Monday, September 29, 2014

Philosophical Anarchism in a Nutshell

"The defining mark of the state is authority, the right to rule. The primary obligation of man is autonomy, the refusal to be ruled. It would seem, then, that there can be no resolution of the conflict between the autonomy of the individual and the putative authority of the state. Insofar as a man fulfills his obligation to make himself the author of his decisions, he will resist the state's claim to have authority over him. That is to say, he will deny that he has a duty to obey the laws of the state simply because they are the laws. In that sense, it would seem that anarchism is the only political doctrine consistent with the virtue of autonomy.

"Now, of course, an anarchist may grant the necessity of complying with the law under certain circumstances or for the time being. He may even doubt that there is any real prospect of eliminating the state as a human institution. But he will never view the commands of the state as legitimate, as having a binding moral force. In a sense, we might characterize the anarchist as a man without a country, for despite the ties which bind him to the land of his childhood, he stands in precisely the same moral relationship to 'his' government as he does to the government of any other country in which he might happen to be staying for a time. When I take a vacation in Great Britain, I obey its laws, both because of prudential self-interest and because of the obvious moral considerations concerning the value of order, the general good consequences of preserving a system of property, and so forth. On my return to the United States, I have a sense of reentering my country, and if I think about the matter at all, I imagine myself to stand in a different and more intimate relation to American laws. They have been promulgated by my government, and I therefore have a special obligation to obey them. But the anarchist tells me that my feeling is purely sentimental and has no objective moral basis. All authority is equally illegitimate, although of course not therefore equally worthy or unworthy of support, and my obedience to American laws, if I am to be morally autonomous, must proceed from the same considerations which determine me abroad.

"The dilemma which we have posed can be succinctly expressed in terms of the concept of a de jure state. If all men have a continuing obligation to achieve the highest degree of autonomy possible, then there would appear to be no state whose subjects have a moral obligation to obey its commands. Hence, the concept of a de jure legitimate state would appear to be vacuous, and philosophical anarchism would seem to be the only reasonable political belief for an enlightened man."

—Robert Paul Wolff
In Defense of Anarchism, "Conflict Between Authority & Autonomy"

Saturday, September 27, 2014

I think I might actually like this place better than Medium. I find Medium to be kind of pretentious. If I can't stomach it much longer there I'm going to spruce this place up a bit (actually, a lot) and reboot it. (Plus, you can't make any money at Medium whereas here you can eventually earn some passive income using Google AdSense.)

Monday, September 15, 2014

a surface scratched

I am here but scratching the surface of my 'philosophy of education'. Those who know where I'm coming from, will understand. Those who don't, probably never will, though I am open to expounding further should I receive the unlikely request to clarify further.

C. S. Lewis once pointed out (even in the 1950s!) that the contemporary system of education (including the university) is systematically designed to weed out the types of people that, in ages past, were the only people who were commonly accepted in to higher education to begin with.  He said, e.g., a Wordsworth would have been detected, discouraged, and ultimately discarded as early as possible.  All of this, of course, follows upon the 'democratization' of modern civilization; regardless of the motivational posters one sees on classroom walls, the truth is that Excellence is frowned upon. Contemporary Western education wants people who Play By The Rules to 'make it' in higher education (an old professor of mine called such as these [e.g. nearly all his graduate students] "Grinders").  This System in fact wants to validate all those many thousands of students who don't really need to receive formal education in the first place.  Probably the most popular 'case study' of this type situation is Albert Einstein. I think perhaps that in the popular imagination the moral of his story is misunderstood; people ought to conclude that perhaps schools need to be altered such that our Einsteins might flourish in them, rather than singling him out as a totally unique case (not that he was not a genius beyond reckoning).  I think one of the reasons, for instance, that people of my own Myers-Briggs/Keirsey "personality type" (INTP; Einstein, by the by, is frequently cited as the Archetype of this personality) aren't particularly suited to contemporary academia is that the latter is dominated by that oh-so-bureaucratic Extraverted Thinking function, and INTP's dominant Introverted Thinking is so often violently opposed to this kind of systematization and (even worse) authoritarianism.

