Ten or twelve life-changing books: #11

11. 1994 The Vanderbilt Agrarians, I’ll take my Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition [1930]

The delay in writing this piece on life-changing book #11 is that I wanted to go back and skim and the book for concrete ideas and have found it hard to do so. Instead, I will try to describe in broad strokes a vision of the world that has blossomed and ramified from the roots laid by the book.

What makes the book powerful is that each of the dozen authors is a high-quality intellectual, and each approaches a separate aspect of culture, whether it be history, literature, sociology, or fiction, but all to the end of a common thesis: that unchecked yankee industrialism is ruining our quality of life.

The starting point is that a people must be rooted in the land. For growing food, yes, but much more than that. There is a whole aesthetic of human relations, architecture, relation to animals, and daily life that is tied up with living close to the land.

There is a place for towns, provided these are not just places to jam bedroom developments. Towns must have a townish basis, but this should include the cross-hatch of agriculture markets and services.

I am sort of a city-boy myself, and I have adapted the agrarian vision to include cities. The mindless capitalist industrialization that these authors warn about has eaten up the cities as well. It used to be that every town and city in America had a unique, local stamp. This was partly due to the geographic layout — the physical location of hills, streams, rivers, or coastline —, and partly due to idiosyncracies of free expression — colorful townhouses here, little houses crammed into nooks and crannies and spacious houses on boulevards for the rich folk there, darkness here, gaslamps there, brick emphasis here, wood there. Nature and Nurture. There was a sharp boundary leaving the town and entering the country. But what do we have now? The country hardly exists properly speaking. The approach to the city is a mindless faceless congeries of corporate restaurants, big-box stores of identical brands, and the McDonalds-BurgerKing-Wendies guantlet that slowly increases in density. What were once estate farms are now crammed with neat, cookie-cutter tract houses and McMansions. There is no ‘there’ there — anywhere.

They say it is economic progress, it is inevitable — but how is it progress? A working man of my grandparents’ generation could buy a snug brick house and single-handedly support a wife and four children at home. Who can do that today? And for all that, no has true leisure today. Women do not throw tea parties, and men scarcely have time to meet you at a pub for a relaxed beer. People don’t pursue hobbies. What passes as leisure is largely spent passively consuming garbage on a flickering screen.

People feel it and are resisting. My town has several farmers’ markets; zoning chiefs require “green belts” and organic foods have made a big comeback. As such, these things are commendable, but there is also something affected about it — a kind of yuppy chic permeates even these efforts. It doesn’t go to the root.

Globalism is the external enemy and covetousness the internal one. International banking, the stock market, options, lotteries, and gambling must all be destroyed; but can’t be as long as turning a quick buck is a bigger motivation for our people than family, clan, and folk.

I wish I could say that the gospel is the answer. In one sense it is of course: the relentless stomping out of beauty and grace is a natural concomitent of rejecting God. But zionist dispensationalism in the Christian South has contributed its fair share to the mess. It seems like conservative Christians never see a war they don’t love. Televangelists and mega-churches feed the problem. It is personal salvation, feeling good, and prosperity — where prosperity is defined right in harmony with the thing we are critiquing.

Conversely, it is often the areligious Left that sees the problem I am describing more clearly. Not the leftist Masters, but the dazed street leftists in your local college town.

So yes, “the gospel is the answer,” but some of the questions need to be reformulated before the gospel properly understood can be called an answer.

This is a big subject, indeed, an all-encompassing one. I can’t do it justice in a single essay, and in fact even my brief summary is admittedly painting with a broad brush and lacking nuance. I commend this book as a starting point to begin the discussion, to start thinking about these things.

Frege’s Sinn und Bedeutung: first third

This essay by Gottlob Frege (1848-1925) was published in 1892 in the journal Zeitschrift für Philosophie und philosophische Kritik, pp. 25-50. Dealing with the “philosophy of language,” it discusses the distinction that should be made between the sense and reference (hence: the title of the essay) of linguistic expressions.

It will be helpful to have the essay in hand to follow our discussion with maximum profit. It is available in more than one English-translation editions. Our discussion here covers the pages corresponding to pp. 25-31 of the original.

A Brief Critique of Non-Cognitivism (Ayer’s Version)

A. J. Ayer’s view of ethical judgments, often dubbed “emotivism,” is that ethical statements are neither true nor false and therefore are without significance. Behind this stance is his empiricism. In order for a statement to be meaningful, it must lend itself to some sort of verification. Without any possible means of verification statements fail to have to express anything. But Ayer does distinguish ethical judgment from other meaningless talk such that of speculative metaphysics or theology in that the former have at least a semblance of meaning since they display the attitude of the speaker toward certain types of actions. When one says, for example, “treason is wicked,” he is, on Ayers view, not uttering a statement with any cognitive content, but is, displaying his strong disapproval of treasonous behavior. Continue reading

Stereotypes

Cretians are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies

One of the few benefits of living in an era of insanity is that it makes the peddlers of the most prosaic and obvious truths appear like sages. The banality I will defend here is that almost every stereotype you have ever heard is true. Continue reading

Gordon Clark on Science

The book entitled The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God expounds Gordon H. Clark’s view of science. The book proceeds by historical survey, and the three chapter divisions divide the history into the ancients, the Newtonians, and the 20th century. Roughly speaking, this corresponds to views of science that we could call rationalist, empirical-determinist, and empirical-indeterminist. Each of these is shown to come up short of the standard Clark has set for what science needs to accomplish Continue reading

Mill’s Refutation of Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism is famous for its many flaws (e.g. committing the naturalistic fallacy, positing a simplistic psychological theory, failing to come to terms with ethical distinctions). All these, and more, have been dealt with extensively elsewhere. Here I merely wish to show that if one of J. S. Mill’s arguments succeeds, then Utilitarianism fails. Continue reading

Nudity in movies

One of our correspondents raised a question about the ethics of nudity in movies in connection with a remark I made in reviewing Dreamlife of Angels. In trying to pen some preliminary thoughts, I soon realized that the topic deserved a thread of its own, both because more needs to be said than is appropriate in a little “comment” box, and also to provide a better stage for our readers to offer additional suggestions on how to address this topic. Here are a few random thoughts to prime the pump: Continue reading