Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Two posts, separated by a few hours and a few inches on the page.
I'm too much of a coward to do the urban biking thing, and the destinations I might use it for if I wasn't a coward would require heading through the worst parts of the city for it. Still I'm all for others doing it.. 
Crash was "middlebrow pseudointellectualism." I don't think that's a bad thing! I get that it's annoying when such things are elevated to High Art when they aren't, so the Best Picture label gives people reason to criticize it on that basis. And if you're genuinely surrounded by people talking about how brilliant Crash is, then I get that it's annoying....

Still, it wasn't made for people like me who have spent more than a few seconds thinking about the nuances and complexities of racial issues in this country.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Sometimes I forget how much I repeat myself. "I hate explaining this shit, but it's all I do."
And it's sloppier than I remember. From 2008:

Rule#1. Make it idiot-proof.
I hate explaining this shit, but it's all I do.

geek |gēk|
noun informal
1 an unfashionable or socially inept person.
• [with adj. ] a person with an eccentric devotion to a particular interest : a computer geek.
2 a carnival performer who does wild or disgusting acts.
geeky adjective
ORIGIN late 19th cent.: from the related English dialect geck ‘fool,’ of Germanic origin; related to Dutch gek ‘mad, silly.’
The bottom two drawings are obviously models of human interaction: either in the present (mediated by language) or in the study of the past (mediated by language and time). The top two are diagrams of common utopian/dystopian fantasies [hopes] of far too many people.
I should have made this clear long ago, but I take people too much for granted.

We study the past not by studying the preoccupations of those who were there but by studying the record of those preoccupations. We live alongside one another through another version of the same process. We cannot claim to share their interests -in terms of the present we can't claim identity- though in some cases we can claim an affinity with them, but there remains a gulf between us and our subjects and each other. This gulf can be wider or narrower depending on their interests and ours. The  applications of Mathematics can appear to collapse historical time and the distance between individuals, numbers live in an eternal present and in unity with one another, but we don't.
Our society is a society built upon isolation and simultaneously upon a fixation on a desire/fear of simple absolute unity. Raves and The Borg are products of the same fear, desire, sadness.
A geek is someone who is so wed to his own fixations that he is unable to imagine the world through the mind of another. Americans are the prototypical geeks, unable to imagine non-Americans. But geeks now rule academia, even the humanities. Literature is now studied in academia by literature geeks. Our soldiers are military geeks. That specifically is dangerous, but so is the rest.
The above is, objectively, how the world works. It's the diagram for water-cooler chitchat, presidential elections, academic advancement, and how to pick up girls. It's the model of life as theater, assuming of course that actors know they're being observed. It's the model for intellectual "progress" in that progress is only possible if the model is seen to apply to human behavior. It is also, therefore, a defense of the arts, of craft, as a mode of reflexive activity and social engagement [lawyers are craftsmen]. It's the model of artists' relation to one another and of artist to critic, if the critic sees himself as in a reciprocal relation rather than that of a voyeur vampire. That's what the social sciences become when they're seen not as acting within models of interpersonal activity but of relations of observer to inanimate object. The sciences and the pseudo-sciences have become not only asocial but antisocial. I've linked to Colin McGinn enough, but I've been pointing out examples of this for years. "Truth" is the metaphysical glow that attaches itself to unknown facts. It fades with familiarity and those facts return to their previous status as mundane.

If you don't understand that the most of what you are and represent is constantly being recontextuaized and that if you are remembered at all it will be as that, then you have no right to call yourself an "intellectual." You're merely a technician.

Reading any text, examining any man-made thing, you ask yourself what to respond to: text or subtext, the intention of the maker or what the thing seems on its own to represent. Ideally you learn from both, but perhaps you have no way of knowing the maker's intent. Still you may learn to respect the maker of a resilient, dynamic, order -a structure- and begin to reconstruct the categories they worked with, that were their preoccupation. You always ask, “Is there more to learn from this author as thinker or as symptom?",  just as meeting someone on the street you ask, "Is this someone to laugh at, or with?" The stuff that lasts never becomes dated; the memorable minds are never merely symptomatic. Philip Roth is a practitioner of philosophical naturalism. Brian Leiter is an academic and a professor of a minor branch of the minor school of late scholastic philosophy. Post-war rationalism, late modernism, baroque idealism, these are the categories that will be seen to define that school of thought. They're categories of history, not reason.
At some point this will become so obvious that even Ph.D's will understand it.
Lawfare. A remarkably snide post by a recent graduate of Yale Law.

Mysterious Discretion: When Journalists Wield Power We Don’t Understand
...I don’t find it ethically baffling that a leaker would decide to entrust sensitive documents to a journalist whose work he has long respected. Rather, I wonder about the place from which such trust derives. I wonder whether we have come to conflate journalism with truth-telling, and whether the inherent nobility of the profession has come to obscure the simple reality that its individual members—like members of any other profession—are driven by their own distinct agendas and ambitions.

Put differently, like anyone else, journalists are motivated by a lot of things, and truth is only one of them. This should not be a controversial observation. This is why I had a different take than Ben on James Risen’s “Twitter tirade” in response to Attorney General Eric Holder’s remarks last Tuesday on the Obama administration’s prosecution of leakers. I wasn’t perturbed that Risen is a New York Times reporter who also engages in some amount of constitutional doomsdayism on his Twitter account, or that Risen, a reporter who has been fighting the government for seven years to protect his confidential sources, is less than legally accurate on how the First Amendment applies to reporters when sounding the horn for free speech. If anything, Risen’s tweets had a performative quality that I have come to appreciate as the purpose of 140-character screeds: he seemed to pull as hard as he did on his end of the rope to counterbalance what he perceived as the government pulling hard in the other direction.

