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A couple more beads for Hesse’s Game

Sunday, April 24th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — Art & Philospphy, Latin, Greek & Arabic, Porphyry & Proclus ]
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I discovered Elaine Van Dalen‘s twitterstream today, and was enchanted. Trawling backwards a little from her tweet about the Sultan al-Kamil, I ran across this one:

which fairly begged to be DoubleTweeted with this hastily assembled tweet of my own, quoting from Hermann Melville‘s Mardi:

**

Both are instances of the game Hermann Hesse described himself playing while raking and burning leaves, in his poem Hours in the Garden:

Within me, my thoughts begin to play
A game, an exercise I have practiced for many years.
It is called the Glass Bead Game, a charming invention
Whose framework is music, whose basis is meditation.

[ … ]

I hear music and see men of the past and the future.
Wise men and poets and scholars and artists, all of one mind,
Building the hundred-gated cathedral of the spirit…

That’s Hesse’s private manner of playing the Glass Bead Game: the game as played in the novel is more abstract, shorn of persons, a virtual music of ideas indeed.

I’ve quoted this over and over, I know, but for those who are new to the Game, here’s Hesse’s definitive description from the novel:

The Glass Bead Game is thus a mode of playing with the total contents and values of our culture; it plays with them as, say, in the great age of the arts a painter might have played with the colors on his palette. All the insights, noble thoughts, and works of art that the human race has produced in its creative eras, all that subsequent periods of scholarly study have reduced to concepts and converted into intellectual values the Glass Bead Game player plays like the organist on an organ. And this organ has attained an almost unimaginable perfection; its manuals and pedals range over the entire intellectual cosmos; its stops are almost beyond number. Theoretically this instrument is capable of reproducing in the Game the entire intellectual content of the universe.

Review: The Rule of the Clan

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

[by Mark Safranski / “zen“]

Rule of the Clan by Mark Weiner

I often review good books. Sometimes I review great ones. The Rule of the Clan: What an Ancient Form of Social Organization Reveals about the Future of Individual Freedom  by Mark S. Weiner gets the highest compliment of all: it is an academic book that is clearly and engagingly written so as to be broadly useful.

Weiner is Professor of Law and Sidney I. Reitman Scholar at Rutgers University whose research interests gravitate to societal evolution of constitutional orders and legal anthropology. Weiner has put his talents to use in examining the constitutional nature of a global phenomena that has plagued IR scholars, COIN theorists, diplomats, counterterrorism experts, unconventional warfare officers, strategists, politicians and judges. The problem they wrestle with goes by many names that capture some aspect of its nature – black globalization, failed states, rogue states, 4GW, hybrid war, non-state actors, criminal insurgency, terrorism and many other terms. What Weiner does in The Rule of the Clan is lay out a historical hypothesis of tension between the models of Societies of Contract – that is Western, liberal democratic, states based upon the rule of law – and the ancient Societies of Status based upon kinship networks from which the modern world emerged and now in places has begun to regress.

Weiner deftly weaves the practical problems of intervention in Libya or counterterrorism against al Qaida with political philosophy, intellectual and legal history, anthropology, sociology and economics. In smooth prose, Weiner illustrates the commonalities and endurance of the values of clan and kinship network lineage systems in societies as diverse as Iceland, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, India and the Scottish highlands, even as the modern state arose around them. The problem of personal security and the dynamic of the feud/vendetta as a social regulator of conduct is examined along with the political difficulties of shifting from systems of socially sanctioned collective vengeance to individual rights based justice systems. Weiner implores liberals (broadly, Westerners) not to underestimate (and ultimately undermine) the degree of delicacy and strategic patience required for non-western states transitioning between Societies of Status to Societies of Contract. The relationship between the state and individualism is complicated because it is inherently paradoxical, argues Weiner: only a state with strong, if limited, powers creates the security and legal structure for individualism and contract to flourish free of the threat of organized private violence and the tyranny of collectivistic identities.

Weiner’s argument is elegant, well supported and concise (258 pages inc. endnotes and index) and he bends over backwards in The Rule of the Clan to stress the universal nature of clannism in the evolution of human societies, however distant that memory may be for a Frenchman, American or Norwegian. If the mores of clan life are still very real and present for a Palestinian supporter (or enemy) of HAMAS in Gaza, they were once equally real to Saxons, Scots and Franks. This posture can also take the rough edges off the crueler aspects of, say, life for a widow and her children in a Pushtun village by glossing over the negative cultural behaviors that Westerners find antagonizing and so difficult to ignore on humanitarian grounds. This is not to argue that Weiner is wrong, I think he is largely correct, but this approach minimizes the friction involved in the domestic politics of foreign policy-making in Western societies which contain elite constituencies for the spread of liberal values by the force of arms.

Strongest recommendation.

Istigkeit, approximately

Saturday, April 16th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — classification, impropriety, and a concept pretty much unique to Meister Eckhart ]
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First, here’s what I call a DoubleTweet, juxtaposing two tweets for the resonance between them — and juxtaposing two thoughts for the resonance between them is about as simple a way of demonstrating the whole being greater than the sum of its parts as I can think of.

Take 1, Obama is slippery with words:

Take 2, the Europeans outbid and finesse him:

I don’t actually know if you can outbid and finesse while playing Bridge, but you can in metaphor.

**

There was also a DoubleQuote that sprang to mind, but Patti Brown got to it first, so I’ll just copy her tweet here:

Lawyers — the Clintons & POTUS.

Compare philosophers, poets, native speakers, natural language processors.

**

Also worth taking into consideration here:

  • Mark Stout, War on the Rocks, Were Hillary Clinton’s emails classified? Where you stand depends on where you sit:

    the uproar about the Clinton email server ignores the reality that, for very good reasons, the CIA and the State Department have different approaches to classification and classified information. These different approaches result from the different functions of the agencies.

  • Cory Bennett, The Hill, Clinton emails reveal murky world of ‘top secret’ documents:

    The watchdog [IG] said it found a number of Clinton’s emails that currently contained “classified intelligence community information.” But the State Department has said it did not consider that language classified at the time those emails were sent.

    Both sides can be correct, said several former officials.

  • And that’s enough hipbonish excitement for one post.

    Across the great divide

    Friday, April 8th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — philosophy during a bank heist — and its implications in terms of military doctrine ]
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    tactical

    mental

    Two screenshots in sequence from the Denzel Washington movie, Inside Man, bring me back to the philosophical fissures and fusions between mind and brain, subjective and objective, quantitative and qualitative, man half-angel and half-beast — in a law enforcement context.

    **

    When one side has reached the limits of its material strength, it can always add to its military efforts by mobilizing all possible moral strength.

    I often need to talk about this. As material, for Clausewitz, is the counterpart to moral, what for TRADOC is the counterpart to Human Terrain?

    Vice, virtue & versa

    Sunday, March 27th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — a pmarca tweet, a ducal quote DoubleQuoted ]
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    tablet dq andreessen rochefoucauld


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