Saturday, 30 September 2017

Heads in a Jar - Futurama

Rationalism, that abstract pinnacle from which the utopian progressive dreams of socialism, liberalism and Marxism are conceived, forgets that it only came to consciousness in a biological body, a human family and a human society all of which pre-existed it. These things all mean that it emerges already subject to constraints or obligations. These “constraints” can be seen as chains or, alternatively, as those things which should most be celebrated and enjoyed in the human condition. Rationalism thinks there is nothing which has to be “accepted” as a given before it begins to operate. It simply exists, summoned spontaneously and mysteriously in the snap of two fingers, into that existence, in an abstract space and operating as an utterly free agent. It is a disembodied and, thus, "free" mind that then insists on spurious freedoms.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Cause and Effect or Effect and Cause?

It depends on what you are predisposed to prove.

As a random example did the acute Syrian refugee crisis in 2015 cause Angela Merkel to open the doors (what I think) or did Angela Merkel opening the doors cause the crisis? There will be a true answer to this in an objective sense but most political commentary these days “makes” the truth according to a pre-existing agenda which simply describes the sequence of cause and effect in a certain way in order to achieve confIrmation. Perhaps that’s a version of “Fake News.” It’s all in the description and, if you can smuggle your loaded description of events past other people at the outset, you win the argument. This also works in the framing of scientific experiments in some areas.

Monday, 25 September 2017


By virtue of being born, unconsulted, directly into the constraints (which, as well as being constraining, may also be causes of celebration and pleasure) of the human condition we have inside knowledge of it. Those constraints are those of being embodied, gendered, familial, social, geographical, cultural, and linguistic. This means that, once we awaken to our social being among other social beings, we add common sense to our inside knowledge. We also add a sense of the spatial and temporal parameters inside which possibility operates. All of this precedes the deliberate and self-conscious operation of scientific rationalism through which the world is now mediated to us as though these things had never existed. It is as though the genesis of the world only occurred after scientific rationalism came into operation and it alone says "Let there be light." Of course, in reality, there was light before the advent of scientific rationalism and it resided in our inside knowledge, common sense and awareness of the parameters within which we operate. This is why these things have precedence over the useful tool of scientific rationalism. We do not sit paralysed waiting for scientific rationalism to give us permission to be, to know or to think or for it to mediate the world to us. A classic conservative position?

Reason occurs....

Reason occurs and is sited within the constraints and limitations of the human condition. This is why reason, perhaps in the form of abstract ideas of primal freedom, for example, does not have primacy. We begin by acknowledging, accepting or even rejoicing in our constraints and obligations and only then begin to reason. This is to differentiate between a conservative and a liberal position.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Taking Comfort from Blame

It is terrifying to us to think that Nature, in the form of hurricanes and earthquakes, can, at a stroke, disdainfully sweep away our perfect scientific grasp on reality and disabuse us of the idea of perfect human control. That's why our immediate reaction post-disaster is to find someone, anyone, usually government, to recriminate because recrimination maintains the illusion that everything is under our control or should have been. The prospect that Nature holds the cards and we don't is just too terrifying a prospect to contemplate. Added to this of course, in the case of the UK, is the means such events give to bash a hapless government even more.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Modern Liberal Education Contains the Seeds of its own Destruction

Does the modern Liberal Education which makes “the liberal elite” feel assured in their superiority contain the seeds of its own destruction?

One of the things that defines what has been variously branded the Liberal Elite, the comfortable Urban Metropolitans, the “Ins” or, as David Goodhart would have it, the “Anywheres” (supported and encouraged by a broadcast media also perceived to be liberal in its outlook) is their educational status. They are assured of being well-educated and when, for example, they point to what they consider political disasters such as Brexit or the election of Donald Trump it is difficult for them (as they find it embarrassing) to resist explaining such disasters as being the “fault” of the lack of understanding of those who are less well educated than them and who have, therefore, made very bad choices indeed. In such discussions the one thing that is assumed to be unchallengeable is the status and validity of the education of which they see themselves to be the beneficiaries. This is a given that no one in their right mind would challenge. The intellectual adjuncts to such education are the background radiation to our lives.

However, one does not have to scratch far beneath the surface of modern education and the intellectual ideas and assumptions on which it is based to find that much of it is suspect and that the vast ideological superstructure which rests on it less than stable. Indeed, when it is thus examined the bog standard common sense of the average “left Behind”, “Out,” “Somewhere” or non-liberal placed alongside it may scrub up rather well. The wit of the building site or the football ground may prove to be quicker-witted than the liberal’s wit and the latter’s assumption of superiority emerge, perhaps, to be no more than a form of scornful arrogance.