My personal opinion is that 'schools' ought to be sort of like, if you will, Intellectual Monasteries; consider, e.g., the Sicilian Pythagoreans, Plato's Academy, Aristotle's Lyceum, or even the circa 13th-century University of Paris -- this is how education/schools/universities ought to be.  And on such models it would follow that education (perish the thought!) is not for everyone.  The ancient Greek term σχολή -- and its Latin equivalent
schola -- from which we derive the term 'school' meant Leisure (Latin Otium, as opposed to Negotium, i.e. worldly-affairs, business):  a life of free inquiry. This, indeed, is where our term Liberal Arts (artes liberales, associated with Otium / Leisure) derives from. The latter used to be juxtaposed to the Servile Arts (artes serviles, associated with Negotium / Business), which focused on more 'practical' matters, providing goods and services necessary for material and/or daily living. This modern notion that one needs a BA to "get a good job" is a complete non sequitur; education should not be seen as a 'preparation for the workforce'. Knowledge (scientia) is, or ought to be, an end in and for itself, and Education with a capital-E ought to be set up so as to accommodate that fact.  

Incidentally, the theory of personality as per Myers-Briggs, Keirsey, etc., could very well serve as grounds (however 'theoretical') for making the case for a return to more classical forms of education.  Consider:  does an ISFP artist really need to learn about the sciences? does an ENTJ inheriting a 'family business' really need to know anything about the Humanities?  I say if it's a life of work that you desire, just go work. Education ought to be for those whose priorities lie within the Life of the Mind.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Thursday, September 11, 2014

de amicitia

"When either Affection or Eros is one's theme, one finds a prepared audience. The importance and beauty of both have been stressed and almost exaggerated again and again. Even those who would debunk them are in conscious reaction against this laudatory tradition and, to that extent, influenced by it. But very few modern people think Friendship a love of comparable value or even a love at all. I cannot remember that any poem since [Alfred, Lord Tennyson's] In Memoriam, or any novel, has celebrated it. Tristan and Isolde, Antony and Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet, have innumerable counterparts in modern literature: David and Jonathan, Pylades and Orestes, Roland and Oliver, Amis and Amile, have not. To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it. We admit of course that besides a wife and family a man needs a few 'friends'. But the very tone of the admission, and the sort of acquaintanceships which those who make it would describe as 'friendships', show clearly that what they are talking about has very little to do with that Philia which Aristotle classified among the virtues or that Amicitia on which Cicero wrote a book. It is something quite marginal; not a main course in life's banquet; a diversion; something that fills up the chinks of one's time....

"...few value it because few experience it. And the possibility of going through life without the experience is rooted in that fact which separates Friendship so sharply from both the other loves. Friendship is -- in a sense not at all derogatory to it -- the least natural of loves; the least instinctive, organic, biological, gregarious and necessary. It has least commerce with our nerves; there is nothing that quickens the pulse or turns you red and pale. It is essentially between individuals; the moment two men are friends they have in some degree drawn apart together from the herd. Without Eros none of us would have been begotten and without Affection none of us would have been reared; but we can live and breed without Friendship. The species, biologically considered, has no need of it. The pack or herd -- the community -- may even dislike and distrust it. Its leaders very often do. Headmasters and Headmistresses and Heads of religious communities, colonels and ships' captains, can feel uneasy when close and strong friendships arise between little knots of their subjects.

"This (so to call it) 'non-natural' quality of Friendship goes far to explain why it was exalted in ancient and medieval times and has come to be made light of in our own. The deepest and most permanent thought of those ages was ascetic and world-renouncing. Nature and emotion and the body were feared as dangers to our souls, or despised as degradations of our human status. Inevitably that sort of love was most prized which seemed most independent, or even defiant, of mere nature. Affection and Eros were too obviously connected with our nerves, too obviously shared with the brutes. You could feel these tugging at your guts and fluttering in your diaphragm. But in Friendship -- in that luminous, tranquil, rational world of relationships freely chosen -- you got away from all that. This alone, of all the loves, seemed to raise you to the level of gods or angels."

