The Sorts of Liberalism Are Attempted Implementations of Nominalism

If as nominalism supposes there are no objective universals, then there are no objective truths. Then there is no objective reality. There being no objective reality, there can then be no way that one man might understand or speak of reality more truthfully than another. So there can be no such thing as authority. Authority then is ipso facto null, and wherever asserted, is false and unjust. If authority is unjust per se, then justice might be possible only under conditions of anarchy, wherein each man rules his own life absolutely, and is free to make up his mind and shape his acts in whatever way he pleases.

Nominalism carried into practice then is liberalism: the thoroughgoing rejection of authority.

There are many sorts of liberalism: political, economic, grammatical, theological, liturgical, legal, sexual, aesthetic, gastronomical, cultural, architectural, academic, and so forth. All of them are subjects of discussion here, and at other orthospherean sites. All of them have in common the rejection of all authority other than the authority that imposes upon all men the requirement that they reject authority.

The project of authoritatively imposing the rejection of authority is of course incoherent. That doesn’t stop liberals from propagating liberalism. But it does stop liberalism from ever working.

Linguistic Subscendence Rears Fully Half of its Big Ugly Head

The following sentence comes from Maureen Callahan’s New York Post article “Elon Musk is a Total Fraud,” dated July 21, 2018:

In March, a Tesla driver was killed while test-driving an auto-piloted Model X, the impact fully decimating half the car.

Let us ignore the passive-evasive “was killed” and let us not speculate why an “auto-piloted” sedan requires a test-driver.  That way the concluding phrase might take center stage in the completeness, so to speak, of its grammatical absurdity: “The impact fully decimating half the car.”

The verb to decimate comes from Roman military practice.  When a legion subdued its enemy, its commanders sometimes ordered the execution of every tenth prisoner before sending the survivors off to slavery.  To decimate means to reduce by one tenth.  It can also sometimes mean to reduce to one tenth, but that is an inadvisable because confusing usage.  Decimation could also be punitive; a legion that fled from battle or otherwise humiliated itself in combat might suffer the decimation of its ranks as chastisement.  No matter: The object of any act of decimation is a group of people.  One person cannot suffer decimation, nor can half a person, nor can anything that is not a group of people.

An automobile, then, cannot suffer decimation.  Still less can half an automobile suffer decimation, even if it were a Tesla.  Decimation, moreover, has no degrees.  The phrase full decimation would therefore be a pleonasm, and not the good kind.  General Maximus either decimates the captured Thracian army or he offers his lenience.  The Thracians would prefer, of course, that he offer his lenience.

It is probable that Callahan, like many people, regards decimation as an exotic synonym for destruction although, in its precision, it is not.  To destroy, equally with to decimate, possesses a Latin origin but it has so thoroughly assimilated itself to English as to appear, basely, Anglo-Saxon.  To decimate, by contrast, retains its slightly foreign, slightly antique, slightly graduate-schoolish aura of sophistication.  Even supposing that Callahan seizes on decimation because she thinks it a synonym of destruction, however, and even supposing that she wants to seem educated in her vocabulary, the problem of the fully destroyed half a car remains to be solved.  Notice that the test-collision to which Callahan refers in her article implicitly left half of that same Tesla, as she might write, fully intact – or rather, intact, omitting any qualification as to degree.  For intactness has no more degrees than decimation.  One wonders how many degrees Callahan boasts.  She should ask for a partial refund on at least half of fully one of them.

The Arms Race to the Degenerate Bottom

The race to the degenerate bottom is not steady. On the contrary, it always accelerates; for, it is an arms race.

You can see this with any medium that depends for its survival on the attention of many minds: advertising, entertainment, journalism. All outlets of such media compete with each other for attention. The one that is the most extraordinary wins the competition. So the competition is to discover which outlet is the most abnormal, thus attractive of notice. Whatever was the most abnormal during the last round must be surpassed in the current round in order to gain notice: the most abnormal recent instance resets the bound of normality.

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Upstate Consolation University to Equip Classrooms with Sensitivity Airbags

Airbag 02 Admin Building

Administration Building of Upstate Consolation University

Baakko N’Telle, Upstate Consolation University’s Ngombian-born Special Assistant Dean for Sensitivity Issues, has introduced a plan to equip all classrooms with “sensitivity airbags.”  According to N’Telle, although UCU’s classrooms have been “smart” for almost a decade (according to an in-house survey, they are the “smartest” classrooms by far in the state system) they have not been “sensitivity smart.”  Should N’Telle get his way, as it appears he will, this is about to change.  What is a “sensitivity smart” classroom?  The dean describes it this way: “A ‘sensitivity smart’ classroom is a digitally ‘woke’ classroom.  Tiny ‘open microphones’ and video cameras installed all around the classroom or lecture hall are connected to a voice-and-body-language-recognition computer.  The computer’s algorithms, which have been offered gratis to UCU by a Silicon Valley software firm eager to gather data from a field evaluation, can detect microaggressions, hate-speech, male toxicity, white privilege, cultural appropriation, lacrosse-affinity, the Pro-Trump mentality, and all skeptical attitudes towards transgenderism and intersectionality.  The voice-and-body-language-recognition computer interfaces with a router that communicates with ‘sensitivity airbag’ canisters attached to the backs of the seats in the classroom or lecture-hall space.  At any time during the lecture-period, should anyone say or do anything that triggers the algorithm, the computer will tell the router to actuate the airbags, which work as they do in an automobile.”  The system qualifies as sustainable and eco-friendly, its computer, dubbed the M5 by the manufacturer, being powered by rechargeable dimbranium-chloride batteries.  Dimbranium refers to a rare metallic element of the Woketinide series found mainly in Ngombia, in neighboring West Mumbambu – where N’Telle incidentally received his education degree – and in the bedrock deep under offices of the Department of Motor Vehicles in coastal North American Cities.

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Victimary Rhetoric and the Politics of Decolonization in V. S. Naipaul’s Mimic Men (1967)

Naipaul 02 Mimic Men Cover

The Mimic Men — A Room with a View

Novelists often make subtler political scientists than do the political scientists themselves, perhaps because a competent novelist nourishes himself on his observation of human actuality whereas the political scientist is typically the subscriber to some party-orthodoxy or the proponent of someone’s special-interest agenda.  The names of Fyodor Dostoevsky and Joseph Conrad come to mind, as men of keen political perception.  Dostoevsky’s Devils (1872) and Conrad’s Nostromo (1904) retain their value as brilliant forecast-analyses of Twentieth Century political radicalism and its destructive application in revolutionary activity.  Both men had an uncanny sense of what lay ahead.  In a sense, their prophetic power exceeds, say, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s or George Orwell’s, as both of those men had the benefit of looking back on what had already happened.  Competent novelists are necessarily also anthropologists, interested supremely in reporting human facts as they see them and in making their way to essential structures of human nature, communal existence, and the cultural tradition.  The tenured political-science professors strive mightily to avoid those cases where facts contradict doctrine, while the genuine novelists relish both the paradox of human nature and the tragicomic accent of the historical chronicle.  A novelist after all can only be true to himself by exercising a rigorous objectivity.

I. Such a percipient connoisseur of structural irony and the law of opposite results is the native Trinidadian, of Indian ancestry, and longtime naturalized Briton, V. S. Naipaul (born 1932; knighted 1990), whose Nobel Prize (2001) came at the last possible moment, after which, the Prize Committee’s politicization being complete, no dissenter from the reigning orthodoxy – about race, the market, the West, or modernity – would receive its honor. Naipaul had diagnosed the spiritual paralysis of the West in that morbidity’s emergent phase; he foresaw, in fact, in the chaos of decolonization in the 1960s, much of what afflicts western society at large forty years later. The title of The Mimic Men (1967), a key entry in Naipaul’s development of his novelistic oeuvre, suggests how important mimesis, or imitativeness, is to the author’s view of humanity. Few people, as Naipaul sees it, manage to escape the trap of letting others define their identity; rather, most people meekly assimilate to a few ready made stereotypes, the range of which diminishes in the age of mass communication and the “consumer lifestyle.”  Modern people moreover tend swiftly to assume the indignation of the resentful; they tend just as swiftly to imitate the posturing of self-described victims.  The Mimic Men’s narrator, Ranjit “Ralph” Kripalsingh, usually just “Singh,” who stems from the Hindu Diaspora in the British West Indies, uses the bland term “placidity” to describe how he has often yielded to base impulses contrary to his conscience.

