Monday, November 06, 2017

Gustav Grundgens in Fritz Lang's M, (1931)
Arendt contra Brecht, Baudelaire, and Dark Zero 30

The Origins of Totalitarianism, Part 3, Ch. 1, Sec. 2: The Temporary Alliance Between the Elite and the Mob
If we compare this generation with the nineteenth-century ideologists, with whose theories they sometimes seem to have so much in common, their chief distinction is their greater authenticity and passion. They had been more deeply touched by misery, they were more concerned with the perplexities and more deadly hurt by hypocrisy than all the apostles of good will and brotherhood had been. And they could no longer escape into exotic lands, could no longer afford to be dragon-slayers among strange and exciting people. There was no escape from the daily routine of misery, meekness, frustration, and resentment embellished by a fake culture of educated talk; no conformity to the customs of fairy-tale lands could possibly save them from the rising nausea that this combination continuously inspired.

This inability to escape into the wide world, this feeling of being caught again and again in the trappings of society—so different from the conditions which had formed the imperialist character—added a constant strain and the yearning for violence to the older passion for anonymity and losing oneself. Without the possibility of a radical change of role and character, such as the identification with the Arab national movement or the rites of an Indian village, the self-willed immersion in the suprahuman forces of destruction seemed to be a salvation from the automatic identification with pre-established functions in society and their utter banality, and at the same time to help destroy the functioning itself. These people felt attracted to the pronounced activism of totalitarian movements, to their curious and only seemingly contradictory insistence on both the primacy of sheer action and the overwhelming force of sheer necessity. This mixture corresponded precisely to the war experience of the "front generation," to the experience of constant activity within the framework of overwhelming fatality.

Activism, moreover, seemed to provide new answers to the old and troublesome question, "Who am I?" which always appears with redoubled persistence in times of crisis. If society insisted, "You are what you appear to be," postwar activism replied: "You are what you have done"—for instance, the man who for the first time had crossed the Atlantic in an air-plane (as in Brecht's Der Flug der Lindberghs)—an answer which after the second World War was repeated and slightly varied by Sartre's "You are your life" (in Huis Clos). The pertinence of these answers lies less in their validity as redefinitions of personal identity than in their usefulness for an eventual escape from social identification, from the multiplicity of inter-changeable roles and functions which society had imposed. The point was to do something, heroic or criminal, which was unpredictable and undetermined by anybody else.

The pronounced activism of the totalitarian movements, their preference for terrorism over all other forms of political activity, attracted the intellectual elite and the mob alike, precisely because this terrorism was so utterly different from that of the earlier revolutionary societies. It was no longer a matter of calculated policy which saw in terrorist acts the only means to eliminate certain outstanding personalities who, because of their policies or position, had become the symbol of oppression. What proved so attractive was that terrorism had become a kind of philosophy through which to express frustration, resentment, and blind hatred, a kind of political expressionism which used bombs to express oneself, which watched delightedly the publicity given to resounding deeds and was absolutely willing to pay the price of life for having succeeded in forcing the recognition of one's existence on the normal strata of society. It was still the same spirit and the same game which made Goebbels, long before the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany, announce with obvious delight that the Nazis, in case of defeat, would know how to slam the door behind them and not to be forgotten for centuries.

Yet it is here if anywhere that a valid criterion may be found for distinguishing the elite from the mob in the pretotalitarian atmosphere. What the mob wanted, and what Goebbels expressed with great precision, was access to history even at the price of destruction. Goebbels' sincere conviction that "the greatest happiness that a contemporary can experience today" is either to be a genius or to serve one,[57] was typical of the mob but neither of the masses nor the sympathizing elite. The latter, on the contrary, took anonymity seriously to the point of seriously denying the existence of genius; all the art theories of the twenties tried desperately to prove that the excellent is the product of skill, craftsmanship, logic, and the realization of the potentialities of the material.[58] The mob, and not the elite, was charmed by the "radiant power of fame" (Stefan Zweig) and accepted enthusiastically the genius idolatry of the late bourgeois world. In this the mob of the twentieth century followed faithfully the pattern of earlier parvenus who also had discovered the fact that bourgeois society would rather open its doors to the fascinating "abnormal," the genius, the homosexual, or the Jew, than to simple merit. The elite's contempt for the genius and its yearning for anonymity was still witness of a spirit which neither the masses nor the mob were in a position to understand, and which, in the words of Robespierre, strove to assert the grandeur of man against the pettiness of the great.

This difference between the elite and the mob notwithstanding, there is no doubt that the elite was pleased whenever the underworld frightened respectable society into accepting it on an equal footing. The members of the elite did not object at all to paying a price, the destruction of civilization, for the fun of seeing how those who had been excluded unjustly in the past forced their way into it. They were not particularly outraged at the monstrous forgeries in historiography of which all totalitarian regimes are guilty and which announce themselves clearly enough in totalitarian propaganda. They had convinced themselves that traditional historiography was a forgery in any case, since it had excluded the underprivileged and oppressed from the memory of mankind. Those who were rejected by their own time were usually forgotten by history, and insult added to injury had troubled all sensitive consciences ever since faith in a hereafter where the last would be the first had disappeared. Injustices in the past as well as the present became intolerable when there was no longer any hope that the scales of justice eventually would be set right. Marx's great attempt to rewrite world history in terms of class struggles fascinated even those who did not believe in the correctness of his thesis, because of his original intention to find a device by which to force the destinies of those excluded from official history into the memory of posterity.

The temporary alliance between the elite and the mob rested largely on this genuine delight with which the former watched the latter destroy respectability. This could be achieved when the German steel barons were forced to deal with and to receive socially Hitler the housepainter and self-admitted former derelict, as it could be with the crude and vulgar forgeries perpetrated by the totalitarian movements in all fields of intellectual life, insofar as they gathered all the subterranean, nonrespectable elements of European history into one consistent picture. From this viewpoint it was rather gratifying to see that Bolshevism and Nazism began even to eliminate those sources of their own ideologies which had already won some recognition in academic or other official quarters. Not Marx's dialectical materialism, but the conspiracy of 300 families; not the pompous scientificality of Gobineau and Chamberlain, but the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion"; not the traceable influence of the Catholic Church and the role played by anti-clericalism in Latin countries, but the backstairs literature about the Jesuits and the Freemasons became the inspiration for the rewriters of history. The object of the most varied and variable constructions was always to reveal official history as a joke, to demonstrate a sphere of secret influences of which the visible, traceable, and known historical reality was only the out-ward facade erected explicitly to fool the people.

