Monday, May 31, 2010

original intent: ‘Show us yer arse!’

A few months ago Chris Bertram posted Rodchenko's famous shot of Lili Brik. "Such energetic, dynamic composition in the picture, and such optimism and vigour in the woman depicted."

A commenter added: "Always interesting to see what one reads into an image. “Optimism and vigour”… or maybe she’s yelling ‘Show us yer arse!’ Which is a different kind of optimism and vigour, I’ll grant."

I posted this in 2003:

Here is an image of Picasso's famous "Guernica" from 1937.

Last year I made a similar painting, on a similar theme. I'm reproducing it below. It's called "Dresden."

The intentional fallacy applies to authors and readers, of books or countries. Israel and the Soviet Union were founded as invention, and as intention.
Chris Bertram, Zionists, and Nino Scalia, all see what they want to in themselves, in their relation to the object of their gaze, and in the object itself. They share the fantasy that they have transcended history, or that they will. The authors of the Constitution were not so optimistic and that's why it's lasted, and why it will last longer than the government it was written to define. The Rodchenko photograph will last too.
The end of Israel is the end of Modernism. The rule of reason will always become the rule of unreason. That's finally the lesson of the 20th century. That liberals who preach against both blind idealism and nihilism can't see how they were joined in the Zionist state from the beginning gives the lie to the dream of reason judged only by ourselves.
Free Gaza mission on Twitter

Israeli TV says that ten have been killed by Israeli gunfire.
half a minute ago via web

Israeli radio says wounded have been taken to hospital, but it is forbidden to tell anyone which hospital
4 minutes ago via web

Israeli radio says that the boats are going to be hauled into Haifa. This was not a confrontation. This was a massacre
7 minutes ago via web

And that the boats are being hauled into Haifa and not Ashdod so that journalists are not there
23 minutes ago via web

Our Israeli attorney in Haifa has said that ten people have been murdered
27 minutes ago via web

Don't know fate of the other boats
about 1 hour ago via web

At about 4:30 am, Israeli commandos dropped from helicopter onto deck of Turkish ship, immediately opened fire on unarmed civilians.
about 1 hour ago via web

At about 4:30 am, Israeli commandos dropped from helicopter onto deck of Turkish ship, immediately opened fire on unarmed civilians.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

note taking
Posted at Practical Ethics Blog
Religion is formal law as public record. If you want to know what a Christian believes you can look in a book. The text, or law, is a ground. Reason has no single ground. It's fundamentally private. That fact more than anything is why democracy is founded in the rule of written public law and not the rule of reason. The primary function of law is that a people come to some form of agreement. What they agree upon is secondary. Absolute truth is not a goal.
Courtrooms are chambers for decision-making not truth production.

I asked my dentist why he crossed himself before he began work on my root canal."To remind me that there's something out there bigger than I am." I said my family were atheists but that for us history served the same function. He paused for a minute before smiling and nodding.

The logic of law is conservative, even pessimistic. The logic of science is optimistic.
Simon Blackburn, in the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy defines Humanism as "most generally any philosophy concerned to emphasize human welfare and dignity, and optimistic about the powers of unaided human understanding.” The best that can be said is that his may be the contemporary definition. As a matter of history it's simply incorrect The link is to a passage by the art historian Erwin Panofsky [this page se/dg] 
The most famous image in the popular imagination of the power of reason alone is in the character of the Mad Scientist. And it's not uncommon in philosophical circles to read arguments claiming that unaided reason shows that history is bunk [Alex Rosenberg] There's no similar myth of the mad historian, what there are are horror stories in fiction and life of people who claimed that history no longer applied to them.

What drives me up the wall reading through Anglo American academic writing is that there are so many arguments based so much on what the authors know or assume, that actually adding something from outside is impossible. Someone can say "All language is English" and if someone responds in another language they're ignored as spouting gibberish.

Interesting parallel to the mad scientist in American culture is the lone hero. Sadly such discussions have no place in discussion of philosophy.

"I'm intrigued by Seth's view of religion as public and reason as private. Can't both be either? There's no way I can find out what a Christian believes by looking in a book. Christians have all sorts of idiosyncratic beliefs, some more Bible-based and some less.

As for whether absolute truth is a goal - well, that depends on your values. It can be if you want it to be. Nor, I think, does democracy have to be founded on the rule of written law. It's a mechanism by which the people (as opposed to an élite) take decisions, usually by voting (either directly on issues or by electing officials). It's usually enshrined in written law but I don't see this as a logical necessity.

With regard to English-speaking academic writing, I wonder if the real problem is that native English speakers tend not to read extensively in other languages because of the dominance of our own."

Posted by: Peter Wicks

Colin McGinn: Relativism and Democracy
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?
I think in a very basic way, McGinn is right and in a more important way he's very wrong, to the degree that I find his argument almost obscene. McGinn to me is an arch-Catholic who calls himself an atheist. His idealism is anti-democratic and I'm a defender of democracy. He's also an arch individualist which is another conflict.

My point above was that a faith understood in a common language (Christian/Jewish/Muslim/Hindu) as opposed to a personal experience, is a public record and that it's most important function to society is in that. Not that it isn't also private. And the texts don't have to be written they just has to be collective. The myths of a group bind the group together. And the availability of others myths makes them less foreign. "Oh, you believe in a book too" For some people that book is the Constitution. In a sense I told my dentist I believed in books, and that worked for him, at least to the point of respecting my choice. For someone like McGinn and many others that's not enough. They want "truth."

The structure of law courts are strictly formal. "Due process" even what's now called "substantive due process" is not a guarantee of more. "Beyond a reasonable doubt" is vague. Adherence to precedent, "Stare decisis" got Galileo in trouble, but we still refer to it in courts. Justice is called "imperfect justice" and it's all we'll ever have. And trying to perfect it is less important than raising people who can argue and re-argue articulately, that understand all sides of an argument. So my questions about religion and religious people are not just about what they believe but how those things functions to them: structure and subtext. And my comments above were based on observations of that. It's that kind of reading that interests me, of texts, paintings, and people. Philosophy prefers to decontextualize and read for intention.
I grew up around literature professors and lawyers so that's where I get my "relativism." But it's also where I learned to read the way that brought me to my response to the post about atheists and trust.

"I also agree that philosophers (as opposed to "philosophy") makes an error if it reads this type of intention into writing that was not intended to be precise in this way."

Even the most precise language needs to be read that way. Your argument reads like the conservative legal argument for "original intent" in readings of the Constitution. But the Constitution is a text just like this post, which used words, "favouring logic and abstraction" which I read. against the grain, to criticize.

This is referred to I think as anti-naturalism and it makes no sense to me. Open-ended empiricism can't be formalized and that's the conflict. The formalism of numbers works as more than form because numbers generally manifest relations in the world. Words "represent" relations and those relations change. Mapping the change in those relations (in time and by geography) is not anti-naturalist. To me it sounds like Santayana (and it wasn't his idea) but Santayana is linked with Quine, which really throws me for a loop. Quine was a scientific anti-cosmopolitan, so I don't get the connection. I don't think Santayana would have a problem with my analysis. And it seems to me to have supplied a better description of the relations of believers and atheists than that supplied by an analysis based on philosophical intent. It gives a better model of the world (of experience).

