Thursday, 29 November 2007


It is said that this country could sustain twice the population. Very well, but why would anyone want it to do so? There are, I suppose, many motives: some feel it would be better to be part of something bigger, not considering that in all likelihood their part would become correspondingly smaller; some think in abstract terms of economics: to them, if population growth means economic growth, then they can think of little or no objection, for it is their habit of mind to think everything of the economy, and to bear no “silly talk” of culture or harmony; some are susceptible to the idea of our land becoming an even more “vibrant” and “exciting” place, a land full of enlightened and exotic immigrants bringing an end to the reign of the benighted pale-skins with their boring food and oppressive practices; but, though there may be many motives, some naïve, some pragmatic, some nefarious, I cannot help shake the overall impression that the man who says he wishes to be part of a maximally sustainable population sounds a bit like a battery-hen speaking the farmer’s words.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007


Terry Eagleton notes approvingly that “[William] Blake . . . viewed the political as inseparable from art, ethics, sexuality and the imagination.” [1] Aye, such a thought is enough to warm the cockles and capillaries of any old totalitarian’s cardiovascular system.

Terry Eagleton, “The original political vision: sex, art and transformation”, The Guardian, 28th November 2007.

The Upper Hand of Mediocrity

“It is now time to address, once and for all, the archaic and socially exclusive policy of academic selection.” [1] Why don’t these blighters just cut to the chase and have us all mucking out pig-sties in our fair and democratic turn? And whilst we’re in the grip of the mania for abolishing archaic and socially exclusive things, — of the mania for abolishing anything that might stand in the way of the one society of mass-uniformity —, why not go to the crux of the matter and abolish thinking for oneself? After all, some people are better at it than others — surely that’s unfair? And thinking for oneself is in truth socially exclusive, and it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to find it archaic and outmoded as well: it is certainly unbefitting of the era of the mass.
Let the open secret be once expressed and the moon-calf be brought to light, strange as it may appear therein; narrow-mindedness and stupidity always and everywhere, in all situations and circumstances, detest nothing in the world so heartily and thoroughly as understanding, intellect, and talent. Here mediocrity remains true to itself, as is shown in all the spheres and affairs that relate to life, for it endeavours everywhere to suppress, indeed to eradicate and exterminate, superior qualities in order to exist alone. [2]
Now mediocrity has the upper hand, and resentment against excellence and advantage grows apace. Resentful mediocrity is at the very heart of the power of the modern state, in the service of which uniformity simplifies the problem of control.

[1] Mike Ion, “Select gatherings”, Comment is Free (The Guardian’s weblog), 28th November 2007.
[2] Arthur Schopenhauer, “On Philosophy at the Universities”, Pererga and Paralipomena, Vol.1, tr. by E.F.J. Payne, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p.164, original emphasis.

A Service to the Country

The gall and utter shamelessness of some of our politicians surpasses my cynicism. I find it barely credible that they should use evidence of their own corruption in matters of funding as reason to call for the extortion of money from the public purse to pay for their rotten political clubs. That said, if tomorrow, by some miracle, the meaning of honour and shame were suddenly to dawn on them, I should gladly dip into my own purse to buy for each of them a pistol and a little room where they might spend a few moments alone, there for the first time to act in true and beneficial service to their country.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Noble Enmity

“I always strove throughout the war to view my opponent without hatred, and to reckon him a man in accordance with his courage. In battle I endeavoured to seek him out and kill him, and expected from him nothing different; but I never thought low of him.”

[“Ich war im Kriege immer bestrebt, den Gegner ohne Haß zu betrachten und ihn als Mann seinem Mute entsprechend zu schätzen. Ich bemühte mich, ihn im Kampf aufzusuchen, um ihn zu töten, und erwartete auch von ihm nichts anderes. Niemals aber habe ich niedrig von ihm gedacht.”]

Ernst Jünger, In Stahlgewittern (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1978), p.65.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Fewtril #217

“Emotionally literate” — an ugly phrase used approvingly to denote the ability to out-wet a lettuce.

Fewtril #216

Mediocrity tends to a tolerance of everything but excellence.

Fewtril #215

“A better world is possible” — but highly unlikely if we acquiesce to the sort of people who typically proclaim it.

