Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Storms in Winter

with 2 comments

I’m sitting here in my office, having a very odd morning.  The weather predictions are that we are about to see the biggest nor’easter of the season so far move through today, and the predictions have been so dire for so long that pretty much everybody in the state cancelled today as of yesterday evening. 

At the moment, however, there’s either no snow at all, or only a very fine and barely detectable periodic fall, which means I’m spending a lot of time talking myself out of running off to the store for a second for last minute supplies.  And I really don’t want to do that, because this is really not supposed to be good.

Instead of that, then, I’ve been up and around and doing things since fairly early, in spite of not having to be.  I have one of my favorite CDs playing behind me in the living room, with the sound turned up so that I can hear it in here.  This is a two-CD collection of chamber music–mostly violin concertos–by a man named Francesco Geminiani, one of the great composers for strings of the eighteenth century and, like Handel, a man who trained in Europe and lived most of his professional life in England. 

There’s something going on there that I need to investigate.  The Eighteenth Century is the Englightenment, and I tend to side with those people who think there were really two Enlightenments, not one: a French and an English.  And it occurs to me that I have plenty of music by people who went to England in this period, but none by anyone who went to France.

That doesn’t mean that no great composers of the period went to France.  I don’t know enough about the musical history of the period to be able to say.  Maybe this just says something about the kind of music I like, and the relationship between a taste in music and a  preference for other kinds of ideas.

As for those other kinds of ideas–

First, I’d like to point out that ugliness in art started long before the Beats.  It arrived in the US with the Armory Show of, I think, 1918. 

But the real issue is the hyperrationality, because hyperrationality is not particularly rational.  It is relentlessly logical, but that’s something else again.

And, in aid of that, I recommend the following like


about “bioethics” and “bioethicisists.”  

It was up on Arts and Letters Daily this morning, and it seems to me to express exactly what I think of as the professionalization of everything–with “professionalization” meaning a particular thing categorized by its ties to university academic departments and paper credentials.

I’ve said before on this blog that I don’t think that moral relativism ever actually lasts long, it’s too unstable.  And in periods where there is no consensus about what is moral and what is not, something always arrives to fill the vacuum.

I think this is what is trying to fill the vacuum at the moment, at least for people who do not accept religion as a valid source of moral principles.

And, as I’ve said before, there are a lot of those people, and even more who, although they accept a religious basis for morals, accept a “religious” one, not a specifically Christian or Jewish or Buddhist one.

And two things interest me about the whole bioethics thing.

The first is that it should be established as a academic discipline, and get what credibility it has from being an academic discipline.  We really have gotten to the point where we simply assume that “school” is the answer to anything and everything.  We call it “education,” but it’s not education we’re actually looking at.

The second is that, as far as I can tell, the people involved in this movement are advancing a set of moral principles with no foundation whatsoever.

They have no reason for why their particular set of principles ought to prevail, no reason for why we should accept that what they call “moral” is in fact “moral.”

In fact, like most philosophers of ethics over the past thirty years or so, they don’t even address the question.  They just assume that whatever it is the favor–altruism, or equality, or whatever–is true, and they rely on that truth as rigidly as any fundamentalist abslutist.  

And, of course, once you accept their founding principles,  the system is closed–everything else follows logically.

Ack, I know.  It’s the kind of thing that endlessly fascinates me, and that makes all your eyes glaze over. 

But it does fascinate me, not least because the moral structure of a society defines that society–defines it even when everyday human beings are incapable of, or uninterested in, living up to what they profess.

Part of me is interested simply because it affects me so directly–I wouldn’t want any of these people determining the “ethical” thing to do for me if I’m in a coma, and I don’t much like what the assumptions they espouse have made of the kids I teach and the education (or lack of it) that they have received.

But maybe I just ought to give it up.   Right in the middle of the blog, I ran out and got the couple of things I needed at the store, and  got back before it even started half-assedly snowing again.  So now I’m calmer, and maybe it will turn out that this thing misses us.

Which would not be a bad idea.

Maybe I’ll go back to reading about Charlemagne and listening to Geminiani and nuzzling cats, and then make something elaborate and time consuming and good for dinner.

Written by janeh

February 10th, 2010 at 11:37 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses to 'Storms in Winter'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'Storms in Winter'.

  1. Storm hit here later than scheduled. Those who left for work before 7:00 AM–two of us, I think–were fine. The rest were still there–snowed over and ploughed in–when I got back nine hours later. This does not bode well for Outback being open tonight. I think some despair has set in.

    Which may make that comment more or less on point. Paying attention to someone with a degree in Bioethics makes sense if if you’re desperate for an ethical standard, have none, and have no idea how to arrive at one. You’ve basically shoved all the hard thinking off on someone else. Of course, in this case they’re not doing the hard stuff either, but that’s another story.

    And you’re right: it’s not sustainable.

    Back to art briefly. I was slightly off yesterday. We’ve actually got two things going on I disapprove of. We’ve got the “logic” of an MTV piece my son showed me years ago: “We’re all just animals, so why don’t we do it like animals?” It’s humanity as beasts in a way that dishonors bees, cats and pigs, much less baboons. It’s logical, in a way, if pointless.

    But dada and it’s descendants are something else: an implicit and sometimes explicit belief that art shouldn’t make sense because life and the universe don’t either. If the “beast” crowd rejects human spirituality–religious or otherwise–reciting shopping lists as poems and exhibiting rotting garbage as art rejects human rationality. It says we can’t make sense of our universe, and shouldn’t even try.

    Well, I can keep both categories out of my life. To keep them out of my culture, perhaps the academic gatekeepers might resume their duties, and the government get out of the art business? Mind you, I’ve no objection to the walls of the White House holding original oil paintings, or buying statuary for the Capitol. But our politicians have gifted the public with a great many works of art they wouldn’t care to be photographed next to. There are words for that, and “patronizing” is the polite one.


    10 Feb 10 at 5:09 pm

  2. It’s unusual for even the northeastern US to beat us when it comes to blizzards and snowfall, but it certainly sounds like some quite southerly bits have beaten us that way – a competition I’d just as soon lose! I gather that a visitor raised in France was astonished and appalled by our recent blizzard; I don’t know what she’d have made of what’s going on in the US!

    I think there’s a tendency (as that article indicated) for us to generate professionals to fill a void. Doubts arose as to the ability of doctors to make ethical decisions – possibly as a result of a certain ambivalence in our culture about science and technology; we love the goodies, but have also been haunted by the image of Frankenstein’s monster. And religion is losing it’s status, so we create a new category of professionals, and the lecture in medical schools and provide advice in situations like the one in which parents and hospital staff disagree about cutting off live support to a very sick infant, to give a recent example from Canada.

    At least they’re thinking about ethics, although it is alarming that some of them seem to assume that their own beliefs should rest, unchallenged, as the premises that they base their decisions on. I hope that we’re past the ‘take the expert’s word as Gospel truth’ attitude many of us used to have.

    I’ve got a book by Margaret Somerville that I’ve been meaning to read because I liked some of the stuff I’ve heard her say and found it interesting. But I note from Google that although she does speak on medical ethics, she is apparently an ethicist and not a bioethicist, which I suppose means she’s a philosopher and not a member of the more recently-developed profession.

    And back to the weather – we had better not be getting that freezing rain etc this Friday and Saturday. I know compared to what some Americans are going through, that sounds very minor, but any problems with transportation locally on those days is going to be extremely inconvenient for my job.


    11 Feb 10 at 6:49 am

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Bad Behavior has blocked 246 access attempts in the last 7 days.