Digital Infants

In The Politics of Cultural Despair (a book I recommend, with reservations), Fritz Stern called the writers of the 19th century “conservative revolution” in Germany “intellectual Luddites.” Just as the original Luddites wanted to stop “progress” by breaking machines, so the intellectual Luddites wanted to un-enlighten the Enlightenment, wiping out “Manchesterism” to return to a largely imaginary communitarian, agrarian past. The “machine” the intellectual Luddites sought to break, Stern argues, was reason… or, at least, rationalism, which by the later 19th century was basically the same thing in most people’s minds.

They had a point, those intellectual Luddites. If you haven’t read up on the later 19th century in a while, it’s almost impossible to convey their boundless optimism, their total faith that “science” could, would, and should solve every conceivable problem. The best I can do is this: Back when they were still allowed to be funny, The Onion published a book called Our Dumb Century, which purported to be a collection of their front pages from every year of the 20th century. The headline for 1903 was something like: “Wright Brothers’ Flyer Goes Airborne for 30 Seconds! Conquest of Heaven Planned for 1910.”

That’s the late 19th century, y’all.

It’s not that the Enlightened — the sharper ones among them, anyway — couldn’t see the obvious problems with rationalism. It’s just that they didn’t care. David Hume is justly famous for declaring that you can’t derive “ought” from “is” — that is, that reason can’t lay down moral dicta — but David Hume is also the guy who argued that what we call “cause and effect” are probably just coincidences. And Hume was a piker compared to guys like Charles Fourier, Saint-Simon, etc., who argued, in all apparent seriousness, that disease and old age and death itself would disappear if only we all carried on all our affairs rationally. Compared to the French “utopian socialists,” Jeremy Bentham was a sane, decent man…

And their views seemed to be winning. The “Manchesterism” the conservative revolutionaries were arguing against was what we’d call, for lack of a better term, “old school liberalism.” You know, free trade, expanded voting rights, press freedom, separation of church and state, the whole schmear — in short, the idea that society can, will, and should be organized rationally. Let everyone pursue his own Enlightened [sic] self-interest, and the greatest good for the greatest number will naturally follow.

Taking their cues from the factories of the Industrial Revolution, the Manchesterites believed that the human mind — the human soul, though they’d rarely be so gauche as to speak of the soul — can be compartmentalized. The most obvious example being “the separation of church and state.” Think about it: If you really believe — if you really live your faith — then church and state CAN’T be separate. Democracy is the people’s revealed preferences in action; those preferences are — must be — shot through with religion, if the voters really believe.

To this, the Manchesterites would reply that they don’t mean to interfere in anyone’s private conscience. They’re not arguing for the abolition of religion, nor its banishment to society’s attic, Jane Eyre-style. What they mean is that the institutional church, the Church of England, should be kept out of social policy, which must be rationally organized to advance the collective good… and does everyone see where this is going? They expressed it in very pretty prose — no one wrote political rhetoric like an English Liberal circa 1870 — but it was a question beg for all that. What’s the point of “voting your values,” as the late 20th century would’ve put it, if the institutional expression of those values is just a building that stands empty for all but a few hours on Sunday morning?

“Rationalism,” as it turns out, is a far more jealous god than Jehovah ever dreamed of being. That’s what the “conservative revolutionaries,” the “intellectual Luddites,” were fighting.

But then a funny thing happened: Though Manchesterism won, rationalism, indeed reason itself, split the scene shortly after the victory.

Stern’s “intellectual Luddites” wrote a whole lot of supercharged, Sturm und Drang hooey about “national souls” and “blood spirits” and whatnot, but even their most Romantic fantasies about the Aryan Ubermenschen of yore paled in comparison to stuff like “Critical Race Theory.” Heinrich Himmler may have been the spiritual heir of Stern’s “intellectual Luddites,” but even he, playing with his live-action Castle Wolfenstein playset while the world burned, was a paragon of reason compared to people like Robin DeAngelo. Himmler thought “Nordic” runes were spiritual conduits to the mythic past, but our modern Elites believe, quite literally, in magic.