I have two grown-up children, in the final year of, or recently emerged from, University. Being a language teacher of long experience who can generally recognise a well-written sentence they have sometimes sent me their essays to be edited for grammar, punctuation etc. In helping them with this I have not been able to help reading the content of their essays. My son, training to be a nurse, writes an essay, supporting his assertions regularly with references to the appropriate studies, that it has been discovered by research that if nurses treat human patients as though they are both persons and diseased bodies at the same time the outcome for the patient may be better than that attained if they are treated merely as diseased bodies occupying beds. My daughter, studying Business, puts forward the proposition that “toxic” leaders in companies who exhibit high levels of narcissism, selfishness and disdain towards their staff tend to lead companies that do less well than those led by leaders exhibiting the opposite virtues to these vices. I don’t blame my children for writing such essays – they are simply doing what their tutors and the requirements of their degree assessment process ask of them. If they didn’t write them they would not obtain the qualifications for which they are paying a royal premium and which will enable them to gain good employment afterwards. However, were one to travel back a few decades before such academic research “discovered” the truth for us in this way, and were one to question a regular pre-degree times nurse or a regular company employee as to whether it was sensible and desirable to treat patients as human persons or to have unselfish and respectful leaders at the head of companies (they might have been perfectly capable of pronouncing on each other’s discipline) they would have certainly been well-equipped enough to answer unhesitatingly in the affirmative. They would have been equipped with bog standard common sense which precedes the formal scientific enquiry through whose mediation “truth” is deemed now to be solely attainable. These two ways of arriving at the truth set nicely alongside each other, for means of comparison, the nature of common sense and modern education.

I will list a number of such questionable assumptions and even fallacies which underpin modern education of the sort that is disseminated as the default position in most schools and universities. In this list I will include those described in the paragraph above.

• A setting above common sense and human subjectivity of a scientific rationalism which, nevertheless, depends on the pre-existence of human presence and common sense for its own existence. Areas which do not easily lend themselves to proper objective scientific scrutiny such as human subjectivity, emotion, morality and aesthetic experience (some of the most important things in human life) are wrongly assumed to be studiable by and subjected to Social Sciences and Psychology. Such “Humanities” are wrongly “scientised.”
• The consequent sense that nothing aspires to the status of truth unless it has been mediated through a scientific study. There are no moral or aesthetic truths that cannot be subjected to this method.
• A lack of interest in the moral as it does not conveniently fit into any scientific category.
• The myth of progress to a Promised Land that will be afforded by more and more science. A sense that the present is a privileged platform along this way from which we can look down on the past.
• French Marxist post-modernism fuelling grievance narratives, identity politics and political correctness which assumes that everything is just a social construct serving the ends of oppressive ruling classes and conspiracies. The replacement of nature and beginning givens and essentials in the human condition with the idea of a self-creating and God-like existentialism.
• An excessive emphasis on purely monetary value in education as a measure of effectiveness other values which used to prevail in educational establishments having left the field open. Education as commodity.

All of the above are points of view but they are not the background radiation of incontestable Gospel truth which they have become and can certainly be challenged by very respectable alternative points of view. They do not have the force or solidity of unassailable tablets of stone.

If I am correct in my assumption that many or all of the above stanchions on which modern education is built are faulty then, under test, the edifice may well fall down and throw us back on the common sense and gut feeling on which the non-liberals depend. This may explain why there has been a move against expertise. One only has to look at how well Economic or Political “Science,” both operating in the field of human social studies, did in predicting the economic crash of 2008 or countless political events that have taken place in the last few years to see why such skepticism might prevail.

It is also instructive to witness the limitations of the liberal mindset for such limitations certainly exist. If the commonly held articles of faith, such as the predominance of scientific rationalism, are contested the liberal is swiftly brought to the borders of their imagination and intellect. At this point that mindset will enter into a kind of meltdown where things do not compute and an algorithmical process will begin which ends with any opponent foolhardy enough to challenge such central tenets being designated or even denounced as either insane or morally corrupt and dangerous. This, in itself, to use a term taken from Psychology, is a form of cognitive dissonance and suggests a lack of intellectual confidence in the overall project of liberalism. A failure to compute boils over into anger and denunciation and, ironically, rationality is abandoned.

This intellectual edifice, that scorns the sense of the Common Man and Woman, is visibly embodied in our modern universities where too may young people pursue useless and suspect subjects largely because they are considered to be bums on seats in an enterprise that is largely commercial. Much of it could easily and profitably (to the students not the universities) be swept away as redundant in terms of its intellectual substance, usefulness and relevance and of the employability it affords. It has become a choreographed dance which resembles what universities used to be from the outside (in ways which science can measure) but in no way resembles them from the inside (in the more important and vital ways which science cannot measure).

If the whole edifice were to topple so that we were thrown back on the sense of the Common Man and Woman would it be such a loss and what does this mean for the assessments made by the Common Man in recent political choices he or she has made?

Friday, 8 September 2017

Does Modern "Liberalism" have the right to be Known by the Name?

Against a background of the perceived oppression of absolutist monarchy and high church (often suspected to be Catholic) religion Oliver Cromwell and his supporters rebelled. They were religious free-thinkers who struck out for political freedom and religious freedom and, thus, began a tradition. It was at this moment that the term “Whig” was coined. The battle against absolutism and religious obscurantism was taken up later in France with the aid of the new born scientific rationalism of the Encyclopedistes and Voltaire. This culminated in the freeing itself from the Imperial shackles of the mother country in the United States and the ultimate collision between anciens régimes and the new appetite for freedom encapsulated in the French Revolution whose watchwords became Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. The following century saw the continuation of the battle in the casting off of the absolutist chains of the conservative Austro-Hungarian Empire by the newly emerging Swiss and Italian Nations. These were great “liberal” victories and expressions of freedom by certain brotherhoods of man.

The tradition contained much room for disillusion though. Cromwell’s Commonwealth was short-lived and was replaced by a restored (though curtailed and less powerful) monarchy. In France the rule by the people was soon replaced (not just by a King though these followed too) but by an Emperor. The trajectory of great supporters of the new-found freedom like Beethoven and Wordsworth was often one of disappointment. Necessary political compromises had been made possible such as the Reform Laws in the UK but the much vaunted and awaited Golden Age had not come about. In the heady days before he crowned himself emperor when Napoleon was routing the conservative rulers across Europe, it had seemed as if that Golden Age was possible and as if mankind would finally fulfill itself. This speaks to another idea strongly associated with liberalism – that of progressivism; the idea that mankind is headed somewhere and that somewhere is always better. That idea is now known as meliorism – things can only get better (not worse). It is well encapsulated in what is known as “The Whig Version of History.”

Most of these ideas seem worthy, if a little starry-eyed, so how did they transform themselves into the much reviled (by the right) Liberal mindset of today? Some would say that old-fashioned liberalism and what we call liberalism today are entirely unrelated and that it is unfortunate that the term is used so frequently and pejoratively today. I’m not so sure about this as I sense that a clear path from one form of liberalism to the other can be made out.

The modern liberal mindset certainly maintains the sense of progressivism and meliorism which it shares with other creeds such as socialism and communism. Much of this derives from an outlook heavily based on the scientific rationalism of the Enlightenment, which was the chief plank of the opposition to religious obscurantism. Science was seen to be on a course to gradually conquering all areas of darkness. What is interesting about this ‘creed’ is precisely that it has become a creed. Instead of displacing religion for good with sense it has become a kind of replacing religion in its own right such that it is now felt that Gospel “truth” is available in libraries of scientific studies even in unscientific areas like social “sciences” and human psychology. God has been dethroned not in order to demolish the throne but, instead, to place human reason and science on that same throne. We now feel that we can look with a God-like perspective.

Liberalism naturally, given its origins, sets great store by education. The unfortunate thing is that, in recent half-century or so, education itself has been hijacked by Post-Modernist thinking (with all its gobbledygook and sophistry - rather than sophistication), which derived from post-war French existentialism. Jean-Paul Sartre wrote and spoke a great deal about “Freedom” and oppression (in spite of, or perhaps because of, having not performed that well himself in the French Resistance to the Nazis) and was a full-on Marxist apologist for the Soviet Union. Thus existentialist ideas displaced essentialist ones and the whole raft of identity politics and political correctness was born. Society was seen, in very Marxist terms, as a series of oppressive constructions imposed upon their victims and the idea of a new age sweeping all of this away and bringing about perfect social justice was engendered. Liberalism, unblinkingly and, perhaps, unthinkingly seeing this as the fruits of progressive education, has adopted its products wholesale. And thus we are where we are today. A new progressive narrative has sprung up based on victimhood and grievance and a new promised land is perceived to be just over the horizon to be reached by the judicious application of science and righteous rebellion.

One further interesting idea is that, given that the first liberals rebelled against an oppressive authority and religion and defined themselves by such actions the mistake is often made by some immature modern liberals that all authority and religion are oppressive and need to be swept away. There is no distinction made between good and bad authority and religion or the sense that all societies need some form of authority or that religion is just something that humans always do left to their own devices (as is well demonstrated in William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” where the boys begin to propitiate Gods in very short order).

Old-fashioned liberalism is certainly different from the modern version but one should not be surprised that such a transformation into the new version has taken place given the ingredients that made up that older dispensation and events in the world of ideas that have taken place in the interim. The two creeds have much in common as well as much which differentiates them. Many paths run from one to the other. The chief link-road is the idea of moral progress contained in the Whig Version of History.