Thursday, July 24, 2008

note taking
Brian Leiter, Simon Blackburn, Richard Posner, Colin McGinn, the “New Atheists, ” all share Chomsky’s rationalism and his idealism. All more and more express contempt for democracy and the “illiterate” “irrational” majority. Chomsky is on record for his contempt for empiricism as a methodology, but empiricism, as a journalist, is what’s made him as famous as he is. Put that list of names above alongside the link to Kos above [Kos the hack political operative]. Perhaps Chomsky’s a good reporter because he thinks it’s just banality, so he shrugs and does his Joe Friday act. It’s a better model for the press then we have now: he doesn’t take himself seriously.
But Chomsky is a defender of democracy because of what he assumes about people and their behavior Those assumptions are ridiculously simple-minded, in fact self-serving, but he sticks with them, while those who share his modernist rationalism have replaced that naive hope with arch cynicism. But he seems oblivious.

Intellectually Chomsky is in a time warp; his idealism concerning humanity as such is as dated as his linguistics, but he’s still a hero to the young. Yet when he’s caught being sloppy or indulgent he never admits it. He tries to argue his way out of anything, even if it would he easier to just own up and move on. It’s the same with his philosophical arguments. His brilliant imagination is also thin and brittle. You can contextualize him as a post-war rationalist and still value his insights, but you’ll always have to pick and choose what to keep and what to throw away. True with anybody actually. But context, history and ambiguity, empiricism, are not things he takes seriously. However good a reporter he is, his intellectual model as a thinker and a philosopher, and his model of the world, are deeply flawed.
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Perrin’s an angry clown, and a moralist. I’ve read him enough to understand his points, and I’ve made clear why it makes sense that DD would be the one to bring him up. And yes, serious earnest liberals are godawful, and Kos is on the tank for the democrats. But the best comment here still comes from Kos, though posted by someone else. And no one has mentioned that.

And while we’re discussing angry moralists, the fact remains that while up in heaven or The Aether or the land of The Forms, where truth is Truth and nothing else exists, John Brown is wrapped in silk and drinking tea with Moses while Abe Lincoln is washing their feet, in the real world Lincoln, the politician, the negotiator, the half-in/half-out guy, is the more important figure. Moralists have their place, they serve a purpose too in our Nada’s Nonexistent Plan, but what interests me is why I trust Markos Moulitsas, political player, intellectual middleweight and vulgar empiricist a hell of a lot more more than I trust John Quiggin and theories of "Creative Capitalism". [see previous link]

The thing about moralists is they’re not really vulgar, they only use vulgarity to mock vulgarity. Deep down the hate it. The thing about rationalists is that they found their logics on their own imagined a priori orders. And those orders are never vulgar. But politics is vulgar. Life is vulgar. The ideal world doesn’t exist and never will. I prefer angry idealism to idealistic optimism, Anti-Pangloss to Pangloss, but still with the Devil’s eye.
And Quiggin does not understand that in trying to reform the market as the market, all he’s doing is expanding it, and the role of instrumentalism in communiation and social life. The end of his logic is to say “Art is Commerce” and he’s too unobservant to realize it. Art and commerce need each other as antagonists. Duty to oneself and duty to others are conflicting obligations. The conflict is what gives resilience. Quiggin et al offer reasoned reasonable mush: Posner for pussies.
I propose a moratorium on the use of the term “creative.” Try replacing it with “observant” and see where it takes you. People these days are far too creative, and not nearly observant enough.
That’s what’s disappointing.

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