Mass-Culture: People vs. the individual?

Et essay skrevet ved Lillestrøm videregående skole, fra året 2014

Rationale

In this essay – posing as a contribution to the literary magazine of America, New Criterion – I highlight and comment some of the most wholesome and deleterious aspects of the relationship between a dominant culture for the and masses the position of the individual. I mean to convey that mass-culture and mass-communication is not necessarily detrimental to a high culture cultivating ‘the individual’, but can be if a confounded intelligentsia no longer is capable of seeing the arts and literature as a fabric of meaning through which one communicates to the people – although there is an insuperable difference between the two groups.

This argument will be led on historic terms – analyzing the past to understand the present. My investigation embodies therefore mainly adumbrations on the roots of modern mass-culture, within the ambit of what we call the history of ideas.

Below I will resist the notion of class war, because I believe the malum discordiae to not lie in the very existence of classes, but in their (mutual) animosity – e.g. by class war-mentality. Hence, I adduce for the argument that the lower classes and the intelligentsia ought to see each other as complementary as adherence and membership to one’s own stratum of society has been to my mind negligible in this story, while ideology really has been the protagonist in the 20th century’s history of mass culture.

In this essay I intend to show that there exists a line of thought to be found between being in favor of culture for the masses and being an éltist.

 

People who have been of inspirational significance are mentioned and cited in the text below, except Roger Scruton, to whom I owe much for his intellectual capacity in understanding past and present so organically.

From the beginning of European history in the sixth century up to the 1800s, Europe had never seen her population exceed 180 million. In 1914 Europe was almost unrecognizable, as 460 million men walked the lands of Europe. But although the populations all over the continent bulged, the feeling of empowerment, even in democracies, did not follow. This created an asymmetrical development on the continent from the 19th to the 20th century: As the technological revolutions raged on, the people had an increasing multitude of choices of what to wear, but a decreasing say in how to be governed: Europe’s population possessed an unprecedented freedom to live ad libitum, but the political freedom did not follow, even in democracies, and social cohesion suffered as democracy made culture secondary to politics. The masses were looking for a fabric of meaning to once again unite them, instead of religion, and something to provide them with the ‘power of the people’, as understood by either Tocqueville or Stalin. In the 20th century ideologies they found the perfect substitute for religion and support for the people’s acquisition of power.

It was at the apex of this development in history, that is in 1930 that José Ortega y Gasset published his book The Revolt of the Masses—a well-thought reflection on the mood of the European intelligentsia at the time. He speaks of a ‘dictatorship of the mass’ – masses that believe in the state as a machine, simply for obtaining the material pleasures they desire, bringing about a state wherein the individual eventually must be crushed. Some will name Gasset a reactionary for this, but I don’t think he was completely off-track. Although he wasn’t categorically right about the uncivilizing nature of mass-culture and the state, he was in the right if one views his writings in the light of how the two ideologies at the time crushed the individual under the banner of the people’s supremacy. Culture for the masses, power of the people and ‘people’s rule’ comprised their ideological beachhead for both of these ideologies.

Nietzsche on the other hand may be seen as the more extreme case for intellectual resistance toward mass-culture, as he wrote through the mouth of Zarathustra ‘Where the ‘rabble’ drinks all fountains are poisoned’, and denounces the state as ‘the coldest of cold monsters’, wherein ‘universal slow suicide is called life’. That is a much too pessimistic view on mass-culture. To say that education only should be for the special/elected few, and that a biblical flood to relieve mankind of its excess stock should come every now and then, like Voltaire and Nietzche wished for, cannot, on the other hand, be understood in the same way as Ortega’s warnings can.

Gasset and Nietzche were not products of the same society. Gasset represented the old guard of which promoted civilization’s edifices as the goal to every means of society: elitism for the sake of civilization. Nietzsche however was one of the earliest products of mass-culture. That is to say, mass-culture generated Nietzsche’s person in opposition to itself; as its antagonism. The same printing press that made Nietzsche’s books so widely popular among Europe’s frightened intellectuals pressed out the masses of literature for the vulgus: the newspaper. This paradox is not devoid of meaning.

W.B. Yeats recommended Nietzsche as ‘counteractive to the spread of democratic vulgarity’, and George Bernard Shaw nominated Thus Spoke Zarathustra as ‘the first modern book that can be set above the Psalms of David’. But why did also the German and Soviet masses of Europe read Nietzsche as ideological provender? I believe that Nietzsche resonated with the masses’ new ‘belief’ and the European élite because the direction one directs one’s animosity in society is of secondary significance: Notwithstanding the direction of animosity it is a cry for uniform equality, by some given standard—the intellectuals in Nietzsche’s case and the proletariat for the communists. Animus against the élite or the masses expresses the same mentality: that one must perish and equality prevail.

 

 

Both Hegel and Alexis de Tocqueville believed in History’s unrelenting movement toward more power to the people. They saw History’s invisible hand behind Magna Carta, 1679, 1688, 1776, and 1789. But they believed this to be by the merit of the masses themselves. Conversely, Stalin saw History’s progress as pushed by the elected few, which had understood the course of history. Point being: the road to Western way of culture for the people, which prevailed and superseded the Nazi- and Communist way of mass-culture, was not uncontested.

The fallacy of equaling mass-culture and power to the people is a positivism stating that whatever is for the mass of people is for the good of all people. Hitler and Stalin propagated such positivism, which legitimized the dictatorship of the proletariat and Germanic millennialism. Regarding people simply as a uniform mass, as that of dough, one may infer the notion of a supreme herder – or leader – of this mass, as doubts about the interests of this mass have to be eradicated.

