Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Henry Farrell makes the case for ignorance.
MPAVictoria 07.09.13 at 5:58 pm
...Your impressions about how aristocratic they can be differ from mine. I have sat in on dinner parties where every single person there (besides me) arrived in an expensive German vehicle and listened to them complain about the gall of cashiers asking for 12 dollars an hour. So naturally your impressions made me curious.

Rakesh Bhandari 07.09.13 at 6:06 pm
Well that complaining does not seem very aristocratic to me, more petit-bourgeois.

Henry 07.09.13 at 6:09 pm
Rakesh – look up the etymology of the word aristocrat (‘aristoi’+'kratein’= …)
'Aristoi' - The best, the most noble.
SE: "Arguments for the nobility of greed are a recent development" 
Bertram: "If, by 'recent' you mean 1705, you may be right."
If the definition of nobility has changed, the definition of aristocracy has changed.
How the fuck did Henry Farrell, or any of them, get this far in life claiming to me members of an intellectual elite?
Al-Ghazali, as quoted by Ernest Gellner, puts Mannheim’s point more pithily – "the genuine traditionalist does not know that he is one; he who proclaims himself to be one, no longer is one."
"History is like foreign travel. It broadens the mind, but does not deepen it."
Philology is dead and "History is Bunk"

All my sympathies to Rakesh Bhandari 
I am obviously frustrated participating on this list and to some extent the blogosphere.

Evgeny Morozov rediscovers the obvious and reinvents the wheel.
In To Save Everything . . . I quote from Ken Alder's fascinating book on engineering and the French revolution, where he argues that engineering is actually one of the most revolutionary professions, since engineers are so keen to “disrupt” and are always eager to look for the most efficient solution. Here is what he wrote:
Engineering operates on a simple, but radical assumption: that the present is nothing more than the raw material from which to construct a better future. In this process, no existing arrangement is to be considered sacrosanct, everything is to be examined in the light of present aspirations, and all practices refashioned according to the dictates of reason.
Now, there's much to like about this revolutionary spirit, at least in theory. I'm not the one to defend current practices because that's how we have always done things (even though I do realize why so many conservative commentators endorse my work; the best review I got is probably from Commentary; I'm not yet sure how to react to such applause to my work). But this doesn't mean that everything should be up for grabs all the time—especially when efficiency is our guiding value. This to me seems dumb, not least because many of our political and social arrangements are implicitly based on the idea of inefficiency as the necessary cost of promoting some other values.

Take rent control or common carriers like taxis. Those two norms introduce a lot of inefficiency, as the proponents of AirBnB and Uber like to point out. But to say that these cool start-ups are good because they promote efficiency is not to say much—since efficiency may not be what we actually want. There's something odd happening here and I think we ought to explicitly recognize that inefficiency can be a good thing—at least when it allows us to get something else. To put this in broader theoretical context, I think we ought to stop being in denial about the foundations of modernity; it could be that opacity, ambiguity and inefficiency always played an important role but we never had to defend them because they were never under threat. The situation today is different and we ought to defend them—if only to make it harder for the “disruptors” to keep appealing to efficiency and transparency as if those are unalloyed goods. They aren't and we ought to make this clear.
 My comment
Books and articles like this depress me, not because I disagree with them but because the authors don't know enough of the history to realize how much of they're recapitulating old arguments that've been forgotten.

"I am however quite old-fashioned and excessively utopian in that I believe that it wouldn't be such a bad idea for citizens to know what they do and have some basic understand[sic] of why it matters—even if we have the option of achieving a better outcome with them doing it without any awareness."

That sentence is a mess, even with the irony. The definition of "utopia"  is that it's impossible: a fiction. Gamification is only the most recent example of engineering fantasy, predicted as all others have been on the distinction between designers and players, governing and governed. Morozov speaks like an earnest adviser to the Czars; his defense of democracy isn't nearly strong enough to make the case. "Virality" like the language of "memes" always resolves to "determinism for thee but not for me." Techno-fantacists and revolutionists are products of the same culture as the rest of us; there's no way for them to escape it.  But since they look foreward and not back, there's no way for them to see what made them.

Ask a historian the definition of humanism and they'll talk about the Renaissance and the rediscovery of history, and the sense of historical knowledge as both valuable and imprecise. Renaissance humanism is both curiosity and irony, an escape from the arid formalisms of the Rationalism of the scholastics ["Assume an Angel"] and the Church.  Ask a philosophy professor the definition of humanism and you'll get a different answer entirely. You'll get the optimism of engineers.  Renaissance humanism is empiricism not as philosophy but practice. Enlightenment humanism is the primacy of theory, ideas writ from above, perfection imposed on an imperfect world, on the imperfection of others. It's not even the science of practicing scientists, since science itself is empiricism. The "sciences" of history, economics, politics and philosophy all originate in models built by lovers of modeling, of engineering: rationalism not empiricism.

Descartes: "History is like foreign travel. it broadens the mind but does not deepen it"
To a historian of the Renaissance that's not humanism that's anti-humanism.

"the community of people writing about “the Internet” is just so stuffy, boring, and self-absorbed (in their defense, most of them were trained as lawyers)"

Perhaps, but they've never spent much time in courtrooms. The culture of the web is self-selecting for  tech specialists, economists, political scientists, political philosophers and theorists. Practicing lawyers don't see themselves as engineers they see themselves as tradesmen: professional storytellers who work for a fee, the sort of people Plato inveighed against. Ask a jobbing lawyer and that's what they'll say.

The the most amusing thing about all this for me is that I'm a hard determinist. I've been following this for 25 years, watching the changes. The only thing that amuses me more is watching the rise and secularization of Islam. European secular humanism over the past 200 was more than anything a Jewish tradition. "Philosophy is garbage, but the history of garbage is scholarship." Gershom Scholem was a Zionist. The leaders of the scholarly tradition over the next 200 years will be Muslim.
The European scholarly tradition.
"Philosophy is garbage." The quote is Burton Dreben. The original is here and it's not Scholem.  Just lazy.
later addition on the history of the anti-bourgois right, and left.

George Lefebvre
The great majority of nobles either did not know how, or did not wish, to get rich. The great majority of younger sons had no desire to "derogate." They sought the remedy elsewhere, in a growing exclusiveness. Some held that the nobility should form a body like the clergy and be constituted as a closed caste. For the last time, in stating grievances in 1789, they were to demand a verification of titles of nobility and the suppression of automatic creation of nobility through the sale of offices. Likewise it was held that, if the king was to count on "his loyal nobility," he should recognize that they alone had the necessary rank to advise him and to command in his name; he should grant them a monopoly of employments compatible with their dignity, together with free education for their sons.
"The great majority of nobles either did not know how, or did not wish, to get rich."

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