Archive | November 2013

An Exhortation of True Work over Homework

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Where thoughts released, to paper, happ’ly fly

From minds of scholars ‘voiding ‘ficial tasks

Great thoughts, which if confined, might rather die

Thus find eternal life in annals vast.

 

Though idle thoughts they are, important not

To any purpose meas’rable by gain

‘Tis better that they gather dust, not rot

Lest wasted would be true work of the brain.

 

What matters, in the end, our daily grind?

Though ‘stuteness in one’s work’s a noble way

“Play well thy part,” recalls the prudent mind

Adhered too far, this dictum wastes away.

 

Indeed, ‘tis true, that usefulness benign

To one’s associations keeps one’s bread

In drudgery, true character we find

Yet on its own, such drudgery’s to dread.

 

Each piece of work, in proper place, must fall

Too little’s such a curse as is too much

And when the precious balance perm’eates all

‘Tis crudely sensitive to slightest touch.

 

But, hear this; when the power of the mind

Is spent ‘pon subjects which push not its growth

Stagnation, degradation dulls its shine

And vigor’s subtly pushed aside by sloth.

 

Therefore, when given options with thy time-

One’s chores and duties, or one’s mindful joys-

First strive for pleasant balance, peaceful rhyme

But if thou’rt forced, erase all static noise!

 

Perhaps ‘tis not a prudent couns’ling here

For often, those who conquer ‘cept the grind

As price of greatness, when to’it they draw near

Thus is the mark of wise, sagacious mind

 

But if thou’d live this life, and live alive!

while ly’ing in bed, some questions should arise:

Didst thou, to-day, live honest with thyself?

Didst thou, today, instead, do otherwise?

 

Art thou content with all thy works today?

Dost thou rest free in conscience, free in soul?

To live alive, there is no other way-

“To thine own self, be true!” the bell doth toll.

 

One day the worms will rest within thy bones

Their offspring chewing ‘pon what meat remains

In some celestial world might live thy soul

‘Ton Earth, thou’ll ‘xist but by fruit of thy brains.

 

Therefore, thy legacy, thou must build now

While God, in splendid mercy, ‘llows thee life

Select, then, for thy monument, what shall

Bring to thy memory fine acc’lades rife!

 

For when the Father taketh thee to rest

You’ll find His kingdom far unlike our land.

Now’s thy last chance to give this world thy best-

Let not dull duties fold thy finest hand!

 

Each one, an artist, in his deepest depths

Constrained by this real’ty’s iron laws

Composite mortal beings with air for breath

Must do their best, with all their strengths and flaws!

 

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How Environmental-Political Writing Needs to Change, if Actual Positive Environmental Policy is to be Possible

Foreign Affairs Magazine: The reverse Evolution of the World’s Oceans

http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/140164/alan-b-sielen/the-devolution-of-the-seas?sp_mid=44308605&sp_rid=bHVrZW5hdGhhbnBoaWxsaXBzMjAxMkBnbWFpbC5jb20S1

 

The article I have provided above illustrates, in my opinion, the futility of the present state of environmental-political writing and, correspondingly, the perpetual failure of all meaningful attempts at promoting sustainable environmental policy at any broad level.

Every once in a while an article on climate change or global deforestation or oceanic degradation comes out and shocks the world. Invariably, the article lists a series of apocalyptic facts about how the work of Man has negatively affected the global environment, and proceeds to propose some far-reaching policy solutions, usually solutions which the student of diplomacy or politics would immediately riddle with holes as they detailed the proposed plots’ sheer impracticability. The articles tend to conclude with a flourish of Manichaean admonitions for responsible environmental statesmanship- we must leave a better world for our children, they invariably counsel.