But one problem with all this pulling is you often do end up eliding the common ground you actually share with the opposition. For example, I think plenty of leakers and journalists agree with the general point that Holder made last week, that journalists shouldn’t publish leaks just because they can...
A comment from yesterday. It hasn't shown up on the page, and might not.
Don't pretend there's a unified non-contradictory logic that we call justice. Is all that is just pious? The genius of democracy and of no other form of government is the acknowledgment of irony. Police and prosecutors can be moralists but we make sure they're given powerful adversaries, even if those adversaries are just a little touched by nihilism.

Scalia from 2009:
This court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.
The Constitution refers to due process, not outcome. But we're stuck with the distance between the letter and the spirit of the law. We're left to judge, and who’s to judge? On the letter Scalia's right. To argue from the spirit is subjectivism, and subjectivism is chaos. But to argue only from the letter is cold, inhuman: unjust.

Democracy is based on trust, not rules. When all that's left are rules, it's over.
I think plenty of leakers and journalists agree with the general point that Holder made last week, that journalists shouldn’t publish leaks just because they can.
But if they do, is there a punishment? What's the difference now between a reporter and a citizen? A good question, and Greenwald hems and haws, but we don't have press licenses, and it wouldn't be a good thing if we did.

Leakers are a different matter; they broke the rules. But what if they leak evidence of crimes greater than their own? You seem to have a soft spot for the powerful. I have a soft spot for language. Put the big fish on trial first. I don't even care about the torturers; they're small fry. The question you have to ask yourself is whether you're more interested in defending the republic or the state.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A repeat from 2011, just for laughs:

Chris Bertram on Martha Nussbaum's Not For Profit
However, the central idea of the book, that receipt of a certain type of humanities education is necessary for people to acquire the capacities for empathic imagination that (according to MN) are necessary virtues of democratic (and indeed global) citizenship strikes me as (a) obviously false and (b) insulting to those of her fellow citizens who haven’t been the beneficiaries of such courses. Those given a more technical education are described as “useful machines” as early as p.2. There is very little empirical support adduced for any of the causal claims in the essay which tend to rely on more or less a priori arguments from various educational and psychoanalytical thinkers that Nussbaum likes.
 The moral defense of geekdom. I've added a reference to Gambetta, here.

Friday, February 20, 2015

T. Oppermann, responds to Quiggin.
You know, people laugh at us anthropologists all day long for our soft and fuzzy methods, but then there is a debate like this, and it is obvious nobody has the faintest clue about social organization in actually existing stateless societies, and I guess my reaction is somewhere between ‘har-de-har-har suckers’ and pulling my hair out…

I’m not even sure where to begin. Let’s see…

1. Stateless societies do not necessarily have a body of law and tradition that is inflexibly applied. As far as I know, this is relatively uncommon beyond certain basic rules (ie. don’t kill people).

2. ‘Law’, ‘myth’ and ‘getting on with your uncles and cousins’ is not really distinct in many cases. Eg. in Aboriginal Australia, as a very rough generalization, maintaining good relationships with kin (being cared for – it is a deeply emotional experience, akin to being liked by your mom) was and in modified ways still is the key form of ‘social sanctioning’. This is as messy, warm and unlawlike as it sounds. (It is also deep and sophisticated, and the reasoning principles involved are very sophisticated.)

3. Alienable property – ie. a thing with only a contingent relationship to a person – is really unusual in stateless societies. Mostly, ‘property’ is coextensive with kin relations, it innundated by the affective relationships between people, and its transfer – gifting – operates by a logic quite different to conscious profit maximization. A ruthless politics can be played with this. Chris Gregory’s Gift and Commodities is worth reading on this.

4. Coercion takes on very different forms. Really, the complexity here is immense…

5. ‘Right of control and use’ is probably going to fail as a cross-cultural notion of property: if you define ‘right’ strictly, especially in some lawlike fashion, then it is uncommon. If you don’t, then the net is cast too wide, and you would catch virtually anything anybody does.

6. ‘Government’ is probably no better than ‘state’ when we are talking about hunter-gatherers or many slash and burn agriculturalists. You might argue that something like Pierre Clastre’s Society against the State shows that there is enough government in Amazonian societies for there to be structures to oppose its development, but I would say it is much better to avoid confusion and not describe kin political organization as ‘government’ unless we are talking about something tending towards hierarchy and differentiation of roles.

I guess I could go on. The basic point, I suppose, is that when philosophers invent these just-so stories about stateless societies, they imagine that they are making the problem simpler by positing a past with a clear cut set of problems and choices. But in fact, the diversity of stateless societies and the complexities in analysing them are at least as great as those facing students of contemporary industrial society. We anthropologists go to these societies with a sense of humility verging on awe, given just how much we don’t understand.

