Monday, July 30, 2012

A question

Invariably it seems that reports of near-death experiences involve a tunnel with a bright light at the end, perhaps an angel or deceased family member coming to take them toward the light.

I have yet to hear of a near-death experience in which the subject was being led to the gates of hell.

Does this mean that, if these near-death experiences reflect the true reality of things - that there is an afterlife and it's bright and peaceful, etc. - then we don't have to worry or wonder about whether we'll go to hell?  Or, alternatively, does it mean that all those who had these near-death experiences were pure in spirit - that one needs to be pure in spirit in order to have these experiences?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Where did the conservative intellectuals go?

Today I've been researching this question.  The list of "conservative intellectuals, activists, and writers" at the wikipedia page (1st google result) is disappointing to say the least (and neither Rand, Hayek, nor Friedman - the most prominent intellectual figures listed there - were, or considered themselves, conservative; Rand was especially vehement about this whereas today's "conservatives" haven't taken the hint).  Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams are well into their retirement-age years.  How about anyone living today under, say, 65 years old who could qualify as a great conservative intellectual?  The field is catastrophically barren here.

Three years ago, Newt Gingrich (one reason the wikipedia list is so disappointing) lauded a 14-year-old Jonathan Krohn as the intellectual future of the Republican Party.  Not only has that not panned out (the intellectually precocious Krohn went on to read some philosophy and to realize how intellectually vacuous his earlier views were), but there's obviously something gone awry about a political party in which a 14-year-old is so highly touted by the adults (or is it "adults"?) in the room.

The second Google result quotes at length from a blog posting by jurist Richard Posner which paints quite the grim picture.  The original, in full - without paragraph break-ups - is here.

There was a time when modern American-style conservatism (or should I say, the package-deal under that label of some good and some not-so-good ideas) had appeal to me - at a couple years older than Jonathan Krohn was as a GOP celebrity.  This was somewhere around twenty years prior to that, a number of years before the GOP had definitively jumped the shark (the younger Bush's presidency).  It was also before I encountered a book titled Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, which spelled the end of American-style conservatism as an intellectually viable force in my mind.  Note how Barry Goldwater went on to repudiate the recent incarnation of the GOP.

If you look at the GOP today, it is a party that remains politically viable due in great part to two factors: (1) The super-wealthy support them: call this the financial support network; (2) The grassroots base - call this the electoral support network - is comprised to an astonishing extent (as abundant polling data show) of very ignorant people, geographically tilted toward the South and demographically tilted toward the old.  These two forces meet at the leading media outlet for GOP memes: Fox News.  Much financial and intellectual (or is it anti-intellectual?) capital has been spent largely via this propagation source to oppose such things as climate science, same-sex marriage and healthcare reform, to call into question Obama's "American credentials," and to promote fiscal and foreign policies that have little empirical data in their favor.  I would not be surprised if a poll of registered Republicans, when asked whether Al Jazeera is a political party, media organization or terrorist organization, ended up in a three-way split.  It's that fucking bad.

Very recently, this graph showing the relationship between favorite websites and political affiliation has been making the rounds.  I don't know how statistically reliable it is - it appears to be based on the Trendsetter app's user "likes" - but assuming it's reasonably accurate (and it looks quite accurate for's placement), the most telling data point would be the location of the wikipedia logo.  This wouldn't even demonstrate how great Obama and the Dems are, instead of just how bad today's GOP and its candidates are in comparison.  (Keep in mind that book smarts and business smarts aren't the same; also keep in mind that plenty of business people support the Dems.)  If you look at the community of political philosophers, I'd expect the support for present-day American-style conservatism (not to be confused with, say, Hayekianism) to be close to (if not completely) nonexistent.

I will continue researching these Google results and encourage others to do likewise.

(EDIT: Note to self: try to keep the distinction between conservatism (and conservative intellectuals) and the GOP/Fox abundantly clear.)

