Tuesday, May 25

Bible Studies

David Brooks, "I Don't Think I've Lectured On Burke This Month". May 24

Mitch "The Dealer Is Standing" Daniels, Commencement speech at Franklin College. May 22

DUNNO how it is in your neighborhood, but around here if someone begins a sentence "When I was in college I took a course in…" and the course in question was not some practical or technical instruction (ceramics, glass-blowing, accounting), and the observation which follows does not merely affirm, or perhaps modify, some general banality ("and it's pronounced 'kill'"; "and math is hard"), then the one thing you are about to learn--have already learned--is that the speaker doesn't know what th' fuck he's talking about.
When I was in college I took a course in the Enlightenment. In those days, when people spoke of the Enlightenment, they usually meant the French Enlightenment — thinkers like Descartes, Rousseau, Voltaire and Condorcet.

"Whereas nowadays, when people say 'Enlightenment' they usually mean 'enlightenment.com'. Where you get Big Ideas for less!"
These were philosophers who confronted a world of superstition and feudalism and sought to expose it to the clarifying light of reason. Inspired by the scientific revolution, they had great faith in the power of individual reason to detect error and logically arrive at universal truth.

Their great model was Descartes. He aimed to begin human understanding anew. He’d discard the accumulated prejudices of the past and build from the ground up, erecting one logical certainty upon another.

What Descartes was doing for knowledge, others would do for politics: sweep away the old precedents and write new constitutions based on reason. This was the aim of the French Revolution.

Marge: I can give piano lessons!

Lisa: But mom, you can't play the piano.

Marge: I only have to stay one step ahead of the kid.
But there wasn’t just one Enlightenment, headquartered in France. There was another, headquartered in Scotland and Britain and led by David Hume, Adam Smith and Edmund Burke.

So John Locke doesn't make the cut, just so you can squeeze in Smith and Burke? Or did we skip a lesson?
As Gertrude Himmelfarb wrote...

Sorry. Just clearing my throat.
in her 2004 book, “The Roads to Modernity,” if the members of the French Enlightenment focused on the power of reason, members of the British Enlightenment emphasized its limits.

Lemme just ask a question, here; maybe we've covered this before. But th' fuck are American "conservatives" so intent upon this stuff? It's not like they discovered it or something. It isn't like Burke is a towering presence whose pamphleteering caused the earth to tremble. It's not like Adam Smith debunked Marx before he was even born. Hume's a titan, to be sure, but he's not exactly Hayek in a powdered wig. If he were he wouldn't be a titan. None of these fellows is anything like the one-dimensional oracle of Man's Imperfectability, So Let's Take It Slow, Boys his self-described intellectual descendants keep insisting on.

And what if they were? Maybe it would be a good idea to take a second course in the Enlightenment, the one that explained something about history as a competition of Ideas, not a menu from which you're supposed to pick your Rotisserie League philosopher squad. I don't understand whom it is this is supposed to impress, or gull, excepting maybe people who've volunteered to have it hurled at them from a pulpit. I don't think Man is Perfectible, either, at least to the extent I'd ever think about such a silly notion, and I'm unclear what, if anything, that's supposed to tell me about NAFTA, offshore drilling, or the Iraq war. And I sure don't see how this awe-inspiring principle has informed American "conservatism" for the better. I don't believe in social justice, or a strong social safety net, because I believe it's going to perfect people. (And what kind of a fool Indian would say a thing like that?) I believe in those things because a lot of imperfectible shits have hereditary control over the distribution of basic human services, and they're imperfectibly willingly to watch other people starve, drown, or bleed to death unless they're paid up front to do otherwise.

Look, you wanna get all dressed up in period costume before you jerk off, it's all the same to me. Go ahead and strangle yourself, while you're at it. Let's just see the game for what it is, is all I'm sayin'.

Speaking of our natural aristocracy and its bogus philosophizing, Indiana Governor Mitch "2012" Daniels recently gave the commencement address at Franklin College, and I swear to God these are the fifth through tenth paragraphs:

These days we hear constantly about luck on a grand scale. The most recent Powerball winner, a convenience store clerk from Marshall, Missouri, won $258 million dollars. Don't you often wonder what happens to these lucky people? Not everyone knows how to handle luck that good.

I heard about a Hoosier Lottery winner of many millions who turned up dead broke a couple years later. When a reporter asked him how this happened, he said "Well, I spent the first half on liquor and loose women. And, to be perfectly honest, I wasted the rest."

That one's made up, of course, but this does happen in real life, and it's no joking matter. Mack Metcalf, a 42-year-old forklift operator from Kentucky, won $65 million back in 2000. He was dead three years later, his millions dissipated on frivolities and his life dissipated on alcohol. Looking back, it's hard to call him "lucky."

A current lawsuit making its way through Indiana courts caught my eye. In Donovan v. Grand Victoria, plaintiff Thomas Donovan is protesting the practice of Indiana casinos in refusing to permit card counters to play at their blackjack tables. Donovan's sin in the casino's eyes is not that he is inordinately lucky, it's that he's inordinately smart. He has taught himself to count the cards as they are played, then constantly and quickly to calculate the odds on his winning the next hand. In a game where luck still plays a large part, Donovan has through hard work learned to improve his chances.

Around the country, most courts have allowed the casinos to throw the counters out. But the world is not a big casino. We can't banish luck from our lives, but we can all be card counters, who take actions and decisions that move the mathematics of life to our side of the table.

I've never met a card counter. The closest I've knowingly come was watching the movie "21", about the MIT students and their raid on Las Vegas. But what's clear is there's nothing sentimental about what they do; it's all about the numbers, and the data, and it's serious business.

Yes, The Brain not only used the opening portion of a commencement address to make his first public comment about a card-counting lawsuit recently filed in Indiana, but to oppose property rights into the bargain.

Now, don't get me wrong; I think card-counting, absent the use of any mechanical device, should be legal, and for the same reason denial of health insurance over pre-existing conditions should be illegal: the law already allows you to rig the system for profit; it shouldn't, on top of that, allow you to refuse to do business when that profit's not to your liking.

What I don't understand is why Mitch Daniels thinks so. I mean, I'm not the one going around telling everybody that the Market takes care of all things if we just sit back, close our eyes, and let go of the wheel. Th' fuck's Hard Work got to do with it? Man had no concern about the Hard Work the (hourly) folks at Delco-Remy put in, or the sort of wisdom involved in organizing for better working conditions.

Of course, this is Indiana, where Big Brewing, in-state liquor distributors, and fireworks peddlers have already established What We Are, so that now we're just Haggling Over the Price; come Monday the Bantam Menace was quick to announce he "had no plans" to ask the state gaming commission to step in. Which just means he's obeying an even higher principle: that if you can't reach the wallet, you might see if kicking 'em in the balls gets their attention.


Kathy said...

I took a philosophy course in college, and one of the first things I learned was, if I was having trouble sleeping, any one of my philosophy textbooks would put me to sleep in less than 15 minutes.

R. Porrofatto said...

Himmelfarb (wife of Irving Kristol, mother of William) is usually pimping Victorian "virtues," so I was guessing this attempt to "reclaim" the Enlightenment from the French and infuse it with that ol' time religion was just another means to that end. But I gather her ultimate goal is to proclaim the Himmelfarb de-frenchified Enlightenment "alive and well in America today" by dint of our exceeding religiosity and virtuous laissez faire economy. And what is the shining example of America's carrying of the Enlightenment torch?
Wait for it..............
Compassionate conservatism.
I shit you not. It's no wonder Brooks is such a fan.

Which makes your Daniels juxtaposition even funnier. Gee, life-lessons at the casino. For his next commencement, Daniels' inspiring topic will be "you get what you pay for," illustrating this principle with the modern brothel. Oh wait, Spitzer already gave that one.

Christopher said...

"That something has existed for ages tells us nothing about its value."

Okay, this is self-evidently true. Hell, this has to be true to support the assertion that man is imperfect, since our imperfection stretches back into the dim past, making sin one of our oldest institutions.

But somehow I doubt Burke was out there saying, "Murder has been around for millennia! You can't just abolish it with a wave of your hand! We need to realize that there might be some necessity in an institution that has survived for so long."

So what are we supposed to take away from Brooks' column?

Every one of his columns should have a notice in bold letters saying "The following is a paid advertisement for the Republican Party".


"Was our founding a radical departure or an act of preservation?"

I want to see Brooks try to keep a straight face while asking that question to a Native American.

BillCinSD said...

you don't pick your philosopher's for a Rotisserie league, when there's soccer to e played


Nobby Hegel FTW

The Sailor said...

Republicans, hmmph, always putting Descartes before Der Horst.

Sator Arepo said...

"Not everyone knows how to handle luck that good."


"Burden of privilege...so...heavy. Must...carry on...what? No, I don't need help carrying it. It's hard, see? Hey! Get your hands off my fucking money!"

PS: @ The Sailor: well played.

Unknown said...

Ballet skirt? Wh...wh...wh...why was he wearing a ballet skirt?

jaye said...

Locke was from Britain least we think the French were the radicals.

I still hate Brooks.