Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Monday, April 28, 2008

What's old is new again, and again, and again.
Blackburn is a philosopher. I'd have thought this was his area of expertise.

Follow the bouncing ball:
Science is the study of facts and philosophy the study of values. Conflating the two in favor of facts, values become assumed. Values assumed, all questions are seen as those of expertise. Terms of measurement are of course assumed. Curiosity is defined by the frame, values by the frame, moral worth by the frame.
Democracy, the multiplicity of values and goals, is undermined.
Blackburn's is the linguistic and philosophical (formalist) corollary to Law and Economics. I'll remind you of the fun I had with Colin McGinn
I had in mind experts of many different types, not all specialists in a particular field. Following Plato, I envisage people trained in all subjects relevant to politics--history, geography, philosophy, psychology, etc. These would be the "philosopher kings" (though not our narrow sense of "philosophy"). They could have advisors in a specific field, if necessary, but they would be broadly educated. These experts would work with some democraticlly elected leaders to make policy--but not merely in an advisory capacity.

a response to a response
" 'Science is the study of facts and philosophy the study of values.’ This is a highly eccentric view of philosophy. One way of thinking of philosophy is as the critical examination of common prejudices…”

Critical examination of common prejudices without examining your own can seem logical only if you choose to see such things as external to yourself, as apart and other. The foundational analogy here, and analogy is all it is, is to science. The values behind the deployment of that analogy are not the values claimed by those who deploy it. If they paid more attention to their own prejudices, looking at the historical parallels, that would be clear even to them. Maybe I should have said ‘Science is the study of facts and philosophy the argument over values.’
That would have been clearer.

The formal analysis of language is seen as equivalent to the formal analysis of numbers. The moral values, the moral argument behind mathematical formalism is the moral argument of Platonism. I won’t argue one way or the other about numbers, but the moral logic of Platonism in language is authoritarian.
Update- Oh Jezuz. I read the piece, hilarious. Right, wrong, and everything in between. It works best as intellectual and emotional autobiography but autobiography is autohistory and you know how much I love history. He contradicts his own arguments, with style. He's writing from sensibility, not ideology. My last comment at CT:
"He’s not hiding behind anything: his subjectivism, if not outright irrationalism, is front and center. There’s honesty in that... I’ll happily defend him, just like I defend TS Eliot and Philip Larkin."

Next up: Technocracy and Democracy: Contradiction and the Philosophy of Art. Kraftwerk

Thursday, April 24, 2008

One more time. notetaking (d.ghirlandaio)
This whole debate is annoying. Brian Leiter is annoying.
The defense of academic "freedom" better described as academic independence, is that once someone has jumped through enough professional hoops he may not be forced to do so again. Any form of social status is political in one way or another, and tenure is a marker after which someone has a right to think pretty much whatever he wants, no matter how absurd. This is not a defense of idiocy any more than it's a claim that whoever passes the mark is a genius or a light unto the world. What it is is a claim that paying some people to be free of constraint, in their thoughts, results on the whole in a social good. Yoo clearly isn't stupid, but he's not that bright. He's a mediocrity, but a mediocrity who's past the post and has reached safe haven for his ideas in the academy. If he defends the actions of Nazi jurists he's safe, though if he did so earlier he might not have gotten tenure (there's the ambiguity of intellectual life as a subset of social life)

If Yoo behaved as a Nazi lawyer he may be disbarred and perhaps charged. But the decision as to whether he crossed that line is not something for the academy to decide. Yoo is a scholar, but he was a jobbing lawyer: his misconduct, if that's what it was, was a misconduct of tradecraft and his guild and prosecutors should be the ones to investigate. If they find him culpable then the academy can choose to expel him. If you want another example think of William Kunstler defending John Gotti's sleazeball attorney Bruce Cutler. And Kunstler defended him on principle. It's a tricky situation.