We see that there are ‘anti-mass-culture’ intellectuals in two styles, represented by Gasset and Nietzche, and we see that there are propagators of mass-culture of two types, represented by Tocqueville and Stalin.

I daresay that the victory of republicanism over the ‘dictatorship of the mass’ was not unequivocal, much less irrevocable. Reading Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise from the sixteen hundreds he makes it very clear to the reader that he is not aiming to convert the minds of that mass of men, regularly storming the streets to protest against this or that blasphemy, which they think is threatening the order and hierarchy of society. This sort of disparity or tension between the avant-garde intellectuals/artists and the larger mass of society will always exist to some extent. The attempt to eradicate this natural tension between the lower reaches of society and the higher reaches of society is the symptom of every ideological threat toward the individual.

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I believe, therefore I speak

«Crededi propter quod locutus sum.» (Psalms)
“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus

Wittgenstein postulates that “the limits of my world” may be derived from the “limits of my language”. Does Wittgenstein mean to say that the limits of ‘a person’s world’ is purely linguistic? He uses the verb “to mean” – not any equivalent of the verb “to equal”. Therefore I do not interpret Wittgenstein in the sense that he has bombastically claimed that language, in fact, is the ‘true Real’. He presents us with a matter-of-factly observation that there inadvertently and ineluctably arises a relationship of meaning between the world in which we inhabit and the language with which we make representations, concepts and conjectures. Although the sentence above, written by Wittgenstein, seems to be of a ‘constructivist’ character, as it might seem that every person has his own world according to the language he chooses to wield on it, that is emphatically not the case Wittgenstein is making. Wittgenstein’s theory is one of cognitive humility, in the sense that he recognizes that the world as a canvas, in all its vastness, can only be bleakly painted by human language however honed, refined or advanced. The profundity, in the quite commonsensical aphorism of Wittgenstein, is however not one of pure linguistic ilk. In describing what is “my world” he ventures onto saying something about ontology, and its epistemological premises. Wittgenstein has undoubtedly made a very interesting remark, concerning that language partakes in describing reality while also recognizing its limits (“my” in stead of the world), but I want to question whether “the limits of my world” may still be defined by Wittgenstein’s dictum within Man’s extralinguistic faculties, and pose the question of whether Wittgenstein’s own dictum has its limitations.

 The doubly repeated noun in plural, “a limit”, serves a trompe de l’oeil, directing our attention toward a world negatively defined by limitations. However, before long, as one attempts to sublimate the meaning of placing the boundaries of each man’s world at his linguistic limitations, one finds that our capability to represent the world expressively, or rather by implications, in language is far from being a pessimistic or inhibitive way of perceiving, by way of imagination, the horizon of limits to this world, because Wittgenstein’s dictum means to say that there is no other limitation to our world, except that which we may not accommodate in language. I would argue that Ludwig Wittgenstein, in his aphoristic manner, here summarizes the take-home message of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. 

When we call upon words to describe reality the words are not merely directed at some specific thing, they are expressing something about that which we are speaking of. This is an about-ness inherent in our language. This is how we come to make the world “my world”. In every utterance, of mine, there lies an intentionality to which the close friend in a conversation listens intently to capture and understand. It lies not in any or all of the words that I speak – they are nigh-almost flatus vocis to my friend – it is something about what I say, and how I say it. This underscores the agency Wittgenstein places in his definition of the relationship between the world, me and language.

Though Wittgenstein speaks much truth in only one of his sentences extracted from Tractatus, he does not speak the whole truth. Is it true that the limit to Man’s relation to this world may be reduced to the three simple constituent parts “me, language and the world.”? 

The Tractatus of Wittgenstein comes from his earlier period as an earnest writer. In his Considerations much of his earlier work is either recanted, or deemed rather imperious in their conclusions for which he had no sound reason, as he saw it. This theme of certainty is raised in On Certainty. For there are several fields of the human faculties that elude Wittgenstein’s theory of how Man relates linguistically to the world. His theory should imply that an extralinguistic perceptiveness and aesthesia in its inarticulate form are impossibilities. Now, those are not incantations, they are very real and commonsensical objections to Wittgenstein’s theory. Our encounter with the world occurs many years before we are able to speak, let alone before becoming literate. Now, even though we are helplessly bound to our congenital concepts of how to understand reality when we are born, we are as much agents then, acting upon this world, as we have ever been.

In a way one might see that Wittgenstein’s theory is somewhat unjustified in extolling language to the extent to which nothing exists outside. Even though my new friend has not yet heard of this new phenomenon I may speak of it to him. And he might even tell me that it is something he has been thinking of for long! This might have been the case for people to whom theistic religion was completely unknown until Nestorian missionaries came to China where Confucianism is, and was, the largest spiritual denomination. As with the abstract concept of “our Father who art in heaven” it is likewise with the abstract concept of the number two. No one has ever encountered the number two or seen the face of God, nonetheless we find that it takes little explanation for someone to understand such concepts that have been waylaying in their minds for a long time. The revelatory irruption a reader might experience from reading a book is likewise an experience of thoughts that already “were there”, but had not come to mind as articulately as before. This is a sort of tension that perpetuates all language.

Concepts, representations and conjectures may very well exist within my mind even though I am struggling to find the words to describe them. This is true for thoughts of a priori kind, but even more patently for thoughts about our experience of life. There is a constant tension between what we do experience and what we are capable of expressing. Some poets, like Michel Houellebecq and Baudelaire, say that the words come before the poem. A strange thing to say. However, when reflecting upon the internecine conflict within language itself which is reality versus representation, it should not come off as so much at odds with their profession as writers. None of these authors claim that the words with which they are portraying the world is what made either the idea or the reality exist. It is however a predicate for articulate expression.

Later in his life, Wittgenstein wrote a remonstrance toward those who thought a private language to be tenable. He needed not alter his theory from Tractatus much, because he already were very much aware and interested in the real and extant relationship between language and reality. He needed only to reclaim the abstract world, of values and absolutes, in which we live as real, and not something constructed by and for the wellbeing of the ruling class.

We have all experienced how it hurts to not be able to explain something for which we long to put out on display for someone else, so as to create a feeling of sameness in this world, in connection with someone else. This refers back to the about-ness mentioned above. Much of what our linguistic endeavors are imbued with are a sense of meaning to convey something that is impossible to either manifest in action or anything material. It is the constant repetition of Hegel’s dialectic on the Master and the slave in everyday life, in which we find our own existence affirmed through the recognizing the other as an “I”, with the reciprocity of this recognition that occurs. In light of this one might find Wittgenstein’s theory highly illuminating, in the sense that these affirmative experiences of our own existence would be impossible were we to be bereft of our language. In that sense my world is completely coextensive with the extent to which my language is capable of reaching out. Thence, we find Wittgenstein in the right.

As with all aphorisms, they are thought-provoking, illuminating and nigh-never true in all regards – so too with Wittgenstein’s theory. His cardinal virtue is that of maintaining an idealist’s longing for a language attuned to the complexities that the relationship between ‘I’ and the ‘world’ prompts. If memory serves me well he finished Tractatus with the line “Whereof one cannot think, thereof one should not speak.” But do we not all experience, from time to time, longings that has no remedy in this world? Does that not speak of that there are things distinct from what a dictionary may define what thoughts might capture? The etheric is a very real experience. No one described in the Bible sees the face of God. And the priest uses therefore, symbolically, incense in every mass and disperses it on the Bible so as to signify that we are spoken to from beyond. To be spoken to “from beyond” is not something exclusively religious, it is also what one experiences every time one in beholding the countenance of someone else. Notwithstanding the topical pertinence of this, we might suppose that Wittgenstein actually was familiar, or even inspired, by such thought as he was raised in a Jewish family. I believe that Wittgenstein was in the wrong, if he ever meant to say that all that is inarticulate is not actualized as “my world”, and therefore resembling a “false consciousness”. But I believe any such a conclusion would be to surmise on unsound reason, and be in disregard of all his later works. Therefore, I dare say that Wittgenstein could approve of the sign, under which, I have written this essay on his understanding of language, the subject and the world: “I believe, therefore I am speaking”.

To doubt everything

“To doubt everything or to believe everything are two equally convenient solutions; both dispense with the necessity of reflection.

Instead of a summary condemnation we should examine with the utmost care the role of hypothesis; we shall then recognize not only that it is necessary, but that in most cases is legitimate.”

• Henri Poincaré: Science and Hypothesis, 1905

A reflection upon the quote above asks for a philosophical approach to both epistemology and ontology—our theory of knowledge and how we exist. They are here inseparable subjects. The epistemological stance it is to pronounce one’s independence from any belief, as one doubts everything or believes everything has profound ontological implications, examplia gratia by the worldview we call solipsistic, making discussion between two men impossible as they cannot pin down each other’s exact doubts and beliefs. It’s a worldview that rejects reflection. And reflection, id est the use of Man’s reason is maybe our most salient feature as human beings, separating us from animals and inanimate objects. Descartes himself even put it thusl: “Cogit, ergo sum.”—‘I think, therefore I am’ then making reflection an existential and defining matter for what it is to be human.

Poincaré as quoted above points indirectly out the impossibility of not having a point of view. For, the view that one may believe everything and doubt anything is very much equal beliefs that take claim of not having a point of view as they reject everything and nothing at the same time. The problem with this, as put forth by so many before me is that values, opinions and thoughts on both the material and immaterial world are not all compatible. If one believes that x times x equals x2, one cannot at the same time doubt that the square root of x2 equals x. Per se notam: to understand one thing is also to realize it, also with its attendant necessities. And not only math, philosophy must also stand the test of logic. Therefore coherence is often viewed as a virtue for philosophers. Should we forget this will reflection be impossible as each man declares himself an independent mind beyond any point of view that can be pinned down and discussed in universal terms.

So, I do agree with Poincaré on that “To doubt everything or to believe everything are two equally convenient solutions; both dispense with the necessity of reflection” but in addition he postulates that some ‘hypothesis’ should be the answer to this philosophy of doubting. But Poincaré did not live to see the army of professors to come in the sixties and onwards who spent all their time and energy to find the right hypothesis of doubt. The form of an argument does not necessarily validate it. Therefore I must disagree on this point.

Adverbial theory—the theory that ‘I see a blue patch’ in fact means ‘I see bluely’ is one hypothesis of many, constructed to avoid true reflection upon reality as reality. The point of constructing such theories is of course very unclear, other than obscuring reality and upholding a strict phenomenological view on the world. As John Stuart Mill once stated: “Objects are only permanent possibilities of sensation.” To think in such a manner does not tell us one thing about the world we inhere in. What it does is rather to make every ‘I’ the torque of each individually perceived world. It is rightly called solipsism.

