Wednesday, 8 July 2009

China’s Pyrrho

“Shen Tao discarded knowledge, abandoned self, followed the inevitable, and was indifferent to things. Such were his principles. He said: ‘Knowledge is not to know’. He was one who despised knowledge and would destroy it. Stupid and irresponsible, he ridiculed the world’s way of preferring the virtuous; careless and impractical, he condemned the world’s great Sages; shifting and slippery, he changed about with circumstances; disregarding right and wrong, he was only concerned with avoiding trouble; learning nothing from knowledge and thinking, paying no attention to past or future, he stood loftily indifferent to everything.”

Chuang-tzu, ch. 33., tr. H.A. Giles (Shanghai: Kelly & Walsh, 1926), quoted by Fung Yu-lan, A History of Chinese Philosophy, Vol. 1: The Period of the Philosophers (from the Beginnings to circa 100bc), tr. D. Bodde (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), p.153. (Further: “Men of ability laughed at him and said: ‘The way of Shen Tao is no practice for the living; it is a principle for the dead’.” Ibid.)

Hope to an End

“Democracy is a daring concept — a hope that we’ll be best governed if all of us participate in the act of government.” [1]

It is another example of how connotations and motivating factors usurp the rule of a word’s denotations, such that a clear appreciation of what is meant or proposed or entailed is obscured. Naturally a hope that we shall be governed best if such-and-such happens is not a form of government, let alone a good one; it is merely a hope to that end. A hope, so far as I know, cannot be a form of government, except in the apolitical sense that it can govern a man’s deeds to good or ill effect. Hoping may well be a motivating factor in bringing the concept of democracy to realisation, so far as that is possible, but it has nothing to do with the concept itself. Furthermore the word “democracy” does not denote goodness, nor does the fact itself entail it; such is a connotation which a man fancies without reason. That said, I entertain a hope — though I dare say I am not governed by it — that the quiet and seemingly-innocuous emptying of words of their denotative meanings in the heads of many will not go so far as to bring about terrible consequences for all. It may well denote a vain hope.

[1] Brian Eno, “A New Politics”, Comment is Free (The Guardian’s weblog), 8th July 2009.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

From a Wordbook

bundling, n. A political party’s custom, hardly to be averted, of offering to an electorate a range of policies which must thereupon be accepted together as a bundle, or not at all; wherewith a discerning vote for one policy by taste and attraction can be to no avail since it is an undifferentiated vote for them all by effect, albeit in the highly unlikely event that it has any effect at all. Cf., wholesaling, nose-holding, and unlucky-bag; not to be confused with bungling. See P.R. Hornblower’s The Unavoidable Legitimation of Unappealing and Treacherous Policies when Held in Common by All Politickal Parties in Democratick Republicks (London: 1691), celebrated author of Politickal Tricks and Phancies and How to Foole Them All of the Time.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Darwin and God

“[F]aced with the facts at his disposal, Darwin reached the same conclusion as the Swedish Humanist Association: There’s probably no God.” [1]

