Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Noteworthies (8)

• Helen Pluckrose, "How French 'Intellectuals' Ruined the West: Postmodernism and Its Impact, Explained"

• Christina Hoff Sommers interviewing Roger Scruton. Scruton is one of my favorite people to think with. Some of his work can be philosophically dense, but I find it's always worth putting in the time and effort to understand it. This, though, is just an example of how interesting it would be to have an informal conversation with him.

• Carlos Lozada, "The Last Thing On ‘Privilege’ You’ll Ever Need to Read"

• Walter Scheidel, "The Only Thing, Historically, That's Curbed Inequality: Catastrophe". In recent years, progressives have soft-pedaled their redistributionist instincts into moaning about income inequality as the apparent root of all evil. It's so nice to finally see a lonely rebuttal, and in the Atlantic, of all places. His book on the topic looks very interesting. Sigh. Like I need another book to read.

• Lionel Shriver, "We Need to Talk About Sense and Sensitivity"

Existentialism's Witnesses

• Bo & Ben Winegard, "A Tale of Two Bell Curves"

Lecture by Wilfred McClay: "The Illusion of Mastery" (parts 2-5; part 1 is only introductory remarks). "No aspiration of modernity has been more fundamental and more persistent than its desire to achieve mastery over the terms of human existence. Yet the record of the last century or more suggests that mastery is an ambivalent goal, one that does not always deliver on its promises, and does not necessarily conduce to greater human happiness. Wilfred McClay explores the paradoxical character of our drive toward mastery, and how we should balance that impulse against other fundamental human goods." I love this kind of philosophizing about the history of ideas.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Silence Like a Cancer Grows

I don't want to sound apocalyptic about these developments. Education is always in ferment, and a good thing too. Schools and colleges have always been battlegrounds for debates over beliefs, philosophies, values. The situation in our universities, I am confident, will soon right itself once the great silent majority of professors cry "enough" and challenge what they know to be voguish blather.

— Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society

I have gained much perspective from reading books written during the early-to-mid-nineties, during the previous plague of locusts surge of political correctness, of which Schlesinger's, published in 1991, is a solid and succinct example. Still, as the kids like to say on social media, "wow, this aged well." Perhaps we could show this passage to the folks at Heterodox Academy or Minding the Campus to give them a good laugh.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Missionaries, They Tell Us We Will Be Left Behind, So If You Wanna Be Righteous, Get In Line

Kyle Chayka:

His voice raised in a British lilt, Robinson announces, “One of the things alt-right guys are good at is making all these weird, young, disaffected teens feel like they’re the cool ones and the left side is the boring side. We need to have that kind of thing.”

Then Robinson becomes expansive, his spoon arm swinging urgently, describing his wish for the new left in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency. “We are the people you want to be around, we’re the fun people, we’re the cool people, the people who make life better!” he exclaims.

A cynic might suggest that signaling an image of cool sophistication is the only thing the left has going for it anymore — that, and Ghost Dancing for the return of the Great Welfare State and the disappearance of the neoliberals. Well, when you're lacking in substantial ideas, you might as well play up aesthetics and image. Nothing says fun, cool and forward-looking like posing for a photo next to a miniature bust of Marx, if you ask me.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Noteworthies (7)

• Adam Gopnik, "Are Liberals On the Wrong Side of History?"

• Pascal Bruckner, "Barbarians and the Civilized"

• Matthew Continetti, "Freedom Is Eating Steak Well Done with Ketchup"

• John Gray, "Fictions of Fascism: What Twentieth Century Dystopia Can (and Can't) Teach Us About Trump"

• After Words: Anthony Kronman interviewed by Charles Murray. An hour-long video from 2008, discussing one of Kronman's earlier books, but still interesting and relevant.

• Roger Kimball, "The Treason of the Intellectuals & 'The Undoing of Thought'" Digging even deeper in the archives here, back to 1992. I had cause to look this up recently, and found it depressingly interesting and relevant.

• Alex Good, "The Rising Tide of Educated Aliteracy"

Monday, March 20, 2017

And Thereby Hangs a Tale

Colin Koopman:

Foucault remains one of the most cited 20th-century thinkers and is, according to some lists, the single most cited figure across the humanities and social sciences.

Reading this brought to mind a dim recollection of a cartoon, something to the effect of a patient sitting in a doctor's exam room with a hatchet buried in his skull, and the doctor saying, "I think I see the problem." Yes, it's truly a mystery why the humanities are in such a sorry state. You can browse through the invaluable New Real Peer Review account if you'd like to see many of the gruesome, mutant offspring bearing Foucault's intellectual DNA.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

There Was No War But the Culture War, I Was Ready to Set the World on Fire

Seth Matlins:

What’s clear is that the people buying from you and working for you want to know if you’re on their side. Or not. They want to know if you’re doing something to make the world better. Or not. And they will reward — or ignore or perhaps even boycott — you accordingly.


This is our new marketing reality, and cultural values are marketing’s new table stakes. Few are the brands who court controversy as a matter of strategy. But in today’s landscape, avoiding taking sides and bringing your cultural values to life to avoid controversy is a fast track to irrelevance.


Yes, “doing well by doing good” is a decades-old truism. But showing the world what you stand for (and occasionally against) is now as important, efficient and effective an eyeball-grabbing platform as exists. To win today’s battles for attention — as in, relevance, engagement, resource allocation and return — you’d better let people know whose side you’re on.


Today, brands can be neither quiet, defensive nor isolated. They have to be proactive, and they have to stand for something — for both the world's and their own good.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Little Do They Know the Boundaries of His Wisdom In the Solitude of His Kingdom

Michael Finkel:

Later, a fad for hermits swept 18th-century England. It was believed that hermits radiated kindness and thoughtfulness, so advertisements were placed in newspapers for “ornamental hermits” who were lax in grooming and willing to sleep in caves on the country estates of the aristocracy. The job paid well and hundreds were hired, typically on seven-year contracts. Some of the hermits would even emerge at dinner parties and greet guests.

The "lax in grooming" part is actually a myth. We spread that rumor ourselves to discourage dilettantes. Thankfully, I have no social obligations as part of my contract, which is good, because I have enough to read as it is, and here we have an excerpt from another book that I simply must own. Not enough hours in the day...