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Tuesday, 20 January 2009

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Certainly bad. But the root causes lie much deeper still as I suspect you know. Let me quote my number one evil quote:

The greatest principle of all is that nobody, whether male or female, should be without a leader. Nor should the mind of anybody be habituated to letting him do anything at all on his own initiative ; neither out of zeal, nor even playfully. But in war as well as in the midst of peace to his leader he shall direct his eye and follow him faithfully. And even in the smallest matter he should stand under leadership. For example, he should get up, or move, or wash, or take his meals . . only if he has been told to do so . . In a word, he should teach his soul, by long habit, never to dream of acting independently, and in fact, to become utterly incapable of it.

PLATO OF ATHENS. 350 B.C.

The full hideous panoply of this monsters world view permeates western civilisation (channeled by Hegel, Marx, Heidegger and many others including Nietzsche - who's just a bit player surely?)

Ah! A pound to a penny you have a copy of Popper's "The Open Society and its Enemies" on your book shelf! I have no argument that the political Plato was a indeed a monster but it was the specifically anti-Christian attack of Nietzsche to which I was drawing attention and which I think has caused dreadful damage.

Part of the root of all our problems might lie in the news that someone's chum has been appointed "Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the Office of Legal Counsel".

It took me nearly as much time to read his title as it did to look him up. I gather he is a former 'Clintonite' but are you suggesting more, 'DM'?

Well of course I do :)

No, David; I dare say that the chap concerned is the very model of a modern PDAAG@OLC.

Gotcha! You were to subtle for me, 'DM' (not a difficult task) and anyway, I have got used to those grandiose American titles and the alphabet soup that follows.

All societies throughout history have their fair share of intellectuals with corrosive thesis'. The fact is that Nietzsche isn't especially bad compared to Marx, Plato, Rousseau or dozens of others I could list. The question instead should be why the ground should be so fertile at certain times as compared with others? Normally such people would appeal to a small band of like minds - the Bloomsbury set of the day. but the ideas would get little further. Normal society would crowd out the ideas - as Orwell said only an intellectual could believe something so stupid. But as you note nihilism has become the dominant thesis today.

We should look beyond Nietzsche, partly because he is by no means the only thinker responsible but also because other phenomena have had there part to play.

I read an article recently and just spent 30 minutes trying to find it again with no success. The writer proposed the idea that whereas 50 years ago the number of university educated people was a small proportion of the overall population, today the number has grown massively. Those people are the pool from which the intellectual class spring. Whilst small the graduates are forced to mix with non-intellectuals, who temper the theory laden nonsense and mostly break it upon reality. Unfortunately the class of such people is now so big that they don't need to mix with "real" people anymore. Thus they can live for years without ever testing their ideas. They form their own micro culture.

I'm not saying I agree with this but I think it's an interesting idea and it explains why the left shifted from a working class, respect independence, respect industry basis to the post modernist identity politics of today.

My own personal view is that the West before WWI was a positive culture that believed in its own achievements and thought that its universal values could be transferred to anyone. After WWII that confidence was gone. Intellectuals had convinced the middle classes that we didn't live in the best culture. In other words the carnage of WWI and II destroyed societal confidence.

Pheew, 'TDK'! That was a very interesting and stimulating comment. I have just finished a post and, alas, I'm off this afternoon and evening so I will not be able to respond until tomorrow. Perhaps that's just as well because I would like to mull over what you have said and give a considered reply.

You know Nietzsche wasn't all bad. He held his fellow-Germans and particularly their nationalism in contempt and he had no time for anti-semitism. According to Bryan Magee (in "Confessions of a Philosopher") the last sentence Nietzsche wrote (in a postscript to a letter) before he finally succumbed to madness caused by syphilis was "I am just having all the anti-Semites shot".

TDK, still apparently and lamentably blogless wrote:

"My own personal view is that the West before WWI was a positive culture that believed in its own achievements and thought that its universal values could be transferred to anyone. After WWII that confidence was gone. Intellectuals had convinced the middle classes that we didn't live in the best culture. In other words the carnage of WWI and II destroyed societal confidence."

And therein lies the chief problem, I think.

The middle classes have been in part radicalised to such an extent that hatred of the West is their first reaction in foreign policy matters; how else do you explain the utter unwillingness of much of our intelligentsia and its media stooges to recognise the war crimes and downright immorality of Hamas recently and their utter refusal to see how and when Israel tried to limit the harm that their self-defensive actions caused to civilians?

Israel obeyed to the letter, and to the cost of much time and some tactical advantage, the Geneva Conventions, and in so doing received no praise at all, as far as I could see, from most of our civilisation's media.

Hamas, on the other hand, by fortifying hospitals and ambulances, along with private homes, schools and places of worship, made much higher civilian casualties inevitable. They got a free pass from the media, despite masses of evidence that they were cowering amidst civilians for propaganda purposes.

The Gramscian Marxists, haiving given up on proletarian revolution, instead continue to slander what they can't corrupt or suborn of Christendom and its related cultures, such as Israel. thus, they destroy the consent of the so-called working-class to be governed that existed - especially strongly in Britain - because of our relatively benign kinds of government and widespread wealth and social mobility.

This culture war, I believe, is absolutely fundamental to fighting for power and influence in formal politics. If it's impossible for millions to vote Tory because of the media's rainstorm of slander against them, or to support free enterprise or defence because it's often the evil businessmen or the Western military who are responsible for wrongdoing in Hollywood, then Mister Cameron could bring Jesus into the Shadow Cabinet and they'd still only attain office after intensely bad mess-ups by Labour such as this one. And they'll likely be powerless or clueless in the face of radical-leaning civil servants.

We need to hit them in the culture, again and again, until more of the the middle classes are ashamed to stand by Labour and its ilk.

Some project, huh?


Gentlemen, I failed (again!) to respond you all today but hope springs eternal for tomorrow. I do think this is a fascinating subject and I would like the conversation to continue. 'See you' tomorrow!

Gentlemen (I assume you are male although I have no means of being certain):

First I need to clarify a point I made. I wrote, unforgivably, of "root causes", but of course, for specific incidents they are impossible to deduce with exactitude. You start at a point, an incident, and as you work back the number of 'causes' multiplies so that in the end you can only judge roughly that one was more or less influential than another. However, in this case we are not talking of one incident but a zillion of them over time, such that taken altogether make up our current society. Working backwards one can discern, I believe, certain patterns, certain events, that spread outwards and resulted not just in one incident but a whole series of them in one society.

I admit that working backwards (and I don't underestimate Plato 'et al') to causes is literally an endless task so one is forced to choose an arbitrary starting point. Given the current corruption (in the wider sense of the word) in our society today I think probably Darwin is the first begetter. If astronomy blew away the centrality of earth in the universe, then Darwin's theory blew away the notion of a central role for Man.

Even so, I still think that Christendom could have withstood the sapping of its credo if the attack was solely from Darwinism, eg, 'yes, Man has descended from apes but in that brief transition from one to the other God gave man spirit', that sort of thing. People, even if they only paid lip-service to a belief in a God could see the advantages to society of applying the Christian virtues which if applied and supported make for a civil and civic society. But I do point an accusing finger at Nietzsche who took the whole argument one step further by dismissing God as dead and directly attacking even the very notion of virtue. Indeed, he spat on virtue and praised selfishness as the only proper behaviour for a man to be true to himself.

This message was picked up by, amongst others, Ibsen whose plays at the turn of the century were enormously shocking and daring and hit the stage (the equivalent of today's TV) just as a burgeoning, half-educated middle-class was growing in numbers, wealth and influence. Ibsen took Nietzsche's abstractions which the middle-class found too difficult to understand and put them into words expressed by ordinary members of the middle-class - just like them as they sat, shocked but thrilled, in the stalls. Most of his plays feature men and women whose only purpose is, to quote a current piece of jargon, 'to do their own thing', that is, the triumph of Will and Self over sacrifice and consideration for others. This message, to paraphrase, 'to thine own self be true even at the expense of anyone or anything' is now the mantra of 21st century post-Christendom.

As I wrote in a post some time ago, the proof of my thesis lies in the almost total absence today of hypocrisy. For hypocrisy to be realised it is necessary to have first a sense of right and wrong as you struggle to hide your sins, but today we are urged 'to let it all hang out' so that none may feel the 'pain' of shame and none may bother with hypocricy. (That old fraud, Freud, deserves a slap as I pass by!)

Some 50 years ago Jack Profumo resigned as a minister because he had been caught out telling a lie and he was banished from public society. Today, 'Lord'(!) Mandelson, a proven liar, not once but twice, has been enobled and stands almost at the pinnacle of our government. Need I say more!

"Gentlemen (I assume you are male although I have no means of being certain): "

I'm male - pretty certain about it myself. And insomniac.

I hope this debate will go on tomorrow: it's the central one, I think, to our problems.

DD

Just an aside, but I’m not sure it’s fair to label Freud “that old fraud”. His descriptions of the effect of the unconcious on human behaviour echo Kant and (OK I’m boring on the subject) Schopenhauer. Freud was also in the forefront of critcising religion as the explanation for events and phenomena of which there is no rational (ie scientific) explanation. Freud’s phrase in this regard is that “ignorance is ignorance”. In other words not knowing something is no justification for inventing stories to explain something about which you haven’t the faintest idea and, furthermore, will never have the faintest idea. Freud’s output was enormous but I don’t know of any place where he advocated throwing off all one’s inhibitions to achieve happiness. He thought – although I stand to be corrected on this – that just finding out the causes of your neurosis would effect a cure. He certainly believed that sex was at the root of all our motivations and (I'm simplifying unforgiveably here) that being over-inhibited in such matters could be harmful.

Freud should, of course, be as subject to criticism as any influential writer and philosopher. Nevertheless, that Freud brought to the world some quite staggering and fruitful insights is, I believe, beyond dispute. The same can be said of Marx. Nevertheless, despite Marx’s insights, the fact is his predictions and descriptions were deeply in error. However, even if his followers did and do enormous moral and physical damage in the real world, that doesn’t make Marx any less one of the “greats” of philosophy.