To this aversion of the intellectual elite for official historiography, to its conviction that history, which was a forgery anyway, might as well be the playground of crackpots, must be added the terrible, demoralizing fascination in the possibility that gigantic lies and monstrous falsehoods can eventually be established as unquestioned facts, that man may be free to change his own past at will, and that the difference between truth and falsehood may cease to be objective and become a mere matter of power and clever-ness, of pressure and infinite repetition. Not Stalin's and Hitler's skill in the art of lying but the fact that they were able to organize the masses into a collective unit to back up their lies with impressive magnificence, exerted the fascination. Simple forgeries from the viewpoint of scholarship appeared to receive the sanction of history itself when the whole marching reality of the movements stood behind them and pretended to draw from them the necessary inspiration for action.

The attraction which the totalitarian movements exert on the elite, so long as and wherever they have not seized power, has been perplexing because the patently vulgar and arbitrary, positive doctrines of totalitarianism are more conspicuous to the outsider and mere observer than the general mood which pervades the pretotalitarian atmosphere. These doctrines were so much at variance with generally accepted intellectual, cultural, and moral standards that one could conclude that only an inherent fundamental short-coming of character in the intellectual, "la trahison des clercs" (J. Benda), or a perverse self-hatred of the spirit, accounted for the delight with which the elite accepted the "ideas" of the mob. What the spokesmen of humanism and liberalism usually overlook, in their bitter disappointment and their unfamiliarity with the more general experiences of the time, is that an at-mosphere in which all traditional values and propositions had evaporated (after the nineteenth-century ideologies had refuted each other and exhausted their vital appeal) in a sense made it easier to accept patently absurd propo-sitions than the old truths which had become pious banalities, precisely because nobody could be expected to take the absurdities seriously. Vulgarity with its cynical dismissal of respected standards and accepted theories carried with it a frank admission of the worst and a disregard for all pretenses which were easily mistaken for courage and a new style of life. In the growing prevalence of mob attitudes and convictions—which were actually the attitudes and convictions of the bourgeoisie cleansed of hypocrisy—those who traditionally hated the bourgeoisie and had voluntarily left respectable society saw only the lack of hypocrisy and respectability, not the content itself. [59]

Since the bourgeoisie claimed to be the guardian of Western traditions and confounded all moral issues by parading publicly virtues which it not only did not possess in private and business life, but actually held in con-tempt, it seemed revolutionary to admit cruelty, disregard of human values, and general amorality, because this at least destroyed the duplicity upon which the existing society seemed to rest. What a temptation to flaunt ex-treme attitudes in the hypocritical twilight of double moral standards, to wear publicly the mask of cruelty if everybody was patently inconsiderate and pretended to be gentle, to parade wickedness in a world, not of wickedness, but of meanness! The intellectual elite of the twenties who knew little of the earlier connections between mob and bourgeoisie was certain that the old game of epater le bourgeois could be played to perfection if one started to shock society with an ironically exaggerated picture of its own behavior.

At that time, nobody anticipated that the true victims of this irony would be the elite rather than the bourgeoisie. The avant-garde did not know they were running their heads not against walls but against open doors, that a unanimous success would belie their claim to being a revolutionary minority, and would prove that they were about to express a new mass spirit or the spirit of the time. Particularly significant in this respect was the reception given Brecht's Dreigroschenoper in pre-Hitler Germany. The play presented gangsters as respectable businessmen and respectable businessmen as gangsters. The irony was somewhat lost when respectable businessmen in the audience considered this a deep insight into the ways of the world and when the mob welcomed it as an artistic sanction of gangsterism. The theme song in the play, "Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral," was greeted with frantic applause by exactly everybody, though for different reasons. The mob applauded because it took the statement literally; the bourgeoisie applauded because it had been fooled by its own hypocrisy for so long that it had grown tired of the tension and found deep wisdom in the expression of the banality by which it lived; the elite applauded because the unveiling of hypocrisy was such superior and wonderful fun. The effect of the work was exactly the opposite of what Brecht had sought by it. The bourgeoisie could no longer be shocked; it welcomed the exposure of its hidden philosophy, whose popularity proved they had been right all along, so that the only political result of Brecht's "revolution" was to encourage everyone to discard the uncomfortable mask of hypocrisy and to accept openly the standards of the mob. A reaction similar in its ambiguity was aroused some ten years later in France by Celine's Bagatelles pour un Massacre, in which he proposed to massacre all the Jews. Andre Gide was publicly delighted in the pages of the Nouvelle Revue Francaise, not of course because he wanted to kill the Jews of France, but because he rejoiced in the blunt admission of such a desire and in the fascinating contradiction between Celine's bluntness and the hypocritical politeness which surrounded the Jewish question in all respectable quarters. How irresistible the desire for the unmasking of hypocrisy was among the elite can be gauged by the fact that such delight could not even be spoiled by Hitler's very real persecution of the Jews, which at the time of Celine's writing was already in full swing. Yet aversion against the philosemitism of the liberals had much more to do with this reaction than hatred of Jews. A similar frame of mind explains the remarkable fact that Hitler's and Stalin's widely publicized opinions about art and their persecution of modern artists have never been able to destroy the attraction which the totalitarian movements had for avant-garde artists; this shows the elite's lack of a sense of reality, together with its perverted selflessness, both of which resemble only too closely the fictitious world and the absence of self-interest among the masses. It was the great opportunity of the totalitarian movements, and the reason why a temporary alliance between the intellectual elite and the mob could come about, that in an elementary and undifferentiated way their problems had become the same and foreshadowed the problems and mentality of the masses.
[57]Goebbels, op. sit, p 139.

