Saturday, February 27, 2010

On the Biennial itself: The paintings are useless; sculpture is the same with one or two exceptions; the photography is mostly photojournalism without context, so voyeurism and false moralism, but many of the videos engage (which is something). For a mention of Kerry Tribe's HM, and not only that but a description of why it works, you can even look outside the art world.

HM is one example, and there are many others, of the institutional avant-garde meeting up with -or catching up- to the wider culture. MoMA is an overfilled zoo on friday nights, and whether I leave disgusted or with my faith restored depends less on the work or the audience than my mood before I got there. You'll find many strange things in art museums these days, mostly things that I don't like much (and which are less strange to me than to most others). But you'll also find a lot of people staring, more often than you'd expect, with real curiosity. Sophistication isn't what it used to be, for better and worse. "Art" relies more and more on arguments from authority, and "entertainment" is catch as catch can.

Robert Irwin
Writers and filmmakers are referred to by the name of their craft. The words "painter" and "sculptor" are treated as synonyms for "artist."
Throughout, the exhibition reveals to us an artist who, much like Leon Golub and Philip Guston in his last decade, has insisted on giving equal emphasis to narrative and form, that is, to literary meaning and what I would call sub-verbal experience. That he is sometimes more entertaining than profound indicates that this balance is no easy thing to achieve....

Mr. Kentridge is a skilled draftsman who almost entirely lacks an original touch: his images tend to be inert if they’re not in motion. His primary subject, the irrationality of evil, may need the irrational magic of film to be truly effective.
Roberta Smith should read a little more art history. Narrative is form, and the imaginative response to film is no more (or less) irrational than the response to other forms of art. Would she oppose painting to the "irrational magic" of the novel? Being a proponent of painterly abstraction she just might (while criticizing the irrational magic of a Holbein portrait).

The question, and here's she's right to bring in Golub and Guston, is how well narrative form has been used by practitioners of the plastic arts in the recent past up to the present. And the answer is "not very well" for the reason that artists and critics shared the same biases, seeing the same opposition of narrative to form, choosing narrative therefore as anti-form, as the first move against materialist formalism, returning simultaneously to subject matter only as vulgarized "content". The Pop imagination attempted to make materialist form out of content, and in its struggle and failure left us poetry. But Smith does not understand even this, and is left fighting a rearguard action in defense of the no-longer avant. She's in good company (cf. Simon Blackburn et al.). The institutional avant-garde and the academy are united in reaction.

The best work in Kentridge's show is filmic narrative, as is the best work in the Biennial, and that's because the vast majority of works of contemporary visual art that engage the world from the standpoint of moral seriousness -as opposed to simple morality or indifference- are movies, as novels outstrip philosophy. And the best works in the Biennial that aren't in film or video are explicitly narrative, most as trapped in limbo as Kentridge's drawings (or Tim Burton's, also now on display at MoMA). Anything at the Whitney with a physical presence is either a stage set or a prop, or in one case a miniature diorama.

Maybe the Times should send it's theater and film critics to the Biennial next time. Either would be in a better position to judge the success or failure than its writers on "fine" art.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

History through a hundred looted objects
Doug Cassel: "If the president deems that he’s got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person’s child, there is no law that can stop him?"
John Yoo: "No treaty"
Are treaties laws?
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CRS report on Signing Statements [PDF]
Conclusion
Presidential signing statements have a long historical pedigree and there is no discernible constitutional or legal impediment to their issuance. While such statements have become increasingly common since the Reagan Administration and have increasingly been utilized by Presidents to raise constitutional or interpretive objections to congressional enactments, that increased usage does not render them unconstitutional. While the broad assertions of executive authority contained in these statements carry significant implications, both practical and constitutional, for the traditional relationship between the executive branch and Congress, they do not have legal force or effect, and have not been utilized to effect the formal nullification of laws. Instead, it appears that recent administrations, as made apparent by the voluminous challenges lodged by President George W. Bush, have employed these instruments in an attempt to leverage power and control away from Congress by establishing these broad assertions of authority as a constitutional norm. It can be argued that the appropriate focus of congressional concern should center not on the issuance of signing statements themselves, but on the broad assertions of presidential authority forwarded by Presidents and the substantive actions taken to establish that authority. Accordingly, a robust oversight regime focusing on substantive executive action, as opposed to the vague and generalized assertions of authority typical of signing statements, might allow Congress in turn to more effectively assert its constitutional prerogatives and ensure compliance with its enactments.
Every congressman has fantasies of being president and they all act now more in service to that dream, and of individual authority, than in defense of the prerogatives of the chamber where they sit. Adversarialism and divided government requires that a president be a philosophical individualist, while the congressional ethic be fundamentally tribal. How's that for divided consciousness? I'll add that example to my usual one of the ethic of military piety and the divided consciousness of the citizen soldier.

