Total Destruction The Only Solution
Post #1911 • February 16, 2022, 2:38 PM • 2 Comments
Bob Marley, Real Situation:
Give them an inch, they take a yard
Give them a yard, they take a mile
Once a man and twice a child
And everything is just for a while
Well, it seems like: total destruction the only solution
And there aren't no use: no one can stop them now
Ain't no use: nobody can stop them now
Scott Yenor, The Terminally Ill Academy:
Free speech is compromised and perhaps dying in plain sight. This is a familiar point, but we sometimes fail to see what lies behind the decline of free speech. A larger culture of homogeneity and suppression is flowing from the universities into American culture more broadly. Successful tyrannies in the modern world work spiritually rather than through force. They remove, as Allan Bloom wrote decades ago, “the awareness of other possibilities” and prevent “the presence of alternative thoughts.” Cramped, constrained thoughts lead to cramped, constrained discourse, and this is what we’re seeing in America today.
Nowhere is this tyranny more advanced than on college campuses. Ilana Redstone and John Villasenor, a sociologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a professor of engineering at UCLA respectively, describe the tyrannical ecosystem now governing university life in their fine book Unassailable Ideas: How Unwritten Rules and Social Media Shape Discourse in American Higher Education. Their recommended solution is for universities to recommit themselves to free speech norms. They exhort professors to read more John Stuart Mill and teach diverse opinions, but our authors give too little thought to the possibility that there are not enough ears on campus to hear....
There has to be a backup plan reflecting a more realistic assessment of the problem. Any solution must alter cultural incentives. John Ellis suggests that cultural incentives will change only if the universities themselves are defunded. Such actions require a much greater change in the broader political ecosystem of which the university is a part. What salutary effects would flow from legislatures recognizing that a public university that engages in this kind of repression is not serving the public good? Universities have a systemic problem, as our authors have demonstrated. Systemic restructuring will have to come from outside, in the form of political action.
Vinay Prasad, How the CDC Abandoned Science:
The main federal agency guiding America’s pandemic policy is the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which sets widely adopted policies on masking, vaccination, distancing, and other mitigation efforts to slow the spread of COVID and ensure the virus is less morbid when it leads to infection. The CDC is, in part, a scientific agency—they use facts and principles of science to guide policy—but they are also fundamentally a political agency: The director is appointed by the president of the United States, and the CDC’s guidance often balances public health and welfare with other priorities of the executive branch.
Throughout this pandemic, the CDC has been a poor steward of that balance, pushing a series of scientific results that are severely deficient. This research is plagued with classic errors and biases, and does not support the press-released conclusions that often follow. In all cases, the papers are uniquely timed to further political goals and objectives; as such, these papers appear more as propaganda than as science. The CDC’s use of this technique has severely damaged their reputation and helped lead to a growing divide in trust in science by political party. Science now risks entering a death spiral in which it will increasingly fragment into subsidiary verticals of political parties. As a society, we cannot afford to allow this to occur. Impartial, honest appraisal is needed now more than ever, but it is unclear how we can achieve it.
Nicholas Wade, End Merit As We Know It:
The best way to understand a society, social anthropologists say, is to start by studying its most bizarre, irrational, and self-defeating practice. If you can figure that out, everything else in the culture begins to make more sense.
In that light, consider President Biden’s firing of his top science advisor, Eric Lander. Lander was engaged in launching a $7.5 billion research agency to apply novel genomic methods to the treatment and reversal of cancer. At a White House press conference on February 2, the president called the agency “a central effort of the Biden-Harris administration.” Its aim, he said, was “to cut the cancer death rate in half in the next 25 years” and with this and other steps “to end cancer as we know it.”
In Lander, the president had an unusually well-qualified executive. Though trained as a mathematician, not a biologist, Lander has built the Broad Institute in Cambridge into a leading research group that has pioneered advanced genomic techniques. He had the special knowledge and managerial competence required to execute Biden’s ambitious anti-cancer program. Yet on February 7, a mere five days after Biden called for halving cancer deaths, Lander was forced to resign over a second-order management issue: that he had treated some of his female staff harshly.
