A Monopoly of Virtue and Omniscience?

So it turns out my colleague is not the only person out there who finds Crooked Timber irritating. Not a bit of it. There is for instance Oliver Kamm who has just posted about his decision to unlink the Timberites. His reasons are strikingly similar to those Jerry S has alluded to in passing.

Of Kant’s observation about “the crooked timber of mankind”, Isaiah Berlin, in his book of that title, wrote:

To force people into the neat uniforms demanded by dogmatically believed-in schemes is almost always the road to inhumanity.

Recently the authors of the Crooked Timber blog have excelled not only in the neatness of their uniforms, but also in their eagerness to congratulate themselves on how they look. It is an unendearing rhetorical tick to commend one’s own uniqueness among bloggers in commenting on a particular subject, and Crooked Timber’s authors appear to have caught it from each other. But if it were only their perspicacity, I should still find it tolerable; it’s their monopoly of virtue and omniscience that gets me down.

That’s a good quotation. We should have it as an epigraph somewhere. Again – it’s another one of those neat, eloquent statements of what we say in ‘About B&W.’ It’s probably a very unendearing rhetorical tick of mine to keep mentioning that – but I don’t do it for reasons of vanity, I don’t think. I do other things for reasons of vanity, no doubt, but not that. I don’t think. I think I do that 1) to reiterate the basic point because it is a point worth reiterating, if only because it’s a mental trap we’re all liable to, decidedly including me. I’m reminding myself as much as (if not more than) anyone. And 2) simply by way of quotation, aesthetic pleasure, etc. To enrich the point by offering particularly eloquent statements of it. And 3) to point out other people who think and say the same thing, by way of demonstrating that there are a lot of us. There are more of us than we think. A lot more. That’s been one of the major surprises of doing B&W, as a matter of fact: finding out what a lot of us there are. As I think I’ve mentioned a few times, Jerry S thought when we started B&W that we were going to get a lot of hostility (he looked forward to it) and not much of the other thing. It hasn’t turned out that way. That seems to be an indication that dislike of irrationalist strains and conformist pressures in the Left, by the Left, is quite widespread. Well what a good thing that is – there may be some hope of getting rid of them then (by exerting conformist pressure to be anti-irrationalist).

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