[58] The art theories of the Bauhaus were characteristic in this respect. See also Bertolt Brecht's remarks on the theater, Gesammelte Werke, London. 1938.

[59] The following passage by Rohm is typical of the feeling of almost the whole younger generation and not only of an elite "Hypocrisy and Pharisaism rule They are the most conspicuous characteristics of society today.... Nothing could be more lying than the so-called morals of society" These boys "don't find their way in the philistine world of bourgeois double morals and don't know any longer how to distinguish between truth and error" (Die Gewhichte einei Hochverratels, pp. 267 and 269) The homosexuality of these circles was also at- least partially an expression of their protest against society.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

File under Trolley Problems. A soldier explains what Oxbridge philosophers can't. It's a sign of how far we've fallen that it has to be explained at all.
A thousand years ago when I was about to begin my military career, a wise old retired Marine colonel, a veteran of the carnage at Tarawa, gave me some advice. Paraphrased here, he said
So you want to be a career soldier? Good for you. But remember that the longer you stay in uniform, the less you will really understand about the country you protect. Democracy is the antithesis of the military life; it’s chaotic, dishonest, disorganized, and at the same time glorious, exhilarating and free — which you are not.

After a while, if you stay in, you’ll be tempted to say, “Look, you civilians, we’ve got a better way. We’re better organized. We’re patriotic, and we know what it is to sacrifice. Be like us.” And you’ll be dead wrong, son. If you’re a career soldier, you may defend democracy, but you won’t understand it or be part of it. What’s more, you’ll always be a stranger to your own society. That’s the sacrifice you’ll be making.
"A military in service to a democracy is an authoritarian order in service to a free one: every soldier is simultaneously both a soldier and a citizen." A living breathing contradiction in terms. Before we negotiate with others we negotiate with ourselves.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

“They’re gonna look at me and they’re gonna know."

Feminism in 2017. "It's complicated"

It was never an “open secret” among me and my then-colleagues that Leon Wieseltier, the longtime literary czar of the New Republic, behaved inappropriately with women in the workplace. It was simply out in the open.
When I was in high school, I let my guy friends shoot crumpled paper balls into my cleavage at lunch. I thought this made me cooler than the other girls, and that my ability to assimilate and remain sexualized was special.  
The author's wedding photographs, on their own webpage,

by Aaron and Whitney Photography

Rose McGowan: "I have been silenced for 20 years."
She chose silence.

'There are powerful forces at work'
Vanity, insecurity, Freudianism and careerism.

"Weighing the Costs of Speaking Out About Harvey Weinstein: Annabella Sciorra, Daryl Hannah, and other women explain their struggles with going public."
All told, more than fifty women have now levelled accusations against Weinstein, in accounts published by the New York Times, The New Yorker, and other outlets. But many other victims have continued to be reluctant to talk to me about their experiences, declining interview requests or initially agreeing to talk and then wavering. As more women have come forward, the costs of doing so have certainly shifted. But many still say that they face overwhelming pressures to stay silent, ranging from the spectre of career damage to fears about the life-altering consequences of being marked as sexual-assault victims. “Now when I go to a restaurant or to an event, people are going to know that this happened to me,” Sciorra said. “They’re gonna look at me and they’re gonna know. I’m an intensely private person, and this is the most unprivate thing you can do.”

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

A repeat from 2012

If some of the foreign fighters in Aleppo were callow, others such as Abu Salam al Faluji boasted extraordinary experience. Abu Salam, a rugged Iraqi with a black keffiyeh wrapped around his head, said he had fought the Americans in Falluja when he was a young man. Later he joined al-Qaida in Iraq and spent many years fighting in different cities before moving to Syria to evade arrest. These days he was a commander of the one of the muhajiroun units.

I found him watching a heated debate between the Syrian commanders about how to defend the buckling frontline.

The government attack had begun as predicted and mortars were exploding in the streets nearby, the sound of machine-gun fire ricocheting between the buildings. The mortars were hammering hard against the walls, sending a small shower of shrapnel and cascading glass, but Abu Salam stood unflinching.One Syrian, breathing hard, said that he had fired three times at the tank and the RPG didn't go off.

"Don't say it didn't go off," Abu Salam admonished him. "Say you don't know how to fire it. We used to shoot these same RPGs at the Americans and destroy Abrams tanks. What's a T72 to an Abrams?

"Our work has to focus on IEDs and snipers," he told the gathering. "All these roofs need fighters on top and IEDs on the ground. You hunt them in the alleyways and then use machine-guns and RPGs around corners.

"The problem is not ammunition, it's experience," he told me out of earshot of the rebels. "If we were fighting Americans we would all have been killed by now. They would have killed us with their drone without even needing to send a tank.

"The rebels are brave but they don't even know the difference between a Kalashnikov bullet and a sniper bullet. That weakens the morale of the men.

"They have no leadership and no experience," he said. "Brave people attack, but the men in the lines behind them withdraw, leaving them exposed. It is chaos. This morning the Turkish brothers fought all night and at dawn they went to sleep leaving a line of Syrians behind to protect them. When they woke up the Syrians had left and the army snipers had moved in. Now it's too late. The army has entered the streets and will overrun us."

He seemed nonchalant about the prospect of defeat.

"It is obvious the Syrian army is winning this battle, but we don't tell [the rebels] this. We don't want to destroy their morale. We say we should hold here for as long as Allah will give us strength and maybe he will make one of these foreign powers come to help Syrians."

The irony was not lost on Abu Salam how the jihadis and the Americans – bitter enemies of the past decade – had found themselves fighting on the same side again.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

fantasies and fantasists

"Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy", again and again and again.

Farah Mendlesohn, a long time friend of Crooked Timber, writes:
I had to withdraw my book on Heinlein from the original publisher due to length. As I explored other options it became clear that no academic publisher could take it without substantial cuts, and no one who read it, could suggest any. In addition, the length would have pushed up the price for an academic publisher beyond what people could afford. Unbound, a crowdsourcing press, have agreed to take the book and have been able to price it at £12 for the ebook and £35 for the hard back.
The crowd-funding site is here. I’ve read and loved two of Farah’s previous books on f/sf (and have been contemplating a reply to her analysis of Neil Gaiman’s The Wolves in the Wall for several years) – I’ve no doubt this is going to be great.
"The foundation to technocratic liberalism: the ambiguities of life lived mean nothing next to the light of pure and puritan reason. But the word "puritan" gives it a subtext that reason itself does not allow. And the only art acceptable to reason is children's fantasy, because fantasy doesn't undermine the law of non-contradiction, and "literary" fiction breaks it constantly, as we do in our own lives."
I’ve a new piece up at Jacobin...
Revolutionary Possibility: China Miéville’s October depicts the transformative hope of revolution.
...The hope that revolution promises can never be realized by us as we are now. More profoundly, the hope that it actually embodies is unimaginable, since to be able to imagine it is to have undergone it. From this side, we cannot see what the other side looks like. The promise of revolution is inevitably a lie, right up to the moment when the revolutionary transformation occurs, because the person making the promise cannot possibly understand that to which she is committing.

Understanding this is the key to understanding Miéville’s October. Like the thought of Walter Benjamin, Miéville’s Marxism is shot through with what can only be described as faith. Benjamin notoriously never finished reading Capital, and was attracted by the socialist utopians whom Marx reviled and disparaged, because he saw in them an unrealized hope for a world that would be radically transformed. Thus, the promise of the October Revolution remains with us, like Miéville’s imagined, frozen train, not as an inevitability but as a possibility, which has never properly arrived but may break through at any moment. As Benjamin described it, every second of time is the gate through which the Messiah may enter. The world that the Messiah brings is in principle unknowable to us, yet if we do not hope and work for this now-unimaginable redemption, we will never find it.

It’s superficially easy for more prosaic socialists to sneer at these ideas when they are presented so baldly. We do not live in an age that seems to lend itself to radical transformation. Moreover, such efforts at radical transformation as we have seen in the last century have largely failed, and often failed in terrible ways. Yet it is also true that we have seen enormous transformation in the past, and have no good warrant to believe that we’ve arrived at the end of transformative history.
Looping back from a post-communist romance with libertarianism, to begin again.

3 Scholasticism continues to wither.
The growing mismatch between jobs for philosophers and what the leading PhD programs emphasize, or, the so-called "core" is dying.
PhilJobs is starting to fill up with ads, though not as many ads as one would like to see (at least not yet). But what is striking is the pattern in areas of interest: lots of value theory and history of philosophy (esp. early modern, but also a fair bit of 19th-century), some currently "trendy" areas like philosophy of race and gender, but very little "core analytic" (as the Stanford ad puts it), i.e., very little philosophy of language and mind, metaphyscis & epistemology, the latter being the historical "prestige" trackers in the profession for the last half-century. But as I've remarked before, what is prestigious and central at the top PhD programs may no longer bear much relationship to most of the jobs that exist. ...

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A repeat from 2013, updated

flickr and Reuters/NSA
Gursky's nihilism, and Alex Rosenberg's determinism; anti-humanism and E.O. Wilson's ants.

Ahmed Mater. I saw the work awhile ago and didn't get around to it. Today I found someone using an image of one of his pieces, in an article on magnetism, without a reference to the piece itself. The pieces aren't on Mater's website and a lot of references on other sites have been removed. He may have gotten into trouble.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Philosophers are idiots
A university must tolerate, and even welcome, those who follow evidence and argument to conclusions that are false or unpalatable; but it may reject those who seek a platform for hatred or deception. That is why it counts counts against Middlebury College when its shouts down Charles Murray but it counts in favour of Berkeley when it excludes Milos Yannopoulos [sic].
Universities would deserve criticism for rejecting a presentation by the authors of the Nuremberg Laws, but would be right in rejecting a speech by a rabble-rousing journalist who promotes them.

Similar from Farrell
The way that the Kennedy School used to think about fellowships, as Elmendorf describes it – which I think is the only sustainable way for it to think about them – is as no more and no less than a way to facilitate debate and conversation. This is one of the things that universities are supposed to do – bring a diverse group of people into debate, reflecting a broad set of constituencies. That Chelsea Manning is anathema to other fellows like Morell should be neither here or there – the job of the university is to provide opportunities for both people like Manning and people like Morell to participate in public debate, without necessarily feeling the need to pronounce on the merits of either.
The only reason Manning was invited was that he/she has a large constituency among the educated elite. The diversity celebrated only exists with those limits.

The academy is conservative by definition. That's not a bad thing, unlike hypocrisy.

again, and again, and again...
2007 Commentary Magazine,
An exchange between Charles Murray and readers on his April 2007 piece, "Jewish Genius."
To the Editor:

Charles Murray is on safe ground in testing the Cochran-Hardy-Harpending hypothesis of high Jewish IQ by seeking evidence beyond the Ashkenazim in Europe and going back past the Middle Ages to antiquity. In a review of nearly 100 studies of South Asian/ North African IQ, Richard Lynn has shown that although IQ scores of Sephardi Jews are lower on average than those of Ashkenazim, they are higher than those of the populations that surrounded them historically. Clearly we are dealing with something deeply rooted in the Jewish past.
J. Philippe Rushton
University of Western Ontario
London, Canada

