Old Wine in a New Wineskin

“I do not doubt the valor of your people.  But the world is changing.”

So said Frodo to Boromir on the slopes of Amon Hen; and so I say to you.  The people we would speak to seldom read, and when they read, it is with the focused constancy of a butterfly that flits from flower to flower. And there are, O, so very many flowers in our media meadow. I do not doubt the valor of our pens, but I do doubt the power pens alone.  Some of us must learn to speak through a “hot medium.”  I have begun to do this by producing videos my classes, and will begin from time to time to do it here.  Behold, the video edition of my latest post. Continue reading

Mimesis is Logically Implicit in Game Theory; &c.

The following is a record of a brainstorm triggered by a recent post of my Orthospherean colleague and friend, Thomas Bertonneau. Because it is as yet no more than a brainstorm, I here report it as I first recorded it, and as it precipitated upon me from the Realm of the Forms – namely, as a series of impacts, occurrences more or less related:

In any population of evolving strategies for winning games (of any sort, no matter the rules (bearing in mind that the rules of such games are themselves subject to evolution)) with each other, imitation of strategies that win – or that have lately appeared to win under cogent criteria of local near term winning (bearing in mind that these criteria, too, are subject to evolution) – is a requirement of survival. Survival is the sine qua non of all other values; for, one must first be, in order then to realize any other value whatever; and so, no value is effectually valuable – is, i.e., valuable in actual practice – except insofar as it enables survival, which is the precondition of any other value.

If my group learns language, yours must do so too in order to survive against us. So for all other acts. If I attack you, you must attack back harder, or die. So human mimesis is a survival strategy for the individual within the group, and for the group as against other groups. Humans naturally imitate each other because that’s the only way to stay competitive, and so to survive.

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Cross-post: Memory and anticipation in the age of Leftist power

History really did end, not because things stopped changing but because they stopped staying the same.  There was a time not long ago when the past seemed to have some weight, and that which had long endured was assumed to have deep roots.  A conservative accusing progressives of seeking to change the definition of marriage from what it has been “for thousands of years” alludes to this sense.  A progressive invoking the “long arc of history” does as well.  Now, effective resistance to the Left has nearly ceased to exist, and one can expect any aspect of social life to be transformed or eliminated as soon as a consensus on the Left forms that social justice demands it.  Whether this is good or bad, it means the death of the historical sense. [1]

This might seem an odd accusation, at least when directed at progressives.  After all, their entire worldview is indignation at the oppressive past and devotion to a utopian future.  But this worldview is ahistorical in the sense that modernists used to accuse traditionalists of being ahistorical in their devotion to the past, in that the past is imagined to have been static (all history until yesterday being white Christian patriarchal oppression in about equal measure as far as the progressive is concerned) and morally unambiguous (evil, in this case).  (Whiggery, by contrast, was not ahistorical in this sense.)  Nor can today’s progressive imagine what future progressives will be demanding in a hundred years; if he could imagine it, he would be demanding it right now.  So he is not consciously a link in a continuous progression.  His moment is the phase transition from evil to good, the only truly dynamic moment of mankind.

In the face of Leftist power, the conservative also steps outside of history.  The past has no enduring presence, and we feel completely alone when we believe what all of our ancestors believed.  The future has no reality for us.  It no longer makes sense to say that one is fighting to preserve something for one’s children or grandchildren.  The time of their adulthood presumably will come, but it is beyond our horizon; we can neither predict it nor do anything to influence it.  As I’ve written before, the whole purpose of conservatism has changed.  One no longer fights liberalism with hopes of victory or even stalemate.  Defiance is a performance, an act of fidelity–to God, to the truth as one sees it, or to oneself–carried out for its own sake.  Because it cannot accomplish anything, there is no obligation, no uniquely right decision.  The very fact that a man has only the present compels him to decide what he wants to do with his time (a short time, but the only time that is real to him), how he wants to live it.

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The Later Thought of Rene Girard

Girard 01

Rene Girard (1923 – 2015)

History, and increasingly the mere daily record of events, are together apocalyptic.  They lay bare human nature for what it is primordially before the agonizing laboratory of the millennia creates the Christian society that its beneficiaries, swiftly taking it for granted, petulantly reject that they might go “forward” into a liberated horizon beyond the one defined by the Gospel. “Progress” names that particular folly. A blood-drenched folly it is, beginning with the religious wars of the Seventeenth Century and reaching fullness with the mobilization of the whole society fomented by the Jacobins and institutionalized by their superman-successor, Napoleon Bonaparte. From the guillotine henceforth, modernity blurts itself sanguinely in the Commune, Leninism, Stalinism, Hitlerism, and resurgent Islam (Jihad), which continues belatedly the sparagmatic trend of the late and unlamented Twentieth Century. Yet despite the academy’s authoritative three-decades-long declaration of Dionysiac “Postmodernism,” despite the polysyllables of doctrine-inebriated intellectuals, Modernity in its lynch-mob vehemence has not succeeded in realizing its rainbow utopia. No fulfillment of the destructive quest heaves in prospect. Modernity spirals with dizzying speed to its destined abyss, dragging with it those who know full well its madness but who find themselves sucked along with the lunatics into the maelstrom of psychosis.

The contemporary West resembles nothing so much as an archaic society in the full panic of social breakdown, searching desperately for the scapegoats whose immolation will induce the gods to intervene. So perverse has Modernity become that people eagerly seek victim-status although of course they can only do so by indicting other people as their persecutors. The old gesture of designating the victim has therefore been turned inside out and the nomenclature along with it. Objects of collective passion, those who are about to die at the hands of the mob, are now called victimizers, not victims.

