Friday, April 30, 2010

why bother? Bertram is such an idiot.

"The idea that incentives should be switched in favour of work with a policy payoff seems really really misguided in a world where that is already happening to the nth degree. (See, e.g. the “impact” criterion in British funding decisions in the humanities.)"

By this logic political philosophy should be under no obligation to engage actually existing politics, even to the point of describing it, because visions of utopia, unachievable by definition, are necessary in order to urge others on to bettering the world that exits. That's of course the logic of the post as well. So philosophy remains with the arts and humanities. But how much have the humanities outside of philosophy ever centered on the ideal? They spend most of their time on cases.

The sciences can be said to describe the external world, the arts and humanities can be said to describe our experience of the world, but philosophy is basically theological: it claims a rational superiority to the other humanities because its focus is not on the world we experience but an unreachable but somehow existent 'truth'.

The opposing argument is that it's more important for people to understand the weight of a dilemma than to fantasize perfect solutions. That fantasists don't like contradictions makes them less able to face them, not more. Does inventing fantasy worlds where prudence is unnecessary help us to understand the world where it is? There's no such thing as Heaven. The defense of atheism is that we like to put order to things and we debate how we should do it. That's enough.

Literature engages the ambiguities of the world without having direct "impact." Philosophy wants to claim the weight of science and still think of itself as above mere practicality. It wants to have the best of both worlds and ends up as the worst of them.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Chris Marker is a lech

"Have you calmed down?"

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Another repeat, from 10 months ago. It's as true now as it was then, and it continues the same obvious point concerning "the irrationalism of others"

For me these photographs mark the difference between Iran and the occupation, between a community divided against itself and one subjugating another. That's a distinction that's lost on most Americans...

And to add to that the obvious fact, notwithstanding the sense of horrible intimacy watching the death of Neda Soltan: the level of violence in Iran bears no comparison.

All obvious if you pay more attention to the facts than to ideas. But we always begin with ideas, as preconceptions. So how do we counter preconceptions? By following how ideas change. By paying attention to patterns in history.
Follow the bouncing ball.

Following "ideas' alone, this:

becomes [fantasized as] this:

which = rule following and passivity.

But history [historical change] presents as this:

Which is commonly recognized if unacknowledged as this:

And as I said the last time I posted this the model of the arts is historically the model of the humanities, which replicated on a larger scale is the model of democracy.

It's simple. Too simple for American academics or the American press to understand: if technocracy is the rule of experts, democracy is the rule of amateurs.

It's a fact that we will always need others to point out how irrational we are or can be or have become. Most if not all of the works that will be remembered from our time will be recognized as trying to come to terms with, or struggling to avoid, the fact that our grandchildren will condescend to us in ways that we can not imagine (but which will have nothing to do with technological advancement).

Modernism was always a dream either of immortality or timelessness. The best works described the dreamer and the dream, not a new reality. The worst were, literally, crimes. The only future for modernism was failure, and those who defend that dream now are no more than fantasists of preadolescence. To understand just how slowly our changing consciousness has begun to assimilate the unchanging facts of Palestinian experience in the 20th century is to understand that we are an exception to nothing, that objectivity does not exist, that we are fundamentally irrational and that the struggle for rationality is only possible collectively: a collectivity of the present, of the past before we were born and of the future when we're gone. A mature politics begins with an acceptance of the necessity of others and the inevitability of death.
Summer repeats:
"Thinking to the rule is both the founding principle and mirror image of teaching to the test. The weaknesses commonly acknowledged in the latter are all there in the former: unacknowledged.

In order to communicate subtlety you have to be able to perceive it. But to communicate subtlety you need to use your own words: your own forms. But using your own forms risks transforming communication into a game of Telephone, since every speaker rewrites the last. And if you don't use your own forms then the we get the above.
The choice is between flawed communicative representation and perfectly ordered form representing only itself. Geekdom is the paradigm of academic intellectual life. The author of that graphic was a Mil-geek.

Repeating from the last post, which repeats what I've said before (I've said this all before): "All communication involves corruption. but there are two basic kinds of corruption and one is more noble than the other. The first revolves around friendships based on common interests and ideas. Friends support each other because they agree, and that agreement is active and engaged. The second is based on friendship alone the ideas are secondary. You support the ideas because they’re held by your friends. That agreement is disengaged and passive."