This is not to say that philosophy is an empirical study. Poincaré is right insofar as philosophical propositions never can go beyond the form of a hypothesis. But philosophy does not really make sense if one does not recognize that there is an objective real world that we may produce objective and communicative reflections from. The problem for J. S. Mill and his like, I think is that they have mistaken ‘objective’ as meaning ‘true’. That is obviously not the case. I can objectively state that I have hallucinations, but it does not make the phenomenon true. It is a phenomena bene fundata: the experience is not real/true but it is founded upon reality. People who say that we have to doubt everything make the mistake of treating reality like a hallucination.

But this is of course a tautology. The only way you can accept that there is a real world is if you also mentally endow others with the ability to observe reality objectively, thus making oneself able to reflect upon the similarities in our perceptions and conclude that there is such a thing called reality. Then you realize that some things may very well be believed in with a firm stand I objectivity—but you also realize that there is a certain type of questions that still are not answered. For, only now you will be able to discern the difference between empirical and philosophical enquiry. That is not possible if you make everything a philosophical question. Then you see that the question ‘What time do you arrive?’ is different from ‘What is time?’ For the first question we know where to look for an answer—either waiting for the answer, or simply waiting to observe the arrival itself. Doubt, it seems did not play a very big role in determining the answer.  But when we consider the second question we find that it is an ultimate question. We cannot define time by any higher category or concept, neither objectively look for it. And from hereon it is obvious that a hypothesis is the only meaningful form of reflecting upon these ultimate questions.

So maybe I do agree with Poincaré after all, on that a hypothesis is the only valid form for a philosophical proposition—but that must be on the right premises as explained above.

Doubt, as reason and every other ability God has bestowed on man has its uses. Poincaré’s point is to not use them thought- or heedlessly.

 

Is Man «the blank slate»?

«Let us then suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper [tabula rasa], void of all characters without any ideas; how comes it to be furnished?… Whence has it all the materials of reason and knowledge? to this answer, in one word, From experience: in that all our knowledge is founded, and from that it ultimately derives itself.»

– John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1689

Is Man the Blank Slate?

In this essay I take on the matter of human understanding in light of Locke’s proposition that Man should be a furnished ‘blank slate’—having a solid foot in modernity and its sciences and thus look into what corollaries and precepts such a proposition holds, in addition to se the matter in light of what other relevant philosophers have thought.

On this matter to be discussed the most resounding answer was penned by Leibniz, in his New Essays on Human Understanding, alas not read by Locke himself – with whom Leibniz epistolized – as a consequence of his premature death before Leibniz finished his work, wherein one finds a dialogue where the one character is a representation of Locke’s work on ‘human understanding’ and another for the better part refutes or expounds on the propositions, of the former. And the inappropriateness of publishing a rebuttal of a recently deceased friend’s lifework was probably not the only reason for why Leibniz refrained from publishing his New Essays. The understanding of Man as a ‘blank slate’ was as it were, ‘in the wind’ at the time. It was the heydays of les philosophes, working strenuously on their encyclopedic tomes to provide the ‘sans-culottes’ (the masses) with a new scientific bible.

Why do I bring in this context? I do so because a corollary of the quotation of Locke above was at the time that the Bible, merely with its moral and theological teachings was profoundly backwards in its unpracticality. Compared to those who later played the role as ‘engineers of the soul’ (Stalin) the Christian teachings were an amalgam of anarchic absurdities ceasing to pertain to reality at the moment the layman left the church. But this is anachronistic. It is true that Locke’s proposition above was raised to a truism by the revolutionaries of 1789, but we may still find Locke’s proposition problematic already at the time he was alive.

Descartes would, according to my reading of him, be a patron of Locke’s essays, insofar as Locke’s proposition scaffolds a dualism of the Descartesian kind. It raises an iron curtain in the midst of Man between his corporeal being and the mind. For, acceding to Descarte’s ‘cogito’ and Locke’s ‘blank slate’ means in both cases to refute whatever inherent first qualities of the body we have been bestowed at birth, as irrelevant in all regards.

However, I am not doing justice to the respective two philosophers when aligning them in thought. As for Descartes it is true that existence is caused by the act of thinking, while for Locke one may not so surely think the same. He is writing of «Whence has it [the mind] all the materials of reason and knowledge?» It strikes me as odd that he writes of «materials». This point is also an important one in Lebniz’ response, whereas he dilates and halts to criticize this deterministic view of what ideas are. Conceptualization; perception—they are not words invented by the Enlightenment. It is therefore strange that Locke shirked the task of nuancing namely what thoughts themselves are. Leibniz spends some hundred pages writing on the different sortals of ideas. For example on how sugar tastes. We know exactly how sugar tastes, but that is not to say that you have the slightest clue of what sugar is. There are even other things than sugar that arise the same sensation as the taste of sugar, but is not sugar. On the other hand, we have colors that are quite vague in our mind but extremely specific in reality. The difference lies in that sensation itself of sugar is something vague, while colors are something we – presumably – perceive with greater clearness. So the vagueness of the idea relates both to the accuracy of our somatic capacity and the vagueness of the object itself. Therefore it seems difficult to accept the precept to Locke’s proposition that the mind is «furnished» as if it was a one-way street, and that ideas are to be analogous with «materials».

