Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Trouble in the "Cathedral"

The notion of the "Cathedral" was invented by Mencius Moldbug, Curtis Yarvin, in his blog.  The idea is simple.  Today's ruling class is a kind of secular church, for it combines its politics and its secular religion much like an established church.

The lead role in the Cathedral is taken by the professors.  They are the chaps with the progressive ideas.  The media and the entertainment industry pick up their ideas and publicize them, and the politicians execute them.

So here comes Nick Kristof, from the choir stalls in the Cathedral, complaining about the performance of the professors in academe.  He opens with:
SOME of the smartest thinkers on problems at home and around the world are university professors, but most of them just don’t matter in today’s great debates.
And he closes with this:
I write this in sorrow, for I considered an academic career and deeply admire the wisdom found on university campuses. So, professors, don’t cloister yourselves like medieval monks — we need you!
If you are a conservative then Kristof's lament should encourage you.  For Nick is complaining that the professors, the bishops of the Cathedral, have left the media choristers without an anthem to sing.  And they have left the politicians with no ideological weapons but the bully's cudgel.  Here we are with Obamacare, a product of decades of professorial research, and it's flushing down the toilet, and the rest of the Cathedral, bishops, and choristers, and political thugs and all.

That is the hidden subtext of Kristof's lament.

Hey Cathedral! sez Nick. We gotta problem!  So here comes Daniel W. Drezner in Politico to address Kristof's concern.  And he says... What exactly?

He goes off at a tangent to show how in international relations, his field, there are three sectors, and, well, although they are all good chaps, they don't always get along.
And I think I’m in a unique position to shed some light on why the three tribes that dominate the discussion of foreign affairs—academics, Beltway types and money folks—don’t always get along.
Hey Dan!  Who cares?  The point is that, three tribes or not, the Obama foreign policy is a mess.  That's probably because you chaps are second-class thinkers and haven't really articulated a vision of America in the world that media types and grasp and write about and political types can get into their thick noodles and convert into foreign policy.

Not that anyone should be surprised.  What would you expect from a bunch of bishops in a secular established church?  Not much.  You would expect them to repose upon their benefices and occasionally emerge to engage in a fight over some arcane matter of remuneration or theology.

On my model of politics -- every government is an armed minority that keeps itself in power by ladling out privileges and pensions to its supporters -- you would expect that over the years the supporters would expect more and more loot and put out less and less in support of the regime.

And so it turns out with our modern progressive ruling class.  The overarching reality of the Obama administration is that it doesn't bother to persuade.  It just thugs ahead, pushing Obamacare on an unwilling America and siccing the IRS on its opponents with an assist from Democratic senators and representatives.

The only question is: when will the disgruntled people rise up in a Reformation and push back against the corrupt Cathedral, its privileges, its laziness, and its system of politically correct indulgences?

My prediction: it will all start to happen when the current ruling class cannot find the money it needs to keep its supporters happy.

Here's a telling item.  State and local governments are cutting back hours on part-timers, like adjunct faculty, because Obamacare.

Hey you adjuncts!  They are throwing you under the bus!  You OK with that?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Smash the Cathedral!

Last week I suggested that we can't just go out and change America, and that's why Speaker Boehner and the House Republicans couldn't just vote against increasing the debt ceiling and stop the spending.  First they have to win the battle of ideas.  Here's how I put it:
First of all, opinion leaders in the academy and the media must have their come-to-Jesus moment.  (I know: Dream on). They see that for over a century they have been brutalizing and betraying the little people with their rational plans and their race and class politics.  Then purveyors of conventional wisdom like Ron Fournier have to get the message.  Then NYT readers and NPR listeners must start mouthing the new catchphrases.  Then liberal activists and Democratic politicians must be shamed out of their race baiting and class warfare.  Then the rank-and-file entitlement beneficiaries get reeducated.  Then we get to reform the welfare state.
By "opinion leaders in the academy and the media" I mean, of course, the folks that "Mencius Moldbug" calls The Cathedral.  And those folks are not going to have a come-to-Jesus moment without a lot of encouragement.

Now Moldbug suggests that the path to the future is through a kind of national bankruptcy that he calls the "Reset" that turns the US into a kind of limited-liability corporation.  But in real life the US probably turns into Brazil, as Brazil turns into Argentina, as Argentina turns into Venezuela, and Venezuela turns into Zimbabwe.   Because politics is not the same as bankruptcy.

No, I suspect that the way to end the rule of the Cathedral is through a Reformation rather than a Reset.

