Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Revolt of the Masses: Epilogue.

What fundamentally weakens Gasset's book is Gasset's own philosophical system; which, despite his accurate analysis of the problem of modern European society, leads to solutions which are really non-solutions in the end.

The core problem with Gasset's philosophy is his notion of "nobility". For Gasset, nobility means living according to some ideal and not living according to bovine impulse. Self-discipline then is the core characteristic of the noble man. The problem, though, is that the content of the ideals matter,  and self-discipline in the pursuit of stupid ideals only leads to stupid outcomes. There is no doubt that many men were inspired by Nazism and Bolshevism, and suffered greatly for them. Felix Dzerzhinsky and Reinhard Heydrich both lived the ideal, both were the "hard men" of their respective ideologies,  and both ended up being made monsters by them. The core problem with Nietzschean inspired philosophies is that self-discipline becomes an end instead of a means. Self-discipline is not enough; ideals and ends matter.

In his book, Gasset, demonstrates and admiration of the noble men of antiquity, especially when empire building.  Hence his "European solution." Gasset, using historical precedent and seeking to motivate men to nobility, proposes the development of European Empire to inspire them to greatness.
History, however has proved the idea wrong. The European project, as evidenced by the formation of the European union, has not "lifted" man out of his "demoralisation", rather, it seems to have made the problem worse. And I'm not talking here about the political implementation of the European project. Rather, in modern Europe and it's derived cultures, the Greek remains Greek and the German, German. The average man seems resistant to the attempts by the European elites to ditch his "blood and soil" allegiances in preference to abstract universalist ones. Gasset, despite his sociological insight fails to understand human nature. Brussels is not exactly the triumph of the human spirit.

Still, despite its flaws, Gasset's book has some important insights which are valuable for the conservative.

I think Gasset does a good job describing mass-man and the hive mind. Any conservative political theory which does not take into account this phenomenon is ultimately denying reality. Gasset's book raises real doubts as to the viability of  modern "universalist" conceptions of democracy by demonstrating that the hive-mind is unable to perform the mentation and self-discipline necessary to sustain civilisation. Any serious conservative push-back is going to have to tackle this problem head on.

Secondly, Gasset is never given enough praise for his criticism of the modern specialist, and our contemporary culture's excessive worship of him.  Gasset clearly recognises that civilisation is a balancing act between competing values and interests. Specialist advice is frequently given in ignorance of other facts of life and thus hampers the functioning of civilised life.  The mind with the ability to see the big picture is the only mind that can rightly be considered "cultured" or  "educated".  We need to bring back a social distinction between the highly skilled and the cultured. Amgonst conservatives the cultured man needs to be given precedence over the skilled and "Joe Average." Merited elitism needs to make a comeback.

Finally, Gasset warns us that civilisation can't be taken for granted and it can't be taken as a given.  It needs to be maintained. Detroit is what happens when the proles are in control.

Overall, I think it is a valuable but flawed book. The Brothers Judd did a very good review of it which can be found here. It's a good addition to any conservative library.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Revolt of the Masses:IV

Gasset's book loses steam after about mid-point and the devotes the rest of this book to the subject of the state, the cultural leadership of Europe and his proposed solution to problem of mass-man

Gasset's warns about the danger of the all-powerful-state but devotes little time to the symbiosis between it and mass-man. He puts forth the idea that the modern state, with all it's complexity, is a product of bourgeois technism. It's a weak argument, in my opinion, for a variety of reasons. A simpler approach would be to see that an enlarging state, in a democracy, is a thing of the popular will.  The public want free health, education, good police forces, public transport and so on. The provision of each of these services requires a commensurate expansion of government. Hence,  with each iteration of the democratic cycle government is almost guaranteed to expand. Gasset also recognises that tendency of mass-man is to attribute to government things he really should be doing himself. Thus, government slowly intrudes into everyday spheres of life and spontaneous social organisation is stifled. Gasset also recognises that there has to be limits to state expansion, for it cannot always be guaranteed that the states influence will be benign.
However accustomed we may be to it, the terrible paradox should not escape our minds that the population of a great modern city, in order to move about peaceably and attend to its business, necessarily requires a police force to regulate the circulation. But it is foolishness for the party of "law and order" to imagine that these "forces of public authority" created to preserve order are always going to be content to preserve the order that that party desires. Inevitably they will end by themselves defining and deciding on the order they are going to impose-which, naturally, will be that which suits them best.

It might be well to take advantage of our touching on this matter to observe the different reaction to a public need manifested by different types of society. When, about 1800 the new industry began to create a type of man-the industrial worker-more criminally inclined than traditional types, France hastened to create a numerous police force. Towards 1810 there occurs in England, for the same reasons, an increase in criminality and the English suddenly realise that they have no police. The Conservatives are in power. What will they do?

