I brought Cioran into my latest Pyrrhonian post to lay bare the contrast between the Christian's pursuit of a "peace that surpasses all understanding" (Philippians 4:7) and the Pyrrhonian's peace which is beneath understanding inasmuch as it is predicated upon not understanding -- and not caring any more about understanding. I then asked whether this could be a peace worth wanting.
I ended my Pyrrhonian post with the quip: "To Emil Cioran I would say: safety is overrated." My point, in contemporary jargon, is that really fruitful living requires frequent and extended forays from one's 'comfort zone' into regions of stress and challenge and doxastic risk.
Kai Frederik Lorentzen comments:
I think you do Cioran wrong insofar as he seems to be ambivalent about Skepticism. In Histoire et Utopie (1960), he writes: "Skepticism is the sadism of embittered souls."
Cioran's spiritual yearning appears real to me.
I have read quite a bit of Cioran but not enough to venture a definitive judgment. So I don't know whether his spiritual yearning is genuine or just a literary posture. My impression is that he is a mere litterateur. But even if he is sincere, his scepticism seems distinct from Pyrrhonian Skepticism. Acolytes of the latter try not to dogmatize whereas it is not clear to me that Cioran avoids or tries to avoid a dogmatic scepticism/nihilism. A bit of (inconclusive) evidence:
X, who instead of looking at things directly has spent his life juggling with concepts and abusing abstract terms, now that he must envisage his own death, is in desperate straits. Fortunately for him, he flings himself, as is his custom, into abstractions, into commonplaces illustrated by jargon. A glamorous hocus-pocus, such is philosophy. But ultimately, everything is hocus-pocus, except for this very assertion that participates in an order of propositions one dares not question because they emanate from an unverifiable certitude, one somehow anterior to the brain’s career. (E. M. Cioran, Drawn and Quartered (New York: Seaver Books, 1983), translated from the French by Richard Howard, p.153)
A statement of Cioran’s scepticism. But his scepticism is half-hearted and dognatic since he insulates his central claim from sceptical corrosion. To asseverate that his central claim issues from “an unverifiable certitude” is sheer dogmatism since there is no way that this certitude can become a self-certitude luminous to itself. Compare the Cartesian cogito. In the cogito situation, a self’s indubitability is revealed to itself, and thus grounds itself. But Cioran invokes something anterior to the mind, something which, precisely because of it anteriority, cannot be known by any mind. Why then should we not consider his central claim – according to which everything is a vain and empty posturing – to be itself a vain and empty posturing?
Indeed, is this not the way we must interpret it given Cioran’s two statements of nihilism cited above? If everything is nothing, then surely there cannot be “an unverifiable certitude” anterior to the mind that is impervious to sceptical assault.
Again, one may protest that I am applying logic in that I am comparing different aphorisms with an eye towards evaluating their mutual consistency. It might be suggested that our man is simply not trying to be consistent. But then I say that he is an unserious literary scribbler with no claim on our attention. But the truth of the matter lies a bit deeper: he is trying have it both ways at once. He is trying to say something true but without satisfying the canons satisfaction of which is a necessary (though not sufficient) condition of anything’s being true.
My interim judgment, then, is this. What we have before us is a form of cognitive malfunction brought about by hypertrophy of the sceptical faculty. Doubt is the engine of inquiry. Thus there is a healthy form of scepticism. But Cioran’s extreme scepticism is a disease of cognition rather than a means to it. The writing, though, is brilliant.
Many are tempted by the thought that nothing ultimately matters, and in some this thought becomes an oppressive mood that paralyzes and renders life unlivable. Leo Tolstoy's "My Confession" is perhaps the best expression of this dark and oppressive nihilism. But the sense that nothing matters contains an insight which is as it were the silver lining of the dark cloud of nihilism.
The insight is that nothing finite is truly satisfactory, worthy of our ultimate concern, or finally real. It is an insight that serves as prophylaxis against the smug self-satisfaction of the worldling and his idolatry of the transient.
The nihilist is closer to God than he thinks, closer than the worldling, and closer than those for whom religion is a palliative and a convenience.
Here, by Steven Hayward, with a tip of the hat to an old friend, Ingvar Odegaard. My comment:
Whites who speak of 'white privilege' would do well to reflect as well on 'black privilege.' One of the 'privileges' of blacks these days, apparently, is the right to riot and loot when a decision of the criminal justice system goes against their prejudices.
There is a lot of talk these days about white privilege. I don't believe I have discussed this topic before.
1. White privilege is presumably a type of privilege. What is a privilege? This is the logically prior question. To know what white privilege is we must first know what privilege is. Let's consider some definitions.
D1. A privilege is a special entitlement or immunity granted to a particular person or group of persons by the government or some other corporate entity such as a university or a church on a conditional basis.
Driving on public roads is a privilege by this definition. It is not a right one has just in virtue of being a human being or a citizen. It is a privilege the state grants on condition that one satisfy and continue to satisfy certain requirements pertaining to age, eyesight, driving skill, etc. Being a privilege, the license to drive can be revoked. By contrast, the right to life and the right to free speech are neither conditional nor granted by the government. They can't be revoked. Please don't confuse a constitutionally protected right such as the right to free speech with a right granted by the government.
Faculty members have various privileges, a franking privilege, a library privilege, along with such perquisites as an office, a carrel, secretarial help, access to an an exclusive dining facility, etc. Immunities are also privileges, e.g., the immunity to prosecution granted to a miscreant who agrees to inform on his cohorts.
Now if (D1) captures what we mean by 'privilege,' then it it is hard to see how there could be white privilege. Are there certain special entitlements and immunities that all and only whites have in virtue of being white, entitlements and immunities granted on a conditional basis by the government and revocable by said government? No. But there is black privilege by (D1). It is called affirmative action.
So if we adopt (D1) we get the curious result that there is no white privilege, but there is black privilege! Those who speak of white privilege as of something real and something to be aware of and opposed must therefore have a different definition of privilege in mind, perhaps the following: