Sunday, January 30, 2005

Close, but wrong. The subset of the species is the individual actor who acts out of relatively simple self interest. The counter argument is most often seen as a defense of some unquantifiable collective truth or will that is seen as coercive. But as I wrote in a comment at L2R:
"The market as such is responsible for the decision that the look of a tomato could be considered more important than its taste."
The morality of this absurd outcome is based on the fact that that everyone, and therefore no one is responsible for it.
But that isn't neutrality it's moral passivity; the same passivity seen in the ideal of 'objectivity' in journalism.

The alternative isn't Stalinism or Catholic Monarchy, it's in the nurturing of the skill of judgment. It is simply, more and better, and openly biased, speech, as in a courtroom.

Any state is coercive. Social norms are coercive. Language itself is coercive. But let's have an ongoing debate about the terms, and teach the forms of debate themselves. That's the point of a moot court yes?

If you concentrate on the formal structure and not the outcome -and that's the point of our constitution- you teach responsibility, the responsibility everyone should face to have an opinion. From that point you begin the debate. The Market [Market Theory] says that some things are off limits and writes them in stone as truth. But there is no fucking truth other than to eat, shit, fuck, and die. Everything else is artificial.
And freedom is as vague a term as any other.
The ultimate freedom after all is the ability to kill without anger or regret.

Have you ever lived in a house with plaster walls? Sheetrock isn't crap because its toxic, it's crap because it's made to be demolished. It's flimsy. It's garbage. And I'm saying this as a carpenter. I use the stuff.

To end on old turf: Bad tomatoes market theory and fantasy fiction all have a lot in common. They all represent the desire of the individual imagination to express itself, rather than the desire of an individual imagination to communicate.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Continued from below:
Mr Deignan,
There is no defense of tract housing as construction as there is no defense of McDonalds as food.
The market as such is responsible for the decision that the look of a tomato could be considered more important than its taste. However, I take it you would argue that it is the just and moral result of a market in that everyone, and therefore no one is responsible for it. This is simply perverse: passive aggressivity run amok.
As I've said elsewhere, the people who defend a supposidly neutral mechanismdo so because the alternative, taste or judgement, invloves an ambiguity that their logic can not accept.

Elizabeth Anderson writes: "Throughout this series, I am presuming the superiority of capitalism as a mode of organizing economic life." This may be true, but capitalism as economic life overrides any other social arrangement. Economic life is life. And the result of defining value exclusively in economic terms is as perverse as the perfectly round and tasteless tomato.

For the purposes of your idealism the market understands the world in a certain way and dissallows any other understanding as merely subjective or biased. Subjectivity seemingly is banished. But it is not and never will be. The market as parole is much more complex and muddier than your market at langue or idea. And unless you succomb to Scalia's Catholic monarchism or the bookish stupidity of Posner you understand the the legal process, filled as it is with the ambiguities of discourse gives us a model for a philosophical study of experience. We do not live by mechanism but by judgement. If you want to play at autism go ahead, but don't defend your bahavior as that of a rational actor.
I posted the link to DSquared (below) without comment, now I can't resist. People tend to develop romantic attachments to their ideas. The result is more apparent in Iraq but that's all.

"The market as such is responsible for the decision that the look of a tomato could be considered more important than its taste. However, I take it you would argue that it is the just and moral result of a market in that everyone, and therefore no one is responsible for it."

That is the point of market theory isn't it? And it opens up so many areas of attack.
I learned something today.


Why is it impossible for some to imagine a logic other than the logic of the market?
You're assuming greed is moral, and that the market is somehow virtuous merely because it exists. Why not an ethical counter-force against the market, not to deny it its authority, as an unavoidable but also useful reality, but to make other demands on people? Why the absurd assumption that freedom, whatever the word means, is a good.

Sociopaths are free

What is it about this romance with individualism that says that nothing but a 'neutral mechanism' may interfere with its operations? And of course the market does not by its nature lead us inevitably to advancement. McDonald's in not an advancement in worker's food. And sheetrock is not an advancement in construction technology, it's a fucking abomination.

On the other hand I knew 20 years ago that value of real estate in the neighborhood I live in was going to go through the roof. Others did as well. I know a schmuck, and he is a schmuck, who turned $20,000 into 30 buildings and a home in Tuxedo Park.
He doesn't 'deserve' his wealth, but having the power to toss someone on the street is a virtue?

Finally, Capitalism is 'forward-looking' and therefore you approve of it, but you accept a need defend 'looking-backward' for the purpose of charity. Not curiosity but charity!!?. No history, no literature, no sense of curiosity as to whether there may be other ways to be aware of the world (that perhaps sheetrock isn't a universal good)
And please, don't think I'm making a religious argument. I just think selling widgets is not a particularly interesting way to spend a life. And the philosophical defense of the inevitable as moral is just bizarre.

The market is not neutral. Or rather it is, only if you consider the central element of life to be the individual. But why should we do that? What is language? What is Tudor architecture? (was it made by someone named Tudor?) What is 'The Baroque?'

I'm still trying to figure out why people are so stupid. Is it that by imagining the market as a thing outside of history its defenders can imagine themselves outside it as well? "The Baroque was a period in time, but The Market is forever." Does that mean there's no difference between the decadent laziness of the American markets and the vibrant Barbarism of China? Why are all my bets on China? And does the man who places my bets think in such lofty neutral terms?
No fucking way.

The lived world is the conflict among systems. It can not be defined in terms of one.
I think my comments on the desire to be outseide of history hit the mark. And of course it ties into my comments about my mother's unhuman performances of Bach.

She plays the notes, unable or unwilling to take the indulgence of adding any variation, any idiosyncratic gesture that might make the playing personal. She refuses to perform as if by performing she would become merely a specific thing in time, a part of the world, unaware, un-intellectual.

It's all about power/ the inability of a few people to relinquish a power they never had to begin with.

When did system building become so vulgarized, so pathetic?

Thursday, January 27, 2005

DSquared on the Lancet study. As he says, it hasn't gone away.
For the files. And again

It's an old problem, the problem of being an anti-intellectual: either shut up or admit defeat. But I'm not being so simple minded, and I'm not being anti-intellectual I'm criticizing a tendency among a certain group of people. Let's call that group: Those who take libertarian ideas seriously enough not to break out in laughter at the mention of the word.

I was unlucky enough to get a shard of steel in my eye twice in one year. Both times I went to NY Eye and Ear Hospital to have the splinters removed. The second time the procedure was performed by a resident under the supervision of an attending surgeon. The resident was a young and attractive woman, born in this country. The surgeon was an Eastern European immigrant.

The young woman was intelligent and professional, but emotionally sort of blank. She spoke without affect. She did what she needed to and then went to her supervisor to get him to sign off. He asked her if she was sure she'd removed everything. She seemed a little surprised at the question, and he decided to reexamine me himself. "It's his eye" he reminded her, and then explained that what she assumed to be a rust stain might still contain particles that could cause future damage. He repeated the procedure, and I went home.

I won't fall into the trap of saying simply that to the attending surgeon I was a person and that to the resident I was merely an idea (I'm sure someone here would try to catch me on that). But I will say that when he asked her that question I know he had felt an empathetic shiver for what might happen to me if she had been wrong.
How do you measure that shiver? How do you define its worth? How can it be taught?

Johnathan Goodwin mocked something as 'irrelevant' without first asking why anyone might consider it otherwise. He made an assumption based on what he thought was logical. He was arrogant, but his logic was wrong.

In other news: Philip Johnson was most well known for his social connections and his fascist sympathies. Less well known: he kept a very well-appointed dungeon.
I have friends with strange habits (like architecture).

For the first time in a long time, I'm almost enjoying my day job. If you work construction in the city, high-end work offers the best opportunity for something approaching pleasure. At the moment I'm on 2 jobs, one on 5th in the 90's and another a few blocks away on Park. If someone's spending $1,000,000 on 8 rooms, I'll guarantee something about it will be interesting, if only for the people building it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

And again...
I still don't know what you mean.
The absurd argument between logic and 'soul' is what got all us here in the first place. And I'm not interested in any form of religious/metaphysical argument.

The problem is simple, and although I return to it again and again, I get better at articulating it the more I try. I have my stubbornness (and CT I suppose) to thank for this .

I do not focus on problems that can be solved. I am not interested in such things. I am interesting in aporias, in conflicts that recur, in different forms, again and again.
What is justice? What is obligation? What is the relationship of the individual to the collective? There are no right answers to these questions, but there is a certain form of intelligence that centers on them, though they're ruled by ambiguity and contingency: the form of intelligence that fosters a respect for judgement as opposed to mechanism.

The history of organized religion is the history of formal structures, as in a book of stories and laws that foster debate and define the rules for it to follow. Is it any wonder mysticism is always represented on the fringes of society? But simple faith is not the point. The point is the system of language, of order and community. The existence of God matters no more or less than the guilt or innocence of any one man who comes before a judge. In a courtroom the lawyers perform soliloquies. Isn't it odd that life and death decisions are made this way, by formal rite? What does 'due process' mean anyway?