Will they establish a police force? Nothing of the kind. They prefer to put up with crime, as well as they can. "People are content to let disorder alone, considering it the price they pay for liberty." "In Paris," writes John William Ward, "they have an admirable police force, but they pay dear for its advantages. 1 prefer to see, every three or four years, half a dozen people getting their throats cut in the Ratcliffe Road, than to have to submit to domiciliary visits, to spying, and to all the machinations of Fouche." 1 Here we have two opposite ideas of the State. The Englishman demands that the State should have limits set to it.
I don't think he would be a great advocate for gun control. In my opinion, his book's intellectual analysis rapidly decreases in quality from this point on. Gasset next deals with the topic of the cultural leadership of Europe.
What is the result? Europe had created a system of standards whose efficacy and productiveness the centuries have proved. Those standards are not the best possible; far from it. But they are, without a doubt, definite standards as long as no others exist or are visualised. Before supplanting them, it is essential to produce others. Now, the mass-peoples have decided to consider as bankrupt that system of standards which European civilisation implies, but as they are incapable of creating others, they do not know what to do, and to pass the time they kick up their heels and stand on their heads. Such is the first consequence which follows when there ceases to he in the world anyone who rules; the rest, when they break into rebellion, are left without a task to perform, without a programme of life.
For Gasset, European culture is the pre-eminent culture of the world. But he senses, like many others of the time, that Euopean culture is in crisis and has become decadent.
There has been a lot of talk in recent years about the decadence of Europe. I would ask people not to he so simple-minded as to think of Spengler immediately the decadence of Europe or of the Wen is mentioned. Before his book appeared, everyone was talking of this matter, and as is well known, the success of his book was due to the fact that the suspicion was already existing in people's minds, in ways and for reasons of the most heterogeneous.
This crisis of culture reflects itself in the psychology of the ordinary man.
But what is happening at present in Europe is something unhealthy and unusual. The European commandments have lost their force, though there is no sign of any others on the horizon. Europe-we are told-is ceasing to rule, and no one sees who is going to take her place. By Europe we understand primarily and properly the trinity of France, England, Germany. It is in the portion of the globe occupied by these that there has matured that mode of human existence in accordance with which the world has been organized. If, as is now announced, these three peoples are in decadence, and their programme of life has lost its validity, it is not strange that the world is becoming demoralised.

And such is the simple truth. The whole world-nations and individuals-is demoralised. For a time this demoralisation rather amuses people, and even causes a vague illusion. The lower ranks think that a weight has been lifted off them. Decalogues retain from the time they were written on stone or bronze their character of heaviness. The etymology of command conveys the notion of putting a load into someone's hands. He who commands cannot help being a bore. Lower ranks the world over are tired of being ordered and commanded, and with holiday air take advantage of a period freed from burdensome imperatives. But the holiday does not last long. Without commandments, obliging us to Eve after a certain fashion, our existence is that of the "unemployed" This is the terrible spiritual situation in which the best youth of the world finds itself to-day. By dint of feeling itself free, exempt from restrictions, it feels itself empty. An "unemployed" existence is a worse negation of life than death itself. Because to live means to have something definite to do-a mission to fulfil-and in the measure in which we avoid setting our life to something, we make it empty
It appears to me that the core principle of Gasset's philosophy is; that for a man to live a purposeful life, he must have some ideology or standard according to which he aspires to. Gasset seems to not care too much as to what these principles are, thus to my mind he is a moral relativist, but to be fair, he rejects the standards of Fascism and Bolshevism as primitive negations of his ideal of liberal democracy; ideologies which are the product of the hive-mind of mass-man. The shadow of Nietzsche lurks throughout his thinking.

For Gasset,  Europe's demoralisation has come about as a consequence of its technical and material superabundance. As European population, wealth and technological might have expanded,  its constituent cultures have failed to keep up with their potential. Gasset argues that this relative "provincialisation" of European cultures has led to the "demoralisation" of Europe!
The same thing is happening in the order of internal politics. We have not yet seen a keen
analysis of the strange problem of the political life of all the great nations being at such a low ebb. We are told that democratic institutions have lost prestige. But that is precisely what it should be necessary to explain. Because such loss of prestige is very strange. Everywhere Parliament is spoken ill of, but people do not see that in no one of the countries that count is there any attempt at substitution. Nor do even the Utopian outlines exist of other forms of the State which seem, at any rate ideally, preferable. Too much credit, then, is not to be given to the authenticity of this loss of prestige. It is not institutions, qua instruments of public life, that are going badly in Europe; it is the tasks on which to employ them. There are lacking programmes of a scope adequate to the effective capacities that life has come to acquire in each European individual
. [ED]
For Europe to regain its sense of destiny and defeat its demoralisation  Gasset argues, it needs to embark on some kind of new project: a project which will inspire men. For  Gasset, that project must incorporate the ideals of liberal democracy and exceed them.  He proposes the creation of a "European man", in essence he argues for a removal of cultural provincialism by the creation of a European Union.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Revolt of the Masses. III

Whenever I propose to limit the franchise to a competent minority,  people immediately assume that I wish to restrict the vote to what are commonly considered the "educated" portion of our population: those commonly considered the "elites".  That isn't my intention because it's quite obvious that our ruling class are just as responsible for the decline in civilisation as are the mass-men hordes. In fact, what has been so striking over the last century is just how frequently our "best and brightest" have failed.  Take the GFC.  Out of all the world's published economists only a tiny fraction predicted it. Given its size and systemic origins, the profession's failure to predict it is akin to the science of astronomy failing notice the moon. (Some of the guys on the list made lucky guesses!)

The problem with Economics is that it is hard. Competency in the subject requires a knowledge not just of economics but human nature, culture, psychology,  law, geography and so on. A broad deep knowledge of the subject is a prerequisite and yet this requirement runs counter to the policies of our Universities which encourage specialisation.  Gasset sees the specialist as a typical, but more technically accomplished mass-man.
Specialisation commences precisely at a period which gives to civilised man the title "encyclopaedic." The XIXth Century starts on its course under the direction of beings who lived "encyclopaedically," though their production has already some tinge of specialism. In the following generation, the balance is upset and specialism begins to dislodge integral culture from the individual scientist. When by 1890 a third generation assumes intellectual command in Europe we meet with a type of scientist unparalleled in history. He is one who, out of all that has to be known in order to be a man of judgment, is only acquainted with one science, and even of that one only knows the small corner in which he is an active investigator. He even proclaims it as a virtue that he takes no cognisance of what lies outside the narrow territory specially cultivated by himself, and gives the name of "dilettantism" to any curiosity for the general scheme of knowledge.
I think when Gasset uses the term "man of science" he uses the term to cover all sorts of technical "specialists", not just those connected to the pure sciences.
For, previously, men could be divided simply into the learned and the ignorant, those more or less the one, and those more or less the other. But your specialist cannot be brought in under either of these two categories. He is not learned, for he is formally ignorant of all that does not enter into his speciality; but neither is he ignorant, because he is "a scientist," and "knows" very well his own tiny portion of the universe. We shall have to say that he is a learned ignoramus, which is a very serious matter, as it implies that he is a person who is ignorant, not in the fashion of the ignorant man, but with all the petulance of one who is learned in his own special line. 

And such in fact is the behaviour of the specialist. In politics, in art, in social usages, in the other sciences, he will adopt the attitude of primitive, ignorant man; but he will adopt them forcefully and with self-sufficiency, and will not admit of-this is the paradox-specialists in those matters. By specialising him, civilisation has made him hermetic and self-satisfied within his limitations; but this very inner feeling of dominance and worth will induce him to wish to predominate outside his speciality. The result is that even in this case, representing a maximum of qualification in man--specialisation-and therefore the thing most opposed to the mass-man, the result is that he will behave in almost all spheres of fife as does the unqualified, the mass-man.
Here he pretty much describes Charlton's "clever sillies". Their high IQ seems channeled into one small area, otherwise they resemble the mob. Gasset recognises the subtle hubris that comes to most when they become experts in their fields.  Confident in making pronouncements in their own area of expertise they see no problem in making pronouncements in fields outside it.  In fact, in my own dealings with lots of professionals, it astounding just how ignorant they are of areas outside their own specialisation, and how their own opinions on certain issues echo's that of "Joe Average".  Arts graduates tend to be woeful when it comes to scientific issues and the STEM guys are arts averse.
The most immediate result of this unbalanced specialisation has been that to-day, when there are more "scientists" than ever, there are much less "cultured" men than, for example, about 1750. And the worst is that with these turnspits of science not even the real progress of science itself is assured. For science needs from time to time, as a necessary regulator of its own advance, a labour of reconstitution, and, as 1 have said, this demands an effort towards unification, which grows more and more difficult, involving, as it does, ever-vaster regions of the world of knowledge. Newton was able to found his system of physics without knowing much philosophy, but Einstein needed to saturate himself with Kant and Mach before he could reach his own keen synthesis. Kant and Mach-the names are mere symbols of the enormous mass of philosophic and psychological thought which has influenced Einstein-have served to liberate the mind of the latter and leave the way open for his innovation. 
Gasset recognises that most of our high status professionals are really nothing more than higher skilled technical artisans.  To him, there is a world of difference between being "educated" and being "cultured". For culture demands the big picture, not the narrow specialisation. The reason why  "the centre cannot to hold" is because no one in charge sees how they interrelate.  The men who built European culture--Renaissance Men--were "encyclopaedic"; their inheritors, specialists.

After reading his statement on Einstein, Kant and Mach I followed it up by seeing if Einstein had anything to say about  the matter. He pretty much backs up Gasset's assertion.
I fully agree with you about the significance and educational value of methodology as well as history and philosophy of science. So many people today—and even professional scientists—seem to me like somebody who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest. A knowledge of the historic and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering. This independence created by philosophical insight is—in my opinion—the mark of distinction between a mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker after truth. (Einstein to Thornton, 7 December 1944, EA 61-574)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Revolt of the Massess:II

For Gasset, the decline in European Civilisation is attributed to the rise in the influence of a new type of man in history: mass-man.  According to Gasset, mass-man gains his influence in European History firstly, by sheer numerical supremacy. Secondly, by the enormous increase in wealth bought about by technical advances in European society. This wealth insulates him to a degree from the effects of his own stupidity (imagine what he would have thought of the modern social welfare state) and finally be a sense of self-satisfaction and mastery caused by his technical prowess.

Gasset is at pains to stress that his notion of mass-man does not reflect a social station or political orientation in life. Mass-man is not synonymous with the poor or the working class, rather, mass-man refers to cognitive-psychological state of being. For Gasset,  "noble men" can exist amongst the workers and  mass-men amongst the aristocracy. Mass-man lives without serious reflection, thought or notion that he has to conform to some sort of standard. Mass-man man is an intuitive thinker,  but what's worse, is that mass man does not recognise the limitations of his thought. Mass man feels himself complete, he takes the modern liberal society he lives in granted and lacks total insight into the paucity of his intellect. 
Contrariwise, it never occurs to the mediocre man of our days, to the New Adam, to doubt of his own plenitude. His self-confidence is, like Adam's, paradisiacal. The innate hermetism of his soul is an obstacle to the necessary condition for his discovery of his insufficiency, namely: a comparison of himself with other beings. To compare himself would mean to go out of himself for a moment and to transfer himself to his neighbour. But the mediocre soul is incapable of transmigrations the supreme form of sport. 

We find ourselves, then, met with the same difference that eternally exists between the fool and the man of sense. The latter is constantly catching himself within an inch of being a fool; hence he makes an effort to escape from the imminent folly, and in that effort lies his intelligence. The fool, on the other hand, does not suspect himself; he thinks himself the most prudent of men, hence the enviable tranquility with which the fool settles down, instals himself in his own folly. Like those insects  which it is impossible to extract from the orifice they inhabit, there is no way of dislodging the fool from his folly, to take him away for a while from his blind state and to force him to contrast his own dull vision with other keener forms of sight. The fool is a fool for life; he is devoid of pores. This is why Anatole France said that the fool is much worse than the knave, for the knave does take a rest sometimes, the fool never. 

It is not a question of the mass-man being a fool. On the contrary, to-day he is more clever, has more capacity of understanding than his fellow of any previous period. But that capacity is of no use to him; in reality, the vague feeling that he possesses it seems only to shut him up more within himself and keep him from using it. Once for all, he accepts the stock of commonplaces, prejudices, fag-ends of ideas or simply empty words which chance has piled up within his mind, and with a boldness only explicable by his ingenuousness, is prepared to impose them everywhere. This is what in my first chapter I laid down as the characteristic of our time; not that the vulgar believes itself super-excellent and not vulgar, but that the vulgar proclaims and imposes the rights of vulgarity or vulgarity as a right.
Think of the university literature professor who feels confident enough to pronounce stridently on economic issues or military affairs, or the feminist who "knows" that all men are rapists. Everyone, after all  has a right to an opinion, no matter how uneducated.

For Gasset this is not so. Gasset argues that the right to have an opinion comes only after some mastery or familiarity with the subject. The only opinion that has any rights is one that has been judged by some kind of standard. The idea that Racheal Jeantel's opinion on economics has just as much validity as, let's, say your standard economics professor would be ludicrous to Gasset, as it would for most normal people. Notice, that Gasset is not arguing against the poor or lower social classes, only the stupid; those who's opinions have no regard to reality.
The command over public life exercised to-day by the intellectually vulgar is perhaps the factor of the present situation which is most novel, least assimilable to anything in the past. At least in European history up to the present, the vulgar had never believed itself to have "ideas" on things. It had beliefs, traditions, experiences, proverbs, mental habits, but it never imagined itself in possession of  theoretical opinions on what things are or ought to be -for example, on politics or literature What the  politician planned or carried out seemed good or bad to it, it granted or withheld its support, but its action was limited to being an echo, positive or negative, of the creative activity of others. It never occurred to it to oppose to the "ideas" of the politician others of its own, nor even to judge the politician's "ideas" from the tribunal of other "ideas" which it believed itself to possess.
Similarly in art and in other aspects of public life. An innate consciousness of its limitation, of its not being qualified to "theorise '' effectively prevented it doing so. The necessary consequence of this was that the vulgar never thought, even remotely, of making a decision on any one of the public activities, which in their greater part are theoretical in character. To-day, on the other hand, the average man has the most mathematical "ideas" on all that happens or ought to happen in the universe. Hence he has lost the use of his hearing. Why should he listen if he has within him all that is necessary? There is no reason now for listening, but rather for judging, pronouncing, deciding. There is no question concerning public life, in which he does not intervene, blind and deaf as he is, imposing his "opinions."
But, is this not an advantage? Is it not a sign of immense progress that the masses should have "ideas," that is to say, should be cultured? By no means. The "ideas" of the average man are not genuine ideas, nor is their possession culture. An idea is a putting truth in checkmate. Whoever wishes to have ideas must first prepare himself to desire truth and to accept the rules of the game imposed by it. It is no use speaking of ideas when there is no acceptance of a higher authority to regulate them a series of standards to which it is possible to appeal in a discussion. These standards are the principles on which culture rests. I am not concerned with the form they take. What  I affirm is that there is no culture where there are no standards to which our fellow-men can have recourse. 
There is no culture where there are no principles of legality to which to appeal. There is no culture where there is no acceptance of certain final intellectual positions to which a dispute may be referred. There is no culture where economic relations are not subject to a regulating principle to protect interests involved. There is no culture where aesthetic controversy does not recognise the necessity of justifying the work of art.

