Friday, 27 January 2006

Polly-minded Twaddle

“[W]hy is the gap between high and low pay so wide and why do we value essential work so poorly?” [1] asks the highly paid and unessential Polly Toynbee. It might well be asked: Why does Ms Toynbee not value her local street-cleaner with an annual donation of nine-tenths of her own large income? Why not?—Because Polly Toynbee is a demagogic blatherer, that’s why!
.....Boldly, however, Ms Toynbee is keen to insinuate hypocrisy on the part of Mr Rupert Murdoch when she tells us that he “can float his personal fortune of £3.9bn in Bermuda, avoiding taxes while his newspapers pontificate about welfare scroungers”, but thereby she evinces only the fundaments of Polly-mindedness: sophistry and wilful stupidity on behalf of the State. For it is evident that while a person such as Mr Murdoch is trying to save his own money from State-kleptomania, those persons on welfare-handouts are taking someone else’s—a different matter entirely.
.....Ms Toynbee can expect to get away with this sort of thing because she can safely assume that the State has crept into the heads of most of her readers, and trampled their minds to simple mush.
.....In his day, Søren Kierkegaard too was much vexed by the envy-stoking and self-regarding demagogy of journalists, and he had this to say on the matter:
[I]f there is any suggestion of shooting people down, then let it be the journalists for the way in which they have used and profited by the simple classes. God knows I am not bloodthirsty . . . but nevertheless, I should be ready to take the responsibility upon me, in God’s name, of giving the order to fire if I could first of all make absolutely and conscientiously sure that there was not a single man standing in front of the rifles, not a single creature, who was not—a journalist. That is said of the class as a whole. [2]
I think this thorough-going measure a little too harsh, however; a couple of salient examples from The Guardian should suffice.

[1] Polly Toynbee, “You are now the pay tsar: speak out and embarrass cowardly politicians” (An Open Letter to Paul Myners), The Guardian, 27th January 2006

[2] Søren Kierkegaard, The Journals of Kierkegaard, Tr. & Ed. A. Dru, (London: Fontana Books, 1958), journal for 1849, pp.163-4.

Wednesday, 25 January 2006

Fewtril #60

Insane optimism leads us blindly into those problems for which it then might present itself as the solution. It is in the mess and decrepitude of modern life that the insane optimist finds his conviction in progress strengthened, for such a life induces in him a greater dependency upon optimism—the worse things become, the more he depends upon it, until the future is as rosy as carbon monoxide poisoning.

Monday, 23 January 2006

Fewtril #59

If it were shown that the most effective and just solution to a pressing modern problem were an old-fashioned and “outmoded” idea, then one would most likely see our progressives standing fixed in principle against its adoption—and thus against progress; for one can see that progress for them is not so much a concern for betterment than a slogan for the adoption of their own ideas and an idée fixe for their future dominance.

Friday, 20 January 2006

Fewtril #58

In the great moral-political struggle against gross and offensive generalisations, it should become a matter of consistent principle to insist that not all bachelors are unmarried men, and that to believe all are so demonstrates a deplorable ignorance and a vile prejudice against those bachelors who are neither single nor male.

Morris Words

On Radio Four’s PM programme last night (19th January 2006), Estelle Morris declared that “the independence of a school can make it impossible for another school to improve”, from which declaration I must infer that either one or both of the words “independence” and “impossible” mean something wholly different in the language of ministers.

Thursday, 19 January 2006

Fewtril #57

The wrongness of many an idea is easily shown, and can be summed up in a sentence or two, which is why its adherents might point to the many volumes of complex and impenetrable prose wherein its proof and justification are rumoured to lie.

