Monday, December 31, 2007

Saturday, December 22, 2007

"Taken in isolation neither conditioned response nor reason are conscious."
The brain is a computer running two contradictory operating systems: a system of conditioned response and one of rational analysis: number crunching. Neither are conscious and both can be described in terms of physicalism. Consciousness is the sense of a unified decision making process but perhaps no more than that: an illusion or chimera, less the author of the act than the side effect of the struggle between mechanisms. At the very least unified consciousness is fictional. No news there for most of us. It amazes me that opponents of behaviorism [should that be of psychology itself, or self-reflection?] refuse to look at history. I suppose they defend their choice by saying the the plural of anecdote is literature. To which I respond: read Hamlet.
I choose to pretend that I have some capacity for free will, but I choose not to pretend that I can guarantee my own rationality. I choose to pretend in other words that I have the free will to make the only ethical and moral choice. And of course that choice, and the resulting development of formal adversarialism, is the basis of our justice system.

Discussions like this one on Rorty and this one on the "laws" of nature annoy me, for the same reason Toulmin does. It is simply not necessary to question Platonist assumptions about the mechanical world when all that matters is whether or not we have access to such clarity in the political one. Chapter 15 in Steven Weinberg's Facing Up: Science and Its Cultural Adversaries is titled Zionism and Its Adversaries. Its presence in this book is a function of rhetoric not science. It's a bad joke. I won't quibble about Platonism and Mathematics if others will stop bullshitting about Platonism and Politics.
3 men from 3 countries.

The first says: "My country has mountains and valleys and soil perfect for the vine. Our women are the most beautiful in the world and the boys are always willing. No one ever built buildings as beautiful as ours and our craftsmen are the best in the world."

The second says: "We don't wine we drink whiskey, and your women are weaklings good for nothing but chatter, just like your poets who write about nothing. And who's interested in boys? Anyway your mountains suck more than your boys do. There's not enough snow and too many rocks. How can I ski on that?"

The third looks at the others and nods. Then he pulls out a calculator and types a few figures before he speaks: "Logic" he says "shows that mine is the necessary country."

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Dennett and Determinism, Bill and Buddha Nature: Killers as Heroes (and actors as gods) in the Films of Quentin Tarantino

Tarantino's movies are as politically reactionary as Mel Gibson's, but only one of them gets called for it. Honesty in Kill Bill is the following of one's true self. Clark Kent is the sham persona. Bill reminds Beatrix that she's a killer, and that her daughter is one as well. This is neither moral nor immoral but simple determinism, whether genetic or metaphysical is irrelevant. And Beatrix is both the hero and the victor. The best killer wins.

Both Gibson and Tarantino are good filmmakers, and I don't really give a shit about the politics of the films as such one way or another. Both men are merely being true to their nature, as filmmakers. Dennett's philosophy is similarly politically reactionary. That's not judgement but simple observation, and by his logic and Tarantino's, everything is reactionary. Compatibilism is a band-aid on a gangrenous limb. The hypocrisy is what's pathetic, not the determinism. I prefer Tarantino's honesty.

It reminds me of judicial conservatives' relation to language and interpretation. You're either a literalist or you aren't. You can't interpret "as" a literalist. It's absurd.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Security Council and Iraq: Should the Council Renew the MNF Mandate for 2008? Memorandum by Global Policy Forum
There are many reasons for the UN Security Council to reject the renewal of the MNF in Iraq. The Council must take into account the violations of international law by the MNF and the opposition to the occupation by the great majority of the Iraqi people. The Council must also take account of the opposition of the Iraqi parliament and its call for MNF withdrawal, the tragic humanitarian crisis, and the great suffering of the people of Iraq. Most Iraqis believe that the MNF worsens their security, their well-being and their hope for a political future. The mandate is also a worldwide embarrassment to the UN and it clearly weakens the organization’s capacity to do effective work in Iraq in the future. Further, the MNF in Iraq has a destabilizing effect on the entire Middle East region. It is time for the Security Council to take these realities into account and to end this regrettable episode in the UN’s history.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Someone dropped by today, through google, looking for some lyrics.
And someone else, for this.
Both apropos for various reasons.
"Kripke is to intellectual life what General George McClellan was to war."
I like that one.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Looking for Zizek and Critchley on google, since Critchley asked an old friend to come to his defense [update Jan. 08: now published] I find this by Idiot Holbo.
Who knew? It's serendipity baby.

Conditioned response vs. computation (figuring the odds).
Taken in isolation neither conditioned response nor reason are conscious.
It's pretty simple. Both are basic functions, both are perfectly materialist (plug and play), and they're in conflict. Are human beings capable of rational calculation? Yes. Are we subject to conditioned response? Yes. Consciousness is the fog that is produced by and that surrounds, obscures and stabilizes that conflict. Consciousness is the ghostly aftereffect of material, programmed, contradictory processes that we experience as contradictory imperatives. A "self" is a manifestation of an illusory unity and order.
Dualism sucks. It's based on a dream and a lie: a "need," though one shared by many. It's illogical. And yes, compared with Zizek, Chalmers' ideas are vulgar:
Imagine that I am out hunting and am attacked by a lion. The lion claws me, leaving a deep gash in my leg. I want to run away, but the pain slows me down: my body tells me not to. If I run I will increase the injury, but of course, if I stay I'll just be killed. The choice is obvious, yet my body continues to experience a division. Endorphins and adrenaline are designed to get us out of such scrapes, but they are autonomic, very rarely if ever does the pain, or the division, go away completely. And of course machines do not feel pain.

...What separates us from computers is not consciousness, which we have had such a bad time trying to define, but the unconscious. Desire and fear, like pain, stay with us even when they're inappropriate. Yet we follow these responses as often as not even if we know that they are. Our desires/instincts/neuroses may also be contradictory, or even self-destructive. But all of them: anxiety and depression, calm or exuberance are sensory before they're intellectual. Consciousness is the state produced by the body/brain's negotiation of the conflict between conditioned response and reason. That is its beauty and why we find it so difficult to understand. We experience consciousness as one thing, but only can define it as the space between two. We experience it a as a thing ‘being’, but can only define it as the place where it exists.

The first moment of indecision is the first act of consciousness. Any creature capable of indecision is conscious.
Such a description of consciousness also fits well with Duncan Black's analysis of the behavior of network executives. That is it fits well with what most of the people on the planet take to be aspects of human behavior, aspects to match others exhibited by Hamlet, Alexander Portnoy and Richard Nixon. It never ceases to amaze me how so many supposedly educated and sophisticated people -if still a minority- are willing to dismiss the entire history of literature, if not history itself, to replace it with a fiction worthy of Ayn Rand and the Soviet Writers Union.
I'll add as I always do, that one of the people willing to do that is Noam Chomsky.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Tarantino my well be right, though Ittoku Kishibe would give him a run for his money. I don't want to choose.
But there's more to be found in the last hour of Kill Bill Vol. II—more to be mulled over, more to be argued with, more to be learned—than in any book of fiction, non-fiction, or philosophy published in the last 10 years, if not longer.
To top it off, it's the best defense of fundamentalist Darwinism out there. Better than Dawkins and Dennett.
Better, and funnier.
There's probably some exaggeration in there, but not when it comes to Dennett (or philosophy).
The point of war is to win. The point of torture after a while at least seems more to be the pleasure of revenge or of torture itself. Most often it's counterproductive and irrational. For some liberal grandstanders however the attacks on torture as barbaric are backed by an implicit argument that war is civilized.
He tells us a revealing anecdote about standing in Aden's Crater District in 1967 with the notoriously bloody British "counter-insurgency" specialist Col. Colin ("Mad Mitch") Mitchell, watching as some of the soldiers under Mitchell's command were...
stacking, as in a butcher's shop, the bodies of four Arab militants they had just shot and Mad Mitch said: "It was like shooting grouse, a brace here and a brace there."
I associate such arguments with a rationalist's preference for ignorance.
Originally a comment on this thread but Henry didn't like it.
I have a hard time understanding how experimental philosophy [and here] does anything other than weaken the philosophy of context free logic. It comes close to a history of the present, to ethnography, or soon will be seen to.