" 'Your argument reads like the conservative legal argument for 'original intent' in readings of the Constitution.' Why? How?

I don't think "favouring logic and abstraction" should be read as a criticism (if this is what you meant). Whether it is useful in describing the relationship between believers and atheists is another matter.

With regard to history (and pessimism) versus science (and optimism). History cannot be pessimistic or optimistic because it's about the past, not the future. Science is (in itself) neither pessimistic nor optimistic because it is an attempt to uncover the "laws" of nature. I would be a naturalist more than an anti-naturalist, in the sense that I consider social systems to be legitimate objects of scientific enquiry. But only to the extent that our objective is to understand, rather than (directly) to change. If we want to change something, then we need not only history (for lessons) and science (to suggest new approaches) but also clarity of purpose. What are we trying to achieve? How cautious do we want to be? What kind of risk are we willing to accept and how should we deal with uncertainty? If we want to bring something to that debate, and not only say "we should agree on something", then relativism can only take us so far."

Posted by: Peter Wicks
I think we're arguing at cross purposes. History is never about the past, but about our understanding of the past, in the present. There will always be another history or biography of "X" for each new period of any civilization; history is interpretation. History pessimistic in the sense that the knowledge of history leads us towards pessimism, or conservatism. The rule of law is founded on conservatism. Again I'll go with Santayana: we rarely make new mistakes, mostly we just repeat old ones.

If we want to understand experience we need to understand that we experience the world through perspectives, which change over time. The difficulty is in recognizing and marking those changes. The history of the Catholic church isn't written by theologians, who will strive to see continuity, but by historians. Philosophers descend from theologians, and historians are still here doing the same job they always have, examining everything made by man, with and against the intended logic of the makers.

I'll end where I came in: religious people in the US distrust atheists because of an association of atheism with the atheism of pure reason (and arrogant technocracy) which gets a lot of press; professional atheists include people like McGinn, who hasn't convinced me he's an atheist at all. This is an American or Anglo-American phenomenon with a long history. The secularism of books is much less threatening because less arrogant, and frankly less dangerous. Spencer Coxe, the director of the Philadelphia ACLU from 1952-79, called the ACLU "a conservative institution." If we lived in a stronger democracy it would be more clear to more people what he meant.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

There's a history is of gay men parroting the behavior of a certain type of unhappy woman: ugly ducklings who dream of being swans. The Stonewall riot was on the day of Judy Garland's death. But contemporary culture is full of images of women parroting the behavior of gay men, and female ugly ducklings are modeling themselves as drag queens. Usually this comes off as sad. But someone was very smart. Julianne Moore has a history of playing to gay male images of woman, in Todd Haynes' Safe and recently A Single Man. She's beautiful but no longer young. And the recent ads for Bulgari are the most striking images of sexual ambiguity I've seen recently in popular culture: the beautiful woman, of a certain age, as hermaphrodite.

For more on women and parrots in western art see this discussion of Manet's Woman with a Parrot (also JSTOR)

The subtle masculinity in the face in the first photograph is what first caught my attention. The sculpture is the most famous example of the Sleeping Hermaphrodite; at the Louvre.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Bring back the Draft. With no college deferment,

"And is, then, all which is just pious? or, is that which is pious all just, but that which is just, only in part and not all, pious?"

Experts follow the law of non-contradiction, but democracies are founded in aporias. There is no single answer to the question of the Euthyphro, so our form of government is predicated not on truth one way or the other but on process. Neither our academic technocratic elite nor our professional military understands the conservatism of the rule of law. Neither understands democracy.
All I do is repeats.

"Is your mother a whore?" 

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Question Mark
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Probably the next mayor of Reykjavik

Comments say the translation isn't very good, and I think the the reference actually is to a petting zoo. "A drug free parliament by 2020." That seems clear enough.

Again, the question of who takes up the slack in the face of intellectual and moral passivity in serious intellectual life.

Comedy is a form of specialization but what sort?

Comedians are empiricists. Jon Stewart's knowledge is language in use, as representative form, not non-representative formalism or Platonic form in the metaphysical world where numbers are imagined by some literally to exist. Imagining communication as an extension of the logic of one person saying to another,"Two plus two equals four",  elides the distinction in common speech between the active and passive voice. "I made a mistake" is not "Mistakes were made". Stewart knows that just as Murdoch's cronies do, but they got there first, with both Fox News and the Simpsons..

My punctuality is well known.
When the revolution takes place, I'll be late
And be shot as a traitor.
ASHDOD, Israel — Israel on Thursday unveiled a massive makeshift detention center in the country's main southern port and announced the end of days of intense naval maneuvers, vowing to stop a flotilla of hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists trying to break a 3-year blockade of the Gaza Strip this weekend.
Military authorities said that masked naval commandos would greet the eight ships deep out at sea, escort the vessels to port and give each of the activists a stark choice: leave the country or go to jail.
But the tough response threatened to backfire by breathing new life into the activists' mission and drawing new attention to the oft-criticized blockade of Gaza.
"We know that we are sailing for a good cause," said Dror Feiler, 68, an Israeli-born Swedish activist who was on board a cargo ship headed from Greece to Gaza. "If the Israelis want us to pay a price, we will pay a price, but we will come again and again."
Details of blockade revealed in court
List of goods allowed into Gaza by Israel PDF

Thursday, May 27, 2010

American liberals make fun of Friedman on Iraq and Afghanistan, why not Iran?
They don't pay attention to Egypt either.

On the same topic, Adam Shatz in the LRB. Mubarak’s Last Breath
There is also a brisk traffic in arms: US manufacturers recently announced the sale to Cairo of 24 new F-16 fighter jets and other equipment, worth an estimated $3.2 billion. Steven Cook at the Council on Foreign Relations has published a ‘contingency planning memorandum’ in favour of continued support to the regime, which, as he describes it, ‘has helped create a regional order that makes it relatively inexpensive for the United States to exercise its power’. Less expensive at any rate than it would be in the event of an Islamist takeover that ‘would pose a far greater threat – in magnitude and degree – to US interests than the Iranian revolution’. This seems to be the Obama administration’s implicit wager, too. It’s bad news for ElBaradei and his supporters: bad news for all the Egyptians who fear that they will never know democracy because of the ‘American veto’.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Terry Turner: The Kayapo against the dams again
This will not be the first indigenous encampment organized by the Kayapo in their effort to stop the building of dams on the Xingú. In 1989, when the government first set out to implement its plan for a giant hydroelectric complex on the Xingú, with financial support from the World Bank, the Kayapo led a great rally of 40 indigenous nations at Altamira against the scheme, setting up an encampment of several hundred Indians at a Catholic retreat center just outside the town. The five-day rally was extensively covered by national and international media, and succeeded in persuading the World Bank to withdraw its planned loan for the construction of the dams.
note taking: playing nice
"Or, even more harshly: since Americans are philosophical conservatives but operational liberals"
Can we add also that many of the elite are philosophical liberals but operational conservatives? And that both are fully molded by and into the mass-bureaucratic state?

