Thursday, June 30, 2016

Meaning in History by Karl Löwith: Chapter 1 - Burckhardt (Part One)

In some ways the work of Jacob Burckhardt is a strange place to start for a book interested in the philosophy of history. Burckhardt himself wasn't interested in philosophy of history as he rejected the idea of an historical telos, be it a secular belief in progress or a theologically infused eschatology. Burckhardt was interested in developing "the historical sense" which can be thought of as a kind of continuity between past and present.

This can be a little misleading if we think of a "continuity" as being a thing that persists through time. Continuities, in Löwith's view of Burckhardt, are the products of the historical sense. Historians investigating, selecting, prioritizing and interpreting the facts of history uncover or create continuity. If this is true, however, the objection can be raised that isn't there the danger of the historian simply reading the concerns of the present day back into the past where they do not necessarily belong? To Burckhardt, however, these concerns are misplaced. Every generation will, of necessity, interpret the past in such a way to draw out continuities that were possibly not recognized before, or rediscover continuities long forgotten. Continuities will always connect the present with the past, so we shouldn't be surprised when it does so.

There are interesting consequences from such a view of history. Take, for example, the idea of tradition. Far from the stultifying force it is often presented as, for Burckhardt tradition is free and creative. "Conscious historical continuity constitutes tradition and frees us in relation to it. The only people who renounce this privilege of historical consciousness are primitive and civilized barbarians." (MiH: pg. 22) In this conception, tradition is not an ossified thing but a perpetually revised and renewed understanding of the world and our place in it.

Burckhardt put forward his vision of tradition informed by historical continuity against the penchant of the 19th Century for permanent revolution. Indeed, there is something quixotic or pessimistic in Burckhardt's formula. The "civilized barbarians" of the revolutionary movements were everywhere and growing in influence, stature and power. Revolutions, in the mold of the French Revolution onward, do not seek continuity except to root it out and destroy it. Tradition, and the past more generally, is to be forever banished. These revolutionary movements were inherently and irrevocably radical. At this point Löwith quotes passages from Burckhardt that sound both prophetic and apocalyptic. Images of modern nation states turned into factories of war, where all liberal and democratic impulses are subsumed into the expediency of dutiful obedience to authority, bring images of the rise of 20th Century totalitarianism immediately to mind. However, prognosticating the future 70 years on most likely is not what Burckhardt was doing. Historical consciousness is a process of the past and present. The future, or at least the distant future, doesn't enter into it. Indeed, predicting the future in such a way would suggest a telos of some sort which Burckhardt flatly rejected. Being Swiss Burckhardt's "visions" probably had much more to do with the current state of affairs in neighboring Bismarckian Germany rather than Nazi Germany.

That being said, might it not be possible that we are engaged in an act of historical continuity building when we want to draw upon Burckhardt's work to bring to light such parallels?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Meaning in History by Karl Löwith: Introduction

Meaning in History
Karl Löwith
University of Chicago Press, 1949

Löwith begins his book, sensibly enough, by defining his topic. He is writing about the philosophy of history by which he means, "a systematic interpretation of universal history in accordance with a principle by which historical events and successions are unified and directed toward an ultimate meaning." (MiH: pg. 1) This definition has a noteworthy benefit for us, the readers. It narrows the field of inquiry considerably. We need not concern ourselves with either the voluminous content of history, nor with the techniques or methodologies of the historian. Only those, blissfully rare, attempts to construct universal historical meaning need be considered.

Löwith's approach, however, is broad enough to encompass ancient and medieval thought as well as modern approaches. Indeed, the entire premise of the book is to show how the attempts to construct universal historical meaning have their roots in the theological constructs of the Judeo-Christian worldview. The religious idea of salvation as a worldly reality (as opposed to an other-worldly fulfillment) is the point of origin for all attempts to find meaning in history. So, in a very Nietzchean manner, Löwith proposes to sketch a genealogy of the idea of universal history, tracing it backwards through time from more recent incarnations to its earliest manifestations in the ancient world.