The same question applies to the trolley problem. If you're looking for one answer then you're right it's a real problem. This goes back to the first article I read in contemporary philosophy, when a friend got me a subscription to the Journal of Philosophy in 1984.
The military treats decisions like these as part of an officer's responsibility. Call it military utilitarianism. I thought at the time that the next question would involve a discussion of the differences between military and civilian life. When the article simply refused to deal with the question I was shocked. It seemed so obvious, but at the time I was unaware of the rules. It seems likely more and more people will begin asking such questions.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Myth of the Mad Mullahs
Following Iran rather than the myth this has been pretty clear for a long time. But following the myth allows believers to play simple strategy games (of the sort played by "rational actors")

Reading Cosmopolis. Toulmin writes less like an historian than a lapsed philosopher trying to explain the importance of history to old friends prone to dismiss it. He's insecure and defensive, and doesn't trust the facts to carry the weight of his argument. He pushes too hard.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Notes. Written and rewritten and...

Performance. From a few years ago:
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.
My mother didn't perform Bach she read him.

In school I wrote a paper attacking Borges' writings because they were less stories than essays, so there was no reason not to criticize the politics behind them. Borges' defense of machismo was not the same as Hemingway's description of it; he depicted the Gauchos but not his relation to them, hiding his own insecurity behind a mask, leaving himself open to charges of hypocrisy. Hemingway's descriptions of machismo were less concerned with his subjects as such than with his perceptions of them and of himself. His subjectivity, his framing device, was always in plain site. There was no claim, even a rhetorical claim, to objectivity. By this logic Hemingway was a writer first and honest and Borges was a "reporter" first [using the current US definition] and dishonest, closer to the Orientalist painters of the Paris Salon or the political ideologists left and right who were, as illustrators, their philosophical and aesthetic descendants.

Speech is a record not of the world but of our perceptions of it. Our discussion of the past hinges first on the history of frames and lenses and only then the history of objects. The history of art makes this explicit. We understand the works of the Renaissance by comparing them to the forms that bracket them in time: those of the Gothic and Baroque. I may talk to my friends in shorthand about our common likes and dislikes, but people who do not share our interests will not understand them without comparing our interests to their own and those of others. And of course we ourselves don't "understand" our tastes as much as live them. We lack perspective. But perspective is context. Who has a better understanding of the tastes and philosophy of automobile enthusiasts, the automobile enthusiasts themselves or a bicycle riding anthropologist doing his fieldwork in a garage?

The arts in their highest form are acts of self-description in a common language, encouraging contextualization. Esoteric forms in art (as in religious rhetoric) are secondary, and tend to predominate -or even sometimes to appear- only in times of crisis deployed as defensive tactics, in attempts to limit contextualization and reinterpretation. The same is true of course for every other communicative order.

The members of the avant garde in its first and most important representations were not self-consciously forward looking but merely honest in their self-representations. Manet v. Gerome. But still it's a mistake to see either apart from the context of the wider 19th c. culture. Cezanne is a marginal figure next to Giotto; not marginal to us maybe, but that's the point.

Form is primary in all linguistic communication.
All statements in narrative form, even statements of ideology, are provisional. All narrators are unreliable narrators.
Technocracy is the application of predetermined orders and values, oversimplification is a requirement. In this regard technocratic logic is like that of the military. Speakers are narrators not described as such, and therefore not subject to accusations of unreliability (though in fact accusations are the only form left by which to make that argument).

Democracy is the culture of language in use, the government not of ideas but argument, concerned not with preassigned names but with the act of naming. The legal system is a system used for naming/categorizing individual acts. Adversarialism is the logic of formally opposed narrators [not only acknowledged and indeed required to be unreliable] before an audience of judges drawn from the populace, an audience of amateurs.
A functioning democracy is the government of laws, and experts, and amateurs. I'm not against experts, I'm against experts who think of themselves as outside of society and as somehow immune to the problematics of communication and consciousness.
Technocracy is not democracy.
Apropos the post from Nov. 30, I found only one hit for "Analogical Rationalism" on Google: "Concrete Constructs: The Limits of Rationalism in Swiss Architecture"

My dinner with Slavoj (again):
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 men 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."
It's not that this scene would work, that would depend on a whole line of specifics in the making of the film (he also brought up the last scene of Thelma and Louise). But how to model the questions, around the making of a film or a work of art or any act of communication. And these are the questions that need to be modeled. Hope, idealism, in the context of narrative. Narrative as actions and descriptions in time, as statements made to be recontextualized in time and history. All propositions in narrative form, even statements of ideology, are provisional.

On a similar note read comment 12 here.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Economics as Academic Science
Ending Famine, Simply by Ignoring the Experts
LILONGWE, Malawi — Malawi hovered for years at the brink of famine. After a disastrous corn harvest in 2005, almost five million of its 13 million people needed emergency food aid.
But this year, a nation that has perennially extended a begging bowl to the world is instead feeding its hungry neighbors. It is selling more corn to the World Food Program of the United Nations than any other country in southern Africa and is exporting hundreds of thousands of tons of corn to Zimbabwe.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

From a couple of years ago, found by accident, and apropos questions of philosphy and my dinner with Slavoj.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Propositions begin as assumptions that we attempt to justify by a mix of reason, elision, logical and false or slippery analogies. This marks the behavior of analytic philosophers and rational action theorists no less than historians, professors of comparative literature, and opinionated novelists. The difference between the former and later groups is the authors' relations to their foundational assumptions.

What does it mean that Dennett's Darwinian fundamentalism, Chicago School economics and the philosophy of logical analysis are all variations on the same theme?  Why is that question -as with others of context and history- considered by practitioners not only unnecessary but off-putting. The answer has to do with claims of all three sometimes explicitly sometimes only implicitly, to the status of formal science. But those claims take the form of an analogy, and whatever the formal rigor of the structures built on top of that analogy the fact of it is still a problem. Chemists have nothing to fear from the history of chemistry; economists and philosophers aren't so lucky.

What's the appropriate model for philosophers: logician or critic? For American fans of Zizek and other Euros, the question is how should they respond to the European analogical (literary) rationalism. American academic philosophy is analytical, so American fans of European theory simply elide the difference between analogy and analysis creating an academic science of literature and history. The difference of course is that analytic thought hides its biggest literary moves in its original positions not in the body of its arguments. American literary and cultural theory is in no position to claim to be a science. But those who mock its pretensions-based on their own supposedly superior understanding of language- are not much better off.

All writers have opponents, but of those who see themselves as writers first, none oppose critical or historical re-contextualization. European analogical rationalism courts it. Contemporary academicism qua academicism and imagined as science, formal or otherwise, denies the validity of contextualization itself. And in terms of its use in economic theory, the results are literally damaging.

The night I heard him Zizek spoke as a critic, and said many things in his talk and over the dinner table that I agree with. I would even consider them "right." I'll get to the movies later. Among other things, we're both fans of Zhang Yimou.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Guardian
Prime minister Ehud Olmert today raised the spectre of the disintegration of the state of Israel unless a two-state solution with the Palestinians could be reached.
Drawing a parallel with the last days of the apartheid regime in South Africa he warned: "If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (with Palestinians) ... then, as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished."

Today's warning came in an interview with Haaretz newspaper.

The remarks were published after Olmert and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, this week agreed at a US-sponsored peace conference to resume negotiations on the creation of a Palestinian state for the first time in seven years.

Israel is sensitive to any comparison to formerly apartheid South Africa, but Olmert has aired such views before. When he was deputy prime minister under Ariel Sharon four years ago, he favoured a withdrawal from most of the territories taken in the 1967 war that would leave Israel with a "maximum" number of Israelis and a "minimum" of Palestinians.

Olmert also warned about the loss of support of the Jewish diaspora once the question became framed in terms of one man, one vote.
Multi-ethnic states are now the model. Some would say they always have been.
Went dancing with Slavoj The Bear yesterday. JT has been telling me for while I should meet him, He invited me to dinner which he usually doesn't do since I'm too much of a wild card; but this wasn't business and he wanted to see what would happen.
The reviews were good.
Zizek said what we're seeing intellectually and what we should be fighting for is a redefinition of public and private with a new focus on the public not as state authority but as public space, as commons. I said the commons includes language.
He defended the value of "appearance." I asked him if he would accept "sense." He referred to Kant's definition of public and private reason, seeing the state and law not as public but private. But by that logic, academic philosophy is private reason and literature is public. I should have asked him that one.

I got him to back up a bit on Chavez. He said he was just trying to piss off Simon Critchley. He criticised Judith Butler along the same lines, and I mentioned Martha Nussbaum, though neither of us remembered her name off the bat.
There's more. He did one thing that really surprised me, in a discussion of the Holocaust and art and one well known novel, I can't remember the name or author, describing how he would construct the last moments of a film based on it. He's got a real awareness of the reciprocal relation of poet and critic, and a real literary, moral imagination.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Broken Peace Process
posted at CT
If you read the comments engels you didn't read them carefully. Hamas is a political organization with a military "terrorist" contingent. Al Qaeda don't do social services. Who were Gambetta's sources, were they military or political? Badger covers that question and more. Other than that Seth F. puts it well.
Brad DeLong accused me of all sorts of evil when I said that until the recent war Hezbollah hadn't run a "terrorist" operation since 1994. He removed my comment, even though it included a well sourced link, and continued his argument. He did the same thing in a discussion of post revolutionary Iran, by pretending that nothing had changed in Iranian society over the past 20 years. Words are not numbers. Names are not values, they're labels. Foundations change when context changes; meanings change when objects change their shape, and shapes change as you move around them. You should never be so wed to your definitions that you refuse to look at any other. "The reality based community" is a label; it bears little relation to reality, but the people who use it don't think of it that way.
What's most important, knowledge or certainty? Is economics a formal science? Is it a science at all? Is philosophy a science? If not why do so many philosophers mimic scientific techniques? Is that mimicry useful? Again and again I read that the struggle is between rationalism and irrationalism, while in fact if it exists it's between rationalist formalism, the need for clarity even if its meaningless, and history. That's what offends me Henry.
What's a more worthwhile intellectual endeavor: using the methodology of academic libertarianism to understand human behavior or studying libertarianism itself as a historical phenomenon? The former precludes the latter. Studying the history of any language based subject/process/methodology/heuristic etc. etc. is the best way to undermine it. That's as true for the history of methodological individualism as it is for the history of the Catholic Church. Oddly enough, it's not so true for the study of atoms and molecules. The attempt to supplant words with numbers is as anti-intellectual as the worst of fuzzy-wuzzy relativism.

I guess the meaning of reality based just changed again"Steve Clemons: Everyone in the reality-based world agrees that Hamas has to be a party to peace talks."

Friday, November 23, 2007

Dualism bad hairstyles and progressive rock.
Science and speculative fiction, computer games and individualism.

The history of literature until recently was the history of the language of embodiment. All successful rhetoric involves an understanding of the material of language. All craft, even craft in the service of faith -religious oratory- is and always has been empirical and materialist in technique, if not intent. The skill of the orator or author draws you into a relationship that is fundamentally intimate, of having someone else's perceptions as your own. Whether those perceptions are the author's or those of his or her fictitious characters is immaterial. This is learning by seduction.
Science, speculative or cerebral fiction by comparison are fictions of the individual unchallenged; like video and virtual reality games they allow you to relive your life without testing your conceptions of yourself or others. Your virtual self is an augmented self. This is art less as a defense of dualism than a presumption of it, following the definition of consciousness as computation-plus, the nature of plus being unresolved but secondary, secondary because unthreatening, no longer a moral question for each of us but now quite literally academic.
The way to confront the arguments for dualism is to ask if the language and literature of embodiment [embodiment plus-computation] teach us things about the world and our existence in it that we would not otherwise learn. If the answer is yes then the debate, as described in the quote from Ned Block in the previous post, is resolved.

Consciousness is a problem mostly for those who are unwilling to accept a weakening of their own sense of authority. Once you do it becomes simply a question of logic.
See posts Nov. 1st and 6th and this from 2003. It makes no sense to argue against dualism using arguments founded on it.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

"The greatest chasm in the philosophy of mind--maybe even all of philosophy-- divides two perspectives on consciousness. The two perspectives differ on whether there is anything in the phenomenal character of conscious experience that goes beyond the intentional, the cognitive and the functional."

The greatest chasm in all philosophy, including and especially political philosophy.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Outliers again

The number of people advocating for universal health coverage in this country over the past 20 or 30 years has been small.
The majority for many years either opposed them or did nothing.
The majority of Europeans are supportive of the national health programs in their countries.
What did the majority who opposed universal health care in the US have in common with tha majority of Europeans?
How did the American activists/outliers differ from the majority of both Europeans and Americans?
If the majority of American are now in favor of single payer program, what made them to change their minds?
"There's a curious article -- "The Philosophers That Sophie Skipped" -- in the December 7, 1996, issue of the Economist which is a discussion of Russell versus Wittgenstein in the history of twentieth-century philosophy. The writer of this article is clearly on Russell's side and takes some satisfaction in the fact that the profession of philosophy has never been so populated. There have never been more professional philosophers than there are now, and this is something which he thinks that Russell would have welcomed. Certainly, Wittgenstein wouldn't have. Wittgenstein saw his vocation as having to clean the Augean stables of the intellect. He thought that the brilliant young were being distracted from urgent tasks by pursuing these intellectual dead ends. I think he would have been deeply depressed if he'd lived long enough to see how many thousands of philosophers are earning a living that way.

This is not the first time in history that something of this kind has happened. Plato was caustic about Gorgias and the other Sophists who set up what he dismissed as "thinking shops" and, he implied, prostituted their skills for pay."

Sunday, November 18, 2007

This begins here.

The new modernism is the historicism of the modern, the re-description of modernity not as an ideal but merely as the sensibility of the present. Dan Graham was the first to do this in architecture as an artist fascinated by (or obsessed with) our emotional responses to the experience of living within systems of ordered design. His twin interests were architecture and film so you see the connection. But what began as the replication of modern form as dystopian anti-ideal is being stretched into something other.
How do you finally kill off the memory of an overpowering father figure? If you're weak you copy him, if you're a little stronger you mock him, but to escape you write his biography. Transforming idealism into narrative, narrative wins and so do you.
It's easy to recognize if you pay attention to history, or if you never had any to begin with. In NY as in academia history is passe; LA has the advantage since they don't even know what it is.

Gehry's from the west coast, and Graham's worked mostly in Europe (where whether they like it or not they remember).
It makes sense that the design firm mentioned in the article has offices in Berlin, Beijing and L.A.

I'm going back to Beijing in the spring.
One of the regrets of my life that I didn't.

Saving the last rewrite to my files, I'd forgotten that the original had been rewritten once before, when the editor before rejecting it for any other reason -it was written for an architectural journal- simply said it was too long.
First version, unchanged:

The modern crisis in communication, the struggle between the rhetorics of scientific reason and of poetry, is not a new topic at this point; science has solved problems and answered questions that we were never able to answer by sense alone. We no longer trust our perceptions to carry meanings about the world but only about ourselves and our internal lives. It’s enough for many to say that the pleasures of perception are little more than minor habits, indulgences to be categorized by style or taste.

Dalibor Vesely makes the humanist’s argument against the dominance of instrumental reason -the logic of means and ends- in architecture and by extension in anything. He argues that we do not live or learn by impartial reason but through experience, that we rely on perception, and that our sensory awareness of objects and movement binds us to one another and grounds us in the world in ways we lose when we think only in terms of numbers, mechanism, and individual consciousness.

With the argument itself as introduction, Vesely moves on to a discussion of the Renaissance, describing how the technical advances of the quattrocento, the various techniques of perspective that stand as markers of the beginning of the Modern era, were created not as illustrations of scientific principles, and not in isolation from the surrounding culture, but as extensions of the metaphorical and allegorical logic of medieval optics. This moment he describes as the beginning of our divided representation, of the struggle between the worlds of sense and science, first seen in the desire both to describe new things in old language, and to do so in ways appropriate to the new world they make manifest.

