Professors and other professional intellectuals and quasi-intellectuals (journalists, opinion writers, novelists, bloggers, and so forth) are paid to think about things – or, at least, somehow or other rewarded for doing so, or (more accurately) for *appearing* to do so. And each of them is charged with devising original insights, that, as original, warrant our attention, and then perhaps our deliberation.
There’s no other reason to have these people around.
Nominalism is satanic, I’m telling you. It’s a device to destroy man. Convicted nominalism has to end in suicide, whether cultural or personal. If there are no transcendent values, but rather only and merely our own personal, private preferences, then our personal private preferences are false to facts. This is a little tricky to see, until we draw the analogy to the schizophrenic. The schizophrenic’s impression that there are black helicopters pursuing him are peculiar to him. The black helicopters are not really there. So we understand that his impressions are illusions. But nominalism says that the values we apprehend in things and people and activities, like the black helicopters, are not objectively real. And this means that our feelings of value are—just like the schizophrenic’s black helicopters — hallucinations. They are false. Nominalism says that there is in reality no value out there to be had.
But to say that there is no value really to be found in the world is nihilism. And the consistent nihilist, who has the courage of his convictions, cannot believe that his own life, or anyone else’s life, or the life of his nation, are worth a hill of beans. So he cannot find any way to defend them—none at all. And this will result in death, one way or another, even if only through the sheer lassitude of utter ennui.
I thought at the time I sent that comment to Lawrence, God rest his soul, that in characterizing a school of epistemology as satanic I was perhaps engaging in a bit of rhetorical hyperbole. Firing for effect, as it were.
“When gnostic experience is consolidated, the social raw material is ready for existential representation by a leader. [….] Such people will prefer each other’s company to that of the rest of the world, they will voluntarily accept counsel and direction from indoctrinators, they will neglect their own affairs, and they will extend generous material aid to the leaders of the movement. An especially important function in formation of such societies will have women, because they are weak in judgment, emotionally more accessible, tactically well placed to influence husbands, children, servants, and friends, more inclined than men to serve as a kind of intelligence officer concerning the state of affections in their circle, and more liberal in financial aid.
“Once a social environment of this type is organized, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to break it up by persuasion. […] They are impermeable to argument and have their answers well drilled. […] In brief: The attitude is psychologically iron-clad and beyond shaking by argument.”
For the Gnostic: “Social evils cannot be reformed by legislation; defects of government machinery cannot be repaired by changes of the constitution; differences of opinion cannot be settled by compromise. ‘This world’ is darkness that must give way to the new light. Hence coalition governments are impossible. The political figures of the old order cannot be re-elected in the new world; and the men who are not members of the movement will be deprived of their right to vote in the new order.”
Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics (1952), Chapter 5, “Gnostic Revolution”
When you reduce selection pressure as the West has massively done since the Industrial Revolution, you get a lot more depravity (you get r instead of K), because the relative penalties to error and vice go way, way down. And vice versa: when you increase selection pressure, the relative rewards to virtue go way, way up, so you get lots more virtue.
We have no immediate prospect of an uptick in natural selection pressure, although the handwriting is on the wall. It’s out there (it always is).
But Trump is imposing artificial selection pressure (in part because he and his ilk can comprehend the writing in flame on the wall (to the depraved at their banquet, it is gobbledygook, nonsense, mere noise: mene, mene, tekel upharsin)). His basic message is simple: Playtime is over, no more pretend, everybody out of the pool, time to get dressed and back to work.
The liberals are going crazy because this strictly artificial – i.e., merely social, rather than biological – increase in selection pressure pushes the same neural and cognitive levers as would be triggered by a sharp uptick in natural selection pressure. It feels to them like a sort of death. They are terrified of death. Trump makes them aware of their death. Like death, he just doesn’t care about their whining (as much as they are used to). So they panic, and then they turn to defensive rage. It’s a tantrum.