Capitalism destroys or perverts both "family values" and open sociability [social conservative and socially liberal terms for the same thing] rendering it/them secondary to state function, which is why a sort of critical left-Burkeanism is the best response to both. This debate in the grander scheme is largely pot and kettle, since liberals and conservatives are both obsessed with finding a defense for one sort or another of libertarianism, and libertarianism is problematic in ways neither want to admit. Both conservatives and liberals are philosophical "economic liberals" each trying to justify that to their differing sensibilities.

It's easy and fun to feel intellectually superior to the National Review crowd et al. but it avoids the bigger problems.

#46- “Liberals believe that the commercial sphere is fundamentally different from the private sphere…” but that the private sphere, as being home to subjectivity and sensibility is shrinking in importance in the face or the rise of “objective” knowledge, rationality, and utilitarian drive for progress: the imperatives if technocratic uniformity.

As always, I think liberals in these debates should read Derrick Bell’s dissent in Brown v. Board of Education

Monday, May 24, 2010

What liberal and conservative Zionists equally are afraid of:
There is a continuous delegitimization campaign against us. We are described as betrayers. But I can't betray something I'm not part of. I'm not part of the army. I'm not part of the Zionist ideology. I'm a victim of Zionism.... It's inhumane to demand that we be loyal to Zionism or accept Israel as a Jewish state. I can't accept a definition that strengthens the discrimination against non-Jews in Israel.

You don't accept Israel as a Jewish state?

I want it to be a state of its own nationalities, and the Arab minority to be recognized as a national minority. Israel is, according to the law, defined as a Jewish and democratic state. But there is a contradiction between the two values. If you are democratic, you should believe in equality. But if you define the nation by a Jewish ethnicity, you are saying any Jewish person is superior to a non-Jewish person.

How you do define yourself?

I'm a Palestinian-Arab citizen of Israel. We are part of the Palestinian people but citizens of Israel.
That something so clearly logical is hard for so many of our self-appointed intellectual and moral elite to understand is proof of the limits of unaided reason.

Language and culture operate through the slow transformation of the unknown, first into the foreign and distant, then the frightening, to the familiar, and the familial. You'd think this is something teachers would tell students, but it isn't; or it's said to apply to others and not us. But the rule of law is democracy's defense in all cultures against the self-justifying hubris of those who would claim to represent the rule of reason. Liberals who promote and defend the rule of reason do not understand democracy. They defend the racist anti-democratic rule of Israel as modern and just without recognizing their own irrationalism in doing so: assuming their own rationality their decisions must be true. But a Jewish (mono-ethnic) state with a multi-ethnic population cannot by definition be either a democracy or modern. That is the lie of Israel and it's the lie that made it a failed culture and now almost a failed state. It's an extension of the lie of intellectual and political vanguardism.

Kitsch is the declaration that dream equals reality. Israel as dream gave us Israel as kitsch. That liberals in another multi-ethnic state who would never defend equivalent policies where they live defend Israel as both democratic and modern is proof of the capacity among even the most intelligent for irrationalism, the best if imperfect defense against which is the formalized decision-making processes of democracy.
A liberal elite that talk only amongst themselves weaken democracy. The liberal elite in the Weimar Republic were as responsible for its fall as the rest of the population, and our own is no more interested in history. The liberal renewal such as it is is coming from where else.
Max Weber
[S]cience [i.e. Wissenschaft, scholarly or method-based disciplines] has entered a phase of specialisation previously unknown and ... this will forever remain the case. Not only externally, but inwardly, matters stand at a point where the individual can acquire the sure consciousness of achieving something truly perfect in the field of science only in case he is a strict specialist. All work that overlaps neighbouring fields, such as we occasionally undertake and which the sociologists must necessarily undertake again and again, is burdened with the resigned realisation that at best one provides the specialist with useful questions upon which he would not so easily hit from his own specialised point of view. One’s own work must inevitably remain highly imperfect. Only by strict specialisation can the scientific worker become fully conscious, for once and perhaps never again in his lifetime, that he has achieved something that will endure. A really definitive and good accomplishment is today always a specialised accomplishment.
Clement Greenberg
Each art, it turned out, had to perform this demonstration on its own account. What had to be exhibited was not only that which was unique and irreducible in art in general, but also that which was unique and irreducible in each particular art. Each art had to determine, through its own operations and works, the effects exclusive to itself. By doing so it would, to be sure, narrow its area of competence, but at the same time it would make its possession of that area all the more certain.

It quickly emerged that the unique and proper area of competence of each art coincided with all that was unique in the nature of its medium. The task of self-criticism became to eliminate from the specific effects of each art any and every effect that might conceivably be borrowed from or by the medium of any other art. Thus would each art be rendered "pure," and in its "purity" find the guarantee of its standards of quality as well as of its independence. "Purity" meant self-definition, and the enterprise of self-criticism in the arts became one of self-definition with a vengeance.
Followers of Modernism in its various forms imagined it as synonymous with Modernity, extrapolating universal moral value from increasingly common technical, practical, but also problematic necessity.

They're very smart. They had one of the only good pieces in the Biennial and almost the only good one in PS 1. The video above reminded me of Jeff Wall's observation that it makes no sense to try to transcend a bourgeois -independent- art.
Violence is only a theme in this kind of art [Delacroix]; the art itself isn't violent. That makes it very different from, even opposed to, the art of the avant-garde, which expresses aggression against the idea of art itself. This aggression is no longer very viable. I don't think it's necessary or possible to go beyond the idea of bourgeois art- that is of autonomous art- towards a fusion of art and its context. Or if it's possible, it isn't very desirable. We have learned how the aggression against autonomous art was consistent with aspects of totalitarianism, from the Stalinist period for example, and how state violence could benefit from that kind of esthetic. The concept of art as autonomous, and therefore less amenable to this kind of instrumentalism, is a central idea of the modern and I'm most sympathetic to that idea.
Essays and Interviews [p.246]
The Bruces relate their education inside the contemporary art ghetto to what they know outside it, describing the world in the language they've been taught. But in doing so they're working their way out of a trap, and producing a representational (descriptive) rather than a formalist art. They're on a first name basis with everyone on the Whitney's board, and were before the Biennial took place -a friend says they remind him of the Strokes- but whether they're from money or are just comfortable around it they show independence, though the independence required to describe the world honestly as you perceive it is less threatening to the powerful than to their servants. And one way or another the Bruces seem to have bypassed them.

But in their admitted conservatism they've bypassed most academics and technocrats as well, who still use terms such as objectivity and truth, without irony, as if the focus on terms didn't help to blind them (and that's what they wanted) to the facts of Israeli action and justificatory rhetoric, which after all haven't changed much in 40 years, or 60.

We operate from perspectives on the world of experience. When we identify those perspectives with the world, collapsing them into imagined unity, we begin to operate in terms that risk being "consistent with aspects of totalitarianism." Reason will always devolve into the reasonable, either as twisted into what we want to believe, or simply -and logically- as technocracy requires by "marking to the mean."