Geekdom, scholasticism, baroque rationalism and specialization, are all fundamentally passive. Thinking to the rule is both the founding principle and mirror image of teaching to the test.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Angry Aristocrat fumbles.
He's a modernist, defensive about the backwardness of the Middle East; but as a defender of the same simple dualism as the idiot cartoonist his response is muddled.

Let's see a white comic in Georgia try to do Richard Pryor's old routines, with every sentence including the word "nigger" at least once. Let's see a Turkish newspaper publish a mocking caricature of the head of the Armenian church. And then there's Israel.

I'm not going to defend threats that result from stupidity but I won't defend stupidity. Free speech is a rule and rules only function within structures founded in trust. Rules on their own don't mean shit. This is something liberals have never understood.

It's a hallmark of American culture that the anger of the poor becomes the arrogance and self-indulgence of the middle class.
note taking comments elsewhere. Nothing new but it adds to something in the previous post (though written before it)
All communication involves corruption. but there are two basic kinds of corruption and one is more noble than the other. The first revolves around friendships based on common interests and ideas. Friends support each other because they agree, and that agreement is active and engaged. The second is based on friendship alone the ideas are secondary. You support the ideas because they’re held by your friends. That agreement is disengaged and passive.
What’s the difference between ideas and prejudices? That one will always involves judgment, which is why my suggestion for a timeline not of influences but simple facts.*

But as an old girlfriend of mine told me (and she’s always being courted by top tier programs) all collegiality in her field is quid pro quo and that’s not a good sign.

The more people are interested in status the less they’re interested either in people as such or in the work of observation. And in a culture of technical mastery, which is a form of rationalism, observation is slighted, and you end up with the academic ghetto of scholasticism: a discussion that describes only itself.
At any given time people will find things to like and talk about, and critics in minor periods will use the same words of praise as those in major ones. Rachmaninoff and Schoenberg were both once praised like Mozart, though their opposition to one another is only as varieties of the same decadence. Art objects now are no more than objets d'art, while the heart of the culture, the home of our most important representations of ourselves, is in narrative, and the important visual culture is film, or 'filmic'. Public discussion of art as such as of 'philosophy' hinges largely on gossip, but fights still rage. As I commented to a friend about the burgeoning scene on the lower east side: "it's not art, it's retail."

* In an earlier discussion of timelines for intellectual kinship in anthropology. I suggested keeping to who taught whom not influence, thus fostering debate rather than merely instigating it.
For the last few years every time I've read liberals pontificating on the irrationalism of others I've thought of Steven Weinberg and Tyler Cowen, Colin McGinn and G.A. Cohen, etc.

But I've also thought of this

and more recently, and also found through CT, this
Books that Have Influenced Me the Most
1. The Phantom Tollbooth
2. Dune
3. The Dark Knight Returns and The Watchmen
4. A Brief History of Time
5. Atlas Shrugged
6 The Bell Curve
7. Nicomachean Ethics
8. Law Legislation and Liberty
9. Tractatus Logic0-Philosophicus
10. Universals: An Opinionated Introduction
11. In Praise of Commercial Culture [Tyler Cowen linked above]
12. Morals by Agreement
13. A Theory of Justice.
Duncan Black is all for boycotting Arizona, but liberals agree: the Arab citizens of Israel should leave.
Both publics are tired of the conflict; a majority on both sides want peace. Though for the Palestinians peace translates first of all as an end of the occupation and not having to see Israeli soldiers or settlers; while for Israelis, peace translates as security and quiet, an improved quality of life and preferably without seeing Palestinians.
Half the population of those under the authority of the Israel government are not Jewish, and most of them are not Israeli citizens. Zionism being racist in theory and in fact, liberal Zionism is an oxymoron. But still we have discussions among liberal defenders of Israel of the irrationalty of others.

Of course Cohen, Sanchez, and Wilkinson are liberals: they share a liberal fantasy of their own agency; all they would debate is the agency of others. The absurdity of Sanchez' posing and Wilkinson's, in his own "author's portrait" remind me of my comments years ago on Yglesias' adolescent inability to tell the difference between thoughtful arrogance and arrogant thoughtfulness. First comes the air of seriousness.
This is all so easy and so obvious it's just boring. Disgust is almost beyond me at this point.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Postscript as introduction, adding to the post before the last one.
It's not possible to be articulate in an open language, in fact an 'open' language is a contradiction in terms. Languages are formal and form is limitation; art is predicated on limits not on freedom.

Camerawork in film and video as opposed to still photography is technical complexity but easy beauty, which is why directors use "camera-men" as a means of keeping distance. Directors direct. They stand as referees between romantics with cameras and those who like the knife.
Dean Baker
The folks who got it wrong when the housing bubble was growing seem determined to prove to the world that they are incapable of learning anything. The latest tales of Goldman designing CDOs are fascinating in that they reveal the incredible level of corruption at Goldman and on Wall Street more generally, but it was not the CDOs that gave us 10 percent unemployment.

Unemployment soared because demand collapsed. And the reason that demand collapsed is because housing bubble wealth disappeared. And housing bubble wealth disappeared -- well, because it was a bubble that was not supported by the fundamentals.

For the 87,865th time, the collapse of the bubble led to a falloff in annual construction (residential and non-residential) spending of more than $600 billion. The loss of $6 trillion in housing wealth led, through the housing wealth effect (this isn't radical -- it is as old an economics doctrine as you'll find) to a loss of close to $400 billion in consumption demand. That gives a combined loss in demand of more than $1 trillion and hence a really bad recession.
More people are taking more lousy photographs, just as more people are writing vanity pages for their inarticulate acts of self-expression. The same small percentage are doing something interesting, but it's a percentage of a larger number, and that leads to other changes.

Photography is changing. Dodging and burning with the wave of a scrap of paper if you're good at it is a form of handcraft. Digital photography is less precise than traditional photography, as photography is less precise than drawing; an electronic keyboard is less precise than a piano, as a piano is less precise than the act of bowing a violin. But fiddle players are compared to singers while pianists are conductors. Every form has its strengths and limitations.

The most important visual art in the digital age is narrative. Film, now video, is a series of imprecise images strung together. But just as 200 pages of prose can leave as powerful an impression as a stanza of poetry, a movie can be as powerful as a photograph, if not more so.

Walking into the AIPAD show a few years ago I saw a well dressed man talking excitedly to a friend as they came through the entrance. "Remember, it's not the image... It's the material!" That's the best description I've heard of how to look at a photographic print.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

notetaking. my comments (from the links in the previous post)
Remix Culture:
“That entire comment destroys itself with the slightest examination. What you are basically saying is that it is better when something comes from nothing”

No. My point was that in art as in culture you have to become independent of your references.
If the choice is to kill your daddy or be killed by him, you better be strong enough to do the latter. [That's the lesson of] Kafka’s “Go jump in a lake.” An adult needs to define his or her own reality. A classical violinist is going lose out if he ends up playing as in imitation of his teacher. That’s not the same as refusing to acknowledge that he had one.

The criticism of Gansta Rap and other forms of rhetoric that indulge violence is that they reinforce it. The culture of permanent revolution denies not just present normative relations but the desire for normative relations of any sort. That’s the problem of vanguardism and the tragedy of Modernism.

Oneman: “In response to seth edenbaum, I would say that, as anthropologists, it really isn’t our job to focus on what we think is “interesting” but on what people actually do. The crap as well as the highest brilliance are both necessary sources for an adequate picture of culture.”

That’s the equivalent of saying that the writings of Clifford Geertz are no more or less worthy of study (by someone interested in systems) than the papers of a timemaking schlub struggling to make tenure in a 3rd tier school. The other way I’d put it is to say that studying the cultural life of 16 c. Florence without reference to its brightest lights is like studying the 20th century intellectual life by reading nothing but unpublished Ph.D manuscripts.

Another problem is that it’s refusing to reflect on yourself as a product and producer of your own culture/system, of imagining yourself and your perspective as universal or frameless. That logic has its uses but they are very limited both intellectually and morally. As I said elsewhere: we are observers observing and being observed. Intellectual reciprocity is the highest form of intellectual life, and that does not apply only to reciprocity among members of the same tribe academic or otherwise.
Oneman/Dustin: “that’s a taste issue”
But I’m not interested in tastes other than to acknowledge I have them. And for Geertz substitute Boas or any other figure in your field.

