Sir Roger Scruton/Dr. Jordan B. Peterson: Apprehending the Transcendent
Scruton comments: “The old way of teaching the humanities was as objects of love. This is what I have loved. This is what previous generations have loved who handed it on to me. Here. Try it out and you will love it too. Whereas the postmodern curriculum is a curriculum of hatred. It’s directed against our cultural inheritance.”
Peterson, describing that postmodern point of view: “This is the best of what the best of us could produce and it’s nothing. Why should you bother?”
When asked why someone would adopt a man-hating ideology, Scruton suggests that with a loss of a culturally inherited religious tradition and church attendance feminists feel something to be lacking in their lives but do not know what it is. They then surmise that it has been stolen from them. They look at people who seem to be at peace with themselves and the world, the socially successful, who seem fairly content, and imagine it is they who have taken it. Continue reading
The statement that knowledge is domain specific has the ring of something blandly matter-of-fact and dull. It is, in fact, of earth-shattering importance and it explains a great deal concerning the limitations of human cognition.
For instance, professors of statistics and probability are generally unable to apply their knowledge to ordinary, everyday affairs and they come up with the wrong answers. They know how their expertise applies to certain domains; perhaps reverse mortgages, or the likelihood of chimpanzee number three getting to mate, but do not know how it applies to used car purchases, dating apps, or paint prices.
If even the professors are unable to apply what they have learned, it seems rather pointless to insist that psychology undergraduates learn the concepts and methods. However, this is simply the situation of all of us in every field. Those psychology students should potentially be able to apply stats to certain kinds of experiments, though possibly completely unable to apply the same concepts to anything outside that narrow topic.
The domain specificity of knowledge explains the need for explanations. Explanations take something a person is already familiar with and relates it to something unfamiliar. It is not possible to explain the unfamiliar by appeal to something also unfamiliar.
If it were possible for someone to extrapolate automatically from something he knows to all circumstances where the concept might usefully apply, explanations would be redundant and human beings would get a lot closer to omniscience. Continue reading
“It continued to survive in scraggy sort of way.” M.E.M. Davis, Under the Man-Fig (1895)
This post is about a word, so those readers who wish to imbibe a metaphysical, moral or political lesson will have to bring their own or go without. The word is scraggy, and it is one that I fear may have passed into lexical limbo, for I have not heard it in a very long time. My grandfather, a farmer, described his emaciated cows and cats as “scraggy,” and the playmates of my youth deprecated each other’s bony girlfriends with the word; but I nowadays seldom hear critical commentary on cows, women my age tend to be sleek, and were a credentialed colleague required to characterize some gaunt beast, I think he might say it was “under-resourced.” Continue reading
Here’s a video version of “Its a Cold Wind that Blows from a Strange Country.” Don’t expect production to continue at this rate. This is harder than the results might lead you to believe. Continue reading
“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
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. 
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.
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
“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
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 zeitgeist” and “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?”*
“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