Thursday, September 21, 2017

updated, with references
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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

Leiter
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

I used google books and did a search 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

updated
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The humanist against vulgar universalism
addendum

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?

updated
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Leiter:
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.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_and_political_rights
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.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic,_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)
addendum

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
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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'

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

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

After the German historian Rolf Peter Sieferle took his own life last September at age 67, Süddeutsche Zeitung, the country’s progressive paper of record, called his erudition “breathtaking.” For three decades Mr. Sieferle had applied the old traditions of German social science to new preoccupations, from ecological sustainability to social capital. He was among the pioneers of German environmental history. He wrote on Marx, German conservatism around World War I and the end of Communism. He advised Angela Merkel’s government on climate change.

But last month, a posthumous collection of Mr. Sieferle’s observations on Germany’s political culture, “Finis Germania” (the title plays on a phrase meaning “the end of Germany”), hit No. 9 on the prestigious Nonfiction Book of the Month list — and a scandal erupted. Certain passages on Germany’s way of dealing with the Holocaust horrified reviewers. Die Zeit called it a book of “brazen obscenity.” The Berliner Zeitung wrote of Mr. Sieferle’s “intellectual decline.” Süddeutsche Zeitung retracted its earlier praise. The Nonfiction Book of the Month list was suspended until further notice.

The book-buying public reacted otherwise. As critical anger rose, so did sales. Soon the book was selling 250 copies an hour, according to its publisher, and ranked No. 1 on Amazon’s German best-seller list, a position it held for almost two weeks, until the publisher ran out of copies.

What exactly had Mr. Sieferle said? Was this a betrayal of his intellectual legacy, as critics claimed? A vindication of it, as his sales suggested? Or had he simply gone off the rails at a time when public opinion was doing the same?

...Mr. Sieferle neither denies nor minimizes the Holocaust. He describes it as a “Verbrechen,” or “crime.” Nor does he traffic in any obvious kind of anti-Semitism. In a letter he wrote three weeks before his death to the blogger-novelist Michael Klonovsky, who is close to the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party, he warned the party to keep its distance from the anti-Semites (“a delusional, irrational and ignorant ideology”) who would inevitably gravitate to it.

But Mr. Sieferle is critical of Germany’s postwar culture of Holocaust memory, which he argues has taken on the traits of a religion. The country’s sins are held to be unique and absolute, beyond either redemption or comparison. “The First Commandment,” he writes, “is ‘Thou shalt have no Holocausts before me.’ ” Hitler, in retrospect, turns out to have done a paradoxical thing: He bound Germans and Jews together in a narrative for all time. In an otherwise relativistic and disenchanted world, Mr. Sieferle writes, Germans appear in this narrative as the absolute enemies of our common humanity, as a scapegoat people. The role is hereditary. There are Germans whose grandparents were not born when the war ended, yet they, too, must take on the role.
Snyder's speech is almost unbearable. Lecturing people about their responsibility, trying to make them understand. It proves Sieferle's point, or marks it as the obviously predictable reaction.

"Deutschland ist kein Einwanderungsland" Germans are racist, but they're not going to get over it being lectured by earnest moralists. So earnest: Snyder loves Germans. He wants them to be more than they are. Everything he's done has just delayed the change that's needed.

Back to Sebald and Grass, On the Natural History of Destruction and Crabwalk.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Every so often along 99 between Bakersfield and Sacramento there is a town: Delano, Tulare, Fresno, Madera, Merced, Modesto, Stockton. Some of these towns are pretty big now, but they are all the same at heart, one- and two- and three-story buildings artlessly arranged, so that what appears to be the good dress shop stands beside a W.T. Grant store, so that the big Bank of America faces a Mexican movie house. Dos Peliculas, Bingo Bingo Bingo. Beyond the downtown (pronounced downtown, with the Okie accent that now pervades Valley speech patterns) lie blocks of old frame houses—paint peeling, sidewalks cracking, their occasional leaded amber windows overlooking a Foster's Freeze or a five-minute car wash or a State Farm Insurance office; beyond those spread the shopping centers and the miles of tract houses, pastel with redwood siding, the unmistakable signs of cheap building already blossoming on those houses which have survived the first rain. To a stranger driving 99 in an air-conditioned car (he would be on business, I suppose, any stranger driving 99, for 99 would never get a tourist to Big Sur or San Simeon, never get him to the California he came to see), these towns must seem so flat, to impoverished, as to drain the imagination. They hint at evenings spent hanging around gas stations, and suicide pacts sealed in drive-ins. 
By the time I get to the last line I'm almost on the floor, laughing.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

distinctions without differences LLC

John Quiggin,  professor of agnotology  (etc.), speaks out forcefully against epistocracy (ditto).

And then a followup.

The last two paragraphs.
I just saw this review of The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters by Tom Nichols which is obviously relevant. A crucial requirement for a successful defence of expertise is that we avoid defending authority based on mere punditry.

I’ll leave it to readers to discuss which areas of public policy discussions are dominated by expertise, which by punditry, and which by conflict between the two.
You can't make this shit up

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

The frat boy, the liberal, and the actual existing Africans



A memoir is an opportunity for a writer to put his or her life on trial, but few follow through and condemn themselves too. Jeffrey Gettleman, this newspaper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning East Africa correspondent, fell in love with Africa while still a self-described frat boy; at Cornell he met his other great love, Courtenay, an alluring sorority girl. The twisted road that eventually allows him to unite these two conflicting passions takes the reader through a melodrama that squats uncomfortably between “Eat, Pray, Love” and “Heart of Darkness.”

Africa. That vast swell of nations, languages, landscapes and histories has always had a peculiar impact on foreigners, but Gettleman seems to have been hit harder than most. The continent is described as his “imaginary friend,” a place that his fraternity brothers cannot possibly understand: basically a high-five-happy Shangri-La where the people are poor but rarely resentful. 
...I have perceived in many works on Somalia by Western journalists some of the wild-eyed joy you see in photos of youths running with the bulls in Pamplona — a macho thrill that life there is supposed to be short and cheap, an almost sensual delight in, say, the “dark, unblinking eyes” and “chains of bullets.” “Love, Africa” follows in that tradition, but it does a useful thing too: It shows just how impervious that gaze is to the work of African writers, and how the call of the tribe — the media tribe — cuts through whatever good intentions are put before it.

By the end of the memoir, ensconced in comfort in Nairobi, Gettleman strikes a conflicted figure. He is still in love with Africa, though the postelection violence in Kenya as well as the Westgate Mall attack by Al Shabab have torn away some of his illusions. Both he and Courtenay have accepted the wisdom of their predecessors, ruefully recalling what a Zimbabwean farmer told them once at a truck stop near the South African border: “These people can survive on very little. They’re not like us whites. They don’t need a hamburger or an apple. They’ll be fine for a month with a slab of rancid donkey meat.”

After spending years living in Africa, after questioning the inequality he sees around him, and after conversing with numerous politicians, activists and ordinary men and women, Gettleman allows the embittered white farmer to get in a parting shot, which he and his wife seem to take as brutal honesty. This unintentionally amusing scene fits what is a bewildering memoir. The whole narrative reminds me of those books written by colonial adventurers such as Sir Richard Burton, aimed at readers interested in Africa mainly as a site for their dreams and nightmares.
Review by Nadifa Mohamed

the liberal, played by Elon Green

I've never read Gettleman. It should be shocking that he'd ever be hired by the NYT, shocking to defenders of reason and enlightenment. It should be shocking that the NYT defends Zionism. It took an outsider to point out the obvious, a change made possible only because she was given the opportunity to publish in the Times.

I'm tagging this under Freedom of Speech, because it ties so closely to recent posts on censorship and race, Nadifa Mohamed alongside Jordan Peele.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

In all my comments on this I talked around the obvious. I've said it elsewhere dozens of times but it's so front and center here it just slipped by.

Schutz and Neel are called artists. Jordan Peele is a comedian. Neel's success is still the success of the observer, the success of the philosophical, collaborative model associated with fine art and academia, but of an older aristocratic tradition (Hilton Als is no leftist). Neel succeeds in observing the other through sympathy and friendship, not ideas. Smith should have written about her. Peele's comedic adversarialism says "fuck you" to the laziness of white bourgeois assumption, not to Neel and to elite, leisurely, openness and curiosity. True bohemians model themselves aristocrats. That solves none of the problems of aristocratic art, of which Neel remains a practitioner. But Neel is from an older tradition and she's dead.

Get Out is the answer to Hannah Black's self-rightous bourgeois moralizing. Get Out is the necessary criticism of Open Casket.

---

Cultural appropriation, continuing

The difference between the US and the UK. Zadie Smith misses badly.
We have been warned not to get under one another’s skin, to keep our distance. But Jordan Peele’s horror-fantasy—in which we are inside one another’s skin and intimately involved in one another’s suffering—is neither a horror nor a fantasy. It is a fact of our experience. The real fantasy is that we can get out of one another’s way, make a clean cut between black and white, a final cathartic separation between us and them. For the many of us in loving, mixed families, this is the true impossibility. There are people online who seem astounded that Get Out was written and directed by a man with a white wife and a white mother, a man who may soon have—depending on how the unpredictable phenotype lottery goes—a white-appearing child. But this is the history of race in America. Families can become black, then white, then black again within a few generations. And even when Americans are not genetically mixed, they live in a mixed society at the national level if no other. There is no getting out of our intertwined history.
The RootGet Out Proves That ‘Nice Racism’ and White Liberalism Are Never to Be Trusted
National Review: Fear of a White Village
Breitbart: Jordan Peele’s Horror Movie ‘Get Out’ Casts ‘Liberal Elite’ as the Monster
NYMag: Jordan Peele’s Genius New Horror Movie Shows the Terror of Being Black in World Full of White People

Breitbart and NYM use the same quote quote from Peele.
“It was very important to me for this not to be about a black guy going to the South and going to this red state where the presumption for a lot of people is everybody’s racist there,” Peele told the audience after the film’s midnight screening. “This was meant to take a stab at the liberal elite that tends to believe that ‘We’re above these things.'”
repeats
Can a film be too inflammatory for its own good, or are there times, and places, when only fire will suffice? In an interview with the Times, Peele, whose mother is white, admitted that the movie was originally intended “to combat the lie that America had become post-racial,” and the result is like an all-out attack on a rainbow. Short of making us listen to “Ebony and Ivory” over the closing credits, “Get Out” could hardly be more provocative. There’s a scene with a head-stamping, a scene with an exposed brain, and a truly creepy scene with a bowl of Froot Loops. And yet, despite all that, what makes this horror film horrific is the response that it gives to the well-meaning and problem-solving question “Can’t we just learn to live together?” To which the movie answers, loud and clear, “No.”

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Written in March, and left to sit,  now reworked and up.
---

Hannah Black
To the curators and staff of the Whitney biennial:
I am writing to ask you to remove Dana Schutz’s painting “Open Casket” and with the urgent recommendation that the painting be destroyed and not entered into any market or museum.
Antwaun Sargent
Last Thursday evening, the Whitney Museum held a private reception for members to celebrate the opening of its 78th biennial. As the party ensued, images of the biennial’s artworks surfaced on social media sites, and the 24-year-old, emerging black artist Parker Bright came across a painting by the white artist Dana Schutz....

As the 2017 Whitney Biennial opened to the public the day after the reception, Parker walked into the museum’s fifth-floor galleries wearing a shirt that read, “Black Death Spectacle,” and stood in front of Schutz’s painting, blocking it from view for several hours.

“It is very important to keep in mind…that there is a divide between what the public perceives and what the curation intends to be perceived by the public,” wrote Bright in a letter after his protest.
The words on the t-shirt:"black death spectacle"
It's not an interesting painting, and it's also a cheap gesture.

"[T]here is a divide between what the public perceives and what the curation intends..."  The curators followed Schutz, taking her intention as their own.

Adam Shatz
Schutz’s critics accuse her, first, of aestheticising atrocity in an offensive and insensitive way. ‘Where the photographs stood for a plain and universal photographic truth,’ Josephine Livingstone and Lovia Gyarkye argue in the New Republic, ‘Schutz has blurred the reality of Till’s death, infusing it with subjectivity.’ But ‘aestheticise’ is precisely what painters can’t help but do when they paint from photographs; think of Gerhard Richter’s paintings of the Baader-Meinhof terrorists who died in police custody, or of Picasso’s Guernica. It may be impossible for a painting of an atrocity not to ‘aestheticise’ horror. The charge could be levelled at a painting of another racist atrocity at the Whitney Biennial, Henry Taylor’s depiction of the death of Philando Castile, who was killed in his car by a Minnesota police officer last July. But Taylor, unlike Schutz, is black.
 Henry Taylor, THE TIMES THAY AINT A CHANGING, FAST ENOUGH!
...Seldom has the charge of cultural appropriation stung so sharply in liberal circles. White fascination with black culture turns to gruesome intellectual property theft in Jordan Peele’s brilliant new horror film, Get Out, whose villains kidnap black people to steal their brains. ‘I want your eyes, man,’ one of the perpetrators, a seeming liberal, says to a young black man. ‘I want those things you see through.’