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Secret South African documents reveal that Israel offered to sell nuclear warheads to the apartheid regime, providing the first official documentary evidence of the state's possession of nuclear weapons. The "top secret" minutes of meetings between senior officials from the two countries in 1975 show that South Africa's defence minister, PW Botha, asked for the warheads and Shimon Peres, then Israel's defence minister and now its president, responded by offering them "in three sizes". The two men also signed a broad-ranging agreement governing military ties between the two countries that included a clause declaring that "the very existence of this agreement" was to remain secret.
Maybe Presidents can you stop lying now. Maybe a lot of people can stop lying to themselves.
Greater New York is just depressing. Is NY that provincial now? Uneducated and narcissistic. The Bruce High Quality Rich Kids manage to pull it off again. They're like the Strokes but better.
That's enough I guess. Trust funds are good for something after all.

I was surprised to find out though I guess I should have known that Leigh Ledare still isn't fucking his mother. He can't even grow up that much. Fuck her and get it over with. If he's suffering for his art he should stop. He might be a better photographer if he just fucked her and tried photographing something else.

Reminds me of my mother at a Mapplethorpe retrospective, disgusted not by the sex but the self-pity.

One year Damien Hirst shows "No Sense of Absolute Corruption" and the next year contradicts himself by covering a skull in diamonds guaranteed not to be blood diamonds.
They should be guaranteed blood diamonds, with certificates of authenticity.

It wasn't a retrospective; that wouldn't make sense. Mapplethorpe didn't indulge in that way. It was a show in the photo gallery in the Guggenheim named for him, and in his honor. I forget the year, but remember it was full of theatrical moralizing, sullen posing. Standard stuff, but my mother's response made me laugh. "Where's the exuberance!?" She was always sympathetic to fucked-up lives and fatalism, but not to moralizing.

Friday, May 21, 2010

note-taking/record keeping/posting elsewhere
John Quiggin is an idiot.
"The crucial feature of a ratchet is that, at any time, the mechanism is a locally stable equilibrium, which can be shifted in one direction, with a moderate energy input, but can’t be shifted the other way without breaking the mechanism."

That mechanism you describe fits more with prices going up faster than down or taxes going down faster than up, or the drift of policy to the right over the last 40 years, though it doesn't describe the origin. In this instance the engine is simple fear. Strange that you make no mention of emotion. The question becomes how people become united in fear.

The ground is set for the weakening of freedoms by the redefinition of democracy, from a society of multiple competing and conflicting interests to a single unifying one. An "open society" defined only by individual economic interests is less open than one defined both by individual and collective choices, economic and otherwise. The streamlining of social life towards one function leads to a sense that threats to that function are threats to society itself. If openness is the logically best defense of a free society [the response to bad speech is more speech: first amendment near-absolutism etc.] The logically best defense for a streamlined functionalist society is to put up barriers. If "progress" is the most important thing than "progress" takes priority over openness. A people united in one way are easily united in another, in this case fear.

Read Tony Judt on Robert Reich. "Change happened." Beware the passive voice and passive observation. Reason alone can make a nation of adults into a nation of children.

Alice de @52:
“An intellectual elite protected from the consequences that befall the masses may not be a bad thing, but...”
It is in fact a very bad thing, above and beyond what’s usually called reactionary. That you feel the need to begin with a caveat of that sort shows us how far we’ve come.

Jack Balkin on SSRN: The Processes of Constitutional Change: From Partisan Entrenchment to the National Surveillance State

And Tim Worstall @65 : Neoliberals didn’t slash the state any more than they did the university, they just changed their function.
A liberal Zionist debates a conservative and concedes democracy is too much to ask. Peter Beinart
I'm not asking Israel to be Utopian. I'm not asking it to allow Palestinians who were forced out (or fled) in 1948 to return to their homes. I'm not even asking it to allow full, equal citizenship to Arab Israelis, since that would require Israel no longer being a Jewish state. I'm actually pretty willing to compromise my liberalism for Israel's security and for its status as a Jewish state.
"I'm not even asking it to allow full, equal citizenship to Arab Israelis, since that would require Israel no longer being a Jewish state."

Zionism is racism.

The Atlantic reedited the piece years later removing the passage and more: 

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Notes from elsewhere. Badly written comments. But I made a point in a way that in retrospect is so obvious that I'm annoyed I hadn't thought of it before. Not the argument but the construction: In the contemporary academy form is considered transparent. This is countered by a minority who think it's entirely opaque. Both are forms of scholastic decadence. I've said this a thousand times. But it means that most academics are "originalists" regarding the reception of their own writings: not that they think they can know the future but in a more limited way that the future will know them, will see them as they see themselves. Dimwitted of me not to realize years ago I could describe it so simply. If historical reactionaries are exceptionalist regarding their abilities as readers, futurist reactionaries are exceptionalist regarding their abilities as writers. So for example, a future Nino Scalia will be correct in his understanding of the "dead" writings of Brian Leiter even if Leiter thinks our own Scalia is wrong in his interpretations of what Leiter -correctly- considers the "living" Constitution. It's obvious thinking of the intentional fallacy. I haven't used the term much since it's too literary and out of fashion, but in fact it's the foundation, now ignored, of the critique of Constitutional originalism. I've saved the whole thread on my page. I'll neaten it up and post it. Once I do that it's not the thread anymore, just my argument. I got to link to this again, which was fun especially given the context.

"nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;" The simple "content" of the sentence is clear to anyone who reads english. Beyond that the focus of the authors was on form: the form of language and the description of formal process in law. The meaning or content of "due process" was left for readers to argue and re-argue in the future. The richness of the Constitution as an example of open form is precisely the richness that academics now widely disregard, out of preference for a pure and vacuous or vulgar instrumental reason that risks meaninglessness for future generations. As I said at the link, an intellectual, in the best sense of the word, is someone who understands the distinction between Immanuel Rath and Joseph von Sternberg. The best way to win an argument is to show your opponent that in situations where he doesn't feel threatened he already operates under the terms you describe. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Again back to "the irrationalism of others"

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

To go back to the post post before the last, regarding the continuing arguments from passivity here.

It's the same passivity democrats have shown in the face of Republican advances over the past 35 years. There's absolutely no sense that people could or should choose to change their behavior and decide that teaching is an important even primary function for an academic. The language in the post and comments goes against everything I was raised to assume regarding the importance of education in the humanities: the passing down of knowledge from one generation to the next, and not just knowledge itself but the subtlety of apperception and of use, to whatever ends, and even of education being an end in itself.

The democrats abrogated all responsibility to lead people to be better than they were. They accepted the conservative mantra that people are basically lazy and corrupt. While allowing themselves to feel guilty about it, they refused to intervene, and ghettoized themselves in passive moral superiority. Academia likewise has made individualism the model for behavior, mixed with the model of a collaborative vanguard, human in most ways but with the otherwise now superhuman capacity for disinterested reason. But somehow disinterested reason hasn't allowed them to figure out that education is a primary function of wise men, and that giving to others is a primary good so Harry Brighouse goes out of his way to argue for a market-based response.
"Alito, Sotomayor and Kagan’s successes appear purely meritocratic:"

Not in the least. Each benefitted from the role as representatives or defenders of specific positions. The number of intellectually qualified candidates is very large, including a number much more qualified intellectually if not politically. Justices of the Supreme Court are rarely geniuses. I thought that was understood by now. Alito is a conservative whose interests fit well with those who chose him. Sotomayor's and Kagan's positions parallel Obama's: a stronger executive and what's now called moderate law and order policy.
Sotomayor and Kagan both benefitted in terms of gender and ethnicity, as Thomas and, as we know now, Scalia did: Reagan thought an Italian-American was a great idea. Kagan is more a politician than a scholar, which is no sin. Jack Balkin called it early for her.