Charles Murray replies 
Richard Lynn’s review of studies of Sephardi IQ as cited by J. Philippe Rushton offers a potential strategy for exploring the vexed question of non-Ashkenazi Jews: compare their scores with non-Jews who have surrounded them historically. That work could be extended by calculating not raw IQ means, but ratios of Jewish to non-Jewish IQ’s within culturally meaningful geographic areas. Doing that calculation accurately presents many methodological difficulties, and good data may be too sparse, but the intriguing hypothesis to be explored is that the ratios will be roughly the same everywhere. The estimated Ashkenazi mean of 110 translates to a ratio of 11:10 in Europe and the United States. If non-Ashkenazi Jews with a mean of 100 were historically surrounded by a people with a mean of 91, the ratio would be identical. Since the IQ means of the non-Jewish populations of North African and Middle Eastern countries are estimated to be well below 100, the hypothesis is not implausible on its face.
1995 FAIR Racism Resurgent
Nearly all the research that Murray and Herrnstein relied on for their central claims about race and IQ was funded by the Pioneer Fund, described by the London Sunday Telegraph (3/12/89) as a “neo-Nazi organization closely integrated with the far right in American politics.” The fund’s mission is to promote eugenics, a philosophy that maintains that “genetically unfit” individuals or races are a threat to society. 
The Pioneer Fund was set up in 1937 by Wickliffe Draper, a millionaire who advocated sending blacks back to Africa. The foundation’s charter set forth the group’s missions as “racial betterment” and aid for people “deemed to be descended primarily from white persons who settled in the original 13 states prior to the adoption of the Constitution of the United States.” (In 1985, after Pioneer Fund grant recipients began receiving political heat, the charter was slightly amended to play down the race angle—GQ, 11/94.)

The fund’s first president, Harry Laughlin, was an influential advocate of sterilization for those he considered genetically unfit. In successfully advocating laws that would restrict immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, Laughlin testified before Congress that 83 percent of Jewish immigrants were innately feeble-minded (Rolling Stone, 10/20/94). Another founder, Frederick Osborn, described Nazi Germany’s sterilization law as “a most exciting experiment” (Discovery Journal, 7/9/94). 
...Lynn has received at least $325,000 from the Pioneer Fund (Rolling Stone, 10/20/94). He frequently publishes in eugenicist journals like Mankind Quarterly—published by Roger Pearson and co-edited by Lynn himself—and Personality and Individual Differences, edited by Pioneer grantee Hans Eysenck. Among Lynn’s writings cited in The Bell Curve are “The Intelligence of the Mongoloids” and “Positive Correlations Between Head Size and IQ.”

...Murray and Herrnstein describe Lynn as “a leading scholar of racial and ethnic differences.” Here’s a sample of Lynn’s thinking on such differences (cited in Newsday, 11/9/94): “What is called for here is not genocide, the killing off of the population of incompetent cultures. But we do need to think realistically in terms of the ‘phasing out’ of such peoples…. Evolutionary progress means the extinction of the less competent. To think otherwise is mere sentimentality.”

Elsewhere Lynn (cited in New Republic, 10/31/94) makes clear which “incompetent cultures” need “phasing out”: “Who can doubt that the Caucasoids and the Mongoloids are the only two races that have made any significant contributions to civilization?”

...Rushton was reprimanded by his school, the University of Western Ontario, for accosting people in a local shopping mall and asking them how big their penises were and how far they could ejaculate. “A zoologist doesn’t need permission to study squirrels in his backyard,” he groused (Rolling Stone, 10/20/94).

Rushton’s creepy obsessions intersect with the ugliest sides of politics: A 1986 article by Rushton suggested that the Nazi war machine owed its prowess to racial purity, and worried that demographic shifts were endangering our “Northern European” civilization. Rushton co-authored a paper that argued that blacks have a genetic propensity to contract AIDS because of their “reproductive strategy” of promiscuous sex (cited in Newsday, 11/9/94). The other author was Bouchard, the author of those amazing twin studies celebrated in mainstream news outlets.

It’s not surprising that Murray and Herrnstein would defend Rushton, writing that his “work is not that of a crackpot or a bigot, as many of his critics are given to charging.” But it’s startling that a science writer for the New York Times, Malcolm Browne, would actually endorse Rushton’s book (10/16/94). Echoing The Bell Curve, Browne respectfully concludes his summary of Rushton’s bizarre theories with: “Mr. Rushton is nevertheless regarded by many of his colleagues as a scholar and not a bigot.” (“Browne doesn’t identify these ‘colleagues,’ but I expect he means Professor Beavis and Professor Butthead,” the Toronto Star‘s Joey Slinger wrote—10/20/94.)

Saturday, September 02, 2017

The strategic reasons the ACLU embraced "free speech" for Nazis in the 1930s

Interesting bit of forgotten history courtesy of my colleague Laura Weinrib. Given the pathologies of American political culture, however, I'm not confident a different approach would end happily.
Weinrib: "The ACLU's free speech stance should be about social justice, not 'timeless' principles"

Weinrib, HUP 2016: The Taming of Free Speech: America’s Civil Liberties Compromise

Using google books I searched the text for references to the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee and found nothing. I found a review by Samuel Moyn in the WSJ. He'd linked to it on twitter, and almost a year later I replied.

"Seems no mention of the NECLC. If so it begs the question of 'principle' and destroys the book's argument."

"The book ends before WW II; NECLC from after"

"But that makes my point. NECLC stood for principle during the cold war. It had a big effect on ACLU. Seen as a dark period in ACLU history"

My final reply has one like: Samuel Moyn.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

A repeat from a few years ago. I'm still tired:
Pedantry is a form of immaturity, but pedants by definition see themselves as the most serious of serious adults. Though their opinions adapt, the pedantry is constant; the illusion of consistency is all that matters.

I forget how many times I've said this. Weimarization begins with an elite isolated from the experience of the larger community: one part openly corrupt, concerned with wealth and power, the other engaged with intellectual formalisms, earnestly but as a result of the arbitrariness of their constructions -the foundations are contingent- with the same concern as their peers for power politics, on a much smaller scale.

America and technology have spread the neotenization of the elite to the broader middle class. Our new sophisticates have the arrogant provincialism of the petty bourgeois.

Academics as a group are the most unobservant, unintellectual, anti-intellectual people I know, and yet they see themselves as justified in leading. The academicization of intellectual life, bureaucratic reason from Max Weber to the Frankfurt School, is the proximate cause of the rise of the radical right. If technocracy is authoritarian rationalism, the governing of individuals as tokens, as the mass, irrationalism becomes the only model for life as individual experience. Anger is the only agency that's left.

Weber was a model of technocratic anti-humanism. Adorno was a petulant, moralizing, self-hating adolescent. Benjamin was a child. They were the confused children of technocracy.

If you live for ideas then you're living for the next test. Every experience must fit into one or another narrow predetermined category, living life by inches, or by millimeters. Mechanistic authoritarianism is fundamentally perverse, and it dumbs you down.

Art schools and degrees in creative writing: the academic study of ourselves by ourselves is a prescription for brittle mediocrity. Film schools are still trade schools; that saves them from the worst of it.

I'm tired of being right. I just want to enjoy my life.

Thursday, August 24, 2017


The humanist against vulgar universalism
Arendt to Scholem,  in Arendt, The Jewish Writings. 
To come to the point: let me begin, going on from what I have just stated, with what you call "love of the Jewish people" or Ahahath Israel. (Incidentally, I would be very grateful if you could tell me since when this concept has played a role in Judaism, when it was first used in Hebrew language and literature, etc.) You are quite right–I am not moved by any "love" of this sort, and for two reasons: I have never in my life "loved" any people or collective–neither the German people, nor the French, nor the American, nor the working class or anything of that sort. I indeed love "only" my friends and the only kind of love I know of and believe in is the love of persons. Secondly, this "love of the Jews" would appear to me, since I am myself Jewish, as something rather suspect. I cannot love myself or anything which I know is part and parcel of my own person. To clarify this, let me tell you of a conversation I had in Israel with a prominent political personality*  who was defending the–in my opinion disastrous–nonseparation of religion and state in Israel. What he said–I am not sure of the exact words anymore–ran something like this: "You will understand that, as a Socialist, I, of course, do not believe in God; I believe in the Jewish people." I found this a shocking statement and, being too shocked, I did not reply at the time. But I could have answered: The greatness of this people was once that it believed in God, and believed in Him in such a way that its trust and love toward Him was greater than its fear. And now this people believes only in itself? What good can come out of that?–Well, in this sense I do not "love" the Jews, nor do I "believe" in them; I merely belong to them as a matter of course, beyond dispute or argument.

We could discuss the same issue in political terms; and we should then be driven to a consideration of patriotism. That there can be no patriotism without permanent opposition and criticism is no doubt common ground between us. But I can admit to you something beyond that, namely, that wrong done by my own people naturally grieves me more than wrong done by other peoples. This grief, however, in my opinion is not for display, even if it should be the innermost motive for certain actions or attitudes. Generally speaking, the role of the "heart" in politics seems to me altogether questionable. You know as well as I how often those who merely report certain unpleasant facts are accused of lack of soul, lack of heart, or lack of what you call Herzenstakt. We both know, in other words, how often these emotions are used in order to conceal factual truth. I cannot discuss here what happens when emotions are displayed in public and become a factor in political affairs; but it is an important subject, and I have attempted to describe the disastrous results in my book On Revolution in discussing the role of compassion in the formation of the revolutionary character.
*This "personality" was Golda Meir, then foreign minister and later prime minister of Israel. At Scholem's urging, Arendt deleted her name and changed the feminine pronoun when the letters were first published. -Ed.
"I have never in my life 'loved' any people or collective."
Universalism is for law; law is impersonal. Love is intimate. Mixing the two is barbarism, of one sort or another.

Why not: a tag for Brighouse, a well-meaning pedant.
Mark Thoma in 2013, going on as usual after his wife's death, and then tweeting (approx) "It's too much. I can't go on" before going on, not mentioning it again. He deleted the tweet.

Note the uptick since 2000. Should I telegraph that it's not in pedantry but in awareness?
Change is slow.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Which came first, the effect or the cause?

Religious toleration and identity politics
Philosopher Paul Russell (British Columbia/Gothenburg) comments, arguing, rightly I think, that religion is more like politics than race.
Leiter agrees, or thinks he does, that religious belief is more like political belief than it's like variations in human morphology.

The limits of tolerance
A religious worldview cannot expect the same kinds of tolerance as racial, gender, or sexual identities. Here’s why
...Race, gender and, more recently, sexual orientation are forms of identity that have been especially prominent in politics during the past century. What is striking about these forms of identity is not only that they are generally unchosen, but that they are not based on any ideological or value-laden set of commitments of a political or ethical nature. Of course, the significance and interpretation of non-ideological identities, the ways in which they can be viewed as threatened or disrespected, is itself an ideological matter; but the identities themselves are not constituted by any ideological content (systems of belief, value, practices, etc), and the groups concerned could vary greatly in the particular ideologies that they endorse or reject.

For this reason, there is no basis for criticising a group (or individual member of it) on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation. It would, for example, be absurd to praise or blame Martin Luther King Jr for being black, or Margaret Thatcher for being a woman. There is no ideological content to their identity to assess or debate – the relevant identity is an inappropriate target for praise or blame, since there are no relevant assessable beliefs, values, practices or institutions to serve as the grounds of such responses. The identity of the group turns on natural qualities and features that cannot be discarded in light of critical scrutiny or reflection of any kind.
"What is striking about these forms of identity is not only that they are generally unchosen, but that they are not based on any ideological or value-laden set of commitments of a political or ethical nature."