The Baroque era in the arts, unlike the sciences, is not so much one of discovery but mastery, where the skills of the Renaissance became commonplace and scientific processes were in full conflict with past descriptions of the world. The result is a poetry not of things but of ideas about them, and Vesely analyzes the sense of space in Baroque architecture, describing the differing notions of infinity in mathematics and in the Chapel of the Holy Shroud (Sacra Sindone) of Guarino Guarini.

From here the author continues to the age of reason and of industry, the 18th and 19th centuries, and then to modernism itself, where science became the arbiter of truth and ideology it’s political equivalent, with the only alternative to either being little more than a good sense of taste and a better one for self-preservation. The book ends with a plea for an art and architecture of open-ended experience: of communication, neither programmatic nor expressive and eccentric, and not grand but of a human scale.

The book makes a lovely argument, but there are problems in the way the author lays it out. To say that science was once inseparable from art is not a defense of art. That may sound good to the converted, but to skeptics more interested in logic than poetry it means little.

"Impatience with the long haul of technical reflection is a form of shallowness, often thinly disguised by histrionic advocacy of depth.”
Timothy Williamson, “Past the Linguistic Turn,” in The Future of Philosophy, ed. Brian Leiter (Oxford, 2004).

As this quote illustrates, those who do not take the arts seriously, who see them as little more than entertainment, will be dismissive of attempts to justify their efficacy as a counterforce to science and the logic of technics. For all his knowledge of history, and his references to phenomenology and scientific studies of perception- of the disorienting effects of zero gravity environments and isolation tanks, of the ways in which sense defines intellect, the author returns always in his argument to the terminology of depth, of innate value, that Williamson among many others mocks so offhandedly.

There are other problems as well. Few people in the arts would not envy the ability of architects and artists in the past to create works where ornament and detail were more than the signposts of luxury, where objects acted as metaphors in the context of a narrative that an audience would immediately understand. There’s an advantage to being an artist in the employ of a universal church. It’s not only that science bled meaning from the world, it’s that the tools of communication changed. The end of the period of great buildings coincided with the era of great literature, and perhaps theater and novels are the cathedrals of democracy. Vesely also leads us through a wonderful discussion of the social and communicative space of Renaissance and Baroque architecture. But doesn’t the cinema at it’s best provide for us a similar experience? The objects and spaces in film and photography are imbued with the same meanings and metaphors once available to architects. Perhaps architecture requires too much stability to play that major a role in such an unstable world?

These criticisms are not minor, but they are not made in opposition to the arguments described above. Vesely reminds us that architecture is a mimetic art. Buildings are the places where we’re born, and are where we spend almost all our lives. They are as much our environment as any landscape. With this in mind, Vesely asks important questions: What form of knowledge can respond to science and its bastard children? What form of awareness does a bricklayer have, or a violinist, a knowledge that can be attained only by practice? And what does it mean that the product of this knowledge can be seen not as illustrative of but a manifestation of an idea? And how much of current building is made as a statement of ideology or opinion, as proposition, without accommodating within itself the possibility of a response?

If architecture is a stage on which many people move and act, why should it be thought of or designed to represent the ideas of an individual alone? Vesely’s defense of a sympathetic intelligence may seem quaint, or he may fall back on a language that is easy to criticize, but to ignore his argument is to accept the possibility of a courthouse designed for the prosecution or the defense and not the administration of justice, or a theater designed for the character of Hamlet and not the play. Vesely is not a poststructuralist arguing against the science of medicine, he’s arguing against the absurdity of the false science of architecture.
From Sept. 2004. Written on assignment for publication but unpublished. Reworked a bit today. It seemed appropriate.

Dalibor Vesely. Architecture in the Age of Divided Representation The Question of Creativity in the Shadow of Production

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

Timothy Williamson, "Past the Linguistic Turn." In The Future of Philosophy, edited by Brian Leiter. Oxford, 2004.

The modern crisis in communication, between the rhetoric of scientific reason and poetry, is not a new topic. Between our commonsensical appreciation of the clarity of science and the desire of many partly out of jealousy to extend that clarity to their own fields, and the often colorful opposition of those who struggle to defend us and the world from the onslaught of instrumentalism, this argument has been going on for quite a while.

Dalibor Vesely makes the humanist argument against instrumentalism in architecture and in life; but for all his range, and he's widely read in subjects from ancient to modern, he's still a specialist, trapped by the limitations of his field. For all his references to the complex relationships among the various factors -people, ideologies and technologies- involved in the production of the great buildings of the past, for all his discussion of phenomenology and the necessity for us of experiencing and learning the world as a series of sensations in context -including references to NASA studies of human subjects in zero gravity environments and isolation tanks- Vesely is forced by his argument to return to the terminology of depth, and he does so in a way that if he were writing on another subject would offer his opponents a field day. I doubt any of his opponents are architects, but that doesn't really make a difference. In a more general sense his enemies are his most important audience.

Vesely reminds us, referring to Aristotle, that Architecture is a mimetic art. Buildings are where we're born, where we spend much of our lives with much of the rest spent traveling between them, and most often where we die. What architect tries to make buildings without indulging the pleasures of construction? How many buildings are made without considering the landscape that surrounds them, and how many of us would argue they shouldn't be? It is true that there were ideologies in Modernism, and objects and structures made as little more than illustrations. It's also true that the Renaissance and Baroque had access to systems of metaphor that allowed both primary and secondary forms, both structures and details, to carry a literary weight. Buildings told stories in the past in ways they no longer do. But it's also interesting to observe that the communicative space Vesely describes in the Baroque exists now in movies. And what's come down to us as the post WWII ghetto of "design," of the changing fashions of the visual, has never been quite the same problem for literature: faddishness has always existed but rarely dominated. What Vesely does not say outright is that until recently design has never been considered an intellectual act; but now it's the model for all intellectual activity, and faddishness has become the rule. Indeed it's the logical consequence of a forward-looking instrumentalist philosophy.

Vesely asks important questions: What form of knowledge can respond to science and its bastard children? What form of knowledge is held by a violinist or a bricklayer, a knowledge that can be attained only by practice? And how much has the architecture of the present forgotten this? How much of current building is made as a statement, without accommodating the possibility of a rebuttal?

The best argument against instrumentalism, the best argument that Vesely's opponents in economics and philosophy would understand is that if in our scientific age our justice system is based still on a battle of opposed parties, of the opposed instrumentalisms of defender and prosecutor, then argument itself and not science is the intellectual keystone of our society. One way or another we're stuck with the ambiguities of language and conversation. It only makes sense then that buildings should be designed not as simple statements, as one side or another of an argument, but as the place where such arguments are held. At the very least this is practical: if the logic of our government is that we should be divided amongst ourselves then the logic of buildings should reflect this choice. Of course that means that the architects should allow that they are, as human beings, as individuals and as members of society, divided within themselves. Instrumentalism denies this as well it could be said, in opposition to our chosen way of life.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Dance of Death (and Oher Plantation Favorites)
Recurring themes.
Association of John Fahey with Glenn Gould: the tragic formalism of the blues and the ecstasy of autistic refusal and denial. Kafka's laugh, and his perfection. "Too perfect" as Thomas Mann called it. Eliot as modern and reactionary. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Gould and Fahey's writing style.

Another analogy. Imagine Professor Immanuel Rath, unable to escape his fate, mastering his art and becoming a great performer of his role as fool, as the embodyment or the apotheosis of shame.

Friday, November 16, 2007

"American cinema is in the grip of a kind of moribund academicism, which helps explain why a fastidiously polished film like “No Country for Old Men” can receive such gushing praise from critics. “Southland Tales” isn’t as smooth and tightly tuned as “No Country,” a film I admire with few reservations. Even so, I would rather watch a young filmmaker like Mr. Kelly reach beyond the obvious, push past his and the audience’s comfort zones, than follow the example of the Coens and elegantly art-direct yet one more murder for your viewing pleasure and mine. Certainly “Southland Tales” has more ideas, visual and intellectual, in a single scene than most American independent films have in their entirety, though that perhaps goes without saying.