TL;DR Less Nocivk, More Mauss
 repeats of repeats of repeats.
Bill Wimsatt's "Lewontin's Evidence (that There Isn't Any)" made me think about a lot of questions in my paper. I would like to point out that the rhetoric of this conference has undergone a sudden change. Up until Bill's presentation and mine, everyone read his or her paper. In the tradition to which I belong that would be considered very bad form. That rhetorical difference is a mirror of the differences that I want to talk about. The words that all of the rest of you use are conceived of as being the matter, and so you must choose them carefully, and, therefore, you have to compose your papers and read them. I, on the other hand and perhaps Bill as well, but especialy I, as a natural scientist, am nothing but the oracle of Delphi, sitting here on my stool with eyeballs rolled upwards, and through me Nature speaks. That explains, in my view, the difference in rhetorical tradition between a meeting like this and the ones at which I spend my time. No one in my tradition believes that the words are very important. After all, if I misspeak someone else will say the right thing because we are both talking about the same things and ultimately the gods will speak through us. So words are not the matter. It is extremely important to understand the origin of that difference in rhetorical tradition because it represents a very great difference in what scientists believe to be the nature of evidence in natural science. A conference on the questions of evidence is really a conference on the questions of theory and metatheory. We cannot begin to talk about the evidence until we talk about what it is we are trying to produce evidence of. And the very method which we use is itself a form of evidence.
His understanding of empiricism is naive, but worlds away from Quiggin, for whom ideas are things: Quiggin and Quine.
Once the theory of meaning is sharply separated from the theory of reference, it is a short step to recognizing as the business of the theory of meaning simply the synonymy of linguistic forms and the analyticity of statements; meanings themselves, as obscure intermediary entities, may well be abandoned.
The claim to have abandoned "meanings" like the claim to have risen above subjectivity, is the beginning of ideology.

Quiggin and Quine, Lewontin and Gombrich

Thursday, February 19, 2015


Monday, February 16, 2015

Low-information rationality and agnotology at Crooked Timber.
Discussing Israel
by HENRY on NOVEMBER 7, 2004 
One of the things that I find most depressing about discussions on Crooked Timber and elsewhere is that it seems to be absolutely impossible to have a civil argument about Israel and the Palestinians. I’m now very reluctant to post on Israeli or Palestinian politics, as, I suspect, are my co-bloggers (and very probably bloggers elsewhere). For some reason, it seems to be difficult for supporters and critics of Israel’s policy to argue reasonably with each other – or at the least, the unreasonable voices very quickly swamp the reasonable ones. Why? And why do arguments on this issue become so much more heated more quickly than on other issues, given there is at least some potential for agreement (barring the crazies on both sides, most people seem to be prepared to accept some kind of two state solution)? 
NB - lest this post become an example of what it’s seeking to criticize, I’m going to be especially ruthless in deleting comments that I think are unhelpful or that lay the blame all on one side in an overheated way. 
Update: to be clear about my deletion policy for this post – if all you have to say is that (a) the treatment of Palestinians is part and parcel of the plot to oppress brown-skinned peoples everywhere, or (b) that Palestinians are inherently untrustworthy and all bent on destroying Israel, or anything even vaguely along these lines then please take your comments as already stipulated – whatever their intrinsic merits, they’re part of the dialogue of the deaf that I’m complaining about, and will be deleted.
Snide claims to distance, pretension to objectivity, the air of superiority and refusal to engage, to question foundational assumptions even as to basic logic: the contradictions of liberal ethnic nationalism. Except for a glib reference to lebensraum that I wouldn't make now, my arguments haven't changed.

Their beliefs have changed but not their methodology, and the result is unacknowledged drift.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Rationalism is low-information rationality. That's the point, in'it?

The MIT professor who considered medical castration as a cure for male privilege is a right wing Zionist and reader of Sam Harris. Waring wouldn't catch that or see why she should; it's narcissistic misery, self-aggrandizing self-pity on all sides. And she's not the feminist she wants to be, as she admits, though no one comments on it.
I never thought about trying to get him in trouble. It wasn’t just that I didn’t think it would work. It was that “don’t narc” was like my family’s stupid goddamn motto at the time.
Her rapist most likely raped more than once, but she doesn't think about anyone else.
...The other Politically Incorrect thing that I worry about is that feminists are always accused of being man-hating and sometimes I think, yeah, I kind of maybe hate you.

Aaronson cannot talk to women for the same reason he can't talk to Palestinians.  He wants something from both but won't listen to either. He can't bring himself, "ever to look at anything from the other fellow's point of view.” We're back to Arendt, and Eichmann. It's not a scientific viewpoint; it's so committed to rationalism that empiricism is impossible.

various references/repeats:

Aaronson refers elsewhere on his blog to meatspace.
The revolutionary in the Czar's dungeon who worried that he was getting more than his fair share of sunlight.
Aaron Swartz was too good for this world
"I remember a creature who seemed at first almost to be made up of pure data, disembodied..."

Magda Goebbels: "I took the children with me, for they are too good for the life that would follow"
Israeli philosopher defends moral realism.
"Nature, Mr. Allnutt, is what we are put into this world to rise above."
Modernism as kitsch (again and again and again)
The experience of the sex act is social, formal, communicative, and if the world is seen as the social realm, world-creating. The moment of orgasm as reflex is aformal, asocial (isolate), ecstatic and if the world is seen as social, world destructive.  
...If communication is a circuit, reflex is a short. The fantasy of the premature ejaculator is a state of eternal orgasm. The mania for progress becomes no more than simply the desire to go faster. If knowledge is measured in conclusions not in processes then the shortest distance between two points, the short circuit, is the obvious choice. This is the crux of the struggle over the human imagination that begins in the 18th century.
The public realm, as the common world, gathers us together and yet prevents our falling over each other, so to speak. What makes mass society so difficult to bear is not the number of people involved, or at least not primarily, but the fact that the world between them has lost its power to gather them together, to relate and to separate them. The weirdness of this situation resembles a spiritualistic seance where a number of people gathered around a table might suddenly, through some magic trick, see the table vanish from their midst, so that two persons sitting opposite each other were no longer separated but also would be entirely unrelated to each other by anything tangible.
The eternal, the timeless, the ideal, is asocial. Politics, the actual, is social.