If you're punished for a form of identity that's unchosen or that you perceive as unchosen, the first reaction, when and if you have the strength to respond, is to take that label as a badge. And "gender identity" is no more or less a choice than the choice, or the need, to believe in a god. To have a cock and say "I am a woman" is a statement of belief not biology.
Philosophy professors and politicians are fans of their own authority. If you take ideologies as ahistorical, examining them to see whether they're "true according to their own criteria", [etc]  you really miss the fucking point.
Societies, even slave owning societies, do not exist to oppress but by way of oppressing, at the same time existing as cultures that their citizens, as opposed to their victims, enjoy. When critical culture sees society simplistically as a series of absolute forces it recreates those forces (fighting an imaginary fire with fire) in an esthetic of totalization and universalization that becomes a parody of the past, as Fascism in its attack on bourgeois values is bourgeois parody of Monarchism; as the art of the Salon is precursor to the art of the Third Reich and to Stalin's Socialist Realism. All cultural groups exclude others, but by assuming that they exist for that purpose, as Fascism and Communism assumed. or as many on the “critical” [read: academic] left still do the issues are willfully occluded. Our "project" should be to understand this process, and to overcome the irrational fear of otherness, not to desire an absolute, unified, reified innately narcissistic 'one'.
The answer to the confused identity politics of the Right is not an identity politics of the Left.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

The first paragraph of Trump and the Trumpists, by Wolfgang Streeck
Strange personalities arise in the cracks of disintegrating institutions. They are often marked by extravagant dress, inflated rhetoric, and a show of sexual power. The first Trumper of the postwar era was the Danish tax rebel, Mogens Glistrup, the founder of the nationalist Progress Party, who, having put his principles into practice, went to prison for tax evasion. Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Boris Johnson in England are hairstyle Trumpers. Pim Fortuyn and Jörg Haider were both dandies. They died in their finery. Beppe Grillo, Nigel Farage, and Jean-Marie Le Pen, are each one third of a full Trump.
At CT, commenter "Engels" quotes Streeck
Nations are imagined communities. Nation building entailed the creation of formal institutions extending previously informal, communal bonds of solidarity to all co-nationals. Globalization favors the equal access of everyone to worldwide markets. It has no use for national citizenship or national citizens. Another moral system is at work. Cultural reeducation is required to erase traditional solidarity and replace it with a morality of equal access and equal opportunity regardless of status (such as “race, creed, and national origin”). Justice is served as soon as market access is equalized. The replacement of class solidarity by status rights demands flexible adjustment to changing market conditions. The morality of marketization entails a categoric delegitimization of distinctions. Empathy and benevolence become moral duties with respect to everyone, rather than one’s neighbor. Social rights are displaced by civil rights, a process which, as Hannah Arendt saw clearly in 1948, inevitably dilutes to near-invisibility any system of effective social protection.

For the domestic politics of a nation-state undergoing neoliberal redefinition, this has profound consequences. Classes struggling over the correction of markets give way to status groups struggling over access to them. At issue are not the terms of exchange and cooperation between conflicting class interests, or the limits of exploitation of one class by another, but status groups with established market access excluding status groups without it from competition. Political morality lies in opening up competition by removing barriers to entry, not in containing it through institutionalized limits to commodification. For groups that already have market access, this means a moral duty, in the name of equality, to allow themselves to be challenged by newcomers, whoever they may be—fellow citizens, immigrants, or residents of other countries—at the risk of being outcompeted and having their lives disrupted as a result. ...
Bertram replies
are you commending that Streeck piece to us or just noting it? I had thought of posting something here about it. Streeck imagines the American working class, or rather “the silenced majority of a disorganized class” in a highly racialized way. He only sees the whites. In fact this is quite explicit in the same paragraph, because they are the ones “deprived of an accessible identity”, (unlike black American members of the working class). One might say that this is all purely descriptive, but to my mind the piece oozes solidaristic compassion with a racially-typed group. So of course the question arises, why feel that towards this particular group but then explicitly sneer at liberal concern for other groups? I’m sure Streeck doesn’t think of himself as racist, but his social typology, transferred across from his writings on Germany, counterposes a national working class with the immigrant other. That’s already problematic enough to my mind, but in the context of the US it is disastrous.
Engels responding to another commenter
I’m not sure I understand exactly what Streeck is saying in the statement about ‘civil rights’ vs ‘social rights’

Teh ‘pedia: 
Civil and political rights are a class of rights that protect individuals’ freedom from infringement by governments, social organizations, and private individuals. They ensure one’s ability to participate in the civil and political life of the society and state without discrimination or repression.
Economic, social and cultural rights are socio-economic human rights, such as the right to education, right to housing, right to adequate standard of living, right to health and the right to science and culture.,_social_and_cultural_rights
Bertram goes so far as to disemvowel a comment that accuses him of intellectual dishonesty in his response to an obvious point. Someone else links a critical review of Steeck's recent book by Adam Tooze in the LRB

Teh ‘pedia, but not Immanuel Kant. So much has been lost.

The inability to think beyond the individual: the British model of "humanism", technocratic Benthamism. White liberals feel contempt for poor white trash and pity for minorities, but both are objects of concern from above. Poor and lower middle class whites sense the difference, see themselves shut out, as Palestinians do by the the earnest, guilty and thus self-regarding concern of otherwise anti-Semitic whites for the new Jewish state.

Objectivity is a claim to authority by those who already have power.  The powerful choose who and what deserves support, secure in their own bourgeois moralism. "It is quite obvious" they say, "that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism."

Streek. "Social rights are displaced by civil rights, a process which, as Hannah Arendt saw clearly in 1948, inevitably dilutes to near-invisibility any system of effective social protection."

Bertram, "Engels" et al. have no understanding of social rights because they have no understanding the social.

