“Words ought to be a little wild for they are the assaults of thought on the unthinking.” ( J.M. Keynes )
An aristocratic disdain permeated the Bloomsbury group. A contempt for the masses as well as the bourgeois. They were the self-styled new cultural vanguard of the nation and if anything, they were clever, exceptionally clever. As Noel Annon said of Keynes, ” Like Dr. Johnson, he would talk for victory.” Keynes speculated on both money and commodity markets with languorous confidence. Operating from his bed every morning, equipped only with telephone, newspapers, and an uncanny knowledge of long-range trends- “my diversion” he wrote his mother- he build his personal fortune from a capital of 4000.
“The dealers on Wall Street could make huge fortunes if only they had no inside information,” he once said. He beat them at their own game in the 1930′s by investing heavily in American utility stocks. Wall Street believed That Man in the White House ( Roosevelt) would show his true socialist colors by nationalizing the public utilities. Keynes knew better. When the stocks eventually rose, he made a killing.
If the biographer or historian of Bloomsbury is obliged to take this seriously, it is because his characters did, because they made a morality (or “religion,” as Keynes put it) of “personal affections” as well as of “aesthetic enjoyments.” Indeed, the two were of a piece, the “new dispensation” inaugurating an ethic of modernism, so to speak, together with the aesthetic of modernism. Bloomsbury’s civilization, he admitted, was a thin veneer beneath which seethed the reality of “vulgar passions.” Its rationalism was a disguise for cynicism, and its irreverence and libertinism were a form of “intellectual chic.”
What Bloomsbury took from( G.E. ) Moore was a philosophy that sanctioned, if not immorality, as Keynes said, then at the very least amorality. For the “states of consciousness” that were at the heart of this philosophy had nothing to do with conduct or consequences. “Being good” was the objective, not “doing good.” And being good meant being in those heightened states of consciousness, those “timeless, passionate states of contemplation and communion,” which were conducive to “love, beauty and truth” – not virtue. And even love, beauty, and truth were carefully delineated so as to remove any taint of utility or morality. Useless knowledge was deemed preferable to useful, corporeal beauty to mental qualities, present and immediately realizable goods to remote or indirect ones. Thus, Keynes recalled, Bloomsbury “lived entirely in present experience,” repudiating not only the idea of “duty” but any kind of “social action,” and not only social action but the “life of action generally,” a life that might entail such disagreeable pursuits as “power, politics, success, wealth, ambition.”
The influence of the Bloomsbury intellectuals was so large and pervasive; Keynes being the most obvious example, that eventually the question to be posed is whether it was all a fraud, a giant put-on.A hoodwinking of the national consciousness that wedged itself into the crisis between religion, faith and morality and hung around long after the party was over. From Keynes, Strachey , Wolf, E.M. Forster et al. , there was a level of self absorption and ego- centeredness that a strong case for pathological narcissism could be asserted.The wit who described Bloomsbury as a place where “all the couples were triangles and lived in squares”, was probably understating the case. Was their real talent to back up the theses of Keynes, Bertrand Russell and the others, or was it simply a seduction through superficial cleverness?
…Narcissists are no more creative than other people, a new study finds — but they think they are, and they’re good at convincing others of their creative genius. ”The depressing reality we ended this with is that narcissists really aren’t very creative objectively, but they’re really good at getting other people to think they are,” says Jack Goncalo, co-author of the study. ”What could happen is that narcissists will get their ideas pushed through when they’re not very good, and then we have people who are more modest with really good ideas, but they’re not getting heard.” The study, conducted by three U.S. university professors, examines the link between narcissism and creativity. The results have been published in the current issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Reminiscences of John Maynard Keynes life make it a fine, sunlit, effortlessly spun web. His characteristic manner was sitting sunk deep in an armchair, each hand tucked into the opposite coat sleeve like a mandarin. His face was not handsome. He had a large spoonbill nose, which earned him the nickname “Snout” at Eton. But he allied his modulated , musical voice to his persuasive powers and delighted in argument for its own sake.
Keynes was a true Whig. This curious type of aristocracy is not found outside England. They did not accept the Victorian view of progress and the perfectability of human nature, and they also rejected the Tory extreme of an Augustinian belief in the utter corruptibility of human nature. Keynes held to the skeptical Whig belief in tolerance and human intelligence as a way out of the thicket. But instead of democratically according these qualities to the citizenry at large, he transferred his faith in an intellectual elite to the government, to that supposedly sensible leadership beloved of the Whigs.
He believed that an elite intelligence could manage things better than the citizens themselves, or more precisely that it could define the arena for the play of individual interests. What he failed to recognize, until too late, was that in our time, the government’s own huge interests in that same arena would extend its role far beyond that of pure arbiter and that it would be equally subject to the deep irrationalities of the nation as a whole.
…Mr. Goncalo said it was the popular stereotype of creative types as self-absorbed and self-aggrandizing that inspired them to take on the research. In the first experiment, participants had 10 minutes to come up with as many uses as possible for a simple brick. Narcissistic types dreamt up a mean of 19.26 ideas representing 9.43 different categories — a performance that wasn’t different in a statistically significant way from the 17.54 ideas covering 10.98 categories generated by non-narcissists.
A second test asked participants to imagine visiting a distant galaxy and a planet different from Earth, and then to draw a creature from that world. Responses were scored for “atypical” creative ideas, such as rearrangement of facial features or fanciful attributes like laser-shooting eyes. Narcissists didn’t draw alien creatures that were any more creative than their humbler counterparts did, but that didn’t stop them from rating their creativity more highly on both tasks….
So now the Keynesian revolution as been completed,repeated and depleted and the results do ask the question whether it was really launched out of the gentle and humane tradition it claims, or darker forces that were always there. Its ability to devour itself and a demonstrable ability to manipulate large forces in the economy have created a form of blueprint for killing the individual values and personal variety Keynes claimed to have passionately sought to preserve. The debris: wasteful competition, a selfish mass, and a lack of interest for the legitimate economic needs of the poor have been the reward. As a descriptive social scientist, Keynes saw this coming, but he encouraged it as the only way to keep the capitalist system going.
…”We really have to be careful not to mistake charisma for creativity,” said Mr. Goncalo, of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. ”People who are enthusiastic and confident aren’t necessarily the ones with the best ideas, just because they think they have the best ideas.”
But in another experiment examining creative ideas in group settings, he and coauthors Francis Flynn and Sharon Kim uncovered one encouraging aspect: Narcissists don’t generate more creative ideas on their own, but they boost group output by spurring others to be more competitive and outspoken. This study focuses on “sub-clinical narcissism,” Mr. Goncalo said, which means even the highest score on their scale doesn’t indicate a personality disorder. ”People think about narcissism as negative, but at the group level, having a couple around can be really useful,” he said. ”You can’t have too many of them because then they start to get self-destructive.” In fact, the results suggest that in any group, it’s optimal to have half or fewer of the members be narcissistic in order to benefit from the competitive creative boost they can provide, without devolving into chaos….
“The attribution of rationality to human nature, instead of enriching it, now seems to me to have impoverished it. It ignored certain valuable and powerful springs of feeling” , Keynes said in 1938, just after the Mysterious Stranger had first knocked. Keynes and the rest of Bloomsbury had adopted Mark Twains notions in his unfinished novella “Mysterious Stranger” as a leitmotif, with each seeking to finish the work in their own way. It was the story of a Satan as sinless nephew of the Biblical Satan who extols the futility of human existence and can weave illusions between the dream and waking world.
…I might also have quoted Twain (Satan is speaking!): “I know your race. It is made up of sheep. It is governed by minorities, seldom or never by majorities. It suppresses its feelings and its beliefs and follows the handful that makes the most noise. … The vast majority of the race, whether savage or civilized, are secretly kind-hearted and shrink from inflicting pain, but in the presence of the aggressive and pitless minority they don’t dare to assert themselves.”
Keynes has outlived his time, despite support from the Paul Krugman’s and Joseph Stieglitz’s; Nobel Prize laureates for attributing unreal rationality to other people’s feelings. Capitalism could not have done without Keynes, and the question, though not new, is what to do with him? The essential idea of humanity controlling its economic destiny is valid, but the economic symptoms are a decoy of more profound issues connected to deeper springs of feeling Keynes divined late in life. The current mood of abolishing or questioning the Federal Reserve, returning to the gold standard and so on, are part of a broader demand for new democratic institutions to deal with economic complexities. They probably must be drawn on a more intimate, less narcissistic scale, and reach far beyond the intellectual elite that Keynes believed was the repository of wisdom.
Himmelfarb:Even in its opposition to the war. Bloomsbury distinguished itself from other conscientious objectors – indeed, gave as much offense to them as to the supporters of the war. It was not pacifism that inspired Bloomsbury; its objections were not to war in general but to this war. And to this war not on specific political grounds but rather on social grounds, so to speak, because of disaffection from the society and the country at large. Duncan Grant explained to his father, a major in the army, why the war seemed to him to be a crime against “civilization.” He was, he confessed, “unpatriotic”, as most artists were. “I began to see that one’s enemies were not vague masses of foreign people, but the mass of people in one’s own country and the mass of people in the enemy country, and that one’s friends were people of true ideas that one might and did meet in every country one visited.” This contempt for the masses, as well as for the bourgeoisie, is dramatically illustrated in the familiar anecdote about Strachey’s appearance at the tribunal considering his request for exemption from military service. Before an audience packed with friends and relatives, Strachey slowly inflated an air cushion, carefully seated himself upon it (he claimed to have piles), and adjusted a travelling rug over his knees, before finally deigning to address himself to the questions of the tribunal. One question proved irresistible. Asked what he would do if he saw a German soldier trying to rape his sister, he solemnly looked at each of his sisters in turn and replied, in his high-pitched voice. “I should try and interpose my own body.” Even if one discounts this episode as Strachey at his most outrageous, it is harder to discount the delight with which his friends received this quip, or the comment of Quentin Bell, a true son of Bloomsbury, that Strachey’s attitude was “at once intelligent and irreverent.”
“We may also better appreciate the force of Nietzsche’s warning: that the late-Victorian Englishmen for whom “morality is not yet a problem” would give way to a post-Victorian generation for whom morality would be not only problematic but nonexistent. For what Nietzsche saw, and what Leavis did not, was the precariousness of that late-Victorian morality, a morality that was all the more admirable, perhaps, because it tried to maintain itself without the sanctions and consolations of religion, but that was too impoverished, too far removed from its original inspiration, to transmit itself to the next generation.”