+ C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (1960)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Eliot Rip-off

Probably more than anything else I've written, this is a total rip-off of
T. S. Eliot; cf. The Hollow Men. But here it is nonetheless. The ideas I intend to re-appropriate somewhere else, so it goes without saying this is a 'rough draft'.

God, and Love, and Death.
That’s all’s been sung in ages past—
God, and Love, and Death.
But now, in this forlorn land,
Nothing’s sung but Death.

City song
Death song
Chants of this forlorn land

No more cries chivalric
which were cries of
God, and Love, and Death—
rolled in to one,
distinct but not separate,
one organ, one act—
Battle cries of God, and Love, and Death.

City poem
Death poem
Croaking in this forlorn land

Sunday, September 7, 2014

more anti-novel(ist) thoughts...

[cf. "lines & tales", which I wrote a while back]

I think perhaps one of the reasons I don't much care for the average "novel," nor have much interest in writing them as opposed to other literary forms, is the superabundance of characters. If you're a reader you know that very many novels not only have more than one protagonist and more than one antagonist, but as many "sub-plots" associated with as many characters. In reading, I have no taste for this. I often find it makes thrilling cinema (big screen and small), but as reading I find it completely uninteresting. I suppose I am simply less interested in characters as a writer, same as I am less interested in people in real life. I am by far more intrigued with ideas. I don't mind a novel with a single protagonist, speaking in the first person, who is the only person whose head one gets in to; for I suppose it is (as in reading philosophy) studying this character's mind. But even then, if I have no taste for the narrator's personality or narrative style (just as I am not interested in the overwhelming majority of philosophers), I'm not very likely to read his tale. Again, I seem to be as picky about fictional personages as I am about real ones. (Actually, believe it or not, I'm far more tolerant of real persons than fictional ones. The point really is I simply don't want to read about them. Reading is to me a sacred act and art, so I'm very pedantic about it.) I do enjoy the sort of "fictional monograph"-style of H. P. Lovecraft; with the exception of a few tales by Poe and Borges, Lovecraft seems to be the only person who made use of it, at least so extensively. And in his case, of course, it was always more about the conveyance of an idea and an atmosphere than it was about character. I do, nonetheless, hold to the theory that "plot" is founded upon "character": the things that happen in a story (plot) are the result of the actions of people, and those actions are founded upon who/what those people "Are" (character). Indeed, I think that the best way to unveil character is by the "Show, don't tell"-principle: a character ought to be the "mystery" of the story, and should be, as it were, "known by his fruits": the author ought to reveal the personality and philosophy of a character by depiction of that character's actions. The latter was, of course, epitomized by the great Dashiell Hammett's penultimate novel, The Glass Key.  And (shamelessly adapting a famous phrase from D.H.'s antepenultimate novel) "There's only one glass key."

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Johnnie Orson

I noticed I hadn't posted my Johnnie Orson playlist in a couple years, so here I again post it, in all its unvarnished demo-quality glory...


On being a jerk...

When I meet someone new or become reacquainted with someone old, I usually warn them, "A lot of people seem to think I'm a bastard.  It's true: I can be a jerk."  And then I'm met with the rejoinder, "Aw, no! You're not a jerk! Anyone who'd say that is an asshole anyway."  But then, eventually, the awful truth becomes apparent.  It never ceases to amaze me how, in spite of all my warnings, they appear completely shocked by this fact. I warned you, did I not? I wanted to make it abundantly clear from the outset, so that you wouldn't be surprised when it finally dawned upon you. Still, you are shocked, outraged, disappointed. So what the hell am I to do? I can't do anything but issue the warning. If the sign in the window says "Beware of Dog," do you then break, enter, yet remain astonished when you get bit? In any case, all the best people (in my opinion) are made of lead, ice, or some other variety of "hard" stuff. Either that, or they are the type that is simply intrigued by the study of caustic character, and if my intra-personal nature has shown me anything, it's that I'm as fascinated by other people's psychoanalysis of me as I am.