What's annoying, indeed pathetic about Lieter's argument is his tone. He defends Cloudkookooland as he always does, as the land of enlightenment, when in fact it is a social construction allowing members of our community the freedom to think as casually and sloppily and self-indulgently as they wish, with the knowledge -the hope- that some of them will actually use that freedom to come up with things that they and we would otherwise miss. Yoo is a mediocrity; most professors are mediocrities. A precious few are not. Academic independence is worth the risks, not only of mediocrity but of fostering doctrines injurious to our way of life. As it is worth the risk that the guilty to go free before an innocent man rots to jail. As it is worth the risk to allow freedom of speech to the bitter. The bitter, the aloof, the lazy and the arrogant may sometimes by right. A historian of all things[!], in a post at Crooked Timber wrote proudly that academic freedom predates freedom of speech, defending it as if the Crown's recognition were a valid defense. The arrogance in this case is undeserved.

Academic free speech is an early example of the fight for broader rights. It preceded open free speech in the past for the same reasons it's been granted now in China, which was noted with some surprise by Ronald Dworkin when when he was invited to speak at a university in in Shanghai. To acknowledge that the Crown saw fit to acquiesce is not a defense of the crown, nor is it a wise choice to use the crown as a defense of the prerogatives of academia. That's little more than a defense of the priesthood. "To the pure all things are pure." A historian shouldn't make such mistakes. But he did. As Leiter does, in his ridiculous, obscene, moralizing tone.
The classic defense of the free market is that its openness, vulgarity and risk act as an astringent, testing and tightening thought what would otherwise risk becoming arid blather. But now that the market has reached the academy it wants to escape its roots. So we have an academy predicated not on the hopes and ambiguities of the humanities and of democracy but on the technocratic logic of reactionary schoolmen.

The defense of Yoo's place in the academy is no more or less than a recognition of human weakness partiality, fallibility and unreason. We stumble and acknowledge it, even allowing ourselves to do so so that we may learn. We are fools and lying about it does no good. The defense of academic freedom is not that non-academics are wrong but that we are all even the experts most likely wrong most of the time. The defense of academic freedom is a humble one, not a lecture by the Aristoi to the Hoi Polloi. I'll end with a quote from Henry Farrell who really, really, really, does not get the fucking point:
“I’ve suggested that academic freedom is a good thing on pragmatic grounds, but also made clear that it fundamentally depends on public willingness to delegate some degree of self-governance to the academy. If the public decides that academic freedom isn’t working out in terms of the goods it provides, then too bad for academic freedom.”
To which one can only add that If the public decides that democracy isn’t working out in terms of the goods it provides, then too bad for democracy. Democracy does not begin with the freedom of the individual but with his willing acceptance of responsibility. That the arguments of the academy are now predicated on the former as opposed even to an analysis of their reciprocal relation, is a misunderstanding of language and history and the function of republican forms of government; a misunderstanding of the nature os society itself. Academic independence says this perversion should be allowed, but its a sad state of affairs.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"The photographs and snapshots are accompanied by remembrances from more than 50 international artists and writers associated with the gallery."

Make that 49 international artists and writers and yours truly. A few pics of me as well along with Pat, Danny, Taka, Christine, Patterson, Ken, Dennis, Christian, Dan Graham, Jeff Wall, Andy Warhol, John Waters, Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis. Did I miss anybody? Yes.

"Many times, many tried,
Simple stories are the best.
Keep in mind, the wishful kind,
Don't wanna be like all the rest."

Thanks Dennis.

Thanks Colin.
It's really pretty simple:
A law professor both having shown required competence and politicked enough to achieve his title, may argue that officers of the court in Nazi Germany were simply doing their jobs and following existing law.* However, if that professor is shown to have himself been an officer of the Nazi court, he may be put on trial or have the case examined by the bar, and being found guilty in either case, even if only of ethical violations, he may then be fired from his job. [Brian Leiter replies to a similar hypothetical here. One of my comments reproduced here] It's a bit formalistic but formalism is important: people in Cloudkookooland can say what they want, but if they come to earth and act on their beliefs they can be judged here, and then not be allowed back in.

Leiter is right but his contempt for the masses is annoying. Academic independence serves society by allowing people to think freely even when those thoughts are little more than dreams and fantasies. It's about the right of inquiry into unpleasant subjects, but also the right to risk sounding like an idiot, in both cases because in the long run the risks of error or absurdity are worth it.

"Academic freedom predates freedom of speech"
That's a good description but a lousy defense. The fact that that it wasn't obvious to Eric Rauchway is a problem.