Not something liberals or academic "philosophers" understand.
Professional "Philosophers" take note. Jack Balkin explains how language works. You can call it linguistic realism or in his case, legal realism. Just don't call it Legal Realism.
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Looking around for discussions of cognitive science as theology I found a great quote: "Cognitive science is the creation science of psychology." It's Skinner.

More links from Leiter: Fodor contra Fodor. Fodor saying that all Putnam's arguments are a priori reminds me of Hans Kung saying that Freud's arguments are "theologically unsound." The first is a priori-pot/kettle and the second is a priori-apples/oranges but I have the same response. I should add a new tag for comedy.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hacker: Analytic Philosophy: Beyond the linguistic turn and back again

A review of Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience in NDPR
I liked the first piece, but from there it gets odd very quickly. NDPR:
Suppose, we ask a person who has had his sight or hearing restored “How does it feel to see (or hear)?” They are likely to answer “Why, it's wonderful.” What we are asking after is the person's attitude toward his recovery of a faculty, now restored. But what if we ask a person possessed of normal faculties “What is it like to see a chair or a table?” Bennett and Hacker aver that the person would have no idea what we were talking about. Seeing tables and chairs, postboxes and lampposts are all different experiences. But “[t]he experiences differ only in so far as their objects differ” (p. 274).
No they differ in their relation to the history of experience of the individual viewer.
And again:
In the course of reducing the mental to the physical, the normative dimensions of social life are lost. Consider this example. Suppose I place my signature on a document. The act of affixing my signature is accompanied by neural firings in my brain. The neural firings do not “explain” what I have done. In signing my name, I might be signing a check, giving an autograph, witnessing a will or signing a death certificate. In each case the neural firing may well be the same. And yet, the meaning of what I have done in affixing my signature is completely different in each case. These differences are “circumstance dependent,” not merely the product of my neural firings. Neural firings accompany the act of signing but only the circumstances of my signing, including the intention to do so, are the significant factors in explaining what I have done.
History, then, the record of experience and of 30 years of neural firings up to the point of my signing the check, is bunk. It's "metaphysical nonsense" because the primary mover of the world, if no longer God, must be this thing called the "Self".

Also in reference to this. SE/DG:
Mary the color scientist, seeing -sensing- color for the first time, will learn nothing new about color itself but will now give it a place among the trillions of sense impressions over the course of her life which she has compartmentalized, characterized, and like as not narrativized into her personal logic. She will have a new understanding of color not as independent but in relation to herself as a form of experience within the totality of her imagined and imagining life.
Mary will see, construct, and experience her red. It will become a part of the totality of her experience and her conditioning.
When I first read, or more likely heard about the famous cogito -I was young- my first response was "What is this "I" this person is talking about?" Descartes is such a Catholic. The difference is that the Trinity has become a duality, and transubstantiation has become the mind body "problem."

The fight over Fodor and Darwin is more interesting than Leiter allows. Watching rationalists struggling to come to terms with empiricism, even when they want to defend it (or lay claim to it) is fascinating. Empiricism is unstable and that scares them. And deeper than that something else scares them too. Experience is a record of and in Time.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

serendipity, I guess.
In reference to the last post. The update is funny. But the debate is interesting.
As always the point is not that there's no such thing as reason but that the question remains: "Who watches the [self-appointed] watchmen?"
[2/24:Read the comments by and in response to "Megan." There is no communication in language without politics.]

In his previous post Leiter links to Raymond Geuss. Reading the piece you have to think Leiter links to him out of some vague deference, if not to superiority at least as another member of the priesthood; even if that man politely mocks everything Leiter professes. I can't think of Leiter without thinking of his fondness for Timothy Williamson:

"Impatience with the long haul of technical reflection is a form of shallowness, often thinly disguised by histrionic advocacy of depth.”