But they never really strike the human heart where it feels the worst discomfort. There’s a reason political moderates tend to worry about the environment but rarely speak about it- it is simply hard to connect the state of environmental degradation in which our world now finds itself- which, by the way, is probably one of the most objective facts available to anyone with a reasonable mind- with any supposed consequences in the actual day-to-day affairs of civilization. Bad air? Less fish? Warmer weather? Perhaps certain individuals, upon considering the implications of these trends, may become justly concerned, but for the mass of Mankind- who cares? It is in the fluctuations of economics and the currents of politics that Men most clearly discern their interest, and in these that they spend their cares. While a healthy state of the Earth’s environment is assuredly the TRUE, BEST interest of every being upon this planet, it is an issue too far removed from daily affairs to exert more than a mild influence over most men’s minds.

There is, however, a simple solution to this. It is the task of the next generation of writers on politics and the environment to connect the dots, to draw for the public’s consumption a clear, undeniable parallel between the daily vicissitudes of human life and the longterm devolution of Earth’s environment- to shout unequivocally to the world’s leaders and masses, Your best interest lies in the protection of your habitat! No stronger conviction than interest arouses fury in the human breast.

This task might best be accomplished by that hallowed tradition, empirical study. Plenty of articles have detailed the various trends since the early 20th Century in carbon emissions, fisheries depletion, habitat destruction, and a thousand other scary pairs of words, and stated in vague and nebulous prose, “This is BAD and something must be DONE!” Rubbish. The Green movement ought to be ashamed of itself- the world has never seen worse PR.

Instead, the next generation of writers should be actually informed on politics, and through a grand flourish of political creativity, synthesize their findings in environmental research with political evidence- they ought to take the worsening state of the environment and use it to explain, in a fair and reasonable manner, the political and economic currents of the last century, good and bad. There is likely much that can be done on this front- expanding chaos and political agitation in underdeveloped areas of the world, increasingly prominent resource competition, and a declining standard of living in even the wealthiest of countries seem to be easy areas for the said research to cover. And to ensure a complete lack of ideological fervor and a true devotion to the best interests of Mankind, these writers ought to consider, that many of the positive events which happened in the last century were, too, driven by environmental degradation- rising prosperity, the increasing connectivity of the state to the citizen, the technological booms which altered the face of the globe every couple decades- for only by analyzing the amoral facts of life can the writer rise above hackishness and snobbery into the esteemed halls of true political scholarship.

Indeed, only such writers ought to be listened to. The agitators in the halls of K Street should be shunned.

Few have tread this path thus far. Jared Diamond, in Guns, Germs, and Steel, and Collapse, paved some preliminary steps- but there is an immense amount of work still to be done, and that visionary will not be around forever. The opportunity for greatness presents itself, now, to those willing to shed their self-righteousness and take upon themselves the mantle of leadership!

As a final counsel, it ought to be noted that the glorious, perfect environmental policies, the glittering future cities of green, should be cast aside immediately as phantasmic illusions. The most successful environmental policymakers in American history- Richard Nixon and Theodore Roosevelt- have justly checkered pasts, and their heritages in environmental statesmanship are no less split. Yet they did more to advance the cause of a healthy balance between human interests and environmental stability than any others in the history of the United States and the world, and their demeanor, the Air of the Dark Knight, ought to be emulated by any seeking to transcend the flubbery winds of political discourse and enter the magnificent haven of historical significance. Nothing great is ever all good. The path is open.

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A Vindication of the Life of Alexander Hamilton and True Conservatism- Response to a Troll

On the Facebook page of USC’s Ann Coulter event, I was questioned by an individual believing himself to understand Alexander Hamilton better than I. I have copied his remark below. My response follows after the image of the great man.

“Hey Luke Phillips! Hamilton WAS NOT a Conservative – he was a STATIST in favor of a strong central government. Just WTF are they teaching in colleges these days. I hope you didn’t get that baloney at USC!” 

-One Mr. Joy

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“Tis the portion of Man assigned to him by the eternal allotment of Providence, that every good which he enjoys shall be alloyed with ills, that every source of his bliss shall be a source of his affliction, save Virtue alone, the only unmixed good permitted to his temporal condition.”
“I have always seen it my duty to exhibit things as they are, rather than as they ought to be.”
“Men are reasoning rather than reasonable animals, for the most part governed by the impulse of passion.”
“My ambition is so prevalent that I would willingly risk my life, though not my character, to exalt my station.”

-Alexander Hamilton

Thus are various quotations by the most dangerous of the Founders which I have committed to memory. And consider their precepts: That imperfection is endemic to human affairs, perfection and perfect goodness being impossible. That the truth of things is preferable and incomparably superior to any subjective desires. That the human mind cannot escape its own bias, and thus that beastliness and condescension must reign in men’s affairs with themselves and with each other. That nonetheless character and intellect, imperfect as they can be in any human iteration, are the most precious goods which can be striven for, and must be EARNED through unceasing labor, and vigilance to preserve them never dropped. 

The moral duplicity and uncertainty of human life- the elevation of what objective truth can be discerned- the distrust in the faculties of human beings- the utter reverence for personal betterment and discipline- THESE are the intellectual foundations of true conservatism, the reactionary mode of thinking which has existed so long as human society has had the capacity to change, in every land and every time. It is a mode of thought endemic to the human breast; it could be called wisdom, but would refuse to allow itself that esteemed title out of humility. The literature and treatises of Mankind pay it their respects, and the entire human experience silently bears witness to its truth.

Contrast to this the perfect world, the perfect men, envisioned by various other traditions of thought which have at all times competed with the conservative demeanor. These methods of thinking undoubtedly have had their benefits, their strengths, their contributions- conservatism has been opposed, in Modern Western Society since at least the 18th Century, by various iterations of liberalism, and had we no thinkers and leaders of the liberal intellect, we would certainly be an immeasurably darker and meaner society than the open and free one which we inhabit now. But the power in these schools lay, and still lies, in the vigor of their passion. And as is so often the case, such passion is only attainable for causes so good, so perfect, so beautiful, that they cannot, by any wise measure of history, hold up to the realities of the human experience.

What passes for ‘conservatism’ in American popular political discourse nowadays, and what you, Mr. Joy, refer to as ‘conservatism,’ is merely another iteration of the various liberal schools of thought so common in American popular politics- albeit one slightly more infused with conservative methods of thought than its leftier counterparts. The ideal of a free government and a free people, governed by laws, restrained by tradition, where the voice of the people is the voice of God to the enlightened civil servant, and where government governs least- is this not what those of your faction desire? At your rallies, on your blogs, in your hearts, is this not the future you seek? It is indeed a beautiful one, with one leg out of two embedded in the reality of things. But it is no less an ideology than the ideology of the Frenchmen who took their king to the gallows in 1793.

I have already detailed the conservatism of Hamilton, which is far more in touch with reality than the quasi-Reaganite populism which sweeps across the fields and cities of America today. Now I have nothing but respect for those of your tradition, of your method of thinking- indeed, I was brought up partly within it- but I cannot disagree with it more when the great issues of state and society come into question. Hamilton stared unblinkingly into the realities of the human heart and the amoral situation in which he achieved political maturity, and applied the eternal principles of politics and virtue to the problems which incessantly presented themselves. By a once-in-a-century gift of political creativity, he set about playing politics and enhancing his station, and doing so did much to lay the foundations of the American state for the subsequent two centuries. A strong federal government, unquestionably superior in writ to those governments of the several states, is not the legacy of Roosevelt, nor of Lincoln, but of Hamilton. The unholy alliance between urban finance, seagoing commerce, and rising industry which took the vast natural resources of these United States and fed them into the furnace of our economic machine and created our national power and prosperity, was forged by he. The American tradition of international power politics, so despised in Hamilton’s time by the Virginians, who sought nothing less than a democratic and moralistic foreign policy, was patronized by Hamilton. These three arms of statecraft so critical to any great nation’s power and influence, today certain realities which we know in political life, are ours thanks to the foresight of Hamilton and those who followed him.

Indeed, he WAS a STATIST in favor of a strong central government. And seeking not a golden heaven for the prosperity of democracy, but an immeasurably more favorable situation for his successors, pragmatic so far as possible, he was truly conservative.

Before you throw stones I might suggest you look into Hamilton’s actual life, rather than the caricature of him which validates your ideology. Read his works. Read The Federalist Papers, the Reports on the Public Credit, George Washington’s Farewell Address (penned mostly by Hamilton’s fiery ink.) 

And to better understand conservatism as an intellectual movement, Russell Kirk’s Ten Conservative Principles and Hans Morgenthau’s Six Principles of Political Realism aren’t all that bad- provided that the reader is intellectually mature enough to understand them.

And for your clarification, I was not taught any of this by my professors, nor my high school teachers. I was exposed, by chance, to a brief documentary of Hamilton’s life (you can find the link at the end of this) and months and months of thinking upon it, and certain other texts slightly more serious, kickstarted my political evolution, which brought me far closer to the light of truth than any ideological rant. I have taught myself and received help from others. My political understanding is my own; I am not clay to be molded but fire to be feared, gold to be desired, when juxtaposed to men whose ideological zeal prejudices their intellect.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Alexander Hamilton Rap
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNFf7nMIGnE

The Proper Reason Why Political Thinkers ought to study History

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Far too prevalent in political and journalistic discourse in the early 21st Century is the Next-Hitler Fallacy: the improper characterization of the relative rise of a despotic power as an iteration of that rise of Nazi Germany which prompted the Second World War. This crude historical parallel usually asserts that, should assertive action not be taken against whichever state is rising (nowadays be that Saddam’s Iraq, Ahmedinejad’s Iran, Hu’s China, Putin’s Russia, Ergodan’s Turkey, you name it) then the future consequences will be tantamount to nothing less than a fully negative shift in the balance of power, and the ethical qualities of the statesmen who may otherwise have prevented this development are in line with those of Neville Chamberlain, the Great Appeaser.

In every case these parallels have been wrong. This is not due to simple slight miscalculations of power by dedicated defenders of liberty. It is the result of an entirely wrong and thoroughly contemptible method of looking at history- that there is so much commonality between any two situations, that similar policies might be justifiable and recommendable when the unfolding situation smells suspiciously of a historically infamous one. Many are guilty of this, myself included.

Perhaps I must first concede the accuracies of this approach. It is indeed true, in my opinion, that human nature is a constant across time and space; that the varied combinations of events do, in fact, tend to resemble each other so perfectly that certain broad assumptions about the nature of human society and behavior can be established; that the trick to accurate analysis is determining which correlations between phenomena are true, and which correlations are false; that this, indeed, is the very foundation of political theory, the only comprehensive lens by which any thinker or leader might view the vicissitudes of the political world; and that, if we chose not to attempt to understand the nature of politics, we could not wring order from the chaos, and would simply be the barbarous beasts our kindred have proven themselves to be so in so many historic instances. Said Qoholeth, “Nothing is new under the sun.” I do not doubt for an instant that the ways of Man are any different than the ancients understood, nor that the appeal of literature lies in the timelessness of all human dramas, of which politics is the highest. Such a view informs the mystic nature of my political understanding.

Yet to take this approach too far is an imbalance worthy only of condemnation. Rationalization, a gift presented to the human intellect by forces we know not of, eventually believes itself the highest accumulator of knowledge, the highest being; and when it sees itself as such a god, its reasonableness expires as its arrogance sets in. The basic problem of inaccuracy lies here- so many factors influence the affairs of men, so much from his environment, that it would already be a near-impossible task to forecast similarly for beasts of nature. But herein is the difference in forecasting such affairs for men- in looking at them, we look upon ourselves, and are prejudiced with the image of Narcissus. Our hopes and dreams, our stories and legends, we paint upon our subject matter, so that no matter how vainly we might hope for an objectivity in the social science, we shall always hope in vain, wallowing in our own subjective illusions. Compound with this the fact that we observe not a single man, who, possessing a heart and a mind beyond his body, would already be impossible to predict with accuracy, but we observe the masses of men in relation to their environment and to each other- a thoroughly imperceptible mass of ambitions and desires, passions and reasons, lives and deaths! Whatever facts may be culled must be few, and whatever correlations derived must be fewer. From this portrayal it ought to be easy to determine why mathematical understandings and research methods tend to be, if not totally and basely wrong, then thoroughly unhelpful in explaining the true dynamics of the movements of societies. And moreover it ought to be clear why no non-mathematical portrayal of human affairs can ever show forth the truth in full and as it is- for no one can escape the confines of his own mind, and even if he could, his boundless spirit would lack the faculties to comprehend, in real time, the shifting tides and undulating rhythms of human political life.

I believe it is possible to advance ever so slightly down this road. Two the primary shapers of my political intellect, the forecasting firm Stratfor and the magazine The American Interest, manage to do so, anyway. Stratfor penetratingly analyzes the constraints upon political actors and through this, narrows down their viable options; in so doing it has developed a model which can predict, with a modest degree of accuracy, near-term political developments, almost always flying in the face of common sense. The American Interest is about as balanced a publication as any I’ve ever seen, its writing sifted through the most empirically correct schools of thought several times before it is ever published. But even these analytical methods, however useful, can only barely scrape the surface of the complexity of human life, and are in any case chiefly useful for discerning broad outlines and foreseeing a few of their consequences.

Accepting the reality that little can be done to predict with accuracy human political affairs, what is the aspiring policymaker or political theorist to do? I say: study history. Francis Bacon, when discussing the nutritious qualities of various sorts of books for an inquiring mind, counseled “Histories make men wise.” So far as I can perceive, he meant not that reading the affairs of men will unlock to a mind the subtlest secrets of the Universe, though unlock those it might; nor that understanding the events of the past will allow one to understand the events surrounding one’s present, though in some ways explain those it may; but that, in growing deeper in one’s appreciation for the grand tapestry of human life which has been the story of our race, one might begin to comprehend the true complexity and perplexitude of the vicissitudes of Mankind, seeing connections across time and space where they are and only in their proper place, appreciating the fleeting nature of all things and the enduring nature of principles, and ultimately growing into what might be termed a wiser, more prudent individual. Such an individual would be immeasurably more fit to steer the helm of state or write the leaves of policy than a bombastic and frivolous ideologue, dedicated to a teleological or otherwise ideological understanding of human affairs, or a self-content rationalist believing their perfect explanations of the past to be sufficient guides to the uncertainties of the future. Never was greater bunk uttered than Santayana’s unfortunately immortal quip, “Those who fail to understand history are doomed to repeat it.” Rubbish. We are flesh; we will live the experiences of our ancestors from now to the end of posterity. We live in history. By understanding it, we do not draw closer to a heaven on earth, where none will bear the sword and none will drag the chain. The humility that lies in accepting the world as it is, and in accepting one’s mind as capable of perceiving that world only in part, and in accepting the very human surrender to history, are prerequisites to the prudence necessary should one take a life of public service. And only through studying the affairs of men can one discover- and thence, find in themselves the potential to accept for themselves- this understanding.

Thoughts on the Activity on the ‘An Evening with the Lovely Ann Coulter’ Event Page

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OK so everyone’s spamming the Ann Coulter event page now, explaining how disgusted they are that either 1) such a troll as Ann Coulter could be invited to USC campus or 2) such a racist hatemonger as Ann Coulter could be invited to campus.

Bear in mind a few weeks ago Bill Maher came to campus, and he is correspondingly a troll and an anti-religious hatemonger. Funny enough, he said he’s good friends with Ann Coulter. I don’t recall complaints about USC’s image showing up on the page for that event.

I laugh to myself when partisan hacks self-righteously convinced of their own righteousness deem themselves good and wise enough to ‘fight for what they believe in-‘ to abandon all semblances of civility in an indecent brawl of constructed values, and show themselves to be the fools they are as they instruct their less-well-endowed counterparts in what the impending heaven on earth looks like and what they, the unenlightened, can do to help bring it on. More likely than not, those not properly indoctrinated are merely standing in its way. Ever hear of messianic zeal? It is characteristic of the excesses of all liberal thinking (which, by the way, does not mean ‘Democrat-voting-sot-thinking,’ but basically ALL British and American political thinking from 1776 onwards, and much other Western political thinking besides) to consider the problems of Mankind as not sown deeply in our breasts, but as mere puzzles not yet solved, and therefore solvable. Such an attitude invariably brings forth assertions of objective right and wrong knowable by our minds, and specifies them in ideologies; and if anything detracts from true political discourse and maketh an Ass of Man, it is ideology.

And anyone who has given the matter any reasonably unprejudiced thought will admit that the problem with American political discourse lies not in those like Ann Coulter, nor in those like Bill Maher, but in the fact that populist hacks like both of them are followed by millions in the democratic capitalist system we maintain. It follows that anyone who would assert that the problem lies solely in those like Ann Coulter, or solely in those like Bill Maher, is as much a hack as either of them, and as worthy of respect.

I’ll be attending the event, not out of any love for Ann Coulter (she annoys me and makes millions of decent and honorable people look like a problem, like a thing, for her enemies to vilify) nor out of any personal identity complex (though I consider myself to be conservative, I am far past identifying myself as anything on the American political spectrum) but because I attended ‘An Evening with Bill Maher’- an evening of the speaker trashing conservatives. My understanding is that ‘An Evening with Ann Coulter’ will similarly feature the speaker trashing liberals. Thus is politics in a democracy. Grow up, guys.

Resigned to Fate

 I penned an essay recently (and discovered that it takes no less than three hours for me to write an essay to my own qualifications) and, though I decline to share most of its contents, I think its concluding remarks summarize completely enough my general philosophy on living that it has merited publication on my personal blog.

I must note that my PERSONAL views on this subject are quite divorced from my POLITICAL views on the great question of Free Will and Determinism. Anyone taking from this that I believe human agency to be powerless, or the forces of nature or God to be entirely supreme, and the will of Man a mere illusion, could not be more wrong about my understanding. But that is another essay.

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The substance of my worries, then… ought to be clear to anyone with the most rudimentary understanding of the human heart. I fear to lose [the world;] I fear to lose myself; but most, complex fatalist that I am, I fear to cause things to go contrary to the way they were “meant to go.” I have utmost faith that Providence will put people in the places they are meant to be in, regardless of whether those people think it is good for them or not; and that those people, by wise reflection and humility, can eventually discern the meanings and purposes behind their fates, once they have accepted them. “Everything happens for a reason,” and “The Lord works in mysterious ways.” Though I might not actually alter the course of my fate, I might very well degrade my understanding of it by cutting against the grain and resisting the natural way of things.

Thus, while I might in a passionate moment hope… and in a reasonable moment consider… in a realistic moment I must only acknowledge that fate is far more fickle than my own particular desires and reason[ing]s, and that one day I will look back upon this chapter of my life, accepting it completely , knowing its beginning and end, and understanding [fully] its place in the broader tapestry [that is] the story of my life. If experience is any guide, an odyssey of pain and pleasure, victory and defeat, lies between me as I pen these lines, and me in that future moment. I pray only that God will give me the wisdom, goodness, and strength necessary to navigate it all, vigilantly keeping and becoming the best possible version of myself as I progress upon the journey.