A corollary of Locke’s proposition seems to be also that as ‘blank slates’ men yield all the same color of light no matter which one you color: If the rearing of John gives personality p, then the same formation of Adam must also result in p. This is of course an untestable experiment. However, there have been for the past years an increasing acceptance for using children and babies in experiments. This has led to several discoveries of what «the furnishing of the mind» means. For example, one has found that children, and especially babies are certainly not blank slates in any literal meaning of the expression insofar as professors at Princeton University shown by 60 Minutes on CNN two years ago showed results of enculturing; meaning that younger babies were more likely to want retribution and revenge for wrongdoings, and were less likely to share the last chocolate. Even racism, or ‘altruism by blood’ was suggested to be an inherent instinct that children rapidly learns to discard in their behavior. But I would see it as carpeting to interpret John Locke in the direction of ever having thought that Man is a ‘blank slate’ to the extent of not having inherent instincts. However, this is nonetheless a problem for a human understanding that sees Man as a ‘blank slate’, as one considers whether inherent traits in children yields prenatal thoughts. If so, each child has their very own prenatal state of consciousness before ever having been exposed to a single moment of «furnishing». Locke’s proposition necessitates a point in Man’s lifespan of mental inertia. We have some reasons to think this to be impossible, as the observation of neurological signals in the brains of embryos, while not so much speaks for the motion. Self-consciousness of course is another matter that we cannot discuss equally on scientific terms. However that might be, we might still see that it is difficult how one would pair Hegel’s «Master and Slave»-dialectic of self-consciousness with the understanding of Man as a ‘blank slate’. If perception is a one-way street of furnishing, why do we then speak of ‘self-consciousness’, while Man only as a recipient of materials of ideas would not be capable of anything else than being conscious of whatever he is furnished with. Then maybe Nietzsche’s Zarathustra would step up for Locke and answer that ‘Where the rabble drinks the fountain is poisoned.’ The profound void, or ‘abyss’ as Nietzsche would prefer, in unfurnished men must be based upon some way of thinking of Man as a ‘blank slate’. When we read Paul’s word in Romans 1: 15 that «God’s law is inscribed in the hearts of men.» I believe we see the stark opposition of Christian inspired philosophy and that of Man as a ‘blank slate’—uncreated.

Whether Locke’s proposition is in opposition to Christian beliefs or not does however not answer the question on whether Man is a ‘blank slate’. But the ontological and etiological differences might be worth considering

Göring once so famously said that «When I hear the word culture, I reach for my revolver.» This is maybe not so much the case today, but it could perhaps be transliterated to contemporary terms by «When I hear the word philosophy, I reach for my culture.» Today we do not so much see the pertinence of Locke’s proposition. When T. S. Elliot entered higher education some 3% of Americans were of the same privileged group. Today that number is closer 40%. The philosophers of the salons are not the leading revolutionaries of our Western societies, and «ideologies» and «isms» seems increasingly to be a part of history lessons. Therefore we do not see so much this ‘blank slate’ theory proposed so much, as that would easily lead to an elitist top-down thinking on education (that there is one outset that should yield one result, if correctly furnished) against which 68ers have fought so long. Today ‘culture’ according to our zeitgeist should be the sole explanation for once existence. Culture is etiology and ontology. I write of this because I am an as strident opponent of this way of thinking as I am against Göring’s visions to form Man as a ‘blank slate’ in his rationalism. This is to say that I am equally against monoculturalism and hard multiculturalism as ideologies. I believe in each man for himself. The world cannot be looked upon as either one mass of diluted ‘blank slates’ and one decorously embroidered one; neither as a set of unchangeable packs that neither transmute nor exchange.

I believe that a want for good inheres in Man, as also his concupisence towards evil does.

I therefore believe the proposition to be wrong.

Ad maiorem Dei gloraim

 

This is the unrevised edition of my submission for the Norwegian competition and qualification rounds for the Baltic seas competition in philosophy, comprising sixteen countries.

Among the participants in the first round of the competition in all of the sixteen countries this essay was awarded Honorary mentions, making it among the 15 best. 

Europe’s loss of culture and critique

Europe as a whole is on a slippery slope towards separating culture and critique. It is an unfolding story beneath our eyes, starkly opposed to what was and is Europe.

for-the-love-of-god
«For the Love of God», Damien Hirst

One could write an article on the diametrically opposite proposition: that culture has been submerged into mere critique, in which culture undergoes sterilization by way of incessant sensationalism and vulgarization in the name of critique. Just take a look at For the  Love of God.  An even more apposite example would be Duchamp’s Fountain. It is certainly a part of Western culture, this post-modern cult of provocation as it turns upon modernity and places itself beyond modernity. Its continuity lies in turning against modernism as a form of renewing and reforming tradition, with the sole objective to show how ghastly all preceding traditions have been.

This nebulous point of departure for critique finds its homologue in Michel Foucault’s own critique of society, for whom culture is nothing but «the power-structure of the bourgeoisie». The Foucauldian manner of criticizing reaches its pure expression through the art of respectively, Hirst and Duchamp.

What only rages against, but never halts to speak for an alternative set of values is by virtue of definition nihilism.

Roger Scruton wrote in The Guardian 19th December 2012 that «A high culture is the self-consciousness of a society.» The nihilism of the post-modernists has no such bearing, as it rather leads the life of the mind to a perturbing vertigo in one’s quest to find the inter-relational meaning between the subject I and the the other, through an object of art.

This debasement of culture through ‘critique’ is just what has brought about the insecurity of our European intelligentsia concerning namely what critique is. As the post-modern cult perforce is a vanguard and esoteric club it has not given rise to anything but a general giddiness in our Western understanding of culture and critique.

Even though Hirst and Duchamp, and others of the post-modern camp may seem assertive and wayward in their foible, it is an obstinate myopia in a purely Western phenomenon. This is the malum discordiae today; the way in which Western cultural life turns in on itself in a particularism, banning criticism of the other, in the spirit of anti-colonialism (as any cross-cultural critique is taken as colonialism, if from a Western standpoint). This is really where we find ourselves today: When the post-modernists dislodge critique from being a part and a continuation of culture, only positioned in its adverse opposition, it also renders critique unbridgeable across cultural differences, as they refuse any cultural point of departure. An anti-culture, so to speak.

*

Isaiah Berlin cites Herder, an old advocate of particularism «Let us follow our own way … Let men say what they like, good or bad, about our nation, our literature, our language. They are ours. They are us. That’s all that counts.» This is what leads Herder to his thought on the principle of volksgeist: Whether a man regards himself as a social being or as a thinking subject man is not his own master; he is expressed through something other than himself. It  lies close to think that it is not the brain that thinks in Man, rather his blood. In an interpretation of a text by Herder Goethe writes «Characteristic art is the only real art.» Thus, both Herder and Goethe in their understanding of culture lend their pens to the selfsame particularism as that of introverted postmodernism and multiculturalism: all together profess the inviolable sovereignty of each culture. This is when Alain Finkielkraut says «each culture goes home».

Goethe_1791
The young Goethe

However, half a century earlier the same Goethe wrote «Furthermore I like to find out about foreign countries and I advise everyone else to do the same. The term ‘national literature’ does not really mean much today. We are moving towards an era of universal literature.» and «true merit lies in belonging to humanity.» How to square this change of mind? I would argue that the young Goethe was of the same cultural perception as that of Voltaire who wrote tomes on «cultural world history», rebelling against the preceding Bossuet by starting his recount in China, rather than in Israel as did Bossuet. Voltaire opted for a universal recount of the cultural history of mankind, while never recognizing that the more he made an effort to ‘write universally’ the clearer his French benchmark on the world stood out. In 1771, meeting Herder in the Strasbourg Cathedral and reading the German sounding name of the architect, he understood what intellectual conundrum Voltaire had set up for himself and took refuge in Herder’s volksgeist.

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Voltaire’s failed universalism is to think that he is freeing culture from outdated traditions which held it in tutelage, when he in fact betrays all that is cultural identity, in favor of this figment, this purely imaginary entity: Man. While recovering from this, our Promethean delirium into abstractions on who this ‘Man’ is, post-modernists find through the omnipresent process of globalization that each culture must have its own ‘Man’. Thus, as Herder wanted to resist imperialism, to rid history of the principle of sameness and restore to each nation the boast of its unique essence, multiculturalists now seek the same . A cultural ad fontes—back to our roots. In this train of thought the Enlightenment was not the Enlightenment but Western Enlightenment. Through this deterministic understanding of culture, in which everything is dated and limited by ethnicity, cross-cultural critique is anathema our culture undergoes blight, and critique loses its cultural intentionality. The wherewithal for critique as an integral and not adverse part of our culture, and for cross-cultural critique – so essential to our multicultural societies – is now fast fading.

Though intellectually high-minded this discourse might seem it has very real consequences. «I am offended» is now an accepted premise for which you may criticize a drawing. But critique belongs no more solely to the cultural domain and judgement. Today the courthouses of Europe are hosting more and more of these trials, where the indicted is accused of having aroused offense—often because of the indicted person’s critique of another culture. The pandemonium is complete. Europe has lost its sense of what belongs to culture, and what belongs to critique, and therefore she is about to lose it altogether.

The Euphemism of Change=Progress – An essay on contemporary mentality

«The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress.»

– Charles Kettering

What has been prompted as the main salvation, of and for, the entire world since the decennia of and since the 70’s, is the concepts of change with henceforth necessary (though illusory) progress. One has come to think that change can be controlled, planned and dispersed at own will -which of course is just yet another illusory thought on change. Through discussing and applying the quote above, and a text from Focus Magazine, The Giver, I will explore and elucidate some concepts and thoughts on change and progress with a special focus on how the concepts have been used and applied since the 1960’s.

Jonas, the character from the text in Focus Magazine, The Giver, lives in a static society whereas nothing ever, ever, varies, nor changes. And with due course, without change it makes impossible to discern then from when. And so forth, without the concept of the ‘then’ there’s no memory. But in the text, Jonas is given exclusively chosen to experience the knowledge of that there some time was a’then’ which has somehow changed into the now.

At first glance one may depreciate Jonas’ society as totally irrelevant or of any importance. because «Sure,» one may think «this pertains not to today’s society at all, because in our society everything is in constant change.» However, such a conclusion may only be reached by one who fails to see the relentlessness and ferocity in change. It cannot and will not be under control by any person on this earth – or moon for that matter. As said, change has been seen since the 70’s as the necessary precedent of progress, and the other way around – but no better – that progress by necessity follows change. And one has mistakenly come to think that the power vested in change was bequeathed to oneself after the downfall of the patriarchal society. However what the protagonists of this line of thought fails to see, is that change may be static.

Due to his misinterpretation of change and progress it has become so that it is extraordinary difficult to differentiate between (culture-)radicals and conservatives, because, today they’re often both at the same time! This comes also from the happenings around and since the downfall of the patriarchal society of the early nineteen-hundreds: Since the notion ‘radical’ requires one being an outsider – in opposition – it does become a bit bizarre when those who once where the radical protestors has become insiders and still desperately clingers to their belief in themselves as radicals. Then we have ourselves a political constellation whereas the establishment robs the opposition of the opportunity and legitimacy of being radical, henceforth making oneself conservative, if not orthodox, radicals (see for further reading; »Tenured Radicals»).

I find the quote above of by Kettering a bit hard to understand if not ambiguous. Although in peril of misinterpretation, I will nonetheless interpret his quote as if he meant people when writing world. In the quote by Kettering he surely acknowledges the fact that humans have a propensity towards seeking comfort, security, let alone stability, and also tend to go quite far in its methods to maintain it (see: appeasement). In spite of this I cannot for sure place the quote by Kettering as corroboration for my analyze in coining the leaders, i.e the insiders of Norway, as conservative-radicals (e.g; the editor of Aftenposten was once a marxist-leninist, but is today editor of one of Norway’s biggest paper, like many other of her generation who realized that ‘violent revolution’ didn’t cut it, so they rather chose positions where they could continue their work in educating the proletariat).

I interpret the last part of Kettering’s quote as if he means that there is nothing nor anyone who can og may alternate this world toward progress besides man. God will help us do it, but not do it for us. Some have made the attempt, to ‘falsify’ this, by making progress a matter of following a plan, e.g.; the plan of the Qur’an leading to the caliphate, the communist plan for a classless society or NSDAP’s – the nazis – plan for a racially hygienic Third Reich. All of these have in common the fact that they no longer believe in the will of man to make progress, but have rather transferred this to the doing og some (transcendent) plan i.e ideology. A more modern example of this ‘planning fallacy’ is made by the European Union. Roger Scruton writes of EU in his book «The Uses of Pessimism and the Danger of False Hope»:

The most basic rule of law-making – that flaws can be corrected – is absent from the European [Union] legal process. At the same time the European Court of Justice, which is supposed to rule on all conflicts created by the European legal process, is expressly called upon to advance the project of an ‘ever closer union’, and will therefore, in any case where judicial discretion or innovation is needed look to that project for guiding principle. This is indeed required of it by the EU’s doctrine demanding the ‘sincere mutual cooperation’ of institutions within the union.

What the erudition of change and progress may teach us about society is that true change never lies in the hands of the ruling party or the ‘insiders’. Nazism, communism and Islam has all in common the appraisal and exaltation of the system and the allegiance to it. Hence, when speaking of the critics of the system one will never hear respect nor acknowledgement but rather the rhetoric on how the critics are sand in the cogwheels, party-poopers or in some other way, enemy of the Plan which by necessity induces the good, et voila, you have created yourself an effective way which handles impediments like (retarded) critics who doesn’t understand that the caliphate is the only possible good for the people. How does one explain this ostracism to the people? One says e.g; «… because they [the critics] are dismantling the trust and power of the state/caliphate which it so desperately is in need of to sustain order and the good.» This is the rhetoric one could hear when Siv Jensen, leader of the opposition party Fremskrittspartiet, was commented  on by a journalist in Dagbladet, Stein Aabø. He spoke explicitly of how preposterous it was of Siv Jensen to ever criticize ‘the Norwegian model’ as she calls it, because she dismantles the trust of the state:

«Trust is the hallmark of the Norwegian model. Trust between unions and employers. Trust between citizens and authorities. This trust has FRP done their utmost to break down. The party has become great by representing a popular protest against the system and capturing in itself the general discontent of the public. It helps of course to break the trust of the system and increasing contempt for the political elite.»

The journalists of Norway no longer scents what is amiss. So mundane has this rhetoric become among those who feel content with the status quo that they no longer care for even the smallest of subtleness in their ‘critique’ of their opponents, it’s so that it seems that they no longer view the likes of Siv Jensen merely as opponents worth respect, acknowledgement and critique but sees them rather in the light of being adversaries. That she, Jensen, in effect is proclaimed and presented in public as ‘enemy of the state’ is irrelevant because she is a threat to all good – the welfare state, which Arbeiderpartiet has copyright on etc. – and makes perfect as for target whenever the journalists sense the need of being ‘critical’, so they at least may feel a bit like journalists.

Another accomplice in making the concepts of change and progress increasingly derailed from their place of meaning have been the authors of textbooks in history. As pupil I have myself experienced and been through the history classes whereas everything is merely presented as if one long planned out progression. It would be understandable if there were only some who fell prey to this tempting and easy and tempting fallacy of pretending like history is nothing more than one long trek of progress, but alas, it is not some, this is the case for most textbooks in history and is the most pervasive illusion in all of contemporary academia. As following, this makes history the most boring subject of all, only second to math for some. Were we, pupils ever introduced to controversy and the thought of that things can and could have changed for the worse, then it could have been an interesting subject, but in history classes controversy is anathema. We are never asked to discuss why or how Europe became the leading continent in all meaningful ways after the fifteen-hundreds – it is based on a tautology from the eurocentrism in the Western world that tells us merely that it is a presumption which we’re all just ought to understand.

Rewriting history with a new one-dimensional approach makes certain facts about our past utterly misfitting to the ‘change=progress thougt’. Historical heroes has been one of those things which prompts misfitting controversy, which hence has forcefully been through the process of being simplified untill all that’s left is a picture of good looking and moral idols, rather than normally flawed persons. In his book «The Lies My Teacher Told Me» James Loewen writes:

«They [the authors of textbooks in history] portray the past as simply a morality play. ‘Be a good citizen’ is the message that textbooks extract from the past. ‘You have a proud heritage. Be all you can be. After all, look at what the United States has accomplished.’ While there is nothing wrong with optimism, it can be something of a burden for students of colour, children of working class parents, girls who notice the dearth of female historical figures, or members of any group that has not achieved socio-economic success.»

This way we will never find the human components which we seek to embrace as qualities to look up to. If we cannot see the likeness in history preceding us, how may we then ever look to history as any serious source of learning, especially something which could pertain to our lives. The result is alas, a generation without historical connotations. Maybe isn’t it then an all to big wonder that some, like Niall Ferguson, names Europe an elegy. W. E. B. du Bois writes in «Black Reconstruction» (1964):

«One is astonished in the study of history at the recurrence of the idea that evil must be forgotten, distorted, skimmered over. We must not remember that Daniel Webster got drunk but only remember that he was a splendid lawyer. We must forget that George Washington was a slave owner … and simply remember the things we regard as creditable and inspiring. The difficulty, of course, with this philosophy, is that history loses its value as an incentive and example; it paints perfect men and noble nations, but it does not tell the truth.»

When society has abandoned its historic honesty and hence lost the ability to learn from it, we seem doomed to forever repeat history. Change and progress is key concepts in understanding how the West today is deceiving itself. As Cameron said just after the murder of an english soldier in the streets of Whoolwich, England, by an Islamist; «This is a betrayal of Islam, and has nothing with Islam to do.» he proves that once again are we skipping the hornet’s nest of problems, and creates thus an appeasement policy, adequate only in maintaining a temporary and artificial silence around a certain subject, which in this case is Islam. He still believes the power of change is in his hands and believes his ideology to be tantamount to the good progress of England. But inevitably, what he’s doing, is creating a vacuum of unspoken problems and laments of the people – which of course English Defence League and the like, wholeheartedly finds the will to grasp, with next to monopoly.

Dette var min innlevering i engelsk skriftelig eksamen, for 10. klasse. Jeg fikk karakteren 5, med 6 som mulig toppkarakter.

This was my answer for written English exam in 10th grade. I was graded to 5 on a scale where 6 is top grade.

The Left’s errant tautology

Tautology is the way of expression whereas you say such as «The man is crazy. Why? Because he’s crazy.» It is not by necessity explicitly wrong, however it is far too easy to expunge what is of reference(s) to reality because references beyond itself is nonexistent, hence it is of little use as a valid argument. Nonetheless people seem to find tautologic thought to be quite enticing. Perhaps because of the selective way of understanding the world it opens up for. That is in some way the more extended version of tautology; whereas you select references from reality with the tautologic thought as torque.

And this is, in my opinion, how the Left of today choose to look at and explain the economic constellation and situation. My class had, as an example, an class in the subject society when our teacher for that class wanted to show us a video of our dear prime minister Jens Stoltenberg here in Norway whereas he «explains» with tautology how and why the only moral option for economic crises’ is to pump the economy with state-money for as long as it takes to get it up and back running (however the money is not existent before they see the need to press it themselves, hence an inflation). He started out with the industries who no longer could afford to pay its employees, from thereon people would have less money to consume for and hence there’s less circulation of money in the economy which in return – allegedly by his words – would lead to more people getting fired in companies who relied on people to by their goods. Then he goes on and emphasizes the poor children who would be let behind if the state did not interact and pressed more money. Voila and you have yourself a moralistic and tautologic excuse for not taking the consequences of you actions.

This is just wrong in so many ways. Of course, as said, tautology is not accepted as a valid argument whatever circumstances might be (one might say that as an antonym to empiricism, tautology serves for the better than deduction). But also is it a contradiction to every capitalistic and free market dogma and even more so; its nature. Any historian with barely any education or knowledge of the history of economy might tell you that failure is not capitalism’s counterpart but its premise. In the instant you utter words such as «… too big to fail» you have just shown your glimmering ignorance toward economic nature.

One might very well compare a healthy human being with a healthy economy in several regards: Imagine as a parent you raise your child with the thought of that what your child does has nothing to do with the outcome of what happens. This child will – as is obvious for any person – suffer from delusions of grand proportions. We humans need to fail, that is, we have to be allowed to fail – of course in some controlled manner, but nonetheless, failing is vital to us human beings. Even more true is it in the modern world whereas millions and even billions interact. So because we humans are not constructed to handle problems at such vast scales and rarely seem to be self-correcting it seems that allowing failure of entire systems (that being not the institutions in themselves but rather the larger banks and those who represent the «system») . Hence, we cannot rely on steady «economic evolution» because system change rarely or never happens well willingly or unilaterally.

This is not professor knowledge, this is not information you need a degree in economics to either grasp, understand or see the [economic] consequences of – this is mere logic and common knowledge of how we humans behave. Alas, this is what vast masses of politicians somehow have managed to stay blissfully oblivious to. Is it deliberate one may or probably should ask.

Considering the constellation of the economic Europe and the politics in Norway relating to Europe it should not be of surprise that Jens Stoltenberg and AP has interests in maintaining the the current situation by means of bailouts and demands of austerity. The Left’s interest in not wanting change in politics or leaders in the South Bloc comes of several reasons. Which is in part relations with EU for which it would be a loss if Greece or other countries were to implode and thereafter conceding to own currencies and sovereignty. And of course, in Norway’s case we are interested in – as long as possible – a low rent and also low wages for foreign workers.

Truely ironic is it to think about what the program of the Left actually is. A class warfare? Nothing like it. What the leaders of the Left are currently doing looks much like elitism of worst kind. When chance is ripe it (the Left) shows no qualms robbing the people of the south for money – which they claim to protect. Watching the two videos above in context of each other give a good start for understanding the Left’s hypocrisy. They are forwarding a self-enstrengthening policy whereas their own policy enforces the demand and need for it (hence the notion, tautology). This cycle is contemporaneously to be observed i America whereas one has tried to steer around the bottom with money from the state but what happens is that it just keeps alive the system that destructed itself and hence the only result is some spasms of improvement before the slow decay – until final collapse.