I’m more interested in Michelangelo than I am in a minor 18th c. sculptor for the same reason I’m more interested in Aristotle than in a 13th c. scholastic. You can’t isolate taste for the purpose of ignoring it. It colors everything, including your writing style as a younger generation American academic in the early 21st century. Read your writing here for the analysis of style and give it historical context, or even synchronically in relation to various other forms of writing or behavior in our culture at this moment in time. You exhibit a sensibility in writing no less than Geertz or Proust or me or anyone else and that can be related to the history of articulated form. Levi-Strauss was paradigmatically French and that sensibility is foundational to his work. I know that “that sensibility” sounds too singular since all culture is remix, but he certainly wasn’t “German”. LS wrote from an esthetic and and ethic. He wrote being aware that to write about anything (to communicate at all) is to write from culture. You can’t write as if you have no tastes or as if they don’t affect your intellectual activity. You can’t separate your intellect and your imagination.
People who refer to art as subjective would never say the same thing about justice. And yet we argue of justice [without being able to define it] without denying its importance.
My point concerned the difference between making use of references to build something independent and being subsumed by it. It isn’t a compliment even now to call someone’s work derivative. Mozart’s symphonies are not called “derivative” of Haydn’s but you wouldn’t have one without the other.
I have a short memory, this came up elsewhere recently. The word I’m looking for is pastiche. Slavishly following one source or many, there’s not much of a difference.
In a culture where people sign their names to their works, those works that are called “scholarship” and those that are called “craftsmanship” should be treated in ways that overlap, rather than as entirely separate mutually exclusive categories.

From the post on Simon Sinek:
[Grant McCracken] thinks advertising is art because he thinks art is content not form, and text not subtext.
If he were a constitutional lawyer he would be follower of the most absolute form of originalism. If he were religious he’d be a fundamentalist. He’s a fundamentalist about language. Again: we do not look at Giotto because he was so good at branding. I’m not a catholic or christian or religious. What’s left to us by Giotto is not what he thought but how he thought. The structures of thought not the “content.” I listened to the ideas of Simon Sinek and I observed the forms he used, physical and verbal rhetoric etc. I engaged with text and subtext (as I sensed it) I wasn’t too impressed with either but not offended either. We do not have that immediate access to something written or made 500 years ago. That’s what the originalists of all sorts can’t accept. But there’s also no valid argument for originalism even in the present. My mind and my emotions are not anyone else’s and I communicate only through being articulate in mediating form. That’s a craftsperson’s skill.

If I say “I love you” to a woman in a plaintive whine, the odds are she’d think or maybe even say “No, you don’t.”
If I say “I love you” like a sleazebag she’ll say “Go jerk off!”
If I say I love you” in another way that I’m not going to try to describe she might say “Maybe you do.”

The content of those three phrases is identical, the meanings are not. Conceptualists and ideologists of the present tense do not deal with that fact. My experience of infomercials and motivational speakers colors my response to the videos of Simon Sinek. So does my experience in bars and cafes and my half-assed knowledge of American history. It frustrates me no end that I searched the index of Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman and he had no mention of literature or law; with the craft of seduction which is central to both.

We live in intimate relation with the world. We respond is subtle ways and to things we’re not even aware of. Those relations dominate our lives; but official intellectual life in this country pretends otherwise and as a result is more and more unable to model the world we live in with any complexity or depth. Multi-lingual club kids in Miami and Queens are more international than anyone at Harvard and in that respect more intellectually advanced.

The academic commercial culture of MIT gives us Grand Theft Auto; the dissonance just in that is mindbending, Grand Theft Auto is a symptom of our time, it’s disposable. The non academic equally commercial world that gives us the Sopranos, and crime as real narrative with all the descriptive power that time allows-in multiple perspectives and contradiction[!] gives us not symptom and instant relic but complex record.
Which is more valid as a product of the intellectual imagination?

Culture is what you can’t choose
[The author is unwilling/unable to describe his professional activities, as opposed to his religion, as functions as culture. My response as always is to describe intellectual models that are self-described as aspects of culture]

“…we should also remember truly vibrant creativity has deeper wellsprings in commitments which are unchosen”

“…the five thousandth traditional instrument sampled in the name of World Music”

Regarding the first quote: It helps to be aware of the ways in which our own sensibilities are already unchosen. Then choosing to cultivate them is a means to understanding and using them. Acknowledging a frame helps to focus and engage, without closing off the outside. A writer who focuses on writing well in English is not going to think of himself as being in opposition to one who writes well in Japanese even though they would never want to change languages.

