Saturday, September 30, 2017

fantasies and fantasists

"Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy", again and again and again.

Farah Mendlesohn, a long time friend of Crooked Timber, writes:
I had to withdraw my book on Heinlein from the original publisher due to length. As I explored other options it became clear that no academic publisher could take it without substantial cuts, and no one who read it, could suggest any. In addition, the length would have pushed up the price for an academic publisher beyond what people could afford. Unbound, a crowdsourcing press, have agreed to take the book and have been able to price it at £12 for the ebook and £35 for the hard back.
The crowd-funding site is here. I’ve read and loved two of Farah’s previous books on f/sf (and have been contemplating a reply to her analysis of Neil Gaiman’s The Wolves in the Wall for several years) – I’ve no doubt this is going to be great.
"The foundation to technocratic liberalism: the ambiguities of life lived mean nothing next to the light of pure and puritan reason. But the word "puritan" gives it a subtext that reason itself does not allow. And the only art acceptable to reason is children's fantasy, because fantasy doesn't undermine the law of non-contradiction, and "literary" fiction breaks it constantly, as we do in our own lives."
I’ve a new piece up at Jacobin...
Revolutionary Possibility: China Miéville’s October depicts the transformative hope of revolution.
...The hope that revolution promises can never be realized by us as we are now. More profoundly, the hope that it actually embodies is unimaginable, since to be able to imagine it is to have undergone it. From this side, we cannot see what the other side looks like. The promise of revolution is inevitably a lie, right up to the moment when the revolutionary transformation occurs, because the person making the promise cannot possibly understand that to which she is committing.

Understanding this is the key to understanding Miéville’s October. Like the thought of Walter Benjamin, Miéville’s Marxism is shot through with what can only be described as faith. Benjamin notoriously never finished reading Capital, and was attracted by the socialist utopians whom Marx reviled and disparaged, because he saw in them an unrealized hope for a world that would be radically transformed. Thus, the promise of the October Revolution remains with us, like Miéville’s imagined, frozen train, not as an inevitability but as a possibility, which has never properly arrived but may break through at any moment. As Benjamin described it, every second of time is the gate through which the Messiah may enter. The world that the Messiah brings is in principle unknowable to us, yet if we do not hope and work for this now-unimaginable redemption, we will never find it.

It’s superficially easy for more prosaic socialists to sneer at these ideas when they are presented so baldly. We do not live in an age that seems to lend itself to radical transformation. Moreover, such efforts at radical transformation as we have seen in the last century have largely failed, and often failed in terrible ways. Yet it is also true that we have seen enormous transformation in the past, and have no good warrant to believe that we’ve arrived at the end of transformative history.
Looping back from a post-communist romance with libertarianism, to begin again.

3 Scholasticism continues to wither.
The growing mismatch between jobs for philosophers and what the leading PhD programs emphasize, or, the so-called "core" is dying.
PhilJobs is starting to fill up with ads, though not as many ads as one would like to see (at least not yet). But what is striking is the pattern in areas of interest: lots of value theory and history of philosophy (esp. early modern, but also a fair bit of 19th-century), some currently "trendy" areas like philosophy of race and gender, but very little "core analytic" (as the Stanford ad puts it), i.e., very little philosophy of language and mind, metaphyscis & epistemology, the latter being the historical "prestige" trackers in the profession for the last half-century. But as I've remarked before, what is prestigious and central at the top PhD programs may no longer bear much relationship to most of the jobs that exist. ...

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A repeat from 2013, updated

flickr and Reuters/NSA
Gursky's nihilism, and Alex Rosenberg's determinism; anti-humanism and E.O. Wilson's ants.

Ahmed Mater. I saw the work awhile ago and didn't get around to it. Today I found someone using an image of one of his pieces, in an article on magnetism, without a reference to the piece itself. The pieces aren't on Mater's website and a lot of references on other sites have been removed. He may have gotten into trouble.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Philosophers are idiots
A university must tolerate, and even welcome, those who follow evidence and argument to conclusions that are false or unpalatable; but it may reject those who seek a platform for hatred or deception. That is why it counts counts against Middlebury College when its shouts down Charles Murray but it counts in favour of Berkeley when it excludes Milos Yannopoulos [sic].
Universities would deserve criticism for rejecting a presentation by the authors of the Nuremberg Laws, but would be right in rejecting a speech by a rabble-rousing journalist who promotes them.

Similar from Farrell
The way that the Kennedy School used to think about fellowships, as Elmendorf describes it – which I think is the only sustainable way for it to think about them – is as no more and no less than a way to facilitate debate and conversation. This is one of the things that universities are supposed to do – bring a diverse group of people into debate, reflecting a broad set of constituencies. That Chelsea Manning is anathema to other fellows like Morell should be neither here or there – the job of the university is to provide opportunities for both people like Manning and people like Morell to participate in public debate, without necessarily feeling the need to pronounce on the merits of either.
The only reason Manning was invited was that he/she has a large constituency among the educated elite. The diversity celebrated only exists with those limits.

