Month: August 2014

Poesis: Fundamental techniques and categories

This was deemed wisdom of yore, to distinguish the public from private weal; things sacred from things profane; to prohibit a promiscuous commerce between the sexes; to give laws to married people; to plan out cities; to engrave laws on [tables of] wood. Thus honor accrued to divine poets, and their songs.

-Horace

To continue on our romp through the maddening alien landscape that is poetry, we will address what one might do if one wanted to restore poetry, rather than destroy it. Now let us be clear: this is by no means an endorsement of poetry, if anything, this ought to let you know what to watch out for.

A confusion arises for us, because in all of the fine arts it would seem that the strength of the art is in the combination of the genius of certain artists combined with willingness to finance their work and a fair enough slice of the public able to appreciate them. To this end, most people trying to ‘restore the arts’ do any of three things: 1. try to search out and promote young notables, 2. try to secure funds for artists, 3. try to raise awareness about art (works or mediums) that they like.

This is completely backwards. To see why this is, simply apply these tactics to something like Baseball. If baseball, the great and venerable, is somehow waning, do we increase talent searches for possible talents for the minor and major leagues, try to find more big-name sponsors, and get money for campaigns to make baseball cool or sexy? No. Obviously what you do is try to get more local ball clubs and support children taking up baseball recreationally, since you know that all three desired outcomes: (1. geniuses, 2. funds, 3. appreciation) are rooted in a common practice of kids screwing around with baseball equipment and people playing games for fun. This immediately creates the two major possibilities: the geniuses (they will show themselves only by playing) and the appreciation – knowing the game and enjoying playing it helps enjoying watching it. And those who appreciate it are more likely to fund it as well. Let funding campaigns limit themselves to particular ballclubs.

In fact, probably most of what is done to promote the arts these days is a surefire way to destroy them; so take note, anti-poets, the following program!
1. lots of searches for a new poet genius,
2. demands of general funds for poetry classes, public readings and museum exhibitions,
3. devote time to ‘awareness’ campaigns of all kinds. The more ‘relevant & sexy’ the better!

People are already at work at this — you need only pick up their slack!

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Four American Anti-Imperialisms

A useful taxonomy from the introduction of David Mayers’ excellent Dissenting Voices in America’s Rise To Power:

Four strands of dissent are discernible amid the personalities, competing ideas, and rival interests that shaped debate on foreign affairs from Louisiana to Korea. These strands can be labeled as prophetic, republican, nationalist, and cosmopolitan. They interlaced even as they wove through the deeper fabrics of American society and polity: capitalist economy, technological change, population growth, racial-ethnic-religious diversity, class stratification, party competition, and regional tugging.

The prophetic is the most venerable of the four strands. It was nourished by the religious temper and puritan core of the colonial/early independence period. More precisely, this orientation originated in the outlook of seventeenth-century New England theocrats such as John Winthrop. Themselves dissenters — from Anglican ecclesiolatry — they feared God’s wrath at creatures who strayed from His edicts or purpose. Pronounced still in the nineteenth century, before the popular success of Charles Darwin’s biology, the prophetic strand stemmed from belief in God (often depicted in anthropomorphic terms) who judges nations no less than individual souls. A number of dissenters, mainly reared in Protestant tradition, accepted in earnest this idea once expressed by the religiously unconventional Jefferson. This deist said (referring to slavery): “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.” From such anxiety, resolve could follow to put matters right, evident in voices opposed to enlarging the slave zone via the Louisiana acquisition, evicting Native Americans from their lands, or attacking Mexico in 1846. The idea that God reflexively enlisted on America’s side constituted theological error — blasphemy — for the prophetically minded recusant.

The republican strand sprang from the country’s democratic ethos and distrust of empire, inherited from the 1776 rebellion. This strand of dissent has manifested most frequently and vividly. It gained rhetorical power and influence from America’s being a self-conscious republic — fed by the idea, as self-evident, that representative institutions and liberal values were superior to, also incompatible with, overweening power. In this case, the United States should not substitute the sham of imperium for estimable virtues. Possession of immense power was thought to be disorienting, even disabling. Americans must not lose their way in hubris or worship of imperial idols, against which the 1776 generation had properly mutinied. Republican-minded dissenters thus objected to Louisiana empire, the 1848 Mexican cession, the buying of Alaska, Filipino occupation after the Spanish-American war, and subsequent bids for hegemony. This preference did not recommend national introversion and eschewed sulky isolationism; republican dissenters emphasized instead the power of US example — accountable government, domestic tranquility — as a guarantor of Washington’s influence abroad.

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Sacred Harp 82t: ‘Bound For Canaan’

Oh when shall I see Jesus
And reign with Him above,
And from the flowing fountain
Drink everlasting love?

I’m on my way to Canaan, (x3)
To the new Jerusalem.

When shall I be delivered
From this vain world of sin,
And with my blessed Jesus
Drink endless pleasures in?

But now I am a soldier,
My Captain’s gone before;
He’s given me my orders,
And bids me not give o’er.

Violence as a matter of scale

It’s interesting what happens when you see two nations, diverse and distinct as they can be, interact. A minor hostile interaction can tend to escalate very quickly if you let it. When all you have is emotions and pure instinct to go by, a slight can become a fistfight very quickly. That goes with people. Communities. Nations.