Geuss is trying to come to terms with what Leiter ignores, but his language is vague and poeticizing: He write as a fan, someone more interested in the poetic than -to use my term- the "poemic." I'll repeat a passage I quoted 6 months ago, by Hermann Broch:
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.
Philosophers are interested in "Truth" and "Beauty." Artists like lawyers are craftsmen and tradesmen first. Philosophical art as Baudelaire saw, avant la lettre, is Kitsch. This is something Geuss the late modern philosopher doesn't quite get. Leiter and Williamson however as late modernists of another sort, as intellectual bureaucrats, are simply vulgarians and pedants. And pedantry as I've said, is a form of irrationalism.

Geuss: "Since neither a picture nor a poem is an argument, neither is a suitable object for counterargument."

That's wrong. Pictures and poems are a kind of argument. A lawyer in a courtroom is said to make "arguments" even though he's speaking on behalf a paying client. His defense of that client is predicated on falseness: his loyalty is to the court. The court itself represents "truth" but only in its process, not in any given result. Within the rules of the court the only goal is victory.
A lawyer makes a kind of argument, and so does a poet. Poets at work, again as I've said (I'm repeating myself a lot these days) are not unlike Ronald Dworkin's Hercules. Philosophers who don't understand art, or law, don't understand democracy.

But I want to read P.M.S. Hacker.
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There was a time when I thought Dworkin's Hercules was meant to describe an ideal judge's earnest attempt to call 'em as he sees 'em: to 'find' a logical, formal, consistency across the questions of the case and his perceptions as a member of a political/linguistic/cultural community. Now I can't tell if Dworkin was shrouding his moral realism in a fog of language, or shrouding the argument described above in a fog of truthiness. There was no reason for him not to be clear. There may have been a personal need on his part not to be.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

"philosophers"

As I've said before, in so many words, post-war modernism is the reactionary recapitulation -as mannered and brittle- of the much more ambiguous modernism of earlier in the century. There's something offensively un-self-aware in the knee-jerk proclamations of ordered progress: as something that was or is happening, or that should happen. I could be talking about "Ozzie and Harriet" or Clement Greenberg but just as easily about the so called "cognitive revolution", not the culture at large which is always messy but the respectable quasi-official culture that modernism became. Has anyone commented that C. Wright Mills writes like The Organization Man, Apostate, a carrier of the same traits he condemns, without of course being aware of it? How is it possible after the first 50 years of the bloodiest century in history that so many people could so casually make assumptions about the stable subject: The experts' "I" even in rebellion.

Thinking of this after stumbling into a review by Jerry Fodor The arrogance, based on lazy assumption and self-regard, is just odd to me.

I'm not a fan of Chalmers and the limits of the Extended Mind Thesis are pretty clear: If my arm is an extension of my mind, is my hand like a fork? But Fodor says less in 10 printed pages than I did in 15 words and in the process manages to sound like someone who knows little about the world outside the pretensions of his field. I'm told some of his colleagues might agree with that judgement- and even that he might himself. Every few paragraphs I come across a statement to which my only response is: "How do you know?" And the only answer I can imagine from him is "Because!" What is "content" other than the perception of something? And what's perception? Whatever it is it's not to be questioned, because to question it is to question optimism. I can't think if another excuse. But it allows him to call himself "a philosopher" as someone else might call himself "a chemist." The analogy of philosophy as demi-science: pure bullshit. Sometimes the conflict between fact and assumption - empiricism and rationalization- becomes so clear it's painful to watch.
But it does bear emphasis that slippery-slope arguments are notoriously invalid. There is, for example, a slippery slope from being poor to being rich; it doesn’t follow that whoever is the one is therefore the other, or that to insist on the distinction is mere prejudice. Similarly, there is a slippery slope between being just a foetus and being a person; it doesn’t follow that foetuses are persons, or that to abort a foetus is to commit a homicide.
There is no objective "true" divide between a foetus and a person. To argue otherwise is not "rational" but only self-serving. The fact is that the most powerful arguments for the legalization of abortion begin in the knowledge that there is no absolute answer and that given this, along with other issues of enforcement, the state should not have the right to intervene. Fodor invents an absolute out of whole cloth. As I said he does it a few times but this one just pissed me off. Like Simon Blackburn on Humanism, or Chomsky, or Searle, what he knows is what he wants to believe, no more.

The rationalism of ideologues leads to irrationalism and barbarism. Is Weinberg any more deluded than Rumsfeld?

The will to ignorance. Amazing

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Robert Grosvenor's show left me thinking of early Edward Albee, being about theater without quite being theater, the interests in both cases being structure. His works are like seemingly offhand but very sophisticated beach architecture: the sculpture of the precise arrangement of what's laying around. And the Albee play I'm thinking of is The Sandbox.