Most scientists like to solve problems, and once they're solved, they go to the next one. Their language is defined in terms of 'advance' and 'progress'. And many in this country at least extend this logic to their view of the world at large (one of the few exceptions in print these days is Richard Lewontin) This is not a paradigm that I would want for my children to follow. I would not want to think that my children would choose to see the dilemmas of human life as problem to be solved. There's a lot of tragedy to life. It can be cruel. I've seen weak people crushed and strong one's oblivious. I've also seen people very aware of the results of their actions. What does it mean to fire someone for being incompetent, if it means he won't be able to pay the rent? What does it mean to for an officer to send an enlisted man to his death?

None of this has anything to do with religion. It is about the weight that accrues to specifics; a weight about which the hard sciences, as generalization, can say nothing.
Reading Brad DeLong I'm not convinced for one minute that he understands this notion of weight. He's a mechanic, an engineer.
Rules sing for most of you, like music. You think generalizations are the highest form of thought. They're not. The highest form of thought is the ability to communicate specifics. But then once they're communicated they're no longer specific are they?
It's actually a bit flabby, but it's got some nice moments. I may rewrite it.
What a stupid hobby (my excuse this week is that I'm waiting for a call.)
it's interesting to note how much easier the day goes when you get to use your mind in some way. Simply following orders, being denied the opportunity to think, is exhausting.

Monday, January 24, 2005

More fun with academics.
I waste too much time on this shit:
Jonathan Goodwin quotes this news story under the title:”Today’s Irrelevant Clause”

"In Trier, Germany, birthplace of Karl Marx, the prosecutor’s office has been investigating the claim of a woman that babies were being cut up and eaten in Satanist rituals."

As I tried to remind him, it’s a story. The mention of Marx is merely a means to pull people in; It’s a rhetorical device, a little silly but as I noted, if Walt Disney had been born in Trier they might have used him.

It is in fact very hard to tell what part of any structure is irrelevent to its function. Do do so you have to decide what that function is. What is the function of a news story,
to communicated factual information? To entertain? To make money for the publisher?

I find very little difference between any of you, and your arguments, between Sokal and the idiots at Social Text. All of you are trying to find ways to turn ambiguity into something managable, something concrete, something to which you can apply simple numbers and/or rules. What is economics but a set of assumptions? At what point do those assumptions become unsupportable? You all find ways to generalize from specific cases, and you do it in ways that are either over-simple or perfectly arcane.
You might as well be race car mechanics.

None of you value the specifics of things, the tastes and smells. A cook deals in specifics, an actor deals in specifics, a lawyer deals in specifics. A poet writes in untranslatable specifics. But for the academy everything must fit within a generalization. And when the generalization defines the thing, the thing, as a specificity, no longer exists. And what’s worse, every mediocre graduate student and cow-town professor must be able to make such generalizations. Every holder of a Ph.D must be able not only to teach important problems but to solve them, must have not only a good mind, but an original one.
That's too much to ask.

My mother gives perhaps the worst performance of Bach on the piano that I have ever heard. She plays the notes, unable or unwilling to take the indulgence of adding any variation, any idiosyncratic gesture that might make the playing personal. She refuses to perform as if by performing she would become merely a specific thing in time, a part of the world, unaware, un-intellectual.

If you can’t understand specifics your generalizations will be meaningless. And if you can’t play Bach as if you wrote the music yourself you’ll never understand the music he wrote.

The value of this is what Alan Sokal disputes. And what disgusts me is that nervous professors in the humanities are worried that he’s right. Why else would they indulge in pseudoscientific bullshit except in a desperate attempt to find a way to say that they too are worthy of respect.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

I don't get many comments. If the number increases I'll switch to haloscan or MT. Until then, if I answer them in detail I'll do it in a post. It's simpler.
Tolkien: It doesn't matter where he got the structure, the question is what he does with it. If references were all it took we'd all be spending our off hours listening to Rachmaninoff and Emerson Lake and Palmer while gazing at reproductions of the greatest works of Norman Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish, the Pre-Raphaelites, and Jean-Leon Gerome. You tell me who we would be reading; I have no idea.

As to monarchy and asceticism, I posted a link -to a Padre Pio website- in the comments, but I could also add Mother Teresa, whose moral philosophy was from somewhere in the 13th century: the suffering of the poor is important in that it teaches the great and powerful the value of pity. I could add also that Duchamp referred to himself as a monarchist, following a logic that Europeans have always understood but that Americans tend to ignore. At a basic level, think of Christ himself. I never understood the absurd beauty of Catholicism until I spent an afternoon in Notre-Dame de Paris. I burst into tears in front of the Pieta.
The Borough of Queens.
Show your love or go home.
The piece made me smile but I wasn't going to comment on it, but now Michael Froomkin reminds me that I already have.