No one can fully understand the contemporary situation without first understanding archaic religiosity, and archaic religiosity only reveals its meaning in contrast with the higher, scriptural religiosity, which at one time informed the civilized condition. In the same degree as the contemporary West spurns the spiritual maturity of Judaism and Christianity, its situation reverts to archaic patterns. Thus, in the sacrosanct name of “Progress” – wretched regress. And in tandem with that regress travels the obliteration both of consciousness and conscience, as the individuated man dissolves into the moral crudity of the Caliban-collective. No one has understood archaic religiosity – no one understands the modern age as a case of accelerating sacrificial panic – with greater clarity and penetration than René Girard (1923 – 2015), who remained intellectually active right up to his death. Two late books by Girard, Evolution and Conversion (2008) and Battling to the End (2010), demand attention from those who sense that the liberal-secular order ever more excruciatingly confronts and denies the revelation of its own nullity.

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Christopher Hitchens is Not Great



Self-sealing Fallacy

Some modern militant atheists like to claim things like “religion ruins everything.” Or that the planet would be so much better off without a belief in God. An obvious response is to point at the horrors perpetrated by explicitly atheistic political movements in the twentieth century to claim that actually, things get much worse – atheism ruins everything.

Some atheists have attempted a rebuttal. This is the idea that Hitler, Stalin and Mao Zedong were not “real” atheists, communism and fascism are not genuinely atheistic, and neither were their followers, and that their ill-deeds cannot be laid at the feet of atheism. The first time I encountered it, I incorrectly imagined it was just one person’s confusion. Apparently, this is not so.

Christopher Hitchens advances the argument in the above clips.

It is a nice example of the self-sealing fallacy – also known as the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. Continue reading

On Loyalty to Lost Causes

“Loyalty to lost causes is . . . not only a possible thing, but one of the most potent influences of human history.” Josiah Royce, The Philosophy of Loyalty (1908).*

Loyalty to a lost cause is inherent to reactionary politics, and yet many on the right are embarrassed by the association with defeat and wish it were not so. The thirst for victory is strong in man, and the reactionary heart naturally faints when it reflects on the losses that have littered its way since 1649. A reactionary is also perplexed by questions of how loyalty to his lost cause can be sustained when the cause is truly lost, and when the victors who opposed it are both vigilant and vengeful.

To assuage their embarrassment, cheer their hearts, and unknot their perplexities, reactionaries require a philosophy of lost causes that can pull them from the morass of despair, intransigence and regret. They need a theory to assure them that they are not all mad as Don Quixote or sad and futile prisoners of the past. Continue reading

Addendum to Pity Me Not When the Pop-Guns Pop

When the essays and addresses of Robert L. Dabney were being prepared for publication in the late 1880s, his editors asked the old Virginian whether he would like to suppress or revise some statements of theological and political opinions that had fallen out of fashion.  Dabney’s creed of pure Calvinism had been on the wane for decades, and even the South was washing its hands of Confederate apologia, so a politic man of Dabney’s years might have chosen to fudge the record and pass into history as a vaguely venerable worthy.  But Dabney was the exact opposite of a politic man.  In the words of his biographer, “he would not be swept . . . by the strongest winds and waves of the zeitgeistand “was consequently at war with much in his age.”  Dabney therefore scorned the proposal and answered his editors with this stinging rebuke:

“Do you like the plan of trimming a man whose life and work you would perpetuate, to suit your notions, and then handing the resultant down as if it were real?”*

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The Modern Cosmopolitan Cult Tends to the Cult of Moloch

The Cult of Moloch drives out all others.

The established Modern Cosmopolitan Cult is the Cult of No Cults. It is the Cult of Nothing. Only a Cult of Nothing could risk much room within its temenos for other cults – the Christian, the pagan, the Mohammedan, and so forth. For, all those other cults have positive principals, each of whom with his worshippers would be at odds with the others, contesting for dominance over the hearts and acts of the cosmopolitans, until one of them achieved the victory and established his own cult. Were any of them established, they would make no such room for their competitors within their own precincts. So all such positive cults will tend to engender a state of affairs in which they may be established and their competitors driven out.

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Pity Me Not When the Pop-Guns Pop

“It is a shame that a brave man should be exposed to die by a miserable pop-gun, against the effect of which he cannot defend himself.” Chevalier de Bayard (c. 1500)

The Chevalier de Bayard was the last true knight of France, and so he abominated firearms, in his day a newfangled weapon.  As a warrior of the old school, he saw the “miserable pop-gun” as the tool of skulking villains, as thus as an affront to everything that was honorable and valorous in the noble art of combat.  Alas, a skulking villain with an arquebus unhorsed this chevalier sans peur et sans reproche (as was his epithet) at the Battle of Sesia in 1524, and the wound from that ball finished Bayard off.*

Bayard’s attendants dragged him from the fray and propped him against a tree, where he is said to have held the hilt of his sword “before him like a cross,” while calmly awaiting death.  It came within the hour, and when he died the age of chivalry died with him.

The age died, but not the memory of the age, so Bayard was long venerated as a model of chivalric virtue, and a man who lived “without fear or reproach” was long said to be a man in the mold of the Chevalier Bayard.

Such was in fact said of General Lawrence Sullivan Ross, who had fought the Comanche as a Captain of Texas Rangers, and then fought the Union as commander of the Third Texas Regiment of Cavalry.  Largely on the strength of these achievements, he was elected governor of Texas in 1887, and appointed President of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas in 1890. Continue reading