Creativity, Curiosity, and Political Philosophy

Roger Kimball was struck by a news story noting that while Bernie Sanders spent his honeymoon in the Soviet Union, he never made any attempt to visit the dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn in Vermont.

“Some comments about that story attribute Mr. Sanders’s negligence to ideology, as if he, being a fan of the Soviet Union, made a silent protest by ignoring the famous anti-Soviet figure in his midst. But I think the deeper reason for his neglect was a quality of the socialist or communist or revolutionary sensibility that is too little remarked. I mean its ingrained, indeed its programmatic, lack of curiosity about other people.

The philosopher Sir Roger Scruton, in a thoughtful anatomy of the French Revolution, is one of the few people to underscore this feature of the totalitarian habit of mind. “This absence of curiosity,” Mr. Scruton notes, “is a permanent characteristic of the revolutionary consciousness.””

Read the whole thing.

Richard Fernandez has related thoughts dealing with uncertainty and the future.

“From the point of view of information theory, the future is an alien signal. But unlike the characters in the movie, the Chinese, Russian, European, and American elites are unwilling to start at a point of maximum entropy. Rather, they want to control the future and load the dice by constraining it with their legacy theories. That is because the Woke, EU, Chinese Communist Party, and the Kremlin are convinced they already know the future and the only difficulty is in getting the recalcitrant deplorables to go along.”

Fernandez makes the important point that “Real discovery consists not in what is forgotten or predicted, but in coming upon the never imagined.”

There is no place for the watchmaker among the gears of the watch.

8 thoughts on “Creativity, Curiosity, and Political Philosophy”

  1. But I think the deeper reason for his neglect was a quality of the socialist or communist or revolutionary sensibility that is too little remarked. I mean its ingrained, indeed its programmatic, lack of curiosity about other people.

    Leftists in Berkeley used to natter on incessantly about The People, by which they meant people like themselves, i.e., malodorous misfits. They should go to a Wal-Mart, where they will actually see The People, whom they hold in unalloyed disdain.

  2. Discussing Creativity and Political Philosophy, I would like to recommend this Steve Sailor essay on an America that never had slavery.

    It is a useful antidote to the malicious NYTimes 1619 project, which has facts wrong and the whole thing is ma white hating exercise in tribal politics.

    And without slavery to impose an aristocratic tone on Southern society, mechanically ingenious southrons would likely have made better use of their abundant natural resources, such as waterpower. In our world, unfortunately, although the South had the tallest mountains in the eastern United States, it developed far fewer water-powered mills than did the North. Physicist Gregory Cochran estimates that by 1840 the enterprising North enjoyed about eight times as much horsepower from water wheels as the South possessed in slaves.

    It’s an interesting POV you will not see in mainstream sources.

  3. There were some attempts at industrialization in the pre-Civil-War South…William Gregg, in particular, was a big advocate for developing industry and did create one large and successful cotton mill. But few among the planter class were interested in following his lead…industry was felt to lack the “aristocratic tone” that Sailor mentioned; also, skilled workers for Europe and the North were generally not interested in settling in a slave society (although climate was probably a factor as well)

    Re the calculation about waterwheel horsepower versus slave horsepower: Circa 1900, a young GE PR man approached GE’s great scientist Charles Steinmetz with a problem: how could he get good press coverage for the 60,000 KW turbine generator that GE had just sold to some utility?…the PR guy accurately realized that the transaction would get maybe one paragraph on the financial pages, as opposed to the front-page coverage his boss was expecting. Any ideas, Dr Steinmetz?

    Steinmetz picked up a pencil and did a little calculating…and quickly determined that this one rotating machine could do as much physical work as 5.4 million men. The slave population in the US on the eve of the Civil War had been 4.7 million. To the young PR man, Steinmetz said: “I suggest you send out a story that says we are building a single machine that, through the miracle of electricity, will each day do more work than the combined slave population of the nation at the time of the Civil War.”

    Apparently worked, in terms of coverage. Not a totally fair comparison, because slaves could do a lot of work that pure mechanical power could not, from cotton picking to boatbuilding. Still, directionally correct.

    Of Energy and Slavery:

  4. If Albion’s Seed is accurate in its description of Virginia, the “aristocratic tone” was a design feature, and the logic of its hierarchy demanded a lowest caste. I suspect it would have been some kind of slavery. If not black, maybe Irish. That would have played out very differently, of course, since there wouldn’t have been such obvious distinctions and white slaves would have had more ways to better themselves.

  5. Edmund Morgan makes that argument about southern culture (America Slavery American Freedom). He argues southerners didn’t really start using African slaves until lifespans among southerners were long enough to make them more economically viable than indentured servants, whose death meant plantation owners were only out passage money.