Technocrats have no interest in time as medium or methodology. Modernism itself denies its relevance. But the difference between the intellectual life of the 19th century and the 20th, as I've said a thousand times, is the difference between narrative and ideology. One describes, the other prescribes. In the guise of narrative even bitter rivalries become ritualized, as in a tennis match or a court of law. So why is it now that people spend more time inventing new games than playing them? Is mere performative activity somehow more passive? Is it less intellectual? Every day more games get invented and others get tossed. Why not play chess? But chess, like law, is not about rules but ambiguities: How do you play the game: for surprise, with risk, or do you move slowly, patiently? Do you attack, or trap? Kasparov or Karpov?

That's my brother on the right (click on the pic).

One of the thing's that fascinated me when I was young was the tendency of bourgeois anti-bourgeois intellectuals to attack the idea of mastery of a skill, by way of their supposed mastery of their own consciousness. Craft was looked down upon, while intellectual arrogance was celebrated, and celebrated as somehow of the left. I never meant my comments as a critique of the experiments of the 60's -until very recently I wasn't much interested in craft- or even of academic snobbery, but monarchist asceticism has a long enough history for people to recognize the contradictions don't you think? Still, intellectuals, unlike the rest of us, say what they mean and mean what they say, and they're very smart; so maybe there's no contradiction after all.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

More fun with Liberals.

At some point I should really spend the time and just go on the attack nonstop. Neuroeconomics indeed.

My God, why should someone, at the end of a long day at work and still having to go to the market... Why would someone take the long way, through the park? Why waste the energy?
As with most of what I've written over the past two and a half years, it should have been unnecessary. But I'm dealing with idiots.
Change does not begin with political activity, it ends with it. How could someone be so stupid as to think anything else?

And an idiot tech-head like Lessig can argue even half seriously that text is dying? In the year of Our Ford 2005 this shit passes for intellectualism? Jesus fuck. Now even art progresses. But of course this has been assumed by many for years. It's one of the ubiquitous defenses of Modernism, that it was an example of progress. Art has never and will never progress, it finds ways to conserve what it can. It describes what is. And its enemy is neither conservatism nor the past itself but hypocrisy.
Art is how we find a way to make change bearable.

I'm moving to a neighborhood filled with people from all over the world. The cafes are open late at night and they serve liquor. Some streets remind you of Paris. The people, including the young, are well travelled, and the restaurants are good. Some of them are very expensive. Everyone is greedy, this is America, but wherever they're from, people laugh at their greed. They're not American yet. You have to take a number at the bank. The younger women with money who wear the hijab wear Prada. My realtor drives a Lexus and wears a coat with fur trim. At the mention of our President she rolls her eyes with an expression of offhand contempt I recognize from foreign cities; but she loves this country. She came here in 1962, one year before I was born.

Queens is capitalism, but it's not crony capitalism. And it's liberal, but it's not the liberalism of good intentions clean thoughts and guilt. It's cruel, but it's not an ideology of cruelty.

What I've realized more and more, in eating and drinking in the shopping mall that is the Time Warner Center, in drinking and driving around LA, in flying around Europe and talking to friends about Tehran, Beirut, Shanghai and Beijing, is that the new face of capitalism doesn't need and more importantly doesn't want an intellectual defense. There can't be one for a system that's basically barbaric; but we can stop lying about it. And we can set limits. And those limits will not be based on economic principles but on their opposite. I've said this before: my stockbroker is a millionaire many times over. He's worth a lot more than Brad DeLong, but he limits his own wealth. 'Enough is enough" he says, blowing smoke rings in the air. He's Norwegian, but he loves this country. His decisions are hybrids. There are no closed systems; and he knows it.

My new home is getting trendy but the manhattanites and the slackers stick to themselves. And they won't get very far, anyway. They don't work hard enough and they don't have enough money to buy anything. And they're provincial: they find run down holes-in-the-wall and hang out with the drunks. They think it's cool.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Some comments at Leiter Reports.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

This is bullshit.
I don't give a fuck about an "Iranian threat" because, frankly, there isn't one. What there is, is an Israeli and a Saudi threat, and most of the world agrees. If you want to come back at me with the hidden anti-semitism of Europeans go ahead, but that doesn't say much about the the rest of the non-European population of the planet. And the state department wonks who refer in private to the cultural changes in Iran as a "lipstick revolution"* should go back to school for somethng other than political 'science.' Change doesn't begin with political activity, it ends with it.
God save us all from specialists.