Argumentum ad Incredulitatem Orthodoxam

It is quite something to take the smugness of one’s own ignorance, bolstered by one’s sure presumption of the ignorance of others, as settling the matter of the stupidity of the words and deeds of one’s enemies, but it is all in a day’s ease for Mr Daniel Davies, scribbler for the paraliterary wing of The Guardian, who feels fit to express incredulity at the likelihood that anyone could find “one single example of a clever thing either [Larry Summers or Enoch Powell] did or said”, given that “both of these famously intelligent men are not famous for intelligent things they did or said . . . [but rather] for actually stupid things that they did and said.” [1] Mr Davies has in mind both the suggestion by Larry Summers that the lower incidence of women in high-end scientific and mathematical disciplines might not be owed solely to social factors, and the assertion by Enoch Powell that mass-immigration might not turn into the picnic of harmony for which happy-clappy liberals hope and which in lieu of fulfillment they pretend to see. It is hard to find any reason given by Mr Davies as to why he finds these propositions stupid, and so it would be unfair to accuse him of having any, unless one should count the appeal to popular ignorance or the belief that vocal heresy against political orthodoxy is inherently stupid. It suffices for Mr Davies to say that, so long as there is ignorance of anything clever that has been said or done by these men, and so long as what is popularly known about them is opined to be stupid, they may safely be dismissed as fit for little else but stupidity. Mr Davies should consider himself lucky that the world is fruitful enough in fatuousness that it has not afforded him any fame thereby.

[1] Daniel Davies, “The wisest fools in ChristendomComment is Free, (The Guardian’s Weblog), 6th November 2007; original emphasis. A conjecture: d2 = di2m3

Wednesday, 7 November 2007


“[S]ocial and environmental justice.” [1] — Now, I understand that “social justice” means some kind of socialism, but what on earth does “environmental justice” mean? It is perhaps quite pointless for me to ask; for I suppose that, if a chap is keen to sprinkle his speech with words like “justice” and “freedom”, for the mainspring sake of fostering good and warm impressions, he is bound not to care much for their meanings.
[1] Zohra, “We Need Our Own Space”, Liberal Conspiracy (Weblog), 6th November 2007.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Nihilism and the Appetite for Apocalypse