Regarding the second: Those who enthuse about the ‘idea’ of diversity are not the same as those who live it. Generalized and vague (intellectually and musically) “World Music” is ubiquitous on the what the first commenter above calls the monocultural upper west side. The hybrid cultures of Queens are culturally very specific. The people who inhabit it develop a connoisseurs pleasure in their experience. The UWS sensibility- less experiential- is voyeuristic by comparison.

There’s also a very important difference between a culture that values individualist invention and one that values fluency. People who spend all their time inventing new musical instruments rarely take the time to learn how to play them well. This all ties into my recent rantings on this site about MIT sponsored theories of cultural production as invention vs the role played in our culture of the actually existing arts, whether the Sopranos or Philip Roth. Roth being my standard example in this context of someone who who assumes that culture is always something you can’t choose, for better, worse, or both, and that art is first engaged observation and then description. Invention is last on the list.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

[writing is rough. I'll fix it later]
Academics don't understand culture. Scholars want to be scientists and they aren't, so they pretend. Or they become scientists in which case they're no longer scholars.

When the productions of human beings become de-humanized in analysis then the human beings observed through their production become dehumanized. This is necessary for some purposes but it's generalized into a universal intellectual model. The easy way to try to resolve the moral problems that accrue to this, now that they're acknowledged to exist [cf. "the other"], is to dehumanize the observer as well. That's the moral defense of the fantasy of autism as mechanical, of the mechanical as neutral, and of neutral as objective. But even ignoring the problem of overcoming the ego and self-interest [also ignored: the conflict between objectivity and self-interest in those who seem to celebrate both], a machine only does what it's programmed to do, so in the end the dehumanized observer even if it were a possibility is not objective but only programmed [with a programmed perspective] and without affect, exhibiting moral neutrality or at least s sort of intellectual and moral numbness.

One of the commenters on the most recent post below linked to this. It surprised me, but it shouldn't have. The culture of the techno-sublime is just another aspect of a determinate process; and now it's reached divinity school by way of business school. As predictable as plant life. You'd think anthropologists would want to study it more than indulge.

"in a culture where people sign their names to their works, those works that are called 'scholarship' and those that are called 'craftsmanship' should be treated in ways that overlap, rather than as entirely separate mutually exclusive categories."

In reverse order:
Culture is what you can’t choose
Remix Culture
Simon Sinek

Friday, April 16, 2010

Leiter, whose high church scholasticism is as much a symptom of the Weimarization of culture as Glenn Beck, links to Chomsky on the risk of fascism in the US. Of the two, Leiter and Beck, who has more contempt for the American people?
And when will Chomsky reconcile his contempt for empiricism as a philosophy with his habitual indulgence in is as a journalist?

Extremes of contradiction unrecognized. Perversity.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Continuing from the last:
Helen Thomas:, " you know of any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons?"
Obama: "I don't want to speculate..."
The only reason to give a fuck about Iran getting nukes is that its neighbors will want to compete. Israel has nukes and has threatened to use them, that and its policies make it a far bigger threat; but the instability of Pakistan abetted by Saudi money and American stupidity make it the biggest threat to peace on the planet.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Getty Images
Pakistan yesterday came under increased pressure over its nuclear arsenal when a Harvard study warned of "a very real possibility" that its warheads could be stolen by terrorists.
Obama looks nervous. The US is supporting Indian nuclear advancement and just a few weeks ago refused to consider a similar deal with Pakistan. Neither deserve support and picking sides is stupid.
Critics call the terms of the agreement overly beneficial for India and lacking sufficient safeguards to prevent New Delhi from continuing to produce nuclear weapons. "We are going to be sending, or allowing others to send, fresh fuel to India-including yellowcake and lightly enriched uraniumt-that will free up Indian domestic sources of fuel to be solely dedicated to making many more bombs than they would otherwise have been able to make," says Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving awareness of proliferation issues. While India has pledged that any U.S. assistance to its civilian nuclear energy program will not benefit its nuclear weapons program, experts say India could use the imported nuclear fuel to feed its civilian energy program while diverting its own nuclear fuel to weapons production. New Delhi has done similar things in the past; India claimed it was using nuclear technology for civilian purposes right up until its first nuclear weapons test in 1974. A Congressional Research Service report (PDF) on the agreement states, "There are no measures in this global partnership to restrain India's nuclear weapons program."
Stupid and dangerous.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Honest whores and smart vulgarians: Norris Church Mailer and Robert Scull.
After the auction, Rauschenberg, who later admitted that he had been drinking, shoved Mr. Scull in the chest and berated him for making so much money off his hard labor.

Not all the artists were angry. When Mr. Johns heard about the results, he and his crew took a break from making lithographs to uncork some Champagne. He knew, as Mr. Scull tried to explain to Rauschenberg, that the high prices would mean higher prices for the works he was making now. Roy Lichtenstein, who had also sold some paintings to Mr. Scull, said of Rauschenberg’s reaction, “What did he want, the work to decrease in value?”
I've run across three reviews of A Ticket to the Circus: Heather Havrilesky in Bookforum; Dwight Garner and Jennifer Senior, both in the Times. They vary in sensibility from post-feminist to vaguely feminist to sexist. Only Senior makes clear how badly Norris Church was sometimes (not always) treated and how weakness and perseverance share a kinship. The difference between the reviews is secondary here but the quote below seemed inappropriate without context.
Norris herself never hesitates to cast aspersions on her own reputation, as when she describes her first encounter with Mailer in 1975: "I patted the seat beside me, and he came and sat down while the other women gave me the evil eye, looking at me as though I was the hussy I was."
All the reviewers agree she comes off well, that she wanted an adventure and she used what she had to get it.
The art critic and historian Irving Sandler once wrote that he liked the Sculls because “they were vulgar, knew it, and didn’t give a damn.” But in a recent interview he added that Robert “was one of the only people at the time who understood this art.”

“It’s a major collection,” he said.
Usually I have a problem with Irving Sandler but not here.

In a recent thread at CT someone posted this exchange:
Churchill: “Madam, would you sleep with me for five
million pounds?"
Socialite: “My goodness, Mr. Churchill... Well, I suppose... we would have to discuss terms, of course...”
Churchill: “Would you sleep with me for five pounds?"
Socialite: “Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?!”
Churchill: “Madam, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.”
This is considered to be a victory for Churchill -and by a man- but it's not. Virtue obviously isn't the woman's chief concern, and it makes no sense she'd be offended by the accusation that she lacked it.
She was asking if he thought she were stupid.


Friday, April 09, 2010

His cancer was intolerable, so M. Henrion, of Châtillon-Laborde, Seine-et-Marne, cut his throat with a knife and a razor.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

"A short time later a van arrives to pick up the wounded and the pilots open fire on it, wounding two children inside. “Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle,” one pilot says."

Rules of engagement.
The argument's now over whether this was a "righteous kill" but focusing on one event is counterproductive, especially since events like this happened in every war liberals have ever defended. The fact remains that this is not a righteous war. That's the crime.
And again

The whole fucking mess is stupid. Just a waste.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Note taking: It's the motherfucking Zietgeist [what's old is new again]
Outside of actual mathematical calculation, as distinct from the values that accrue to it, everything you do from the way you dress to the intellectual categories you inherit and adapt, describes the present. Post-war American academic philosophy contextualizes within post-war American culture no more or less than post-war American painting, the New Critics, or the Edsel. MIT’s capitalist culture vultures are the product of their age. And I’m still waiting for someone to describe for me the relation of the techno-formalist optimism of video design geeks with the dystopian narrative of Grand Theft Auto. This reminds me of fights in my youth when I insisted on pointing out the violence underlying Robbe-Grillet and Borges. “But it’s about language!” No it’s not. This has no more to do with pretentious comp-lit grad students than it does spiritualizing hippies. Just ask a trial lawyer, and not one who has the luxury of only taking cases he believes in but who goes for whatever pays the rent. Most lawyers are hack actors and they’re at the center of our culture. They’re storytellers for hire. They’re craftsmen, and the only ones left who are considered intellectually respectable, though in truth it’s only law professors who are taken seriously because they’re engaged in the reasoned conversation of the ivory tower. A lawyer loses patience with law professors. [same as previous post] And there’s no such thing as pure description. You sound just like Orin Kerr. Who sounds like Borges. “One suspects that at least those who spend their time in role-playing games or the business school are acutely aware of spending their lives in performance.” Again this refers to games you have the choice to play. The prime mover of MIT’s games is functionalism: marketing is a priori. It may be for them but what is it doing as part of the academy? Have business schools taken over everything? The imperative of free inquiry is just that. It may include inquiry regarding the church, the state, the market, or the military[!]* but it is not bounded by any of them. Nor should it ever be.
*The context is the discussion of the military's HTS The larger context: The google site search link I removed was to monthly archives. These are to individual posts: 2006 and 2 [a good explanation] 2008 and 2 "Grant McCracken makes DeLong seem like Tiresias." And Henry Farrell is Jacob Burckhardt.

Sunday, April 04, 2010


Update from Greenwald v Kerr
Commenter "Marfrks" @ #287
"Academics, though it sounds odd to say it, don’t take ideas seriously."
What an extraordinarily interesting debate. Thanks to everyone. It seems clear to this reader–who has nothing at stake–that Henry is refusing to see things, while Kerr is smoothly awful (the last line about natural law theory and legal positivism is so absurd that I thought at first it was a joke). I feel a cliched impulse to find something balancing to say about Greenwald, but no impression of him is as strong as those two impressions of the others. My own view of the divide may only reflect that it hits a fault line in my life: the difference between an academic and a non-academic approach to things. I have been a lawyer for many years, and then got a chance to teach at a non-lawyerly academic institution. I loved it; I loved playing in the garden of the mind. Eventually, however, it became clear to me that academics and non-academics have very different approaches to ideas. Academics, though it sounds odd to say it, don’t take ideas seriously. For academics, ideas are games, as Kerr illustrates when he speaks so proudly about how he follows reason wherever it takes him. He seems to find that admirable, whereas I–having now sat through many faculty meetings where the propriety of rules about faculty parking are argued from Platonic first principles–find it both tiresome and puerile. Ideas about the Constitution should not be treated as intellectual exercises only. It is a practical document, with clear principles relating to freedom and the protection of the powerless from the abuses of authority that every government in the history of the world has been tempted to engage in. If someone’s version of reason leads him or her to contemplate the weakening or contravention of those principles, that is not admirable or disciplined or honorable. It is misguided games-playing. It reminds me of all those right wingers who used to talk about the “courageous” decisions to bomb various countries that were made by “serious” people. Academics were playing war games and recommending intellectualized experiments with other people’s lives. That was allowed to happen in part because those people seemed so nice and smooth and academically intriguing. “Don’t be shrill,” we were told, when we pointed out that the war in Iraq was morally wrong. That was lousy advice for the country and for the world. I don’t enjoy being shrill myself, but I’m inclined to think that someone needs to be shrill when intellectuals play games with surveillance, imprisonment, torture and death.
I don't have to agree with his description of the clarity of Constitutional principle to agree with his understanding of the weight of engagement that's required where ideas meet the world.

The next comment
@Marfrks. Let me second seth and move that this thread might as well be closed because imho Marfrks has driven a stake through Henry and Kerr (sorry I can’t — although I deny that I did — mangle a metaphor for you).
My comment of course was removed.

addendum: Orin Kerr in 2007, quoted @ #261
I haven't studied the legal issues surrounding waterboarding closely enough to have an educated opinion about them.
Some would see this response as based on intellectual humility, but pedants aren't humble and they aren't serious, intellectually or morally. Kerr says he approaches issues as a legal positivist, but he's a practitioner of shallow formalism.
He's a Borgesian reactionary.

Farrell begins to understand, finally, @ #450 and then #463
Orin – as Belle suggests in the post I linked, one can create a hypothetical in which the sound utilitarian thing to do is to torture an innocent three year old to death. Does this tell us anything useful about whether it is right or wrong to torture three year olds to death? Are we merely negotiating over the circumstances under which torturing three year olds is OK and not OK, as per the Churchill quote?
Again continuing from a recent post, on the socialism of schoolmen and the authoritarianism of technocrats. [not new but relevant]

G.A Cohen, with comments by Harry Brighouse
It does seem to me that all people of goodwill would welcome the news that it had become possible to proceed otherwise [i.e. in ways that tapped into our nobler, rather than our more selfish, motives] perhaps, for example, because some economists had invented clever ways of harnessing and organizing our capacity for generosity toward others.
The problem, for Cohen, is that we lack such technology. We should not pretend that we have such a technology, but nor should we pretend that the search for it is futile, or that the lack of it means that the organizing principles of our own society are more appealing than they, in fact, are.