The proximate cause of the Reformation was Martin Luther's Ninety-five Theses against indulgences.  But the bigger picture was the printing revolution had permitted the middle class to get and read their own Bibles, got to be more engaged in their faith and the exegesis of the Bible, and so, as Wikipedia puts it,
[H]is publication of his objections was paradigmatic of the resultant shift from internal to extramural debate on matters that had previously been taken as given.
In our terms, the availability of printed books increased the bandwidth of public participation in religion and discussion of life, the universe, and everything.  People weren't content to leave the exegesis of religion up to the Church.  They wanted in on the discussion.

Could our time, with its own increase in bandwidth through the information revolution, see a similar revolution?  Could a burgeoning Long Tail of engaged citizens dislodge the current ruling class of the Cathedral, the academics and the journalists that have controlled public debate over the last two centuries?  Or will the Cathedral manage to maintain control of the moral-cultural sector and continue its hegemony over the political sector and the economic sector?

The comparison with the Reformation is chilling.  There  were many failed attempts to reform the old Cathedral, from the Waldensians to John Wycliffe to Jan Hus.  And they were all put down. Until Martin Luther came along.

So we should expect that the way to a better world, a world that has emerged from under the hegemony of today's ruling class, will not be easy or swift.

But there is hope.  There is hope because world is full of people of good will that want to participate in their own moral development and take responsibility for themselves and build communities of cooperation and faith.  There is also hope in the fact that every cultural elite eventually decays into hypocrisy and the pursuit of power for the sake of power.  It loses its moral authority in the cesspool of its own corruption and cruelty, and then with its moral authority gone its physical authority collapses.  Surely our elite is well on the path to self-destruction.

The only thing to do is to have the courage to tell truth and shame the Devil.  And have faith that in the end good will prevail.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Hillary Clinton's Course in Pragmatism. Well, not exactly.

Like many Americans I had nothing but scorn for Hillary Clinton's famous judgment on Benghazi.  Said Secretary of State Clinton to a Senate panel:
Clinton: Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?
But a few weeks ago I bought a copy of William James's eight lectures on "Pragmatism," and now I understand what the Secretary was talking about.  Says James near the beginning of Lecture Two:
The pragmatic method is primarily a method of settling metaphysical disputes that otherwise might be interminable...  The pragmatic method in such cases is to try to interpret each notion by tracing its respective practical consequences.  What difference would it practically make to any one if this notion rather than that notion were true?  If no practical difference whatever can be traced, then the alternatives mean practically the same thing, and all dispute is idle. (My emphasis). (p.23)
Who knew?  Hillary Clinton as a profound philosophical thinker?

Now the question in the case of Secretary Clinton was not really about a "protest" or "guys out for a walk one night."  Even though it certainly does make a difference if the Ambassador Stevens was killed by a planned terror attack rather than a "spontaneous" protest.  It was about what in the Sam Blazes the Secretary and the President were doing that night and whether there was some action with practical consequences that they might have taken to save the lives of four Americans.   And we can guess the answer to that.  Deer in the headlights, baby.  Or maybe:  the president/secretary is in a meeting.

I like the pragmatic method as presented by William James.  It agrees with my own view that we know nothing about the world as it really is.  We only know that certain things work according to our experience and our theories.  Beyond that be dragons.

But I think that James rather betrays his principle when it comes to Kant.  He pooh-poohs Kant's idea of space and time as intuitions when they are "constructions as patently artificial as any that science can show."(p.79)  Hmm.  But the point Kant makes is that we don't want to think of space and time as absolute and equable in the way that Newton taught us to think.  As "forms of intuition" we learn to think of them as something we have conjured up in our brains.  Space and time might be something completely different than we think, and so it turned out with Einstein and space-time.

Then James goes on to whack against Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Kant and Hegel for being "utterly sterile, so far as shedding any light on the details of nature goes."  Well, maybe they seemed that way, back at the turn of the 20th century.  But I'd say that the contribution of critical philosophy and skepticism is that it keeps us precisely safe from the "dogmatic slumber" that Kant wrote about.  They remind us to keep our wits about us and expect the unexpected.  My view is we couldn't have got relativity and quantum mechanics without the radical skepticism of the empiricists and critical philosophy of the Germans.  It's telling that Germans made pretty well all the early running in the physics revolution that started with Einstein's two papers in 1905.

Why would that be?  It would be because German philosophy had kept German minds radically open to anything.  So when it appeared that however you measured the speed of light, it was always the same, a German Jew was ready to suggest that, if the speed of light was always experienced as constant it meant that, as far as the math were concerned, space and time were relative.

And James agrees with this at the beginning of Lecture Eight on Pragmatism and Religion.
On pragmatic principles we can not reject any hypothesis if consequences useful to life flow from it.  Universal conceptions, as things to take account of, may be as real to pragmatism as particular sensations are.(p.119)
You can see where this is leading.  It leads to God and Reason and the Absolute as conceptions that men down the ages have certainly regarded as useful.  It's just that we keep changing our minds.

And why not?