He reached no such conclusion. He tended to waver between deism and agnosticism:
“With respect to the theological view of the question; this is always painful to me.— I am bewildered.— I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, & as I shd wish to do, evidence of design & beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. Not believing this, I see no necessity in the belief that the eye was expressly designed. On the other hand I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe & especially the nature of man, & to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton.— Let each man hope & believe what he can.
...“Certainly I agree with you that my views are not at all necessarily atheistical. The lightning kills a man, whether a good one or bad one, owing to the excessively complex action of natural laws,—a child (who may turn out an idiot) is born by action of even more complex laws,—and I can see no reason, why a man, or other animal, may not have been aboriginally produced by other laws; & that all these laws may have been expressly designed by an omniscient Creator, who foresaw every future event & consequence. But the more I think the more bewildered I become; as indeed I have probably shown by this letter.” [2]
“I cannot believe that there is a bit more interference by the Creator in the construction of each species, than in the course of the planets.” [3]
“The mind refuses to look at this universe, being what it is, without having been designed; yet, where one would most expect design, viz. in the structure of a sentient being, the more I think on the subject, the less I can see proof of design.” [4]
“There is no evidence that man was aboriginally endowed with the ennobling belief in the existence of an Omnipotent God. On the contrary there is ample evidence, derived not from hasty travellers, but from men who have long resided with savages, that numerous races have existed and still exist, who have no idea of one or more gods, and who have no words in their languages to express such an idea. The question is of course wholly distinct from that higher one, whether there exists a Creator and Ruler of the universe; and this has been answered in the affirmative by the highest intellects that have ever lived.” [5]
“My views are far from clear . . . I can never make up my mind how far an inward conviction that there must be some Creator or First Cause is really trustworthy evidence.” [6]
“I feel in some degree unwilling to express myself publicly on religious subjects, as I do not feel that I have thought deeply enough to justify any publicity.” [7]
“It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist & an evolutionist. . . . What my own views may be is a question of no consequence to any one except myself.— But as you ask, I may state that my judgment often fluctuates. . . . In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God.— I think that generally (& more and more so as I grow older) but not always, that an agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind.” [8]
I should add that Darwin was hardly a knowledgeable authority on the theological arguments, nor understood their subtlety or philosophical grounding, as he himself acknowledged. Still, the belief is in no way true that in the mid-nineteenth century Darwin became a Dawkinsian. I do not fear that I present a greatly controversial theory when I say that it is a belief which has evolved in no small part at the creative hand of a vociferous epigone and philosophical buffoon, though one yet falling short of omnipresence. Nonetheless, the former Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science has amply fulfilled the duty for which that chair might have been instituted. If any members of the public have not by now understood that science as a human industry is one in which misinformation, polemics, ignorance, bullying, psychological appeals, inherited prejudices, woeful arguments, philosophical ineptitude, and base motives also play a part, then the blame lies more with them than with the professor; for he has demonstrated almost everything that was humanly possible in that regard.

[1] Björn Ulvaeus, “Religion and schools don’t mix”, Comment is Free (The Guardian’s weblog), 30th June 2009. (I am aware that the quotation comes from some pop-entertainer, but I feel it is worth adding my tuppence-worth to the rebuttal, since the view seems to be quite widely assumed.)
[2] C.R. Darwin,
Letter to Asa Gray, 22nd May 1860, published online at Darwin Correspondence Project.
[3] C.R. Darwin,
Letter to Charles Lyell, 17th June 1860, ibid.
[4] C.R. Darwin,
Letter to F.J. Wedgwood, 11th July 1861, ibid.
[5] C.R. Darwin, The Descent of Man; and Selection in Relation to Sex,
Vol. I. (London: John Murray, 1871), p.65.
[6] C.R. Darwin,
Letter to F.E. Abbot, 6th September 1871, published online at Darwin Correspondence Project.
[7] Ibid.
[8] C.R, Darwin,
Letter to John Fordyce, 7th May 1879, ibid.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Costly Tastes

“Formerly I went frequently to Paris: I saw often many of those who were called ‘the philosophers’. It was particularly at Madame Geoffrin’s, Baron d’Holbaek’s, and d’Alembert’s, where they principally assembled. It was there that they silently planned the destruction of religion, of the clergy, the nobility, and the government. From the year 1766, I said to the Bishops who were connected with them, ‘They detest you’; to the great noblemen who protected them, ‘They cannot bear the splendour of your rank, which dazzles them’; to the Farmers-General who upheld them, ‘They envy your riches’. These continued, however, to admire, to flatter, and to support them.”

Louis Dutens, “Two Letters from Voltaire, Relative to Myself”, Dutensiana; Intended as a Sequel to the Memoirs of a Traveller, Now in Retirement, vol.V (London: R. Phillips and Dulau & Co., 1806), pp.93-4.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Tomorrow the Whole World

“The German nationalists . . . fought against the German patchwork of small states and wanted a unified home-market. Today for the same reasons the ruling classes want to overcome the nation-state and create as unified a world-market as possible. Erstwhile revolutionaries became conservatives who today cling to inherited conditions with the same ardour as the German princes once did to their small-state sovereignty. The nation-state stands in the way of putative economic progress, commonly known as globalisation. Nationalism, ironically, becomes the victim of its own logic. Yesterday money wanted Germany, today Europe, and tomorrow the whole world.”

[“Die deutschen Nationalisten . . . bekämpften die deutsche Kleinstaaterei und wollten einen einheitlichen deutschen Binnenmarkt. Heute will das Großbürgertum den Nationalstaat aus den gleichen Gründen überwinden und einen möglichst einheitlichen Weltmarkt schaffen. Aus einstigen Revolutionären wurden Konservative, die sich heute mit der gleichen Inbrunst an überkommene Verhältnisse klammern, wie Anno die deutschen Fürsten an ihre Kleinstaatssouveränität. Der Nationalstaat steht dem vermeintlichen ökonomischen Fortschritt, vulgo der Globalisierung, im Wege. Der Nationalismus wird, ironischerweise, Opfer seiner eigenen Logik. Das Geld wollte gestern Deutschland, heute Europa und morgen die ganze Welt.”]