That we would need to undertake such a work seems obvious to Löwith. As a German writing in the aftermath of the Second World War it is easy to understand how he views the world as "at the end of the modern rope." (MiH: pg. 3) The easy faith in reason and progress which dominated the modern mind in the 18th Century has been eroded by the actual path history has taken. If the idea of meaning in history is not to devolve into a impotent lament of "one damn thing after another," breaking the complex of ideas that is the philosophy of history might allow us to recover something helpful that had become obscured during the transition from a religious past to a secular present. Löwith suggests there is something within the Christian conception of history that makes a more compelling argument about the reality of evil and suffering in the world than in "the modern illusion that history... solves the problem of evil by way of elimination." (MiH: pg. 3) However, Löwith is not encouraging us to recover the philosophy of history inherent in ancient Christian or Judaic thought and make it our own. Instead he wants us to recognize that the manner in which human beings attempt to make sense of the world they live in will of necessity be religious and philosophic. It will not afford us the possibility to give a final and ultimate answer in the manner of working through a algebraic formula. It will always allow for further questioning.

It is this eternal questioning which the ancient pagan world did not allow. For them the world had known boundaries and was marked by the regular procession of moments: season followed season, death followed life, decay followed growth. The sheer regularity of these "movements" allowed for the ancient pagan to think of the world as filled with ends that could be rationally explained and planned for by people. However, none of these ends were ultimate. They simply were someplace on the cycle of existence, a someplace that is of no special significance. As such, history itself could not be meaningful for the ancient mind because there was no telos, no end to which historical existence was pointing.

Löwith sees a kind of neo-paganism at work in the attempts by writers such a Tocqueville, Spengler and Toynbee to prognosticate the future. As such they too do not represent a real attempt to provide meaning to history and, thus, fall outside the defined realms of the philosophy of history, as do their ancient predecessors.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Mothers Depicted As Sexual Beings On Virginia Campus; Nation Shocked And In Mourning

Norfolk, VA

Four members of the Old Dominion University student body were publicly executed and their corpses summarily expelled from the school when it was discovered the students had callously and deliberately played the song “Stacy’s Mom” at a Opening Week Bar-B-Que. The song, written and performed by the terrorist front group Fountains of Wayne, features lewd and indecent lyrics which insist that “Stacy’s mom has got it going on” and depicts the treasured societal icon is a state of undress (“with just a towel on”.)

While the quick and decisive action by the university, which has a solid reputation for graduating only virgins, was applauded by most, some worried there had been undue haste shown. “It all happened so fast we never even had the chance to publicly flog these vile perpetrators!” lamented Sheri Abercrombisen of the student led organization, Aggrieved Sisterhood of Solidarity (or A.S.S.).  A.S.S., best known for their campaign to place trigger warnings on campus for the Sun (“It is so bright and cheerful all the time. Doesn’t it know some of us are really hurting?”) complained other dangerous conduct was going on right under the noses of authorities. “I know for a fact,” said Abercrombisen at a hastily convened news conference attended by 317 journalists, “that another party was playing a Rock Hit’s of the 70’s compilation which included a vile song which depicts a mother having sexual relations on a living room floor, all the while the song repeats that “we’re all all right” when we very clearly are not all all right.”

Ms. Abercrombisen subsequently had to be sedated and placed under a doctor’s care.

At press time Robin Zander was unavailable for comment.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Rise Of Anti-Semitism Continues Unabated

Now a Jewish artist cannot perform at a music festival unless he proves he's the "right kind of Jew." -
Jewish groups protest as Spain festival drops US singer