The end of the first edition of The Origins of Totalitarianism.
How great our calamity actually is can be gauged from the fact that to achieve even so simple a task as the prevention of murder, we are forced to doubt the unchallenged existence of the basic tenets of morality upon which the whole structure of our life rests and which none of the great revolutionaries, from Robespierre to Lenin, ever seriously questioned. We can no longer believe with Lenin that “people will gradually become accustomed to the observance of the elementary rules of social life that have been . . repeated for thousands of years” (State and Revolution) and we must therefore try for what Burke’s great common sense deemed impossible: “new discoveries . . . in morality . . . or in the ideas of liberty” (Reflections on the Revolution in France). The trouble is that if we do not attempt this, there are plenty of indications that the mob, which more than once during the last fifty years has proved its superior ability to read the signs of the times, will take over and destroy where we were unable to produce. For the first disastrous result of man’s coming of age is that modern man has come to resent everything given, even his own existence – to resent the very fact that he is not the creator of the universe and himself. In this fundamental resentment, he refuses to see rhyme or reason in the given world. In his resentment of all laws merely given to him, he proclaims openly that everything is permitted and believes secretly that everything is possible. And since he knows that he is a law-creating being, and that his task, according to all standards of past history, is “superhuman,” he resents even his nihilistic convictions, as though they were forced upon him by some cruel joke of the devil. 
The alternative to this resentment, which is the psychological basis of contemporary nihilism, would be a fundamental gratitude for the few elementary things that indeed are invariably given us, such as life itself, the existence of man and the world. Neo-humanists, in their understandable yearning for the stable world of the past when law and order were given entities, and in their vain efforts to re-establish such stability by making man the measure of all things human, have confused the issue, which is the choice between resentment and gratitude as basic possible modern attitudes, and increased the fear of Man, this most unknown and most unpredictable being on earth. Generally speaking, such gratitude expects nothing except – in the worlds of Faulkner – one ’s “own one anonymous chance to perform something passionate and brave and austere not just in but into man’s enduring chronicle . . . in gratitude for the gift of time in it.” In the sphere of politics, gratitude emphasizes that we are not alone in the world. We can reconcile ourselves to the variety of mankind, to the differences between human beings – which are frightening precisely because of the essential equality of rights of all men and our consequent responsibility for all deeds and misdeeds committed by people different from ourselves – only through insight into the tremendous bliss that man was created with the power of procreation, that not a single man but Men inhabit the earth.

Only a consciously planned beginning of history, only a consciously devised new polity, will eventually be able to reintegrate those who in ever increasing numbers are being expelled from humanity and severed from the human condition. The recognition of the crime against humanity will, by itself, achieve neither liberty nor justice, for these are the concern of the daily strife of all citizens: it can only secure the participation of all men in the strife. The concept of human rights can again be meaningful only if they are redefined as a right to the human condition itself, which depends upon belonging to some human community, the right never to be dependent upon some inborn human dignity which ipso facto,  aside from its guarantee by fellow-men not only does not must but is the last and possibly most arrogant myth we have invented in our long history. The Rights of Man can be implemented only if they become the pre-political foundation of a new polity, the pre-legal basis of a new legal structure, the, so to speak, pre-historical fundament from which the history of mankind will derive its essential meaning in much the same way Western civilization did from its own fundamental origin myths.

In the meantime, it may have been useful to find the origin, and to contemplate the forms, of those new movements which pretend to have discovered the solution to our problems, and whose fantastic claims to having founded thousand-year empires and Messianic ages are believed, despite all evidence to the contrary, because they respond, albeit in a radically destructive way, to the terrible challenge of the century. This, certainly, cannot establish a new law on earth, but it is one way toward a new form of universal solidarity.

For those who were expelled from humanity and from human history and thereby deprived of their human condition need the solidarity of all men to assure them of their rightful place in “man’s enduring chronicle.” At least we can cry out to each one of those who rightly is in despair: “Do thyself no harm; for we are all here.” (Acts, 16:28)

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Banality, Boredom, Determinism, Liberals Make Nihilism Attractive, Make it Idiot-Proof, Naturalism, Pedants and Children, Philosophy, Politics, 
This discussion, here and at Crooked Timber, is a waste.
It's not hard to undermine the illusions of Protestant liberalism (individualism); Liberalism begets Libertarianism, which ends in the tyranny of the powerful. At least now we've gotten to the point where Libertarians admit the obvious. You could call it the Weberianism of the Oxbridge/Davos set which all of you represent, embody (or hope to).

The argument against all of this crap is the argument for Republicanism. A Republic is not an "open society". "A free people" is singular and plural, P and ~P; adults get the joke. Pedants and children do not.

Virtue ethics exist only in practice; theory comes after the fact. Begin with a distaste for vulgar extremes of self-interest and go from there.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

updated below
Banality, Boredom, Culture, Determinism, Feminism and Post-Feminism, Mannerism and The Gothic, Naturalism, Philosophy, Politics, Sexuality,
Before the 19th century, "glamour" referred to a spell cast by a witch to cause people (generally men) to see things or people (usually the bewitcher herself) as the enchantress wished. She could create an irresistible impression on the minds of men in order to weaken them and lead them to perdition. Usually via sex.

The medieval and modern concepts of glamour meet in The Love Witch, L.A.-based feminist filmmaker Anna Biller's stunning second feature, which follows the havoc being wreaked by a love-obsessed witch and crafter (seriously, she makes soaps and candles) named Elaine. She arrives in a California town like a Hitchcock heroine and immediately begins casting spells on all the men in her path; she's a sexual Goldilocks trying to find one who's just right.

Biller's carefully constructed imagery is dazzling: colorful sets, detailed props (many of which are either handmade or authentic antiques), spot-on casting of character actors with looks seldom seen in contemporary cinema, and a lead actress (newcomer Samantha Robinson as Elaine) made up and styled to mesmerizing effect. 
...Having a deep love and understanding of classic Hollywood glamour made Biller a misfit among her self-serious, mostly male, Stan Brakhage–influenced classmates. According to the director, her very aesthetic was controversial. The artifice of acting and emoting, anything theatrical, was considered vulgar by the art-film establishment.

That she's a woman wasn't trivial, either. Like many film students of the era, Biller was influenced by Laura Mulvey's groundbreaking essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," with its critique of the pervasive "male gaze."

As a writer, Biller has studied the dynamics between the genders and says it's where she gets her psychological material. "There is the danger of falling in love and becoming destroyed by it," she says. "I think that this is why men avoid it: They're afraid of it, they want it to be more playful and just about sex because they don't want to be destroyed by love." Elaine's power is that she is better than men at love and certainly more dominant — she can just rip their hearts out.

Biller's domestic partner is, in fact, also an expert on a different kind of "love witchcraft": She's in a relationship with Robert Greene, author of corporate management/inspiration best-seller The 48 Laws of Power — and also of erotic advice best-seller The Art of Seduction.
Robert Greene on his 48 laws of power: 'I'm not evil – I'm a realist'

Strange personalities arise in the cracks of disintegrating institutions. They are often marked by extravagant dress, inflated rhetoric, and a show of sexual power....