Mcp, “Das Kleinere Übel”, Mit Elektischer Feder (weblog), 26. Juni 2009.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Eh-Level History

Some of our country’s “advanced”-level students of history have been complaining about a question which appeared in an examination: “How far do you agree that Hitler’s role 1933-45 was one of despotic tyranny?”. [1] The phrase “despotic tyranny” has caused some upset:
“[I]t is elitist . . . to assume every history student is going to have come across such a term.” [2]

“The use of the term ‘despotic tyranny’ excludes students of a lower ability.” [3]
At least it seems that some of our “advanced” students have learnt the egalitarian ideology well, if nothing else.

“I have been offered a place at Cambridge to study English literature and I was not familiar with the word ‘despotic’ at all despite intensive revision and reading around the topic.” [4]

“I understand that to be an A level history student you need to have a wide grasp of specialised vocabulary but can i realy be blamed for never hearing the word despotic before? I have never read it, let alone had it taught to me and i was under the impression that exams should be based on a student’s knowledge of a topic not on their knowedge of a word.” [5]

One unhappy mother summed up the complaint rather well:
“This was an exam on Hitler and history . . . not on swallowing a dictionary.” [6]
Doubtless it is sometimes difficult to determine the meaning of the various usages of words and phrases. I, for instance, have trouble understanding what “advanced” means.

[1] As reported by Alexis Thompson, “History students confused by Hitler ‘despotic tyranny’ exam question”, News Shopper Online, 19th June 2009. (H/T: Laban Tall, “The Best Educated Generation in History”, UK Commentators (weblog), 26th June 2009.)
[2]-[6] “HistoryStudent”, “JohnS”, “Bexleystudent09”, “cmarie”, “Mother Sidcup”, commenting on Alexis Thompson’s report. (I have spared the reader a rash of sic-ness.)

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

The Book of the World

“Now and then I believe I sense that the book of the world is becoming a little more legible.” [1]

It happens to me sometimes: in deepest thought or in drunkenness.

[1] [“Zuweilen glaube ich zu spüren, daß das Buch der Welt ein wenig leserlicher wird.”] Ernst Jünger, 14. Juni 1940, Gärten und Strassen (Berlin: E.S. Mittler & Sohn, 1942), p.150.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Fewtril no.269

Not mere apes: modernists. Mere apes might on occasion fling their own excrement, but they never claim it to be some form of new art.

Fewtril no.268

To confidence is owed half the success of becoming an intellectual; and to intellect is owed less than half.


To depict this age faithfully is an aesthetic sin, and I am therefore often reluctant to sully the page with any unsightly instances of it. Nevertheless, here is another:
My politics comes from Marxism and feminism; it’s republican, it’s gay and it’s green. It isn’t about ‘good works’, but its works are all towards the good of society. And that can’t be realised without the most radical transformations. [1]
As these blighters approach their goal of the radical transformation of society and state in line with their savage atavism, the pitch of their antipathy increases. Where signs still exist of former ways of thought, a great hysterical anger is raised, and the hysteria becomes the greater the fewer the signs that remain. Sometimes, the more that society and state are transformed towards their ways, the more inclined they are to believe that success is slipping away, as their eyes fix jealously and narrowly on what still remains outside their control. Therein is hidden something old and primitive, a savage instinct, a contempt wholly without noble aspect, which is roused to frenzy at the sight of weakness; but therein is also something quite new: this savage atavism is cultivated and treated to every defence which sophistication can muster.
Retrogression, relapse—this is in general the ideal of this band who dare to speak of liberty and progress. They wish to be the future. That is one of their chief pretensions. That is one of the means by which they catch the largest number of simpletons. We have, however, seen in all individual cases that it is not the future but the most forgotten, far-away past. Degenerates lisp and stammer, instead of speaking. They utter monosyllabic cries, instead of constructing grammatically and syntactically articulated sentences. They draw and paint like children, who dirty tables and walls with mischievous hands. They compose music like that of the yellow natives of East Asia. They confound all the arts, and lead them back to the primitive forms they had before evolution differentiated them. Every one of their qualities is atavistic, and we know, moreover, that atavism is one of the most constant marks of degeneracy. [2]
At the disposal of these degenerates are all the advantages of their inheritance, and, like profligate wastrels, they fritter it away.