Banks Violette's interests manifest as theater full on. His shows have become viscerally terrifying descriptions of the imagination of addiction (or of one form of addiction). It's the nightmare architecture of a mind filled with broken glass. And of course it indulges the nightmare by glamorizing it.

On contemporary architecture, theater, and glass: more here


and here.

Grosvenor and Albee are close enough in age that they're both from the generation that was trying to come to terms with the end of an ideal and of an ideal art, but with the fact of perception and therefore subjectivity still kept at a distance. "Here we have an object... man... event/word... metaphor... story/ emotion." It's a form of diffidence, and diffidence is a also a form of indulgence.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I used to see a guitarist on the subway platform, forever whining "Tears in Heaven." But he missed the point because he whined it. Misery and communication of misery are not the same thing. They have little to do with one another accept to say that to communicate misery - to depict it- you have to understand it, or at least its structure. A good actor can depict emotional depth. He may not have it.
A letter from 2002
Since plastering doesn't take much thought, I spent a lot of the day thinking about what it was I meant by the term sincerity. After I read your email I looked it up in my 50 year old Webster's, and I suppose what it comes down to is a problem of volition. I have a great respect for the notion of the intentional fallacy, and in that context, sincerity implies intention. Sincerity is an emotion. 'Simplicity' and 'directness' describe the manner of things themselves: songs for example, or a style of playing. I would not call a craftsman's work sincere or earnest. I wouldn't call a mason sincere, even if he were brilliant. I might say that he had a sincere love for his work, but that's not the same thing.

My dislike of that word doesn't make me a cynic and I wasn't trying to sound like one. Maybe I shouldn't have used the term 'theatrical' since it implies an audience of others, of outsiders. When everyone in a church sings together the performers are the audience. Maybe that's not theater but it is still formalized presentation, perhaps even more formalized, more rhetorical. "These are the songs my/our grandparents taught me/us, and that their grandparents taught them." You can't get more formalized then that. The notion of sincerity also implies a focus on the individual performer rather than on the song and is therefore the opposite of formalization.

I see a musician on the subway a lot who sings nothing but sad songs. And he sings them with a miserable expression on his face and always in the same plaintive whine. He obviously is miserable, and he's trying to communicate his misery to the rest of us. I feel guilty for being so sick of him. I've heard him do 'Tears in Heaven' hundreds of times. But I've also heard Mexican guitarists singing beautiful sad duets that you know they can do at this point while reading the damn newspaper. And they stand there and sing them again and again and you know as you watch and listen that what they are thinking about is not their misery- if they are miserable- but the song. It is the character's in the song who are sad. Does that make the singers insincere? But they're good at what they do.

I think what you appreciate is the selfless respect for tradition. There's a depth in that that individual achievement can't match. And there's a simplicity to a certain kind of grass roots tradition that is as much about the community as the song. It's collective art. And in a society without much in the way of community, you're drawn to it, just as I'm drawn to the Mexican singers on the subway. But sincerity is an individual's emotion, and to me it changes the subject from the emotions in the performance to the emotions in the performer. I think that's a mistake.

I'll try another tack since I haven't quite hit it yet, and I'm a little drunk. What we both sense is the communication and familiarity within the group that's associated with sincerity. The sincerity is not directed at/to the audience and isn't even the subject of the 'conversation', but is demonstrated or made manifest by the performance. Lovers don't spend every day telling each other how much they're in love, not if it's going to last more than a week, they talk about the things they have in common and the communication demonstrates the emotion. Music is the same. The sincerity and the friendship is between the players. The audience, unless it's a community church, is along for the ride.

It's not sincerity that bothers me it's the thought that it is or should be directed at the audience, or that it therefore produces good art.
I would say that all this is obvious to craftspeople but not anymore to intellectuals, so the intellectuals who "rediscover" what others take for granted are like rebellious teenagers or battered women, forever having to explain and justify themselves to the incredulous, and even to themselves. Secular philosophers argue with priests and both ignore the village atheist because he's not an intellectual. And as I've said before, if anyone ever refers to me as a "content provider" I'll kick him in his motherfucking teeth. As a craftsman I'm a form provider.

For intellectuals like Derrida the issue is the degree to which those who consider themselves content providers are form providers by default. As if this given is evidence of crisis. It is, in the same sense that the "death" of a nonexistent god is still a crisis for philosophers. Every modern academic is a cafe revolutionary who imagines himself the real thing.
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Reading one page of James Baldwin on white liberals and understanding that the Palestinian Baldwin writes in arabic, that Josh Marshall's never heard of him, and would never quote him if he had.

Monday, February 08, 2010

note taking
[comments removed]
179
Gandhi said that if you find a starving child and all there is around is meat then the child should be allowed to starve.

If an open society built on questions and argument -the most important of which is: "Utility for what?"- is attacked and puts its defense in the hands of an army run on standard military utilitarianism -meaning: “Get it done!”- does that mean the society itself is now founded on utilitarian principles?

188
“He is saying that personal virtues are not virtuous if they are practiced without regard for the larger system they are supporting or opposing. There’s really no other way to read it.”

“Yes. That’s because he’s a consequentialist, an ends-justify-the-means type-guy. That’s my point, anyway. The larger ‘system’ is the greater good. So what’s the objection to my reading?”


So the choice is between consequentialism and hypocrisy and you’re choosing hypocrisy.

"First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist; Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist; Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew; It’s better to wait."
[I should have added: "In the meantime I'll continue to help little old ladies cross the street and never litter"]

189
Zizek described the last section of a holocaust novel: Jews are being loaded on a train, packed in like cattle. The train goes east for 3 days in freezing temperatures; by the time it reaches its destination only a small group of children are left alive, kept warm by the bodies of the adults who had moved them to the center of the car. When the children are discovered the SS set the dogs on them. Two escape and run off in the snow. Of the two of them the younger one stumbles and the elder reaches back to help. He pulls him up as the dogs find them and attack.

How do justice to the fact of the crime and the inability to do anything but read or watch, how do justice to memory and at the same time to the moral imperative of hope? Zizek says the novel succeeds, but wonders how one could make the film. The easy solution to the ending is to freeze on the image of the clasped hands, but that makes hope too easy, protecting us from the real end. One answer would to freeze the frame but not the sound.
“So idealism in the context of narrative.”
“Yes!”
The last comment is from memories of conversation. Explained here.

Zizek is trying to come to terms with conflicted desire. He's a popularizer of what was once the high intellectualism of anxious uncertainty, practiced in this country now only in the arts and seen in philosophy only in retrospect, since contemporary philosophers say "history is bunk", notwithstanding the fact that history has always shown that to be untrue.
History is like foreign travel. It broadens the mind, but it does not deepen it.
It's boring at this point but I'll say this again, since it remains an object lesson in failure: John Holbo cannot talk about the political situation in Singapore -where he lives and teaches- without threatening his career, which is why Henry Farrell and not Holbo himself responded to my comments a couple of years ago, replying that academic philosophy doesn't concern itself with real politics. That wasn't Farrell's term but that was the argument.
In The Liberal Imagination, Lionel Trilling approves the text of J. S. Mill’s “prayer of every true partisan of liberalism”: “Lord, enlighten thou our enemies . . . sharpen their wits, give acuteness to their perceptions and consecutiveness and clearness to their reasoning powers. We are in danger from their folly, not from their wisdom: their weakness is what fills us with apprehension, not their strength.”
Being such a partisan, having now said my prayer, I consider possible beneficiaries. I pluck from the crowd one Slavoj Zizek, anti-liberal intellectual.
Zizek was a dissident in Tito's Yugoslavia. My parents risked prison time in the US, in defense of their beliefs. When Holbo's not attacking Zizek and Jonah Goldberg he writes about comic books and fonts.

Holbo defends non-contradictory propositions contradicted by his actions. He refuses to deal in contexts because the result would be damning, showing his "revealed preference". He claims to live an examined life, but he's a liar and a hypocrite, fundamentally corrupt not because he's a realist but because his life and career are predicated on proffering the illusion that he isn't. As I said at the time, the dinner for Zizek and ten or so others was good and not cheap. As we were leaving Zizek said the next time he was in town he'd take our host out to his favorite Scottish restaurant: McDonalds.
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I haven't spent much time with Derrida, but I'm reading Signature Event Context and I'll follow up with Searle and Limited Inc. For all that I knew what I was in for I'm still a little shocked to see the understanding standard to literature and history regurgitated by a philosopher as melodrama. Presence/Absence. A father writes a letter to his son, for him to find and read only after the father is dead.
Or Yul Brenner


There's nothing new here. The teenage son of a true believer in the myth of objectivity, on discovering that it's a myth, will react still as a teenager, with an immature and desperate exuberance. His response is a function of reaction not understanding.

