes or so in my historically-oriented ethics classes. I am not sure doing so would be such a good idea today for someone without tenure; for this is 2016, not the 1990s. While far from perfect, the world was definitely saner then. Or, at least, academic philosophy was saner then … somewhat. Needless to say, it was already heading in the wrong direction. After all, on at least one occasion my own criticisms of affirmative action for women met with a borderline obscenity by a leftist philosopher writing in the American Philosophical Association’s flagship publications.

Today the situation is magnitudes worse, of course … and illustrative of how academic philosophy has gone over the cliff and is in complete free fall.

Jason Stanley, of Yale University (!!!), offered this adult, professional philosopher’s opinion of Swinburne’s speech: “F**k those a**holes! Seriously!” Stanley’s comment was picked up and circulated by other philosophy professors across the political spectrum. Naturally, he’s won praise for his articulateness from his fellow academic leftists.

You can read many of the details here; I need not recycle them.

I will note that I predicted, back in 1994, that political correctness and Christianity were on collision course, and that the flashpoint would be the rising and increasingly radical homosexual movement.

More recently,  Stanley wrote on his public Facebook page (which he has since, in perhaps one of his rare flashes of intelligence or even — dare I use the word? — wisdom, taken down):

I am really mortified about this. My comment “F*ck those assholes”, posted on a friend’s private FB page about homophobes, was *photographed*. Even *worse*, it made it into *the right-wing hateosphere*, where it is being linked and relinked. I really wish now I hadn’t said that!! I PROFOUNDLY regret not using much harsher language and saying what I really think of anyone who uses their religion to promote homophobia, you know that sickness that has led people for thousands of years to kill my fellow human beings for their sexual preferences. Like you know, pink triangles and the Holocaust. I am really, truly, embarrassed by the fact that my mild comment “F*ck those assholes” is being spread. This wildly understates my actual sentiments towards homophobic religious proponents of evil like Richard Swinburne, who use their status as professional philosophers to oppress others with less power. I am SO SORRY for using such mild language. I am posting this on “public” so that there will be no need for anyone to violate any religious code of ethics and take pictures of private FB pages to share my views about such matters.

This guy is tenured in philosophy at an Ivy League university, one no longer exactly noted for its support for freedom of speech or thought, unless, I presume, the speech is both politically correct, laced with obscenities, and contains casual libel against the expected targets. Pink triangles and the Holocaust? Come on! Oppress others with less power? Where does Stanley believe today’s loci of power really lie? Is he another of these ridiculous characters swinging clumsily at windmills of nonexistent “white privilege” (or “white male privilege”) while those with real power continue advancing their leviathan “trade” deals like TTP and TTIP?

Now, another philosophy professor by the name of Rebecca Kukla … calling these people philosophers just doesn’t seem appropriate … has weighed in. The details of her tira–  I mean words of wisdom, of course! — are here.

She is teaching at what was once a proud Catholic institution! She is also a senior researcher at an ethics institute there and editor-in-chief of two academic journals (one of which, Public Affairs Quarterly, used to be sane).

What can I, an ex-academic, say? What can anyone say?

Reading such material, or as much of it as I can stomach without losing my most recent meal, I am reminded of why I abandoned my multi-year search for a permanent academic position in a philosophy department in the U.S. Apparently, these vulgar, chronically angry, ideologically-driven pseudo-intellectuals are now the type of people likely to win tenure and promotions, applause from colleagues, and even editorial positions on academic journals. They win cheers from their many followers in academia on their Facebook pages!

The radical feminists I cross-swords with a number of years ago were not people I either trusted or wanted as colleagues. People like this Kukla woman, and Jason Stanley’s supporters, appear to be ten-times nastier than the PC-addled ideologues whom I encountered back in the 1990s.

I continue to wonder if anyone has noticed that REAL philosophers, whether politically active or not, are rapidly diminishing in numbers as they die, one at a time, and are not replaced. The Jason Stanleys and Rebecca Kuklas of academia aren’t scholars, they are jokes! Any department that would hire these people does not merit being taken seriously even if it is a “ranked” department!

With the few remaining living philosophers who made the field worth studying almost all in their 80s (the youngest is Saul Kripke, 75), in another decade or so not even vestiges will be left of the once-magnificent endeavor born from “love of wisdom” in academia.

Brian Leiter understandably describes this latest academic catfight using phrases like “tempest in a teapot” and “the high school with tenure crowd,” although I don’t think what he dismisses as “right wing websites” are “eating it up.” They are commenting, also understandably, with bemusement on the fall of the universities in our time. They ought to note how students at these institutions are going massively into debt to attend classes offered by these joke-academics, many of whom wouldn’t have the jobs they have without their institution’s affirmative action program, or being otherwise well-networked.

There is an upside to such tempests as this, however. The more the antics of hard-leftist professors with tenure can be exposed … their juvenile rants, their casual obscenities, etc. … in online articles, on blogs, on Facebook, etc., the wider will be the realization that academic philosophy may be active institutionally but is intellectually dead in the water. The wider the doors may one day open to the writings of us outsiders in a troubled world hungering for meaning and actual critical thinking, the sorts of things philosophy traditionally pointed toward and provided.

