Monday, August 31, 2009

Prof. Harry Brighouse, "philosopher," in comment 30 of this post.
....during the run up to the establishment of the NHS, the option of banning private care was considered quite seriously, even by Bevan, and was rejected on several grounds, including that any proposal including it would get smashed by the doctors. The BMA was obviously a key force to making the NHS work, and its acquiesence had to be bought. Bevan famously responded to someone who asked how he was going to silence to opposition of doctors: “We’re going to stuff their mouths with money”.

This (stuffing their mouths with money) is not an option here and now. Nor, obviously, is preventing people from buying private care. (I’m in favour, for various reasons, of allowing people to buy private care, but agree with engels that there are reasons to prohibit it; John is wrong to imply that there is nothing wrong with rich people buying care for themselves—indeed, one thing that is wrong is that they could be buying it, instead, for people who are less well off). What worries me, though, about John’s response to engels, is that his repsonse may prove too much. I don’t think there is a cost-saving and moderately fair option that is consistent with the prevailing US political consensus. All the good options are too foreign, and that is one of the reasons that reasonable reform is almost certainly out of reach.
I've done this before, but HB sets it up perfectly here. Speaking in terms of an ideal of moral action it follows from the above that I shouldn't buy a bunch of grapes for myself without buying another for the homeless man outside the store. Fair enough, but following that ethic to its logical conclusion -and logic in these discussions is the point- I shouldn't cry for the death of my parents without crying for every person with an obit in the paper. My father used to talk with derision about the revolutionary in the Czar's dungeon who worried that he was getting more than his fair share of sunlight (the origin of the story is here) but to Brighouse and his ilk equal concern is equal concern. Read the introduction to "Legitimate Parental Partiality" by Brighouse and Adam Swift [pdf],  and consider the absent terms: "friendship," "intimacy," "love." The piece is synecdochic of its field; as I've said before the liberalism that tries to find or form non-contradictory truths in the world of experience is perverse.
Egalitarians believe that goods should be distributed much more equally than they are at present, but they also recognize that there are principled limits to the pursuit of distributive equality. Fully to realize a fair distribution would involve the sacrifice of other values that properly constrain egalitarian ambitions. Some barriers to the realization of equality reflect the value of respecting prerogatives people have to favor themselves. Even G.A. Cohen, whose egalitarianism is unusually pervasive and demanding, says that:
...only an extreme moral rigorist could deny that every person has a right to pursue self-interest to some reasonable extent (even when that makes things worse than they need to be for badly off people). I do not wish to reject the italicized principle, which affirms what Samuel Scheffler has called an ‘agent-centred prerogative’.....2
It is also widely thought that people have morally weighty prerogatives to act partially toward particular others. Indeed, the permissibility of partial relationships between individuals is a touchstone of liberal – including egalitarian liberal - thinking. David Estlund presses the point against Cohen, developing a series of cases of incentive- demanding motives that result in inequality but draw only on altruistic concerns -- where the other whose interest is being pursued is near and dear to the incentive-demanding agent.3 
These relationships appear inegalitarian in deep ways. The parties to partial relationships may exclude others from the mutual benefits their association yields and have special responsibilities to one another that give them the right, and sometimes the duty, to further one another’s interests in ways that may interrupt equality. Scheffler calls this observation (when made in an appropriately hostile manner) the ‘distributive objection’ to special responsibilities: ‘the problem with such responsibilities is ...that they may confer unfair benefit. ...special responsibilities give the participants in rewarding groups and relationships increased claims to one another’s assistance, while weakening the claims that other people have on them’.4 Indeed, participants in these protected relationships benefit twice over. They enjoy the relationship itself, and they enjoy the claims that it enables them legitimately to make on one another, to the exclusion of those outside the relationship.
The standard terms of opposition are partiality and equality. But partiality is a function of proximity: this is obvious, yes? And intimacy is proximity literally up close. But Brickhouse is incapable of using the terminology of human emotion even to describe its function and therefore its value. Most of us can not love intimately a thousand people. Believe me, it's been tried. But rather than accept and understand the conflict between two powerful "goods" (even the terminology implies commodity) Brickhouse following the pack tries to construct an ideal balance. He wants the "right" answer. He wants the "truth." The best way to deal with the facts as opposed to ideas -and here's where Eliot's appreciation of James comes in- would be to describe both intimacy and law as positive and opposed forces. Instead of "partiality" say "friendship" and allow for its authority.

At a certain point it becomes a question not of right or wrong, not of absolutes, but of what we as a community choose to value; the balance itself is less important than how that choice is made. Brickhouse calls himself a philosopher rather than a professor of philosophy because he views philosophy as form of logical argument, and logic is considered close to formal science (so philosophy is more like chemistry than literature). But his logic sees the individual as constrained by community when another logic, equally valid but less reductive, sees the individual by necessity not constrained but engaged, as both member and function of society.  And Brickhouse can't even imagine how this could be so. He's unwilling to see friendship with all its moral weight both as constitutive and destructive of society because he has an ideological commitment to an abstraction reducible both to individual ideas and the idea of the individual. He's so full of shit his eyes are brown.
It's annoying having to listen to all the Kennedy crap. Wiser to bury him without the excess but that's not possible. Reagan, Bush, and even Clinton killed more people than he did, but Kennedy was responsible for the death of an American citizen, a white woman not convicted of a crime; his behavior following was both atrocious and criminal and he got away with it because of his family. All this is very easy to understand which is why it riles the Republican base.
Helena Cobban on Avnery and Neve Gordon.
And AA on Hobsbawm,

Sunday, August 30, 2009

At the Met, after the Frick, I browsed through the catalogue for Marcel Duchamp Étant donnés, and found an image reproduced from Blue Velvet, but I searched the index for "Hitchcock" and found nothing. Beyond stupid, its just embarrassing. A camera is a wooden box with a hole in it to look through and Hitchcock is the archetypal cinematic voyeur/peeping tom.

Duchamp said early on[?] that he dreamt of forcing people to look at his work from only one place and point, I am a camera, indeed. [I'm trying to find an image from one of Hitchcock's early silents.] Lynch has a certain cachet as an experimental filmmaker, and therefore as an "artist." Again, like choosing Vertov over Eisenstein. Duchamp by 1955 especially was an artist in the age of film. He was more than anything a late 19th century artist in the age of film, which explains why he disliked it or at least distrusted it as much as he did. Hitchcock was just on the other side of the same manic/phobic relation to time.

Top: Paolo Veronese, The Choice Between Virtue and Vice, (detail) c. 1580, oil on canvas, Frick Collection, NY. Bottpm: Henri Cartier-Bresson. Alicante (Spain) 1932.

A thought today, at the Frick. I looked up the photograph when I came home and it's even closer than I imagined. You wonder if he was carrying a postcard in his pocket.
Inglourious Basterds,
Contradictory impulses each followed one moment and denied the next. Usually his characters are cardboard figures brought close by his attention to the humanity of often less than skillful acting: that's how he's balanced the contradiction between artifice and representation. This time a few are richly drawn and performed, fully human not as actors documented on film but as compelling fiction, beginning with the farmer, and then Shoshana Dreyfus. Melanie Laurent is wonderful and her character is complex and tragic. Christoph Waltz as Landa is a Tarantino cartoon and a great one, but Tarantino indulges so much in his preadolescent Grand Guignol fart jokes that it undermines the tension. He hasn't figured out how to grow up and still do justice to childishness. It was a very difficult movie to watch. My head is still spinning, now mostly in frustration.

I knew when I first read the full scenario that he made the movie to have his cake and eat it too, and I was hoping he'd pulled it off. He didn't.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Happy Birthday H.P. Lovecraft. I highly recommend the essay on him by the French reactionary writer (and one of my favorites, to be honest – I don't care about his views on Islam) Michel Houellebecq.
The comment made me smile (I don't care about Lovecraft).  It makes a nice counter-example to the American liberal political class and their arguments from predetermined ideas and assumption.

It's good to take the opinions of the opinionated with a grain of salt, but it's better when they find ways to help you do it.  That's El Amrani's understanding of Houellebecq.  It's also there in the self-counsciously haute-bourgeois leftism of AbuKhalil.   It comes down to an awareness of your own contradictions, even if you'd never admit that awareness in public.

It's impossible for a self-aware adult and anti-Zionist not to know the reality of Jewish suffering, even if he can't defend the choices of the survivors and their descendants. The knowledge that victimizers were once victims can only reinforce the moral opposition to their actions. So it makes sense that AbuKhalil's  bluster would never be as shallow as Duncan Black's contempt, nor his contradictions a match to Josh Marshall's hypocrisy.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Polling and Passivity again.
Our best and brightest dedicate their lives to finding out what the rest of us think, relieving them of the obligation to examine what they themselves value.

Also: Department of the fucking obvious.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Although art is no longer a part of the religious system, having become autonomous like all other value-systems since the breakup of that all-encompassing system of religion, reinforcing this autonomy with the principle of l'art pour l'art, nonetheless, art even today has set down its own private theology in a series of aesthetic theories, and continues to hold to its highest value-goal, and this, too, continues to hover in the realm of the infinite, be it called "beauty," "harmony" or whatever else. And the ethical demand made of the artist is, as always, to produce "good" works, and only the dilettante and the producer of kitsch (whom we meet here for the first time) focus their work on beauty.

For the esthetic in general as an expression of the supreme ultimate value of a sustem can influence the result of ethical action only secondarily, just as "wealth" is not the main goal but the side effect of individual commercial activity. And "wealth" itself is an irrational concept. It is an almost mystical process, the setting of ethical values: Arising from the irrational, transforming the irrational to the rational, yet nonetheless it is the irrational that radiates from within the resulting form. 
"...religious belief is not required, but at most just that self-evident religio without which there is no desire for knowledge, not even the desire for atheism."
Hermann Broch, "Evil in the Value-System of Art" and "The Spirit in an Unspiritual Age" in,  Geist and Zeitgeist: The Spirit in an Unspiritual Age
For most of the above you could switch out art for science: Why go to Mars? "Because we need to know." The logical or in art's case formal structuring of a desire which is itself always irrational.
Maybe from now on every time I read Atrios moralize and posture about torture I'll link to this.
Is mediocrity better than it used to be? I don't know.

Is it good that Atrios considers himself a Europhile? is it good that Josh Marshall feels obligated to call himself an "internationalist"?
The discourse of people who imagine their own assumptions about themselves define what they are.
The same arrogance; the same indifference to history (to the facts and the processes) but a little more knowledge: call it progress.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Brian Leiter for the Democracy override dead man's switch.

The arch-technocrat against the troglodytes; as if the failure of democracy weren't as much his responsibility as theirs, or since he considers himself a teacher and a leader much more his responsibility. And unless you're an absolute determinist, it is. By his own logic society like every other fish rots from the head.
correction: Leiter sees himself as a member of the elite but specifically not a leader. Technocratic logic as a form of Platonism: an aristocratic interest in true form.
"Personally I am very pessimistic," Miyazaki says. "But when, for instance, one of my staff has a baby you can't help but bless them for a good future. Because I can't tell that child, 'Oh, you shouldn't have come into this life.' And yet I know the world is heading in a bad direction. So with those conflicting thoughts in mind, I think about what kind of films I should be making."

Saturday, August 22, 2009

This was covered here
It’s called post-humanism, or pre-humanism redux.
What Salmon is referring to is the boy at Starbucks with a coffee bean tattooed on his forearm, a member of the "Barista tribe." 
As I wrote on his page:
It’s the public proclamation of loyalty to a subculture; documenting the need to belong; atomization and the rise of pathologically over-determined imagined communities etc.
 etc. etc. It’s the sociality of baroque individualism.

