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Robert Pirsig has died.
In late high school (or early college, I can’t definitively recall), I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and was greatly affected by it. I’m not so sure how well it holds up today, nor how well it holds up personally after many years of reading philosophy, but the book certainly captured the cultural mood of the time it was written.
Robert M. Pirsig, whose “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” a dense and discursive novel of ideas, became an unlikely publishing phenomenon in the mid-1970s and a touchstone in the waning days of the counterculture, died on Monday at his home in South Berwick, Me. He was 88…
Mr. Pirsig was a college writing instructor and freelance technical writer when the novel — its full title was “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values” — was published in 1974 to critical acclaim and explosive popularity, selling a million copies in its first year and several million more since.
The novel, with its peculiar but intriguing title, ranged widely in its concerns, contemplating the relationship of humans and machines, madness and the roots of culture.
Todd Gitlin, a sociologist and the author of books about the counterculture, said that “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” in seeking to reconcile humanism with technological progress, had been perfectly timed for a generation weary of the ’60s revolt against a soulless high-tech world dominated by a corporate and military-industrial order…
Of the book:
Part road-trip novel, part treatise, part open letter to a younger generation, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” unfolds as a fictionalized account of a cross-country motorcycle trip that Mr. Pirsig took in 1968 with his 11-year-old son, Christopher, and two friends.
The narrative alternates between travelogue-like accounts of their 17 days on the road, from the Pirsigs’ home in Minnesota to the Pacific Coast, and long interior monologues that he calls his “Chautauquas,” after the open-air educational meetings at Lake Chautauqua, N.Y., popular with self-improvers since the 19th century.
Mr. Pirsig’s narrator (his barely disguised stand-in) focuses on what he sees as two profound schisms. The first lay in the 1960s culture war, in which the “hippies” rejected industrialization and the technological values that had been embraced by the “straight” mainstream society.
The second schism is in the narrator’s own mind, as he struggles in his hyperrational way to understand his recent mental breakdown. Mr. Pirsig, who was told he had schizophrenia in the early 1960s, said that writing the book was partly an effort to make peace with himself after two years of hospital treatments, including electric shock therapy, and the turmoil that he, his wife and children suffered as a result…
One of Mr. Pirsig’s central ideas is that so-called ordinary experience and so-called transcendent experience are actually one and the same — and that Westerners only imagine them as separate realms because Plato, Aristotle and other early philosophers came to believe that they were.
But Plato and Aristotle were wrong, Mr. Pirsig said. Worse, the mind-body dualism, soldered into Western consciousness by the Greeks, fomented a kind of civil war of the mind — stripping rationality of its spiritual underpinnings and spirituality of its reason, and casting each into false conflict with the other.
In his part gnomic, part mechanic’s style, Mr. Pirsig’s narrator declares that the real world is a seamless continuum of the material and metaphysical.
“The Buddha, the Godhead,” he writes, “resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of a mountain or in the petals of a flower.”
Pirsig had an interesting life:
Robert Maynard Pirsig was born in Minneapolis on Sept. 6, 1928, to Harriet and Maynard Pirsig. His father was a law professor and dean of the University of Minnesota Law School. As a child, Robert spoke with a stammer and had trouble making friends; though highly intelligent (his I.Q. was said to be 170), he was expelled from the University of Minnesota because of failing grades.
Serving in the Army before the start of the Korean War, he visited Japan on a leave and became interested in Zen Buddhism, and remained an adherent throughout his life. After his Army service, he returned to the university and received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism.
He later studied philosophy at the University of Chicago and at Banaras Hindu University in India and taught writing at Montana State University in Bozeman and the University of Illinois at Chicago. He also did freelance writing and editing for corporate publications and technical magazines, including the first generation of computer journals.
“The Guide To Becoming Jared Kushner” contains a dizzying array of Jewish names. From one passage:
The Kushners have always had a fleet of PR people working behind the scenes to fluff their image. Rubenstein and his son and protege Steven, who now runs the family business, worked for the Kushners until around late 2011. The Kushners then took their PR business to Matthew Hiltzik, a former aide to Hillary Clinton during her first Senate campaign who went on to work for Bob and Harvey Weinstein at Miramax Films, as well as Glenn Beck, Justin Bieber and Alec Baldwin. It was during his time as a Hiltzik client that Jared Kushner met Josh Raffel, one of the firm’s employees and the man Kushner recently tapped to lead communications for his government-wide innovation project. The White House declined to comment for this story.
In late 2014, Kushner stopped working with Hiltzik and began working with Roxanne Donovan, a PR maven the Observer once described as a “younger, sexier Howard Rubenstein.” Kushner also hired Harriet Weintraub, who has a specialty PR company for real estate and luxury brands, before hiring Risa Heller, a former press aide to notoriously media-savvy Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), in November 2015.
You’d almost think these people are clannish.
I had posted on this a year ago, but I think it’s worth rewatching. It’s a clever parody of hipster artisanal products (think of how precious and special they treat whatever overpriced ‘simple’ things they sell.) In this case, the parody is of ‘bespoked water’ packaged in (where else) Brooklyn. The hipster reality they are parodying is of the Mast Brothers, who have convinced hipsters and other urban cosmopolitans (with lots of disposable income) to pay $10 for a chocolate bar.
An intriguing passage from “Le Pen Calls Parties in France ‘Completely Rotten’ as They Unite to Fend Her Off” in the NYT:
Most of Ms. Le Pen’s rivals have gathered around the effort to defeat her. Only one major candidate has resisted calls to unite against her: Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the firebrand hard-left candidate who came in fourth and who has pointedly refused to support Mr. Macron, saying instead that he would seek the opinion of his supporters through his website. Similarly, traditionalist Roman Catholic organizations that backed Mr. Fillon refused to endorse Mr. Macron on Monday.
Some of Ms. Le Pen’s advisers said, in interviews with French news media on Monday, that they were hoping to lure some of the supporters of the defeated Mr. Mélenchon, whose populist program bore similarities to that of Ms. Le Pen: hostility to the European Union, NATO and the forces of globalization, and a forgiving attitude toward Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin.
Many of Mr. Mélenchon’s supporters may have little fondness for Ms. Le Pen, but in interviews they expressed equal disdain for the pro-free market Mr. Macron…
With Le Pen forecasted to lose the run-off election in May, the MSM is full of stories of how Populism may have crested, displaying the collective relief the Establishment has at Geert Wilders’ loss and (possibly) Le Pen’s.
But, buried inside the NYT is “Populism, Far From Turned Back, May Be Just Getting Started” by Max Fisher and Amanda Taub:
Populism, research suggests, has been steadily growing since the 1960s. It is now reaching a size that is often too small to win outright, but is large enough to shape and, at times, to upend the politics of a country.
Whether populist parties win or lose depends not just on the level of popular support — which appears surprisingly consistent across countries — but also on the nature of the political system.
Western populism may be entering something like its awkward teenage years — able to borrow the car but not own it, have an influence on the household but be too young to run it.
Still, research suggests it will continue growing as a political force….
While elections are unpredictable and anything is possible, Ms. Le Pen is projected to lose the second round by as much as 20 percent. So though the populist wave is rising, its pace is too slow to alone propel her into power.
This is the nature of populism’s awkward size. It is too small to reliably win national elections. But it is large enough to reframe politics, in France and elsewhere, as a debate between globalism and ethno-nationalism. Trend lines continue to point upward.
In other words, the Overton Window is shifting. If Le Pen loses, the MSM will no doubt portray it as a “humiliation” and a “repudiation” of populism.
But this is far from the truth.
… Mr. Wilders had been held back by the mathematical tyranny of parliamentary systems, not just by an anti-populist backlash.
In parliamentary systems, votes tend to be split across several parties, with none securing a majority on its own. To govern, a party has to form a majority coalition with other parties.
This means that as long as a populist party does not win more than 50 percent of the vote — virtually impossible in systems like that of the Netherlands — the other parties can band together to form a coalition excluding it, known as a “cordon sanitaire.”
Yet even though Mr. Wilders did not take control of government, his movement and policies advanced.
The center-right party, which leads the government, held power in part by co-opting Mr. Wilders’s message, particularly on immigration. Mark Rutte, the prime minister, told migrants in an open letter shortly before the vote, “Act normal or leave.”…
Over time, these dynamics could further accelerate populism’s rise, Cas Mudde, a Dutch political scientist, wrote in Foreign Affairs in September.
As more populist parties become their country’s second or third largest, mainstream parties will have to form more “cordons sanitaire” to keep them out. For populist voters, this feels like an establishment conspiracy to repress popular will, deepening outrage at a seemingly unresponsive system.
In Politico, Jack Shafer and Tucker Doherty have an excellent piece titled “The Media Bubble Is Worse Than You Think”, which looks at how the MSM got the Nov election so wrong. It explores, and finds confirming evidence for, the notion of a liberal media living in a bi-coastal bubble:
The answer to the press’ myopia lies elsewhere, and nobody has produced a better argument for how the national media missed the Trump story than FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver, who pointed out that the ideological clustering in top newsrooms led to groupthink. “As of 2013, only 7 percent of [journalists] identified as Republicans,” Silver wrote in March, chiding the press for its political homogeneity. Just after the election, presidential strategist Steve Bannon savaged the press on the same point but with a heartier vocabulary. “The media bubble is the ultimate symbol of what’s wrong with this country,” Bannon said. “It’s just a circle of people talking to themselves who have no fucking idea what’s going on.”…
Where do journalists work, and how much has that changed in recent years? To determine this, my colleague Tucker Doherty excavated labor statistics and cross-referenced them against voting patterns and Census data to figure out just what the American media landscape looks like, and how much it has changed.
The results read like a revelation. The national media really does work in a bubble, something that wasn’t true as recently as 2008. And the bubble is growing more extreme. Concentrated heavily along the coasts, the bubble is both geographic and political. If you’re a working journalist, odds aren’t just that you work in a pro-Clinton county—odds are that you reside in one of the nation’s most pro-Clinton counties. And you’ve got company: If you’re a typical reader of Politico, chances are you’re a citizen of bubbleville, too.
So, are the big online media content providers (such as Politico itself) in less of a bubble? Nope:
Where newspaper jobs are spread nationwide, internet jobs are not: Today, 73 percent of all internet publishing jobs are concentrated in either the Boston-New York-Washington-Richmond corridor or the West Coast crescent that runs from Seattle to San Diego and on to Phoenix. The Chicagoland area, a traditional media center, captures 5 percent of the jobs, with a paltry 22 percent going to the rest of the country. And almost all the real growth of internet publishing is happening outside the heartland, in just a few urban counties, all places that voted for Clinton. So when your conservative friends use “media” as a synonym for “coastal” and “liberal,” they’re not far off the mark…
How did this happen?
The magic of the internet was going to shake up the old certainties of the job market, prevent the coagulation of jobs in the big metro areas, or so the Web utopians promised us in the mid-1990s. The technology would free internet employees to work from wherever they could find a broadband connection. That remains true in theory, with thousands of Web developers, writers and producers working remotely from lesser metropolises.
But economists know something the internet evangelists have ignored: All else being equal, specialized industries like to cluster…
As Enrico Moretti, a University of California, Berkeley, economist who has studied the geography of job creation, points out, the tech entrepreneurs who drive internet publishing could locate their companies in low-rent, low-cost-of-living places like Cleveland, but they don’t. They need the most talented workers, who tend to move to the clusters, where demand drives wages higher. And it’s the clusters that host all the subsidiary industries a tech start-up craves—lawyers specializing in intellectual property and incorporation; hardware and software vendors; angel investors; and so on.
This bi-coastal clustering can largely be explained by the proximity to the epicenters of political power (D.C.), financial power (NY), social media power (Seattle, San Francisco), and cultural power (L.A.) :
The online media, liberated from printing presses and local ad bases, has been free to form clusters, piggyback-style, on the industries and government that it covers. New York is home to most business coverage because of the size of the business and banking community there. Likewise, national political reporting has concentrated in Washington and grown apace with the federal government. Entertainment and cultural reporting has bunched in New York and Los Angeles, where those businesses are strong.
The result? If you look at the maps on the next page, you don’t need to be a Republican campaign strategist to grasp just how far the “media bubble” has drifted from the average American experience. Newspaper jobs are far more evenly scattered across the country, including the deep red parts. But as those vanish, it’s internet jobs that are driving whatever growth there is in media—and those fall almost entirely in places that are dense, blue and right in the bubble.
How this manifested itself on Election Night, and how the Media got things so wrong, is part of a dynamic that only seems to be getting worse:
As the votes streamed in on election night, evidence that the country had further cleaved into two Americas became palpable. With few exceptions, Clinton ran the table in urban America, while Trump ran it in the ruralities. And as you might suspect, Clinton dominated where internet publishing jobs abound. Nearly 90 percent of all internet publishing employees work in a county where Clinton won, and 75 percent of them work in a county that she won by more than 30 percentage points. When you add in the shrinking number of newspaper jobs, 72 percent of all internet publishing or newspaper employees work in a county that Clinton won. By this measure, of course, Clinton was the national media’s candidate.
Meanwhile, from England today:
A 17-year-old cyclist was hacked to death by masked youths wielding machetes in a terrifying attack on a London housing estate, witnesses said today.
The victim was chased by a gang wearing balaclavas and carrying large knives who stabbed him multiple times and left him sprawled on the bonnet of a car in Battersea…
In a separate fatal stabbing this weekend, a man was killed by a gang wearing ski masks in front of terrified children in Enfield.
A public housing project.
I wonder who it could be?
I’m sure CNN is on the case and will be airing their findings tonight.
Politico’s lead story “Obama’s hidden Iran deal giveaway” is a huge, huge story.
By dropping charges against major arms targets, the administration infuriated Justice Department officials — and undermined its own counterproliferation task forces.
I’m sure you can see adequate coverage of this on CNN.
The normalization of free speech limits marches onward. In the NYT is an opinion piece by Ulrich Baer titled “What ‘Snowflakes’ Get Right About Free Speech”:
During the 1980s and ’90s, a shift occurred in American culture; personal experience and testimony, especially of suffering and oppression, began to challenge the primacy of argument. Freedom of expression became a flash point in this shift. Then as now, both liberals and conservatives were wary of the privileging of personal experience, with its powerful emotional impact, over reason and argument, which some fear will bring an end to civilization, or at least to freedom of speech.
We should resist the temptation to rehash these debates. Doing so would overlook the fact that a thorough generational shift has occurred. Widespread caricatures of students as overly sensitive, vulnerable and entitled “snowflakes” fail to acknowledge the philosophical work that was carried out, especially in the 1980s and ’90s, to legitimate experience — especially traumatic experience — which had been dismissed for decades as unreliable, untrustworthy and inaccessible to understanding.
Baer leans on pomo philosopher Jean-François Lyotard, who basically rehashes Herbert Marcuse’s infamous “Repressive Tolerance” (1965), before unleashing this whopper:
The recent student demonstrations at Auburn against [Richard] Spencer’s visit — as well as protests on other campuses against Charles Murray, Milo Yiannopoulos and others — should be understood as an attempt to ensure the conditions of free speech for a greater group of people, rather than censorship. Liberal free-speech advocates rush to point out that the views of these individuals must be heard first to be rejected. But this is not the case. Universities invite speakers not chiefly to present otherwise unavailable discoveries, but to present to the public views they have presented elsewhere. When those views invalidate the humanity of some people, they restrict speech as a public good.
Baer then asserts that being truly progressive “requires the realization that in politics, the parameters of public speech must be continually redrawn to accommodate those who previously had no standing.”
Continually redrawn? Wow.
Reading opinions like this should terrify you:
The idea of freedom of speech does not mean a blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks. It means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community. Free-speech protections — not only but especially in universities, which aim to educate students in how to belong to various communities — should not mean that someone’s humanity, or their right to participate in political speech as political agents, can be freely attacked, demeaned or questioned…
What about this piece is most shocking? It is whom is writing this bizarre ‘argument’.
As a scholar of literature, history and politics, I am especially attuned to the next generation’s demands to revise existing definitions of free speech to accommodate previously delegitimized experiences. Freedom of expression is not an unchanging absolute. When its proponents forget that it requires the vigilant and continuing examination of its parameters, and instead invoke a pure model of free speech that has never existed, the dangers to our democracy are clear and present.
We should thank the student protestors, the activists in Black Lives Matter and other “overly sensitive” souls for keeping watch over the soul of our republic.
Ulrich Baer is not some 18 year old Antifa freshman. He is vice provost for faculty, arts, humanities, and diversity, and professor of comparative literature at New York University.
Perhaps even more terrifying, however, are the ‘Comments’ to the piece that the NYT picks as the ‘Best’. Among the comments receiving the vaunted “NYT Picks” stamp is one from “C.C. Kegel,Ph.D.” which reads:
Would we grant Hitler, Al Baghdadi or El Chapo speaking engagements at our universities? I hope not. On the other hand, McCarthyites denied free speech to the ACLU as a “Communist front.” The difference is incitement to violence. But White Nationalists DO incite violence, whether explicitly or implicitly. We all deserve protection from this. It is dangerous.
So, basically, any race realist speaker – hell, even a Charles Murray – is tantamount to Hitler (extreme case)… or, at a minimum WN “incitement to violence” (the more ‘moderate’ case).
The Left is unhinged and getting more ‘unhingier’ by the day.