Tuesday, February 26, 2013

note taking. more on Sahlins. comments elsewhere
From Dorothy Thompson’s introduction to The Poverty of Theory
“Of course it produced responses. Some of these emerged at an extraordinary evening at a History Workshop conference in Oxford in December 1979. This was for some reason held in a dimly-lit ruined building, and had been set up as a discussion. It ended up however as an emotionally-charged event whose repercussions continued for months if not for years. 
…At the end of the evening a leading History Workshop character asked whether he would continue to publish relevant material. Edward replied that he thought he would not be publishing much of anything for a while, since he felt that his time would be taken up trying to organize opposition to cruise missiles in Britain. The answer was ‘Cruise what Edward?’”
“The answer was ‘Cruise what Edward?’” Rilly.
The rise of the neoliberal academy.
“I expect pissed-off lefties like Terry Turner to be ready to take the fight to the enemy. What I always find so depressing about these periods of academic blood letting is how poorly the ‘scientists’ behave as they extol an ideal of dispassionate objectivity while simultaneously savaging anyone who suggests to them that they may not be living up to their own ego ideal.”
It’s not just the ‘scientists’ Witness an author on this blog “Sahlins move seems to represent a transformation of the conflict out of the arena of measured debate and into the symbolic.”

Such wounded reasonableness. “Why is Sahlins getting so angry?” A question asked from tribal loyalty, except for the fact that its tribal loyalty while denying even the possibility that that’s what it could be.

Tribal loyalty is human. The model of collaborative reason denies politics, so that arguments from authority and dripping with condescension if not outright contempt are allowed against outsiders. “What do women want?” the concerned men ask each other. “Why are they so angry?” Should it mean something that men are all scientists? Should it help their argument? Should it hurt?

Language is politics. The academy needs more open argument not less. It needs intellectual bloodsport to counter bureaucratic politesse, the intellectual model of the courtroom to counter the model of the lab. Courts aren’t barbaric they’re necessary. The defenders of Chagnon, not only “scientists” but petty bureaucrats, pretend politics are beneath them, but they live by it.

It’s not a “kerfuffle” it’s a fight over the definition of moral responsibility. If you don’t want to argue about that, stop pretending you have any intellectual interests at all. You’re just a happy technician. The model of the neoliberal academy.


I’ll add one more point before bowing out, since things are heating up, as they should.

I had arguments with David Graeber 30 years ago and later in Chicago when I realized. putting it bluntly, that anthropologists as academics no longer understand culture because they don’t understand their relation to the culture they’re a part of.

Any filmmaker will tell you that moral questions are the most important ones. To a humanist they’re the most interesting and most fun. They’re the good stuff. Everything else and you’re just a bricklayer or a file clerk of some sort or another. But here the good stuff is treated as a side issue that’s gotten in the way of science.”The Great Kalahari Debate” The moral questions are front and center. But the debate itself makes people uncomfortable.

The offense taken at Zero Dark 30 was that questions had gotten in the way of answers. What if torture works sometimes, as it did in Germany 10 years ago (Magnus Gäfgen) and it’s still wrong? In Lincoln and Argo it was the other way around. Too many answers not enough questions. And the CIA won the oscar for best picture. Chagnon would never have ended up as important as he is if moral questions were seen as interesting in themselves. Obviously they bored him a bit. And obviously also for some there’s a good career to be made in moralism. But reminding people of that is just another way of avoiding the questions of morality itself. And Chagnon is a moralist, isn’t he? The argument is that his moralism made him an incompetent scientist.

If you’re wondering about your relations with the people you study and you know you can’t treat them the way you treat your mother, just as an experiment spend a week treating your mother the way you’d treat the people you study. And when that makes you scared you know you’ve hit the sweet spot, until you get lazy and your subjects or your mother call you an asshole. And then you get scared again, as you should be. Anthropologists are part scholar and part scientist. Scientists are just plumbers. That’s my side of that argument. 
What do I know about science? I’m only an artist, but I know the only anthropological films that are more than visual file clerking are by Wiseman. He’s one of the most important filmmakers alive and he calls his films "fictions". He keeps his eye right in the sweet spot.

I’m with Sahlins. But I’m too young to feel this old.


If questions of morality were only practical we wouldn’t need lawyers. As it is, give me the nihilism of lawyers, including and especially underpaid public defenders, over the idealism of philosophers. Lawyers have a formal relation to their clients. They’re paid advocates.
How primitive is that?

Housewives invented feminism, railroad porters started the civil rights movement and teary-eyed drag queens mourning the death of Judy Garland started the public fight for gay rights. No one gave a damn about the Jews and until recently no one gave a damn about the Palestinians.
Practice precedes theory.

I haven’t seen that Downey vid in years, and of course I forgot about Rouch. That was stupid.

“Science is exciting, fun, and joyous…” Enthusiasm is more dangerous than heroin.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

"the biggest comeback in the history of German pop music."
He said many Germans – such as music critic Rainer Moritz, who referred to him as the "vomiting agent of several generations" – had been too snobbish to recognise his success as a cultural figurehead, but that the proof of his talent was in his sales figures, as well as the fact he has a recognisability factor of 99%, even higher than that of the chancellor, Angela Merkel.
"Why should an old oak be bothered by the pig that claws it?" he asked, pointing out – as he likes to – that in 1980 his album Lieder der Berge (Songs of the Mountains) sold 1.2m copies in Germany while John Lennon, who was assassinated in December that year, sold just 200,000. 
"For years I've been the butt of jokes, but to date I've sold 50m records. If anyone from the music scene laughs at me now, all I can do is laugh back," he said. "The day before yesterday four young people passed me on the autobahn, gave me the thumbs up and waved. These are things that make a 74-year-old happy. After all, they could be saying: 'what's that old geezer up to?'" he said.
No one should be surprised.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Written on the fly elsewhere. It's a repeat, but it's short and sweet.

Moralists and technocrats both rely on crutches, one of morality as an idea, and the other on ideas as morality.
The focus either on moralism or technics flattens the experience of selfhood. We’re always of two minds. Consciousness is internal conflict. Democracy is defined by the ability of people to negotiate their own contradictions, and from there to negotiate conflicts with others. Technocrats and moralists denying their own complexity, deny it of others, weakening democracy.
Sahlins and John Horgan on Chagnon.  From Savage Minds

Darkness in El Dorado Archive
Sponsel (2011) responds to Dreger

Graeber on Twitter today: "Marshall Sahlins submits resignation to National Academy of Science objecting to election of Chagnon, mil research projects"

I was still working on my review of Darkness when I received emails from five prominent scholars: Richard Dawkins, Edward Wilson, Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett and Marc Hauser [see below]. Although each wrote separately, the emails were obviously coordinated. All had learned (none said exactly how, although I suspected via a friend of mine with whom I discussed my review) that I was reviewing Darkness for the Times. Warning that a positive review might ruin my career, the group urged me either to denounce Darkness or to withdraw as a reviewer. 
I responded that I could not discuss a review with them prior to publication. (Only Dennett persisted in questioning my intentions, and I finally had to tell him, rudely, to leave me alone. I am reconstructing these exchanges from memory; I did not print them out.) I was so disturbed by the pressure from Dawkins et al—who seemed to be defending not Chagnon per se but the sociobiology paradigm–that I ended up making my review of Darkness more positive. I wanted Darkness to be read and discussed, to get a hearing. After all, Tierney leveled what I found to be credible accusations against not only Chagnon but also other scientists and journalists.
Sept. 2012
Former Harvard Psychologist Fabricated and Falsified, Report Says
Marc Hauser was once among the big, impressive names in psychology, head of the Cognitive Evolution Laboratory at Harvard University, author of popular books like Moral Minds. That reputation unraveled when a university investigation found him responsible for eight counts of scientific misconduct, which led to his resignation last year. 
Now the federal Office of Research Integrity has released its report on Hauser’s actions, determining that he fabricated and falsified results from experiments. Here is a sampling...
Sahlins interviewed at Counterpunch

Friday, February 22, 2013

Mideastwire "Dexter Filkins and the New Yorker: Was his story fact checked?"