Given all that Lander might have accomplished toward defeating cancer, why would Biden fire him over something so trivial in comparison? The reason has to do with the increasingly vicious tribalization of American politics....
The White House is now searching for a new science advisor to replace Lander and resume the task of launching Biden’s anti-cancer moonshot. The top two candidates, according to Politico, are—you guessed it—women. Alondra Nelson is a sociologist specializing in racial issues. This kind of expertise, unfortunately, gives her zero qualification to understand cancer immunogenetics, select genomic approaches with clinical promise, or indeed to deal with any other of the many technical issues that cross the science advisor’s desk.
A kind thing that could be said about the other top candidate, Jane Lubchenco, a marine biologist, is that she is ethically challenged. Tasked last year by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences with assigning reviewers for a submitted paper, she neglected to inform the editors that one of the authors was her brother-in-law and that she had co-published papers with him and other authors on overlapping subjects. Both omissions violated the journal’s guidelines. After the high-visibility paper was published, it was found to contain such serious errors that the authors had to withdraw it.
David Rieff, Studies in a Dying Culture #1:
[In] fifty years it is likely that these culture wars will seem like the last spasms of a fish flapping desperately in its last moments on the deck of a fishing trawler than it will the existential ideological and ethical conflict it so often appears to be today. Let us for once be honest: what is on offer in terms of contemporary culture on both sides of the Woke/anti-Woke battle line today is a penumbral shadow of the culture of the past. This is not to say that there are not people of talent in both camps. But if we are being rigorous, it is simply a fact to say that the greatest days of Western culture are behind it. There is nothing unusual in this. Cultures and civilizations are as mortal as human beings. The great Renaissance historical and politician Guicciardini says somewhere that a citizen must not mourn the decline of their city. All cities decline, he writes. If there is anything to mourn it is that it has been one’s unhappy fate to be born when one’s city is in decline.
A lover of high culture should nonetheless be clear-eyed about the quality of what is being produced today. At its best, it is good, not great. But a believer in the great Woke cultural revolution should be equally clear-eyed: the fantasy that culture can be largely representation of the historical unrepresented or that testimony is art is a consoling fiction. In some ways, the Woke fantasy is a kind of infernal mix of Blake and Mao Tse Tung: the cult of experience fused with the cult of cultural revolution. At its worst, Woke culture is just Western fantasies about the authenticity and nobility of the tribal and the premodern, this in a time when racial identity has never been more in flux, and the intermingling of the races more and more the norm... But the Woke and the “anti-racist” are tying themselves to the mast of an essentialist understanding of identity just as it is vanishing into air.
Micah Mattix, The Decline of the Met:
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has struggled recently. In 2016, it was facing an $8 million deficit. In 2018, it gave up on its plan to renovate the Breuer building and instead agreed to turn its lease over to the Frick to save money. The Breuer was supposed to be the Met’s big play to rebrand itself as a museum of contemporary art, not just Old Masters, but the shows it organized at the Breuer were overspent and underattended. Despite “critical successes,” ARTnews reported at the time, “attendance remained relatively low.” In 2020, it drew on its endowment to cover expenses (and laid off over 80 employees), and last year, it sold some of its art to help cover its $150 million shortfall. The sale generated less than $1 million.
It has been a tough couple of years for museums, but the Met’s problems started before the pandemic. The Met’s CEO, Daniel Weiss, and its director, Max Hollein, joined the museum in 2017 and 2018 respectively. Last year, Brian Allen complained about Hollein’s incoherent shows: “...After three years at the Met, Hollein, at least to me, seems a good salesman and showman who knows contemporary art best. He’s never been a curator, though. I see almost all the Met’s exhibitions. Most of the big ones — Alice Neel, the Medici show, the last two big Costume Institute shows, and the 150th-anniversary show come to mind — suffered from incoherence and aimlessness, each to a different degree. Token PC points are awkwardly squeezed into narratives that are otherwise shopworn. I can see in each a failure in quality control, in scholarly rigor, of the kind a director prescribes. Neither quality control nor scholarly rigor is a ruling concern in the contemporary art world, I think."
