Wednesday, July 02, 2003

"People rarely get pleasure from the discovery of an idea per se. What they feel in the moment of discovery (recognition) is a sudden sense of belonging, or even enfranchisement. Discovery can not be separated from the sensation of discovery. Modernism argues for a transparency of discovery that is not possible. [scientism]"

I wrote those words 16 years ago on the title page of a book. I opened that book today for no particular reason, and the timing was perfect. I won't go into it much; some notes will do. I'm tired and drunk (and back at work.)
I listened to NPR this morning while I was demolishing a kitchen. Listened to an interview of a lawyer/blogger. Sounded like an enthusiastic kid. It was somewhat embarrassing. Then I realized it was Eugene Volokh.

The history of Modernism not as an ideology but as a cultural moment, is the history of attempts to humanize an inhuman situation. From Picasso to Warhol the assumption was that 'modernity' as such was tragic, a system out of control. Indeed all humanist endeavor in the past century has been predicated in one way or another on the need to preserve something that is being destroyed or taken away from us, even as we are the ones who destroy it. From James Joyce to 'The Matrix' it's either loss or the fear of loss that is documented again and again. And that is what the quote above refers to. But against that awareness is what I refer to as the ever optimistic esthetic of 'Neat', not as in tidy but 'cool.' And that is precisely the thing that the above paragraph argues against (by denying its existence.) 'Neat!' is an expression of excitement not at profundity but newness: the inventiveness of preadolescent enthusiasm. And this enthusiasm knows nothing of preservation or of loss. It knows only itself.
I heard this in Eugene Volokh's voice.

Volokh, before the invasion of Iraq, wrote a piece of 'speculative' fiction concerning the costs of our possible inaction, and had it published in National Review Online. As fiction it was uninteresting and as prediction it was wrong. It was enthusiastic and inventive, and ridiculously shallow.

I should go into his comments on the Nike case because they were interesting at various levels, but I'm fading fast.
Simply: A defense of freedom of speech is not a defense of assholes and con men, it is a defense of the notion that silencing them could lead to the silencing of others with something valuable to say. Humanism judges assholes themselves harshly. There is a heavy burden of responsibility, that Volokh, in his immaturity does not understand.
I know it's sloppy, but it's still on target. And I'm gone.

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