Language is synchronic and diachronic order. Only in an age of science, of the mythification of externalities, will the rediscovery of internalities, the inevitable subjectivity of perception and the inevitability of perception itself cause a ruckus. Where are the motherfucking adults? Perception is biological conflict.
That's original I guess but hardly out of the blue.

Sunday, February 07, 2010


Buster Keaton, "One Week"
Courtesy of Charles Simic

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Note taking etc.
The problem with attacks on [religion, mysticism etc] is that they're always led by groups whose names all might as well be "The Society for the Prevention of the Irrationality of Other People."
If pedantry is a form of incompetence and incompetence is an unfounded faith in your own abilities or understanding, then attacks on irrationalism as such tout court are irrational.
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Noting a significant number of fashionably well dressed but reserved men, old and young, at the Bronzino exhibition. In pairs or the young in small groups. All very Tom Ford. Serendipity, or cultural determinism?
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile
What Does the Iranian Public Really Think?

Analysis of Multiple Polls Finds Little Evidence Iranian Public Sees Government as Illegitimate

Not news, and not much coverage of course.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Albrecht Dürer, St Philip 1526 Engraving, 122 x 76 mm.
While it is true that commercial art is always in danger of ending up as a prostitute, it is equally true that noncommercial art is always in danger of ending up as an old maid. Non commercial art has given us Seurat's "Grande Jatte" and Shakespeare's sonnets,but also much that is esoteric to the point of incommunicability. Conversely, commercial art has given us much that is vulgar or snobbish (two aspects of the same thing) to the point of loathsomeness, but also Durer's prints and Shakespeare's plays. For, we must not forget that Durer's prints were partly made on commission and partly intended to be sold in the open market; and that Shakespeare's plays -in contrast to the earlier masques and intermezzi which were produced at court by aristocratic amateurs and could afford to be so incomprehensible that even those who described them in printed monographs occasionally failed to grasp their intended significance— were meant to appeal, and did appeal, not only to the select few but also to everyone who was prepared to pay a shilling for admission. 
It is this requirement of communicability that makes commercial art more vital than noncommercial, and therefore potentially much more effective for better or for worse.
The second figure, 23, is the Gini for Sweden, the world’s most egalitarian country. Whereas most of Europe, Canada and Australia have Ginis in the low 30s, the US has over the past several decades developed inequalities usually found only in poor countries with autocratic governments.
So what? Isn’t inequality merely the price of America being No. 1?
“That’s almost certainly false,” Bowles tells SFR. “Prior to about 20 years ago, most economists thought that inequality just
greased the wheels of progress. Overwhelmingly now, people who study it empirically think that it’s sand in the wheels.”

"...Suppose instead what we did is this: We said, ‘Look, when somebody turns 18, he gets a quarter of a million dollars and, after that, you’re on your own,’” Bowles says. “Once you’ve got your quarter-million, you’ve got to make a decision: ‘Should I go to college or do I want to start a business?’—which you could do with a quarter of a million.”
And Henry Farrell calls him a leftist. The reason for Sweden's low GINI is the cultural opposition to individualism. Bowles is an American individualist trying to solve problems according to his moral sensibility.

Reading Hermann Broch on the irrationalism at the heart of any value system.

Related to that: when I first heard the terms emics and etics my immediate association given my interests was not "phonemic" and "phonetic" but "poemic" and "poetic". I invented a word on the spot, but one that fits the original meaning just as well, if as I imagined poemics would mean the esthetic understanding of the poet and poetics the understanding of a reader. Bowles practices the poemics of American culture and specifically American economics, generalizing from that subjective "knowledge". My standard example is transportation policy. If all you have is a hammer than everything is a nail, and if all you know is cars then everything's a highway. Individualism is a mythology and public transportation, as foreign, is irrational.
As always, pretty basic. But Broch is a smart man

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

(2) Religious beliefs do not answer ultimately (or at the limit) to evidence and reasons, as evidence and reasons are understood in other domains concerned with knowledge of the world. Religious beliefs, in virtue of being based on "faith", are insulated from ordinary standards of evidence and rational justification, the ones we employ in both common-sense and in science.
The above by Brian Leiter from "Why Tolerate Religion?" Quoted by Andrew Koppelman in "No Respect: Brian Leiter on Religion" [SSRN]

They both should spend more time around criminal law, and lawyers who argue the causes fate hands them rather than those they choose. The mandate against the institutionalization of religion can and should mean simply that there is no special place for it and the express right to freedom of religion can be seen logically, in its historical context, as the equivalent of statements of the right to be free from racial discrimination, with no special rights.

