Sunday, December 10, 2017

Obiter Dicta, no. 25

It was as if de Gaulle's bursts of eloquence required long periods of silence to recharge his energies and store up more words, or perhaps he had decided that if he could not speak in poetry, he would rather not speak at all...He was silent or silver-tongued, nothing in between. It was maddening and magnetic, this refusal to make the most cursory effort at small talk and then to speak, on his own terms, so beautifully.

— Joe Moran, Shrinking Violets: The Secret Life of Shyness

In both speaking and writing, I, too, tend to be parsimonious. As far back as I can remember, I have always preferred to err on the side of silence, as if words were a finite resource which must be vigilantly conserved. On the page, at least, I think I can occasionally muster up a burst of eloquence. Unfortunately, I have yet to speak in sonnets. Too often, my conversation resembles the most shapeless free verse. At best, I might produce a clever couplet.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Obiter Dicta, no. 24

[T]he code of life of the High Middle Ages said something entirely opposite to this: that it was precisely lack of leisure, an inability to be at leisure, that went together with idleness; that the restlessness of work-for-work's-sake arose from nothing other than idleness. There is a curious connection in the fact that the restlessness of a self-destructive work-fanaticism should take its rise from the absence of a will to accomplish something... Acedia is the "despair of weakness," of which Kierkegaard said, that it consists in someone "despairingly" not wanting "to be oneself." The metaphysical-theological concept of idleness means, then, that man finally does not agree with his own existence; that behind all his energetic activity, he is not at one with himself; that, as the Middle Ages expressed it, sadness has seized him in the face of the divine Goodness that lives within him — and this sadness is that "sadness of the world," (tristitia saeculi) spoken of in the Bible.

...The opposite of acedia is not the industrious spirit of the daily effort to make a living, but rather the cheerful affirmation by man of his own existence, of the world as a whole, and of God — of Love, that is, from which arises that special freshness of action, which would never be confused by anyone with any experience with the narrow activity of the "workaholic."

— Josef Pieper, Leisure, the Basis of Culture

Philosophers dating back to Plato and Aristotle have expressed contempt for manual labor and those who work for a living. But for those of us who aren't slaveowners or members of the landed aristocracy, we unfortunately have to settle for a more anemic form of leisure —  a few minutes of quiet and privacy during the day, a short walk in the evening, an hour's reading before bed. If we want true leisure, we don't have the option to avoid industriousness; we can only choose frugality. The less you owe and need, the harder for the creditors and bosses to catch you by the short hairs. I work entirely for myself now, and while this is an incredibly busy time of year, leaving little in the way of free time, I find it much easier to cheerfully affirm my existence when I don't have to worry about the wolf at the door.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Noteworthies (27)

• Brian Smith, "Walker Percy and the Politics of Deranged Times"

• Andrew Ferguson, "To Be Sure, Nazis Are Evil"

• The New Criterion, "Is Civilization Overrated?"

• Ben Sixsmith, "In Defense of Right-Wing Intellectuals"

• Roger Kimball, "Raymond Aron"

• Frank Furedi, "The Hidden History of Identity Politics" (if you're like me, you're sick of hearing the very phrase I— P—, but this is a really good overview of the history and content of identitarian thinking.)

• Brendan O'Neill, "Black Privilege"

• Joanna Williams, "We Are More Than Our Gender"

• Scott Alexander, "Against Overgendering Harassment"

Monday, December 4, 2017

My Greed Is a Flame

John Lukacs:

Books will always exist.  Jefferson’s category of the educated minority, on whose existence the prospects of civilized mankind depend, is no longer enough.  To educated we need to add interested.  The very impulse of human attention depends on human interest, a quality often involved with humility, with our capacity of seeing beyond ourselves.  This awareness sometimes issues from reading.

Interest may just as well be involved with greed, as Nietzsche noted:

“Oh, my greed! There is no selflessness in my soul but only an all-coveting self that would like to appropriate many individuals as so many additional pairs and eyes and hands – a self that would like to bring back the whole past, too, and that will not lose anything that it could possibly possess. Oh, my greed is a flame! Oh, that I might be reborn in a hundred beings!” – Whoever does not know this sigh from firsthand experience does not know the passion of the search for knowledge.

The Lady of the House and I were traveling on business over the weekend, and during some free time in between engagements, we went foraging for victuals and found ourselves strolling through a gigantic mall which contained a two-story Barnes & Noble. I was doing fine until I got to the philosophy section, where I found a few books which have been on my Amazon wish list for a while, plus a few previously-unknown others which caught my interest.

Nothing else has this kind of pull over me. I know full well that I can have all these books for half the price if I just wait and buy wisely online, and I know equally well that I already have, uh — ::checks Goodreads, blushes, clears throat:: — 38 books waiting to be read, but lord-o-lord, it was a mighty struggle against the temptation to damn frugality and steam full speed ahead to the register with probably $200 worth of titles under my arm, just for the thrill of having them all right there in a bag. It honestly caused me psychic pain to have to walk away empty-handed. This is the only setting in which I have to beware the onset of temporary consumer madness like that. Plug my ears or tie me to the mast, Lady, the sirens are singing to me again!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Unhappy Ever After In the Marketplace

Charlotte Lieberman:

The quest for authenticity is ostensibly born out of a desire to resist mass-produced capitalism, yet the pervasiveness of this desire means countercultural trends are rapidly appropriated by the mainstream. In The Authenticity Hoax, Potter concludes that we need to “come to terms with modernity” by recognizing liberal democracy and the market economy as givens, but I’m not so sure.

