Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Blindness and Insight

continuing, and earlier. More for the archives. Technocracy and Sapir/Whorf. The impoverishment of thought among the apparat, our licensed intellectuals. etc.

Daniel Davies is pathological (the beginning and the first two footnotes)
The Physical Impossibility Of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living

I have a piece up on the New Yorker blog, on the same theme as Damien Hirst’s 1991 shark-in-formaldehyde artwork[1], as applied to big banks and their remarkable inability to write contingency plans for what they would do if they needed to declare bankruptcy, despite being point blank ordered by the regulators to do so.

It’s actually in my opinion, the single most toxic aspect of the culture of big banks. Greed and dishonesty are all very bad[2] but they are to a large extent self-limiting processes. Greedy people have loss-averse utility functions, which limits their willingness to risk total destruction for gain. ...

[1] Which is itself apparently in the process of disintegrating and giving off toxic fumes as it does so, a metaphor I considered but rejected as perhaps too laboured.

[2] Pre-emptively: anyone who has been asked not to comment on my threads is still banned. If you are wondering whether your ban might have expired, it hasn’t. If you are genuinely unsure whether you are banned or not, tread carefully. In general the subject of whether I am an apologist for big banks has been done to death and I do find it irritating even when you’re not being excessively personal.
repeats. Davies, with the obvious rejoinder.
A “tragic dilemma”, as I understand it, is a situation in which consequentialism gives a clear answer about which alternative is better, but the answer in question is unpalatable. I don’t see why, in such a situation, consequentialism should be described as “crass” rather than, say, “jolly sensible”.
A tragic dilemma is the choice between feeding you child and cancer medicine for your wife.
Parallels, repeats. "It's still no secret that contemporary philosophy is under the spell of the Other." Starting here will end here.

Back to the present. Brighouse. Dilemmas of Educational Ethics
I wrote last year about the Justice in Education project at Harvard, which has developed a series of case studies posing difficult moral questions concerning educational decision-making. Meira Levinson and Jacob Fay have just published a brilliant volume, Dilemmas of Educational Ethics: Cases and Commentaries, containing 6 cases, with 6 responses to each case by a variety of authors – most of them academics (from a variety of disciplines, and including Howard Gardner, Mary Patillo, Diana Hess, Tommie Shelby, Christopher Winship, and Elizabeth Anderson) but also by teachers, administrators, and one legislator.

The first case in the book concerns social promotion. It takes the form of a debate among a group of teachers, some giving reasons why a particular girl should graduate from middle school (appealing to evidence that children who are held back drop out at high rates; that her academic failure is not really her fault because i) her science class, which she failed, was taught by a sub who was, by his own admission, incompetent, for most of the year and ii) her family circumstances essentially made learning impossible); others giving reasons for holding her back (she’s not ready for the academic demands of high school; it sends a bad message to both her and other students if the school graduates students who are known not to have reached the minimum academic threshold needed to pass their classes). It doesn’t require a huge amount of background knowledge in order to generate intelligent discussion. So that was a good starting point, and, in fact, my students came up with good points on both sides that I had never thought about, despite having read the commentaries and discussed the case several times.
The pedant's relation to subjectivity and emotion ranges from cold indifference to pained. "Geek" subjectivity is "Emo". Brighouse has dedicated years of his life to concern over the "inegalitarian" love of one's own children. His posts at CT are divided almost equally between discussions of utopia and wistful obituaries for comedians and music hall performers. Stephen Fry is "the greatest living Englishman".  G.A. Cohen was Canadian, but even if he were English he wouldn't make the cut, and he was perfectly happy to admit it: "I just think that I'm not a morally exemplary person, that's all." I doubt anyone at Oxbridge would ever be considered, and I doubt it's occurred to Brighouse to ask why. In light of that the post quoted above could be considered "progress".

Leiter posts a long quote from the NDPR to mock it
Annals of Strange Reviews for  Books
"From the usually excellent Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (which frequently falls short in this particular area, alas, I am guessing because one can't get serious philosophers to review stuff like this)"
As the Anglophone reception and appreciation of François Laruelle's work grows, it is worth reminding ourselves of the radicality of its ambition to be a thoroughgoing non-representational style of theorising and thinking. Carried out in the name of the destruction of onto-theology, the overcoming of metaphysics, the excess of the Real, or the deconstruction of presence, the attempt to think outside of traditional representational categories and to do so by means of novel philosophical styles or gestures is, of course, typical of much twentieth-century European philosophy, particularly that coming out of France. It may be tempting, therefore, to view Laruelle's writing as simply one further, albeit idiosyncratic in the extreme, example of philosophical and stylistic invention that places its impossible object of thought in excess of thought itself. Yet, as Laruelle has consistently argued at least since the early 1980s, philosophy has never gone, nor can ever go, far enough in its suspension, destruction or deconstruction of representational thought. Notions of radically withdrawn, ungrounded Being, of transcendence or alterity that would be otherwise than Being, or of difference that would detach philosophy and ontology from all logic of foundation or totality and place the very notion of Being itself under erasure simply do not, for Laruelle, go far enough. For in the end such notions remain conceptual and representational if only because they represent being as withdrawn, as difference in excess of ontological foundation or ground. For Laruelle, any kind of ontology, be it differential, negative, or given in the mode of an exacerbated apophasis, does not and cannot do justice to the radical immanence of the Real.
My recollection is that Michael Rosen coined a label for stuff like this.
The paragraph is easy enough to understand.

Google says that Laruelle is the promulgator of a dogma he calls "non-philosophy". Ray Brassier is a fan (and Leiter up to now has had no problem with him). All of this records philosophers' attempts at prescription when description is the only option left. If all philosophy is merely literature, at least philosophers are serious about it. According to Graham Harman Jerry Fodor thinks he's a better writer than Shakespeare. Now some philosophers are concerned with "experience" and others write novels.

"It's no secret...". The link's a discussion of Ludlow. The case goes on. Also more on Leiter and Carrie Jenkins. I'm still getting hits for my screen shots of the Leiter Events page that was taken down when he threatened to sue. It's all the childishness of people proud of their own maturity.

Another example of Emo intellectualism.
I am going slightly out of depths with this post, traversing into the territory of yet-to-be-formed thoughts, which could either be speculations or reflections; responses, or idiosyncratic musings. Part of it emerges with the experience I’ve had so far working ethnographically, and from my previous research encounters and readings; but the other part is deeply contemplative, troubling even. Here, I wish to work with another concept that can be read along with ‘subalternity’ as I discussed in the last post – that of ‘margins.’

Therefore, I would like the reader to be aware of the tentative nature of the thoughts expressed in this post, and the assumptions that guide them, and the delicate nature of the interventions that I make.

I began to think of margins more concertedly after I attended a lecture by Pnina Werbner recently, where she spoke about political revolution in the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements in 2011, and the aesthetics of effervescence and despair. She spoke of how such movements needed to be backed by politics so as to materialize the changes that guide them in the first place. Despite apparent failures, she argued that such movements do have an impression on the world: narratives, strategies, and so forth, which steer and shape protest politics in the world. While I am in agreement with her argument, I do think one element that was left relatively under-theorized – and one I think is crucial – is that of the margins of such politics.

I use the term ‘margin’ in a very specific sense in this post. In the first sense, I use margins to denote a space created by social and political forces, but with an important caveat that the social forces I am talking about can be broadly characterized as counter-hegemonic forces. Margins, while hierarchized, are not simply peripheries to an imagined center (I am also skeptical of ascribing a direct spatial link, which I explain below).
Earnest inarticulate stumbling and 15 uses of "I".

related: Two discussions of empathy: for, and against.

Brassier
The pre-modern worldview that lasted several millennia and spanned the transition from poly- to monotheism, is one in which the world and human existence are intrinsically meaningful. (I say “is” rather than “was” because this worldview continues to persist today, even among educated people.)
Irony is not a modern invention.
Like most people, I am very heartened by the revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, and Lybia, and have nothing but admiration for the courage of the protestors who have risked life and limb in the attempt to transform a situation that had become intolerable. I find the attempt to characterize these revolts as manifestations of the desire for Western-style capitalist democracy, and thereby enlist them as ideological victories for neo-liberalism, rather preposterous, and I hope that whatever mode of government comes to supplant those of the toppled dictatorships, it will not simply be the brand of corrupt oligarchic ‘democracy’ that the US and Europe so cynically promote.
Bourgeois revolts viewed from the intellectual bubble economy of the library.

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