#152 "I’d say that, on average the value of the credential is about equal to the value added in education" That's incredibly self-serving from an academic among other academics invested in the moral and intellectual authority of simple elitism within a bureaucratic regime. I think again it was Balkin who pointed out that you don't want geniuses on Supreme Court precisely because geniuses are outliers and you want a court whose conflicts match those of society at large. All bureaucracies are political before intellectual. To see otherwise is to ignore their weakness and their strength: their importance as representative of the community at large rather than as some sort of "truth" producing machine.

As it stands now the academy is a bubble economy precisely because of the confusion between idealism and functionalism. Academics now talk about ideas and "ideal" functions as a way to stay both superior and up-to-date, while the un-ideal world beats them at every turn. At the same time they measure absolute brilliance in the terms of functional bureaucracy so they dumb themselves down even more. Brilliance is now more likely to appear outside the academy because preconceptions are a hindrance in a crisis, and what is the academy teaching these days but preconceptions, not the least of its own authority?

To end where this post began: teaching may not be self-interest but it's noble. The sense that nobility or the choice to help others is not even discussed is a mark of how far we've come to mark the mediocre as the inevitable and the mastery of the mediocre by intellectuals as the ideal.

Oddly enough though I still like my argument, I glossed some of the comments here too quickly. I should follow my own advice.
“To firm this up, I’d say that, on average the value of the credential is about equal to the value added in education”
So together they double your value to the plutocracy, yes.

Dr.Science: "I think Sotomayor is a great example of a process Jerome Karabel described in his book The Chosen: the elite universities knew that change was coming, and it was important for the new faces in the American power structure have some of the old labels: “Bottled at Princeton” or “Bottled at Harvard”. The strength of the Expensive Higher Education brand, as it were, depended both on helping those who should succeed, and making sure that those who would succeed regardless (because of their inherited money and family) still passed through their gates. And they had to make these decisions 20-30 years in advance.

What is also clear in retrospect is how close the Expensive Higher Education brand came to catastrophic failure. Think of what these people have in common: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Paul Allen, Steve Wozniak, Michael Dell, Ted Waitt & Mike Hammond (founders of Gateway)."

So then we can say that the world order is made up of greedy assholes who made it big without a degree and bureaucratic minders who stayed in school who serve them. Nothing new. But the minders are more multi-culti than they used to be.

“they rose through the class system substantially”… by mastering personal politics and intellectual mediocrity.

My mother’s first husband, who came from not much as far as I know, is remembered by experts in his field for selling two things to the American public: The Great Society and the Vietnam war. He served the White House. My mother considered him a sell-out and a shyster. and his boss a war criminal. She also considered him an intellectual lightweight.

“Success is a science; if you have the conditions, you get the result.” [Oscar Wilde] I was raised to expect more of those who called themselves intellectuals: between success and moral integrity I choose the latter. But if success is a science and science is objective truth, then science is morality.
I disagree.

"So I agree that human power relations are important, and that studying, appreciating and understanding them is also important. But I think these efforts should be in service to the main goal of getting at reality as best we can; as opposed to (what I think of as) the po-mo view that access to reality will always be so hopelessly compromised that one would be foolish/naive even to try."

Democracy is a formal system of decision-making not a system of truth production. Idealists either know this and are therefore opposed to democracy or lie to themselves and pretend democracy is something it's not. The academy is full of idealists of both sorts, complimented by third: anti-idealists who call black white and white black. But negative idealism is still idealism. Ideas are taught and learned by rote and the fostering of the capacity for critical judgement is eschewed for knowledge of ideas and concepts, that can be learned from books. But teaching is a function of social life. One of the things taught and learned in a classroom is an understanding of the subtleties of social exchange. You learn not just about the subject but about people, and how they behave.
Unfortunately, a focus on individualism reduces the awareness of individual experience.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Helena Cobban. Recent posts

"Marking to the mean exerts downward pressure on the mean."

Obscene and hilarious (and nothing new):

"You finally get that tenure-track job and then you discover this!"
(1) “Teaching counts for nothing.” It was a shock to me how dishonest research schools are about teaching: on the brochures, to parents, in official pronouncements the line is that we care about teaching deeply. But in private all my colleagues, even at the official orientation, have said teaching counts for virtually nothing for tenure purposes, for merit raises, etc. (Exception: if your student evaluations are truly awful that might hurt a bit.) In other words, there is hardly any institutional concern for teaching, i.e. concern that manifests itself in aligning incentive structures with good teaching. It’s not 50-50 research/teaching, it’s 100-0 or maybe 90-10. Experiment: try explaining to your non-academic friends, neighbors, legislators that our top universities basically ignore teaching in their evaluation of teachers. I often wonder whether our actual policies could survive publicity.
"Does teaching matter at (American) research universities?"
The second link is Harry Brighouse and he begins with a quote
Critics of higher education, and to some extent higher education itself, have misunderstood the core business of these institutions. Whereas most believe the task of universities and colleges is to supply quality educations at reasonable prices, their real business is to sell competitive advantage at necessarily high prices.
So there simply isn’t much market pressure to improve instruction (the fact that the fruits of growth over that period have largely accrued to the small group of people who are buying this essentially positional good for their children makes it even less puzzling).
Remember that it's Brighouse, following G.A. Cohen, who thinks that socialism means developing an intellectual "technology" that will remove the weight of moral responsibility from our heads. The answer is not in better people, or even better behavior as such, but in manipulating the rabble -Brighouse and Cohen can't be referring to themselves, can they? - to produce the right result. This is linked in the last post as well:
"Performativity is the idea that theories or models bring about the very conditions that they attempt to explain."
So would a common understanding that greed is even vaguely immoral not have an effect on behavior? And would a focus, as distinct from the fact, that it's a common trait not tend to have the opposite effect? But the focus on the universality of self-interest is defended because of the focus on individualism and the sense that individual freedom is a moral value, even if we know that freedom encourages greed which we must find a cure for but only by inventing a machine to make us unfree. It's The Forbin Project as utopia.

I was raised by teachers to respect teaching: to think of it as a noble calling. "So there simply isn’t much market pressure." It's also that teachers don't want to teach. But reading the above, free will and all moral responsibility, happily have been removed from the equation.
note taking
Same post discussed on this page a few days later
"Which is why I keep returning to the distinction between the “design” model of MIT and the observational model of The Wire."