The banality of self-importance. As I said in another comment on Rauchway's post, academic freedom predated free speech in the past for the same reason it’s predating free speech today in the PRC: it’s a both a pressure vent and a distraction, and technical advancement is important even in most authoritarian regimes. Academic free speech is an early example of the fight for broader rights. To acknowledge that the Crown saw fit to acquiesce is not a defense of the crown, nor is it a wise choice to use the crown as a defense of the prerogatives of academia. A historian shouldn't make such mistakes.

Also it's clear Henry Farrell understand's neither academic freedom nor tenure: "...an institution whose general merits I am somewhat ambiguous about ..." [#185 here]
I’ve suggested that academic freedom is a good thing on pragmatic grounds, but also made clear that it fundamentally depends on public willingness to delegate some degree of self-governance to the academy. If the public decides that academic freedom isn’t working out in terms of the goods it provides, then too bad for academic freedom.
If the public decides that democracy isn’t working out in terms of the goods it provides, then too bad for democracy.

*The corollary to this is that if he'd made that argument earlier the odds are he wouldn't have gotten tenure. As Mark Graber pointed out there's a difference between legally arguable and morally correct. I was referring to the moral argument. Tenure and academic status generally are tied both to technically and socially acceptable practice.

Monday, April 21, 2008

note taking, at CT.
There's so much that's skewed here it's hard to know where to begin. First off, the academy is not separate from society any more than law is separate from politics: each is a subset with its own prerogatives. Those serve a function and should be respected, but they're not Platonic absolutes.

In re: John Yoo. Though I seem to be the only one so far to bring this up, a lawyer outside the academy and in public life is a licensed professional. An engineer who builds a bridge that collapses under its own weight will lose his job. Historians and professors of comparative literature, even of jurisprudence, don't run that risk, street lawyers do.

It would also be good to remember that academic freedom is not freedom of thought, it's freedom of thought for those who've been accepted into a club. To think that this exclusivity is a good idea is not to think it justifies excess self-importance.
"Academic freedom predates free speech."
After all, even the King... I wouldn't call that something to be proud of in a democracy.

2 decades ago as a 21 year old I read Gravity's Rainbow and a pair of fragments from it became touchstones of my intellectual life: the description at different points in the novel of two acts of self-destruction, the mass suicides of the Herero in Südwest as a refusal and denial of the authority of their masters, and of the Schwarzkommando as the final act of nihilism. The significance was context: that identical actions could signify categorical opposites. Academic freedom historically has been tied to general freedom of thought and to democracy, but now it's linked to institutional privilege and defended with references to monarchy.

The classic defense of the free market is that its openness and vulgarity act as an astringent, testing and tightening thought what would otherwise risk becoming arid blather. But now that the market has reached the academy it wants to escape its roots. So we have an academy predicated not on the hopes of the humanities and of democracy but on the technocratic logic of reactionary schoolmen. Welcome to the 14th century.

First and foremost Yoo was and is jobbing lawyer. Lets see what his fellow tradesmen say.

“Academic freedom predate[d] free speech.” in the past for the same reason it’s predating free speech today in the PRC.
It’s a both a pressure vent and a distraction, and technical advancement is important.

” ‘Academic freedom” in this context is a simply phase describing the concept of academic world’s independence from the outside world, that’s all. And Dan Simon in 23 is pretending that it means something else.”

It can mean many things. To friends of mine it meant channeling their education and dissertation subjects towards aspect of their fields that were likely to get them the tenured positions they now have. They worked very hard to conform, and now spend a large part of their careers playing one school against another, Stanford against MIT against the University of Chicago, to further their own advancement. As one of them says matter-of-factly: “research support and partnership it’s all is pretty much quid pro quo.” They had no “freedom” in their choices. Careerism is not the definition of free thought.

As I’ve said more than once, including in the comment that didn’t make the grade on this post, it takes more than rules to make a system work, it takes a minimal level of trust. The defense of independent autonomous specialized bubble cultures in the arts and humanities (a legacy of post war rationalism and sputnik) is not healthy. The art world bubble, the academic bubble, the journalistic bubble, the military bubble, the born again bubble, the American political cultural bubble, none of them are healthy, politically or intellectually.

As far as the arts go, see Karen Finley, a second rate cabaret pornographer bursting into tears when she didn’t get a government grant. Try to imagine Hugo Ball getting miffed when the Swiss Government refused to pay his bills. And remember be had a cabaret act too. There’s a difference between politics and the politics of pretension.
The culture of the soi-disant.

Henry Farrell
“I’ve suggested that academic freedom is a good thing on pragmatic grounds, but also made clear that it fundamentally depends on public willingness to delegate some degree of self-governance to the academy. If the public decides that academic freedom isn’t working out in terms of the goods it provides, then too bad for academic freedom.”
If the public decides that democracy isn’t working out in terms of the goods it provides, then too bad for democracy.

No understanding of academic freedom, of the need for tenure, or even of democracy.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

DeLong, fundamentalist.
Constitutionalists who disagree had better spend more of their time explaining to their fellow citizens what is wrong with torture than suggesting the problem might be cured by better legal methods courses in the first year of law school.
Arguing that Yoo could be subject to disbarment is not assuming that it will happen, only that that is the question that needs to be asked and answered.

What DeLong fails to understand is that the rule of law is not the opposite of the rule of man but only its mediation. Treated as an absolute every methodology becomes brittle and blunt. Here's a good reply.
I find this "debate" really confusing. As far as I can tell, Graber is essentially making an argument about the limits of efforts to use the Constitution as a blackjack against your opponents--something, BTW, that both sides in the sectional conflict did to ultimately murderous effect. Thus he's not really arguing that Dred Scott v. Sanford was "rightly decided" so much as that, in strict constitutional terms, it was as plausibly decided as the alternatives. Brad, on the other hand, *cherishes* his right to use the Constitution as a blackjack against his opponents. None of this has much of anything to do with the actual history. Could the slavery issue have been settled by constitutional means? Brad seems to be saying yes--at least if the Chief Justice in 1857 had been a philospher king named Brad DeLong, to whose judgment about the meaning of words such as "liberty" the fractious polity of the time would have simply deferred. But isn't profound division over the meaning of such words precisely the issue that wound up sending 600,000 soldiers to their deaths? I know nothing about Graber's politics, but his argument is hardly inconsistent with, say, that of a William Lloyd Garrison or a Frederick Douglass when they condemned the US Constitution as fundamentally a slaveholders' document. To attack him as a wingnut for pointing out the skeleton in America's closet--that slavery was so inextricably woven into the fabric of American life and culture as to require no less than a second American revolution--is, to my mind, profoundly ad hominem [I know, this is the blogosphere--ad hominem argumentation is respectable here] and intellectually dishonest. Yes, slavery is immoral, but that didn't make it unconstitutional or unAmerican prior to the Thirteenth Amendment, however hard Lincoln and Company tried to make it such; in fact, as little as it flatters our self-esteem to say so, it was all *too* American, all too rooted in our *real* value system, which prizes mastery over others at least as much as equality. Part of the tragedy/farce of the Civil War is the degree to which both sides played these silly legal-constitutional games; indeed, what's most striking about the Third Tribe, and their Radical allies, was their recognition that slavery could never, in the end, be extirpated in a nice, legal manner. That we continue to pretend that our fundamental law was, somehow but from the very beginning, antislavery has to do less with the actual historical record than with our own self-congratulation as Americans--and, I might add, our continuing obliviousness to the injustices still embedded within our notions of "liberty."
DeLong imagines that systems on their own can be just, but systems are only the means by which people live with one another. Systems must be flexible, and the relations of people to one another must be based on reciprocity. Rationalist fundamentalism is the child of textualist fundamentalism. DeLong's idées fixes represent both generations.

Mark Graber Dred Scott and the Problem of Constitutional Evil

Friday, April 18, 2008

A note on a note: the previous post.
Dowd is lectured on moral responsibility by those who claim to represent it, but don't. "Enlightenment" is an ongoing process, and we all live in glass houses and always will. That's why the opinions of outsiders will always be important.
Dowd is a tabloid writer, exhibiting the ticks and tropes of the Catholic lower middle class. And as a voting democrat you'd think perhaps the intellectual elite of her party would want to consult her on how to approach a segment of the voting population. But instead they waste their time accusing her of misrepresenting herself as one of them. But she's never referred to herself as an intellectual.
The attacks on Dowd are launched from positions of an assumed, but specious, moral superiority. Her sort of pop psychology has it's limitations, but the refusal to engage it and her is akin to the refusal of the American intellectual elite as a whole to engage with anyone, inside or outside this country, who does not see the world through the lens of a dry academicism, an academicism that masks an equally dry and self-serving provincial nationalism. Where is this enlightenment in discussions of Palestine and Gaza? Where is it in discussions of the US and Iraq, when it's the elite, and the elite only, who fidgets about when to leave; as if the continuing growth of facts on the ground, of the construction of new and larger bases and the gargantuan embassy complex didn't imply that leaving is out of the question?
The list goes on. Neoliberalism sees and recognizes only itself, it's own rules and values. Everything else is illogic and irrationalism.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

From a post on the debate debacle. Commenters:
"The wingers already had Bingo from Maureen Dowd’s column today."

"Yeah what a twofer, to have Barack be lectured by Maureen Down and George Will on his elitism. Fucking, fucking, fuckety, fuck."
So I quoted the column, adding my own comments.
"At match points, when Hillary fights like a cornered raccoon, Obama retreats into law professor mode. The elitism that Americans dislike is not about family money or connections — J.F.K. and W. never would have been elected without them. In the screwball movie genre that started during the last Depression, there was a great tradition of the millionaire who was cool enough to relate to the common man — like Cary Grant’s C.K. Dexter Haven in 'The Philadelphia Story.'

What turns off voters is the detached egghead quality that they tend to equate with a wimpiness, wordiness and a lack of action — the same quality that got the professorial and superior Adlai Stevenson mocked by critics as Adelaide. The new attack line for Obama rivals is that he’s gone from J.F.K. to Dukakis. (Just as Dukakis chatted about Belgian endive, Obama chatted about Whole Foods arugula in Iowa.)"
She just about hit the nail on the head. I suppose you could mock her for saying the obvious but obviously it's not obvious to a lot of people. If the democrats can't lead then they don't deserve to. And intellectuals who don't understand leadership and blame the vulgarity of the masses for the failures of the country should stay out of politics, since it obviously doesn't interest them. The best don't lack conviction, they just prefer self-pity.
So I guess you'd prefer this. [both passages are from comments by McGinn on his own post. The site was moved, the original comments stripped] 
I myself see a close link between democracy as a dogma and the idea that everyone's opinion is as good as anyone else's: that is, between equality in respect of voting power and forms of relativism about truth. For if people's opinions do not have equal value, how can we justify giving their votes equal power?
Which is to say that bullshit and democracy are natural partners, born of the need to have an opinion when not in possession of the necessary knowledge.
Frankly I prefer Democracy and Dowd to Philosopher Kings and Colin McGinn. Here's more
I had in mind experts of many different types, not all specialists in a particular field. Following Plato, I envisage people trained in all subjects relevant to politics--history, geography, philosophy, psychology, etc. These would be the "philosopher kings" (though not our narrow sense of "philosophy"). They could have advisors in a specific field, if necessary, but they would be broadly educated. These experts would work with some democraticlly elected leaders to make policy--but not merely in an advisory capacity.
I'm so sick of all you enlightened motherfuckers. You're no less than the mirror of the barbarians you bitch about, and contrary to your rationalizations, no more.
Henry Farrell 'disemvoweled' the comment, adding: "Seth – you are hereby permanently banned from commenting on my posts."

From email
[SE] Well, I hit a nerve.
You fucking idiot.

[HF] I'm sure it would make you feel happier and more important if you did
hit a nerve, but unfortunately it's not so.. I've been prepared to
tolerate your self-indulgent, tedious and wholly incoherent vaporings
out of a minimal sense of pluralism, but you've never had anything
substantial or significant to add, and when you start adding personal
abuse, you moved the balance that teensy-weensy bit that was
sufficient. I

Don't bother replying - you're now in my email killfile.
I hit a nerve alright. It's much easier to see irrationality in others if you assume rationality in yourself. Determinism for thee but not for me.

Farrell and McGinn: There's no such thing as an ex-Catholic. Dowd wouldn't argue the point.
continuing on Dowd, a note on a note.
Jumping forward, Farrell his sister, and the church. And here. The origins of Henry's libertarian dreams.
And at some point years later he restored my comments. "[aeiou]" is an artifact of the app. 
Helena Cobban on Khaled Meshaal
And on Tzipi Livni. Funny
Even more humor here:
"The bloggers will receive briefings on Israel's perception of the security situation and will tour the area between Gaza and the West Bank, known as Israel's "narrow waistline," to illustrate the "true meaning of a return to the borders of June 4th 1967."
Henry Farrell has no fucking idea what social democracy is. It's a situation before it's an idea. Farrell's preference for ideas gets it precisely backwards.

An absence of imagination is as dangerous to productive engagement as an excess. Ideologists of technocracy are masters of iron-clad rules and definitions: what doesn't fit does not exist. It's the intellectualism not of observation but of invention. Fucking idiots.
What's the significance of this?

Late yesterday afternoon I was trudging through midtown manhattan in a sweatshirt and black work-coat, mumbling to myself under my headphones, scaring passersby; raging against the world. Half an hour later having been dragged by an old acquaintance I'd just yelled at, I was sitting in the back room of a international art brokerage –in a Frank Gehry Hockey chair -"Hat Trick" (armless)– sipping a glass of single malt scotch handed me by the former director of a major American museum, debating the marketing of the archive of an important figure in the history of conceptual art. There were three of us in the room. Our host was strumming a guitar.

When repackaging old ephemera for sale and display, do you update –are you updating– the things themselves? Should they now read "1970/2009"? Does that make them more or less valuable? How do you create a market where none existed? How best create desire? Desire for what? The client is balking; is he right? The client can afford a small third world country and you need to pay the rent. How is the art best served? How the artist?

I'm going to end my life in one of two places: a townhouse or an SRO.
This is insanity.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The proposal that is sure to attract the most attention, and possibly objections, is one to impose the $8 fee on car drivers, and $21 for truck operators, to drive in Manhattan south of 86th Street.
For all the discussion of it before and after it failed no one seems to have commented on the fact that it was a regressive tax. Private vehicles in Manhattan are a luxury, delivery vans driven by small businesses a necessity. A tax only on private vehicles and limousines might well have passed.

Under the heading "Standing with Israel against terrorism," Clinton's official policy paper, released last September and currently touted on her campaign website, states, "Hillary Clinton believes that Israel's right to exist in safety as a Jewish state, with defensible borders and an undivided Jerusalem as its capital, secure from violence and terrorism, must never be questioned." With the phrase "an undivided Jerusalem as its capital," Clinton seems to take a hardline position on a deeply contested facet of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and a position like this should have garnered at least passing interest from the mainstream media. So how come nobody's paying attention?"

I had some comments on this post but I removed them. Here's the same author, Patrick Deneen, on Stanley Fish.
Stanley Fish is nearly always half-right about things. Reading this essay, I found myself in agreement with his argument against the high-Enlightenment belief that reason, logic and science were the means to a final and authoritative knowledge of the world. Much political mischief has resulted from this belief that reason and logic could be relied upon to design political societies - starting with the guillotines and likely not ending with the Gulags.
Actually it "ends" in neoliberalism. And Deneen's answer is the Catholicism of Augustine, which
represents the "middle way" ...holding that culture, language, history, tradition, law, interpretation, community, discourse, and finally, politics is the medium of human knowing - but holding simultaneously that there is something to be known. We "see through a glass darkly," but there is something to be seen, even if we can't be positive of its precise outlines and exact dimensions. Mediation is the means to truth and knowledge, not its obstacle, on the one hand, or all that there is, on the other. It is, finally, a sacramental vision, holding that through earthly and corporeal media we gain an access - if indirectly and still imperfectly - of the Divine.
There is no divine, and there is no need for one. A government founded on texts and textualism is better than one founded on logical mechanisms which create nothing but imperatives, straightjacketing the imagination. As always: the rule of law protects us from the rule of [someone's] reason. And democracy protects us from the rule of priests.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

In response to Brian Leiter.
Yoo is a legal professional with responsibilities in the public sphere beyond the groves of academe. A professor of structural engineering cannot lose tenure after a bridge collapse but he can lose his right to design bridges, at which point he can be fired. A lawyer like an engineer or a doctor is often not only a scholar, but a licensed practitioner. He can lose his license
Leiter wants the benefits of "technical" professionalism but not the risks.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A good discussion of recent events in Iraq here, in the post and the comments.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Henry Siegman reviews The Accidental Empire by Gershom Gorenberg and Lords of the Land by Idith Zertal.

Grab more hills, expand the territory
The title of Gershom Gorenberg’s book is somewhat misleading in its suggestion that the establishment of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza was ‘accidental’. While Gorenberg, an American-born Israeli journalist, notes that no Israeli government ever made a formal decision about the future of the West Bank, his account of the first decade of Israel’s occupation leaves no doubt that the settlements were deliberately founded, and were intended to create a permanent Israeli presence in as much of the Occupied Territories as possible (indeed, the hope was for them to cover all of the Occupied Territories, if the international community would allow it). No Israeli government has ever supported the establishment of a Palestinian state east of the 1949 armistice line that constituted the pre-1967 border. At the very least, the settlements were designed to make a return to that border impossible.

It is clear from Gorenberg’s account, and from Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar’s comprehensive survey of the settlement project, Lords of the Land, that the issue dividing Israeli governments has not been the presence of settlements in the West Bank. Shimon Peres of the Labour Party played a key role in launching the settlement enterprise. Their differences have been over what to do with the Palestinians whose lands were being confiscated.

...The most influential supporter of a vigorous settlement policy was Yigal Allon, the legendary commander of Israel’s Palmach, an elite force established before the founding of the state. ‘A peace treaty,’ he said at a government meeting on 19 June 1967, ‘is the weakest guarantee of the future of peace and the future of defence.’ Zertal and Eldar report that he warned against returning even a single inch of the West Bank, and told the cabinet that if he had to choose between ‘the wholeness of the land with all the Arab population or giving up the West Bank, I am in favour of the wholeness of the land with all the Arabs.’ Allon’s views, which shaped the strategic thinking of Israel’s political and security elites for decades, were deeply influenced by his mentor Yitzhak Tabenkin, one of the founders of the Yishuv. Tabenkin believed that partition was a temporary state of affairs and that the ‘wholeness’ of the land would eventually be achieved, whether peacefully or through war.
I've pointed this out before, but I'll do it again: Yigal Allon
Gorenberg has written at TPM.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Product Description
"McGinn's latest brings together moral philosophy and literary analysis in a way that illuminates both. Setting out to enrich the domain of moral reflection by showing the value of literary texts as sources of moral illumination, McGinn starts by setting out an uncompromisingly realist ethical theory, arguing that morality is an area of objective truth and genuine knowledge[!!]
So I took a not so wild guess and lo and behold...
He's a fucking Catholic. What would I expect from the author of The Mysterious Flame? He might as well be discussing the Trinity. The experience of consciousness is irreducible, you idiot, not the mechanics.

The Enlightenment didn't give us a legacy of atheism it gave as a return to certainty more ideological and inflexible than that of the Church, replacing a textual God with the logical machine. God is a story and stories are subject to interpretations and reinterpretations. It's the interpretations that define us, the stories are only the means; and though some want those stories to have foundations, others don't care. For the latter the thought that constant self-definition and redefinition is all there is outside of eating, sex and death, is a truism. But that simple assumption, the ancient legacy of village atheists, horrifies religious intellectuals.
McGinn replaces the ambiguities of experience, of the theater of man and man-made laws with Mystery. Priests are one thing and mostly harmless, theologians are another: they're philosophers.
What a lying jackass.

I am struck by this passage from Tocqueville: "I have previously stated that the principle of the sovereignty of the people hovers over the whole political system of the Anglo-Americans. Every page of this book will reflect certain fresh instances of this doctrine. In nations were it exists, every individual takes an equal share in sovereign power and participates equally in the government of the state. Thus he is considered as enlightened, virtuous, strong as any of his fellow men." Toqueville's point is that democracy presupposes that each person is as competent and virtuous as any other. But of course this is false: people differ widely in intelligence and virtue. Note that he says "considered" not "really". So democracy rests on a lie. How, then, to defend democracy? Well, if truth, reason, virtue, etc are not objective qualities that people exemplify to varying degrees, but are rather relative to each person, we have a way out: everyone is as smart and good as anyone else to himself. Then democracy rests on no lie, since everyone really is cognitively and morally equal. Relativism steps in to save democracy from its noble lie. Thus relativism finds a foothold. But relativism is rubbish; so where does that leave democracy?
The question is whether absolutism can be defended without relying on theology.

The rules of civil society are no more absolute or universal than the rules of tennis. Democracy is a system of rules and more than that (though most students of political liberalism don't get the point) of multiple reciprocal and conflicting obligations. The law of non-contradiction does not apply to lived experience. So to choose "truth" over rules is to be a lawbreaker, while to choose "truth" over obligations is to be an eccentric. Like Shakespeare, I'm more interested in games and plays than truth. Like Shakespeare apparently, I'm an atheist. But then maybe plays are a form of truth. Maybe the game, and the description of the game, is the thing. And who is a better describer of humanity than Shakespeare? The search for facts is called the search for truth, but is driven mostly by a theology of mystery: the mystery of unknown facts (of mountains not yet climbed.)

Science is asocial and amoral, and it needs to be. I'm not a defender of Lysenkoism but knowledge is not wisdom. History is the interpretation of the past in light of the values of the present. Without historical knowledge there would be no way to discover the "truth" of the relation of McGinn's philosophy to his Catholic upbringing. As it is McGinn supplies no argument for the moral superiority of civility over barbarism that does not come down to faith. He's a factmonger as metaphysician.

The experience of consciousness is irreducible as experience. Science explains sense/experience but cannot be it; sense/experience can not be science. The mechanics of illusion is not illusion. If sense/ experience is epiphenomenal, that's a problem, but not one to solve.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Brian Leiter sends us here.
A conversation between a Jewish psychologist (nativist a la Chomsky) and an autistic professor of philosophy ["philosopher"]. The twin poles of modern rationalism trying to come to terms with religion and morality. So stupid. If you have no knowledge of the emotional and narrative ways in which people communicate with and seduce one another, you have no reason to even consider the questions.

Religion is storytelling. We live by stories and our faith in stories. "I love you" "Trust me" "I'll be right back." "Christ died for your sins".

I'd forgotten I wrote about this so long ago.

I've said this before too: Chomsky is on record saying he sees no connection between his political and academic interests, but that's bullshit. His naive faith in the human capacity for reason and his sense not only of our superiority but of our otherness within the animal kingdom are both rooted in Talmudic lore. It's the political naivete that drives men like DeLong nuts. But DeLong can't quite cop to the conservative tragic realism that fosters his contempt for Chomsky, in the same sense that he can't reconcile that realism with his public persona as optimistic futurist and liberal technocrat. All so obvious, and all so stupid.
A reader at TPM explains the rule of law.
This is genuinely chilling. What shocks the conscience is that a legal scholar from one of our most prestigious institutions of law and higher learning could in his own mind on behalf of a government seeking to find a way around legal obstacles offer the same banal rationale for perpetrating unspeakable acts of torture and cruel treatment as all other totalitarian regimes: The ends justify the means. Why? Because someone cloaked with authority says it does.
All humans self-justify. This is our nature. Our nation was founded as one of laws rather than men for the very reason of establishing limits on the worst excesses of human imagination, lust for power, and the capacity to self-justify. Perhaps such a sociopathic mindset fails to rise to the standard Yoo offers for criminal prosecution of torture only when “inspired by malice or sadism,” but this distinction is a matter of degree rather than kind and an incredibly fragile thread on which to hang our national humanity and reputation, to say nothing of the destroyed lives and sufferings of the victims.

What also shocks the conscience is that we have reached such a profound state of exhaustion or indifference to such shocking revelations that disclosure of the Yoo document is unlikely to cause much of a ripple in the news cycle.
The rule of law is not the rule of reason, or of "experts."