When all these things are lacking there is no culture; there is in the strictest sense of the word, barbarism. And let us not deceive ourselves, this is what is beginning to appear in Europe under the progressive rebellion of the masses. The traveller who arrives in a barbarous country knows that in that territory there are no ruling principles to which it is possible to appeal. Properly speaking, there are no barbarian standards. Barbarism is the absence of standards to which appeal can be made.
This is an important passage. The psychology of mass-man sets up the pre-conditions for philosophies of moral relativism and ontological postmodernism. Mass man doesn't need standards as he already has them. Gasset writing in the 1920's could see where this was going to end up.
Anyone can observe that in Europe, for some years past, "strange things" have begun to happen. To give a concrete example of these "strange things" 1 shall name certain  political movements, such as Syndicalism and Fascism. We must not think that they seem strange simply because they are new. The enthusiasm for novelty is so innate in the  European that it has resulted in his producing the most  unsettled history of all known to us. The element of strangeness in these new facts is not to be  attributed to the element of novelty, but to the extraordinary form taken by these new things. Under the species of Syndicalism and Fascism there appears for the first time in Europe a type of man who does not want to give reasons or to be right, but simply shows himself resolved to impose his  opinions. This is the new thing: the right not to be reasonable, the "reason of  unreason." Here I see the most palpable manifestation of the new mentality of the  masses, due to their having decided to rule society without the capacity for doing so. In their political conduct the structure of the new mentality is revealed in the rawest, most convincing manner; but the key to it lies in intellectual hermetism. The average man finds himself with "ideas" in his head, but he lacks the faculty of ideation. He has no conception even of the rare atmosphere in which ideas thive. He wishes to have opinions, but is unwilling to accept the conditions and presuppositions that underlie all opinion. Hence his ideas are in effect nothing more than appetites in words[Ed], something like musical romanzas.
Gasset here strikes at the core of Mass-man. He lives according to the ideology of his feelings (and hence influenced by his genetics*).  His "gut" rules his head. If an argument "feels" right it is right from his perspective. If he feels he has a right to something then he will impose upon the community to get that right.  Sandra Fluke is a feature, not a bug of the system.

This inability to "see outside himself" is an intrinsic feature of mass-man. Prejudice is cognition. Theories which appeal to his cognitive insularity are adopted with ease as they affirm his own "analysis" and appeal to his gut. Appeals to the truth don't matter because he already knows what is true. Communism, Fascism, Socialism and Utilitarianism find an easy home in the mass-man who is unable to detect their errors. The theory chosen is the one most in accordance with his biology. Gasset regards the assertion of this type of man onto the social/political/cultural stage as the threat to European Civilisation.

Gasset also mentions that mass-man is to be found in both the Left and the Right. For Gasset it's not so much about political orientation as it is about intellectual hermetism and its associated political and cultural force which shapes culture. A man of the Right who fails to put his ideas to the test is just as contemptible as the man of the Left.

Gasset also makes mention of the Americanisation of Europe.  Gasset recognises that most commentators on the phenomenon have the mechanism all wrong. First of all, Gasset thinks that America is the "paradise of the masses", home of lynch law.
Gallantry here makes an attempt to suborn me into telling our brothers beyond the sea that, in fact; Europe has become Americanised, and that this is due to an influence of America on Europe. But no; truth comes into conflict with gallantry, and it must prevail. Europe has not been Americanised; it has received no great influence from America. Possibly both these things are beginning to happen just now; but they did not occur in the recent part of which the present is the flowering. There is floating around a bewildering mass of false ideas which blind the vision of both parties, Americans and Europeans. The triumph of the masses and the consequent magnificent uprising of the vital level have come about in Europe for internal reasons, after two centuries of education of the multitude towards progress and a parallel economic improvement in society. But it so happens that the result coincides with the most marked aspect of American life; and on account of this coincidence of the moral situation of the ordinary man in Europe and in America, it has come about that for the first time the European understands American life which was to him before an enigma and a mystery. There is no question, then, of an influence, which indeed would be a little strange, would be, in fact, a "refluence," but of something which is still less suspected, namely, of a levelling.
Gasset argues that Europe has become Americanised as a result of Europe's self destruction through the influence of mass-man.  The ideas of the French Revolution mature later but in doing so make Europe resemble America more closely. As the standards are whittled so does culture decay. Modern European political culture sets no standards; everyone's opinions are considered equally valid, no matter how informed or not. As Gasset argues the absence of standards is the hallmark of barbarism. If you disagree with him, look about you. Detroit is the Future.

*Modern Neurobiology and Psychology are begining to provide extraordinary insights into the cognitions of Joe Average. I plan to put up a post on this later.

*When I say European Civilisation I mean Europe as geographically understood and its cultural satellites. North and South America, Australia and New Zealand.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Revolt of the Masses: I

A book I've been meaning to write about for a while now is Ortega y Gasset's*, Revolt of the Masses. It caused quite a stir when it first came out and appeared to be quite influential in intellectual circles for a while, but it's influence seems to have waned, partly, I believe due to the fact that European conservatism is dead and, thus, there is no one there to champion it. Secondly, it's also implicitly quite hostile to American notions of democracy and thus garners little support in the country which hosts last significant bastion of Left wing thought. Amongst learned Americans, the book is given polite acknowledgement and that's about it. The ideas presented are not engaged.

Which is a shame because the book is a powerful diagnostic tool in understanding the social maladies that beset us today. Not the the book is faultless. His writing style sometimes makes the concepts difficult to understand and he does come across as a snob, which means he will reflexively alienate many readers. His solutions to the problems, I think, history will show to be wrong. In many ways the book reminds me of those medical textbooks produced before the age of antibiotics and modern surgery: Highfaluting, great on diagnosis, terrible on therapy.

Gasset can best be described is a lover of classical liberal democracy. Liberal, in this context, is used as in the European sense. An easy way to think of what he means is by thinking of it as the types of governments and civilisation that existed in Europe during the time of the Belle Epoque.  Like myself, he too believes that this was the highpoint of European Civilisation. 
Restrictions, standards, courtesy, indirect methods, justice, reason!  Why were all these invented, why all these complications created? They are all summed up in the word civilisation, which, through the underlying notion of civis, the citizen, reveals its real origin. By means of all these there is an attempt to make possible the city, the community, common life. Hence, if we look into all these constituents of civilisation just enumerated, we shall find the same common basis. All, in fact, presuppose the radical progressive desire on the part of each individual to take others into consideration. Civilisation is before all, the will to live in common. A man is uncivilised barbarian in the degree in which he does not take others into account. Barbarism is the tendency to disassociation. Accordingly, all barbarous epochs have been times of human scattering, of the pullulation of tiny groups, separate from and hostile to one another.

The political doctrine which has represented the loftiest endeavour towards common life is liberal democracy. It carries to the extreme the determination to have consideration for one's neighbour and is the prototype of "indirect action." Liberalism is that principle of political rights, according to which the public authority, in spite of being all-powerful limits itself and attempts, even at its own expense, to leave room in the State over which it rules for those to live who neither think nor feel as it does, that is to say as do the stronger, the majority.  Liberalism is well to recall this today-is the supreme form of generosity; it is the right which the majority concedes to minorities and hence it is the noblest cry that has ever resounded in this planet. It announces the determination to share existence with the enemy; more than that, with an enemy which is weak. It was incredible that the human species should have arrived at so noble an attitude, so paradoxical, so refined, so acrobatic, so anti-natural. Hence, it is not to be wondered at that this same humanity should  soon appear anxious to get rid of it. It is a discipline too difficult and complex to take firm root on earth.
Writing from the vantage point of the late 1920's, he is alarmed at the decline that has taken place in European Society, a decline he places squarely on the emergence of a new type of man onto the cultural stage. He calls this man, mass-man.

But before we get to mass-man we've got to understand Gasset's concept of civilisation. Civilisation for Gasset was the end product of the thinking of the finest minds over the past three millenia of European history.  The rules, regulations, customs, habits, inter-relationships and social structures that had been thought out were passed on from one generation to another. The more advanced the civilisation the greater the intellectual capital invested it. Furthermore, Gasset recognised that the parts of the system were interrelated and the system could only function effectively if minds equal to the task at hand were given custody of it. 
For many reasons, but for the moment 1 am only going to stress one. Civilisation becomes more complex and difficult in proportion as it advances. The problems which it sets before us to-day are of the most intricate. The number of people whose minds are equal to these problems becomes increasingly smaller. The post-war period offers us a striking example of this. The reconstruction of Europe-as we are seeing-is an affair altogether too algebraical, and the ordinary European is showing himself below this high enterprise. It is not that means are lacking for the solution. What are lacking are heads. Or, rather, there are some heads, very few, but the average mass of Central Europe is unwilling to place them on its shoulders. [ED]
What concerned him particularly, was the cultural preconditions which gave birth to science:
But I repeat that I am astonished at the ease with which when speaking of technicisism it is forgotten that its vital centre is pure science, and that the conditions for its continuance involve the same conditions that render possible pure scientific activity. Has any thought been given to the number of things that must remain active in men's souls in order that there may still continue to be "men of science" in real truth? Is it seriously thought that as long as there are dollars there will be science? This notion in which so many find rest is only a further proof of primitivism. As if there were not numberless ingredients, of most disparate nature, to be brought together and shaken up in order to obtain the cocktail of physico-chemical science! Under even the most perfunctory examination of this subject, the evident fact bursts into view that over the whole extent of space and time physico-chemistry has succeeded in establishing itself completely only in the small quadrilateral enclosed by London, Berlin, Vienna, and Paris, and that only in the XIXth Century. This proves that experimental science is one of the most unlikely products of history. Seers, priests, warriors and shepherds have abounded in all times and places. But this fauna of experimental man apparently requires for its production a combination of circumstances more exceptional than those that engender the unicorn.
And he has a point. Inventions have come and gone throughout history, but its only Europe that gets the whole business of science going. But we need to remember that culture which keeps it going is not a given. Hitler got rid of his finest Jewish minds because the conflicted with the political necessities of Nazism. Stalin decreed Lysenkoism the official party line and our own Gaystapo have declared Global Warming an article of infallible dogma. The cultural climate which allows pure research is progressively limited by the politicisation of everyday life.

  (Lysenko with Stalin)

For Gasset, civilisation is a bit like the computer in front of you.  It in itself is the end  product of countless discoveries in physics, chemistry, metallurgy, mathematics, philosophy, electronics and so on. The fact that it is simple to operate belies the tremendous complexity in its generation. Gasset argues that, given its complexity, its upkeep and maintenance must be given to men who are trained and who understand thoroughly its operation. Note, that this is not an issue about power as much as it is about competence. Morever, Gasset recognises that a civilisation needs to be maintained by men committed to its ideals. Failing that, the jungle begins to gain ground.
Civilisation is not "just there," it is not self-supporting. It is artificial and requires the artist or the artisan. If you want to make use of the advantages of civilisation, but are not prepared to concern yourself with the upholding of civilisation-you are done. In a trice you find yourself left without civilisation. just a slip, and when you look around everything has vanished into air. The primitive forest appears in its native state, just as if curtains covering pure Nature had been drawn back. The jungle is always primitive and, vice versa, everything primitive is mere jungle.
When civilisation crumbles natural savagery reasserts itself. Gasset's thesis is thus: European civilisation is a product of over three millenia of thinking by the best minds. Each generation is handed this inheritance and builds upon it. Finally, in the late XIXth Century, this cultural heritage is passed onto the taxonomic equivalent of Rachael Jeantel: Mass-man. It is from here that the problems stem.

* Proper form would dictate that I use his surname in entirety but I felt the abbreviation necessary for stylistic concerns.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Zimmerman Verdict: Evidence of the Croatia effect.

In order to understand the black and liberal community outrage to the Zimmerman verdict it's best to take ourselves back to that bastion of left wing multiculturalism, the former Yugoslavia. I think it is important to go that troubled country since the student of it will learn much which can be applied to the modern political situation, especially in the U.S.

The former Yugoslavia was comprised of six different ethnic groups but for the purposes of our discussion we will limit our discussion selves to the two biggest groups; the Croats and the Serbs.

Due to a combination of demography and shrewd politics Serbia was the most militarily successful of the two and as a consequence ensured that its citizens secured the privileged positions in the Yugoslav republic. An objective analysis of the ethnic occupation of the government senior positions showed clear discrimination against Croats. Even so, Croats were still able to assume some of the positions of power, particularly in the non-security positions of government. Still, the net result of this state of affairs was that the Croats en masse felt that they were discriminated against and oppressed by a stronger ethnic group who had all the military power. Futhermore, because Croats were more westernised and economically productive, the Croats felt that their substandard economic position was due to Serbian mismanagement and Serbian corruption. The idea was that Croatia, once freed of Serbian domination would flower into a new Switzerland.

The war came and went, and Croatia is now independent, however, it still remains an economic mess much to the disgust of the average Croat. However, the current situation poses a dilemma for the community there. In the past the Croats could, without much thinking, blame all their problems on the Serbs, however, now that the Serb bogeyman is gone. People are beginning to search for other explanations of their economic failure. Some are blaming the politicians, others the financial markets but to some of the more perceptive individuals they are beginning to see that the problems are with themselves. This, in my mind, is one of the first steps toward genuine reform of the country. The riddance of the Serbian bogeyman was more than a riddance of physical oppression it was a riddance of a convenient excuse for all their failures. Their desire to join the EU was not based on any love of Europeanism, but rather the realisation economically and socially advancement can only come about through the forced adoption of a Western European model.

Now, the point of this little bit of Yugoslavian social history is that it directly applicable to race relations in the U.S. and to the underperformance of black community there. 

From this side of the big pond, it would appear to me that metrics of Black social well-being were higher in bad old days of segregation rather than in the modern days of multiculturalism. Segregation may have, in fact, paradoxically enhanced black social, if not economic, well being.

Take the following graph.

If we take illegitimacy rates as inverse proxy for social well-being we see that Black illegitimacy rates follow White ones till the 1960's when they literally explode. Why so?

Though there are many reasons, we see a disparate effect of the social changes of the Sixties on the Black community. Part of the reason, I think, is because of the "Croatia effect" on Black people's thinking.  In the 1960's everything became the White man's fault.

In the age of segregation, the Black man was treated as a second class citizen. He was limited in his privileges and limited in his opportunities by a system which segregated him from white people. He realised that the Whites did not give a shit about him nor were not going to give him a break. To be fair, they didn't take what little he had. In effect, he was psychologically on his own. Any improvement was going to be self-improvement since the white man was not going to give him anything.  Responsibility was forced onto him. He had to make the best out of the shitty circumstances life handed him.

However, with desegregation, the Black man became integrated--at least in theory-- in the wider community. The preponderant success of white people, when compared to his own failure, combined with the self flagellation of the liberals made it easier to blame all of his problems on whites. They provided a convenient scapegoat for his own abdications of responsibility. If he failed, it was because the the white man plotted against him, if the white man helped him and he failed still, it was because the white man did not help enough. He never had to take responsibility. There was always someone else to blame.

It needs to be understood that this is not a particularly Black way of thinking. All human groups think the same way. White workers, in attempting to explain their own shitty lives will blame white bosses; Indonesians will blame industrious Chinese; Zulu will blame Xhosa; German workers, German Jews. In human societies wherever there is an under-performing group, they will always blame the superior performing (either by hook or crook) group for their troubles.  In any society where one distinct group gains advantages over the other it becomes easier for the disadvantaged group to blame the other for all of its problems.

Whats most depressing about the Trayvon Martin controversy is just how polarised opinion is on racial lines. It's as if the facts don't matter. Likewise, in the U.S. federal elections 93% of Black people voted for Obama. Identity politics trumps all.

This "Croatia effect" thinking amongst black people has profound implications for any long term improvement in the social situation amongst blacks in the U.S. It may just be that some form of soft segregation and parallel social structures may need to be set up, where blacks are self governing and realise that they are on thier own. No white man to blame and no white man to help.  Whether high quality blacks--16% of blacks have IQ's over 100--would want to invest in such a project is a different issue. It appears to me that this group of people, especially the few conservative ones have more in common with successful whites than self-identifying with the "brotha's in the hood".

On a similar note, if you can countenance the notion  that the mean Black I.Q is 85, is the the promotion of universal suffrage in Africa a recipe for the election of demagogues and rouges? Giving the vote to the top 10% of Native Africans would appear to be far better for political stability and general welfare than promoting American style democracy in the region.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Some Thoughts on Aesthetics.

