Scene from The Parallax View (1974)

There are many on the right who view Herbert Marcuse’s essay “Repressive Tolerance” as something of a Rosetta Stone for understanding the left. It promises to decode everything from the radicalism of the late sixties, during which Marcuse was celebrated as a minor celebrity, to the “cultural Marxism” of academia and the “woke” ideology and “cancel culture” of American activists today. This has led to a steady-stream of commentary over the last few years, with titles like “How Marcuse Made Today’s Students Less Tolerant” and “Marcuse-Anon: Cult of the Pseudo-Intellectual”. (The latter admittedly is not by a right-winger but the…


Australian Bushfire, 2019

Nathan J. Robinson’s essay “The World’s Most Annoying Man” ought to be the last word on Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now. It comes after many other articles have thoroughly discredited key aspects of Pinker’s book, on topics such as poverty, neoliberalism, environmental issues, war and existential threats. What Robinson does is show how Pinker’s politics, often presented as moderate, centrist and liberal, amounts to so much reactionary nonsense. In drawing attention to the contrast between image and reality, Robinson writes:

Pinker is supposedly “such a nice guy,” a person who is restrained and moderate and reasonable, who laments that politics has…


A scene from The Matrix (1999)

I recently rewatched The Matrix (1999), and since I also happened to be reading through the work of René Girard, I couldn’t help but notice a number of Girardian themes running throughout the film. The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that what in the film is called “the Matrix” serves as a barely metaphorical reference to what Girard calls “the mimetic mechanism,” or at least something very much like it. The mimetic mechanism is what Girard takes to be the underlying historical dynamic behind much of human history, and he distinguishes three phases or aspects…


Indignado movement, Barcelona 2012. Photo credit: Giuliano Camarda

Why is the idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) embraced by elements of both the right and the left? I think the answer lies in the predominant conception of individual freedom in modern liberal societies: i.e. the freedom to choose how one wants to live, without having to justify one’s choices according to the demands of tradition, custom or hierarchy, and such that one’s actions are constrained only by the legal framework necessary to ensure everyone else is able to exercise the same freedom. The economic market is seen as fundamental to the realization of individual freedom, because it…


Lobster Diavolo

After listening to a hilarious send up of conservative contrarian Jordan Peterson and his book Twelve Rules for Life by the Chapo Trap House team, I thought I would check out a debate they reference between Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson on the topic of truth. It’s something of a jeu de massacre, with Peterson (who became famous in right-wing circles for spreading moral panic about gender-neutral pronouns) completely out of his depth in trying to defend a pragmatist theory of truth. …


The Temple of Whollyness — Burning Man 2013

At the beginning of this series, I referred to Corey Robin’s discussion of Hayek in “Nietzsche’s Marginal Children”. There Robin argues that Hayek’s account of value bears an elective affinity with Nietzsche’s promotion of an aristocratic “will to power” over democratic ideals as the basis for social values. (I think there is another, far more interesting way to read Nietzsche which I hope to write about soon.) For Hayek and the Austrian School, Nietzsche’s “noble types” or legislators of value emerge in and through success in the market. As Robin paraphrases the Austrians’ justification for linking the market to value…


Burning Man — 2017

What are values? The answer to be inferred from Hayek’s essay is that values are whatever determines human social behaviour. It is by treating value in such general terms that he can claim instinctual drives, cultural traditions, and practical reasoning as distinct sources of value. The point of Hayek’s essay is to show that those values which can be broadly construed as cultural have a privileged role in explaining the development and maintenance of capitalist or market-based societies.

Hayek’s conception of values is so broad, even when we restrict it to the cultural domain, that his account of order in…


Stock image of people pretending to mentalize

There has been a lot of commentary recently on how social media may be adversely affecting people’s mental health. The question of what exactly we mean by mental health, however, is rarely discussed in this context. Too often it’s simply taken to mean the absence of depression or a reported sense of well-being. What I’d like to do here is take the idea of “mentalization” as a model for mental health, or at least an important aspect of it, and then ask some questions about how we might understand the relationship between mentalization and the use of social media. …


Burning Man Festival 2017

Although Hayek’s essay is called “Three Sources of Human Values”, he barely mentions the word “value” in it at all. Instead, he appears to use the terms “value” and “rule” interchangeably. Whether he is discussing the biological, cultural or rational sources of value, it is always in terms of their relation to “rules” or “rules of conduct”.

One of the problems with this conflation of values and rules is that we can, and often do, draw a distinction between them. Giving to charity, changing religion, voting in elections, or sacrificing one’s life for one’s country, for example, are all things…


Burning Man 2012 — photo Scott London

Hayek’s argument in “Three Sources of Human Values” (published as an epilogue to Law, Legislation and Liberty) is relatively straight-forward. There are, he claims, three sources of value: biological, cultural, and rational. The biological source of value consists of genetically inherited instinctual drives. Hayek believes these drives were instrumental in the survival of small, hunter-gatherer type societies. Given the same environmental cues, these shared innate drives helped ensure that members were likely to coordinate their action effectively in the pursuit of common goals. But as these social groups became larger, it became less likely that all members would share the…

Andrew Montin

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