Democratic Ethics

In the democratically numbed mind, it is enough that it is known that most people want to see a policy enforced for it to be considered right that it be enforced. The old fallacy of “might is right” – or “in the multitude there is rectitude” – has not disappeared; on the contrary, it forms an essential component without which democracy could not function. It is felt to be enough to say, for instance, that, “most people want an end to privatisation, higher tax for the rich and a British withdrawal from Iraq” [1] for it to be felt that these matters ought to be enforced. It bears witness to the power of democracy that so evident a fallacy, and so bold an inconsideration of the rectitude of such matters, can pass through the minds of most as a legitimate argument.
.....This political stratagem has the advantage that it appeals solely to the power of the people, and not to their better natures. If, then, one is not to be persuaded by virtue or by a reasonable understanding of the present facts of the matter, might one at least be persuaded by the many examples of history that show that rectitude does not stand coterminous with multitude? I maintain that one should of course be persuaded of this view, but the tragedy is that in a democratic society one is likely to be in a minority in the holding of this view, precisely because the multitude is driven—by the promise of power and by the words of those who seek it—to the selectively ignorant view that the multitude is the legitimate principle by which rectitude is ultimately decided!
[1] Seumas Milne, “The battle over this phoney centre excludes the majority”, The Guardian, 19th January 2006.

Wednesday, 18 January 2006

A Hairy Evil

When one learns that it is a man’s intention to emphasise “the potential of facial hair both to uphold and more interestingly to subvert patriarchy,” [1] one may well begin to wonder anew at the world—to wonder how the world should ever have come to contain so feckless a witling with so great a capacity for wasting time and ink in the explication of his facile designs.
.....Surely anyone with the faintest spark of curiosity must wonder at how it ever came to be written that “[t]here is an undeniability about facial hair which makes the world seem real again”; and one might feel a great resolve to understand to the fullest of one’s ability the history of thought that led to the claim that “[i]n reading facial hair within the semiotic system as put forward by Roland Barthes we find that it is a cover for the various myths of masculinity, and the myths of a civilisation based upon patriarchal values”.
.....It comes to something when an academician feels bold enough to claim that the myths of a civilisation can lie hidden behind a beard. Some might call it progress.

[1] Michael John Pinfold, “I’m sick of shaving every morning”: or, The Cultural Implications of “Male” Facial Presentation”, Journal of Mundane Behavior, Vol. 1:1, February 2000.

Tuesday, 17 January 2006

Fewtril #56

A little hysteria can go ill-favoured in effete and radical circles – what may be required is a great deal of hysteria, lest one be thought insufficiently impassioned and devoted.

Monday, 16 January 2006

The Rector of Decrepitude

Let it fall to your credit that it has never occurred to you to say that the banks of a stream lie across from one another because of the existence of bridges:
The bridge [Martin Heidegger tells us] . . . does not just connect banks that are already there. The banks emerge as banks only as the bridge crosses the stream. The bridge expressly causes them to lie across from each other. One side is set off against the other by the bridge. Nor do the banks stretch along the stream as indifferent border strips of the dry land. With the banks, the bridge brings to the stream the one and the other expanse of the landscape lying behind them. It brings stream and bank and land into each other’s neighbourhood. The bridge gathers the earth as landscape around the stream. [1]
A thought so absurd as this could occur only to a man who has nothing left to say, but who, for the sake of his upkeep, has to say something nonsensical that will provoke amongst his acolytes a solicitous interpretation that takes such sayings as tokens of a profound understanding.

In the genealogy of pseudo-philosophic hogwash, Professor Heidegger stands out as an unhinged and fecund ancestor to the vacuity and decrepitude of certain strains of modern intellectual life. If, for instance, you feign to agree that “[w]hen Dasein does not exist, ‘independence’ ‘is’ not either, nor ‘is’ the ‘in-itself’” [2], then most likely you stand as an intellectual scion of this sorely afflicted line, a defender of the great shyster’s claim that “[m]aking itself intelligible is suicide for philosophy”. [3]

For anyone who has not given up sense in favour of a faddish and craven pretension, however, the works of Professor Heidegger provide an almost inexhaustible source for wonder at how such hogwash might pass for philosophy. Consider, for instance, the following:
We also catch sight of the nature of nearness. The thing things. In thinging, it stays earth and sky, divinities and morals. Staying, the thing brings the four, in their remoteness, near to one another. This bringing-near is nearing. Nearing is the presencing of nearness. Nearness brings the near—draws nigh to one another—the far and, indeed, as the far. Nearness preserves farness. Preserving farness, nearness presences nearness in nearing that farness. Bringing near in this way, nearness conceals its own self and remains, in its own way, nearest of all. [4]
Hereafter, for all that might be said against Heidegger’s philosophy, let no man deny the existence of German comedy!

[1] Martin Heidegger, “Building Dwelling Thinking”, in Martin Heidegger: Basic Writings, ed. and tr. D. F. Krell, (London: Routledge, 1993), p. 354, original emphasis.

[2] Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, tr. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson, (New York: Harper, 1962), p. 255.

[3] Martin Heidegger, Contributions to Philosophy (From Enowning), tr. P. Enad & K. Maly (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1999), p. 307.

[4] Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought, tr. A. Hofstadter (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), pp.177-178, original emphasis.

Wednesday, 11 January 2006

Fewtril #55

If you come across a person who claims that all is political, then you know what to think when he claims that his acts are moral.

Monday, 9 January 2006

Faith and False Scepticism

The great Jacob Burckhardt said that the world was suffused with false scepticism, and that of the true kind there could never be enough. The good professor also predicted the rise of the “terrible simplifiers” [1], those totalitarian social engineers and intellectual barbarians who have, in the words of H.L. Mencken, “an easy solution to every problem—neat, plausible, and wrong”. [2]
And so I see today a false sceptic and terrible simplifier in the letter-pages of The Guardian, the newspaper par excellence for intellectual barbarians:
Faith, which often divides the world into good and evil, can lead to violence. The antithesis of faith - free thought, scepticism and doubt - does not.
Francis King, Letter to The Guardian, 9th January 2006.
Such faith, simplicity, and false scepticism! For what reason on earth do we have to suppose that the antithesis of faith does not lead to violence in the same way that faith might? By way of an answer, we might even apply Mr King’s own suggestion that the division of the world into good and evil causes conflict and violence; and so we find in Mr King’s scheme, that faith is a root of the evil of violence, and is thus an evil itself, and scepticism is the goodly cure thereof, and thus a good itself, and thus the world is divided into good and evil.
That faith and its antithesis can lead to violence should go without saying; and it should be evident that all manner of differences can cause conflict. But so what? Is the solution then uniformity – but this sounds like the antithesis of free thought! It might be seen as a good thing that a man judgmentally divides the world into good and bad, right and wrong, for it is a sign that he has not cultivated for himself the moral and intellectual ambivalence of a par-boiled cabbage.
The tone of Mr King’s letter implies that an at least partial solution to the problem of violence is the removal of all faith – as the root of all evil. It would require a great faith, however, to believe that humanity thus stripped of its natural proclivities would be more peaceful. At least one ought to be sceptical about the prospect, but then I suspect that a faith that comes by the name of scepticism is the hardest to remove of them all, and does not take kindly to true scepticism.

[1] see The Letters of Jacob Burckhardt, tr. and ed. By Alexander Dru (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2001)
[2] H.L. Mencken, “The Divine Afflatus,” A Mencken Chrestomathy, (New York: Vintage, [1949] 1982), p. 443.

Friday, 6 January 2006

An Upset Mind

If Anthony Browne, who has recently had published his tract on the ravages of political correctness, is looking for a pithy exposition of the mind-set of its adherents, he would do well to consider this example from the letter-page of The Independent:
Sir: The fact that affluent white men such as Anthony Browne can so easily get their absurd and unsupported arguments published suggests that political correctness has not gone nearly “mad” enough.
Ruth Kelly, Letter to The Independent, 6th January 2006.
It has the essential ingredients: the outrage that anyone dare question the cause, the obsession with group-identity, the hatred of putative privilege, the wild defamation of other’s views, the despotic proclivities, and the radical-extremist creed that no measure is ever enough – which together speak of a dark and corrupt character.
Then again, Mr Browne was asking for trouble; for the bounder had not even the decency to be poor black woman.

Thursday, 5 January 2006

The Doctrine of Permanent Adolescence

When Julia Kristeva proclaims that “revolt is our mysticism” [1], we may assume she speaks on behalf of her fellow soixante-huitards attardés and of other permanent adolescents, for such wretched and wrackful tantrumists have made revolt against both authority and norms of behaviour a sacred doctrine, a fashionable posture, and an end in itself.