[1] Beatrix Campbell, “Why I accepted my OBE”, Comment is Free (The Guardian’s weblog), 16th June 2009. (One of the commenters (“whatithink”) put it rather well: “Our honours system is now used entirely as a way of identifying people who are a complete menace to the rest of society.”)
[2] Max Nordau, Degeneration (London: William Heinemann, 1898), p.555.

At Dr Cholodenko's Service

For any taurocoprologist, the appearance of each issue of the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies is an exciting event. For me, however, the latest issue carries an added thrill. Dr Alan Cholodenko, the world’s foremost analyst of quantum-mechanical effects in cartoons, has considered Paul Cossins [1] and me worthy of note in an interview therein:
If one Googles my name, one will find tagged to it a blog called ‘The Joy of Curmudgeonry: The International Journal of Boundless Idiocy’ (31 January 2006). Refusing to provide his given name, the blog’s author calls her/himself Deogolwulf; and s/he names her/his residence Lancashire, England! (. . . but of course, that could be a sham address on the part of ‘Deogolwulf’!)

If one examines the content of the blog, it seems ‘Deogolwulf’ is one among several analytic philosophers engaged in deriding me as an ‘idiot’, but not only me: the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, as the journal of idiots. Of course, that derision is marked in the very title of the blog, meant to refer to the IJBS. So s/he and his/her mates, like Paul Cossins, paint with a scatter gun, mocking not only me but the journal, those it publishes, and even Baudrillard himself and his work as ‘idiocy’. (Indeed, for explicit disparagement by ‘Deogolwulf’ of Baudrillard, see ‘his’ piece entitled ‘The Professor of Absurdity’, The Joy of Curmudgeonry, 9 December 2005: [citation link].)

The denigration of me appears to follow this ‘logic’: how can a person teaching in an art history and theory department in Australia presume they have the right and ability to talk about and comment on Stephen Hawking, as I do so in my article ‘The Nutty Universe of Animation, the “Discipline” of All “Disciplines”, and That’s Not All, Folks!’, published in IJBS 3/1, January 2006?

But here it is crucial for me to declare: while I am a bit miffed by the blog and its ridicule, to say nothing of its being tagged to my name, at the same time I find it and these derogatory pronouncements marvelous, wonderful gifts, for they help to establish my bona fides, as it were! One needs enemies, Alexandr, even jokers like these, whom I have clearly and powerfully provoked, as has Baudrillard, the IJBS and those who publish therein. For me, their mockery turns on itself, mocking only them. For me, the hilarious and derogatory term Cossins and ‘Deogolwulf’ deploy in ‘The Professor of Absurdity’ reverses on them, turning into a self-description: ‘taurocoprologists’. So, instead of replying to them in a direct manner with reasoned responses, instead of trying to engage them in scholarly debate, I choose to just have a good laugh, one at their expense. I know this is how Baudrillard did and would ‘reply’ to such close-minded, empty-headed abusive utterances. [2]
I am honoured to have helped a man of Dr Cholodenko’s stature establish his bona fides, as it were, and I shall be at his service again if ever he should need it.

[1] Fellow taurocoprologist and erstwhile commenter at this blog.
[2] Alan Cholodenko, interviewed by Alexandr Dyakov, “An Interview With Alan Cholodenko”, International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, Vol.6:2, July 2009.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

An Old Play

“I guess you are a B.N.P supporter but you have conceded that we Muslims are allies in the fight against the ultra-left anti-family fanatics. In this case you should support us since we are the only morally serious section of the British population left. Look at the animalistic sexual incontinence of white Britons and the mass production of feral children by white English sluts — the ferals reach puberty, copulate with each other and produce yet more useless bastards who go on to lead the same useless and barbaric lives. How much longer can a society continue in this way? The Christian church is dead and buried, only Islam can guide the British people back to morality and decency.” [1]

The Mussulman has pegged his hosts quite well; and he has a good eye for an old and oft-performed play, which might this time be produced on a grander scale: liberals and social libertarians and other glib blighters destroy the fabric of a society, its authorities and moral strictures, its traditions and mores, its native bonds and communities, because such things repress the free expression of their bestial impulses, to which they are in thrall; whereupon, against a mass-collocation of barely personable and irresponsible individuals, and without effective defence from any social redoubts or moral depths, a stark power arises of necessity to set everything in order in the most direct fashion. The comedic aspect of this rather dreary play is that many of these liberal and libertarian blighters — the true believers rather than the cynical promoters — do not realise that they have any role in it at all, let alone a leading role. They are angered to hear otherwise; they believe that they are appearing in what is and what ought to continue to be a light musical farce or a drama of a base or mediocre kind, and are greatly surprised when the curtain comes down and the scenery is changed for the next act.

[1] Bilal H., addressing another commenter in the comments to Unity, “Cheers Tim, but we already know what Fascists are”, Liberal Conspiracy (weblog), 9th June 2009. (Some slight cosmetic changes have been made to the comment.)

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Impressions and Ideas

“It seemed very natural to think, that the Treatise of human nature required an author, and a very ingenious one too; but now we learn, that it is only a set of ideas which came together, and arranged themselves by certain associations and attractions.” [1]

Thomas Reid’s damnation of David Hume’s thesis of impressions and ideas strikes just as well against Richard Dawkins’s doctrine of memes, though I should not like to suggest thereby an equality between the latter two gentlemen: the Scotsman was ingenious; the Englishman sells books.

[1] Thomas Reid, An Enquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense, ed. D.R. Brookes (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000), Ch.II, Sct.VI, p.35.

Monday, 8 June 2009


In reply to a commenter at Comment is Free, who wrote of the interests of the various races and peoples in Britain, and of the officially-disgraceful interests of those Englishmen who wish to preserve their homeland, another commenter had this to say:
“I guess you are ignorant of the fact that genetics tells us Homo sapiens originated in Africa?
“Silly me, of course you are.” [1]
It has the usual smugness which surrounds politically-inspired stupidity. I am yet to hear a good reason why anyone believes that a genetic origin of Homo sapiens in Africa has any significant bearing on present racial-political matters. Yet it is used to imply that everyone in the world — or, more selectively, everyone European — is of “African” origin, an implication relying on a dumb equivocation between present-racial and original denotations of that word. Is it too hard to understand that one hundred thousand years ago, in what is now called Africa, members of Homo sapiens were not African or European or Chinese? Is it beyond the meanest comprehension to grasp that Europeans and Chinese are not descended from Africans in any present-racial sense? To believe otherwise would be little more rational than to believe that two of three brothers are descended from the third because they all share the same father and because that other brother still lives in the paternal home. Yet, by a grand political legerdemain, taking advantage of the mental dimness by which recent categories cannot be distinguished from ancient ones, it might be fancied to be seen that all the peoples of the world — the Chinese, the Europeans, the Middle-Easterners, and so on — ought not to preserve themselves, their lands, and their cultures against the claims of all and sundry, or rather against “common humanity” — except it seems that only the European race has been so stupefied as to fancy so.

[1] “rickb”, commenting of Sunny Hundal, “The Hope We’ve Gained from the BNP”, Comment is Free (The Guardian’s weblog), 8th June 2009. (Corrected quotation: removal of additional definite article and of the capitalisation of “sapiens”.)

Saturday, 30 May 2009

On Parliaments

“In Parliaments, Men wrangle in behalf of Liberty, that do as little care for it, as they deserve it.”

George Savile, Marquis of Halifax, “Of Parliaments”, A Character of King Charles the Second, and Political, Moral, and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflections (London: J. and R. Tonson and S. Draper, 1750), p.104.

“[B]ut as Swine are to Gardens and orderly Plantations, so are Tumults to Parliaments, and Plebeian concourses to publique Councels, turning all into disorders and sordid confusions.”

King Charles the First, Eikon Basilike (London: R. Royston, 1648), reproduced as Eikon Basilike, or The King’s Book, ed. E. Almack (London: The De La More Press, 1903), p.12. (Soon after this book was published, doubt was cast on the king’s authorship, mostly notably by John Milton in his Eikonoklastes, and by Bishop John Gauden, who claimed himself as the author, despite eyewitnesses who affirmed it to be the king's work. In the learned view of the editor of the fore-mentioned reproduction, King Charles most probably was the author. David Hume also thought so. See his History of England, Vol.V, (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1854), p.278, as did Christopher Wordsworth, who has written the most thorough account: see his Who Wrote Eikon Basilike? (London: John Murray, 1824).)