2/24: Dexter Filkins Deceives Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC

Thursday, February 21, 2013

posted elsewhere neatened up a bit.
A few suggestions:
A more critical understanding of characters such as Simon Sinek, Danah Boyd and Grant McCracken, and the role of futurism and anti-humanism in intellectual life, inside and outside the academy.

No discussion of Zero Dark 30 without context. If we can refer to race–as a “political technology” we should ask about performative reinforcement in the use of the terminology of machines. What kind of esthetic is manifest?

…can we talk about Palestine?
I read Arabs on the Arab spring, before I read anthropologists. Or I read Arab academics.

Aaron Swartz killed himself facing the risk of six months in a low security federal pen, because “data wants to be free”. Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails facing open ended sentences are on hunger strike, ready to die because people want to be free.

Palestinians are the next wave of civil right movement: shopkeepers, housewives and husbands. They’re leading themselves just as, in the past, American blacks, women and homosexuals led themselves. When forced to face real engagement Judith Butler became an articulate and plain spoken defender of Palestinians’ claims to basic civil equality. She defended liberalism when liberals who’ve attacked her refused to. That’s the important fact, not the theoretical gobbledygook that came before. Could it be that gobbledygook was emotionally necessary as a way to defend humanism in an anti-humanist age? Maybe “theory” as poetry kept humanism alive: the poetry of technocracy, fighting against itself.

We’re the products of our culture. Our language forms us. The rise of technology and the technological imperative has resulted in a culture of pseudo-objectivity and a language and culture of happy-faced pseudo-autism: the effaced, elided self.

Who watches the watchmen? Who naturalizes the naturalizers?
How about the end of arguments from an assumption of a stable self? Not the idea of instability by the fact of it.

How about a relentless assault on the moral, esthetic, and political foundations of geekdom.
Politics, in large part, is a response to diversity. It reflects a seemingly incon­trovertible condition—any imaginable human population is heterogeneous across multiple, overlapping dimensions, including material interests, moral and ethical commitments, and cultural attachments.
"Politics, in large part, is a response to diversity." No. Politics begins with negotiated intimacy, parents and children, and expands out.  System builders start with regulation and end up systematizing familial relations.

This is a book with some important, even profound, ideas about politics, institutions, the virtues of democracy and what it takes to realize them, but it is written so so very, very diffusely that it will will have next to no impact, which is a shame. Let me try to lay out the main path of argument, which is rather lost amid the authors’ digressions and verbiage. 
We live in big, complex societies, which means we are thoroughly interdependent on each other, and that we will naturally have different ideas about how our life in common should go, and will have divergent interests. This means that politics we shall always have with us.
Again, earnest condescension is his métier.

Boettke: "Institutional Problems Demand Institutional Solutions"
Knight and Johnson have produced one of the most profound books in recent memory dealing with the questions of political structure and the processes that are necessary to reconcile our differences and to learn to live better together.
"Peter Boettke is a University Professor of Economics and Philosophy at George Mason University, the BB&T Professor for the Study of Capitalism, and the Director of the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at GMU."

If democracy is to be justified, it will have to be in consequentialist (or, if we prefer, “pragmatist”) terms; and as it seems prima facie implausible to think that all political and social institutions could or should be democratic in a first-order sense, only a second-order version of the consequentialist case for democracy can succeed.
A review [PDF] of Vermeule's Judging Under Uncertainty
As with statutes, so too with the Constitution. The courts, Vermeule argues, should enforce clear and specific constitutional texts, but should disclaim any role beyond that. Where constitutional texts are ambiguous or open ended, courts should let legislatures interpret them. Under this rule, Vermeule blandly notes, courts would cease enforcing the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment. In particular, freedom of speech, due process, and equal protection would all be remitted to legislative enforcement.
Vermeule in 2004, with Eric Posner, defending the OLC torture memo; more here and hereetc. A fascist from a good family.

James Johnson co-author of The Priority of Democracy, on his own site:  "Political Science In The News: They Say Political Science is Arcane and Silly. And They Say That As Though It Is A Bad Thing!"
What are we to make of this essay at The Atlantic? It is easy enough just to be snarky. We could point out that Mr. Ferenstein actually learned something important from his foray into grad school: he was not cut out for the profession. He simply did not like - or was no good at - political science (although it turns out in the comments thread that he had gone off to study political philosophy, which is a whole other thing).  Good! Hopefully his talents are better used elsewhere, although this essay is hardly evidence of that. And we might also point out that he seems to have no idea what he is talking about. Example: "The problem is that modern-day "political science" is rarely related to public policy or diplomacy at all. The scientific study of politics is the hyper-analytic mathematical, psychological, and anthropological study of civic behavior" Let's assume that this final sentence makes sense (it doesn't). Let's issue the same complaint about, say, evolutionary biology, which is not really related to direct practical human purposes either.
The perverse esthetics of systems and system-builders: a vampish defense of political science as the equivalent of biology, as if human beings (those other than the author and his copains) are proteins or cogs. That's not a simple defense of the article in the Atlantic. The question is whether political science and political philosophy are themselves anti-political and anti-humanist.
Cohen: I wrote a book called "If you're an Egalitarian How Come You're so Rich?" And the final chapter discusses fourteen reasons people give for not giving away their money when they're rich but they profess belief in equality, twelve of which are, well, rubbish. I think there are two reasonable answers that a person who doesn't give too much of it away can give and one of them has to do with the burden of depressing yourself below the level of your peer group with whom you're shared a certain way of life; and in particular, depriving your children of things that the children around them favor. And also, and slightly separately, the transition from being wealthy to being not wealthy at all can be extremely burdensome and the person who has tasted wealth will suffer more typically from lack of it than someone who's had quote unquote the good fortune never to be wealthy and therefore has built up the character and the orientation that can cope well with it.
It's so much harder to be powerless if you once had power. Pity the rich ex-Marxist.

The foundation of democracy is not in the ability of any given system to regulate conflicts among citizens, but the willingness and the ability of citizens' to face and then negotiate their own contradictory desires. Negotiation with others extends out from negotiation within a divided self.

The focus on technics and ideal organization weakens social bonds by weakening the ability to understand them. The focus exclusively on the world  beyond the self does not eliminate the self; it elides it, flattening it. Selflessness requires self-awareness. Self-awareness requires an awareness of internal division.   Saying you don't understand why people go to church, watch sports, have a "hometown", is not the same as choosing not to think or behave as they do.  It's self-satisfied, incurious, and it means you're blind to your own reflexes and foibles: blind to your own complexity.

"A focus on the mean puts downward pressure on the mean."  The performative reinforcement of mediocrity.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Italy's former military intelligence chief was sentenced to 10 years in jail on Tuesday for his role in the kidnapping of an Egyptian Muslim cleric in an operation organized by the United States.
An American former CIA station chief was this month sentenced in absentia to seven years in jail after imam Abu Omar was snatched from a Milan street in 2003 and flown to Egypt for interrogation during the United States' "war on terror".
For the CIA, it is quite clear how explosive the Italian case is for them. At the outset of the investigation, all Spataro had was a list of over 10,000 different cell phone calls. Using that as a basis, and with the help of meticulous research, he produced the entire indictment. At the beginning he believed that only the CIA was involved in the operation -- at the end seven Italian agents also stood in court. 
The length of Spataro's final speech to the court alone showed just how extensive his investigations had been. The first part at the beginning of October lasted seven hours by itself, the second part almost nine. He described the course of the investigation to the court using an elaborate PowerPoint presentation. "Otherwise nobody would have understood it," he said. 
His opponents have repeatedly tried to stop him. Spataro also investigated the actions of his own government. During the trial, he revealed details of the cooperation between Italian and US intelligence. In March, the Italian Constitutional Court ruled, at the behest of Silvio Berlusconi's government, that all the documents which concerned relations between the intelligence services were state secrets. This was a serious blow for Spataro, as it meant he could no longer use much of the evidence relating to the involvement of Italian agents in the operation. That evidence included recorded phone calls and the testimony of several witnesses, including the former SISMI boss Gianfranco Battelli. Battelli had said that Jeff Castelli, the then-CIA station chief in Rome, had asked him in a conversation to cooperate with the kidnapping of terror suspects 
...The defense attorneys had attacked the prosecutor by saying his whole case was inadequate and was based on a permanent violation of state secrets. They had called for acquittals across the board. 
In that respect, Judge Magi did not only decide on Wednesday about the guilt or innocence of the Italian and American agents and not only about the legality of kidnapping in the fight against terrorism. He also delivered a verdict as to whether a European government can use the pretext of state secrets to avoid being accountable before the law.
Prosecutor on Rendition Case: Kidnapping a 'Disgrace And Should Be Prosecuted'
A German prosecutor who investigated the CIA's kidnapping of Egyptian cleric Abu Omar in 2003 under the infamous rendition program tells SPIEGEL how he had to close the case due to a lack of information from US organizations. He says the kidnapping was a "disgrace" and that he would have filed indictments, if he had been able to.
Again: Adrian Vermeule... would have... none of it.
"Experts" do not understand democracy. They don't even understand inquiry.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Roger Cohen op-ed used for an Oscar pitch.
Three senators — Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin and John McCain — called the movie “grossly inaccurate.” Michael Morell, the acting C.I.A. director, opined: “Whether enhanced interrogation techniques were the only timely and effective way to obtain information from those detainees, as the film suggests, is a matter of debate that cannot and never will be definitively resolved.” 
Watching torture — the C.I.A. should abandon its ghastly euphemism — is profoundly unsettling. But Bigelow and Boal have done an important service in setting before a wide U.S. and global audience images of a traumatized America’s dark side. This happened: the waterboarding, the sleep deprivation, the sexual humiliation, the cruelty. Not exactly as depicted, but yes it did, in places that, as if in a totalitarian world, existed on no map.
And I think the movie’s portrayal of torture is truthful: It helped at times but at others did not. It provided clues that might have been gleaned by other means. And the ultimate success in finding Bin Laden occurred after President Obama had banned the methods “Zero Dark Thirty” portrays so powerfully. 
In the end the case for the unacceptability of torture is not best made by sweeping assertions that it is useless. The nuance of this movie builds a much stronger case that, whatever torture’s marginal usefulness, it is morally indefensible. 
The charge of inaccuracy is a poor thing measured against the potency of truth. “Zero Dark Thirty” is a truthful artistic creation, one reason it has provoked debate. Boal told The New York Times he did not want “to play fast and loose with history” — a statement held against him by several of the movie’s critics, most eloquently Steve Coll in The New York Review of Books. My sense, however, is that Boal has honored those words. 
There were few more minute observers of fact than George Orwell. As Timothy Garton Ash has written, if Orwell had a God it was Kipling’s “God of Things as They are.” Yet, as Garton Ash says of Orwell: “One of his most powerful early essays describes witnessing a hanging in Burma. But he later told three separate people that this was ‘only a story.’ So did he ever witness a hanging? He annotates a copy of “Down and Out in Paris and London” for a girlfriend: this really happened, this happened almost like this, but “this incident is invented.”’ 
Truth is art’s highest calling. For it the facts must sometimes be adjusted. “Zero Dark Thirty” meets the demands of truth.
"Truth" refers to the communication of the details of human experience, not events as such. The events should not be in dispute at this point.

Cohen again, on the new book by Vali Nasir
The White House seemed “more interested in bringing Holbrooke down than getting the policy right.” The pettiness was striking: “The White House kept a dossier on Holbrooke’s misdeeds and Clinton kept a folder on churlish attempts by the White House’s AfPak office to undermine Holbrooke.” 
Diplomacy died. Serious negotiation with the Taliban and involving Iran in talks on Afghanistan’s future — bold steps that carried a domestic political price — were shunned. The use of trade as a bridge got scant attention. Nasr concludes on Afghanistan: “We are just washing our hands of it, hoping there will be a decent interval of calm — a reasonable distance between our departure and the catastrophe to follow.” 
In Pakistan, too nuclear to ignore, the ultimate “frenemy,” Nasr observed policy veering between frustrated confrontation and half-hearted attempts to change the relationship through engagement. “The crucial reality was that the Taliban helped Pakistan face down India in the contest over Afghanistan,” Nasr writes. America was never able to change that equation. Aid poured in to secure those nukes and win hearts and minds: Drones drained away any gratitude. A proposed “strategic dialogue” went nowhere. “Pakistan is a failure of American policy, a failure of the sort that comes from the president handing foreign policy over to the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies.”
2 cheers for a level of sophistication.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The first time I read discusions of "comparative advantage" I thought immediately of the importance of redundancy for stable systems: efficient systems are fragile; stable systems have high levels of redundancy.

I thought these things were truisms. That's why I've had so much trouble (and this is going back years) following arguments predicated on thinking they weren't. [Taleb etc. here]

Economists and philosophers who defend efficiency defend it as a value system, a type of morality that they associate with science and engineering. But they're not engineers.

Writers of financial contracts are called Financial Engineers. And Joseph Yellow Kid Weil was a confidence engineer.

Leiter, in his post on Dworkin, includes among others a link to a symposium on one of Dworkin's papers [the link to the original paper is dead, but it's available here: pdf], and to his own "review essay" of recent books by and about Dworkin. The Theory of Esoteric Law for me puts the final nails in the coffin of every argument Leiter or Hart could make on the philosophy of law.  Dworkin's evasiveness is part and parcel of the general inability on the part of philosophers to admit to defending an idea to the extent of it being a form of ideological commitment, but besides that Dworkin's arguments describe pretty much the way things actually work. We create and defend narratives and try to find the "right" way to continue them. We try to justify those narratives and those decisions to those around us. Courts may invent new doctrines but the justification of those doctrines is always predicated on them being seen as the continuation of a tradition. They must be recognized, and recognition is a process of situating the unknown among the known. The focus is on continuity not change. Those who pretend that they themselves are not the product of culture will also pretend that their decisions are removed from it. Others will defend their cultural assumptions without being able or willing to articulate them. Scalia won't be remembered as he'd want to be and his desire, and the record of his social interactions, needs to be considered a part of the cultural and linguistic process of law.

Dworkin begins his response to Simon Blackburn by saying "Blackburn doesn't like lawyers…"
Hart was a barrister for 8 years but unlike Dworkin seems not to learned much from it.

"The argument with Balkin is whether we need to sacralize questions in order to avoid sacralizing things."

Saturday, February 16, 2013

In honor of Ronald Dworkin.
The importance of getting things "right" [repeats]

Hermann Broch
Although art is no longer a part of the religious system, having become autonomous like all other value-systems since the breakup of that all-encompassing system of religion, reinforcing this autonomy with the principle of l’art pour l’art, nonetheless, art even today has set down its own private theology in a series of aesthetic theories, and continues to hold to its highest value-goal, and this, too, continues to hover in the realm of the infinite, be it called “beauty,” “harmony” or whatever else. And the ethical demand made of the artist is, as always, to produce “good” works, and only the dilettante and the producer of kitsch (whom we meet here for the first time) focus their work on beauty. 
For the esthetic in general as an expression of the supreme ultimate value of a system can influence the result of ethical action only secondarily, just as “wealth” is not the main goal but the side effect of individual commercial activity. And “wealth” itself is an irrational concept. It is an almost mystical process, the setting of ethical values: Arising from the irrational, transforming the irrational to the rational, yet nonetheless it is the irrational that radiates from within the resulting form. 
Chris Bertram
Sometimes, when I’m reading or listening to a paper which excites me with its novelty and brilliance, perhaps because it contains some really elegant move, a mental image comes into my head of Steve McManaman running with the ball, circa 1996. Colin McGinn, writing in the latest Prospect about how he became a philosopher, would see the parallel
The metaphor that best captures my experience with both philosophy and sport is soaring: pole vaulting, gymnastics and windsurfing clearly demonstrate it, but the intellectual highwire act involved in full-throttle philosophical thinking gives me a similar sensation – as if I have taken flight, leaving gravity behind. It is almost like sloughing off mortality. (Plato indeed thought that acquiring abstract knowledge is a return to the prenatal state of the immortal soul.) There is also an impressiveness to these physical and mental skills that appeals to me – they evoke the “wow” reflex. Showing off is an integral part of their exercise; but as I said earlier, I don’t have any objection to showing off. In any case, there is not, for me, the discontinuity between sports and intellectual activities that is often assumed. It is not that you must either be a nerd or a jock; you can be both. It has never surprised me that the ancient Greeks combined a reverence for the mind with a love of sports: both involve an appreciation of the beauties of technique skilfully applied. And both place a high premium on getting it right – exactly right.
[remember that McGinn calls himself an atheist.]

Once again Brian Leiter defends a jurisprudence of how things ought to be. We "ought" to see things "as they are."   
So what's the difference between the twin and opposed oughts of morality and realism? Ought is a term of morality, you dumb fuck.
We can't escape arguing from foundations, even if they're fictional. And Posner is no more a realist than Kissinger. Powerful minds produce dynamic, (powerful), resilient, complex consistency. The relation of that consistency to the world (of which it is a part) is another question entirely. Relations cannot be assumed.

Leiter, here, discussing Cardozo and MacPherson reminds me of an art historian I knew who argued that van Gogh was ahead of his time, and had no place in the 19th C. tradition. His specialty was Gothic architecture; he was wrong. van Gogh was as much a part of his time as Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

The Constitution is "living" because language is living. Quoting myself. I won't bother linking to it:
Kurt Gödel panicked thinking he'd discovered a flaw in the Constitution that could legitimize dictatorship. Some people wonder what he found. Most people just think he was nuts. But he was a mathematician and logician; the flaw he found was language:
Kurt Gödel, meet David Addington.
We argue from beliefs through the common form of language. We can't not argue from morality.
The question is not how we come to truth but how we come to agreement.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Another award-winning photograph from Paul Hansen

Swedish Photographer Paul Hansen Wins Premier Photo Contest Award
Mayu Mohanna, jury member from Peru, said of Paul Hansen’s winning picture: "The strength of the pictures lies in the way it contrasts the anger and sorrow of the adults with the innocence of the children. It’s a picture I will not forget.”
So who gets the Oscar for best actor, a dead child or a living pallbearer?

Photojournalism is hackwork because journalism is hackwork. Just because journalism is necessary doesn't make it art. Just because bureaucracy is necessary doesn't make it profound.
Zero Dark 30 has the morality of art. The image above is fundamentally corrupt, reducing emotion to artifice, rather than using artifice to communicate emotion.

The same misunderstanding, coming from the opposite direction in Bill Viola below.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

“Documentaries are thought to have the same relation to social change as penicillin to syphilis.”

Continuing from the previous post


The importance of documentaries as political instruments for change is stubbornly clung to, despite the total absence of any supporting evidence. 
Documentaries, like plays, novels, poems, are fictional forms that have no measurable social utility.  
I have no way of determining what is or is not representative in any sequence. It’s enough for me that it occurred while I was present and that it fits into the themes I find in the material. I am not interested in ideological film-making, whether of the right or left. I remember being criticized by some on the left when I made Hospital. They knew from their ideological positions that white middle-class doctors and nurses exploited poor blacks and Hispanics. Therefore a film like Hospital which showed many white doctors and nurses (as well as black and Hispanic doctors and nurses) working hard, long hours to help their patients was ideologically offensive. Film ideologues are not interested in the discovery and surprise aspect of documentary film-making, or in trusting their own or anyone else’s independent judgement, but want documentary film-makers to confirm their own ideological, abstract views which have little or no connection with experience. Some documentary film-makers urged on in their self-generated political fantasies by academics and other ideologues, by film barons and bureaucrats, and by all those who form the parasitic platoons fluttering around film-makers, believe documentaries must educate, expose, inform, reform and effect change in a resistant and otherwise unenlightened world. Documentaries are thought to have the same relation to social change as penicillin to syphilis. The importance of documentaries as political instruments for change is stubbornly clung to, despite the total absence of any supporting evidence.
Sometimes, in his lofty condescension, a film-maker seeks to bring enlightenment to the great unwashed and force feed this or that trendy political pap to an audience which has not had the opportunity, or perhaps even the wish, to participate in either the experience or the mind of the film-maker. This, which might be called the ‘Carlos’ fantasy, suggests to the filmmaker that he is important to the world. Documentaries like plays, novels, poems – are fictional in form and have no measurable social utility.

"Is Art useful? Yes. Why? Because it is art. Is there such a thing as a pernicious form of art? Yes! The form that distorts the underlying conditions of life. Vice is alluring; then show it as alluring; but it brings with its train peculiar moral maladies and suffering; then describe them. Study all the sores, like a doctor in the course of his hospital duties, and the good-sense school, the school dedicated exclusively to morality, will find nothing to bite on. Is crime always punished, virtue always rewarded? No; and yet if your novel, if your play is well put together, no one will take it into his head to break the laws of nature. The first necessary condition for the creation of a vigorous art form is the belief in underlying unity. I defy anyone to find one single work of imagination that satisfies the conditions of beauty and is at the same time a pernicious work."
Wiseman's work has had more impact than most, but that's not the point. There's no contradiction between Wiseman and Baudelaire. Diagnosis is not cure.

Monday, February 11, 2013

working on this, years later. Fixing a few stupid mistakes and some bad writing. It's still a mess.

Gustav Grundgens in Fritz Lang's M (1931)
The conflict between sympathy and justice is as great a subject for art as for philosophy. It's hard to watch people struggling to face responsibility for their actions; it's even harder when the acts are recent, or ongoing. But how should we talk about German books, art, and film, made before, during, and after WW II? How should we talk about European and American art in general? [I wrote this a month after writing about Taruskin and Prokofiev. How did I forget that?]

I love Titian's portraits of Charles V and Philip II, both murderers on an epic scale. The paintings' craft is at odds with absolutist order, and they mark that disjunction with more subtlety than any document. Velazquez' kings are sad; his slaves are proud. He was the first artist to make works that less describe faith than the desire for it, but I wouldn't expect a Protestant, or Jewish, or Amerindian subject of the Spanish crown to admire his portraits of the king. 

I didn't want to see Zero Dark 30.  I'm too close, and too aware of the world outside the American imagination to want to watch a document of American attempts to come to grips with the last 10 years of war. Chomsky is right: "Uncontroversially" George Bush's crimes "vastly exceed bin Laden's". But my hesitation says nothing about the film itself, only about my ability to keep a distance.

Objectivity is impossible. It's tempting to moralize if you know enough, but generalizing from indignation leads to disaster. Zionism is to American liberalism what climate denialism is to the American right. We're creatures of sense and experience, and blind spots are a given. I wasn't shocked to find out Chomsky's still a Zionist. The assumption that only Americans, or men, or whites, or heterosexuals, or people with or without PhDs, are capable of magical thinking is itself magical thinking: absurd. But this country specializes in that absurdity. Americans use soul-searching to pat themselves on the back, celebrating the recognition of error as yet another triumph. It's less American than the product of the sort of individualism this country helped spread to the world: a self-blind confidence, looking out with ironic detachment and lovingly at yourself in the mirror.

How do we acknowledge responsibilities while admitting the frailty of reason? The relation of ideas to acts is a problem of art, not science.

The best defense of journalism I know is by Nir Rosen, responding to accusations of treason, after embedding with the Taliban. The formatting is in the original.
objections to my article have been silly so far. i'm a journalist, not an american journalist. my job is not to serve as a propagandist for anybody, just to tell stories and my advantage is that i can tell stories that are hard to come by[.]
any comparison to WWII or the nazis always shows a lack of imagination, but in this case also a lack of understanding. the whole reason why its important to have people like me, able to hang out with militias in somalia, afghanistan, iraq or lebanon, is because they are not a formal army of a formal state, with clear goals, structure, hierarchy etc. on the contrary, their motives are not known and diverse, often at odds, they take up arms for different reasons and as anybody remotely interested in COIN knows by now (except for sassaman perhaps), they do not put down their arms through force, unless you're willing to use force like the russians in chechnya (and that hasnt worked for the israelis), but instead their goals and motives must be understood, and eventually a political accord must be reached.
moreover, journalists regularly embed with the american military when it is conducting operations, attacks, killing. whats the difference?
imagine if that one taliban commander had not screwed up my plans to go with them when they conducted attacks, and i had seen that too. isnt that interesting? isnt it important to understand who they are? and most importantly, wouldnt it make for a fun read?
That's not a defense of objectivity but of disinterest, verging on amorality. Yet on questions of morality I'd trust Rosen more than most, and the reasons are in the same paragraph. He argues less from superiority than for honesty. He's an adventurer who's arguing for intellectual seriousness. Judgements of his moral seriousness are left to others. But he doesn't deny morality. A good surgeon knows he loves cutting people open. His first responsibility is to be good at his job.

If Rosen defends journalism, so does Baudelaire
It is painful to observe that similar errors are to be found in two opposing schools: the bourgeois school and the socialist school. "Let us moralize! Let  us moralize!" both sides exclaim, with the fervent ardor of missionaries. Of course, one preaches bourgeois morality and the other socialist morality, and, as a result, art is a mere question of propaganda.

Is Art useful? Yes. Why? Because it is art. Is there such a thing as a pernicious form of art? Yes! The form that distorts the underlying conditions of life. Vice is alluring; then show it as alluring; but it brings with its train peculiar moral maladies and suffering; then describe them. Study all the sores, like a doctor in the course of his hospital duties, and the good-sense school, the school dedicated exclusively to morality, will find nothing to bite on. Is crime always punished, virtue always rewarded? No; and yet if your novel, if your play is well put together, no one will take it into his head to break the laws of nature. The first necessary condition for the creation of a vigorous art form is the belief in underlying unity. I defy anyone to find one single work of imagination that satisfies the conditions of beauty and is at the same time a pernicious work. 
Everyone I know who's liked Zero Dark 30 has described is as a sympathetic study of human pathology, something between a film by Frederick Wiseman and De Palma's Scarface. Every criticism by Americans has been colored by a defense of America or its self-image.  Criticism by foreigners is predicated on the fact that it's yet another film by Americans about Americans and its victims are secondary. But that's criticism by refusal not obfuscation.

If it's a victory for feminism that Israeli women are allowed into combat, it's a victory for feminism that women are active members of Hamas. We all live within boundaries, and I'm not going to moralize about a movie that's more honest than its American critics. Spanish painting was about Spain. Russian films about soldiers in Afghanistan or Chechnya are about Russia. Israelis making movies about Palestinians are making movies about Israelis. Men making films about women are making films about men. If they think they're making films about anything else they're lying to themselves. Honesty is all that's required for art. Honesty and the the acceptance of honesty are necessary for real politics.

Contrast Rosen to Steve Coll, in the NY Review
Even if torture worked, it could never be justified because it is immoral. Yet state-sanctioned, formally organized forms of torture recur even in developed democracies because some public leaders have been willing to attach their prestige to an argument that in circumstances of national emergency, torture may be necessary because it will extract timely intelligence relevant to public safety when more humane methods of interrogation will not.

There is no empirical evidence to support this argument. Among other things, no responsible social scientist would condone peer-reviewed experiments to compare torture’s results to those from less coercive questioning. Defenders of torture in the United States therefore argue by issuing a flawed syllogism: the CIA tortured al-Qaeda suspects; those suspects provided information that helped to protect the public; therefore, torture was justified and even essential. In his recent statement to agency employees about Zero Dark Thirty, acting CIA director Morrell gave this argument implicit support when he said that the ongoing debate over the CIA’s treatment of al-Qaeda suspects after 2002 “never will be definitively resolved.” 
That is a timid tautology; it is also evidence of a much wider political failure. As with discourse about climate change policy, the persistence of on-the-one-hand, on-the-other forms of argument about the value of officially sanctioned torture represents a victory for those who would justify such abuse. Zero Dark Thirty has performed no public service by enlarging the acceptability of that form of debate.
"Even if torture worked, it could never be justified because it is immoral…."  It would have helped a bit if Coll had written "should", to remove the implication that he had some authority. As it is the sentence reads as if The School of the Americas or KUBARK never existed, or Henry Kissinger were never born. "Yet state-sanctioned, formally organized forms of torture recur… " because people think it works. "There is no empirical evidence to support this argument…." because as he says,  no "responsible social scientist" would perform the study.

Coll begins with assumptions of moral authority and does what he can to support them. He blusters; he takes the CIA at it's word.  After Julian Assange met with lawmakers in Reykjavik he said Assange was hoping "to transform Iceland... into the "Cayman Islands of First Amendment-inspired subversion." See a good response here.  Unlike Rosen, Coll is an American journalist: the first thing he defends is his own superiority.

Corey Robin likes to mock liberals; whiteness is a recurring theme (search the page for references to Israel, Palestinians or Zionism; there are none) [there were none at the time]. He claims the role of a white[?] defender of the legacy of the American civil rights movement; you think he'd link at least once in the past few years to Philip Weiss

Robin's post on Zero Dark 30 linked to Glenn Greenwald, doing what I'd done in the earlier version of this piece, talking about a movie he hasn't seen.
I have not seen this film and thus am obviously not purporting to review it; I am, instead, writing about the reaction to the film: the way in which its fabrications about the benefits of torture seem to be no impediment to its being adored and celebrated.
Now we've both seen it, and neither of us has changed our minds

Greenwald is a moralist, or he's become one, maybe feeling the aftereffects of supporting the invasion of Iraq. His first book received a lot of praise; now it seems to be forgotten.  He's left like Coll to proclaim the inefficacy of torture, while continuing the absurd fixation on bin Laden, still a fetish figure for Americans, rather than focus on larger issues: the ridiculous expenditures following stupid policies that have always and will continue to backfire. Greenwald fits the US model of pundit as scold, a reformed drunk defending America's lost honor. His need to feel superior traps him in an argument he should be smart enough to avoid.

Democratic freedom and democratic responsibility are a duality: obligation to self and other, not to "the other" in the language of hypertrophied rationalism but to human beings other than yourself. Democratic states operate under an extension of this duality: to defend equality under law is to defend equality of all under law—if all people are equal, that must include foreigners—but states are exclusionary by definition, and by necessity. To say "No one is illegal" is a statement of perfect justice, not law, and law must take precedence. In an imperfect world this is a problem without a solution. It's an aporia, something to be dealt with as a recurring element of a political process where there's no opportunity for sainthood. At the same time when I read of American authors' concerns over the extrajudicial killings of American citizens, I'm left wanting to remind them that assassination itself is a problem for a democracy.  Even allowing for the necessities of statehood, it's not enough to defend democracy at home, especially because it's so easy to compartmentalize. "Liberal Zionism" in America means defending equality where you live and institutionalized bigotry in the place you claim your heritage.  Zionism is less the equivalent of Irish nationalism than Garveyism for Jews, but the logically obvious parallel has been ignored. The logic of Zionism in the west is the rhetoric of white and non-white, alternating and simultaneously. African Americans never had that option. The extremity of the disconnect even among the intellectual class seems peculiarly American.  Zionism, like American nationalism, including Greenwald's wounded nationalism, is not an argument from observation and reason but moralism and exceptionalism.

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. What I am asking is that Israel not do things that foreclose the possibility of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, because if it is does that it will become--and I'm quoting Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak here--an "apartheid state."
Beinart is now the editor of Open Zion. His latest book has caused a scandal, a scandal only worth talking seriously because it shows how much Zionists have been forced to admit how conservative they are by definition.  But this is not a license for a new corrected moralism.  If more and more Americans are able to see through the pretensions of  Zionism it's not the result of any advances in political philosophy. It can't be explained using the terms liberals employ that might give credit to the human imagination.  It's not the result of moral progress, it's economics and demographics. We learn from experience and contact. Ideas are secondary; people do not change as much as they are changed. White liberals and academics tend to forget that the civil rights movement wasn't led by social scientists and political philosophers but by lower middle class blacks and their priests.  If the strength of ideas were enough, there'd be less need for Jadaliyya; it would be just another publication in its niche.  As it is it's another aspect of the changes that have produced the international bourgeois revolution of the Arab spring. You don't have to be a determinist full-on to notice that academics have the habit of trying to showing the effect of determinism only on those other than themselves. As'ad AbuKhalil mocks the NY Times Middle East correspondent for not knowing Arabic.  When the Washington post was hiring six months ago the job posting read: "A strong candidate would bring some familiarity with the Arab world and some knowledge of Arabic, but these are not required." But it's not just the mainstream press that's lazy. And it's not just Americans, but Americans as the product of a revolution and now the reigning world power, have a tendency towards self-absorption that at the moment is unparalleled.

The only unthinking internationalism in this country outside the social life of immigrants takes place in the culture of finance and its attendant demimonde.  Club kids in Miami are more internationalist than American students of foreign policy. The romance of educated Americans with Paris or Matisse is little different than a fantasy of Borneo. Absurdities are universal; the absurdity of American political and intellectual life is something else. It's the politics of sincerity. Irony is seen universally as anti-political: reserved for enemies, never for friends, and never for yourself.  Young liberals are part of the gentrifying hordes who move into working class neighborhoods and throw the residents out of their homes.  Has there ever been an educated reformist movement so unaware of the perquisites of its own class? And the preferred art—as entertainment—of young technocrats, as it is for their teachers, is cerebral. The literary saints of American political science departments are Asimov and Tolkien, "speculative" fiction and fantasy. The failure of political thinkers to come to terms with the changes over the past decades have everything to do with a preference for theory over observation. The primacy of ideas—of theories of any sort—connotes that one can be either an idealist or a cynic; the mature politics of action demands principled casuistry.

The stupidity of American politics is the stupidity of the individual and the ideal, which is why the most profound American culture embeds in anti-politics. The anti-political comes by its politics honestly. Public politics in the US has been increasingly artificial; more than half the population has abandoned it and those who haven't float above it. Real politics is the politics of conflict not only between people but within them: people arguing with themselves. Arguments in Lebanon and Syria and Egypt, in Iran and even Israel are politically grounded: people know what it is to be pulled in two directions; they don't have a choice.  I picked those countries because they're places where politically-minded Americans either sound off like idiots or refuse to say anything, because there's no way to simplify the issues enough to allow them to say something their friends couldn't call them on as soon as the winds change. In America you can choose to be political and only people who choose to be political talk about it. And politics has become professionalized. The charm of European "continental" philosophers is that if their politics is a choice it's still a politics of amateurs; they're not philosophers, they're philosophes. The distinction is cultural but culture is key. Americans by comparison are either pedants of technocracy or if they have fantasies of Europe, of jouissance.

The self-described liberal philosopher and Zionist Martha Nussbaum famously launched an attack on the self-described radical philosopher Judith Butler; Butler now is in the position of defending the liberalism that Nussbaum claims to represent. There's nothing radical to her argument; it's a basic defense of civil and legal rights. For another example see Zizek, in Ramallah.  Nussbaum, Butler and Zizek all indulge magical thinking: they lie to themselves. Zizek is the least offensive because he's the most willing to offend. But I saw him speak in NY with the same filmmaker he joined in Ramallah, both of them with Badiou. Philosophers seem always to prefer their art as kitsch. And for radicality none of them match Rosen.
imagine if that one taliban commander had not screwed up my plans to go with them when they conducted attacks, and i had seen that too. isnt that interesting? isnt it important to understand who they are? and most importantly, wouldnt it make for a fun read?
That quote is dark irony, but it describes something central to democracy. Philosophers who defend democracy pretend it began in philosophers' books, but the books came later. First came coexistence. In politics as in life communication comes before grammar. The Greek playwrights were the foundations of democracy; the philosophers preferred kings. Philosophers are utopian by definition; theater can only be anti-utopian. Philosophers identify with judges but lawyers are actors playing roles. And even playing parts they choose, they have reason not to lose their sense of irony.

Bassem Youssef "The Egyptian Jon Stewart" went on Stewart's show and defended the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood even as he disagrees with them. They're part of his audience. American liberals seem not to have noticed that Stewart and Colbert never get attacked by the right.  Youssef and Stewart are important in their countries for the same reason: as amateurs, they're free to take politics more seriously than they take themselves; Youssef is the more interesting because he's living through his country's crisis. He has skin in the game.  But comedians understand democracy more than philosophers do: comedians and lawyers and novelists and honest journalists. Philosophers offer propositions; comedians show us the subtext.

So are Egyptian liberals now going to follow Turkish liberals and "pray" for the army?

"I put it to Leila that the man whose departure she was calling for wasn't a dictator, but a man her compatriots had voted for. We got a slightly troubling answer. "Yes, but the people who voted for him," she said, "are uneducated."

I have heard several similar responses. One of those opposed to President Morsi is the political sociologist Dr Saed Sadak, from the American University in Cairo. "Morsi was rejected by the urban areas," he told me. "It was the rural parts of Egypt that voted for him and his Muslim Brotherhood." "Isn't that how democracy worked all over the world?" I replied. "Not everybody gets who they want, they can always vote him out next time."

Dr Sadek's response was blunt. "It's like you're telling me to keep the babysitters I hired even if they are beating my child, just because we gave them a fixed term contract."
Istanbul in 2008
Covered women, long seen as backward peasants from the countryside, “have started to be everywhere,” said Ms. Simitcioglu, a sales clerk in an Italian clothing store, and it is making women like her more than a little uncomfortable. “We are Turkey’s image. They are ruining it.”
Egypt is divided, like Iran; the sooner Egyptian liberals accept that the better. And the Egyptian Black Bloc are no more political than Ultras, but the Ultras don't pretend. Worldwide, urban liberals see the rest of their homelands as flyover country. The sooner liberals understand how often their self-interest overshadows their principles -the sooner they learn to avoid the pitfalls of American liberalism- the better.  Many are still tempted by libertarianism, while more and more libertarians are willing to admit that freedom and democracy are incompatible. This leads us back to where democracy began: less in the demand for individual freedom than for an individual role in decision-making, with a concomitant acceptance of obligation.  Individualism is an ideology and it's infected every aspect of our politics, "left, right and center"; the phrase describes an object drifting in a sea of signification.  We will never see ourselves as others see us –all consciousness is partial– and others will never know what's in our heads. What's in America's head these days? It's got something to do with Zero Dark 30.

The US has tortured, and trained torturers, and supported states that used torture in furtherance of what are seen as US interests, which have nothing to do with democracy. This didn't begin after 9-11.  Let's stipulate that torture works, not against any and all. It can work as well as any successful raid in the drug war can be said to work, while being just as counterproductive as policy. It solves nothing. It makes more enemies. It's counterproductive in general and specifically for a democracy, as supporting dictatorships and monarchies is counterproductive in absolute terms and for democracies. Only democracy strengthens democracy.  Realism demands an acknowledgement of the existence of dictators and kings, but not more.

Optimists love to think of their successes.  Art remind us of our failures, and in a very real sense of the inevitability of failure, in death. Attacks on Zero Dark 30 are attacks on entartete kunst, as if it were the cause of decadence. The film is either a symptom or a record: as a symptom it's secondary. As a record it will last, as record and as art, because it says more about America than any document. 

Film critic Jim Hoberman in The Guardian, on why Zero Dark 30 will never work as propaganda
Like Zero Dark ThirtyLincoln was anticipated as a movie that would naturally reflect well on the current president and, indeed, on the eve of the Zero Dark Thirty opening and at the behest of senate majority leader Harry Reid, Spielberg hosted a special screening for a bipartisan senate audience. Zero Dark Thirty was repudiated, Lincoln embraced. The Oscar wars heated up. The Hollywood Reporter found that "negative talk is escalating", along with whispering campaigns: Zero Dark Thirty justifies torture, Lincoln distorts history. Perhaps so. Still, by putting an essentially positive spin on a bloody tragedy, Lincoln provides a history lesson with a happy ending. Zero Dark Thirty, whose chances at winning best picture seem to be nil, is the exact reverse – a success story with intimations of monumental failure. (Meanwhile, Argo – a movie in which movie magic is put to heroic use – emerged from its Golden Globes victory as an exciting feelgood, industry-flattering Oscar alternative.) 
Whereas Obama and his commanders followed the mission to kill Bin Laden in real time, Zero Dark Thirty presents Maya as its author and sole witness. She is the first to get the good news, the only American to greet the returning Seals, the person who unzips the body-bag and IDs the corpse. Maya is so important that she flies home alone in the empty bay of a cargo plane. Once again, she is blank and then, raison d'etre extinguished, she cries. 
Is Maya, like Ishmael, the lone survivor left clinging to the flotsam of the Pequod? Is she condemned, like Ethan Edwards at the end of The Searchers, to "wander forever between the winds"? What did it cost the girl (or Obama) or America to kill Bin Laden? Zero Dark Thirty slakes a thirst for vengeance and leaves an aftertaste of gall.
continuing in the next post

"Moralize! Moralize!" both sides exclaim, with the fervent ardor of missionaries. Of course one preaches bourgeois morality and the other socialist morality, and as a result, art is a mere question of propaganda."

"You must look through the surface of American art, and see the inner diabolism of the symbolic meaning. Otherwise it is all mere childishness....

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Perception does not know the concept of infinity; from the very outset it is confined within certain spatial limits imposed by our faculty of perception. And in connection with perceptual space we can no more speak of homogeneity than of infinity. The ultimate basis of the homogeneity of geometric space is that aIl its elements, the "points" which are joined in it, are mere determinations of position, possessing no independent content of their own outside of this relation: it is purely functional and not a substantial reality. Because fundamentally these points are devoid of all content, because they have become mere expressions of ideal relations, they can raise no questions of diversity of context. Their homogeneity signifies nothing other than this similarity of structure, grounded in their common logical function, their common ideal purpose and meaning. Hence homogeneous space is never given space, but space produced by construction; and indeed the geometrical concept of homogeneity can be expressed by the postulate that from every point in space it must bc possible to draw similar figures in aIl directions and magnitudes. Nowhere in the space of immediate perception can this postulate be fulfilled. Here there is no strict homogeneity and direction; each space has its own mode and its own value. Visual space and tactical space [Tastraum] are both anisotropic and unhomogenious in contrast to the metric space of Euclidian geometry: "the main directions of organization – before-behind, above-below, right-left – are dissimilar in both physiological spaces." [Ernst Mach] 
Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. Quoted in Panofsky, Perspective as Symbolic Form.
"Seminar on The Priority of Democracy" Technocrats are philosophical elitists of ideas: mediocre people in search of the best of all possible rules, which in the end are "devoid of all content, because they have become mere expressions of ideal relations, they can raise no questions of diversity of context".
Adrian Vermeule [history here, then here ] is a participant.

...see also M. Foucault, Liberal Fascism.

William Heckscher on Panofsky. From his memorial essay at the end of Panofsky's Three Essays on Style.
Everything in humanistic scholarship, even the (to him somewhat comical) New Criticism, which he characterized with Pierrot's words, "Je sais bien écrire, mais je ne sais pas lire," he considered acceptable, so long as it was not "institutionalized."
In America, it's always institutionalized, or the author is, if only under sedation.