Born in Avignon in 1923, the late René Girard (deceased 2015) trained in Paris during the German occupation of France as a specialist curator of medieval documents; beginning in 1949 he taught in the USA as a professor-generalist in history. He would eventually arrive at a fundamental insight regarding human nature that puts him on the level with the most profound anthropological thinkers in the Western or any other tradition. The road to this insight reached across a decade and required a change of scholarly interest. Girard first made his name, after switching his scholarly focus and obtaining a doctorate in French Literature at Indiana University in 1958, as a literary critic, with his study of vanity and resentment in prose narrative called, in French, Mensonge Romantique et Vérité Romanesque (1962). Deceit Desire & the Novel studies the authorial obsession with the genesis of misery in the tendency of the human subject to acquire his desires from what he takes to be the desire, or object-of-desire, of another person. Novelistic protagonists indeed imagine that absolute being, seemingly denied to them, resides embodied in the other person so that the subject wants and attempts to become that other person. Girard had discovered in the novelists the non-originality of desire. He had also discovered—or rather, the novelists had discovered—a complex psychology and a related oblique rhetoric, the Mensonge Romantique or “Romantic Lie” of the French original, that systematically deny this non-originality of desire and claim the complete, yet miserable, sufficiency of the ego. Even more simply, Girard had discovered the centrality of mimesis or “imitation” in psychology and culture.
The other day in my Introduction to Literary Criticism course, I contested a student’s objection to my thesis that, whereas there might be many plausible interpretations of John Keats’ poem “Ode on a Grecian urn,” it would nevertheless not be the case that every interpretation of “Ode on a Grecian urn” was equally plausible or even plausible at all. Furthermore, I reasoned, the range of interpretations might be graded according to their plausibility, from least to most, in a hierarchy. The student’s agitated insistence was that, “everybody has his own opinion.”* (As if no one had ever heard that before.) I immediately responded that “opinion” was an irrelevant category; and that, in any case, where it concerns any particular topic, the number of opinions is strictly limited. In respect of Topic X, there are probably only two opinions, or at most three. The claim that “everybody has his own opinion” is therefore absurd. To put it in plausible English, one would have to say that, “In respect of X, everyone has one opinion or another, of a limited set.” One of the definitions of “opinion” is that an opinion is a freely circulating, conformist view about a topic, entirely unoriginal and non-proprietary. People never have opinions; they borrow or endorse them, at which point the opinions have them.
It’s amazing how quickly liberals – and especially Social Justice Warriors – descend into rage, into foaming at the mouth, screaming, insults, violence – whenever they suffer the least jot of cognitive dissonance at the hands of a based Reactionary interlocutor. How come?
I have been preoccupied with soi-disant enemies of Hate, those men and women who are on fire to abolish what cooler heads must recognize as a highly ambiguous sentiment. Hate is an ambiguous sentiment because it is always joined to love, like follow and lead in a partner dance. Thus a world without hate would be a loveless world, an apotheosis of apathy, a United States of Whatever. Continue reading →
A commenter on my “Shambolic Circus” post directed me to a CNN report on Spencer’s Texas A&M speech, and specifically to what it said about the temporary disorder occasioned by the protest of Quentin Boothman. Here is the relevant excerpt: Continue reading →
Filmmaker Whit Stillman has managed with considerable aplomb to avoid the clichés of the romantic comedy, a genre within whose parameters he nevertheless works, not least in his fourth film of five, Damsels in Distress (2011). In addition to being a romantic comedy, to the extent of transforming itself in its denouement into a 1930s guy-gets-girl musical number, with Fred Astaire’s voice patched into the soundtrack, Damsels in Distress is a college film. Because Stillman understands the meaning and function of college, his college film is also a film about civilization – or rather about the current degeneracy of what used to be Western Civilization, as made manifest by the decline of higher education. In Damsels in Distress, Stillman has undertaken to represent what I once, in a casual essay, half-jokingly called subscendence, a kind of active anti-transcendence that seeks the lowest level in everything; but Stillman has also created a set of characters, in his eponymous damsels, who, discerning subscendence and judging it repellent, rally themselves to mount resistance against it.