*From a correspondent/blogger who has friends in high places and shares their ignorance.
Economics as architecture: Design everything to be idiot proof [] and you guarantee a world of idiots.

[]. "In fact, the whole world may be looked upon as a vast general market made up of diverse special markets where social wealth is bought and sold.  Our task then is to discover the laws to which these purchases and sales tend to conform automatically.   To this end, we shall suppose that the market is perfectly competitive, just as in pure mechanics we suppose to start with, that machines are perfectly frictionless."

DeLong may imagine his ideas are somehow less vulgar than this, but they aren't.

On a similar note: [my comments elsewhere, now]
responding to David Schmidtz
"...a regime is meritocratic to the extent that people are judged on the merits of their performance."

Performance of what, exactly?

We can not and should not attempt to define value and worth exclusive of any other definition. Any success is provisional. The solution is to argue for meritocracy without allowing one definition to prevail. 
A courtroom, for example, is a place not of justice but of questioning, of argument among various definitions of justice. Foundationalism, whether of the market or any other god is hollow and empty. The only foundation is the architecture of debate.

Technocracy abhors what it sees as a vacuum.

Nuff said.

I guess I'm now an occasional blogger

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Doug Ireland
I spent a few minutes reading Guy Davenport about 20 years ago, when my roommate left a book of his essays on the kitchen table. One piece was on Tolkien, and in it Davenport describes a conversation he had with an old friend who was not a fan. His friend's reason was simple: "He made it all up." Davenport wrote that he never understood what his friend meant. I've never read anything else by Guy Davenport and I never will. 

Max is generous. Brad DeLong says he'll miss Robert Heilbroner greatly, but it's clear he never understood him to begin with.

My anger again is not directed at economics or at science in general, but at those who put the cart before the horse, who try to predict and therefore control the future without understanding their relation to the past. Great literature as great art looks backwards; it's retrospective. The mythologies that modern writers of fantasy enjoy so much and try to emulate—and which in doing so they misunderstand entirely—are not products of intention. Their stock characters are not illustrations of ideas but as James Merrill would say are like stones worn smooth by time, the stories like a reduction on a flame.

If you can't tell the difference between the 19th century and the 15th, or how one cannot be used to represent the other—if you can't tell cloying sentimentality from moral seriousness—I don't know what to tell you.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

As Belle did, I leave with the new year.
It's time to move on.
In response to a comment by Nathan Newman on the same post (see below) by Richard Posner at Leiter Reports. The beginning is a reference to Nathan's title for his comments as they appear on Nathan's page.

Democracy is not amoral -and a process can not be 'ignorant' (but that's a quibble)- democracy is sloppy. Posner, and Leiter, base their arguments more than anything on a form of intellectual snobbery that posits an unbridgeable gap between the truly enlightened and the great unwashed. They both then posit mechanisms, Leiter science and Posner the market, as self regulating systems to simplify and 'govern' in those ways that people can not be expected to.
This is crap.
As I said in my comments, the basis of secularism is Jews arguing with Protestants over Catholics. There must be a common language if there is to be communication. It is that shockingly simple. And never mind their claims to atheism, neither Posner nor Leiter seem capable of self doubt, and that inability- or the choice to think it unnecessary- is a basic tenet of simple faith.

For all my annoyance at his liberal fuzzyheadedness, Jack Balkin is right. There is are such things as high politics and low politics. I won't credit him with my conversion, since I was raised with that assumption, as I was raised not to know but to wonder where in any individual case the distinction lies. I refer again to the sloppiness of the thing politics itself. We try to communicate with each other in a common language, without which again there would be no communication. That language is changing; the definition of words change; people change. For a time the intelligence of self styled intellectuals seemed to be in advance of the mental life of the people. This was never really the case; in fact the relationship is always reciprocal, but it seemed to fit the bill.

Now we live in the age of the angry peasant and the rump intelligentsia, and both rely on the empty mechanism of cheap faith. But people are not simple machines, and self-styled geniuses should remember- how many times have I said this?-that Shakespeare was not an intellectual but an entertainer. He kept the groundlings happy.

The middle ground is banality, but also resilience. How to tell one from the other? That's a question that Posner and Leiter and how many others I've read over the past years, choose to ignore. And in ignoring complexity they ignore the world and their responsibility to it.
They commit the mortal sin of the uncurious.