The academy is conservative by definition. That's not a bad thing, unlike hypocrisy.

again, and again, and again...
2007 Commentary Magazine,
An exchange between Charles Murray and readers on his April 2007 piece, "Jewish Genius."
To the Editor:

Charles Murray is on safe ground in testing the Cochran-Hardy-Harpending hypothesis of high Jewish IQ by seeking evidence beyond the Ashkenazim in Europe and going back past the Middle Ages to antiquity. In a review of nearly 100 studies of South Asian/ North African IQ, Richard Lynn has shown that although IQ scores of Sephardi Jews are lower on average than those of Ashkenazim, they are higher than those of the populations that surrounded them historically. Clearly we are dealing with something deeply rooted in the Jewish past.
J. Philippe Rushton
University of Western Ontario
London, Canada

Charles Murray replies 
Richard Lynn’s review of studies of Sephardi IQ as cited by J. Philippe Rushton offers a potential strategy for exploring the vexed question of non-Ashkenazi Jews: compare their scores with non-Jews who have surrounded them historically. That work could be extended by calculating not raw IQ means, but ratios of Jewish to non-Jewish IQ’s within culturally meaningful geographic areas. Doing that calculation accurately presents many methodological difficulties, and good data may be too sparse, but the intriguing hypothesis to be explored is that the ratios will be roughly the same everywhere. The estimated Ashkenazi mean of 110 translates to a ratio of 11:10 in Europe and the United States. If non-Ashkenazi Jews with a mean of 100 were historically surrounded by a people with a mean of 91, the ratio would be identical. Since the IQ means of the non-Jewish populations of North African and Middle Eastern countries are estimated to be well below 100, the hypothesis is not implausible on its face.
1995 FAIR Racism Resurgent
Nearly all the research that Murray and Herrnstein relied on for their central claims about race and IQ was funded by the Pioneer Fund, described by the London Sunday Telegraph (3/12/89) as a “neo-Nazi organization closely integrated with the far right in American politics.” The fund’s mission is to promote eugenics, a philosophy that maintains that “genetically unfit” individuals or races are a threat to society. 
The Pioneer Fund was set up in 1937 by Wickliffe Draper, a millionaire who advocated sending blacks back to Africa. The foundation’s charter set forth the group’s missions as “racial betterment” and aid for people “deemed to be descended primarily from white persons who settled in the original 13 states prior to the adoption of the Constitution of the United States.” (In 1985, after Pioneer Fund grant recipients began receiving political heat, the charter was slightly amended to play down the race angle—GQ, 11/94.)

The fund’s first president, Harry Laughlin, was an influential advocate of sterilization for those he considered genetically unfit. In successfully advocating laws that would restrict immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, Laughlin testified before Congress that 83 percent of Jewish immigrants were innately feeble-minded (Rolling Stone, 10/20/94). Another founder, Frederick Osborn, described Nazi Germany’s sterilization law as “a most exciting experiment” (Discovery Journal, 7/9/94). 
...Lynn has received at least $325,000 from the Pioneer Fund (Rolling Stone, 10/20/94). He frequently publishes in eugenicist journals like Mankind Quarterly—published by Roger Pearson and co-edited by Lynn himself—and Personality and Individual Differences, edited by Pioneer grantee Hans Eysenck. Among Lynn’s writings cited in The Bell Curve are “The Intelligence of the Mongoloids” and “Positive Correlations Between Head Size and IQ.”

...Murray and Herrnstein describe Lynn as “a leading scholar of racial and ethnic differences.” Here’s a sample of Lynn’s thinking on such differences (cited in Newsday, 11/9/94): “What is called for here is not genocide, the killing off of the population of incompetent cultures. But we do need to think realistically in terms of the ‘phasing out’ of such peoples…. Evolutionary progress means the extinction of the less competent. To think otherwise is mere sentimentality.”

Elsewhere Lynn (cited in New Republic, 10/31/94) makes clear which “incompetent cultures” need “phasing out”: “Who can doubt that the Caucasoids and the Mongoloids are the only two races that have made any significant contributions to civilization?”

...Rushton was reprimanded by his school, the University of Western Ontario, for accosting people in a local shopping mall and asking them how big their penises were and how far they could ejaculate. “A zoologist doesn’t need permission to study squirrels in his backyard,” he groused (Rolling Stone, 10/20/94).

Rushton’s creepy obsessions intersect with the ugliest sides of politics: A 1986 article by Rushton suggested that the Nazi war machine owed its prowess to racial purity, and worried that demographic shifts were endangering our “Northern European” civilization. Rushton co-authored a paper that argued that blacks have a genetic propensity to contract AIDS because of their “reproductive strategy” of promiscuous sex (cited in Newsday, 11/9/94). The other author was Bouchard, the author of those amazing twin studies celebrated in mainstream news outlets.

It’s not surprising that Murray and Herrnstein would defend Rushton, writing that his “work is not that of a crackpot or a bigot, as many of his critics are given to charging.” But it’s startling that a science writer for the New York Times, Malcolm Browne, would actually endorse Rushton’s book (10/16/94). Echoing The Bell Curve, Browne respectfully concludes his summary of Rushton’s bizarre theories with: “Mr. Rushton is nevertheless regarded by many of his colleagues as a scholar and not a bigot.” (“Browne doesn’t identify these ‘colleagues,’ but I expect he means Professor Beavis and Professor Butthead,” the Toronto Star‘s Joey Slinger wrote—10/20/94.)

Saturday, September 02, 2017

The strategic reasons the ACLU embraced "free speech" for Nazis in the 1930s

Interesting bit of forgotten history courtesy of my colleague Laura Weinrib. Given the pathologies of American political culture, however, I'm not confident a different approach would end happily.
Weinrib: "The ACLU's free speech stance should be about social justice, not 'timeless' principles"

Weinrib, HUP 2016: The Taming of Free Speech: America’s Civil Liberties Compromise

Using google books I searched the text for references to the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee and found nothing. I found a review by Samuel Moyn in the WSJ. He'd linked to it on twitter, and almost a year later I replied.

"Seems no mention of the NECLC. If so it begs the question of 'principle' and destroys the book's argument."

"The book ends before WW II; NECLC from after"

"But that makes my point. NECLC stood for principle during the cold war. It had a big effect on ACLU. Seen as a dark period in ACLU history"

My final reply has one like: Samuel Moyn.