Conflict takes a lot to inspire these days, but it’s far easier to incite it as the number of people you need to provoke grows ever smaller. It’s made all the more so when you see the other as not just some other person, but as something else. If you think that Other person isn’t respecting you and your space in that moment, what do you do? Are you calm enough to let it slide? Do you run away, as some would argue here? Or do you fight?

It’s admittedly strange to compare violent conflicts of recent, especially because the reasons and methods are so diverse, and because sounds so simplistic. But applying the economics of scale, you become more appreciative of what is happening from a holistic perspective, even you don’t have a complete understanding of things. In two such conflicts, the lack of clarity makes a comparison apt. When you have two distinct groupings, clarity is beyond important when a mistake is made in interaction. Sometimes, that requires patience.

Three teenagers kidnapped and killed. Or maybe they were killed already, and the butchers had made a large mess in the clear-up. Or maybe they were kidnapped and accidentally killed. The killers are (not) state-mandated terrorists. Or they’re (not) militants associated with the government. Or they’re (not) just a bunch of morons with AK-47s and some unabashed sense of righteousness. Or the leadership admitted their (non) role in the situation.

A teenager is shot and killed. Maybe he was (not) a suspect in a robbery. Maybe he was (not) reaching for a cop’s a gun. Maybe he was (not) picking a fight. Maybe he just said (did not say) “fuck off, pig” with his hands up. The cop’s a rookie. The cop’s a veteran. The cop is (not) hiding something. The cop is (not) hiding. There are (no) death threats.

All this information is as much a jumble as the items found in a trash can. Yet we seek to answer this slight as fast we can. Why? Why bother asking? We demand justice, revenge, blood. Screw the first two words, we’ve always wanted blood. It’s one of the few things we yearn for more than sex.

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Adaptationism: A better architectural analogy for Jeffrey Tucker’s brutalists

The conversation surrounding Jeffrey Tucker’s Freeman article “Against Libertarian Brutalism” resurfaced once again recently, this time from Wendy McElroy in a piece entitled “Relationship of Politics to Morality.

In Tucker’s article, published back in March, he divides libertarians into two main groups: humanitarians and brutalists — good people and bad people. Humanitarians “seek the well-being of the human person and the flourishing of society in all its complexity” whereas brutalists are “rooted in the pure theory of the rights of individuals to live their values whatever they may be.” If we were to go off of these descriptions alone, Tucker’s dichotomy would be merely laughable since benevolent and rights-based justifications for liberty are hardly mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, he takes the distinction a step further by attaching opposing moral and aesthetic visions to the two invented camps, with far more troubling implications.

Tucker pinpoints the supposed tension between the two groups by explaining that humanitarians stress the “beauty, complexity, service to others, community, the gradual emergence of cultural norms, and the spontaneous development of extended orders of commercial and private relationships” that develops in a free society while brutalists advocate for liberty because it “allows people to assert their individual preferences, to form homogeneous tribes, to work out their biases in action, to ostracize people based on ‘politically incorrect’ standards, to hate to their heart’s content so long as no violence is used…to be openly racist and sexist.”

He uses the label “brutalist” to identify this nefarious cabal of (unnamed!) libertarians because of the parallels he draws between their supposedly uncivilized ideological underpinnings and the brutalist architectural style of the 1950s through the 1970s which, according to Tucker, emphasized “large concrete structures unrefined by concerns over style and grace.” Brutalists, says Tucker, “valued inelegance, a lack of pretense, and the raw practicality of the building’s use” because they “reject beauty on principle.”

If it seems odd to you that he characterizes those with reactionary views with a modern architectural style, you’re already overthinking it. This taxonomy is more about making a break with views Tucker was formerly associated with and would now like to distance himself from. It’s entirely a matter of marketing. Those who acknowledge the question of scale are brutalists; to say a libertarian order necessarily permits a certain amount of evil to exist rather than tolerate the power required to eradicate it is now a suspect idea — the cardinal sin of a humanitarian libertarian is suggesting things may not work out in the end. In contrast, Tucker’s brave new humanitarian world is a cornucopia of blog posts about structural oppression and hosannas to the conveniences of consumer culture. Surely you can’t be against that!

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Review of Liberal Archipelago

I recently read Liberal Archipelago by Chandran Kukathas. It is the best academic defense of exit as a moral principle, articulating a vision of society as a large number of sub-societies where people have the choice of which sub-society to join. I highly recommend it to to anyone interested in exit.

Kukathas bases his argument on freedom of association, choosing to jettison the traditional liberal focus on justice as the foundational principle of society. He bases his defense of freedom of association on the fact that different groups of people tend to have different conceptions of justice. The way to ensure these groups can live together without conflict, is to allow them to live under their different moral institutions, so long as individuals in such groups are free to leave and join other groups as they wish.

One implication of his views is the possibility of the proliferation of “illiberal” societies, such as the Amish, or more ugly, ethnic nationalist groups. However, under Kukathas’ conception, such a meta-society would be liberal so long as individuals were free to leave their group.

On interesting thing to note is his preface. He was influenced by libertarians, thanking both IHS and Liberty Fund, as well as a number of libertarian scholars. He also acknowledges the influence of both Hayek and Oakeshott on his work. That being said, Liberal Archipelago is squarely in the liberal tradition, with his libertarian influences having a much more subtle influence on his thoughts.