Magic dirt: There’s something about the Rio Grande, or the Ellis Island ferry, such that crossing it transforms 70-IQ campesinos into bourgie app developers. Magic shapes: Mold plastic into something that looks like a Glock, and anyone who sees it will be compelled to start shooting people. And of course the granddaddy of them all, magic words: Race, sex, these are all “social constructions,” such that a persyn who says xzhey are a woman really IS a woman, physiology be damned. Within the space of a generation, the same people who were smugly slapping Darwin fish on the bumpers of their Subaru Outbacks have declared the very basics of biology rank heresy.

Everyone knows that Karl Marx called religion “the opium of the masses.” It’s a fun quote, but it wasn’t particularly effective rhetoric back in the 19th century, since drug addiction wasn’t really a thing back then.* Far more effective was David Hume’s description — “sick men’s dreams” — but even that paled in comparison to the 19th century’s go-to tactic: Implied infancy. If religious belief developed naturally, in a predictable pattern — and who could deny it, having read the formidable logic of E.B. Tylor? — then anyone who still clung to his belief in a Magic Sky Fairy must belong, despite his physical presence here in this best of all possible worlds, to Mankind’s intellectual infancy. Of course we’re not saying that the religion of Aquinas and Galileo, of Newton and Boyle, was all piffle…. but come now, old sock, you must admit that the Thirty Nine Articles can only be understood “in a non-natural sense,” as Cardinal Newman (of all people!) put it. Are we not, in the face of all-triumphing science, all Robert Elsmere? Surely no one as obviously intelligent as yourself could possibly still…

Marx had that other quote that fits this situation much better, the one about “second time as farce.” Our Postmodern Elite, the I-Fucking-Love-Science crowd, has gone way past intellectual Luddism. They’re digital infants, chanting their hosannas to magic dirt, watching the same cartoon play out over and over again in Minnesota, in Chicago, soon enough in a neighborhood near you (infants love repetition). Tantrums, nom noms, and whee! A shiny!!

Such are the fruits of rationalism.



*Despite the easy availability of all kinds of highly addictive shit like opium and cocaine. Ponder that in the dark watches of the night, if you ever feel like giving yourself insomnia.

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20 thoughts on “Digital Infants

  1. AvatarMBlanc46

    I’ve got to stick up for David Hume, here. He didn’t say that the causal relationship was founded on mere coincidence. What he said was* that no necessity can be demonstrated for the causal relationship on an empiricist model of cognition. And he was quite right. It took the Kantian “Copernican Revolution in philosophy” to show how the limits of empiricism could be transcended. Regarding the “is/ought” inference, again, from a strictly logical point of view, he was quite right: Logic is merely truth-preserving, not truth-creating; it works because there can be nothing in the conclusion that is not already in the premises. No “ought” in the premises, no “ought” in the conclusion. No one has since succeeded in producing an extra-logical account that has gained general approval. Kant gave it a go, but, although his transcendental argument is a masterpiece, in my view it fails, for reasons that I won’t bother you with.

    * Hume wouldn’t have framed it this way, of course, because his starting point was the empiricist model of cognition.

    1. AvatarMBlanc46

      Something strange happened there. Old text in the buffer was not overwritten by new text. The bit about homosexuality etc. doesn’t belong here. This post should begin “I’ve got to stick up for….”

      1. SeverianSeverian Post author

        I fixed it for you.

        I know Hume’s epistemology is more complex than I’m making it. As are his ethics. But I hope my larger point stands — that the Enlightened were fond of making very fine distinctions that the hoi polloi won’t get. I’m not going to go so far as to say they intended it that way, but Very Smart Boys in all times and places have this tendency to do that, and the Enlightened were the self-proclaimed Very Smartest Boys of them all.

        It’s the larger issue of what contrariandutchman, in a great phrase that is now part of the Official Rotten Chestnuts Lexicon, called “weapons-grade philosophy.” Hume was making a big, complicated meta-point about epistemology. So were the PoMos, and while you can’t actually boil Rorty etc. down to “I tell you for a fact that there is no such thing as a fact,” those who aren’t Philosophy majors can be forgiven for thinking that that’s exactly what Hume, Rorty, et al were doing… and in the case of the PoMos, at least, they’ve got damn good reason to think so.