Posted in "Ranked" Philosophy Departments, Academia, Academic Politics, Christian Worldview, Culture, Ethics, Georgetown University, Higher Education Generally, Jason Stanley, Philosophy, Rebecca Kukla, Theism or Atheism, Where Is Philosophy Going?, Yale University | 11 Comments

Eight Theses on the “Alt-Right”

Prior to Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s speech last week, I’d barely heard the term “alt-right.” Seems I am not a part of it, if for no other reason than that I am too old. What it appears to be is an unorganized collection of bloggers, editors of and writers for online-only newssites (she named, probably because the Donald Trump campaign’s new CEO Stephen Bannon was editor there), a few other agitators, and trolls on “establishment” sites, perhaps, defined more by what they are against than what they are for. What they are against: political correctness, radical feminism, multiculturalism, academic cliches like “diversity is our strength,” and other staples of the current so-called progressive left (the “alt-left”?). They do not share the mainstream’s hostility to what it dismisses as “conspiracy theories.” “Alt-right” bloggers and writers appear to favor nationalism over globalism, and white identity over other kinds of identities for no other reason than because they are white. Whether this commits them to some kind of racism is unclear. It is rare to find a clear definition of a term almost everyone uses as the linguistic equivalent of club-swinging. To someone trying to engage in analysis instead of ideological club-swinging, this makes it difficult to know when the term should be applied and when it should be withheld pending further inquiry.

These eight theses, assuming anyone reads them, might help us better understand the appeal the “alt-right” has to certain populations, either at present or in the near-future, as the “movement” seems likely to be around well past Election 2016.

(1) Enlightenment philosophers created the concept of universal human rights (UHR) back in the 1700s, as a central component of universal reason (UR), the idea best exemplified in Kant that we all have the same categories (moral as well as epistemological). The culmination of UR and UHR, as civilization moved forward, was a world based on science as the key to discovering truth that was the same for all, technology as the key to material advance, commerce within the confines of sensible regulations, public education to communicate achievements to the next generation, and universal human progress. However the specifics of these are cashed out, UR and UHR was the product of white European men. Some were Christian, and others were attempting to have a fundamentally Christian morality substituting Reason for God.

The result was modernity, whatever its various strengths and perceived weaknesses.

(2) No other people anywhere in the world developed such an ethos. If peoples of other cultures developed anything on the order of a concept of rights, it applied only to their own.

(3) The Enlightenment ethos worked where it was embraced & applied. It brought about material improvements on a scale never before seen. These improvements were extended to minorities within the dominant culture of the U.S. Slavery was abolished. Immigrants willing to assimilate were welcomed. Women’s status was elevated. Cultures elsewhere in the world improved their status materially to the extent they embraced modernity, intended to include UHR.

(4) To be sure, not every culture values material progress. There were peoples who resented Western valuation (exemplified as, e.g., “democracy”) as unwarranted interference,  especially when it was pushed on them at gunpoint, while Western corporations exploited their resources and removed the profits from their countries. Some of these other peoples do have legitimate gripes against modernity.

(5) Western purveyors of what became postmodernity provided the basis for a de facto rejection of UR and UHR when they invented Difference and Identity Politics — e.g., the politics of preferential favors for minorities and women, however justified, implemented by bureaucrats, very quickly at the expense of white men few of whom had been born when the bulk of the events described under (4) were taking place. Difference, no less than UR, had its roots in Western philosophy: specifically, in Hegel’s concept of the different perceptions of the world as experienced by the master versus that of the slave. Hegel’s concept has been taken and generalized. Straight white Christian males are seen within the contemporary academic universe as “privileged” while everyone else is seen as “victim.”

(6) Did anyone really expect that white men would simply accept this, and not eventually embrace the same Identity Politics and demand that it be applied consistently? Did anyone expect that they would not begun using Difference and Identity Politics to defend their interests just as other races / ethnic groups have been doing? The embrace of, e.g., “men’s rights” reflects this as a presumed valid response to radical feminism. Why, moreover, is the white male’s denial of “privilege” deemed automatically illegitimate while the supposed experience of “racism” by the black male is deemed automatically legitimate based on his identity as a black male? (Donald Trump, incidentally, was invoking the application of Identity Politics across the board when he questioned whether a federal judge’s Mexican ancestry would detract from his capacity to judge a white male’s case objectively.)

(7) The “alt-right” is demanding, in this case, a consistent application of Difference and Identity Politics. If there is a black identity, then there is a white identity, even if this makes the worlds they inhabit incommensurable.

(8) What the “alt-right” misses … I think (I could be wrong about this) … is that the losses of UR and UHR are losses of some magnitude, with potentially disastrous consequences for civilization as they continue to work themselves out.

Unless, that is, a “remnant” is able to revisit and revive some version of them.

Posted in Culture, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Where is Civilization Going? | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments