Monday, October 29, 2007

Liberal positions

Surely the sum of our enlightened experience is that the only reasonable hope for us is in historical progress leading to a transformation, the nature of which we can hardly even begin to imagine. As we now are we will never escape: imprisoned by the cruel spectacles of history and nature and our own panicky animal instincts. A state all the more hateful because not all hateful: so many acts of human kindness, of integrity, of love, flicker in the darkness, brightly, briefly, perpetually surrounded by the eternal freezing cold that is our human stupidity, ignorance and fear. That instinct towards the better, those acts of love and integrity, we must set free thus fundamentally changing ourselves into something else and leaving (hopefully) all history and nature behind. This is the fundamental liberal position, surely. A refusal of both the narrowly shrewd, self-perpetuating conservative wallowing in the wretchedness that is humankind and the blind radical insistence that this wretchedness is not integral to us and easy and simple to abolish. This is what our serious human inquiry has established, and on this bleak position any hopes for future must be based.

Friday, October 12, 2007

In defence of George Eliot

In the course of the assorted tragedies and collapses of the 20th century we surely have lost an essential tone of doubt, inquiry and worry that was simultaneously perpetually, and rationally, uncertain of its own significance but still crucially confident of its internal coherance. It was an unflinching but humane gaze on mankind and our messy and bloody history of ignorance and aggression - nevertheless combined with a firm belief on the possibility of progress. Now instead we have the forever shifting language of the largely - and self-confessedly - irrelevant and self-doubting, self fleeing postmodern tradition accompanied with the most destructive and amoral materialism that it refuses to confront in its all pervasive relativism. Surely this is an overreaction to these not any more so recent shocks? History, quite apart from its modern guises, has in any case been one slow holocaust - and will perpetually continue to be so by the weight of its own logic and motored by our blind, panicky, animal passions.

The only exception, thus far, has been our brief enlightened, though largely failed, quest and hope for human understanding and progress. Just one pitiful, first attempt in all this time - and one reaching so far even in the deepest failure. There surely is ample time yet for change for the better, for developement, for reasoned self-control - for further attempts. And what is the alternative: should we never attempt more than what unspeakably little we have, and are? Who can set a meaningful limit for human growth, for serious human inquiry?