        In other words, this stuff is fun to noodle with at Madame de Stael’s salon, or in the faculty lounge over a few righteous bong rips, but it should never be allowed to break containment.

        This “is/ought” distinction is deservedly famous, probably because it just seems self-evident. GIGO, as our computer engineers put it back in those dim misty days before math was declared rayciss — Garbage In, Garbage Out. Like David Stove said, logic can tell you what goes wrong at the intersection of propositions, but it can’t, by definition, tell us anything about what has gone wrong with the propositions themselves. E.g. Aquinas, I’m told, wrote many pages about the nature and organization of angels. Since nobody could logic better than Aquinas, I’m sure all that stuff is airtight. But unless you grant his key assumption — that angels exist, because Scripture says so — it’s just oogily-boogily.

        Impeccably logical oogily-boogily, but nonsense for all that.

        [If more causal readers want to get a sense of this stuff, I recommend some of Peter Singer’s articles. He’s an evil sumbitch, but he writes well, and you’ll never see a clearer illustration of a very clever man trying his damnedest to derive “ought” from “is.” Animals have rights, quoth he, because they have a certain level of cognitive function… which human infants do NOT have, so abortion is perfectly fine — ethically — up to about age 2, and don’t get him started on euthanizing the retarded. Mengele would be his biggest fan if he were alive today].

        1. AvatarMBlanc46

          Thanks for fixing that. That’s the first time in almost forty years of computer use that the copy function didn’t overwrite what was in the buffer. Or, perhaps I inadvertently did something wrong. On the way to and from the home center this morning, I was listening to the audio book of Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy. The chapter on Stoicism. He mentioned that some Roman emperor—you might recall which one—banished philosophers from Rome. That was a bit of an over-reaction. We’re mostly harmless cranks. We do it because we’re driven to do it. It’s our calling. We can’t help ourselveslves. Most people, rightly, pay us no mind, because what we do has zero bearing on their lives. That said, I can see the emperor’s point. We don’t contribute anything, and what we say, taken the wrong way by the innocent, could frighten the horses. Regarding Rorty—and if you want someone even more outre{accentacute}, try Paul Feyerabend’s* Farewell to Reason and Against Method—I’m not very familiar with him, but I did work on his last, posthumous book, Philosophy as Poetry, and I heartily recommend it to those with some background in the subject. Rorty is a pragmatist. Like most philosophical doctrines, there’s a fundamental truth in pragmatism, but Rorty, like most philosophers, saddles up an idea that’s sound in itself and then rides it much too hard.

          * Feyerabend fought with the German Army on the Russian front, and was badly wounded. He became a paralyzed, Leftist philosophy professor at Berkeley. His short memoir, Killing Time, is worth a read, for those with an empty slot on their reading list.

        2. Avatarmrpknuckle

          A true philosopher does not discuss the work of philosophy in public.

          A true philosopher philosophizes, does the work of philosophy, in public but does not say what that work is.

          Socrates 101: Who is best qualified to give the story? The poets? No. The poets are the least qualified, per Socrates in The Republic.

          What we today and for the past 2000 years suffer from is open entry to the priesthood.

          Hegel upheld this Socratic truth by being so dang inscrutably hard to read and understand — but it’s all there in Phenomenology of Spirit.

          Nietzsche went all-in, tried to update and replace The Holy Bible and came awfully darn close to success but ultimately failed.

          As the Zman notes in this week’s podcast, 99% of “news” in the NYT and Washington Post is targeted not to the common prole but to our elite betters somes-of-bitches.

          De-fund the universities. Damn straight! Burn Harvard to the ground or turn the campus into low-income housing condos.

        3. Avatarcontrariandutchman

          Since we cant derive ought from is (sollen from sein in German), we still need oughts, and weapons-grade reason is now allover the place, dissolving society as it goes, it seems we need a post-rational philosophy that can properly get to the oughts.