    One of the most striking characteristics of the progressive or woke mindset is its basis in stasis – this is true of their sense that climate change is necessarily a disaster, their belief that man is “bad code” or as Denis Dutton put it, made of cheap fiberboard, unredeemable and generally more needy than productive. (I still miss Dutton.) Most of all they seem to see man as unreliable, needing constant discipline – less an inventive mind setting to work capable hands and more a mouth needing to be fed. I always figure out there is some engineer or guy handy at things who’ll find a way; perhaps human history over the long haul does teach us much won’t be changed (we’ll still sin, we’ll still feel as Oedipus or Moses did) but the last few centuries can teach us that man can meet challenges in this world and find solutions; also, well, Pinker’s right, we are less likely to kill one another. Civilization may be a thin skin but it can be grown and protect us.

    I found myself increasingly optimistic the more I was around conservatives, always aware of man’s fallibility but also aware of his creativity and ability at times to transcend. That kind of transcendence in the hands of conservative Christians was beautiful and intense, but listening to someone like Rush Limbaugh who speaks of the great potential that conservatives see in others, in the great crowds of people, it is ebullient and cheerful. I also think both of these perspectives are truer than those that want a static order that is likely to cut off the flowers that grow taller – or grow differently. I suspect that is why Limbaugh is capable of complaining about the worship of death (and abortion) that religious people see in apocalyptic terms but that someone that simply gets a kick out of expressions of human energy expressed in so mant ways also finds appalling.

    If anyone has any doubts about what the systems the Democrats want applied to America is evil, then listen to the Hoover interviews with Stephen Kotkin,
    for instance . I can’t imagine throwing away the basics of our legal order, either. And that is where you get someone so resistant to challenge – or so complacent as not to want to hear from as great a voice as Solzhenitsyn. If you think you are on the right side of history, questions don’t arise, perhaps. Though I suspect it is an attempt to stay blindered because so much of human experience indicates the Duttons of the world are right and the Bernie Sanders (and Obamas) not.

    Sorry this is overlong but this whole celebration of death – and desire to throw away the basics (sometimes the Democrats seem to want to throw away property rights – which our founders seemed to see as such a given they didn’t need to note it) has really been getting to me.

  6. Ginny…”If you think you are on the right side of history, questions don’t arise, perhaps.”

    Arthur Koestler, himself a former Communist, wrote about intellectually closed systems:

    A closed sysem has three peculiarities. Firstly, it claims to represent a truth of universal validity, capable of explaining all phenomena, and to have a cure for all that ails man. In the second place, it is a system which cannot be refuted by evidence, because all potentially damaging data are automatically processed and reinterpreted to make them fit the expected pattern. The processing is done by sophisticated methods of causistry, centered on axioms of great emotive power, and indifferent to the rules of common logic; it is a kind of Wonderland croquet, played with mobile hoops. In the third place, it is a system which invalidates criticism by shifting the argument to the subjective motivation of the critic, and deducing his motivation from the axioms of the system itself. The orthodox Freudian school in its early stages approximated a closed system; if you argued that for such and such reasons you doubted the existence of the so-called castration complex, the Freudian’s prompt answer was that your argument betrayed an unconscious resistance indicating that you ourself have a castration complex; you were caught in a vicious circle. Similarly, if you argued with a Stalinist that to make a pact with Hitler was not a nice thing to do he would explain that your bourgeois class-consciousness made you unable to understand the dialectics of history…In short, the closed system excludes the possibility of objective argument by two related proceedings: (a) facts are deprived of their value as evidence by scholastic processing; (b) objections are invalidated by shifting the argument to the personal motive behind the objection. This procedure is legitimate according to the closed system’s rules of the game which, however absurd they seem to the outsider, have a great coherence and inner consistency.

    The atmosphere inside the closed system is highly charged; it is an emoional hothouse…The trained, “closed-minded” theologian, psychoanalyst, or Marxist can at any time make mincemeat of his “open-minded” adversary and thus prove the superiority of his system to the world and to himself.

    “Wokeness” is not a very coherent intellectual system, but its adherents seem to demonstrate much of the closed-system behavior which Koestler described.

  7. Good post and good comments. I had not thought of the leftist character in terms of the curiosity factor before. As I work entirely among liberals, I can give assent to the idea that they are MOSTLY not very curious. My qualifiers would be that I know some who are curious, and it may also be that not much of anyone is all that curious, so that leftists are not that different. Commenters on sites such as this one are not a fair sample of the bulk of humanity, after all.

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