I think a good definition of art is a text, in the broadest sense of the term, where the various subtexts seem as crafted or even more crafted than the simple material; the implications so varied and yet so articulated that they seem like the result of decisions. That's the argument for the notion of what's now called the intentional fallacy and it's proven in the fact of how and why we still examine the art of the past even though we don't share any of the ideologies that it was made to illustrate. When illustrative function is gone what's left is manifestation, and not of what we call ideas but of the conflicts between them.

At some point that became explicitly the goal of what was no longer the art of flattery -for princes and patrons- but an independent art of description, as it had perhaps been earlier or was still elsewhere in pre-commercial economies. But as Panofsky said, if commercial art can end up as a whore, independent "noncommercial" art in a commercial economy can end up an old maid. Which is why all I'm talking about is one form or another of commercial art.

John McCreery, you're describing examples of advertising, an art of flattery, that has in your opinion has produced an actual art. But it is not so because of its function but on top of it. Read my comments on McCracken. Or begin here. It's funnier. More vulgar than Maki but not unrelated.
McCrcken sees advertising function as art, and 'content' manipulation as art. If official portraits made to glorify kings can be art there's no reason modern advertising can't be also, but the intent to glorify, or sell, is not the measure of success.

The paradox of anthropology applies to studying salesmen too. You've never understand sales unless you do it for a living. But if you get caught up in it, you won't either.

"Creatives" I hate that term.
Do you know how much time goes into every jingle you hear? Every new sneaker design? Ads are made to be disposable. I sat on the beach with an oscar-winning production designer watching him draw out plans for a 4 million dollar 30 second spot; scratching out patterns on the sand with a stick. It's a day job and they all make their money that way. And I don't even like his movies much: the things he'd prefer to be doing. By your logic the fact that you work really hard and you're a loyal servant of the king makes you a great artist. Both are irrelevant.

"But I don’t want to leave Maki as nothing more than a labeled node in a network analysis diagram."

And that's why you want to celebrate "creatives" because otherwise your life is flat. In an academic culture where subjectivity is seen as secondary, apart and merely personal, what's left that's human deserves unconditional love. But subjectivity is constitutive, it's part and partial of consciousness, and the petty seductions you celebrate as poetry are just your way to rationalize your sense of the true superiority of reason; until Doktor Immanuel Rath gets floored by Lola. Rath is not the poet, his tragedy is the subject of a poem.

The people who shoot ads are in LA, and they laugh at the intellectuals on Madison Ave who come up with the ideas. They're the stagehands who know what's going to happen from the moment Rath walks into the theater. They understand how culture works, and what people are. The intellectuals don't. But I'd like to say that's because the intellectuals are not what they claim, but only schoolmen, and an intellectual is something more.
An intellectual is someone who understands the distinction between Rath and von Sternberg

“Seth, I did not say that advertising is art. I explicitly rejected as nonsense your claim that all that copywriters care about is content.”

I agreed as much as copywriters are craftsmen. But I don’t pay that much attention to scriptwriters either. Maybe there’s a literary craft in Japanese advertising that functions as the equivalent to the visual and theatrical craft in western advertising. That would be a very interesting topic. It would also involve close reading and connoisseurship rather than labeled nodes and network analyses. I’m curious.

This is all still contra the MIT model of intellectual economic vanguardism and intellectual “designers” and designed intellectualism. You seem pulled in both directions.
Purity of art has nothing to do with it.
McCracken has no interest in form. His interest is content. Rather than a justice on the Supreme Court who believes in the doctrine of original intent vis-a-vis the Constitution (a doctrine that's not taken very seriously by serious thinkers) he's an author who believes in it regarding his own writing. And strangely at that point the doctrine is accepted. In other words we can't know the past but the futrure will know us. When a well known philosophy professor says History is Bunk (scroll down) no one bats an eye, because to him we are the future.

We communicate in form, in media. Content does not transfer. You may imagine that human communication consists of things like me telling you "one plus one equals two" but it doesn't. Outside very limited areas it consists of things like someone saying "Trust me." What's communicated in that? Trust? No. Trustworthyness? No. And on and on. McCracken is Dr. Immanuel Rath as techno futurist. The 20th century saw enough of those criminal buffoons. I called him a Stalinist for a reason. The illustration of ideas does not communicate those ideas to anyone who does not share them.

We communicate in art, in all the rhetoric we use above and around the words we use when we say: "Trust me." Use your "labeled nodes and network analyses" but you're the one who's ignoring structure not me. You and Dr. Alex Rosenberg, and Dr. McCracken and Dr. Rath. The last of them at least realized his mistake. But you can ignore him if you want. After all, he's only a fictional character in the movies.

I understand that you're defensive about the way you've chosen to live your life, and that you don't pay attention to the details of criticism. Graphing is easy, interpretation is hard.

I have the same arguments with defenders of late Picasso. Describing in their own words how good the work is they describe nothing more than their own tastes. I respond by describing it in the context of the culture of 1955-72 with all else that happened and reply that late Picasso seems unimportant. Doing the same for the work of 1904-1920 the result is different. We'll see how it plays out.

You would call all this unsupported assertion. By comparison your only substantive assertion is that people you know care about their work, and the "form" of their work. I accept that. But still that says no more than that some people care about the form of late Picasso. And nothing is learned about the work your friends enjoy, or late Picasso.
This hasn't been getting much coverage
In the speech, Prince proposed that the US government deploy armed private contractors to fight "terrorists" in Nigeria, Yemen, Somalia and Saudi Arabia, specifically to target Iranian influence. He expressed disdain for the Geneva Convention and described Blackwater's secretive operations at four Forward Operating Bases he controls in Afghanistan. He called those fighting the US in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan "barbarians" who "crawled out of the sewer." Prince also revealed details of a July 2009 operation he claims Blackwater forces coordinated in Afghanistan to take down a narcotrafficking facility, saying that Blackwater "call[ed] in multiple air strikes," blowing up the facility. Prince boasted that his forces had carried out the "largest hashish bust in counter-narcotics history." He characterized the work of some NATO countries' forces in Afghanistan as ineffectual, suggesting that some coalition nations "should just pack it in and go home." Prince spoke of Blackwater working in Pakistan, which appears to contradict the official, public Blackwater and US government line that Blackwater is not in Pakistan.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Continuing from the last post.
This is sort of funny. You want to think Cory Doctorow understands his own words but he doesn't. And I found the link through Henry Farrell. who similarly wants to understand, but can't. They both manifest the geek's pathological externalism. I wrote that last phrase then decided to google it to see if it'd been used before. Only once apparently.

Observation, study, and marking to the mean exerts downward pressure on the mean. Farrell and Doctorow are struggling against the natural outcome of their own preoccupations.

Facebook's Zuckerberg (from the third link above)
You have one identity,… “The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly.” He adds: “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.
The point -value- of multiple identities, is in how they allow us to operate through contradiction, and contradictions specifically are something that conceptualists/geeks try to ignore. Role-playing and other forms of fiction are denuded of their moral authority and relegated to forms of simple gaming, ancillary to thought and reasoning rather than central to behavior. Objectivity is thought of as public, impersonal and absolute, while subjectivity is secondary and private. In fact the reverse is true: subjectivity is both public and central; objectivity or "truth", like justice, is public but approximate. A courtroom is a theater and lawyers are role-playing. The absolute is always private.