          1. AvatarMBlanc46

            cd: I’ve been thinking about this for more than fifty years, and what I’ve come up with is something like this: If God’s not telling us what we ought to do, and if Nature’s not telling us what to do, then there’s only one real alternative—We do so-and-so because it’s what We (our people) do. It’s who We are. Other people in other places and times—even We in other times—might do things differently, but this is what We do.

          2. SeverianSeverian Post author

            The problem is that any “ought” relies for its force on the fundamental dignity of the human person… and we’ve spent these last few decades proving, beyond all possible doubt, that there’s no such thing.

            Or, if there is, people will surrender it at the first opportunity, for nothing. We’re STILL wearing fucking face diapers everywhere, well past the one year anniversary of “fifteen days to flatten the curve.”

            But hey, there’s a possible foundation of a new post-rational philosophy: DISGUST. One cannot logically say that, for instance, “transsexualism” is “wrong” on, say, utilitarian grounds. Even a Basic College Girl, properly indoctrinated, could take that one apart. But (channeling Aquinas), I reply: It’s wrong because it’s disgusting, and no decent person should have to live that way… or around someone who chooses to live that way. A sane society would lock xzhym up, for the benefit of all.

  2. AvatarMaus

    God knows I loves me some good nom noms. One of my fondest memories from kindergarten, that excellent German concept ultimately perverted by the American educational system, is recalling the daily regimen of graham crackers and milk followed by a short nap on a pad that could charitably be likened to a hillbilly yoga mat. Such was the stuff upon which civilization was founded. It is but a small step from there to the delicious canapes of haute cuisine washed down with an effervescent flute of Dom Perignon.
    Not so “the shiny.” We right-thinking folk naturally abhor its glint as the glamour of evil. No, for us the color is fulgin, that which is darker than black. As civilization falls again into darkness, we learn again to appreciate shadows as the silent heralds of the light.
    Would that we had from Aristotle as much about comedy as we do on tragedy. Nevertheless, the advice I’d offer the intellectual Luddites of our own day is to laugh heartily and often and to stay under the radar of the humorless PTB.

    1. Avatarganderson

      Mr. James Janos; Minneapolis Theodore Roosevelt HS Class of 1969. One of the more distinguished “Teds”. I’d go with Reed Larson, myself.

  3. AvatarFeinGul

    It must be acknowledged that while annoying and destructive-and loud-Diversity and Smol Hats aren’t really the driving force of the new Awokening Wokeness.
    These are Protestants. As is the State Dept, with some Hofjude trimmings.
    There were no Negroes not in livery or uniform at the Dirksen building, and no visible Smol Hats.
    The Children of the WASPS return, angry…to reclaim their inheritance !

    We need a new acronym.
    (I know, right?)

    White Anglo Saxon Post-Christians ? WASP-C ? pronounced WASP-SEE ?

    White Anglo Saxon Nihilists- WASN? WASN’TS ? <
    WASN'TS White Anglo Saxon NihilisTS

    1. AvatarDamian

      I was thinking today about a response to ‘there is no white race’ to call ourselves ASC – Anglo Saxon/Celt.

  4. AvatarFeinGul

    Someone won the Internetz today

    “Can you show me on the Constitution doll where the Tandon decision hurt you?”


  5. AvatarCodex

    If you haven’t read up on the later 19th century in a while, it’s almost impossible to convey their boundless optimism, their total faith that “science” could, would, and should solve every conceivable problem.

    I may have mentioned this before, but read the stuff that every girl child (who would one day rock the cradle) read and watched. And they’re *fun* (The Sunday School librarians did not trust them, but the fuddy-duddies were overruled)

    Little Women
    Daddy Long Legs.

    WW2 and the great Depression broke the chain for a bit. I’m looking for the next thread.

  6. Pingback: A Few Threads – Yard Sale of the Mind

  7. AvatarMBlanc46

    In response to Severian’s comment above, I’d say that “ought” gets its force, to put it crudely, pretty much the way that a parent’s “Because I said” so gets its force. The ethical version is on the order of, “Because that’s the way we do things around here. Conform or face the consequences”.

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