Comment 312 by "Magistra"
One of the things that occurs to me from reading Scott Aaronson@213 (and some other posters), is that some people feel far more unhappy with ambiguity than others: they want really strict, precise rules about what is right and what is wrong. And I wonder whether that kind of personality it connected with a strong mathematical/scientific bent: when I was young and doing a degree in maths, I certainly wanted to be sure I got the right answer for a lot of RL situations as well. And for people who are unhappy with this kind of ambiguity, then the ordinary rules of thumb about how you behave towards the opposite sex aren’t satisfactory.

The problem is that it’s impossible to give more than rules of thumb, because there is no absolute objective standard for what is creepy behaviour. It depends at least partly on the person who is or is not being creeped out. Just as there isn’t 1 specific blood alcohol level at which someone is too drunk to consent and it would be unrealistic to try and claim there is. You have to make judgement calls, but that it difficult if you’re lacking in self-confidence in your own judgement.

I also wonder if maybe what attracted Scott to reading Dworkin and the rad-fems etc was a search for black and white colours and certainty on the topic of sex: a lot of radical/extreme moral thought is marked by that clarity, whether it’s fundamentalist religion or left-wing politics.
313 by "hix"
The ambiguity and personality thing. It is not wrong up to a point. And indead, being bad with ambiguity can make one move in a rather ugly direction. But there is another aspect too. One just starts to despise unclear rules when one notices that whenever there is ambiguity about rules, that ambiguity is sytematically used to favour certain types of people and disadvantage others.
317 Scott Aaronson
magistra #312 and hix #313: Yes and yes!
Again, and again, and again.
"Their preferred explanation lies in the combination of a particular mindset given to simplification, monistic understandings of the world and desire that existing social arrangements be preserved, with key environmental factors (most importantly, frustrated professional aspirations due to a lack of opportunities). Interestingly, Gambetta and Hertog suggest that the same mindset which drives engineers in the Islamic world to become terrorists, may lead to the marked tendency of US engineers to adhere to strongly conservative political views. This is the kind of topic that lends itself to the worst kind of uninformed pop-journalism academics, but as best as I can tell (I’m a consumer rather than a producer of the statistical literature) Gambetta and Hertog are extremely careful about their analysis, and up front about the limitations of their data." 
more fun with Aaronson

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Thursday, February 12, 2015

It was so easy: three and out.

I'd said it better elsewhere: a war criminal and an apologist for war crimes debating the existence of god.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

I've never liked Errol Morris' films. He tarts them up to make what he calls art. Wiseman doesn't tart things up and he calls his films fictions. Herzog is in another category, but there's no contradiction between liking his films and Wiseman's.

On their different understanding of surrealism: Herzog's a German who lived through hell and Morris is an American who grew up watching horror movies. Morris doesn't understand how the word can have weight. To him it's only a term of what he would call art.

The priceless sayings of Werner Herzog...
...turned into posters; (even more here).
Here's a gem:
Morris, Husseini and Leiter all make the same mistakes, about art, politics and intellectualism in general. Leiter allows Herzog's humane moral pessimism only if it can always be taken back, dismissed as a joke.

Moyn, at the Boston Review, and a comment. [Comments were stripped later]

The Renaissance gave the Middle Ages a bad rap, and Siedentop seeks to undo its contempt. “What is characteristic about historical writing in recent centuries?” Siedentop asks. “It is an inclination to minimize the moral and intellectual distance between the modern world and the ancient world, while at the same time maximizing the moral and intellectual distance between modern Europe and the middle ages.” Nostalgically reviving the paganism of the Greco-Roman past, the Renaissance, like the Enlightenment later, disguised how alien in cultural norms and political values antiquity really was. Both the Renaissance and Enlightenment encouraged their heirs to skirt the roots of liberalism in the Christianity that flourished in the Middle Ages.
The authors of this piece and of the book under review defend liberalism mostly through assumption. Individualism, however it came to be, is taken as a good. Why not defend Republicanism? Why not defend a modern variant of the classical Demos, defining the responsibilities of all adult citizens, with freedom as much a burden as a right? But that's too pessimistic for modern defenders of capitalism for whom liberty comes first.

And while pointing to a gap between the ancient and modern, the gap between the Renaissance and the "Enlightenment" is ignored. The latter is a dangerous term, too close to Revelation with its anti-political notion on another world. Enlightened according to whom?

“Secularism is Christianity’s gift to the world.” Necessity, not Christianity, is the mother of invention:  "The Tunisian 'success story,' then, is not that all sides wanted democracy, but rather that all sides had no choice but to settle for democracy." People of different beliefs forced to live together, with equal political power. Enlightenment if it exists is the result, never the cause.

Individualism is the product of an idealism that conservatives in the older sense disdained. Modern conservatism is economic liberalism, the perquisites of power without the obligations, while modern social liberalism is self-interest with state mandated concern maintained with all the authoritarianism of the Middle Ages by way of Kafka. In an age of science and technology virtue is unnecessary. Our technocratic Mandarins prefer us mediocre, pliant and predictable. The preferred modern juror is the model citizen. Our rulers ignore the fact they've dumbed themselves down too. Technocrats allow themselves the luxury of self-reporting data, and it shows.