Neither disaster nor masterpiece, “Southland Tales” again confirms that Mr. Kelly, who made a startling feature debut with “Donnie Darko,” is one of the bright lights of his filmmaking generation. He doesn’t make it easy to love his new film, which turns and twists and at times threatens to disappear down the rabbit hole of his obsessions. Happily, it never does, which allows you to share in his unabashed joy in filmmaking as well as in his fury about the times. Only an American who loves his country as much as Mr. Kelly does could blow it to smithereens and then piece it together with help from the Rock, Buffy, Mr. Timberlake and a clutch of professional wisenheimers. He does want to give peace a chance, seriously."
Note taking a comment at CT.

Something else to add, since the two posts following this seminar on individualism at Crooked Timber are one on the perils of atomized culture and yet another celebration of it: Isn’t it great to be a middle-aged man who spends all his free time reading comic books?.

The problem isn’t one of institutions or individuals but of how individuals relate to institutions. Books that concentrate on rules for economic policy are about as useful as books that promise to teach you how to pick up girls.
Rules don’t make societies any more than rules make games. Games exist in the playing, and since there are no umpires in society who are not also players themselves, we have to trust our playing partners to make the honest call more often then not even when it’s in our favor. Ever play tennis?
Crises in society come about not because the rules break down but because rules are all there are left. The gearbox is fine, but there’s no grease. And what’s grease?
That’s the unasked question.

What percentage of the population in any country takes individualism as the model for behavior, up to and including the sort of sociopathological individualism economic science seems to prefer as it model? Both American political and economic liberals think mostly of social and religious conservatives and looney leftists as anti-individualist. And of course there’s the army. But the Scandinavian model is based on it. Social democracy is based on it. Religious conservatives counter the ideal of individual freedom with limits originating in god, social democracy with limits originating not in the state but in the community of which the state is a creature. That’s not a problem if we think of individuals as creatures of community. I speak and write in English, and I try to do so “well.” That means I do so expecting to be judged by others. As an individualist why would I care what others thought? Again the posters at CT celebrate individuation and bemoan atomization by turns. What can I say?

Europeans aren’t nearly as afraid of determinism as historically Americans have been. The question of free will is seen as an amusing conundrum not a problem with an answer. Cartesian philosophy never stopped being literature. But the formal structures of social democracy are beginning to appear now in US. While the academy is discussing libertarianism from above, academically mandated anarchism as the last hope for modernism, everyday post-modern [second modernist?] social-democracy is coming up from below.

So I’ll ask you: What percentage of the optimism now permeating academic thought can not be explained by reference to social determinism, as pathology? My sense of cautious optimism is based on something else entirely, the sense that people are getting used to there being unsolvable problems and are developing the capacity to accept the ad hoc. The academy is drying out, but the world’s getting greasy.
The Independent
America and the world's [other] executioners join efforts to block UN moves to end death penalty.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Helena Cobban, nice way to put it:
Washington's Continued Coup Preparations for Pakistan
Here are two WGA strike Blogs. One from the the east coast, one from the west.

There's a lot of crossover at this point thanks to youtube but the voices are still distinct. One is self-regarding and self-pitying, the other tries to reach out and amuse a larger audience while keeping the issues front and center.
The culture of popular narrative has rarely been as sophisticated as it is now, but it's the sophistication mostly of those who didn't start out thinking they were all that sophisticated.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Monday, November 12, 2007

DeLong posts an insulting rant directed at Bob Herbert. I post a comment, which DeLong responds to by inserting bracketed [ ] text
As often happens, Prof. DeLong sees error as absolute, evil literally incarnate.
[But errors committed through either moral or intellectual bad faith *are* evil. It would have been easy for Bob Herbert to inform himself so that he correctly informed his readers. He didn't. That tells you something.]
Not only is he sometimes wrong, but his manner is such that it makes it difficult for him to accept that he's misread either fact or implication. This attack is bad logic and lousy politics. Here's how Duncan Black handled the same question
And DeLong calls himself a social democrat?
I responded
"[But errors committed through either moral or intellectual bad faith *are* evil. It would have been easy for Bob Herbert to inform himself so that he correctly informed his readers. He didn't. That tells you something.]"

More about you than him Professor. And you continue to editorialize within others' comments as if you were grading student papers. Your obliviousness is par for the course for someone so willing to question others' motives.
Herbert's a political writer. He makes technical mistakes and logical errors but he isn't a hypocrite. He doesn't change his tune to hide his inconsistencies as Brooks does. You know that, or you should. Maybe you just ignored it, but Duncan Black didn't.

You pretend not to be a political writer. The phrase "reality based" is used without irony, yet you've removed comments for content that didn't fit in your definition of the real. The fact that they were verifiable, and verified, meant nothing. Empiricism and reason lost out to something. To what? It would be annoying on any blog, but you make claims for intellectual impartiality. That's the problem with your silly attack on Herbert. The issue's no longer whether or not he was wrong but whether you can tell the difference between an intellectual failure and a moral one. Sometimes it's a tough call but the inability even to understand the question is an intellectual and moral failure on your part.
DeLong removes most of it and leaves
"[But errors committed through either moral or intellectual bad faith *are* evil. It would have been easy for Bob Herbert to inform himself so that he correctly informed his readers. He didn't. That tells you something.]"
More about you than him Professor. And you continue to editorialize within others' comments as if you were grading student papers.
[Yep. Comments on the comment policy are welcome in their proper place, which is not here.]
I reposted the comment, removing the reference to his editorial habits and leaving only the discussion of his post, and it was gone in five minutes.

From the post at Eschaton:
"And the most popular measure of inflation, the Consumer Price Index, does not include the cost of energy or food, “the two most significant aspects of the increased cost of living for the American people.”
This isn't true. The CPI does include food and energy; the "core inflation" measure does not. It seems increasingly likely that the Fed puts its hands over its ears and says "NA NA NA I CAN'T HEAR YOU" when it comes to the CPI and focuses almost entirely on the core inflation rate when thinking about its monetary policy decisions, and because of this press accounts tend to focus on the core inflation rate as the only thing that matters.

But the CPI does include food and energy costs, and it is the CPI, not the core CPI, which is used to calculate things such as cost of living increases for Social Security benefits (well, specifically a slightly modified measure called CPI-W is used, but it too includes food and energy).

Whether or not the index is calculated appropriately is another question, but it doesn't exclude those things.

United Hollywood Writers Strike East

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Observer
He denied ever being asked to fabricate evidence, adding: 'We're not asked to manufacture information, we're asked to find it. But if a detainee wants to tell me what I want to hear so he can get out of jail... you know what I'm saying.'

Other military intelligence officials in Iraq refused to comment, but one said: 'The message is, "Got to find a link with Iran, got to find a link with Iran." It's sickening.'
Jeff Koons has made some awful work but also some of the best American sculpture of the last 25 years. His stainless steel "Rabbit," is a strange, beautiful, terrifying thing.

But that doesn't make the Sotheby's video any less embarrassing to watch Sotheby's: Jeff Koons' Hanging Heart

Friday, November 09, 2007

For a few reasons, partly because from there it goes to here and then to here [see the last post]

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

There is something really silly about this.
I've read through a few of the posts and beyond the boilerplate expressions of professional courtesy deployed to preface disagreement,they're all based on identical assumptions.
History is not just the history of ideas even though it is written by people who have them; the history of ideas is the history of articulate speech not the history of events. We live in a world of forms and we're forced to use form to describe form, so our models of the world are partial and for the rest of our perception of it. The trauma of secularization is a trauma of philosphers and priests and a percentage of the population, not all of it.

Secularization is no more or less than the record of our expanding sense of self-determiniation, but the boundaries of that self-determination are evident not in the successive ideologies of enthusiastic intellectuals who proclaim us free or not free depending on their sympathies but in the continuing necessity of people at large to watch movies and read works of fiction, works that are made as fabulous resolution to unresolvable disagreements among conflciting loyalties. We seek comfort in pattern. One can enjoy both the comfort and the awareness that that's all it is; one can be a materialist and know that our perceptions are fogged.

Secularism originates at the same moment as faith: the moment an event becomes a story. In theater, in actions as fiction, secularism eclipses it. This is not news.
Self-supporting structures of intellectual bureaucracy, built on mud. They keep their integrity even as they're sinking. More examples:
"Picasso not only worshiped the gods Dionysius, Priapus and Mithra..."
In about ten years of crisis during which it's been made clear he hardly understood what he was doing, Picasso made the most important series of paintings in the 20th century and some of the most important art from that century in any medium. But that was bracketed by periods of adolescent sentimentalism, mannerism, and kitsch. The grandiose statements reflect increasing insecurity; the confidence rings embarrassingly false.
"Picasso used to be a great painter, now he is merely a genius." It's doesn't make Braque a better painter to agree.

I'm not in the mood to make the longer argument.
Maybe it all begins with dualism: the continuation of religion by other means. The humanist materialism of the Renaissance wasn't enough.

Lawyers have/use/act through "Metis," scientists do not. Lawyers act half blind pursuing not truth but a secondary goal and using every rhetorical trick they can muster, with imperfect justice/"truth" the result of interaction. Artists and critics act in concert and opposition as the intellectual reflections of historians are founded on the actions of those who often do not share their interests. What happens when the importance of this opposition is denied? When critics talk only to critics it's called "philosophy", which has its purpose, but is then in danger of becoming merely scholastic. Scholasticism in technique, in craft, is one thing—you can't deny subjective influence in a process that is based on doubt—but scholasticism in the pursuit of absolutes another. An aggressive Kasparov will always end up having to be meet a cautious and patient Karpov; a player with a two handed backhand will always face a slice; foundations will always be tested. Fear of a Gordian knot isn't secret or hidden: it's the only fear that matters.

History is the intellectualism of insecure foundations. Academic philosophy is the intellectualism of dubious foundationalism, part and parcel of American self-absorption and naivete.

How do you recognize when a system has become little more than self-perpetuating formalism? When does the rule of reason become the rule of the reasonable?

The rhetoric of objectivity begins with dualism, with anti-determinism being not a goal but a moral necessity, an act of faith.

My comments Crooked Timber were sloppy.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

So fucking stupid
The performativity of the subjective intelligence. You need to be able to breathe! Machines don't need to breathe. Pseudo-autism and the pretense of objectivity. I'm a machine! The false analogy of the mind and the computer. What idiots. What fucking idiots.
Pseudo-autism or pseudo-sociopathy.

Why are lawyers like athletes?
Think. It's easy.

update: Beginning here and looking back through a few things... well, this is funny. The difference between sport as individual activity, racing against the clock, others, and yourself or as competitive philosophy: Kasparov vs Karpov and baseline vs serve and volley.

What about the idea that an emotion is a bodily perception? Suppose I am delighted that my son has become a doctor. I may have various sensations in my body that express this emotion -- say, lightness in my limbs and a warm feeling in my viscera. But the object of my delight is not my body; it is my son's success. My bodily sensations are directed to my body and my emotion is directed to my son. Therefore my emotion cannot be identical to my bodily sensations -- for the two have different objects. This refutes the James-Lange theory.
McGinn's presumption as to origins is just that. Nothing is refuted. Why is the awareness of pleasure any more than an acknowledgment of a sensation? Acknowledgment follows an event.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Strange or not so strange

Some think it strange so many Americans still think Saddam had something to do with 9/11. Not so strange, however, once you weigh up all the propaganda against "those people".

Personally I found it strange so few Americans criticized the announcement of Israeli punishment of the 1.5 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip as a weapon against Hamas. But I guess it's not so strange when once you weigh up all of the propaganda against "those people".

And how strange, some think, that one of the oldest forms of organized torture, is in effect okayed by the nominee for Attorney General, provided it is done by nameless US officials carrying out orders, against nameless Arab detainees so designated by other nameless US officials. But I guess that too can be explained by the animus against "those people".

Racism is an inadequate expression for what is going on in America. But it is a good first approximation. What is genuinely strange is the lengths to which people--intellectuals and non-intellectuals, leftists and "progressives," Jews and gentiles, the famous and the obscure--will go to not talk about this.
[badly written. not worth keeping]

Monday, October 29, 2007

[bad writing]

Saturday, October 27, 2007

"Oh Fantastic"

2- What’s the difference between politely arguing an offensive point and shouting it? Is one more hate speech than the other, and do we want the courts to decide such things? Shouting fire in a crowded building is a crisis moment, where words arguably becomes action, do we want to artificially create more of those moments? I don’t think so.

Some would argue that offensive speech can be harmful to minors; but even agreeing with that, adults should be what they’re called: “adults.” Life is and needs to be experience, and experience is often painful. I know rationalists are opposed to experience, but most people think that’s a problem. I don’t give a fuck if some whiney-assed neat-nick [sic!] motherfuckers want to take their ball and go home when someone’s rude to them, but I’m not going to be lectured on civility by a Zionist concern troll right out of the last years of the Raj. It’s your rationalism that makes you so fucking unaware of just what your words mean. You’re argument Professor B. is lazy and half-assed. Come back to the sandbox and grow up.

37- “Here’s a question for all the die-hards: is there a fundamental human (moral) interest in being able to use racist and sexist speech to express contempt for others?”

Here’s a question for you; and I’ve asked it before: who decides the distinction between offensive ideas –which I think you would defend on grounds of free speech [am I wrong?]- and the offensive manner of delivery of those ideas: between ideas and rhetorical devices?

What my obsession regarding this place comes down to concerns the indifference to the significance, literally: the signification- in the physical act of communication. Ideas are immaterial and general. speech is material and specific. Nearly every author on this blog ignores the distinction, as they fail to understand the justification the moral pessimism behind the choice for the rule of law. That’s why Harry Brighouse can ask a question that’s so irrelevant to the debate.

65- Harry Brighouse: But everyone knows that there are effective epithets expressing contempt for black americans, and there are reasons why there are, and people who use those eptihets in that way know what they are doing and why they are doing it. So, I agree that there is propositional content behind eptihets, but I think they are not, actually, propositional speech acts, and I think they are known not to be by those who use them."

70-“Propositional speech”
And what other kind is there?
Does the even tone of this article [Tyler Cowen on New Orleans, for building shantytowns] make it any less grotesque? By your logic you’d defend Eichman’s words but not Hitler’s. Why even try to draw a line if you don’t have to? Why police anger and not ideas? Intellectual conversation as teatime hobby, the Genteel Tradition lives.
The underlying logic of liberal defense of zionism is that liberals have the image of Jews as nice people, and the image of Arabs as something else. It’s social proximity and nothing else. Legislating niceness does nothing, and it helps to avoid the issues. The Negro Problem; The Jewish Problem; What Do Women Want? Why Are They All So Angry? Why Can’t They Be More Polite?
Because people won’t listen unless they’re forced to.

76-Propositional speech:
Banning not The Merchant of Venice but only it’s performance?
CB in the post: “Third, if we are trying to implement such a conversational ideal…”
impossible. You can’t “implement” such an idea you can only foster it. Regulations can’t replace people. In the same way the question is not whether or not there should be written constitutions and bills of rights but whether or not debate itself is fostered, encouraged, under whichever system. Constitutions force discussion to be in the form of variations on a given theme. Some would prefer their discussions freeform, I prefer indoctrination from childhood into the rights and obligations of democracy and near absolute freedom of speech in adulthood. But more important than speech is inquiry. It’s not the right to perform the Merchant of Venice that’s important, it’s the right to hear it performed. And if you don’t think there’s a propositional value to the performance of Shakespeare then I don’t know what to say.
And am I the only one here is is annoyed by the assumption that only libertarians would be bothered by these arguments?

98- But no one has responded to my points, which had to do with the underlying logic of the question, not whichever answer you end up with. Separating propositional and “non-propositional” speech is akin to separating political and non-political speech (and I think Bork or someone of his ilk has made that argument). And what about the difference between the reading and performing of The Merchant of Venice? How much credence are we going to give sensibilities of the professionally thin-skinned, and how long till their skin gets to be as thin as parchment? How is it that Tyler Cowen’s article on New Orleans does not bring out howls of disgust? I really have no idea, other than that people who know him think he’s a nice guy. Polite or not, he’s an idiot and an asshole
Since so many homes were destroyed, the natural inclination is to build safer or perhaps impregnable structures. But that is the wrong response. No one should or will rebuild or insure expensive homes on vulnerable ground, such as the devastated Ninth Ward. And it is impossible to make homes perfectly safe against every conceivable act of nature.
Instead, the city should help create cheap housing by reducing legal restrictions on building quality, building safety, and required insurance. This means the Ninth Ward need not remain empty. Once the current ruined structures are razed, governmental authorities should make it possible for entrepreneurs to put up less-expensive buildings. Many of these will be serviceable, but not all will be pretty. We could call them structures with expected lives of less than 50 years. Or we could call them shacks.
…To be sure, the shantytowns could bring socioeconomic costs. Yet crime, lack of safety, and racial tension were all features of New Orleans ex ante. The city has long thrived as more dangerous than average, more multicultural than average, and more precarious than average for the United States. And people who decide the cheap housing isn’t safe enough will be free to look elsewhere—or remain in Utah with their insurance checks.
Shantytowns might well be more creative than a dead city core. Some of the best Brazilian music came from the favelas of Salvador and Rio. The slums of Kingston, Jamaica, bred reggae. New Orleans experienced its greatest cultural blossoming in the early 20th century, when it was full of shanties. Low rents make it possible to live on a shoestring, while the population density blends cultural influences. Cheap real estate could make the city a desirable place for struggling artists to live. The cultural heyday of New Orleans lies in the past. Katrina rebuilding gives the city a chance to become an innovator once again.
And If you’ve read Eichmann in Jerusalem you’d think that he should certainly pass the civility test, even if Mein Kampf, or at least Hitler’s public speeches do not.
By limiting speech you limit the ability of the public to hear, be aware and understand; freedom of speech is much less important than the freedom to listen. And what about the fact of pity and condescension, the need of the strong to protect those they consider weak? Democracy assumes equality. What does that response assume?
Hate speech that doesn’t reach the point of incitement is a category that has more to do with the self-regard of well meaning liberals than the self-representation of outsiders of minorities. It intends to help more than it actually does.

Most people may be children, but for the purposes of politics it makes sense to treat them as adults. As in everything else, the logic of the lowest common denominator- of low expectations- is a self-fulfilling prophesy. What’s next, “The Yellow Wallpaper” as a model for the treatment of post partum depression?

101-There have been attempts to ban, or limit access to Huckleberry Finn for the use of the word “nigger,” and there are other examples as well. [and I think this is the first bit of empiricism to hit this thread. And then there’s the Butler decision] Since the record shows that unimaginative minds are often offended by any number of things, and given how argument works by way of precedent, and how time can alter meanings, we have to wonder at unintended consequences.

It’s always amused me that liberals who have no patience for theories of original intent defend propositions assuming that they will only lead where they want it to go. Once the state can define the meaning of a word, we get into problems.

117- “is there a fundamental human (moral) interest in being able to use racist and sexist speech to express contempt for others?”

As usual, you’re interested in ideas, not people; more interested in the idea of civility than the best way to achieve it. I haven’t accused you of bad faith, only of self-absorption.

You’re making the argument for dividing political from nonpolitical speech. You really want to do that? What’s the meaning of nigger in Huckleberry Finn? Of self-hating Jewishness in Portnoy’s Complaint? of sex in Lolita?
I think it was Kenneth Koch who argued that poetry is language crafted literally into a higher form. To which my response before thinking was to mumble Eliot’s cut and pasted phrases: “hurry up please, it’s time.” Nothing special about that except context. And of course he plagiarized not only from daily life but also from crap: “O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag-It’s so elegant So intelligent.”
Engels: ” [I was] just illustrating the difference between propositional and expressive utterances.”

Expressive: Asshole!
Propositional: “Asshole!”
Sorry Engels, it can’t be done.

You can’t be a philosopher if you’re not sure of the meaning of words. You can’t be a writer if you are.
This is getting down to the failures of American philosophical liberalism and its wishful relation to intentionality. If Naturalist Epistemology means never having to look in the mirror, it’s a recipe for ghettoization and irrelevance.
As to commercial and non-commercial speech, I’d have to run down all the possible reinterpretations of a rule and see how the meanings could be bent or expanded over time. At some point however, and this is what academic philosophical liberalism can not not understand, a society is not based on rules but values. Rules don’t allow for contradiction, values are dynamic and flexible, even paradixical. They’re made for elisions. If my multimillionaire stockbroker finds billionaires a little distasteful it’s because he’s been raised to feel that way. It’s not an abstract or intellectual decision, it’s simply a fact. He’s been socialized, as a social democrat.
I’m not interested in creating an enclosed non-contradictory formal logic; I’m only interested in a world with fewer Brett Bellmores (and Tyler Cowens). We’ll never get to the second without giving up on hope for the first.

133- hb, you’re talking about ideas, I’m talking about data. You’re talking philosophy I’m talking history. You’re talking about how people should behave, I’m talking about how they have and do.

“All things considered, I do not think there is a case for saying that the UK, without a bill of rights or a Supreme Court to implement it, is any less just or free than the US.”

I’ve been called a free speech absolutist, that doesn’t leave much room for a court to intervene. But if we were both in England we’d be having the same argument. I haven’t mentioned the constitution once I think. I’ve talked only about the principle of free speech.

I also said that it’s not so much judicial review itself as an actively engaged populace and a culture of debate that are of primary importance. I’m all in favor of making voting mandatory, but at this point I don’t think getting rid of the constitution is such a good idea. Nathan Newman argues that the reliance on judicial review by the left is a mistake. I agree. It became something of a fixation: the moral superiority and certainty of the elite. I’m not sure it was a mistake 40 years ago, but at this point the intellectuals are more conservative than the majority, and the democratic base is more populist than those who claim to be their betters. ['populist' was sloppy] Academic discussion is has become concerned solely with ideas. While the statehouses are slowly filling up with democrats, Brian Leiter pals around with Richard Posner and Henry Farrell chats economic eugenics with Tyler Cowen. It’s a bit like Turkey where the modernists have become the conservatives. And I say that as a secularist. But Richard Dawkins model of secularism is the Turkish military.

141- ” It’s like an exercise in rabbinic logic.”
To them maybe, and to you, but to others it brings out a (moral and ethical) requirment to examine the record:
What have been the effects of similar attempts and what have been their effects as precedent? How have the arguments been expanded over time? Not what “might be” but what “have been” the unintended consequences?
It’s like listening to an economist argue that if the data doesn’t fit the theory then the data is wrong. “It must be!”
And this is how to make policy?
I argued for freedom of speech and the response was a lecture on judicial review, as if I was arguing for the power of judges over the power of the people, or from the first amendment and not the principle behind it! I was arguing against the power of any one over any other. b and b are the self-righteous moralists. They’re willing to assume that the people are the state, and to defend the tyranny of the majority (or is it the tyranny of the “just?”) They’re assuming that eveyone will look to the original intent. And they can’t even acknowledge the irony.
Their rationalism and yours (and brett’s) all have too much in common.
“And THAT is exactly the problem with rejecting non-contradiction. A person may like to think that they’ve got some kind of moral/ethical principles, but if those principles are self-contradictory, they can be manipulated to justify ANYTHING.”
Brett, people who are entirely consistent in their lives and action exist only in fiction. think of Socrates or Christ. You’ve made enough arguments here and at Balkinization based on little more than paranoia and bile that no one has much reason to think of you as rational. And now you argue for the brittlest definition of logic. Believe me you’re not alone.
I’ll use the same question I asked last time this came up:
Are Jews in American culture white or not white [A or Not A]?
The answer of course is that it depends on context.

146- “The principle is roughly freedom from government interference with speech, which is a rather different thing.”
You’re quibbling. No one has argued for absolute “free” speech. I even called it secondary to freedom of inquiry: not freedom to speak but to listen. And for the 3rd[?] time, there’s the problem of the easy and lazy equation of the people with the state, as if were no (dark) history of that to examine.
” ‘Such people also tend to be eager to expand the definition of immorality’
This is just ad hominem…”
No, that’s a reference to the well known historical record.
“This is a straw man…”
No again, for the same reason.
” ‘Ellen Willis’ essay …’
This is essentially an argument from authority”
No, it’s an invitation to read Ellen Willis.
I linked to an article about the Butler decision. mq brought up McKinnon. I mentioned attacks on Huck Finn. There’s data on all this everywhere. Why do you insist on thinking that history is irrelevant to the discussion of rights and obligations? That’s the question I have for you and the others:
Why do you insist on thinking that history is irrelevant?
I’ll repeat that I think it’s because you’re more interested in preserving your own tidy logic and your own sense of moral seriousness than in dealing with the complexity of a world shared with others. You’ll call that an insult and I’ll say I have history on my side.
Why is International PEN is based in the UK, if there is no First Amendment to defend? What’s the point?
Oh that’s really a great question.

152-Abb. none of my questions were answered.
I am opposed to hate speech legislation for reasons I’ve laid out here. I am opposed to hate crimes legislation, not because hate crimes don’t exist but because officially designating them as such accepts the categories of otherness that we are trying to eliminate. I consider affirmative action problematic for the same reason. I say problematic because in some instances it may have been the only way. Still, look up Derrick Bell; or debates over school funding. Real estate taxes are not a good way to fund local education.
And as far as Europe is concerned, specifically Germany: no, it has not come to terms with its past. But to understand that you have to read between the lines, and look at post war culture, not just post war regulations. And this blog does not pay attention to gaps and elisions, only to confirmed sightings. If I describe German culture as numb, as autistic, (and I’m not the only one to say that) the response is incredulity.
Here is another example of unacceptable imprecision on my part:
I think it is all well and good for the people of the United States to think of themselves as “having an interest” in the reform movement in Iran. I am opposed to the government of the US claiming to “have an interest” in that movement. you can extend that logic to other examples, even within a country. Liberals assume that rules can be made to express concern. But rules don’t measure the distance for example between concern and pity, and that is the most important distinction in interaction among people. Conservatives think concern can not exist outside the family, and liberals think it can be legislated. Both are wrong. Liberals can not accept the fact of ambiguity in language because then rules would not be enough to solve our problems. The one thing liberals, who are individualists at heart, are unwilling to change is themselves. That’s why Brighouse and Bertram and others think only in terms of “ideas” because ideas are concrete, they can be measured.
The logic of this site begins with naturalistic epistemology and individualism, described as “true.” Both are fictional constructs. As fictional as the the pretense that laws are enough to make a society whole.

And as to free speech and corporations as people, I’m not the one who measures the social as as an aspect of the economic or as a gathering of contract forming monads. I described the process of socialization of my Norwegian stockbroker. He did not choose to be this way: he is not a rational actor, and never has been. He is not “free.” He is constrained by obligations within the world that made him, as we all are. And for an asshole, he’s not a bad guy.

And as far as being polite. I don’t apologize to members of the libertarian cult, or their drinking partners. I suppose i should just attack Tyler Cowen’s idea’s and not him. But these people are his friends and somehow can’t even condemn the ideas, because he is their friend. I’m sure some people feel the same way about Charles Murray.
I have no patience left. And I’ve earned the right to feel contempt.

154, Chris Bertram: SE: I’ve never met Tyler Cowen in person, nor did I support the ban on the Sex Pistols (“even as a child”), nor do I take kindly to people who describe me as a “Zionist concern troll”. I could go on with the further itemization of absurd things you have said in this thread. I might say “I’ve earned the right to feel contempt”, but “get some help” might be more appropriate.

Meanwhile, please don’t bother commenting on a post of mine ever again. Your comments will simply be deleted.
Akbar Ganji
As a fundamentalist state, Iran is dangerous, but it is dangerous for its own people, not the United States. The Iranian people, myself included, need freedom, democracy and peace -- not war conditions and constant worries about a potential barrage of U.S. missiles.

The seeds of democracy need fertile soil to take root and grow. In Iraq, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the soil is fertile for fostering fundamentalism. If fair elections were held in those countries, fundamentalists would win. Iran is the only country in the Middle East in which modern, democratic forces would win any free and fair elections.
An obvious statement that I've never before read in the American press.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Each one of the photographs below is a propositional statement. Every act of description is propositional. This should be obvious. link

Monday, October 22, 2007

Zhong Qiu Jie 
In the village.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Badger: US military plans for Lebanon
The Lebanese newspaper As-Safir reported yesterday that a US delegation led by Eric Edelman (Assistant Defence Secretary for Political Affairs) recently presented to Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora and other Lebanese officials a draft military-cooperation agreement between the US and Lebanon, something the paper said was the culmination of a whole continuous series of US delegations to Lebanon that have been going on since the Israel Hizbullah war of summer 2006.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Leaving in a few days.
I suppose it's a truism that one of the signs of adulthood is the discovery, recognition or realization of a need to be discreet; a newfound need for me but there it is. Still it's important to know when and where, and be willing to refuse that obligation if and when you judge according to your principles that refusal is appropriate.
I don't defend China as it is, but I respect it. I don't defend a lot of people, governments, or policies. I hope I make my compromises knowingly. I have no patience for Americans who worry about "the Palestinian problem" or who refer again and again to the deaths of 3500 US volunteers rather than of one million Iraqis. But it's interesting to see the shades of grey in societies that are neither as open as many would wish nor as closed as others would imagine. Fascism was an anomaly, like totalitarianism a form of modernity, and both render normalcy impossible. What we're returning to is the recognition of a world with many different kinds of normalcy. You may choose to advocate for one or another form, but it's no good -it helps no one- to declaim from absolutes. Governments with some very extreme exceptions are aspects of society. To forget that is make the same mistake the moderns made, to argue from a sense of one's own freedom, and that's where government by delusion got its start.
If the US attacks Iran, as I've said before, it will be seen in the long run as as much the responsibility of American liberals as of Bush and Cheney.

It's been good to be here. It'll be good to be back in NY, and it will be good to be back here again soon. It's all good.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

I'm not blogging much about my stay in China because I'm here on business and business is personal. I have a lot of cell phone pictures and I may take some with my good camera before I leave. I may post some in the future and may use them in some sort of project, I don't know. I'm not a comfortable diarist, public or private, and I'm sick to the intellectualism of technocrats who don't know enough to understand that techocratic thought is vulgarization, necessary maybe but also necessarily lightweight. I've met no one here I particularly want to betray nor with a few of them would it be in my best interests to do so. Call it creeping professionalism just not professional intellectualism. And I'm not a fucking journalist.

something to read along with the links on the link list on the right.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Having great time.
Wish you were here.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Another comment from this one
try this one.
Logicians aren't philosophers, they're technicians, The law of non-contradiction does not hold in the perceptions of our daily life. If it did there would be no need for literature. All of our linguistic definitions are provisional. Language is not mathematics. Look at the list above of Descartes' rhetorical slips and slides.
Formal ethics. How do we come to terms with downloading as a ubiquitous (but not victimless) crime? We can't. The best response to change the system of distribution: to cut the Gordian knot. Such moments are inevitable in every formal system. Philosophy is concerned with the question of how we recognize and respond to those moments. A philosophy that does not concern itself with crisis is not a philosophy but a technics.

And here's that same quote from Santayana again:
Transcendental logic. the method of discovery for the mind, was to become also the method of evolution in nature and history. Transcendental method, so abused, became transcendental myth. A conscientious critique of knowledge was turned into a sham system of nature. We must therefore distinguish sharply the transcendental grammar of the intellect, which is significant and potentially correct, from the various transcendental systems of the universe which are chimeras.
The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy
The rationalism of utility and the lowest common denominator brings us to this. Read em and weep. Really.