Having the Phaedrus as the last reading on the Program is a poetically beautiful touch. It is beautiful not just because it provides roundedness or closure, but because (you will see) reading it again will remove (for a time) a terrible tension from your shoulders. It will be lovely to discuss the old “simple” questions, but it will also be sad, as you see yourself in a new relationship to the interlocutors: how unlike Socrates you were, how unlike him you are now, but also how unlike Phaedrus you are now. During my Phaedrus seminar, we reached a point where once again Socrates had shocked us into doubt and uncertainty. The question of “What is left?” was raised by the tutor. A student with a dark, but intellectually honest, disposition growled: “Will to power.” And then a silence descended that would have ended the seminar on a normal night. The tutor opened his mouth as if to start a new conversation, but that would have been senseless stalling. Another student interrupted to ask if someone in the seminar would mind reading the prayer at the end of the Phaedrus. They suggested that he read it, which he did. Though he had been waiting to ask the question for ten dread-filled minutes, he had not looked at the actual words in the prayer. It was the words “keep my heart pure” that made his voice hitch.
What is culture war?
I don’t do research, so everything is just my well-intentioned guess.
The term culture war appears to have its origin in German Ideology: the concern with kulturkampf comes after the worldhistorical (self-reflective) realization that culture, or national spirit, matters more than purportedly universal Enlightenment abstractions or ideals, since those ideals are considered to be the products of particular national grounds (England, for example). In his Ideology, Hegel initially emphasized a rationality to world history as a whole that would take the form of a dramatic revolutionary sublation (the French Revolution at the time of the writing of the Phenomenology). Later, in the Philosophy of Right, he chose to emphasize the particularity of nations, suggesting that each would have a unique coming into self-consciousness that would constitute its essence and should be reflected in its laws. He expected, however, that each self-conscious or self-realized nation-state would join in a completed general consciousness (something like “Civilization”) and that the forms of government (constitutional monarchy) and the sympathies of the laws (respect for individual autonomy, ie. human rights) would be in agreement across these states.
German Romanticism in philosophy contended that the particularity of each People meant that there would be no emergence into a world consciousness of shared ideals (the Enlightenment dream), but rather that each People would experience its national spirit in (an often violent or passionate) opposition to the spirit of other nations. What this meant in practical terms: German artists and thinkers became very self-conscious about their German-ness, but were confused because they owed so much to France, England and Italy. Part of the cult of celebration around Goethe was due to the fact that he was viewed as the first “authentically” German voice, or, more extremely, as a discovery of The Voice of the German national spirit. Another “authentic” voice was Wagner, who sought to amplify his role as cultural godhead by addressing German-ness through an ancient or mythical history.
Nietschze’s take on this recent intellectual and artistic history is to vent against German Nationalism (or political Romanticism) as a great lie against the motley nature of German and European identity (in “Us Germans” and “Us Europeans” in BG&E) and as a form of thoughtless herd-behavior. Nietschze points instead to “ecologies” of “values” that combine (in somewhat mix-and-match fashion) in “hybrid monsters” like himself.
But Nietschze himself was one of the first great cultural warriors, in that he didn’t argue from universal principles, “norms”, or historical forces, but from values, which are something like the real actors in history. Values, in Nietschze’s hints at an account, are strands of personalities (Moses, Jesus, Paul, Plato, Descartes, etc. ) that twist through history, shaping cultures and conditioning souls. In his polemics, Nietschze constantly attacks these personalities in their “masked” modern instantiations (for instance, in the Communism of Marx he sees an extreme derivation of a flavor of Christianity, as he does in secular humanist liberalism). Critics of Nietschze complain that he intentionally misreads the authors he so brutalizes with apparently ad hominen arguments. I would argue that this is the defining characteristic of a cultural warrior: that he argues primarily in order to undermine the values position of his opponents, which often looks like an attack on their very essence.
Nietschze pursues this kind of impolitic, aggressive discourse because he believes it to be more honest than the passively coercive speech of what he terms “herd morality”; because he sees will-to-power as a fundamental principle of existence, he makes no apologies for seeking the blood of his spiritual enemies. It should be noted, though, that there are deep ironies in Nietschze: in Ecce Homo, Nietschze claims that he only attacks positions of strength, which suggests to me that held a concept of conservation with respect to ecologies of values. This is important, because cultural warfare is as in need of restraint as actual warfare, since the link between antagonistic rhetoric that seeks to negate the values of a large segment of society and actual, annihilating violence is fairly straightforward.
The effect and the danger of extreme kulturkampf can be measured in part in the differences between WWI German imperialism and the horrors of the German NAZI regime. The German ideology of “blood and iron” was nothing new in the world, even if it was a uniquely German take on the virtue of might.
It’s a mystery what precisely Allan Bloom was bitching about in that section of Closing of the American Mind (remember, “Mack the Knife”, “lifestyles”?)
The bad news is that St. John’s turns liberals conservative. The good news is that it installs a brand of conservatism so paleo as to become neo, thus neutralizing the ability of graduates to play directly into the culture war. The sort of ideological orientation Johnnies are given is such a rara avis in the political canopy that a Johnny possesses the special ability to bewilder and frighten partisans simply by stating his well-considered opinion. The source of the fright: a person with a strangely unwarranted confidence voicing weirdly undemocratic political opinions who displays no apparent awareness of either the New Deal or the presidency of Ronald Reagan. It doesn’t help matters when this holy fool sheepishly admits to having presented a refurbished gloss on the Laws to support his position on Social Security.
My impression of Christine Rosen, from the New Atlantis: “Danger. Danger. Danger. Great peril. Beware…mechanical overlords. Beware…drooling cretinous soulless teenagers. Avoid at all costs…an irreversible diminishing of human potential and spiritedness. Especially avoid…Designer babies! Moral drift! Reality television! Blogging! Breast implants! Etcetera, etcetera. Danger. Danger. Danger. Great peril.”
Of course, she’s right. She can’t help but be right. The future is fraught with danger. There’s probably no hope. So why isn’t she a Talibanist already? Why doesn’t she oppose democracy (always an intellectually defensible position)? Oh, because the country’s drifting conservative, and it won’t pass over into a mild theocracy, and religionists won’t find terrifying non-nihilistic uses for technology and kulturhack… Again, I suppose she’s right to warn and warn and play the Cassandra, but at what point do her words, and those of the other conbios, turn into mere (gasp) bitching? Well, they have intellectual and thus political clout, they’ll provide the philosophical grounding for the revolution to come. Fine, but should it matter that their worryings point toward despair today, since in so thoroughly defining each pressing and prospective problem, they are blocking out every conceivable ray of hope? And does it matter that such a precognition of the grim and dire future leads directly to a stoicism that sagely ignores any temporal calls to arms or action?
I just resent the hell out of Christine Rosen. And Alan Bloom. And, especially, Mark Edmundsen. I don’t care if the students are rutting mouth-breathers over at state universities. If there’s no hope…then there’s no hope.
I have some thoughts relating to the culture war that I’ll try to pull together later. Suffice it to say that cultural conservatives are big hypocrites when it comes to capitalism, and democracy for that matter.
You can do anything you want, but you can’t do nothing.
That is all.
Yes, I’m losing my sanity. So is this guy. He’s selling pieces of an android woman who’s still in development. We don’t need to read Phillip K. Dick anymore.
There are moments of poetry here:
What Valerie will NOT be able to do:
- Eat or drink
- Perform other bodily functions.
- Hurt people (Asimov’s first law)
- Have sex.
- Put her head under water.
- Take any water or other liquids into her head or mouth.
- Drive a car (because she can’t go outside).
- Run a lawn mower (because she can’t go outside).
- Physical actions which people cannot do.
One can buy these:
Today’s theme is technology lust. I wanna ipod. I wanna librie. Apparently, I now want robots. Sometimes I go for the weirdest things. At Office Depot, I look at the label makers, paper shredders and $1000+ document-scanners. Little things, like plastic hanging folders, $3 magazine-holders at IKEA, and paper-hole reinforcements can also be sexy.
But, yeah, robots.
I pace over the web like a caged animal.
Remember the bit about differentiation? Well, that just meant that I’m a confused little puppy, who constantly questions and thus undermines the activities that grant some (small) pleasures. Yeah, I got the angst.
For the record, then: I like science fiction. I like the orientation it gives my thought. I can shape my perception and my judgments around these precepts:
- That there is a future is a given.
- The present is the soil out of which the future will grow.
- This soil is long-conditioned by the past.
- And yet, the future is governed largely by accident.
- We are given, in the present, vectors or tendencies of mass phenomena.
- As individuals, we participate in and compose mass phenomena.
- As individuals qua individuals we can influence mass phenomena.
- An image of this is: an element of the soup stepping out to season the pot.
- Not: a sheepdog.
- More likely: a man with a flag in a procession of men, many with flags.
- Also: a rock placed in advance of a stream finding its course.
- In all images: there is no hope of directly opposing all tendencies.
- But everything depends on the determination of this place over that, even though both are over there.
- In any case, doxies that teach relinquishment before historical forces are historical forces.
- The definite nature of the future is not given.