Liberalism may be seen first in Christianity, but that's not a justification for either. The same is true for science as theorized by Descartes, who theorized also that history is bunk. We end with philosophies founded on the assumption that Weber was right rather than the fact that he was a product of his time. Better a secularism out of the ashes of polytheism, with a focus on political wisdom, than a secularism built on the ashes of monotheism and revelation. Absent that I'll take of secularism of words, not numbers, and not "truth": the road to technoratic hell.

We're living in a dark age and are due for a renaissance. Evidence of its beginnings are easy enough to spot if you pay attention. But it's all a mess, and much more of one than our schoolmen acknowledge.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

The fifth one down and the bottom are new.

Max Weber
Consider a discipline such as aesthetics. The fact that there are works of art is given for aesthetics. It seeks to find out under what conditions this fact exists, but it does not raise the question whether or not the realm of art is perhaps a realm of diabolical grandeur, a realm of this world, and therefore, in its core, hostile to God and, in its innermost and aristocratic spirit, hostile to the brotherhood of man. Hence, aesthetics does not ask whether there should be works of art.
Pierre Bourdieu
A Rose for Emily [a short story by Faulkner] is a reflexive story, a reflecting story which encloses in its very structure the program (in the computer sense) for a reflection on the novel and for naïve reading. In the fashion of an experimental text or device, it calls for repeated reading, but also for the divided reading which is needed to combine the impressions of the first naïve reading, and the revelations it arouses, with the second reading, the retroactive illumination that the knowledge of the ending (acquired at the end of the first reading) casts on the text, and especially on the presuppositions of a naïve ‘novelistic’ reading. Thus, caught in this sort of trap— a veritable provocation to a truly paradoxical allodoxia since it results from the natural application of the presuppositions of the doxa,—the reader is forced to acknowledge openly everything he customarily and unwittingly grants to authors who are just as unaware of what they are demanding of the reader.
John Quiggin
‘Truly this is the sweetest of theologies’, William said, with perfect humility, and I thought he was using that insidious figure of speech that rhetors call irony, which must always be prefaced by the pronunciato, representing its signal and its justification – something that William never did. For which reason the abbot, more inclined to the use of figures of speech, took William literally …
Umberto Eco The Name of the Rose
Having run afoul of irony in both directions lately (having my own ironic post on Lent taken literally, then taking literally an ironic comment by Chris), I’ve come to the conclusion that HTML needs its own version of the pronunciato.

Here’s my proposal: Text meant to be taken ironically would be surrounded by tags. Such text would render normally, but would have a hover property such that, when the mouse hovered over ironic text, it would flicker through a range of suitably ironic colors. Not perfect, but a lot more appealing than a smiley :-).
The claims about Art criticised in Art, an Enemy of The People, are very similar to those made by most religions, namely that there is a special category of people (prophets or artists) and a special category of activities (Religion or Art) which yield transcendent insights into the human condition, and which should be accorded special privileges over other people and other ways of finding meaning and enjoyment in life.
Henry Farrell
It took me a couple of reads, and some consultation with a third party, before I was reasonably sure that this was a beautifully constructed satire. It’s so deadpan, and so close to the tone of a certain kind of glib-management-theory-building-on-the-new-institutional-economics-book, that the reader isn’t sure whether this is seriously meant or pince-sans-rire. And this is what brings it close to trolling. Its underlying logic is similar to a Jonathan Swift style Modest Proposal, but Swift is all visible saeva indignatio . He takes the language and assumptions of English elite debates on the Irish question and uses them to dress a solution that is objectively appalling. The reader is discomfited – but has a very clear understanding of Swift’s intention. Toner, instead, strands his reader in a kind of Uncanny Valley of intentionality, with a proposal that may, or may not be seriously meant. It’s a much more profound sense of intellectual discomfort. I don’t think that the piece is trolling – but it evokes a feeling of intellectual confusion that’s related to the kinds of confusion that really good trolling produce. So that’s not, obviously, a definition of first rate trolling, or even an example of it. But it maybe sort of helps all the same.
I had provided myself with the popular books of the day (this was sixteen or seventeen years ago), and for two weeks I had never left my room. I am speaking now of those books that treat of the art of making nations happy, wise and rich in twenty-four hours. I had therefore digested —swallowed, I should say— alI the lucubrations of all the authorities on the happiness of society -those who advise the poor to become slaves, and those who persuade them that they are all dethroned kings. So it is not astonishing if I was in a state of mind bordering on stupidity or madness. Only it seemed to me that deep in my mind, I was conscious of an obscure germ of an idea, superior to all the old wives’ formulas whose dictionary I had just been perusing But it was only the idea of an idea, something infinitely vague. And I went out with a great thirst, for a passionate taste for bad books engenders a proportionate desire for the open air and for refreshments. ...
The late Scholastic logicians devised amusing helps to memory by which the many forms or figures of syllogism (conclusions from a major and minor premise) could be remembered. These mnemonic devices consisted of words of three syllables partly real and partly made up for the purpose. Each syllable stood for one of the three propositions, and the vowels therein signified the character of these propositions. The vowel a, for instance, denoted a general and positive statement; the vowel o, a partial and negative one. Thus the nice name Barbara, with its three as, designates a syllogism that consists of three general and positive propositions (for instance: 'All men are mortal all mortal beings need food consequently all men need food"). And for a syllogism consisting of one general and positive proposition and two partial and negative ones (for instance: "All cats have whiskers some animals have no whiskers consequently some animals are not cats"), there was coined the word Baroco, containing one a and two os. Either the word, or the peculiarly roundabout fashion of the main of thought denoted by it, or both, must have struck later generations as particularly funny and characteristic of the pedantic formalism to which they objected in medieval thought , and when humanistic writers, including Montaigne, wished to ridicule an unworldly and sterile pedant, they reproached him with having his head full of "Barbara and Baroco," etc. Thus it came about that the word Baroco (French and English Baroque) came to signify everything wildly abstruse, obscure, fanciful, and useless (much as the word intellectual in many circles today). (The other derivation of the term from Latin veruca and Spanish barueca, meaning, originally, a wart and by extension a pearl of irregular shape, is most improbable both for logical and purely linguistic reasons.)
Sitting in a bar a year ago, a screen above my head showing an early episode of Breaking Bad: family and friends sitting around the coffee table trying to comfort Walter, every word out of their mouths betraying confusion and mixed intent. I'd never seen the show and I made a comment to the bartender. "Yeah!"—his eyes widened—"and it get's better!" We both laughed.

