Gustave Le Bon remarks in his study of The Crowd (1895) that when the suggestible individual loses himself in the irrational multitude, he enters into a mental phase “hovering on the borderland of unconsciousness” which is characterized by “violence of feeling.” It is no wonder that the crowd’s appetite should run to the insipid and at the same time to the nasty. Regimes want this result, as it increases the malleability of the masses, immobilizing them temporarily in simple satiety, while convincing them of a specious independence. Le Bon writes that, “the improbable does not exist for the crowd,” which falsely regards itself as a superhuman entity. Nicolas Berdyaev, the Russian religious thinker, agrees with Le Bon. In Freedom and the Spirit (1927), Berdyaev writes of the pseudo-mysticism typical of political movements in an age of crassness and a purely materialist worldview: “There are orgiastic types of mysticism in which the spirit is swallowed up by the ‘psychical’ or corporeal elements, and remains wedded to them.” According to Berdyaev, “true mysticism frees us from the sense of oppression which arises from everything which is alien to us, and imposed, as it were, from without.” In modernity, real transcendence is vanishingly rare while false transcendence is a common – one might say the commonest – occurrence, existing in many only slightly varied and equally jejune forms.
Berdyaev, who before he became a theologian began as an aesthetician, frequently comments on the relation of art to transcendence and to the mystic experience. In The Meaning of the Creative Act (1916), Berdyaev turns his attention briefly to music, noting that, like everything else in modernity, music has become banal and purely functional, giving what he calls “illusory transport to another world,” while being in subservience to the empirical order. It is the case nevertheless that “in the spirit of music there is prophecy of incarnate beauty yet to be.” Berdyaev intuits, for example, that “Beethoven was a prophet”; by contrast Alexander Scriabin, who made himself out to be a vates and a mystagogue, succeeds only in articulating “a sense of foreboding and unconquered chaos.” Berdyaev likes to write in propositions: “The creative act of the artist is essentially the non-submission to this world and its distortions”; and “the creative act is a daring upsurge past the limitations of this world into the world of beauty.” Because “the artist believes that beauty is more real than the distortion of the world,” it follows that “there can be no art without an impulse to beauty.” In the Twentieth-Century phase of modernity, the situation has become extremely acute. In this phase, “the mechanical civilization… reducing everything to one level, depersonalizing man and depriving him of value” has led to a condition of “pseudo-being, illusory being, being turned inside out.”
Artificial intelligence may prove more dangerous as it advances, but it will never generate actual intelligence so long as the basic assumptions of the field remain unchanged. In The AI Delusion, Gary Smith reveals why, and assesses the technology’s problems from an economist’s perspective.
AI’s basic problem concerns how computers process symbols, from the series of English letters one types on a keyboard to, more fundamentally, the strings of 0’s and 1’s into which those letters are encoded. The meanings of these symbols—indeed, even the fact that they are symbols—is not something the computer knows. A computer no more understands what it processes than a slide rule comprehends the numbers and lines written on its surface. It’s the user of a slide rule who does the calculations, not the instrument itself. Similarly, it’s the designers and users of a computer who understand the symbols it processes. The intelligence is in them, not in the machine.
"Conveyed in a Christian idiom, Ruskin’s Romanticism surfaced first in his five-volume Modern Painters (1843), and then leavened his forays into social criticism and political economy. Artists such as J. M. W. Turner, he asserted in volume one, perceive in nature “that faultless, ceaseless, inconceivable, inexhaustible loveliness, which God has stamped upon all things.” Beauty, he wrote in the second volume (1846), “whether [it] occur in a stone, flower, beast, or in man … may be shown to be in some sort typical of the Divine attributes.” “In the midst of the material nearness of these heavens,” he declared in volume four (1856), we “acknowledge His own immediate presence.” Because Ruskin saw the sacred in nature, he saw it in humankind as well. “The direct manifestation of Deity to man is in His own image, that is, in man,” he wrote in volume five (1860). “The soul of man is a mirror of the mind of God” – a mirror, he rued, “dark distorted, and broken.”"
Incurable beautifully preserves a few of Johnson’s letters, going a long ways in helping us to get a sense of the man himself. In one of these, written to his close American friend Louise Imogen Guiney, we get Johnson’s sense of what entering the church meant to an artist like himself, in his defense of Aubrey Beardsley’s conversion to Catholicism. Johnson could well have been writing about himself:
His consciousness of imminent death—the certainty that whatever he might do in art, in thought, in life at all, must be done very soon or never—forced him to face the ultimate questions. I do not for an instant mean that his conversion was a kind of feverish snatching at comfort and peace, a sort of anodyne or opiate for his restless mind: I only mean that, being under sentence of death, in the shadow of it, he was brought swiftly face to face with the values and purposes of life and human activity, and that he ‘co-operated with grace’, as theology puts it, by a more immediate and vivid vision of faith, than is granted to most converts. All that was best in his art, its often intense idealism, its longing to express the ultimate truths of beauty in line and form, its profound imaginativeness, helped to lead him straight to that faith which embraces and explains all human apprehensions of, and cravings for, the last and highest excellences.
Johnson also died young, at thirty-five, from alcohol abuse. Being who he was, he left behind no children but his body of work, which lived on—not only through its influence on Yeats, though especially that—into the twentieth century, presaging as it does much in Modernism generally. Johnson had a fascination of and gift for crafting the arresting image, but what separates him from his Imagist progeny is how the objects Johnson depicts always seem to flash for an instant before dissolving into an ethereal mist. If Imagists followed the notion that the world is all that is the case, Johnson’s prose was struck through with the ephemerality of life itself. In Johnson’s poetry, as a fellow mystic said sixty years later, life is a dream already over.
I have been to Abilene
The spirit world rising
I have seen in Abilene
The Devil has Texas
If the last presidential election taught me anything, it’s that journalists based in New York need to pay attention to life outside cities. And I was further intrigued by La Puente. The group runs one of the country’s oldest rural homeless shelters. Cheslock told me that more and more people who show up at the shelter, especially in winter, have been trying to live out on the prairie. In good weather, the large area between the mountain ranges has many appeals: incredible views, eagles and other wildlife, and land you can buy for a song. Five-acre lots on the prairie are typically priced at $3,000 to $5,000. (Land costs a lot more around the mountainous edges or in towns, where more people live.) But only the hardy can make it here year-round. The cheap land is almost all treeless and miles from anywhere, and the valley is famously windy. Settlers will typically have a few solar panels hooked up to batteries for basics such as lights and a refrigerator, but beyond that you need money for gasoline, you need water, and, when it gets cold, you need a reliable source of heat.
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor