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 Heros (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 Slovoj (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 reciprical relation of poet and critic, and a real literary, moral imagination.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

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.
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

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 argument.
Every act of description is propositional.
This should be obvious.

Monday, October 22, 2007

"Zhong Qiu Jie"
China World Trade Center, "Guomao," Beijing.
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 discrete; 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.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Badger @ Arab Links: Washington's role in the West Bank
Congress last week approved $80 million of US funds to train and equip five brigades to be under the control of the Abbas administration in the West Bank, pursuant to the Dayton Plan, under the direction of US general Keith Dayton, Haaretz reported yesterday. I don't recall reading in the American media any report of any debate about that congressional action, or any followup discussion for that matter. Which isn't surprising, because the leaked document that first laid out the Dayton Plan in detail, hasn't been a big topic of discussion anywhere in the English language media either.

However, the Lebanese paper Al-Akhbar does take note of the development, and puts it in the context of the escalating Fatah-Hamas tensions. The journalist writes:
The question of Palestinian control of the West Bank has become a responsibility of Washington, which is making plans for the establishment of five Palestinian battalions for deployment throughout the West Bank, and this comes at a time when Hamas is accusing the caretaker government headed by Salam Fayyad of coordinating with Israel in the closure of over 100 charitable organizations, targeting thereby the social arm of the movement (Hamas).
It's worth recalling that under "Objectives" in the original Dayton Plan outline, [if you're going to follow one link here make it that one] the aims included this: "Delivering a strong political blow to Hamas by supplying the Palestinian people with their immediate economic needs through the Presidency and Fatah..." The move to shut Hamas-affiliated social-assistance groups is a corollary of that, and what the Al-Akhbar reporter is doing with is calling attention to what you could call the coherence of the Dayton Plan: Shifting the balance militarily to the faction friendly to America and the Israeli occupation, while at the same time shifting the balance in terms of "supplying the Palestinian people with their immediate economic needs..." and it is clear that the corollary of that is shutting down social-aid groups that are affiliated with Hamas. The closure orders, based on a June decree by Abbas requiring all organizations to apply to him for re-registration, are discussed in detail here. What is important for Americans to understand is that the closure of Hamas-affiliated voluntary organizations is tantamount to an attack on Palestinian civil society, and that this is part and parcel of the plan that also includes military aid for the Abbas-Fayyad "government".

The military part of which, the Israeli paper Haaretz tells us, was approved by Congress last week. Didn't know that, did you?
There's a lot more: Arab Links
Off to Beijing on the 5th, for a couple of months.
May start off in Shanghai. That would be the smart thing to do.

More on Ai Wewei

Friday, August 31, 2007

Sounding a bit pompous, but still...
"Confident rationalists are at best an annoying bunch. At worst they’re a threat to the republic."
And someone, who I agree with a lot, responds:
"President Bush shares your sentiments. As does Ayatollah Khomeini."

A community of people may build a formally consistent social sytem founded on nothing more than shared assumptions, and label it "rational scientific secularism." It's up to others to point out that its just bourgeois.
Nothing ever changes.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

note taking. posted (by me) elsewhere:

A "serious" university education should not be based upon assumed foundations. The incorporation of the research model into the humanities means that the humanities are now governed by a (spurious) foundationalism. We all know what we value, there's no need to question it. Academic rationalism whether in economics or philosophy is pseudoscience predicated on the desire for neat and tidy order. Chomskian linguistics, Posnerite economics and scholastic philosophy all come from the same source. And even people who think the American press sucks dream of an ideal world where the press is rational and objective.
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.
It's all well and good, in fact it makes perfect sense, to recognize that all perception begins with the self. It makes no sense at all the think that the self is therefore the center of the universe.
Liberalism, as neoliberalism, has become no more or less than the institutionalization of optimism, cribbed from the sciences and transformed into the joy of an autistic child staring at the rotating motion of a window fan.
Why question it if it makes you happy?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

note taking/record keeping:

Religious fundamentalists view all questions through the lens of their simplistic moral philosophy. Libertarians and other market fundamentalists think moral philosophy pointless to discuss since all questions have been resolved already. The two fundamentalisms were born to mirror each other. But arguing with someone about the meaning of the words on a page whether that page is from the bible or the constitution leads eventually to conversation and compromise. it may take a while, even decades but it happens. Arguing with someone who claims to have reason on their side cuts off all contact.
Posner’s utilitarianism is more dangerous than the rantings of all but the most apocalyptic of our religious fanatics. Restrictive social roles can be and always are relaxed over time. Posner’s philosophy is anti-social, it has nowhere to go.
And Cowen and Tabarrok are two of the most offensively unsophisticated minds that I have ever come across: offensive only in that they imagine themselves to be sophisticated, and dangerous in that as with Posner so many others agree with them.

I’m actually almost optimistic that a secularizing and modern Islam will bring a rigorously argumentative kick to this debate. Islam is or will be the new judaism in western intellectual life.
Fundamentalist christianity is anti-intellectual by comparison.

“both libertarians and statists”
That’s the popular dichotomy but it’s not that useful; both assume a natural individualism that requires liberty or restraint. On the other hand anarchism, socialism and social democracy all assume the constitutive base of the social. That division is also the basis [I’ll make this brief since I say it all the time] of the division between Anglo American and “Continental” thought.
The popularity of libertarianism in the/our academy says a lot about the unwillingness or inability of people to imagine themselves as products of their linguistic and political environment; Europeans and most other cultures take this for granted. American political intellectuals are so terrified of determinism that they refuse to see it as a category and refuse to recognize it. And our conservatism is absurdly contradictory, since it’s made of market liberals and religious reactionaries.
But in general Americans don’t see themselves as “Americans” though everyone else does That’s our problem. Libertarianism is just an extension of that logic.

I'll add here, since I'm reading and reading about Santayana, the American descriptions of his focus on individualism miss the point. His focus is on a European notion of the individual as a creature of the collective. The model of the scholar is of one who looks at others while seeing them as akin to himself, and who studies himself in them. The social "scientist" studies others as others, as foreign, again: contra argument as collective activity, contra craft and the art of judgment. The artist/poet even as individualist is the individual bound. The intellectual as autonomous is both a model of atomization and fallacy.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Arab Links

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

"You anti-war people have got to admit, Ignatieff has you nailed. You dumb-asses who were right about everything for the wrong reasons, instead of wrong about everything for the right reasons. You lose."

Monday, August 06, 2007

… But now we have another problem.

What is that?
What if we find out what makes each of us internally consistent? What if I find your proper name, that thing which describes exactly what you are?
Than I will always be honest, or predictable at least. And you will be able to interpret everything I say and never be wrong. And of course I’ll know your name as well.
No dishonesty, no subterfuge, no Freud, no art… Then we can all be logical positivists.
But it doesn’t matter. That dream’s irrelevant.
I want unification.
It’s an illusion.
I want the illusion.
Do you want the illusion or do you want the illusion to be real?
What’s the difference?
One means that you have an appreciation of the arts. The other means that you’re a fascist.

Just to add there's something telling in the failure of people to understand the importance of unresolved contradiction, in the arts and elsewhere. And the criticisms of epiphenomenalism from the the standpoint of natural selection are almost obscene in their stupidity. We're constantly inventing narrative closure where none exists. It's called wishful thinking, and at its worst it's the definition of kitsch. At its best it's is what we call art. The professionalization of intellectual life and the banal assumptions of utilitarianism mean not that contradictions are overcome, but that they're denied. It's Intellectually corrupt, politically it's bad shit and in general terms it's just stupid.
Tony Karon
Arab Links
Recent posts
Pan's Labyrinth. Posted elsewhere but expanded a bit. in most art the conclusion succeeds as an elision or a papering over of contradiction by means of rhetoric and sensibility and opposed to [that is denying the applicability of] the either/or of Aristotelian logic.

How does one do justice to the pleasure and even the need for fantasy in a world of cruel political reality? How do you defend intellectual awareness while defending dreams? How do you respect the dreams of a child, and the child herself, while taking seriously the obligations of adulthood? Guillermo del Toro allows us an emotionally satisfying acceptance of contradiction.
It’s the only fantasy movie I’ve seen recently, and definitely the only one full of special effects wizardry, that’s actually made for adults.

Reading Chomsky and Searle on Chomsky (from 1971). Amazing how Chomsky's extremist rationalism parallels that of Posner and the Chicago school. A brittle brilliance, a very specific branch and subset of Judaic secularism. And C. as I said recently is known mostly in the wider world for his rigorously empirical news reporting. In the long run it's all he's good for.

I may write something later. Note the franchise owner is South Asian also that the article is about Brooklyn and not Queens. Actually, that's all there is to say, you can infer the rest.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

I'm not in the mood to explain much.
My YouTube page is growing.

From tape #1 1985, Blue Skull

Friday, August 03, 2007

Klaus Nomi sings Purcell

What power art thou, who from below
Hast made me rise unwillingly and slow
From beds of everlasting snow?
See'st thou not how stiff and wondrous old,
Far unfit to bear the bitter cold,
I can scarcely move or draw my breath?
Let me, let me freeze again to death.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Marc Lynch: Victory for the AKP.

"Even the relatively mild variety of political Islam in Turkey (which seems likely, under the right conditions, to turn into a Muslim version of Christian Democracy) seems to make US policy makers break out in hives."

Henry Farrell wrote that in May of this year. He's right about the US response but not I think about the AKP and Islam.
Islam like Judaism is a religion of scholasticism, and its process of secularization will be a process of expanding intellectual achievement. The history of Christian conservatism is crap.

Had a discussion a few months ago along these lines, with Badger or Non-Arab-Arab, but I can't find the links.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Freedom and Neurobiology: Reflections on Free Will, Language, and Political Power

It ranges from interesting to almost brilliant, all beginning with presumption. There's no reason for presuming that consciousness initiates action. There's no reason to accept "reasons." Consciousness could just as easily be described as the penumbra of physical processes. That's the simplest solution. Until we know better, why not except it?
1- I punched a hole in the ballot paper because I wanted to vote for George Bush
2- I got a bad headache because I voted for George Bush
3- The glass fell on the floor because I accidentally knocked it off the table.
Searle relates 2 and 3 as simple causality, with one being the exception as having to do not with causes but reasons.
But before we get to where he wants to go I read them this way:
1- I punched a hole in the ballot paper because I wanted to vote for George Bush
2- I got a bad headache because I voted for George Bush
3- The glass fell on the floor because I accidentally knocked it off the table.
First of all, everything beyond this needs to be tested, and some of them hold up better than others. Searle however jumps immediately to building a logic separating causes from reasons for action. How does he defend the existence of reasons? By arguing that we experience our reasons for doing things.
Assumption 1: Explanations in terms of reasons do not typically cite causally sufficient conditions.
Assumption 2: Such explanations can be adequate explanations of action.

How do I know that assumption 2 is true? How do I know such explanations can be and often are adequate? Because in my own case I often know exactly what reasons I had for performing an action and I know that an explanation that cites those reasons is adequate.
What is this knowledge and where does it come from? Searle doesn't say. It seems to come from the same place Chomsky's language tools come from, his own sense of its moral necessity.

"I drank a glass of water because I was thirsty"
Is that a description of causes or reasons?

July 25

I set my alarm-clock to ring at 6 Am. Does my alarm-clock have free will?
I began by giving Searle some credit, but following and picking through his arguments I have less and less patience. He's not interested in the simplest and most direct solutions but in the simplest and most direct solutions that serve his purposes.
He seems both awed and flummoxed by notions of time and memory, though he doesn't use either term. In his discussions of man as the only political animal (many animals are social) and his in his discussion of free will, he vests his "gaps" with far more significance than they can bear. A promise is not the creation of a "desire-independent reason" it's simply a delay. The human mind has the capacity to remember details that make such deferments possible.
There's nothing in his arguments that wouldn't be better and more simply explained by describing consciousness as the byproduct of brain function, but that notion offends him so he avoids it.
Consciousness is not rationality or reason, it's indecision [its manifestation]. That's what separates animals from the machines they make.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Thursday, July 19, 2007

This, as they say, is an opinion piece:

What happened in northern Lebanon, according to the simplest interpretation, is that the Hariri/Saudi group and its allies in the Bush administration, which had previously supported a salafi group called Fatah al-Islam, decided to pull the plug, with Hariri abruptly ending monthly payments to group-members. This was followed by expressions of displeasure including a bank-robbery, and then a couple of months of reports about the heroism of the Lebanese Army in reducing the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp to rubble. The result is a new strategic importance for the Lebanese Army, previously considered an institution with a nationalist core, now part of the Hariri- and US-led alliance. This simplifies and escalates the "moderate versus extremist" road-map for the Americans and their allies. Having groups like Fatah al-Islam put pressure on Hizbullah was one stratgegy, but using the Lebanese Army for that is a much simpler and more powerful one for the long haul.

In Gaza, where Fatah leaders fled rather than defend the Dahlan organization, we are asked to believe in a David versus Goliath miracle-victory for Hamas against the US-armed Dahlan group, when a much more plausible explanation would be that the US decided to pull the plug on that corrupt former cats-paw as well. The result here is also a new strategic configuration, isolating Hamas in Gaza, and thus escalating and simplifying the pressure on the "extremists". Having groups like the Dahlan gangs put pressure on Hamas was one strategy, but isolating Hamas in Gaza and using an overt Fatah-Israel coalition to do that seems to be much simpler and more powerful in the long haul.

In both cases, the facts we know are more consistent with the hypothesis of this kind of a strategy-development in Washington than they are with the kind of freakish and unexplainable sequence of events that have been reported in this weirdly unquestioning way by the media.

In Baghdad, where the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) was declared last October...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Tony Karon on Dennis Ross
We've been here before
Manic specialization is less intellect than symptom. It's a sign of desperation, having less to do with and interest in the complexity of the world than with a fixation on the complexity of the self.
Going back to recent comments and then farther: its more than adversarialism, what's necessary is divided loyalty. The new model of intellectual life is of the individual and the specialist, and the new model of democracy is the wisdom of crowds: the bundling of monads. But you won't understand the importance of conflict in itself [as such] if you don't have conflicts within yourself [don't recognize that they exist]. And the logic of specialization and atomization almost literally runs away from such awareness, encouraging a simplified telos that can only be countered by the telos of another. That's the dumbing down of intellectual life, its redefinition as unidirectional desire and as monomania and geekdom. And the ideal of the intellectual or citizen as technician finds it's parallel in the the ideal of soldier as technician of violence.

Divided loyalty is the definition of moral responsibility and full adulthood in a democracy. Lawyers are loyal to both their clients and to each other, to the justice system. Soldiers in the army must see themselves as both servants of military authority and free citizens. Citizens are loyal both to themselves and their community. The model of unidirectional telos is the logic of classical economics and the Chicago school but also of Noam Chomsky. It would be nice for someone to do a study of Chomsky and the theory of rational action. I've probably said that before. I've said almost all of this before.
Technicians are not paid to be curious but competent. Hyper-competency is not a value it's a surrogate.

note taking
Interesting that Shalizi refers to free market theory to defend the artificial manipulation of the academy.
Also of course the reference to markets presumes that markets are foundational. “Diversity of heuristics and perspectives tends to be linked to diversity of values and interests.” That’s a case for strengthening or reinforcing those systems that counter the market. There are those who say that individualism itself does not need a counter-force, but they would have to document the degree to which individuals are actual free agents, and so far the reach of that argument has far exceeded its grasp. In the meantime individualism can not counter itself.

There are two questions involved here: how to do things well, and what to do. Diversity and democracy are concerned with both. In the long run that requires not an understanding of complex systems but of the fact of overlapping and conflicting, even mutually exclusive complex systems: the definition of “consciousness”
and again
An another note returning to the discussion of Doormen. I looked through the book today and I'd guessed right. Aside from the mannerisms of social scientist as naif [is this supposed to imply objectivity?] he has no knowledge of the history of the city, and history is context. He makes some vague reference to the racial mix among doormen, but that’s it. The upper west side was built, literally to mirror the UES where wealthy Jews were not welcome (and in some buildings still may not be) Also my experience [as a workman in manhattan] is that the racial mix among the population of doormen on the UES is majority ethnic white. I’ve asked around and others I’ve worked with are of the same opinion. I’m willing to bet the author’s data would show the same thing, if he'd bothered to run the numbers.
But he didn't
"...the mannerisms of social scientist as naif" There's a whole book in that one.