An anti-humanist will say we know each other by our ideas, which we learn simply by exchange. A humanist will say we know each other through our contradictions: not through understanding, but interpretation.

Conceptualists imagine communication as being founded in the articulation and reception -questions of truth and falsity- of statements such as "One plus one equals two." Humanists see it in the articulation and reception, and questioning, of statements such as "I love you" or "Trust me". On humanism again contemporary philosophers who call themselves humanists are as ignorant of history as they are unobservant of their own behavior, and argue from assumptions that run counter to what humanism was once seen to represent.
Thus the Renaissance conception of humanitas had a two-fold aspect from the outset. The new interest in the human being was based both on a revival of the classical antithesis between humanitas and barbartias, or feritas, and on a survival of the mediaeval antithesis between humanitas and divinitas. When Marsilio Ficino defines man as a “rational soul participating in the intellect of God, but operating in a body,” he defines him as the one being that is both autonomous and finite. And Pico’s famous ‘speech’ ‘On the Dignity of Man’ is anything but a document of paganism. Pico says that God placed man in the center of the universe so that he might be conscious of where he stands, and therefore free to decide ‘where to turn.’ He does not say that man is the center of the universe, not even in the sense commonly attributed to the classical phrase, “man the measure of all things.”

It is from this ambivalent conception of humanitas that humanism was born. It is not so much a movement as an attitude which can be defined as the conviction of the dignity of man, based on both the insistence on human values (rationality and freedom) and the acceptance of human limitations (fallibility and frailty); from this two postulates result responsibility and tolerance.

…The humanist, then, rejects authority. But he respects tradition.

Erwin Panofsky, “The History of Art as a Humanistic Discipline" in Meaning in the Visual Arts

“Humanism- Most generally any philosophy concerned to emphasize human welfare and dignity, and optimistic about the powers of unaided human understanding.”
Simon Blackburn, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy
The two passages originally posted here. I'm repeating myself a lot, but each day brings another example that demonstrates one or more of my few basic points: Consciousness to the degree that it exists is multiform; assuming otherwise moves the personal and subjective to the periphery making it easier for others to dismiss their relevance altogether.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

"When dealing with complex issues the best response is not first to assume all people are children but to ask: "How should an adult respond?"

I wrote that elsewhere, but it gets to the heart of the problem of 'scientific' passivity in intellectual and political life. The increasing wealth of a smaller and smaller minority is seen as the result of a "natural" process. Obama's preserving or even expanding the authority of the Executive is similarly natural. [Jack Balkin] But natural processes are determinist. This goes back to my comments on the transformation of economics from a realist understanding of human partiality and frailty into an idealist theory of human capacity, based either on a theory of a mythical natural balance or on the hopes for an equally mythical coterie of experts either immune to partiality or struggling mightily (and "scientifically") to develop the perfect artificial mechanism. Whichever way you look it's the defense of the moral passivity of ants.

I'd call the whole thing the result of determinist process, but that would include all the theories of the wise men who think determinism only applies to others.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

idea | īˈdēə | noun
-A logic or process common enough in practice to be recognized and articulated in speech, at which time its usefulness begins to fade. Becoming even more popular out of enthusiasm for the new.
-What a description becomes when it's applied to something else.
-An unoriginal thought.
In the arts in the late 60s there were debates about the role of "mastery." What was attacked was the mastery of craft. Left unacknowledged, almost always, was that what was to replace a mastery of craft was a mastery of ideas.
On September 17, 1969 I sent a letter to eleven senior members of the philosophy profession, asking them to serve as co-signers with me on a motion to be presented to the annual meeting of the Eastern Division of the APA, calling for the establishment of a Standing Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession. Alice Ambrose and Morris Lazerowitz [who were husband and wife] came on board, as did Justus Buchler [whose wife taught philosophy], and Sue Larson and Mary Mothersill, both of Barnard. Maurice Mandelbaum, who along with Lewis White Beck had read my Kant manuscript for Harvard, was sympathetic, but pointed out that as the incoming APA president, if he signed he would be in the position of petitioning himself. A good point. The great Classicist Gregory Vlastos also said yes, as did Ruth Marcus, whom I knew from my Chicago days, when she was at Northwestern. Morty White was supportive, but declined to sign for fear that if the motion passed, he would be expected to serve on the committee, something he said he could not do because of writing obligations. That left Jack Rawls, who declined to sign. In retrospect, this does not surprise me. Although Jack was on his way to becoming the world's leading expert on justice, he never seemed to be there when action was needed.
I've said it before, quoting my mother, who saw a lot of action over 40 years in the legal/political trenches: "Rawls wasn't interested in people. He was interested in ideas!" Her tone was contemptuous.

Link from Brian Leiter

Monday, May 10, 2010

J. Hoberman on Callie Angell.
Another in the Times.

I met Callie between her stints at the Whitney, when she was working for Arthur Danto et al. at the Journal of Philosophy. She'd been my girlfriend's boss the first time around, and came went back after she'd left. She was one of my closest friends for 10 years, but we hadn't talked for a long time.
Callie changed my opinion about Warhol. She showed me what many still don't understand: that he had one of the greatest eyes of the 20th century. I fought her on it and lost. To my lasting benefit.

The Times obit was updated, adding that it was suicide.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

An object lesson.
John Quiggin "The discussions here and elsewhere on agnotology/epistemic closure have established the existence of a set of mechanisms on the right for propagating ignorance and protecting it against factual refutation. These mechanisms have some obvious benefits, particularly in mobilising resistance against policy innovations, and tribal solidarity against outsiders of all kinds." 
John Mearsheimer "The story I will tell is straightforward. Contrary to the wishes of the Obama administration and most Americans – to include many American Jews – Israel is not going to allow the Palestinians to have a viable state of their own in Gaza and the West Bank. Regrettably, the two-state solution is now a fantasy. Instead, those territories will be incorporated into a “Greater Israel,” which will be an apartheid state bearing a marked resemblance to white-ruled South Africa. Nevertheless, a Jewish apartheid state is not politically viable over the long term. In the end, it will become a democratic bi-national state, whose politics will be dominated by its Palestinian citizens. In other words, it will cease being a Jewish state, which will mean the end of the Zionist dream."
Not a new point but becoming more popular because over time more obviously true. The two-state solution was always a racist one—liberal ethnic separatism is still an oxymoron—but it might have worked. You'll never understand how reason slips into unreason unless you can imagine yourself slipping. Quiggin's arrogance is laughable, more than that it's obscene: blithe superiority is a form of moral passivity. He's not thinking he's assuming, and since this was pointed out to him, politely at first, he's now lying, to himself and then everyone else.