Jewish groups have criticised a Spanish festival for cancelling an appearance by a Jewish-American singer because he refused to air his political views. 
Matisyahu, a reggae singer, had been due to appear at the Rototom Sunsplash near Valencia on 22 August. 
But he says he was asked by organisers to state his "positions on Zionism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict". 
In a post on his Facebook page, Matisyahu said the pressure to air his views was "appalling and offensive". 
A campaign to cancel Matisyahu's appearance was launched by the Valencia branch of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.... 
"The festival kept insisting that I clarify my personal views; which felt like clear pressure to agree with the BDS political agenda," Matisyahu - whose real name is Matthew Miller - wrote on his Facebook page. 
"Honestly it was appalling and offensive, that as the one publicly Jewish-American artist scheduled for the festival they were trying to coerce me into political statements." 
The singer, born in Pennsylvania, said he did not insert politics into his music, and that he wanted it to be accessible to all.
What is equally disgusting is the only groups complaining about this are Jewish ones.

Sadly, I was sort of expecting this kind of Spanish Inquisition.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Charity In The New America

From the wisdom of Justice Kennedy in the Obergefell dictum:
Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons. In turn, those who believe allowing same sex marriage is proper or indeed essential, whether as a matter of religious conviction or secular belief, may engage those who disagree with their view in an open and searching debate.
How generous of him to not criminalize people's religious thoughts. Yet. H/T Hot Air

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Straw Meets Camel's Back

Shit gets you down. A lot of shit gets you way down. And sometimes sports doesn't give you a break from shit, it only piles it higher and deeper.

Granted my shit baseline is pretty deep these days. I've been unemployed for ten months and, if employers are to be believed, I'm simply unemployable unless 'you'd like fries with that' becomes my career path. So, you can imagine how "helpful" it is to me to sit down and watch Adam Wainwright blow out his Achilles tendon, or to hear the news last autumn about Oscar Taveras.

And then we get to the St. Louis Blues. There is no way I can do a post-mortem because I simply cannot stand it or them anymore. They have mattered so much to me since I was a 10 year old kid that they have used me up. It turns out 36 years of futility is my limit. It is impossible for me to believe someone could be a fan, and I mean a real fan, and last longer than I did. Every year they trot out some Cubs "fan" who claims 70 years plus, but that has to be bullshit. There is no way someone who really cared could last that long. I've known mothers that have disowned their own children, human beings they loved with all of their heart and soul, for less than what the Cubs have done to their fan base routinely. The only way you could last that long is if deep down you really don't care. And, don't get me wrong, that's cool for the people who are just enjoying following sports as a bit of play acting. It can be loads of fun to pretend you care about something. Why else would people adopt Cinderellas so readily. You don't actually care that that 14 seed you'd never heard of before they won a couple games in the NCAA gets knocked out in the Elite Eight. It's just fun to act like you do. When the ride ends, it ends.

In many ways I've always thought the film Fever Pitch, and here I'm talking about the real English soccer version and not the Americanized abomination, got a lot right about being a real fan. When the girlfriend of the main character chirps in the helpful "It's only a game!" the response is dead on. "Don't say that. That is the stupidest thing anyone could ever say. It quite obviously is not only a game. If it was do you honestly think I'd care this much?!"

What it misses out on is the hopelessness it can engender. The character Paul in Fever Pitch, and the author Nick Hornby on which the character is based, only had to endure a drought of eighteen years between Arsenal championships, and even then they won an FA Cup in the longish interval. The angst there is having been good and failing for awhile to reach those same heights. The Blues, on the other hand, have never been that good. Ever. Even when they reached the Stanley Cup finals, before I was born and when I was less than a year old, it was a fluke born to dodgy business decisions. They truly didn't belong there. The real championship was the semifinals played in the other conference. Everyone knows it even if they are too polite to talk about it that way. That is what the Blues were and what they have always been.

Seemingly it is what they always will be too, and that is what I cannot stomach. It's taking too much out of me and not putting anything back in. There is no joy to be had there any longer so I'm putting the Blues away. I'm not watching them, or the NHL in general, any longer. I've already boxed up everything I own with the Blues logo and tucked it away deep in a closet possibly never to be open again in my lifetime. But, at least I'll have the satisfaction of knowing it won't be the Blues or the NHL sending me to an early grave.