(EDIT #2: The third Google result, a Wa-Post editorial, mentions Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning as a serious work.  Heck, it even scores 3.9 stars out of 5 at goodreads, way higher than similarly-titled Ann Coulter works score there.  A text search of the book brought up zero results for "Rawls" and one irrelevant result for "Chomsky," however.  So I'm skeptical about what "left" Goldberg is talking about.  Is this like writing a book on the crankery of libertarians by highlighting Ron Paul but not Robert Nozick?)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

An exercise for the reader

Dialectic, ain't it fun?

Two statements from previous blog entries with an apparent logical tension between them:

(1) "Anyway, in a well-educated educated citizenry, this $46 trillion would not go almost entirely ignored while nearly everyone can tell you Ryan Seacrest is (but few could tell you who Immanuel Kant is, much less who Rawls, Nozick, or Chomsky are)." (May 7 2012)

(2) "In the tomes of Immanuel Kant, what do we have besides an elaborately worked-out system of interrelated ideas represented by words, words, words, without a clear tie to our concrete and everyday concerns? (Put the question the following way: what benefit would the layperson have in reading, or trying to read, the Critique of Pure Reason?)" (May 18 2012)

Exercise: reconcile these statements.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

When it's Politics vs. Principles

There's political philosophy - where high-minded idealists discuss and debate the relative merits of Rawls, Nozick, Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, Rand, Chomsky, Hayek, Marx, Mill, et al - and then there's politics, a practice that "in the real world" (read: as the practice is done today, not involving philosophers but - put politely - another subset of human beings) has next to zero connection to what's just, right, good, or honest.

Just one very recent case in point: a young idealistic Ron Paul supporter in Massachusetts receives a lesson in political practice from his state's GOP. Long story short, the corrupt assholes running the state party decided to change the rules mid-game to effectively exclude Ron Paul supporters from attending the national GOP convention later this year, after they had won the delegate positions fair and square.

This is a microcosm of politics today in its essence. You can see it everywhere. It's reflected in all the insider and pundit manners of speaking. It's reflected by the number of outright idiots who participate in the process, including elected representatives (another recent case in point). Political practice (at least in these United States) is, in short, broken.

This problem goes all the way back to when a democratic government sentenced Socrates to death by hemlock; his pupil in turn wrote a political treatise in dialogue form, envisioning a philosophically-enriched utopia. Many folks are resigned to politics being the way it has been practiced for so long, viewing philosophical proposals as impractical and unrealistic. That attitude strikes me as leading to a vicious cycle in which politics never improves. I don't accept this as inevitable, and there is one significant piece of historical data that backs me up on this: a real-life "philosopher-king", one who was not merely a lover of wisdom the way the U.S.'s third president would qualify as such (though this is another historical precedent of the sort I'm speaking of), but one who also made a notable contribution to the history of philosophical thought. So I don't consider politics to be a hopeless cause as such, but fixing broken political practice requires activity that goes well beyond participating in the prevailing travesty of civic activity.

One doesn't have to agree with the specifics of Plato's vision to agree with one central truth therein: a polity eminently worthy of one's participation requires a citizenry well-educated in what might be broadly termed the philosophical arts. That would not only result in an enriched polity, but enriched lives on the whole. And here's the practical question, posed in the name of the best within us: How do we get there from here?

To be continued . . .

Sunday, July 1, 2012

How Corrupt is the Establishment?

And here I mean, how corrupt is the Establishment (the currently-prevailing corporate-media-political complex), intellectually? If you were to look at the circus that passes for "political news" these days, how would you evaluate it by intellectual standards? If the very cultural backdrop of political news coverage these days is devoid of serious intellectual influence, then just how futile is it to expect serious positive political reforms? I'll offer as Exhibit A: The complete absence, in all major media outlets in the United States, of one of the most thought-provoking intellectual figures of our age. It's pathetic, and damning. We as a people cannot expect much of anything better in our mainstream institutions if things don't change big-time - intellectually. At least the internet by its nature will give non-Establishment figures a greater audience-share than before. So there's at least some hope there.