If all humility is false humility then Socratic humility, as Socratic irony, is the irony of contempt. Euripidean irony is the irony of our shared burdens and failures.

Bourdieu: "In the fashion of an experimental text or device, it calls for repeated reading..."

All books worth reading call for rereading. Actors, lawyers and college professors make their living in rereadings. Our relations with the world and with each other are a constant "rereading" of what we've seen applied to what we're seeing now.

I don't want to telegraph that Bourdieu's interpretive skills are at the level of an earnest high school freshman but I think I have no choice, as I have no choice but to name the figure in the photograph as Immanuel Rath.

These assholes are the children of Plato and Martin Luther. They're not interesting as authors, only as characters.

I need to add something that I've said before and that here I'm embarrassed to admit I forgot. The humanists who followed the scholastics did not need the pronunciato, and no one has needed it since. That Quiggin in 2004 wanted to return to it makes every point I've made about all of this more clearly than I ever have or could.

"If the anthropocratic civilization of the Renaissance is headed, as it seems to be, for a 'Middle Ages in reverse' -a Satanocracy" Panofsky again. How many times have I quoted it?

Friday, February 06, 2015

Neoliberalism; or, The death of the other at the hands of the author

"Experience Entrepreneur, Experience Designer, Rights Crusader, Solutions Journalist, Civic hacker, Story Teller, Scientist Agitator, Crunck Commentator, Altruist Engineer, Visionary Architect, Leadership Luminary, New Media Maven, Life Saver, Purpose Economist, Consent Crusader, Harassment Avenger, Culture Disruptor, Activist Architect, Impact designer, Girl Activator, Digital Alchemist, Design Entrepreneur, Education Activist, Truth Teller, Hip-Hop Advocate, Movement Builder, Feminist Evangelizer."
Founded by Vanessa Valenti, co-founder with her sister of Feministing, and of Valenti-Martin Media. The Gates foundation and Clinton Initiative are clients.
Interviewed in Ad Week 

Intellectual "happy talk", for hire; Jerry Rubin's "networking"; the triumph of individualism and self-reporting, of public, personal and self "design"; TED talks; the banality of American optimism and narcissism.
I created the comedians tag after making my second or third reference to comics being smarter than "our intellectuals", since by current definition artists can not be intellectuals, and comics are popular artists, and comedy even more than other arts is predicated on reading subtext where others see only text. Reading and writing for text, for and from content and intent is seen as a sign of intellectual seriousness, and seriousness or at least the claim to seriousness is said to be very, very, very, important.

Intellectuals now are either academics or "technologists". I found this paper, "Network Celebrity: Entrepreneurship and the New Public Intellectuals", through an academic critic of tech culture, who can't see the relation of Weber to Tolkien to Rawls to neoliberalism, to his own writing, any more than Henry Farrell can to his.

If all humility is false humility then Socratic humility, as Socratic irony, is the irony of contempt. Euripidean irony is the irony of our shared burdens, and failures.

Larry Wilmore, interviewed by the Hollywood Reporter
One of your first bits was about Selma's Oscar snub. You joked that you were outraged by The Lego Movie's omission, but of Selma you said, "Yeah, I'm mad, I guess." Why?

I actually was genuinely upset that The Lego Movie was not nominated. I love that movie. [As for Selma,] it's hard to get me outraged over stuff that happens all the time. I think it's part of my comic point of view.

So it doesn't get to you?

The problem is, it's Hollywood. If we were talking about the government or certain institutions, sure, but it's Hollywood! I do not look to Hollywood to give me character clues. What I try to do is make a difference by hiring people and giving people jobs behind the scenes. That stuff is important, and many studios and networks have made great strides there. Thursday night is Shonda [Rhimes] night. A black female producer owning a night of television? That's huge. But awards? They're esoteric and nebulous, and it's not the same as making sure that Ava DuVernay, a black female director, gets a shot at making a movie. That, to me, is more important; the other stuff is gravy. You can grumble about it -- and it's fun to grumble -- but I don't think that's a race we're ever going to catch up in if people are expecting that. So, I'd say it's frustrating but I'm not real angry about it. I'm more like, "Once again Hollywood, thank you for not letting me down."
Samhita Mukhopadhyay Ex-Editor of Feministing on Mindy Kalin

"Why Mindy Kaling Refuses to Talk about Race—and Why I Care So Much"
In a recent episode of The Mindy Project, Mindy Lahiri, the show’s protagonist played by South Asian American comedian and actress Mindy Kaling, was considering a medical fellowship at Stanford. Her boyfriend, fellow doctor Danny Castellano, upset by the prospect of her moving to California, confides in another colleague. Confused, he tells Castellano: “But Mindy hates not being the only Asian in the room.”