That is something I suppose.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

The "Us vs. Them" Pope

There are good reasons why someone like Cardinal Raymond Burke would have made a terrible pope. At the crux of the matter there is the marked tendency he has shown to treat issues like ideological footballs which he would try to pick up and power down the field down his opponents throats. Now, that might make some sense when dealing with forces like a highly partisan and unfriendly to hostile to Catholicism press corps, like the one we suffer from here in the United States. Where it makes little to no sense is in the pastoral work of the church, where to do so is to divide the Church into issue groups, some labelled "friends," others labelled "enemies."

Unfortunately, if such is true of a Cardinal, it's is more true of a sitting pope and Pope Francis seems to have forgotten that fact, if he was ever aware of it at all. It has been the policy of many traditionalists to give Francis the benefit of the doubt, but it is becoming increasingly clear that he sees the world, and as a result the Church, as being filled with combating ideological camps. He's President Bush standing in front of us all and saying "you are either with us or against us." That Francis is being lionized by people who love neither the Church, nor the real flesh and blood human beings that make it up, and seems to be actively seeking their approval, makes me sad beyond words.

It's not that I didn't know it was coming. It's sort of like your own demise. It's one thing to acknowledge one's inevitable end. It's another to see it looming up before you.

Friday, November 07, 2014

A New Venture

And now for something completely different...

I've actually been contemplating putting together a philosophy tinged podcast which would kind of be like an audio version of James Burke's Connections, only infinitely more trivial.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

I'm Tired Of Dishonest Bullshit

This is the straw that broke my back.

I'm sorry but it is impossible for any thinking person to be against people having government issued ID.  To be against it you must be either A) some sort of neo-nazi white supremacist type, or B) committed to perpetuating a permanent helpless underclass for your own, and you privileged class's own, political benefit.

Without a valid government ID one cannot get a job, buy alcohol, drive a car, write a check, travel outside the country, travel on an airplane, travel on Amtrak, travel on a Greyhound bus, buy medications that contain pseudoephedrine, or even purchase prescription medication. I'm sorry but what kind of person wants to keep people from having such personal agency in their lives?

I'll tell you who. Evil sons of bitches. That's who.

If people like Lewis Black spent HALF the time they do bitching about Republicans helping people enter the 20th Century already none of this would be an issue. The truth is they don't want poor Americans to enter the 20th (or 21st) century. They want them helpless and dependent.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sleepless In America: 2014 Edition

God only knows how anyone in this country can sleep when we don't know if the redhead from the Wendy's commercials has the correct beliefs.

And what about the GEICO gecko?

Insomnia here we come.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Unwanted Thoughts Of A Rank Outsider

The long awaited vote is on in Scotland. I have absolutely no dog in the question of an independent Scotland. Not a one. Oh, I think there is some Scots blood in me somewhere, but I'm pretty sure it is awash in a sea of Irish and English red that it amounts to not a lot. I certainly have never been one of those Americans that searches back through his genealogy in order to know what tartan to order. I look terrible in plaid anyway.

Indeed, the going on in Scotland lately have been about a form of nationalism that has very little to do with the American experience. In many ways the Union that forms the UK is a little more in keeping with our national experience in the US than the clarion call of the monoculture that is good old fashioned nationalism. Its particularly strange as those most loudly proclaiming the need for Scottish independence seem to have no idea how conservative such a call really is. As well, the romance of it all can be a bit intoxicating, especially for us American observers. The United States has very little that smacks of the "ancestral" about it. When we use the term it is almost always used metaphorically. To live in a place where it actually applies.... well, that is the stuff of fiction for us.

Which may explain why part of me hopes Scotland says "no" today. The ancestry is real all right, but I wonder if the romance of it all isn't just as fictional for them as it would be for us. Think of the fantasies of those who romanticize the antebellum South. In these flights from the real world difficulties are never faced and the drawbacks and dark sides are ignored or completely forgotten. In the debates on Scottish independence I've seen on CSPAN there was a disturbing amount of faith put into slogans by the "Yes" proponents, as if translating them into reality would be the easy part. No. Spouting slogans is the easy part. All the rest of it is very hard.