Friday, May 07, 2010

One more time. The images and links are from and to today's edition of The Paper of Record.
"Rationalism now dominates the academy, the arts and humanities, in various forms of baroque specialization, with the result that academic intellectual life has become ghettoized, unable to model the world outside itself. The most well known example of this is standard economics which is called by many something close to formal science while the policies based on it have been ruinous. That term applies as well to other fields now so founded in assumption and the study of others as externalities -and as therefore somehow unlike the authors:”us”- that self-reflection is unheard of. But all the same that’s all there is, since intellectual activity has been reduced to feedback loop. The academy has become dominated by ideas, by philosophy and theory, a culture of reinforcing illustration and content provision.
The contemporary art market, the institutional Avant-Garde, has become ghettoized in a similar way, locked into its own snobbery, built on rationalization and hot air, but without the heavy intellectual baggage. Contemporary art is unable to model the complexity of the world, and yet it continues as a bubble economy. Its way out, its escape from the pressures of high seriousness if not high finance, is in fading more and more into high style, [the article at the link is by the lead art critic of the Times] since static forms can not compete with the dynamic forms of narrative that now dominate the wider visual culture, and the culture at large. And they dominate not because of media conglomerates’ conspiracy but because. Hollywood and MTV or activists giving video cameras to peasants in rural India to document their own lives all do a better job at fulfilling the basic function of art as representation and self-representation than discreet objects on the wall. Hollywood film and culture have always been more democratic than the New York School, which was founded as modern but is to this day also a remnant of the old regime. And the art world may now accept photography but has never come to terms with film as its intellectual rival, we should be clear: as a result of it being also a rival political and economic model."

Sunday, May 02, 2010

For a couple of decades the lowly plastic cassette tape, full of good sounds, cheaply copied and passed around like samizdat, served as creative raw material mostly in the indie-music world and the college dorm room.
But in London in the early 1970s, a conceptual artist named William Furlong began harnessing the cassette for his unlikely purposes in the visual arts. The motivation wasn’t dauntingly conceptual: he and his friends talked a lot and listened to the conversations of other artists and realized something.
“It became apparent to us,” Mr. Furlong said in a telephone interview last week from his home and modest recording studio in the Clapham section of London, “that none of that talk and none of our interests were being met by any traditional arts publications.”
Phaidon Press has now published “Speaking of Art,” a small sampling of the immense undertaking that resulted from that dissatisfaction. Beginning in 1973, with the help of a few collaborators, Mr. Furlong created Audio Arts, a no-budget “magazine” composed solely of cassette recordings of interviews with artists Mr. Furlong found interesting. He mailed them to friends and subscribers, at first hundreds and then thousands.

...Mr. Furlong considers the magazine a work of art itself: a monumental audio sculpture.
Considering himself a sculptor he refers to his projects as sculptures; whether they're best defined as that is irrelevant. His pretense fits with the history of video and performance art and of every other process of cultural transformation wherein one formal system acclimates itself to change while maintaining a pretense of continuity.

Culture in the 1960's continued the fraught process of return to a model of non-ideal representation, of representation involving time rather than timelessness, the fine arts specifically struggling to accept what photography and film took for granted. But art was art and movies and theater were entertainment. This is the tension as I've said that marks the mixture of smart observation and absurd prescription in Michael Fried's Art and Objecthood, as well as art-school teachers' fondness for Vertov and indifference to Eisenstein.

This brings us (since I was lucky enough to find both last week) to another example of the same process of change: philosophy, poaching on experimental psychology as "experimental philosophy"

Joshua Knobe, and the "Knobe Effect"
Rather than consulting his own philosophical intuitions, Knobe set out to find out how ordinary people think about intentional action. In a study published in 2003, Knobe presented passers-by in a Manhattan park with the following scenario. The CEO of a company is sitting in his office when his Vice President of R&D comes in and says, ‘We are thinking of starting a new programme. It will help us increase profits, but it will also harm the environment.’ The CEO responds that he doesn’t care about harming the environment and just wants to make as much profit as possible. The programme is carried out, profits are made and the environment is harmed.

Did the CEO intentionally harm the environment? The vast majority of people Knobe quizzed – 82 per cent – said he did. But what if the scenario is changed such that the word ‘harm’ is replaced with ‘help’? In this case the CEO doesn’t care about helping the environment, and still just wants to make a profit – and his actions result in both outcomes. Now faced with the question ‘Did the CEO intentionally help the environment?’, just 23 per cent of Knobe’s participants said ‘yes’ (Knobe, 2003a).

This asymmetry in responses between the ‘harm’ and ‘help’ scenarios, now known as the Knobe effect, provides a direct challenge to the idea of a one-way flow of judgments from the factual or non-moral domain to the moral sphere. ‘These data show that the process is actually much more complex,’ argues Knobe. Instead, the moral character of an action’s consequences also seems to influence how non-moral aspects of the action – in this case, whether someone did something intentionally or not – are judged.
The fact that people are held responsible for thoughtlessness that results in a bad outcome while not given credit for thoughtlessness that results in a good one -an "asymmetry in responses"- is common knowledge.  Here it's somehow a new and surprising thing, named for its "discoverer". Knobe may want to make a distinction between intention and responsibility but the author of the passage doesn't give it much thought, slipping from one to the other just as I assume the "folk" Knobe interviewed did.  It's as if Knobe were surprised to see a woman on the street wearing a bikini while he doesn't notice that the road is running by a beach. Taking a break from his life in the library stacks he thinks he's discovered something new.

Law is a function of organized society. Its job is the management of conflict, and needs to be consistent in its application. No one has ever insisted that it's absolutely consistent in its formal structure. Similarly there's no reason that people's responses are internally consistent according to one definition of rationality. Responses may be predictable, but that's not the same thing.

People argue from values. The respondents transposed questions of intent into questions of praiseworthiness. Should the CEO be praised by helping the environment without caring one way or the other? No.
Modern empiricism has been conditioned in large part by two dogmas. One is a belief in some fundamental cleavage between truths which are analytic, or grounded in meanings independently of matters of fact and truths which are synthetic, or grounded in fact. The other dogma is reductionism: the belief that each meaningful statement is equivalent to some logical construct upon terms which refer to immediate experience. Both dogmas, I shall argue, are ill founded. One effect of abandoning them is, as we shall see, a blurring of the supposed boundary between speculative metaphysics and natural science. Another effect is a shift toward pragmatism.
The penultimate sentence in that paragraph is more absurd, and more perverse, than anything by Derrida, and it's done more lasting harm.

I posted this before but again it's apropos. The meanings of words change over time. Here's some mainstream left-liberalism from 1965. It does not represent mainstream left-liberalism now.

Language games describe the era in which they're used. There is no access to the language of the past without both an imaginative sympathy and a knowledge of function. There is no valid empiricism absent an (empirically derived) knowledge of history and of historical change. The rigors of formal logic brought into the world become pedantry.
Mearsheimer []
The story I will tell is straightforward. Contrary to the wishes of the Obama administration and most Americans – to include many American Jews – Israel is not going to allow the Palestinians to have a viable state of their own in Gaza and the West Bank. Regrettably, the two-state solution is now a fantasy. Instead, those territories will be incorporated into a “Greater Israel,” which will be an apartheid state bearing a marked resemblance to white-ruled South Africa. Nevertheless, a Jewish apartheid state is not politically viable over the long term. In the end, it will become a democratic bi-national state, whose politics will be dominated by its Palestinian citizens. In other words, it will cease being a Jewish state, which will mean the end of the Zionist dream. Let me explain how I reached these conclusions...