Heather Mac Donald writes in the latest issue of City Journal that the Met’s decision to focus on race ruins almost everything they do....
Heather Mac Donald, Distort the Present, Rewrite the Past:
What such a political mandate means for an art museum may seem puzzling, but two exhibits currently running at the Met provide an answer. They suggest that the museum will now value racial consciousness-raising over scholarship and historical accuracy. Double standards will govern how the museum analyzes Western and Third World art: only the former will be subject to the demystification treatment, while the latter will be accorded infinite curatorial respect. The Met will lay bare European art’s alleged complicity in the West’s legacy of oppression, while Third World violence and inequality will be chastely kept off stage....
“Still life paintings pictured the bounty provided by newly established Dutch trade routes and the Republic’s economic success, while omitting the human cost of colonial warfare and slavery,” the accompanying wall text points out. The curators [of “In Praise of Painting: Dutch Masterpieces at The Met”] do not reveal how a still life painter should portray the “human cost of colonial warfare and slavery.” As even the curators admit, a still life by definition focuses on “things without people.” The Dutch masters, who brought the nascent genre to peak gorgeousness, may have delighted in the dragon-fly translucence of grapes and the somber radiance of silver and cut glass; they may have taught us to see beauty in a kitchen’s bounty. Not good enough. They should have anticipated twenty-first-century concerns about racial justice and revised their subject matter accordingly....
Having been instructed to see oppression behind portraiture and to hear silenced voices in tableaux of oysters and lemons, the chastened Met visitor may wend his way to “The African Origin of Civilization,” another show drawn from the Met’s own collections. He will find himself back in a world of prelapsarian innocence, where art, if not the collecting of it, is unencumbered by a debunking impulse and where the culture that gave rise to that art is accepted on its own terms, not measured against present values....
New York Times art critic Holland Cotter adopted the Met’s conceit regarding women’s equality in Africa in his rave review of the “African Origin” exhibition. The male-female carving from Mali balances out “gender-based hierarchies of size,” Cotter claims approvingly. In the Egyptian pair, the male is a “head taller than his mate,” whereas in the African carving the “figures are almost equal in height and their features matched with delicate, near-mathematical precision.” (The curators’ mathematical equation imagery has proven infectious.) Cotter even marvels at the mathematical precision with which the “attributes that define” the Malian couple’s roles in life are carved—the “arrows on the man’s back and a baby on the woman’s back.” Had someone suggested that Western females were defined by childbearing, the cries of “patriarchy” would be deafening. Yet sex-based role definition was more implacable in African tribal societies; there likely were no female wood carvers in the seventeenth century whose works the Met’s founders could have collected.
Mark Hemingway, News for the Elite:
[Batya] Ungar-Sargon introduces the book [Bad News: How Woke Media is Undermining Democracy] with a number of anecdotes and observations about the media’s current fealty to wokeism, which is astutely defined as a kind of left-wing prestidigitation. By swapping class concerns for narrower and politically correct concerns of race, this allows major media to preserve their existing business models—which hinge on catering to increasingly smaller and wealthier audiences and advertisers—while still keeping up the self-serving illusion that elite media are holding power to account rather than catering to the ruling class.
Once you acknowledge the truth of this observation, the contradiction is everywhere you look. “T magazine, the fashion magazine of the New York Times, recently showcased Angela Davis on the front cover and an ad for a Cartier watch on the back cover; these are not in tension with each other, but rather two sides of the same coin,” Ungar-Sargon dryly notes.
But the hypocrisy isn’t merely a matter of unfortunate juxtaposition. Who the media establishment ultimately serves has a profound impact on how newsrooms go about addressing fundamental questions. Instead of presenting real solutions that require reporting uncomfortable truths, woke media frames the issue so that any changes to the system don’t threaten existing liberal power structures. We only see performative posturing designed to assuage elite guilt. According to Ungar-Sargon, this explains the media’s current obsession with race—it’s a way for the media, and the wealthy white liberals whose priorities they most reflect, to not have to explain, let alone do something, about economic inequality. “A moral panic around race was the perfect solution: It took the guilt that they should have felt around their economic good fortune and political power—which they could have shared with the less fortunate had they cared to—and displaced it onto their whiteness, an immutable characteristic that they could do absolutely nothing to change,” she writes.
In August 2020, Martin Herbert penned what I thought at the time was a brave observation to make at ArtReview (emphasis mine):
[A]lthough my judgment may be warped by exposure to the malcontents on Art Twitter, I’m not detecting much excitement about the artworld starting up again, in any fashion, beyond the fundamental and substantial fact that a lot of people are hurting financially. Has it, conversely, felt like a tragedy that we couldn’t see what artists are doing next? Not really. I suspect most people have a good idea of what artists are going to do next, with (again) honourable exceptions: something somebody already did, with a twist. It’s not enough, either, to divert one’s interest onto shenanigans like big galleries merging and consolidating; I really don’t want to have to give a shit about that, significant though it is in its way, just because there’s nothing else to look at. But that was somewhat the case before the shutdown. In this sense, as it has done with so many other things, the pandemic has only illuminated what was already awry. Any potential reconstruction, at whatever scale, has to take that into account: the artworld has lately gotten very good at perpetual motion, and meanwhile forgotten about traction.
The following October I discovered that Herbert had penned another essay that evinced enormous indebtedness to something I had written the previous April. Talk about something somebody already did, with a twist. (Twist harder next time, Martin.)
It seems that just about everywhere I look these days, the sense-making apparatuses—the expert classes in government and academia, the museums, the media, you name it—are breaking down. Maintainers of those apparatuses are trying to baling-wire them back together by allowing their activist members to make feel-good policy decisions. (At least the policies feel good to them.) Those decisions promote diversity desiderata but do nothing to address the real threats to the machines. That degrades their performance still further and the cycle repeats.
And where is the resistance? Marginalized or spent or both. Pockets of the faithful may yet survive in said margins. But that's the best they can do, as the engines seize and melt.
I don't see how this resolves except through collapse. That kind of pessimism is usually a bad bet. Predictions of peak oil, the popping of the higher-education bubble, human-induced climate catastrophe, the Rapture, etc. have a decades- or centuries-long success rate of zero. A joke about libertarian economists is that they have predicted 400 of the last three recessions.
So I generally try not to let myself get carried away. The present era feels different. Our nominal leaders have the scruples, foresight, and gravitas of toddlers.
Once a man and twice a child
And everything is just for a while
The current poster girl for this phenomenon is Boston's new mayor, who recently just got wrecked on Instagram Live. She is apparently unaware that she is widely (and in my opinion, rightly) seen as a tyrant, or that Instagram Live is not an appropriate platform for serious adults. The comments filled up with mockery and damnation, and she responded with all the poise and insight of a humiliated high-school class president.
It seems impossible to get anything important done without an insulating layer of humbug. The Portland Museum of Art is launching an $85 million expansion campaign, and has this to say for it (double emphases in original):
The Portland Museum of Art is about to fundamentally change Maine.
In a region traditionally renowned for its natural beauty and cuisine, the PMA has a new vision defined by arts, culture, equity, and sustainability. To get there will require innovative thinking that goes “beyond the brick,” and into the very nature of what a museum can be.
We believe the museum can transcend convention and redefine the quintessential Maine experience. We understand that the PMA, through investment in art and the facilities that bring that art to the public, can initiate a transformative new chapter for our region, one defined by growth and prosperity. And we know the time is now to embark on this profound and permanent shift forward.
Any more baloney and the museum will be able to open its own delicatessen. Did regular Mainers ask the PMA to "fundamentally change Maine" or "redefine the quintessential Maine experience"? Because the last time I wrote about the PMA, they were doing to N.C. Wyeth what the Met just did to Dutch painting, but with more ad hominem. I wouldn't trust this institution to tie my shoes unprejudicially, to say nothing of its terraforming Maine into a paradise for empty suits.
I wish I had more of a conclusion here, except that it's time to shorten your supply chains and learn to pray. I think the near-term future could be quite difficult for everyone, some people deservedly, many of them not.