Saturday, June 14, 2008

Is Plato taught as one of the progenitors of fascism or as a “philosopher?” Is Julius Caesar taught as being a tyrant, and basically a scumbag, or merely the first Emperor of Rome?

Is the past taught as the present? Should it be? Is it possible to teach it any other way?

Read those three questions carefully.

L Pitkin #231 points to Smaug [#195]:
Smaug: “How would Adam Smith’s preferred ordering of the economy compared with Karl Marx’s affect social equality?” is an academic exercise. Asking, “Because of its effect on social equality, is Marx’s or Smith’s preferred ordering of the economy right?” is a political question.”

That’s nicely put. Disinterested description is preferable in the interest of clarity, but it’s amoral. It’s also impossible to achieve.
At #258 on this page I linked to my mention on another post of Derrick Bell’s discussion of Brown vs Board of Education. He argues that segregation should have been allowed but equality enforced. He argues this with cool reason founded on fact. He’s not a self-righteous white man trying to feel good about himself. He doesn’t begin as so many liberals do with the assumption that intentions are valuable in themselves. (I think of Brad DeLong turning purple with rage at the thought of his liberal technocratic justice being questioned.)

Players don’t have the best view have the chessboard. I make my sharpest observations when I force myself to think as if I don’t really care about the outcome of a particular debate, one way or the other. Sometimes it’s easy; but then I go on just to practice my debating skills. As a parallel to the academic preference for an ideal of engaged disinterest, it’s good to remember though few people here do that our justice system is maintained by advocates and factotums for hire.
The rule of reason is the rule of good intentions. Fish is being a pompous ass and playing a political game, but the question that stands at the title to this post is the question that divides Moses and Aron. It’s standard stuff.
What’s vexing is that the answer is “yes.”

Argument is a game and you can’t assume what side you’re on. Liberals assume while claiming not to. Conservatives are chained to their assumptions and proud of it. But contrary to Liberals continued attempt to engage them, it’s not the assumptions that they celebrate it’s the chain. There is a logic to this that needs to be examined. Indeed it has been, but not by liberals.

Try not to assume. Try not to have faith, in others or yourself. That last one is really hard for liberals. If the Palestinians had a nigger Jesus like King or Mandela liberals would be more than happy to celebrate their recognition of him and bask in self-satisfied glory. But all the Palestinians had was Arafat, and that and memories of WWII meant that “reason” was against them.
Try not to have faith. Pace the New atheists, you’ll never succeed, but living “the examined life” it’s your job to try.

Here’s an old old lecture. I heard it first in about 1968:
Creative writing classes have no place in the university. And the same for courses on contemporary fiction. Business schools are trade schools and there’s no reason for them to be accredited as anything else.
Live life in the present, study the past. Without distance there’s no chance for anything approaching clarity. The objective and scientific study of the present is no more than the celebration of yourself dressed up in a labcoat. You’ll always end up lying to yourself.

So here I am 40 years later debating with academics who want to change the world by writing books. When Fish is saying if you want to go out and change the world do it. If you want to talk about ideas then do it. But don’t think that replaces anything else. I want to talk to you about living under an authoritarian government in Singapore, and you won’t do it. You probably can’t. But you want to bring politics into the academy because you can’t bring it out on the street. Fish is giving you a dare.

Do you know when I started to become an asshole? It started the first time I was lectured by academic snobs who called themselves leftists and accused me of being both under-intellectualized and reactionary, while they had the publications and the references to prove it. Publications full of dogmatic rereadings of sophisticated and ironic europeans, retooled as roadmaps to careers in the academy. And here I was, a carpenter and construction worker and the son of academics who read Chaucer and Henry James, for pleasure, and who risked arrest and having their 3 children taken away and put in foster homes, in the defense of what they believed.
My qualified defense of Fish is due to the fact that he amuses me. My unqualified contempt for you is due to the fact that you deserve it
I don't give as damn if Holbo is happy in Singapore. That's not the point.

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