We now have food geeks as well as science geeks, all with the moral philosophy of Asperger’s patients: so fixated on their mania for [tube amps/Pouilly-Fuissé/Ducati two stroke engines] that you’d be a fool not to hire them for your [high-end audio store/restaurant/Soho motorcycle salon]. Why be a well rounded adult when you can be an eternal [pre]adolescent and expert, and a happy cog and servant?
"If the anthropocentric civilization of the Renaissance is headed, as it seems to be, for a 'Middle Ages in reverse'... "
Panofsky (1955)

"They enjoy their anomie as long as they can claim that it's vicarious."
Or they mourn the loss of things their own logic brought about.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The top image of course is from a movie.
"This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.”

That Nino, such a stickler for detail.
ration |ˈra sh ən; ˈrā-|
a fixed amount of a commodity officially allowed to each person during a time of shortage, as in wartime : 1918 saw the bread ration reduced on two occasions.
• (usu. rations) an amount of food supplied on a regular basis, esp. to members of the armed forces during a war.
• ( rations) food; provisions : their emergency rations ran out.
• figurative a fixed amount of a particular thing : their daily ration of fresh air.
verb [ trans. ] (usu. be rationed)
allow each person to have only a fixed amount of (a particular commodity) : shoes were rationed from 1943.
• ( ration someone to) allow someone to have only (a fixed amount of a certain commodity) : they were requested to ration themselves to one glass of wine each.
ORIGIN early 18th cent.: from French, from Latin ratio(n-) ‘reckoning, ratio.’
Neither Brain Leiter nor Peter Singer seems to know what the word means They're not alone [Leiter puts it in scare quotes without really questioning the use.] If either of them thought about it a bit they'd see why people worry about the implications. Insurance companies have set amounts they are willing to pay per service and per contract, but there is no "rationing" in Canada, or France, or England: there is no set amount government is willing to pay for any given person over the course of their lives. And the decision to end care is based on current information and common sense -as defined by the people involved- not contract or profit.

Ask why people are upset, don't assume they think about things the same way you do. And if one of you is wrong don't assume its always the non-"expert."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

WaPo's Mouthpiece Theater, which was designed as a response to Stewart and Colbert, was the product of a misunderstanding. Dana Milbank and Chris Cillizza strained to be subjective because they spend most of their life pretending to be objective. Stewart and Colbert don't try to be objective, it's impossible. They try to be honest.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Heal or No Heal - Medicine Brawl
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorSpinal Tap Performance

Stewart on CNN in 2000
CALLER: I was wondering, is it hard to make political jokes and not be on, like, either side?
KING: You can't be for either side.
STEWART: No, that's not true I mean I think you -- most people can't hide their political.
KING: I think you're a Democrat, Jon.
STEWART: I think that's probably correct. I think I would say I'm more of a socialist or an independent but, yes, I mean, no one would ever I think watching our show think that, boy, that guy is just leaning so far right.
KING: But you would knock the Democrats...
STEWART: Oh, sure.
There's also some discussion of judgement and timing, of reading and misreading, of making mistakes before an audience. Performance is empiricism: judging action and reaction, judging the connect and disconnect between ideas and behavior.

Many of the people who ridiculed Milbank and Cillizza have no better understanding of what went wrong than they do.

Monday, August 17, 2009

"I've said a bunch of times that elite journalists oddly cling to authority rather than expertise..."
Geithner is an expert, Summers is an expert, and the people who advised Clinton to "end welfare as we know it" were experts. "The Best and the Brightest" were experts. Know-everythingism is the know-nothingism of the American elite, and the rest of the world is left to cringe, cross their fingers, and pray.

So, continuing from the previous post: Duncan Black's expertise doesn't make him any more curious or observant, just as Josh Marshall's moral seriousness doesn't make him any less a knee-jerk nationalist and racist. Zionism is Garveyism for Jews, but Jews are white enough that it's taken very seriously.

The rightward turn in American economic policy began with Carter, not Reagan. Clinton was to the right of the contemporaneous conservative Prime Minister of Canada and Gingrich complained that Clinton had usurped Republican policies. Some thought should be given to the possibility that the Republican party and base moved to the right because they had no choice: they defined themselves not on policy but opposition. Liberals did somewhat better, defining themselves in terms of social policy not economic policy and allowing at least some logic to their choice to keep the name.

Murdoch as I've pointed out many time by now, gave us both Fox News and The Simpsons. TPM and the rest of new liberal media owes its existence to Fox. If it weren't for Murdoch none of them would have even heard of I.F. Stone. Still, none of them come close.

If our popular political press were as honestly vulgar as our entertainment press we'd be safer, but they take themselves too seriously and put us all at risk. The popular press consider themselves experts, and they are, but their expertise is journalism, and journalism is a trade, nothing more.

Technocracy champions expertise. As a child of academia it's founded on collaboration, not adversarialism: trust the experts to manage others' discord. And the press considers itself our managers while real experts are aghast. Still, American experts as the above makes clear -whatever their protests- are Americans first. And our experts love The Sopranos. They enjoy their anomie as long as they can claim that it's vicarious.

Here's popular left-liberal intellectual Rick Perlstein on the CIA
“The Company” had long exploited the imperative of operational secrecy to avoid accountability for its failures (like neglecting, in 1973, to anticipate Egypt’s invasion of Israel).
In the past, left-liberals worried less about the CIA's failures than its successes.

And here's some tasteful but sophisticated mainstream left-liberalism from 1965, that's no longer mainstream, tasteful or left-liberal:

Times change.
Sometimes it's just depressing how stupid these people are. And I'm talking about Duncan Black, Bruce Bartlett and Steve Benen.
The complete lack of the capacity for introspection.

In this context I was going to mention the following yesterday morning, but decided not to. But later in the afternoon I shared an accidental drink and a short conversation with a woman from Seoul, and the discussion drifted to culture and politics:

In March 2007, when it was released in the US Atrios linked twice to the webpage and the NY Times review of the Korean allegorical monster movie The Host: "Because what's the point of blogging if you can't plug stuff that members of your extended family star in."

The heroes of the movie are burned out survivors of the student uprising in 1980, considered South Korea's Tiananmen, and the villains of the piece are the US and Jimmy Fucking Carter. Atrios' wife I'm sure is aware of this, and I have to assume she made it clear to him, but maybe no. Or maybe it just didn't interest him much. Either way there's a direct link between his cluelessness or indifference to cultural complexities of any sort and his inability to respond or do more than add to the banalities of Benen and Bartlett.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Thinking about Sasha Baron-Cohen and Woody Allen as Jewish comics and as Zelig. Allen begins visibly a Jew laughing at and with/for Jews. Baron-Cohen's Jewishness is used as secret knowledge; he's invisible, the old anti-Semitic trope, while Jews are the one group he hasn't mocked. Also unlike Allen, he takes his religion very seriously. Allen is egocentric but self-deprecating, if only under strictly controlled circumstances. Baron-Cohen under the same circumstances is moralizing and sadistic.
The American right lies about healthcare like American liberals lie about Palestine. But liars don't bother me.

Lying's not the motherfucking problem, a lack of any sense of irony is the motherfucking problem.
The more I read about G.A. Cohen's life and death, the more it sounds like failure, intellectually if not personally. He began with mechanistically complex oversimplifications and ended in equally earnest melancholy. He was a nice guy. So what? I wouldn't care if his work didn't provide cover for so much lousy politics; and culture is politics. Change takes time, and I'm a determinist so I shouldn't be angry, but I'm not a nice guy. Life made me that way.

And it's not the Marxism that's the motherfucking lousy politics its the academicism; the Marxism was bullshit from the start.
If he didn't begin as a Marxist he wouldn't have ended an "ex-Marxist." Marx isn't the motherfucking problem any more than liars are.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Conor Foley at CT.
Also D2

Jackson Pollock, Guardians of the Secret, 1943

Considering the imagery -the absurdity and the form of the absurdity- it makes sense. The above doesn't apply to all of Pollock's work but to its origins: to what he tried to do and failed, before doing something that succeeded if only as art, and if it did succeed, only just.

For anyone who doesn't get the reference:

Mystery Science Theater 3000, often shortened to MST3K, is an American cult television comedy series created that ran from 1988 to 1999.
The series features a man and his robot sidekicks who are trapped on a satellite in space by an evil scientist and forced to watch a selection of bad movies, especially (but not initially limited to) science fiction. To keep sane, the man and his robots provide a running commentary on each film, making fun of its flaws and wisecracking their way through each reel. Each film is presented with a superimposition of the man and robots' silhouettes along the bottom of the screen.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Jackson Pollock, Guardians of the Secret, 1943

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Regarding discussion of culture and the history of the avant-garde and of anti-historical snobbery, this made me smile. Alastair Macaulay's language is a bit over the top but that's a minor caveat.
The Fine Arts section of the Times has been shrinking over the past decade and the Entertainment section has doubled. A little empiricism goes a long way, and Cunningham was a great fan of Astaire.

Reading or at least reading through Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg's Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses. It just amazes me that a cultural historian can write from her own tastes without any awareness that that's what they are. Would anyone be taken seriously who wrote a paper describing political machinations and the role of ideology in the world of "classical" music that claimed the preference for Bach over Vivaldi had no basis in the work itself? Would mockery of that article imply necessarily a belief that politics and ideology are nonexistent?

Greenberg had a good eye and empirically, for a brief period of time, a good sense of what was most compelling in the fine arts. As to the underlying reasons for that he was wrong from the start. He sensed what and thought he knew why. Caroline A. Jones has a sense and an argument about the why, in the sense that ideology plays a role, but she follows her preferences regarding art itself as if they didn't matter. She argues that the move towards abstraction in painting was not inevitable, which is absurd. How could figurative hand crafting compete with popular and mechanical media, not only in popularity but in moral authority and force? Is Chaplin no rival to Matisse? She views things in terms of personal ideology rather than impersonal forces but that means as well that she can't imagine Mondrian's appreciation of Pollock as anything but politics. Does that apply to Mondrian's love of Disney's animation as well?

To understand Greenberg you have to understood what he got right as well as what he got wrong. He may have attacked O'Keeffe for her fixation on "hygiene and scatology" but he barely dealt with Duchamp. Why not attack him in the same way? Jones defends O'Keeffe as ideology not as art and in doing so is unable to describe either. O'Keeffe's work is poeticized and flabby. She's not taken very seriously beyond her cult, nor does she deserve to be. But to make things more complex, and more interesting the 'source' -the author?- of Duchamp's Fountain was a woman.
On health care: as usual the liberal quasi-left is flummoxed by the activist right. You can't argue with irrationalism but you can undermine its position in the minds of its adherents. Liberals would be better defenders of liberalism if they knew what it was they were defending.

Liberals are so convinced of their own rationality that they can't see how much of it is rhetoric, and how much of that is hollow. American liberals have been moving slowly towards sympathy with the Palestinians, but given the facts of the situation over the past 60 years why was this (slow) motion even necessary? 'Reason' obviously isn't reason enough.

I'm linking to this even though the rhetoric is stupid, simplistic, and self-indulgent. My comments have been removed. What the post describes is fascism; unlike Josh Marshall I have no problem admitting that because unlike Josh Marshall I'm not even tempted to defend it. But the author of the post is a bit of a racist and I won't defend that either. The Jews are a people, just as the Roma are a people. And the Jews are Semites. But I wouldn't defend the expulsion of three quarters of a million people from northern India to give the Roma a country of their own. That's the point. And I would never say "The [X,Y, or Z] are a generous people." But yes, of course a bi-national state is the only moral choice, while here at least, liberals are happy to defend a logic somewhere between Garveyism and the dream of Jorg Haider, as long as its dreamer is a Jew. And in Israel even Uri Avnery wants Jews to live alone.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Sansho Dayu (Sansho the Bailiff), 1954, Kenji Mizoguchi. The first shot

Saturday, August 08, 2009

"But I don’t think I’m alone among my cohort in the belief that John Hughes was our Godard, the filmmaker who crystallized our attitudes and anxieties with just the right blend of teasing and sympathy." Yes, you are alone in thinking that John Hughes is "your" Godard. This like saying that Larry King is "your" Foucault. Give me a...potato.
Back to Cohen, briefly. He begins his Tanner Lecture with a discussion of "egalitarians" using hypothetical examples of their arguments and referring to the debate between "freedom" and "equality." So a supposed leftist, who later cedes at least tacitly the empirical ground to Thatcher, begins by ceding reason to the logic of liberal individualism.

By any measure the common functional counterweight to freedom as documented in human behavior is not equality but "obligation." But again most Anglo-American academic radicalism, like most academic political thought, like most people's closely held assumptions, can be described fairly as the habitual attempt to justify the holders' preexisting habits and general beliefs. It's safe to say that Cohen was an individualist, so the prime mover, the primary element in his argument was not a collective understanding, language or history or any other of the forms without which the individual is unrecognizable, but the individual actor himself.

You can't institutionalize self-awareness. When it isn't considered a proper goal of an active mind, it becomes harder and harder even to imagine what it is.

Before tossing out my old copies of the Journal of Philosophy I dug out an essay by Cohen responding to critics of "Karl Marx's Theory of History" (the book) which he by designation treats as identical to the thing itself. Did he add the subtitle "a defense" in the later edition? That sort of rhetorical de-historicizing of his own effort is par for the course.

It's clear reading the essay that he's a brilliant engineer of imaginary logical machines; debating accusations of circularity and the social vs asocial and relating statements such as "There is an autonomous tendency of the productive forces to develop" to a child's 'tendency' to grow but not to grow 'autonomously.' Smartly done but nothing more.

Reminiscences here and here.
He seems to slide from a passive acceptance of historical determinism, which I take as an honorable position but not, passivity being what it is, a politically activist one, and vague but equally passive hope.
Late this past April, Jerry and Michele travelled to India to visit Sarah, Jerry's "ultraspiritual Hinduizing daughter," as he put it. In an email that Jerry sent the day before they departed, he mentioned "[his] journey from parentally induced anti-religionism to anti-anti-religionism to my current pretty pro-religious condition in which spiritual things keep on happening to me." What spiritual things? Well, "like sitting in a subway train and looking at the faces and a voice inside me--not me, exactly, but in me--says: They are all suffering emissaries of God. And I don't smirk."
I suppose I should be kinder but after 20 years of trying and failing to have conversations on all these subjects I'm beyond it.
Shafiq al-Hout, who has died aged 77 in Beirut, was a founding member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), its representative in Lebanon and a larger-than-life figure who championed the Palestinians' right of return to their homeland and a unified, democratic state there for Muslims, Jews and Christians. He was also a strong advocate of armed resistance.

Al-Hout has died a disappointed and frustrated man, his life's work, for the foreseeable future, buried in a divided and moribund PLO and a Palestinian national movement in the worst straits in its 50-year history.

He once wrote: "If I were asked after all these years, after that evil day I was wrenched from Palestine, if I remained convinced of my right to return, I would never hesitate to say 'yes'. It is not just that I will return to Palestine, but Palestine will return to me and to what it once was." He died still believing that, but the past 15 or so years gave him strong reason to doubt that his dream would be realised soon.

He was twice a member of the PLO executive, before Arafat took over from Ahmed Shukairy, from 1966 to 1968, and – appointed by Arafat, who wanted his antagonistic but admired friend inside the tent – from 1991 to 1993. Al-Hout left the executive over what he, like many, regarded as the disaster of the Arafat-orchestrated PLO recognition of Israel under the Oslo accords, and the movement's effective return to the occupied territories under the control and aegis of Israel...

In that great division in the Palestinian movement between the "outside" – the diaspora of the refugee camps and the millions of exiles worldwide – and the "inside"– the Palestinian authority and its constituents – Al-Hout was a devout outsider. He believed that all of Palestine belonged to all Palestinians, in one state. In later years, he remained a member of the Palestine National Council, the parliament-in-exile, but stayed out of politics, writing his memoirs, spreading the word in his articulate and forceful way, in that familiar and formidable deep smoker's growl, usually alongside a rapidly diminishing bottle of Black Label whisky. He viewed recent Palestinian developments with dejection and pessimism, though never despair.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

According to liberal thinkers, Scandinavian countries should have drowned in the current economic crisis with their bloated public sectors and a nanny-state mentality that stifles individual creativity.