So if the master is the machine itself rather than others like ourselves...

As I said elsewhere in a longer discussion if the same points: "Cohen was raised a Stalinist and died a maudlin sentimentalist."
It's not that liberalism is perverse, it's necessary. Liberal idealism is perverse.
Read the post at the last link. It's a good one.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Josh Marshall links to a new discussion of images of a lost Europe.
A Closer Reading of Roman Vishniac

Roman Vishnik, Warsaw (l) and Lodz (r)

I have no difficulty with the fact of his interest, to some degree I share it. But his is used to obscure relations that parallel his own, and I have less and less patience with those who publicly indulge what they belittle in others.
To be unaware is human. To ignore is to be aware and to belittle by indifference.
Palestine Remembered

Glass blowing in Hebron

The Matson Collection

"...less and less patience." Ideally I should never have had any to begin with, but facts become visible in the human imagination only after they're recognized, and fade again when they become less important.
A perfect continuation of the previous post (now a run of three).
I won't get into Greenwald v Kerr, I'll just offer again the old examples where Farrell was unwilling fully to admit to the implications of the writings of someone whose ideas attract him. Remember also that Farrell defends limits on free speech under law (in Germany), thinks tenure is "an institution whose general merits I am somewhat ambiguous about" and has
...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.
The above linked here.

They're a confused bunch: Brighouse's concerns about the "legitimate partiality" in parenting, Bertram's defense of hate speech laws, the ridiculousness of Rawls and G.A. Cohen and then the interest in some sort of intellectually serious libertarianism. They go back and forth between schoolmasterish authoritarianism and individualist barbarism.
The right frame, in my view, is to think of the state as “we, the people” and to ask what conditions need to be in place for the people, and for each citizen, to play their role in effective self-government. Once you look at things like that then various speech restrictions naturally suggest themselves.
I'm a little embarrassed by my first comment, mostly for misspelling 'neatnik'. The anger was mostly hyperbole. Abb1 supplies context. It was at the end after I'd asked not for the first time if anyone was willing to describe the following as what it is that Bertram said that he'd never met Tyler Cowen and banned me from the site.
An Economist Visits New Orleans
Instead, the city should help create cheap housing by reducing legal restrictions on building quality, building safety, and required insurance. This means the Ninth Ward need not remain empty. Once the current ruined structures are razed, governmental authorities should make it possible for entrepreneurs to put up less-expensive buildings. Many of these will be serviceable, but not all will be pretty. We could call them structures with expected lives of less than 50 years. Or we could call them shacks.
What is the advantage of turning wrecked wards into shantytowns? The choice is between cheap real estate or abandonment. The land will not sustain high-rent, high-quality real estate. Given the level of risk, much of it will not even support bland, middle-income housing. Imagine that the government took a spot suitable for a McDonald's but mandated that subsequent restaurants should have fancy décor and $30 steaks. The result would not be a superb or even middling bistro but rather an empty spot. No one would set up shop because the market could not be made profitable at that quality and price. A similar principle applies to New Orleans real estate. If various levels of government try to mandate higher values than the land will support, the private sector will simply withdraw its participation, leaving nothing behind.

...To be sure, the shantytowns could bring socioeconomic costs. Yet crime, lack of safety, and racial tension were all features of New Orleans ex ante. The city has long thrived as more dangerous than average, more multicultural than average, and more precarious than average for the United States. And people who decide the cheap housing isn't safe enough will be free to look elsewhere—or remain in Utah with their insurance checks.
Shantytowns might well be more creative than a dead city core. Some of the best Brazilian music came from the favelas of Salvador and Rio. The slums of Kingston, Jamaica, bred reggae. New Orleans experienced its greatest cultural blossoming in the early 20th century, when it was full of shanties. Low rents make it possible to live on a shoestring, while the population density blends cultural influences. Cheap real estate could make the city a desirable place for struggling artists to live. The cultural heyday of New Orleans lies in the past. Katrina rebuilding gives the city a chance to become an innovator once again.
Henry still reads Tyler Cowen: