We were discussing art, philosophy, and national character in the last post. I know, I know, that’s pretty damn pretentious for a post that ends with a picture of Batgirl, but it’s true for all that. Contrariandutchman came up with the phrase “weapons-grade philosophy” to describe the stuff that Europeans seem so good at — and so good at keeping contained — that we poor Colonials aren’t, and don’t….
…or maybe not. Either way, to talk about this stuff, we need some definitions.* I propose the following: Art is an attempt to say something true about the human condition. Philosophy is an attempt to discover the Truth in itself.
Trite? I suppose. But it’s a start. For one thing, it gives us a relatively “objective” measure for determining both if a given piece is art (philosophy), and, if so, is it good or bad. For example, this:
It’s art, and it’s bad. It’s art because it is trying to say something true about the human condition. It’s bad art, not because of any flaw in the artist’s technique, but because what it’s trying to say is false. Just as one drop of raw sewage turns even a barrel of the finest wine into sewage, so even the most technically excellent art is mere propaganda if it doesn’t say something true.
Obviously this means comprehensibility is key, and this is where “weapons-grade philosophy,” like Modern art, loses a lot of us. Just as I can’t tell what the hell the artist is trying to do here
I can’t make heads or tails out of Hegel, or Heidegger, or the whole lot of Froggy Incomprehensibles. If nothing else, then, their works are bad philosophy, since the Truth is accessible to all rational minds.
[And here’s where the drive-by neckbeard chimes in: “How do you know it’s bad if you don’t understand it? Maybe you’re just to stupid to see blah blah blah.” Stow it, Junior. I spent a lot of years in grad school; I speak at least Conversational PoMo. More to the point, I understand the “for Dummies” presentation of their thoughts just fine… and the fact that an educated person needs a “for Dummies” presentation confirms that there’s something seriously wrong with their philosophy. Nietzsche, for instance, said everything Foucault said, and while the Manly Mustache Man’s conclusions might be hard to stomach, no educated person has ever had the slightest difficulty with Nietzsche’s prose. Foucault’s stuff is bafflegab, stem to stern].
This not to say there’s nothing to Hegel et al. It’s a cheap joke that there’s no opinion so absurd, that some philosopher has not held it, but it’s not true. Every philosophy has a kernel of Truth in it. Just to stick with one name, Hegel was on to something with that thesis-antithesis-synthesis stuff. The Logical Positivists would have you believe that there are only three ways thought can go wrong: Contingent falsity, self-contradiction, and meaninglessness. But the most level-headed of the Logical Positivists wrote a wonderful essay disproving that, and he ends up throwing his hands in the air: “Hegel just is different from Plotinus, and again from Foucault, and so on.”
The reason this stuff matters is: “Weapons-grade philosophy” has broken containment. Contrariandutchman notes that Europeans generally don’t have a problem with this stuff — guys like Foucault, Camus, et al fairly obviously don’t take their own bloviation seriously (Camus, you’ll recall, is the guy who spent a lot of his long, rich, famous life proclaiming that the only real question in philosophy is suicide. Life is so obviously pointless, this celebrity proclaimed, that if we were consistent we’d simply off ourselves. Camus died in a car crash, on his way to his publishers’). The problem is, guys on Europe’s fringes do take this stuff seriously — Lenin and Barack Obama, just to name two. For guys like that, absurdity is a feature, not a bug, of Continental philosophy.
Are there any worthwhile American philosophers, under the definitions I’ve suggested? Any great American artists? I dunno, but we’d better find some — as we slide further and further into decadence, the more appealing this kind of nonsense gets. We need to chase it back across the Atlantic, where Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys and their enablers can play around with it for as long as Monsieur le Taxpayer is willing to foot the bill. It’s weapons-grade, all right — this stuff will get you killed. Ask any kulak.