It's absurd how much is lost when the goal of disinterest devolves into a fiction of objectivity.
But if “using rare words and tropes in place of common words and phrases” is a strategy of “deliberate transgression” of the norms of clear prose characteristic of the dominant classes and is opposed to “the hyper-correction strategies of pretentious outsiders,” then Bourdieu is a master strategist. Words such as lexis, allodoxia, chiastic, askesis, espace hodologique, hysteresis, and of course habitus (and, indeed, hysteresis of habitus) are scattered throughout the text. That a work of social science should—”unlike the sometimes illuminating intuitions of the essay”—require an effort on the part of the reader is fair enough. Here, however, reality disappears into the hypertrophied rhetoric of the Ecole Normale.

It's a footnote, and it's glorious.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Like Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln was anticipated as a movie that would naturally reflect well on the current president and, indeed, on the eve of the Zero Dark Thirty opening and at the behest of senate majority leader Harry Reid, Spielberg hosted a special screening for a bipartisan senate audience. Zero Dark Thirty was repudiated, Lincoln embraced. The Oscar wars heated up. The Hollywood Reporter found that "negative talk is escalating", along with whispering campaigns: Zero Dark Thirty justifies torture, Lincoln distorts history. Perhaps so. Still, by putting an essentially positive spin on a bloody tragedy, Lincoln provides a history lesson with a happy ending. Zero Dark Thirty, whose chances at winning best picture seem to be nil, is the exact reverse – a success story with intimations of monumental failure. (Meanwhile, Argo – a movie in which movie magic is put to heroic use – emerged from its Golden Globes victory as an exciting feelgood, industry-flattering Oscar alternative.) 
Whereas Obama and his commanders followed the mission to kill Bin Laden in real time, Zero Dark Thirty presents Maya as its author and sole witness. She is the first to get the good news, the only American to greet the returning Seals, the person who unzips the body-bag and IDs the corpse. Maya is so important that she flies home alone in the empty bay of a cargo plane. Once again, she is blank and then, raison d'etre extinguished, she cries. 
Is Maya, like Ishmael, the lone survivor left clinging to the flotsam of the Pequod? Is she condemned, like Ethan Edwards at the end of The Searchers, to "wander forever between the winds"? What did it cost the girl (or Obama) or America to kill Bin Laden? Zero Dark Thirty slakes a thirst for vengeance and leaves an aftertaste of gall.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Open letter to President Obama from Bahieddin Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.
...Mr President, when I spoke with you in 2010, I asked why the US administration condemns repressive practices in Iran while remaining silent when Arab regimes engage in the same violations. Over recent months, statements by your administration have similarly failed to address violations and have even blamed protesters and victims for violence committed in the context of demonstrations. Indeed, the stances of your administration have given political cover to the current authoritarian regime in Egypt and allowed it to fearlessly implement undemocratic policies and commit numerous acts of repression. 
Statements that “Egypt is witnessing a genuine and broad-based process of democratisation” have covered over and indeed legitimised the undemocratic processes by which the Constituent Assembly passed the new constitution, an issue which has in turn led to greatly heightened instability in the country. Calls for “the opposition [to] remain non-violent” and for “the government and security forces [to] exercise self-restraint in the face of protester violence” have allowed the police and the current Egyptian administration to shirk their responsibilities to secure demonstrations and to respond to the demands of the Egyptian people, and have allowed them to place the blame for violence and instability on protesters themselves. Urging “the opposition [to] engage in a national dialogue without preconditions” undermines the ability of the opposition to play a real role in the decision-making processes of the country, as these “dialogues” seldom result in anything more concrete than a photo-op with the president.

...I do not write you today to ask you to condemn the repressive policies of the current regime, or to ask you to urge President Mohamed Morsi to “cease” using excessive force and violence against Egyptians, even as your administration was so eager to achieve a ceasefire with Hamas to stop hostilities in Gaza. I write you not to ask for troops to protect political protesters in Egypt, or to suspend, freeze, or reduce military or economic aid to my country, or even to impose conditions on that aid. My request is quite modest: that spokespeople and officials in your administration stop commenting on developments in Egypt. This will no doubt spare your administration much time and effort, but more importantly, it may spare more bloodshed in Egypt, as the current regime will no longer enjoy the political cover that the US administration now offers them. Certainly, Egypt has seen enough bloodshed over the last two years, and Egyptians are tired of being punished for their uprising.

When in December I met Michael Posner, assistant secretary of state for human rights and that rare person in your administration who is motivated by human rights concerns, I asked that he pass on this modest request to administration spokespeople: that as long as they cannot speak the truth about what is happening in Egypt, they keep silent.

Mr President, only a few days ago Egyptians celebrated the second anniversary of their revolution. Meanwhile, the regime commemorated the occasion differently: by re-enacting the scenes of violence and brutality seen during the 18 days of the 2011 uprising, adding the new phenomenon of gang rapes. In one week, more than 60 people died in several governorates, and there were dozens of reported gang rapes and assaults. Hundreds of people were arrested and an unknown number abducted. One of them — 23-year-old Mohamed Al-Guindi — reappeared a few days later in a hospital, brutally tortured, and soon died.

Mr President, I fear that the gulf I spoke to you about three years ago is fast filling up with blood. In this context, further American statements supporting the current Egyptian regime will only lead to more Egyptians being beaten, raped, tortured, and killed. Please, ask officials with your administration to stop talking about Egypt for a while, at least until we can bury our dead, comfort their grieving families, treat the victims of rape and torture, find the disappeared, and read the wills of a new generation of young people who plan not for their weddings but for their funerals.
From Isandr El Amrani at Arabist. His comment
The Obama administration has the same problem it had with Mubarak: it suffers from acute clientitis, has an ambassador whose embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood has been way too much too fast and is incautious with her praise, it fails to appreciate the seriousness of the current situation and thinks things will just blow over, and has a department of defense whose interest in the status quo consistently overrides other elements of the foreign policy machine. We are back to the Mubarak era where the main concern of the embassy, and large elements of the departments of State and Defense, is how they are going to protect Egypt (whether the generals or the Morsi administration) from Congress. It's a sad state of affairs.
American policymakers are cynics concerned to protect US "interests", but most of the Americans who want to change those policies are still happy to chant "We are the World". They're not.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Schliesser, in July, and now.

In July he removed the passage I quoted (using a pseudonym) from Jason Stanley and and now in another context, he links to him,  blind to the relation. Schliesser and Stanley both continue the modernist cult of reason and the political fantasies of which Israel, Brasilia and North Korea are the last remaining examples.

Schliesser supports Merkel for the same reason he defends the Jewish state. As a European Jew he needs a place to run to if history repeats. He admitted as much in the email telling me he'd deleted my comment: "as a German Jew living in the Netherlands and working in Belgium, I really do not need your lectures on these matters."

Schliesser defends philosophy as science and defends a his own bigotry as a defense against bigotry.

And he defends Stanley's dabblings in arguments against democracy. Stanley has a series of posts, the most recent of which is here.  An earlier one in the series is The Ways of Silencing.

Stanley's blindness to some kinds of pornography proves nothing more than the inevitability of blindness.  But he's a technocrat concerned with policing technocrats, and then policing speech.

Related: John Quiggin has a favorite trope.
What's grotesque in liberalism, seen in Quiggin's use of the terminology of the "Overton Window" is that the term can never be used to refer to the user's own limitations.
Marcus Stanley: "The sociology of modern knowledge production empowers the scholar over the humanist, and the collective/communal enterprise of scholarship over the inspiration of the individual thinker."