It’s a quick remark that Castellano ignores. It’s also one of many moments in The Mindy Project that hints [accent in original] at race issues, but nothing more. There was the time Lahiri was talking to a police officer and said, “There is this shawarma stand that I am certain is terrorists." Or the time her coworker accused her of only dating white boys, to which she responded that she hooked up with a Korean guy once: “His hands were so small, it made my boobs feel enormous!” Or there was that episode a few weeks ago, in a flashback sequence, during which Lahiri is 24, a virgin, donning blue contacts and looking for potential sexual prospects—“white guys that are into Asian stuff.”

...At a panel at SXSW, she shut down an inquiry about the diversity of her own cast by saying, “I’m a fucking Indian woman who has her own fucking network television show, OK?”

...Until now, I was hesitant to write about Kaling and race, lest I sound like I’m criticizing the only South Asian woman on TV for not being South Asian enough. It’s frustrating when people presume a pioneer will become an unwilling leader in a struggle with which they may not identify. We expect too much from women in public, I tell myself. Optics matter, and the fact that she is on TV makes it more likely that someone like me could be, too. It’s hard for me not to overlay my own expectations onto Kaling—like her, I am a Bengali female writer in my mid-thirties who grew up in an East Coast suburb.

But I’m also a feminist who cares about racial justice,...
The link she adds it is to, Mindy Kaling is not your pioneer, Al Jazeera America, by E. Alex Jung.

Mukhopadhyay's website
Samhita Mukhopadhyay is a writer, speaker and technologist residing in Manhattan, NY. She is a leader in the field of feminism, social entrepreneurship and creative content production dedicated to engaging people around social issues. She also likes to make people laugh. She is the former Executive Editor of the award-winning blog, and author of Outdated: Why Dating is Ruining Your Love Life – an intervention to mainstream dating books. 
She is currently the Director of Strategic Engagement and Communications at the National Women’s Business Council – a federal advisory council to The White House, Congress and the SBA on issues of women and entrepreneurship. Prior to that she was on the strategy team at Purpose and the training and technology coordinator at the Center for Media Justice. 
Her piece is published by Josh Marshall, who defends the principle that Israel remain a Jewish state and not the state of all its citizens.
On twitter she refers to herself as a "disruptor".

Kaling and Mukhopadhyay have a lot in common, including conservatism; their biggest difference is in how each faces her own insecurities.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Necessity is the mother of invention

"The Tunisian “success story,” then, is not that all sides wanted democracy, but rather that all sides had no choice but to settle for democracy."
 The origin of secular government and toleration, in the past and in the present.

Liberal idealists idealize themselves. They imagine themselves enlightened, when absent a knowledge of history they're only acculturated and half blind.

Philosophers didn't invent democracy, they followed it. Practice precedes theory.
“There are opinions that are not appropriate, that are harmful"

Opposing marriage equality is "harmful" to gays. Defending Palestinian equality is "harmful" to Zionists.

More on the Marquette fiasco from Leiter.

Dean Richard Holtz to McAdams
Dear John:

Pursuant to Sections 307.03 and 306.03 of the Faculty Statutes, I wish to advise you that Marquette University is commencing the process to revoke your tenure and to dismiss you from the faculty. As detailed below and in my letter of January 2, 2015, your conduct clearly and substantially fails to meet the standards of personal and professional excellence that generally characterizes University faculties. As a result, your value to this academic institution is substantially impaired.

Tenure and academic freedom carry not only great privileges but also vital responsibilities and obligations. In order to endure, a scholar-teacher's academic freedom must be grounded on competence and integrity, including accuracy "at all times," a respect for others' opinions, and the exercise of appropriate restraint. Without adherence to these standards, those such as yourself invested with tenure's power can carelessly and arrogantly intimidate and silence the less-powerful and then raise the shields of academic freedom and free expression against all attempts to stop such abuse.

As applied in the current case, it is vital for our university and our profession that graduate student instructors learn their craft as teachers of sometimes challenging and difficult students. Great teachers develop over time; many benefit from experienced mentors who share hard-earned insights. Thus, graduate student instructors should expect appropriate and constructive feedback in order to improve their teaching skills.

Multiple internal avenues of review were available to you if you believed a situation had occurred between a graduate student instructor and an undergraduate student that called for a corrective response. Instead, you chose to shame and intimidate with an Internet story that was incompetent, inaccurate, and lacking in integrity, respect for other's opinions, and appropriate restraint. ...
Compare Helen Wise on Salaita
Dear Colleagues:

As you may be aware, Vice President Christophe Pierre and I wrote to Prof. Steven Salaita on Aug. 1, informing him of the university’s decision not to recommend further action by the Board of Trustees concerning his potential appointment to the faculty of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Since this decision, many of you have expressed your concern about its potential impact on academic freedom. I want to assure you in the strongest possible terms that all of us – my administration, the university administration and I – absolutely are committed to this bedrock principle. I began my career as a scientist challenging accepted ideas and pre-conceived notions, and I have continued during my career to invite and encourage such debates in all aspects of university life.

A pre-eminent university must always be a home for difficult discussions and for the teaching of diverse ideas. One of our core missions is to welcome and encourage differing perspectives. Robust – and even intense and provocative – debate and disagreement are deeply valued and critical to the success of our university.

As a university community, we also are committed to creating a welcoming environment for faculty and students alike to explore the most difficult, contentious and complex issues facing our society today. Our Inclusive Illinois initiative is based on the premise that education is a process that starts with our collective willingness to search for answers together – learning from each other in a respectful way that supports a diversity of worldviews, histories and cultural knowledge.

The decision regarding Prof. Salaita was not influenced in any way by his positions on the conflict in the Middle East nor his criticism of Israel. Our university is home to a wide diversity of opinions on issues of politics and foreign policy. Some of our faculty are critical of Israel, while others are strong supporters. These debates make us stronger as an institution and force advocates of all viewpoints to confront the arguments and perspectives offered by others. We are a university built on precisely this type of dialogue, discourse and debate.

What we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them. We have a particular duty to our students to ensure that they live in a community of scholarship that challenges their assumptions about the world but that also respects their rights as individuals.

As chancellor, it is my responsibility to ensure that all perspectives are welcome and that our discourse, regardless of subject matter or viewpoint, allows new concepts and differing points of view to be discussed in and outside the classroom in a scholarly, civil and productive manner.

A Jewish student, a Palestinian student, or any student of any faith or background must feel confident that personal views can be expressed and that philosophical disagreements with a faculty member can be debated in a civil, thoughtful and mutually respectful manner. Most important, every student must know that every instructor recognizes and values that student as a human being. If we have lost that, we have lost much more than our standing as a world-class institution of higher education.

As a member of the faculty, I firmly believe that a tenured faculty position at the University of Illinois is a tremendous honor and a unique privilege. Tenure also brings with it a heavy responsibility to continue the traditions of scholarship and civility upon which our university is built.

I am committed to working closely with you to identify how the campus administration can support our collective duty to inspire and facilitate thoughtful consideration of diverse opinions and discourse on challenging issues.


Phyllis M. Wise

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

repeat from 2010
Henry Farrell approves
John Gray on the disappearance of utopian dreams of social reform in science fiction here. His taste in SF is excellent and he has several good lines.
The role of science has been to gauge the limits of the species, with new technologies and extra-planetary environments being used as virtual laboratories for an ongoing thought experiment. If the mainstream novel employs the lens of the commonplace career – birth and education, marriage and divorce, ambition and failure – SF has pursued the inquiry by abducting the human animal and placing it in alien environments.
is particularly nice. It captures real (if not universal) differences without fetishizing the one as better than the other.
India was an alien environment for the British; Indochina was an alien environment for the French; Africa was an alien environment for the entirety of Europe. Henry Farrell can't deal with Palestine but he can justify "thought experiments" on Mars. Fantasy is escape. It's evasion.

Science Fiction was created by men trying to get away from the alien environment populated by their wives.
I found the post again recently, and reread the article by Gray.  It's so stupid it's almost obscene.

I may add to this later.
I did

"The Problem of Whiteness"

It's right there in his face.
The controversial 18-student class will be taught by assistant professor Lee Bebout, whose expertise is critical race theory, American studies, and Chicano studies. 

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

"The truth about 'political correctness' is that it doesn't actually exist"

I've made fun of deBoer before and I'm sure I'll do it again, maybe even now. His mannerisms are annoying.
So, to state the obvious: Jon Chait is a jerk who somehow manages to be both condescending and wounded in his piece on political correctness. He gets the basic nature of language policing wrong, and his solutions are wrong, and he’s a centrist Democrat scold who is just as eager to shut people out of the debate as the people he criticizes. That’s true. 
Here are some things that are also true. 
I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 19 year old white woman — smart, well-meaning, passionate — literally run crying from a classroom because she was so ruthlessly brow-beaten for using the word “disabled.” Not repeatedly. Not with malice. Not because of privilege. She used the word once and was excoriated for it. She never came back. I watched that happen. 
I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 20 year old black man, a track athlete who tried to fit organizing meetings around classes and his ridiculous practice schedule (for which he received a scholarship worth a quarter of tuition), be told not to return to those meetings because he said he thought there were such a thing as innate gender differences. He wasn’t a homophobe, or transphobic, or a misogynist. It turns out that 20 year olds from rural South Carolina aren’t born with an innate understanding of the intersectionality playbook. But those were the terms deployed against him, those and worse. So that was it; he was gone. 
I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 33 year old Hispanic man, an Iraq war veteran who had served three tours and had become an outspoken critic of our presence there, be lectured about patriarchy by an affluent 22 year old white liberal arts college student, because he had said that other vets have to “man up” and speak out about the war. Because apparently we have to pretend that we don’t know how metaphorical language works or else we’re bad people. I watched his eyes glaze over as this woman with $300 shoes berated him. I saw that. Myself. ...

repeats: "My husband had sex with me while I was in a drunken state. Should I divorce him?"

That link leads here, and from there to here, and...

update. via Leiter
Geoffrey Stone
The federal Department of Education has put serious pressure on colleges and universities to take aggressive action to deal more effectively with the issue of campus sexual assault. In principle, this is a sound and important step in the right direction. But the Department of Education has declined to define precisely what it means by sexual assault. Clearly, it includes the crime of rape. But the meaning of sexual assault, at least as used in this context, can be extremely, and dangerously vague. 
Fundamentally, it is bound up with such concepts as "consent" and "unwanted" sex. The problem is in defining how those concepts apply in this context. In many instances, especially where alcohol is involved, as it often is, extremely difficult questions arise about the meaning of "consent" and "unwanted." Is it measured by the subjective state of mind of the "complainant" or by the reasonable understanding of the "accused"? How are the participants, and the institutions, to know whether in any given interaction the accused crossed the line?