Whatever happens all I can say is good luck to the people of Scotland, and the UK as a whole.

Wait? This won't affect the price of Scotch...
will it?  

Sunday, September 07, 2014

If You Ever Wonder Why I Don't Blog Much Anymore.... is exhibit #7688:

That link takes you to a website called "The Moderate Voice" [sic], which these days apparently believes the KKK style hate ravings of one Hart Williams qualifies as "moderate."


Thursday, July 03, 2014

The Ignorant Intolerant and Narrow Minded Left

I used to think that description only accounted for 10-15% of the political left in this country, and the vast majority of it confined to the far (loony) left. Even that was forgivable, in a sense, because the far left has been dominated by varieties of Marxism for over a century and they, as a group, are too ideologically stupid to be anything other than ignorant, intolerant and narrow minded. However, of late ignorant, intolerant and narrow minded has gone mainstream in the Democratic party. For example, you have these morons claiming in the name of tolerance you cannot have pluralism. And for another, more distressing, example you have the main streaming of anti-Semitism called BDS:


What is particularly scary about this state of affairs is there seems to be no dissent from these positions in the entire Democratic party. In fact the Democratic party seems more monolithic about, well, everything than it has been since the 1860's. To be left of center in America increasingly means living in a monoculture where different ideas and ways of life are viewed as being anathema to every tenet of common human decency. Indeed you would be hard pressed to find an example of a mainstream Democratic writer who even pays lip service to the idea that one can disagree with a Democratic party policy and NOT be morally bankrupt. However, in the increasingly Orwellian newspeak of the Democratic hegemony intolerance is branded tolerance, moral zealotry is called open mindedness, and intellectual chicanery is called scholarship. I call myself frightened.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

The New York Dumb Times

I have often lamented that we live in an era of degraded journalism. Journalists of today are less independent, less articulate, less well read, and less intelligent than journalists of decades past. The depth of their deficiencies comes to the forefront when you read, frankly, garbage like the following from the editorial board of the New York Times:
The Supreme Court’s deeply dismaying decision on Monday in the Hobby Lobby case swept aside accepted principles of corporate law and religious liberty to grant owners of closely held, for-profit companies an unprecedented right to impose their religious views on employees. It was the first time the court has allowed commercial business owners to deny employees a federal benefit to which they are entitled by law based on the owners’ religious beliefs, and it was a radical departure from the court’s history of resisting claims for religious exemptions from neutral laws of general applicability when the exemptions would hurt other people.
For starters, in what way does Hobby Lobby not paying for abortifacients "impose their religious beliefs" on anyone? Here is the answer: it doesn't. Hobby Lobby employees are free to spend all their spare time taking abortifacients if that is what floats their boat. They just have to pay for them. Secondly, a mandate is NOT a "federal benefit." If the federal government wants to provide cheap abortifacients to people they can fund a program to do so, if they can get the votes. The moment you require a private party to provide something via a mandate you automatically have the possibility of running against other rights. The idea that the you can make Hobby Lobby or any other private company or organization a de facto arm of the government that is forced to give up ANY constitutional protections by issuing of governmental mandates is simple nonsense. (It wouldn't be in a fascist or communist system, but we don't live in either of those... unless Justice Ginsburg has her way of course.) "The full implications of the decision, which ruled in favor of employers who do not want to include contraceptive care in their company health plans, as required by the Affordable Care Act, will not be known for some time." Of course this isn't what this case was about. None of the three companies involved claimed a right to not cover all contraceptives, nor did the Supreme Court assert any such thing. This is a product of the over-heated imaginations of the chronically stupid and insipid. And, indeed, if you are unfortunate enough to read the rest of the Times' editorial, and you have a functioning brain, you will be left saying three things: 1) What the hell are they blathering on about? 2) I wonder what color the sky is in their world? And 3) When did real journalism die?