No two people can ever know between them what truth is; the best they will do is agree, and agreement is a function of social life not of the absolute. The law is designed first and foremost for conflict resolution, truth itself is always private. As I always remind people, the rule of law protects us from the [mis]rule of reason. Steven Weinberg's belief that we "need to know" certain facts about the universe is as irrational as his racism, if less divisive. I wouldn't interfere with his right to have his curiosity follow his tastes any more than I would want the state to mandate against his phobias, though I might argue against funding his research, compared to funding work on AIDS and Malaria. I might or might not, and either why it's an opinion and a matter of values, not truth. Leiter's response to Brian Tamanaha in their arguments over formalism and realism seem to me to be as based on faith, as opposed to empiricism, as his defense of a naturalized epistemology that sounds (again to me, in my opinion) like desperate science envy. His philosophy tracks with science, in his fantasies, and he's unwilling to defend the humanities as such as having value, so his defense of philosophy falls flat. Read the Guardian link he posts. Did they really need a "philosopher" or would anyone with an imagination have been good enough? Maybe a parish priest who's a good judge of people.

Leiter pretends that philosophy is technical and cumulative but the facts and history seem to show only that tastes change. Remember that according to Leiter and his friends "history is bunk". [see the first post yesterday or begin here] I remember Leiter smiling fondly at Jerry Fodor saying with mild contempt that he -Fodor- didn't even know anyone in Comp Lit, though I know from another source that Fodor thought it was odd that one of his colleagues had friends outside the academy itself.

Academics' work -as expertise- represents their preoccupations to themselves. Some academics like to look out the window but it's not enough. Scholasticism is academic formalism, when outside information undermines that formalism the data is ignored. The formalism of practicing lawyers on the other hand is the formalism of craftsmen, of rhetoric, not as a model of the objective world but of communication. The formal tropes of oratory are not the formalisms of mathematics. Yet that equation is precisely the model now in the academy: the model of a science of rhetoric. The goal of mastery of a skill has become the goal of the mastery of truth. A formal structure used for clarity is now imagined as a self-supporting manifestation of ideal order. That is a very dangerous logic. Leiter doesn't understand language, he doesn't understand law. He doesn't understand his relation to the world -beyond his fantasies of it- and he doesn't understand democracy. Neither do most academics.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The foreign soldiers, most of them tattooed and bearded, then went on to the main compound. They threw clothes on the floor, smashed dinner plates and forced open closets. Finally they found the man they were looking for: Habib-ur-Rahman, a computer programmer and government employee. Rahman was responsible for converting Microsoft Windows from English to the local Pashto language so that government offices could use the software. The Afghan translator accompanying the soldiers said they were acting on a tip that Rahman was a member of Al Qaeda.
They took the barefoot Rahman and a cousin to a helicopter some distance away and transported them to a small American base in a neighboring province for interrogation. After two days, US forces released Rahman's cousin. But Rahman has not been seen or heard from since.
"We've called his phone, but it doesn't answer," said his cousin Qarar, the agriculture minister's spokesman. Using his powerful connections, Qarar enlisted local police, parliamentarians, the governor and even the agriculture minister himself in the search for his cousin, but they turned up nothing. Government officials who independently investigated the scene in the aftermath of the raid and corroborated the claims of the family also pressed for an answer as to why two of Qarar's family members were killed. American forces issued a statement saying that the dead were "enemy militants [who] demonstrated hostile intent."
Weeks after the raid, the family remains bitter. "Everyone in the area knew we were a family that worked for the government," Qarar said. "Rahman couldn't even leave the city, because if the Taliban caught him in the countryside they would have killed him."
Beyond the question of Rahman's guilt or innocence, it's how he was taken that has left such a residue of hatred among his family. "Did they have to kill my cousins? Did they have to destroy our house?" Qarar asked. "They knew where Rahman worked. Couldn't they have at least tried to come with a warrant in the daytime? We would have forced Rahman to comply."
Link from IPA. Click on the subscribe tab to sign up for press releases. I've been getting them for years but never thought to pass it along.