If we choose to see only the aesthetic virtue of nostalgia, ignoring its ideological dimensions, we participate in an inhospitable value system that excludes, well, most people. When we buy into a trend like eco-tourism, for example, we’re not just glorifying living without electricity and with daily meditation, we’re consuming an ideological system. As Slavoj Žižek argues: “When we buy a cappuccino from Starbucks, we also buy quite a lot of ideology… ‘Yes, our cappuccino is more expensive than others,’ but then comes the story. ‘We give 1% of all our income to Guatemalan children to keep them healthy… [or] some Saharan farmers, or to save the forest, to enable organic growing for coffee, or whatever or whatever…. Starbucks enables you to be consumerist without any bad conscience because the price for the countermeasure of fighting consumerism is already included into the price of a commodity.” This absolves us of guilt but ensures that consumerism continues.

Žižek refers to this model as “the ultimate form of consumerism”—selling redemption as part of the price of consumption, both literally and figuratively. But if we make peace with liberal democracy, the market economy, and blindly embrace Starbucks’ clever business model as a convenient way to find meaning outside the consumerist machine, we threaten the rigor with which we might define social progress. If we regard “authentic” consumer choices as an outlet for self-expression reflecting a commitment to personal beliefs, we displace useful energy from serious issues to the personal performance of “politics.” And with politics in scare quotes, the threat to progress becomes a real—dare I say authentic—object of fear.

In Kristian Niemietz's Biercean-style definition, "consumerism" is the stuff that other people buy. In addition to being witty, this also accurately identifies the status competition that is the mechanism at work in these dime-a-dozen Marxish critiques. Lieberman, you see, is here to tell you that your Tiny Houses and farm-to-table-restaurants aren't truly threatening to the capitalist status quo — apparently, any innovation which isn't instantly and equally available to all without exception only perpetuates privilege and inequality, and clearly, any progressive improvements which leave the fundamentals of a market economy intact are fraudulent. Or, to go ahead and put too fine a point on it, she's doing a rarefied version of what she's complaining about — competing against rivals to sell a positional good. She's an apex predator in the circle of performative consumer life.

It might surprise her to find that Spiked magazine, which represents a British libertarian/classical liberal perspective, is also enamored of this line of criticism — see here for a typical example which I happen to remember off the top of my head. This bipartisan consensus ought to alert us to the common denominator of human nature at work here, namely, the desire to position myself as cooler, more fashionable, more in-the-know than you, however irrelevant that may be in the world of functioning, practical adults. But I suppose when you've spent grad school studying turgid windbags like Adorno, Horkheimer and Zizek, only to end up paying the bills by writing for such radical journals as Cosmopolitan, Teen Vogue, and Marie Claire, you'll seize any chance you can to feel superior to others.

I especially love that line, "the rigor with which we might define social progress." Oh, might we? Well, I, for one, would love to see what sort of rigorous vision she has. Cynical me, I suspect it's nothing more than vague gesturing in the general direction of some Rousseauvian fantasy in which the compromises and tradeoffs of sociopolitical life are finally transcended. The point is always to complain that other people aren't doing enough to transform the world, not to provide a positive example of your own, which, again, these kinds of reheated left-wing leftovers are incapable of doing anyway. True, increased consumer choice and purchasing power won't make people much more content. But that's because human beings are inherently restless, easily bored, and prone to all sorts of logical and psychological flaws which constantly undermine our own happiness, which itself is an amorphous, moving target. Like any other product, left-wing critique promises more than it could ever deliver, but as long as people get excited by the commercials, they'll keep chasing the illusion. At least it gives people like her a job.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

I Got No Time for Hangin' Around Them Kind of Things

From today's Blendle email, truly, one of the pressing issues of our time:

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Noteworthies (26)

• Patrick J. Deneen,  "The Tragedy of Liberalism"

• Uri Harris, "Wilfrid Laurier and the Creep of Critical Theory"

• Scott Alexander, "Contra Robinson on Public Food"

• Damon Linker, "Liberals' Clueless Crusade Against Far-right Extremists"

• Noah Rothman, "The Nazi Next Door Is Real—and Unspectacular"

• Alan Jacobs, "Joe Posnanski Wises Up"

• Ed West, "Stop Appeasing Stupidity" — and while we're on that theme, when you weaponize economics and employment in a shortsighted bid for a negligible advantage in the culture wars, it eventually gets turned against you. If only someone could have foreseen, yada yada...

• Matthew Klingle, "Nature Lovers May #OptOutside On Black Friday, But They Consume Resources Year-round"

• Paul Gleason, "The Picture In Her Mind"