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Writing about Literature Revisited (Coleridge)

Xanadu

“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan…”

I wrote previously about student responses in my “Writing about Literature” course to Percy Shelley’s famous sonnet “Ozymandias,” which I set them to interpret on the basis of workshops in identifying the formal and meaningful  elements of poems.  Last week I set the same students to write up in class an interpretation of Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” (1797), a rather more challenging poem than “Ozymandias,” although Shelley proved challenge enough, but at the same time possibly easier to interpret because its phantasmagoria allows for considerable play on the part of the reader.  Coleridge’s poem has its origin in a bizarre and unrepeatable incident.  In September 1797 while a house guest of his friend William Wordsworth, who had taken him in because he found himself in a phase of indigence, Coleridge one morning took a dose of opium, as was his wont, and fell into a visionary trance.  A major ode of some two hundred lines manifested itself to Coleridge, complete, during the psychedelic phase, and as he returned to ordinary consciousness he began to transcribe it.  At that moment, one of Coleridge’s creditors came knocking loudly at Wordsworth’s door, and in the shock of hearing it, the majority of those two hundred finished lines slipped away from the poet’s grasp into oblivion.  Coleridge could rescue only thirty-six lines, which constitute Part I of the poem as it was published, finally, in 1816.

The poem appears in its paradoxical truncated entirety below. –

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Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!

Ozymandias

“Half sunk, a shattered visage lies.”

My department pays me fairly handsomely to teach a particularly futile course – one among no few others – that styles itself as “Writing about Literature.”  The course is futile at both ends: Public education produces nowadays only an uneducated public, many individuals of whom, including those who are invited to college or university to matriculate, write only at the level of functional illiteracy; and none of whom has ever read anything that might qualify as literature.  I approach the course as a fully remedial one because that, in effect, is what it must be.  Dedicating the first half of the semester to “writing about poetry,” I offer up as fare for mental nourishment short poems, mostly sonnets, by writers of the Romantic generations of the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Centuries.  I run the class-sessions as workshops in careful reading, or close reading, for which a sonnet by William Wordsworth or Samuel Taylor Coleridge or John Keats or Percy Bysshe Shelley is meet.  I ask the students to begin by noticing the periods or full stops that divide the poem into its sentences and to notice, for example, that, in verse, lines and sentences do not necessarily correspond, so that their interaction must be carefully worked out.  I ask them to notice the grammatical features of each poem.  In what person is the poem couched?  Whom does the speaker address?  What setting is implied? What argument does the speaker make in his sequence of figures and images?  I want students to see that language can function at a higher level than it does in a campus newspaper article or in the instructions for the latest cell phone.  Readers of poems must slow down their thought processes so as to notice everything and they must let the poem provoke them into thinking word by word and line by line.

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Linguistic Subscendence

Dunce - Let's Play Dunce

No Caption Necessary

It is the end of the term, so my life consists of tall stacks of student papers, which I must read and evaluate.  A number of patterns – or maybe a better term would be grammatical de-patternings – have forced themselves on my attention.  There is, for example, the almost invariable “they” employed as the subsequent of a singular subject in a sentence.  A half-dozen of these, at least, appear in every four-page theme, even in papers written by English majors.  Twenty years ago, in a journal article, I referred to this as gemination – the one and only child miraculously becomes a set of twins.  Many among the English professoriate no longer bother to correct this, but I do, insistently.  While English is a latitudinous language in terms of its regularity, the logic of its pronominal system is rigorous.  Someone is, precisely, one, not two people or more.  Ditto anyone, everyone, and no one or none, the last being the contraction of its syntactic precursor in the sentence.  In the real world, neither a person nor the man can suddenly become they or them.  To write so, however, is surely to think so; and to think so is bad arithmetic even in the first grade.  It is perhaps not an unrelated fact that when I give my students the instruction to subtract the number of questions they answered wrongly on the quiz from the total number of questions and to post the result as their score – they reach that result with glacial slowness through grimacing, dull effort.

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The Razor Ockham *Should* Have Proposed

Ockham’s Razor is the heuristic sometimes known as the lex parsimoniae: the Law of Parsimony. As he actually proposed it:

Numquam ponenda est pluralitas sine necessitate: Do not posit pluralities beyond necessity.

Ockham’s Razor as it is usually rendered:

Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem: Do not multiply entities beyond necessity.

The entities of a theory are its terms. They are not actual entities, but formal only. So the Razor is often rendered:

Do not multiply terms beyond necessity.

This makes it easy to compare theories and see which one is more parsimonious – especially if they are mathematically formalized. F = ma, for example, clearly  invokes three terms, that terminate on three sorts of properties of things. The basic idea of course is that as between two theories that adequately explain some phenomenon, the simpler is more likely to be more accurate. But why?

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