Schutz makes no claim to see Till through black eyes. In her response to the protest letter, she said plainly that she has no way of understanding ‘what it is like to be black in America’, which can be read either as a disarming expression of humility, or (less charitably) as a failure of imagination. But she has otherwise deferred to the terms of the debate set by the protesters, who argue that experience, if not identity itself, confers the right of representation. As a mother, Schutz says, she can imagine the pain of Mamie Till Mobley, who lost her 14-year-old son, and is therefore qualified to use this image to create a ‘space for empathy’. The effect of her comment was to assert a right to represent rooted in personal experience, and to further particularise suffering. But black history – as W.E.B. Du Bois and James Baldwin, among others, always stressed – is American history; confronting it a common burden.

...What is most troubling about the call to remove Schutz’s painting is not the censoriousness, but the implicit disavowal that acts of radical sympathy, and imaginative identification, are possible across racial lines. 
The original, shocking, political gesture was Mamie Till's decision, and only hers to make. That's the role of intimacy in politics, the role liberal universalists don't understand. Taylor's painting is much more direct. It fits the model of "political art", telegraphing a point where the sympathies are obvious.  It doesn't play games across contested territory, at least not contested among liberal followers of the arts. Shatz refers to Richter's October 18, 1977, but Richter is a German facing Germans. And Picasso was a Spaniard doing the same. The parallel to Schutz could be seen as Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader, and the film that was made from it.

  
Gerhard Richter, Confrontation 2, and 3, both 1988
Again, this has nothing to do with appropriation or art as such. The issue is the art of assumption, of well-meaning appropriation. Artists who steal and don't give a shit are more respectful of their sources than those who pander.  Artists who steal, steal what they love, for their own reasons and without apology. In considering failure, we're back to the Salon Painters.

Picasso's disfigurements of women were honest depictions of his own fears, the misogyny described as much as indulged. The description makes them interesting. Schutz' painting, stripped of context -again a context she simply indulges- is more a formal exercise than a depiction of a human being.  Shatz refers to Schutz' painting as an act of "radical sympathy", but that's a judgment, not a fact. And it's a judgement that's not only his to make. "Some of my best friends are Jews!" Do not those who are being offered sympathy have the right to judge? Liberals are horrified to think that Get Out refers to them.

Shatz also discusses John Ahearn, but the issues aren't the same. Ahearn's mistake was to transform private art, for and about friendship, into public monuments. That's a much more complex issue.

For now the obvious answer to Schutz, and to Shatz, obvious because her work is on view at the same time, is Alice Neel at Zwirner, curated by Hilton Als.
Alice Neel, Ballet Dancer, 1950, Oil on canvas 20 1/8 x 42 1/8 inches
From the start Alice Neel's artistry made life different for me, or not so much different as more enlightened. I grew up in Brooklyn, East New York, and Crown Heights during the 1970s when Neel, after years of obscurity, was finally getting her due. I recall first seeing her work in a book, and what shocked me more than her outrageous and accurate sense of color and form—did we really look like that? We did!—was the realization that her subject was my humanity. There was a quality I shared with her subjects, all of whom were seen through the lens of Neel's interest, and compassion. What did it matter that I grew up in a world that was different than that which Linda Nochlin, and Andy Warhol, and Jackie Curtis, inhabited? We were all as strong and fragile and present as life allowed. And Neel saw.

In the years since her death, viewers young and old have experienced the kind of thrill I feel, still, whenever I look at Neel’s work, which, like all great art, reveals itself all at once while remaining mysterious. In recent years, I have been particularly intrigued by Neel’s portraits of artists, writers, everyday people, thinkers, and upstarts of color. When she moved to East Harlem during the 1930s Depression, Neel was one of the few whites living uptown. She was attracted to a world of difference and painted that. Still, her work was not marred by ideological concerns; what fascinated her was the breadth of humanity that she encountered in her studio, on canvas. 
But by painting Latinos, blacks, and Asians, Neel was breaking away from the canon of Western art. She was not, in short, limiting her view to people who looked like herself. Rather, she was opening portraiture up to include those persons who were not generally seen in its history. Alice Neel, Uptown, the first comprehensive look at Neel’s portraits of people of color, is an attempt to honor not only what Neel saw, but the generosity behind her seeing.
continuing
The scientific study of the present is too close to the scientific study of oneself. Self-awareness is an art.

Tossed off responding to a historian on twitter. I wasn't arguing  He retweeted it. It's a keeper.