Although the end of the world of man does not happen very often, unless I am very much mistaken, we can nonetheless have a good idea of how people would react to its imminence; for not only do we have the testimony of those who have believed it to be nigh, as well as of those who have observed the behaviour of those who have believed it to be so, but also we possess that intuitive understanding of mankind that allows us to predict to some extent the behaviour that would become manifest in diverse ways. Some would run rampage; others would simply fold their socks and go to bed; but notably, some would look forward to it.
.....In the case of apocalyptic doctrines of spiritual salvation, one can more easily understand such an attitude; for in effect the believers are not looking forward to the destruction of the true world as they see it, but rather to the destruction of the shadow-world of suffering and trial which this mundane and material world represents to them, wherefrom all that is highest and most noble escapes and thereafter endures; but in the case of those who believe in no such otherworld, the destruction of this world of man would mean that all that is highest and most noble and most beloved would be lost for ever without a trace. Now, I make no claim here about the truth or falsity of this latter view, but I do ask: Why would anyone look forward or be indifferent to its occurrence? Three examples follow:
I’m not sure why everyone is so bothered about global destruction anyway. . . . It’s happened before it’ll happen again. We’re not special, we don’t matter any more than bacteria or mould, life is commonplace and ephemeral. It comes and goes.
And then we have the deterministic angle, albeit with an imputation of intentional agency to nature itself:
It is all nature’s fault. . . . All of man’s deeds — whatever they are — can be traced back to nature’s experimental design. . . . Nature is simply opting for slow suicide.
Then we have the bitter-gleeful stance:
So the Hairless Ape prepares to march off into the Sunset? Good riddance, the planet will be better off without him, and anyway, since when did Homo sapiens get exclusive rights to Earth? His arrogance is his undoing, for what he had, what he learned and what he achieved, he is, under that, just another lump of genetic and biological material and no more worthy of this planet than its last tenants, the Sauropods. No, say your farewells, Ape, because extinction is just a few more centuries away and well deserved it is too. [1]
Out of its abstraction, the claim that humanity matters no more than bacteria or mould or any other lump of biological material amounts to the claim that none of its particulars — one’s mother or wife or best friend or favourite composer — matters any more than bacteria or mould or any other lump of biological material. (Psychopathology and genuine nihilism aside, this view is probably owed to pretension.) From the assumption of the truth of materialism [2], which all three examples exhibit, it does not follow directly that one ought to be indifferent to or even welcoming of the consequences of its truth. A psychological step must be taken. Perhaps nihilism is a strategy after all, a way of coping. From great care for a humane view of the world, one falls to great disappointment in belief of the untenability of the view, and then, to dull the pain, one proceeds to great carelessness or even to a perverse glee in the destruction of all monuments to hope or meaning—in short, to the view that nothing matters or that life’s annihilation is a blessing after all.
...............Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more; it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. [3]
Materialism is the assumption of modernity. It is the view that there lies alongside or behind matter no primacy in mind or meaning, that is, that matter is the sole primary substance, and that mind — if it is admitted to exist at all [4] — is merely a secondary phenomenon that reduces to matter and is thus illusionary as a seemingly primary phenomenon. It is important to appreciate that this is indeed an assumption, and not a datum; but it is also important to understand that it is widely assumed to be true amongst the moving spirits of mass-society, perhaps simply on account of its practical-scientific and no-nonsense utility, and that from such an assumption modernity derives its character: economism, politicism, utility as sole value, want of spiritual earnestness, nihilism, and not a little despair.
.....One cannot surely say that the world is not as the materialists hold it to be; for it is a distinct possibility in view of both our ignorance and our knowledge; but it is not a view that can be taken lightly, except by the levity or carelessness of nihilism; for — in a meaningless swirl of physical process — love, friendship, music, poetry, philosophy, scientific discovery, and so on, all arise from meaningless physical processes in the brains of beings for whom any belief in the significance of those things is itself the product of these processes, whereupon falls apart the flinching materialist’s fudge-consolation that one can, after all, choose to give meaning to this swirl. [5]
.....In the nineteenth century, Dostoevsky sketched a formula for a materialist’s suicide-note, one who hadn’t flinched at the discrepancy between his sentimentality and his metaphysical view:
My consciousness is certainly not a harmony, but just the opposite, a disharmony, because I am unhappy with it. . . . ... [C]ontinually posing questions to myself, as I do now, I cannot be happy, even with the supreme and direct happiness of love for my neighbour and the love of humanity for me, since I know that tomorrow it will all be annihilated. I, and all this happiness, and all the love, and all of humanity will be transformed into nothing, into the original chaos. And under such a condition I simply cannot accept any happiness—not from my refusal to agree to accept it, not from stubbornness based on some principle, but simply because I cannot be happy under the condition of the nothingness that threatens tomorrow. This is a feeling, a direct feeling, and I cannot overcome it. . . . And no matter how rationally, joyously, righteously, and blessedly humanity might organize itself on earth, it will all be equated tomorrow to that same empty zero. [6]
The nihilist has no time for such sentimentality, and has no concern about the “empty zero” of life except in his appetite for making it so. [7]
[1] I have taken the liberty of correcting the punctuation of the third example. All three examples come from pseudonymous comments to George Monbiot, “Civilisation ends with a shutdown of human concern. Are we there already?The Guardian, 30th October 2007. Mr Monbiot is a keen apocalypse-monger. Other journalists are also in on the racket. Johann Hari, for instance, professes the view that “these apocalyptic weather-events are unlikely to be freak one-offs.” (“While California burns, Hurricane Giuliani looms”, The Independent, 29th October 2007; my emphasis.) Mr Hari is of course no stranger to hyperbole.
[2] I am using “materialism” in its commonly-conceived reductive, non-agentive, and non-experiential sense: that everything reduces to the physical, and that nothing that is physical has agency or experiential qualities.
[3] Macbeth, in the words of William Shakespeare, Macbeth, act 5, scene 5, ll.25-30.
[4] Eliminative materialism denies its existence.
[5] If materialism is true, one cannot choose, for one is not an agent who has the power of choice, and thus all meaning that one supposedly chooses to give to a meaningless world is merely the meaningless product of that meaningless world. If, moreover, mind is simply identical or reductive to its physical process, and all physical processes have no inherent meaning and can bestow no meaning on the world, then mind has no inherent meaning and can bestow no meaning on the world.
[6] Fyodor Dostoevsky, “The Sentence”, October 1876, in A Writer’s Diary, Vol.1 (1873-1876), tr. K. Lantz (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1994), pp.654-5; original emphasis.
[7] As for imagining what the immediate aftermath of this apocalypse would be like — a world without humanity or culture — one can get a small inkling of its effects if one strolls through the centre of Stockport on a Wednesday afternoon: it is a little like a post-apocalyptic world, but with a Woolworths.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Corrupting the Young