But the opposite has happened. Sweden, Denmark and Norway, where many people pay 50% of their income in taxes – with some even paying 60% – are coping better than most, in particular better than Britain.

"The outlook for these countries is good," says Christian Ketels, an economist at the Harvard Business School and the Stockholm School of Economics. "They are going to return to normal quicker, and in better shape, than everybody else."
I've rewritten this post. Previously it began with this: "Crooked Timber mourns Jerry Cohen who more than anyone else apparently made it intellectually and also morally respectable for Oxbridge left/liberals to imagine an actually existing Scandinavia." I tossed that off. It was glib and cruel But actually not cruel enough, because in many ways he did the opposite, making it not easier but harder for Anglo-American college professors at least to come to terms with the reality of Scandinavian economic culture. In the Tanner Lecture (linked below) Cohen begins by bypassing a discussion of the economic logic of Thatcherism to focus on the moral logic of Rawls [see page 272] ceding the empirical and practical and arguing the rationalist and ideal. The argument is an object lesson in academic perversity. I'll continue this later; the rest of the post below is unchanged.

Meanwhile leftist-conservative-intellectual George Scialabba extemporizes on Arthur C. Clarke, also apparently a favorite of Michael Berube.

In one of the posts about Scialabba someone goes on about the 60s and hippies and the rise of inarticulateness and bad writing. As if Cohen weren't also an example. If Scialabba were less interested in encomiums, he'd bring up his hero Dwight Macdonald on academic language. But he's the technocrats' favorite rebel because he's a romantic and as such doesn't threaten them. They're condescending to him and he's eating it up.

Related: I'm curious about Raymond Geuss.

G.A. Cohen: "Incentives, Inequality, and Community" PDF
My own socialist-egalitarian position was nicely articulated by John Stuart Mill in his Principles of Political Economy. Contrasting equal payment with incentive-style payment according to product (“work done”), Mill said that the first
appeals to a higher standard of justice, and is adapted to a much higher moral condition of human nature. The proportioning of remuneration to work done is really just, only in so far as the more or less of the work is a matter of choice; when it depends on natural difference of strength or capacity, this principle of remuneration is in itself an injustice: it is giving to those who have; assigning most to those who are already most favoured by nature. Considered, however, as a compromise with the selfish type of character formed by the present standard of morality, and fostered by the existing social institutions, it is highly expedient; and until education shall have been entirely regenerated, is far more likely to prove immediately successful, than an attempt at a higher
Rawls’s lax application of his different [difference?] principle means “giving to those who have.” He presents the incentive policy as a feature of the just society, whereas it is in fact, and as Mill says, just “highly expedient” in society as we know it, a sober “compromise with the selfish type of character” formed by capitalism.63 Philosophers in search of justice should not be content with an expedient compromise. To call expediency justice goes against the regeneration to which Mill looked forward at the end of this fine passage.
Sometimes it's good to be reminded just how stupid Rawls was, and how strong the popular association has become of self-interest and free inquiry [of greed as curiosity and therefore somehow noble] that someone has to spend this much of his time, most of a lifetime, to point out the obvious.
And in the end Cohen still defended sending the kids to prep school; status-seeking and the avoidance of children's embarrassment among their "peers" being more important than an education in the ways of the world.
The rigorously mediocre rationalist criticize the grandly mediocre for sloppy reasoning.

Actions, as decisions in the world, document ideas. In some fields actions outside the field are irrelevant. Philosophy's not one of them (which is why I prefer history).
Reading and listening to Geuss. Nice to find a professional making my old argument for a history of Justice before a theory of it.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

and again
and again

And on Hawkwind: "A bit more violent than Brahms but that's what it is."

"She was a bookbinder by profession, and then she had an uncontrollable urge one night to take all her clothes off and paint herself blue! It was probably a throwback to the Roman invasion of Britain -- you think 'woad,' y'know?..."