Recently, Roosh V put up a post on beauty which got me thinking of an article I read recently. But before I get to that, I want to put down a few thoughts on the subject of beauty.

I think one of the problems of the traditional philosophical treatments of beauty is that they tend to see the appreciation of beauty as a rational act.  While I think that this approach may have some validity, I don't think enough consideration is given to unconscious processes that are active in the appreciation of it.  Recent insights in cognitive neuroscience show a continuous interplay between conscious and unconscious processes. For example, with regard to the processing of erotic imagery, there is evidence that the brain is processing stimulus information well before conscious cognition is apparent. My view of the matter is that our minds are pre-wired to respond pleasurably to certain visual stimuli. And I don't just mean in the sexual sense, rather, a wide of pleasures (and noxious sensations) can be stimulated by a glance of the eyes. The point is, that when it comes to aesthetics, pleasures are generated subconsciously but appreciated consciously. 

Now, what I'm interested is in the process of subconscious pleasure generation.

It appears to me that human beings are genetically pre-programmed to respond positivity to certain visual stimuli. Symmetry, for example, is not just appreciated in facial forms but also in buildings and compositions of a variety of kinds. Purity, in terms of colour or form is also appreciated.  Certain types of massing, and ratios of a part to a whole also appear to be universally pleasing. It seems that our visual processing hardware is designed with certain rules in mind. If these rules are violated then a progressive sense of disgust is elicited.

Let's say then that there is some kind of hard wired response that generates pleasure only in certain circumstances. How would we judge an art that positively stimulates that response? Or an art that negatively stimulates it.  I suppose that what I'm trying to suggest is that is an art which synch's with this pre-determined hard wiring "natural" to the human species.

The reason why I bring this up is because I feel that classical art was a type of art that instinctively appealed to humans and modern art is a type of art that doesn't. Which brings me to that article I read about. In 1995 two Russian emigre artists, Kumar and Melamid decided to undertake an interesting art project. What they did was use extensive market research to determine what people in eleven different countries liked when it came to art and what they didn't. Based upon this research they decided to paint pictures which represented this market research data. The project and its details can be found here. There is even a book.

Kumar and Melamid's work needs to be understood as visual representation of market research more than an artistic vision. But what's fascinating about their work is the remarkable consistency of what people like in art. Much like the remarkable consistency in what men like in women and women in men.  From an interview with Melamid by The Nation:
N: But there were some surprising results from this poll, yes?
AM: Actually, what shocked me was that it was not surprising. I thought there would be much more interesting--I mean, much different results. Because my small experience talking about art with the people of Bayonne gave me quite a different impression of what the people want. They couldn't exactly say what they want, but seeing artists working gave them ideas of what was possible. The problem is they don't have examples. Maybe they can't be asked, maybe language doesn't work. I was expecting great discoveries, a real vox populi, a high opening. But I think it was the fault of the poll, not the people. It's the fault of all polls. Maybe people have to be shown. Maybe we have to buy a van and go around the country working on art among people--van art. From Vanguard to Van Art.
N: But weren't you kind of surprised that people, regardless of class or race, an wanted pretty much the same thing?
AM: Yeah, that was another shock, because you remember that initially, the idea was to paint different pictures for people of different incomes, but we realized that there's no difference! The blue color diminishes with income and with education, but still the blue color is the majority in every group. And every group wants these landscapes, with soft curves, people fully clothed. That's what gives a good idea about this society, because it's really a united society. That's why this society is still alive. It's not breaking up like Russia, because in Russia they have several different consensuses. You lose that, so you lose everything.
N: What's interesting about the "most wanted" picture that came out of all of this is that it's very close to the classic nineteenth-century American painting, which is a landscape with people, showing harmony with nature, or the conquest of nature. What do you think that suggests?
AM: I think people want stability, culturally and traditionally. The modern art was a breakup with tradition, which became a new tradition, of course. And it's interesting, on one hand I can say that this society's demandtosupply economics works really well, because you can buy landscapes. Maybe not good landscapes; that's the problem. There's nothing bad in landscapes per se. I don't know if we can imitate it now, but why landscape is lower than Abstract Expressionism? Mostly because landscape painting has been given up on by the elite, and people who want to make fame and money don't make landscapes, they make abstract pictures.
N: Robert Hughes wrote that landscape "is to American painting what sex and psychoanalysis are to the American novel," that the quintessential American paintings are landscapes.
AM: So, now we know he was right.
I think it is remarkable that people in China, Kenya and U.S all have a very similar aesthetic preferences despite significant geographic, cultural and genetic differences. What it seems to point to is that our sense of beauty has been implanted into us and it is not as malleable as the blank-slaters and fat acceptors seem to think. It isn't because of cultural conditioning as much as it is biomechanics.

There is no doubt that modern art was one of cultural prongs used to overturn the traditional order of the West. Any conservative pushback is going to have to tackle it and perhaps the line of attack should be less philosophical and more biological. Arguments about beauty are probably best not argued on philosophical lines but along "visual ergonomic" ones. A well designed chair is for the body is what beauty is to the eye. And perhaps our argument against modern art shouldn't be an argument about what is morally right or wrong but about what pleases human nature and what doesn't.