The question – I think – being avoided here is whence morality? If not insoluble, the question has been teasing philosophers since before Plato. In fact it is part of the basic puzzle which philosophy itself tries to unravel which is the mystery of existence. To regret the decline of morality both public and private in a Christian country, such as ours was, is understandable – and I join in that regret. I’m sure the Roman equivalents of contributors to this thread felt exactly the same twinges during the twilght of the Republic.

Part - perhaps a major part - of the blame for our moral decline must lie with the universality of the vote. Coupled with that has been the realisation that, if you vote the right way, you can enjoy the fruits of another’s hard work. Although the Roman Republic was not a representative democracy in the way we would understand, the later history of the Republic, certainly from the Gracchi onwards, was one of continual civil strife (some political, some military, some both) and the suborning of the citizens of Rome through bribery. It’s an old story and pre-dates Nietzsche.

No matter what Nietzsche had to say about the ingredients of morality – and it’s a pretty disgusting recipe – no “democratic” political entity can sustain itself indefinitely in the absence of some kind of agreed moral code. If there’s no prospect of social or material advance or advantage to be gained by exercising the morality which broadly underpinned the British state (eg by hard work, “getting on”, being honest, acting in good faith, obeying the law etc) but, instead all you need do to enjoy the fruits of somebody else’s labour is simply to vote for the party offering you the most for the least such that there’s no requirement to be moral (or – as DD says – even hypocritical), then the British state as we have known it cannot survive.

We in the UK have been relatively lucky. It’s taken quite a long time – 70 years in fact - from the grant of the universal franchise finally to elect a government marked by envy, incompetence, wilful ignorance and personal and public corruption which apparently reflects the cupidity and morality of the majority of those voting for it (not once, but thrice – so far) and those supporting it - the “quality” press of the left, the BBC (tellingly at taxpayers’ expense) and the academics of, for instance, the Institute of Education and technical colleges (sorry - new universities) everywhere. Where once we prided ourselves on common sense and a sense of common decency you only have to look at the avalanche of legislative nonsense pouring out of Westminster, the instantly forgettable rubbish pouring out of academia or, as I do, travel daily on public transport in London to see the awful reality of public and private life in Britain.

I don’t think you have to cite Gramsci as the grand villain for this state of affairs. It makes perfect sense to those who wish to rule and keep ruling us that they will be assured of continuing power and the consequent easy life if they can keep those who vote for them ignorant, amused and provided with other people’s money. The absence or downgrading of morality in these circumstances is a plus to those who thereby benefit. It's a recipe with a long history. It’s a recipe for ultimate disaster, but it’s a recipe which this government has learned well.

Personal note: when I started typing this I had thought to defend Nietzsche in Freudian terms in that his philosophy was a consequence of the rejection of his father figures Wagner and Schopenhauer both of whom he admired exorbitantly. This is more than plausible and has been noted by commentators far more distingushed than me. However, I found that, in my eyes anyway, the reason and the blame for the decline of (political and personal) morality in Britain lie elsewhere.

Interesting discussion on respectability and decency here -

http://nourishingobscurity.blogspot.com/2009/01/respectability-and-whats-hidden-beneath.html

Looks like the prospect of being nationally broke's bringing a lot of cultural conservatives out to play.

'Bongers', I'm happy to set Freud apart for the moment. I was merely reminding us all that his theories on mind remain resolutely unscientific, in the Popperian definition, which is irrelevant to this discussion (sorry). However, the inference to be drawn (justified or not, I cannot say) behind much of his work is that behaviour is not a matter of choice (or the dreaded 'free will', if you like). This extension of his ideas developed by the psychiatrich fraternity has played, I strongly suggest, a huge part in the destruction of individual responsibility in the last century.

Another set of 'dread words' occur in your first sentence: "The question – I think – being avoided here is whence morality?" Quite so, and I was hoping to avoid that question not least because, as you say, it seems to be "insoluble". Morality, as we understand it today, consists almost entirely of delaying immediate pleasures on the grounds that it is prudent, or charitable, or, er, 'moral'! But today we live in an age of instant gratification which, unlike ealier times, is both possible and affordable so arguments in favour of postponing pleasure are not likey to be heeded without authority!

"God is dead", sayeth Nietzsche, so we can no longer appeal to Him for authority. Similarly, we cannot appeal to a well-established, wealthy, ruling class with roots in our own country, because they too have enjoyed the heady wines of instant gratification, and anyway, they are no longer rooted to this country - the world is but an airline ticket away. Eventually, I suppose, the orgy of self-gratifiaction will produce such chaos and turmoil that a 'strong man' will emerge to inflict on us all an authority of the very worst kind.

On that sour note, and feeling thoroughly depressed, I need a large drink!

DD

As usual your rejoinder sparks at least 3 fruitful areas of discussion. But since this is your blog and not mine I'll resist the temptation and, when I get back from the office, join you (at a distance) in a large drink.

No, no, 'Bongers', this blog is, or tries to be, a conversation so the more rejoinders the better!

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