“For longer than anyone can remember in our pseudoliberal times it has been the accepted rule of our newspaper press to ‘defend our young people’: from whom? from what? The answers to these questions sometimes remain in a fog of uncertainty, and thus the matter takes on a most ridiculous and even comic aspect, especially when it involves attacks on other organs of the press in the sense that ‘we’re more liberal than you are, you see; you are attacking young people and so must be more reactionary’. . . . It’s worth pondering this: ‘I’ve demonstrated that I am a liberal, that I praise our young people and take to task those who don’t praise them—that’s enough to keep our subscribers happy, and the matter’s done with, thank goodness!’ Indeed, ‘the matter’s done with’, for only the bitterest enemy of our young people could undertake to defend them in this way.”
Fyodor Dostoevsky, “One of Today’s Falsehoods”, 1873, in A Writer’s Diary, Vol.1 (1873-1876), tr. K. Lantz (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1994), p.281.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Agnostic Huxley

“Tolerably early in life I discovered that one of the unpardonable sins, in the eyes of most people, is for a man to presume to go about unlabelled. The world regards such a person as the police do an unmuzzled dog, not under proper control. I could find no label that would suit me, so, in my desire to range myself and be respectable, I invented one; and, as the chief thing I was sure of was that I did not know a great many things that the -ists and the -ites about me professed to be familiar with, I called myself an Agnostic. Surely no denomination could be more modest or more appropriate; and I cannot imagine why I should be every now and then haled out of my refuge and declared sometimes to be a Materialist, sometimes an Atheist, sometimes a Positivist, and sometimes, alas and alack, a cowardly or reactionary Obscurantist.”
T.H. Huxley, Aphorisms and Reflections From the Works of T. H. Huxley, selected by H.A. Huxley (London: MacMillan & Co, 1907), CCLVI [C. E. ix 134], published online at The Huxley File.

In Roepke's Reckoning

“I cannot here draw the portrait of the progress-minded modern who, in my reckoning, accounts for so much that is wrong in our world, but I can list a few of the things that attend him: the dissecting intellect, lacking wisdom and even common sense; the radicalism going in short relays from humanitarianism to bestiality; the nihilism of intellectuals who have lost hold of ultimate convictions and values and ceased to be true clercs; the relativism tolerating everything, including the most brutal intolerance; the egalitarianism that, presupposing an omnipotent state machinery, leads to extreme inequality in the most important respect, the distribution of power, and unleashes the soul-corroding forces of envy and jealousy; the grimace of an art called modern whose one achievement is to mirror our society’s inner disintergration. Who has seen these things needs no extraordinary illumination to know toward what they tend . . . and no one, seeing all that has been the work of men and not of blind forces, can come to any other conclusion than that men must take council with themselves and set their faces toward another way.”
Wilhelm Roepke, “The Economic Necessity of Freedom”, Modern Age, Vol.3:3, Summer 1959, pp.235-6.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

A Chief Claim to Notice

“To-day I notice that every political passion is furnished with a whole network of strongly woven doctrines, the sole object of which is to show the supreme value of its action from every point of view, while the result is a redoubling of its strength as a passion. . . . Our age is indeed the age of the intellectual organization of political hatreds. It will be one of its chief claims to notice in the moral history of humanity.”

Julien Benda, The Treason of the Intellectuals (New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers, 2007), pp.26-7; original emphasis.

Fewtril #214

Any failure to take into consideration that the highly intelligent are also capable of great stupidity is not a sign that one is not highly intelligent; it is a sign that one is capable of great stupidity.