Also Ursula Lindsey on Egypt's wall
Looked over this again: Marshall Sahlins on Levi-Strauss. Available in a slightly different form here [PDF]
Yet a similar “logic of the concrete” is fundamental to our own economic conduct, although in defining economics as the maximization of returns with the monetary or capital means on hand the economists banish the cultural schemes of persons and things that order material value to an unexamined limbo of what they call ”exogenous” or even “irrational” factors. In part the culture of economics remains unconscious because neither are the ordinary participants aware that behind their apparently rational choices—they do not buy hamburger or hot dogs for honored dinner guests—is a whole code of symbolic values that has little to do with nutritional utility but everything to do with the meaningful distinctions between persons, goods and occasions. The economy is ordered by the differences between lunch and dinner, carved and ground meats, muscle and organs, prepared dishes and sandwiches, familiarity and respect, members and guests, ordinary meals and “special occasions,” etc. Nor would all the monetary good sense that we put into buying clothing explain the characteristics of dress that mark distinctions between men and women, holidays and ordinary days, businessmen and policemen, adults and children, people of different regions or ethnic affiliations—think of all the ways that clothes signify. Perhaps we have been too quick to celebrate the “disenchantment of the world” ushered in by the retreat of spiritualism and the growth of scientific naturalism since the 17th century. Rather what happened was the enchantment of Western society by the world: by the imagined values of the material rather than the spiritual. We live in a material world enchanted by the symbolically constituted “utility” of gold, oil, pinot noir grapes, outdoor barbecues, Mercedes cars, heirloom tomatoes, blue jeans, cashmere sweaters, hamburgers from McDonalds and purses from Gucci. Levi-Strauss did not go that far, but structuralism has something to say about an economy of monetary values that is actually embedded in a greater cultural order of meaningful values.
And a little something from Levi-Strauss as well. Both originally from Savage Minds

I'd wanted to insert links in the text, to Brad Delong defending the rational choice for cardboard tomatoes, admitting that it was not one he would make [google it; it's there], and to Crooked Timber for some appropriate stupidity,  but it's overkill. Levi-Strauss was perhaps of the last generation of academics who understood that we're always at best aspects, at worst symptoms, of our culture and our age. And it's neoliberal logic to say that others may be either but not "us." The logic of the neoliberal academy, and the academy is neoliberal now almost in its entirety, is that the academy has transcended history, even if the rest of us haven't.

Addendum, and repeat:
Alex Rosenberg, "History is Bunk" (see #8). Link of course from Brian Leiter

Monday, February 01, 2010

Once again Brian Leiter defends a jurisprudence of how things ought to be. We "ought" to see things "as they are."

So what's the difference between the twin and opposed oughts of morality and realism? Ought is a term of morality; you dumb fuck.

It's like listening to a prosecutor arguing that justice is defined by the prosecutorial ethos. So is the defense expected to say the reverse -that justice is defined by defense- or rather that justice is best served by a formal adversarialism in which both sides play their part? That after all is how the system is designed, but it takes an ironic understanding of one's own role to get the point.

Again, and again, and again: The history of justice -and history precedes theory in importance if not now in popularity- is the history of debate among competing doctrines of interpretation: of the relation of words to words, of people to people. and of each to the other. These are moral questions. We argue form to argue value. Dworkin's Hercules is a fictional character, but the closest analogy I can come up with (which Dworkin may not like, but then he doesn't seem always to understand his own arguments even when he's right) is that of a novelist or poet trying to come up with the right answer to the problems of a particular piece, therefore putting great moral weight as poets do on the construction of a descriptive model of the world. It's not the decision that matters it's the act of justification, you stupid fucking jackass. And Dworkin and Posner and Leiter and Shakespeare and Pope (and the Pope) spend most of their lives engaged in the justification of their ideas: in the presentation of intellectual, formal, rhetorical and moral constructions, before a public and posterity which will judge whether to agree or approve or not. Law in a republic is not the laws themselves, which are no more than buoys on the water or pins on a blank map, but the process of their forming. Democracy is the acknowledgment that it has always worked this way and that it's better and more honest to admit it rather than allow self-serving authority to hide behind a lie. You want people to agree with you, you pedantic little fuck. That fact is more foundational to your ideas than your ideas are to anything else. "Democracy is the culture of language in use." How many times have I written that?

The difference between Dworkin and Posner is that Dworkin asks questions concerning morality and Posner answers questions according to what he assumes is moral. Leiter's like a strutting peacock who says he doesn't care what others think. The cognitive dissonance is painful. The rationalism of vanity. Fucking academics

Took at look at The Craftsman yesterday. Searched the index for "Literature", "Novel", and "Law." Zip. Nada. Zilch.