What makes sense today [opines Dr Kristeva] is not the future (as communism and providential religions claimed) but revolt: that is, the questioning and displacement of the past. The future, if it exists, depends on it. . . .

. . . In counterpoint to certainties and beliefs, per­manent revolt is this putting into question of the self, of everything and nothingness, which clearly no longer has a place. . . .

. . . The permanence of contradiction, the temporariness of reconciliation, the bringing to the fore of everything that puts the very possibility of unitary meaning to the test . . .: these are what the culture of revolt explores. [2]

Accordingly, this nihilistic revolt has no end in sight, no wish to replace falsehoods with facts, or ugliness with beauty, or wrong with right, or misery with happiness, or worse with better, nor even a wish to preserve what goods we might have; it seeks only a “permanent crisis” and a “continuous subversion” [3] in all areas of life:
it is not exclusively in the world of action that this revolt is realized but in that of psychical life and its social man­ifestations (writing, thought, art) . . . Yet as a transforma­tion of man’s relationship to meaning this cultural revolt intrinsically concerns public life and consequently has profoundly political implica­tions. In fact, it poses the question of another politics, that of permanent conflictuality. [4]
This new kind of revolutionary action, a permanent “questioning” of all aspects of life, that ostensibly seeks no final establishment of its ideals, that would like to remain wholly and for ever irresponsible and in revolt against authority, marks apparently a split with the old. Yet one might surmise that Dr Kristeva describes what was always a crucial psychical aspect of many a socialist-revolutionary of old: namely, that a great deal of the motivating force for his revolutionary action was the will to destroy rather than to build—or in other words, to some extent the means was the end. Nevertheless, having expressly made permanent revolt into an ideal and end in itself, Dr Kristeva speaks directly to that pathetic irresponsibility and pointless destructiveness that marks the worst kind of adolescence—and in our times, she has the gratifying prospect of reaching a very large audience indeed.

[1] Julia Kristeva, “Intimate Revolt: The Future of the Culture of Revolt, The Life of the Mind, and the Species”, International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, Vol 3:1, January, 2006.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Julia Kristeva, Revolt, She Said: An Interview By Philippe Petit. Ed., Sylvere Lotringer (New York: Semiotext(e), 2002.) p. 42.
[4] Julia Kristeva, “Intimate Revolt”.

Wednesday, 4 January 2006

Fewtril #54

If it is only power that our politicians find persuasive, then, though it would be a shame to do so, we should have to consider that the course of propriety may be better illuminated for them by the occasional burning down of a town-hall.

Tuesday, 3 January 2006

Knowing Nothing

Might a pseudo-philosopher take himself to be a god amongst men? For how is it that he might claim to describe the world beyond his own mind by claiming that no man may describe the world beyond his own mind? Does such a claim bespeak a true megalomania, or is it rather a carelessness, a confusion, a deliberate deception? But then who knows what species of madness or world-weary disappointment lies behind it! What we know for certain is that it is an ancient pox of thought. Gorgias of Leontini maintained that,

(a) “nothing exists”; (b) “even if it exists it is inapprehensible to man”; (c) “even if it is apprehensible, still it is without a doubt incapable of being expressed or explained to the next man.”

Cited by Sextus Empiricus, Against the Schoolmasters, VII, 65, in The Older Sophists, ed. Rosamond Kent Sprague (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1972), p. 42.

The modern intellectual is more sophisticated – or less open – than the ancient sophist. He might couch his nihilism in the language of science, though it is no less absurd:
The chances that our brain experiences resemble some mind-independent truth are remote at best, and those who would claim otherwise must surely explain the miracle.

Donald Hoffman, “A Spoon is like a Headache”, The Edge Annual Question — 2006: What is Your Dangerous Idea? Edge, 1st January 2006.
The chances that this statement resembles some mind-independent truth are—by its own lights—remote at best, and the author must surely explain the miracle of knowing it.