Saturday, August 26, 2017

A repeat from a few years ago. I'm still tired:
Pedantry is a form of immaturity, but pedants by definition see themselves as the most serious of serious adults. Though their opinions adapt, the pedantry is constant; the illusion of consistency is all that matters.

I forget how many times I've said this. Weimarization begins with an elite isolated from the experience of the larger community: one part openly corrupt, concerned with wealth and power, the other engaged with intellectual formalisms, earnestly but as a result of the arbitrariness of their constructions -the foundations are contingent- with the same concern as their peers for power politics, on a much smaller scale.

America and technology have spread the neotenization of the elite to the broader middle class. Our new sophisticates have the arrogant provincialism of the petty bourgeois.

Academics as a group are the most unobservant, unintellectual, anti-intellectual people I know, and yet they see themselves as justified in leading. The academicization of intellectual life, bureaucratic reason from Max Weber to the Frankfurt School, is the proximate cause of the rise of the radical right. If technocracy is authoritarian rationalism, the governing of individuals as tokens, as the mass, irrationalism becomes the only model for life as individual experience. Anger is the only agency that's left.

Weber was a model of technocratic anti-humanism. Adorno was a petulant, moralizing, self-hating adolescent. Benjamin was a child. They were the confused children of technocracy.

If you live for ideas then you're living for the next test. Every experience must fit into one or another narrow predetermined category, living life by inches, or by millimeters. Mechanistic authoritarianism is fundamentally perverse, and it dumbs you down.

Art schools and degrees in creative writing: the academic study of ourselves by ourselves is a prescription for brittle mediocrity. Film schools are still trade schools; that saves them from the worst of it.

I'm tired of being right. I just want to enjoy my life.

Thursday, August 24, 2017


The humanist against vulgar universalism
Arendt to Scholem, in Arendt, The Jewish Writings. 
To come to the point: let me begin, going on from what I have just stated, with what you call "love of the Jewish people" or Ahahath Israel. (Incidentally, I would be very grateful if you could tell me since when this concept has played a role in Judaism, when it was first used in Hebrew language and literature, etc.) You are quite right–I am not moved by any "love" of this sort, and for two reasons: I have never in my life "loved" any people or collective–neither the German people, nor the French, nor the American, nor the working class or anything of that sort. I indeed love "only" my friends and the only kind of love I know of and believe in is the love of persons. Secondly, this "love of the Jews" would appear to me, since I am myself Jewish, as something rather suspect. I cannot love myself or anything which I know is part and parcel of my own person. To clarify this, let me tell you of a conversation I had in Israel with a prominent political personality*  who was defending the–in my opinion disastrous–nonseparation of religion and state in Israel. What he said–I am not sure of the exact words anymore–ran something like this: "You will understand that, as a Socialist, I, of course, do not believe in God; I believe in the Jewish people." I found this a shocking statement and, being too shocked, I did not reply at the time. But I could have answered: The greatness of this people was once that it believed in God, and believed in Him in such a way that its trust and love toward Him was greater than its fear. And now this people believes only in itself? What good can come out of that?–Well, in this sense I do not "love" the Jews, nor do I "believe" in them; I merely belong to them as a matter of course, beyond dispute or argument.

We could discuss the same issue in political terms; and we should then be driven to a consideration of patriotism. That there can be no patriotism without permanent opposition and criticism is no doubt common ground between us. But I can admit to you something beyond that, namely, that wrong done by my own people naturally grieves me more than wrong done by other peoples. This grief, however, in my opinion is not for display, even if it should be the innermost motive for certain actions or attitudes. Generally speaking, the role of the "heart" in politics seems to me altogether questionable. You know as well as I how often those who merely report certain unpleasant facts are accused of lack of soul, lack of heart, or lack of what you call Herzenstakt. We both know, in other words, how often these emotions are used in order to conceal factual truth. I cannot discuss here what happens when emotions are displayed in public and become a factor in political affairs; but it is an important subject, and I have attempted to describe the disastrous results in my book On Revolution in discussing the role of compassion in the formation of the revolutionary character.
*This "personality" was Golda Meir, then foreign minister and later prime minister of Israel. At Scholem's urging, Arendt deleted her name and changed the feminine pronoun when the letters were first published. -Ed.
"I have never in my life 'loved' any people or collective."
Universalism is for law; law is impersonal. Love is intimate. Mixing the two is barbarism, of one sort or another.

Why not: a tag for Brighouse, a well-meaning pedant.
Mark Thoma in 2013, going on as usual after his wife's death, and then tweeting (approx) "It's too much. I can't go on" before going on, not mentioning it again. He deleted the tweet.

Note the uptick since 2000. Should I telegraph that it's not in pedantry but in awareness?
Change is slow.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Which came first, the effect or the cause?

Religious toleration and identity politics
Philosopher Paul Russell (British Columbia/Gothenburg) comments, arguing, rightly I think, that religion is more like politics than race.
Leiter agrees, or thinks he does, that religious belief is more like political belief than it's like variations in human morphology.

The limits of tolerance: A religious worldview cannot expect the same kinds of tolerance as racial, gender, or sexual identities. Here’s why 
...Race, gender and, more recently, sexual orientation are forms of identity that have been especially prominent in politics during the past century. What is striking about these forms of identity is not only that they are generally unchosen, but that they are not based on any ideological or value-laden set of commitments of a political or ethical nature. Of course, the significance and interpretation of non-ideological identities, the ways in which they can be viewed as threatened or disrespected, is itself an ideological matter; but the identities themselves are not constituted by any ideological content (systems of belief, value, practices, etc), and the groups concerned could vary greatly in the particular ideologies that they endorse or reject. 
For this reason, there is no basis for criticising a group (or individual member of it) on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation. It would, for example, be absurd to praise or blame Martin Luther King Jr for being black, or Margaret Thatcher for being a woman. There is no ideological content to their identity to assess or debate – the relevant identity is an inappropriate target for praise or blame, since there are no relevant assessable beliefs, values, practices or institutions to serve as the grounds of such responses. The identity of the group turns on natural qualities and features that cannot be discarded in light of critical scrutiny or reflection of any kind.
"What is striking about these forms of identity is not only that they are generally unchosen, but that they are not based on any ideological or value-laden set of commitments of a political or ethical nature."

If you're punished for a form of identity that's unchosen or that you perceive as unchosen, the first reaction, when and if you have the strength to respond, is to take that label as a badge. And "gender identity" is no more or less a choice than the choice, or the need, to believe in a god. To have a cock and say "I am a woman" is a statement of belief not biology.
Philosophy professors and politicians are fans of their own authority. If you take
ideologies as ahistorical, examining them to see whether they're "true according to their own criteria", [etc]  you really miss the fucking point.
Societies, even slave owning societies, do not exist to oppress but by way of oppressing, at the same time existing as cultures that their citizens, as opposed to their victims, enjoy. When critical culture sees society simplistically as a series of absolute forces it recreates those forces (fighting an imaginary fire with fire) in an esthetic of totalization and universalization that becomes a parody of the past, as Fascism in its attack on bourgeois values is bourgeois parody of Monarchism; as the art of the Salon is precursor to the art of the Third Reich and to Stalin's Socialist Realism. All cultural groups exclude others, but by assuming that they exist for that purpose, as Fascism and Communism assumed. or as many on the “critical” [read: academic] left still do the issues are willfully occluded. Our "project" should be to understand this process, and to overcome the irrational fear of otherness, not to desire an absolute, unified, reified innately narcissistic 'one'.
The answer to the confused identity politics of the Right is not an identity politics of the Left.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

The first paragraph of Trump and the Trumpists, by Wolfgang Streeck
Strange personalities arise in the cracks of disintegrating institutions. They are often marked by extravagant dress, inflated rhetoric, and a show of sexual power. The first Trumper of the postwar era was the Danish tax rebel, Mogens Glistrup, the founder of the nationalist Progress Party, who, having put his principles into practice, went to prison for tax evasion. Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Boris Johnson in England are hairstyle Trumpers. Pim Fortuyn and Jörg Haider were both dandies. They died in their finery. Beppe Grillo, Nigel Farage, and Jean-Marie Le Pen, are each one third of a full Trump.
At CT, commenter "Engels" quotes Streeck
Nations are imagined communities. Nation building entailed the creation of formal institutions extending previously informal, communal bonds of solidarity to all co-nationals. Globalization favors the equal access of everyone to worldwide markets. It has no use for national citizenship or national citizens. Another moral system is at work. Cultural reeducation is required to erase traditional solidarity and replace it with a morality of equal access and equal opportunity regardless of status (such as “race, creed, and national origin”). Justice is served as soon as market access is equalized. The replacement of class solidarity by status rights demands flexible adjustment to changing market conditions. The morality of marketization entails a categoric delegitimization of distinctions. Empathy and benevolence become moral duties with respect to everyone, rather than one’s neighbor. Social rights are displaced by civil rights, a process which, as Hannah Arendt saw clearly in 1948, inevitably dilutes to near-invisibility any system of effective social protection.

For the domestic politics of a nation-state undergoing neoliberal redefinition, this has profound consequences. Classes struggling over the correction of markets give way to status groups struggling over access to them. At issue are not the terms of exchange and cooperation between conflicting class interests, or the limits of exploitation of one class by another, but status groups with established market access excluding status groups without it from competition. Political morality lies in opening up competition by removing barriers to entry, not in containing it through institutionalized limits to commodification. For groups that already have market access, this means a moral duty, in the name of equality, to allow themselves to be challenged by newcomers, whoever they may be—fellow citizens, immigrants, or residents of other countries—at the risk of being outcompeted and having their lives disrupted as a result. ...
Bertram replies
are you commending that Streeck piece to us or just noting it? I had thought of posting something here about it. Streeck imagines the American working class, or rather “the silenced majority of a disorganized class” in a highly racialized way. He only sees the whites. In fact this is quite explicit in the same paragraph, because they are the ones “deprived of an accessible identity”, (unlike black American members of the working class). One might say that this is all purely descriptive, but to my mind the piece oozes solidaristic compassion with a racially-typed group. So of course the question arises, why feel that towards this particular group but then explicitly sneer at liberal concern for other groups? I’m sure Streeck doesn’t think of himself as racist, but his social typology, transferred across from his writings on Germany, counterposes a national working class with the immigrant other. That’s already problematic enough to my mind, but in the context of the US it is disastrous.
Engels responding to another commenter
I’m not sure I understand exactly what Streeck is saying in the statement about ‘civil rights’ vs ‘social rights’

Teh ‘pedia: 
Civil and political rights are a class of rights that protect individuals’ freedom from infringement by governments, social organizations, and private individuals. They ensure one’s ability to participate in the civil and political life of the society and state without discrimination or repression.
Economic, social and cultural rights are socio-economic human rights, such as the right to education, right to housing, right to adequate standard of living, right to health and the right to science and culture.,_social_and_cultural_rights
Bertram goes so far as to disemvowel a comment that accuses him of intellectual dishonesty in his response to an obvious point. Someone else links a critical review of Steeck's recent book by Adam Tooze in the LRB

Teh ‘pedia, but not Immanuel Kant. So much has been lost.

The inability to think beyond the individual: the British model of "humanism", technocratic Benthamism. White liberals feel contempt for poor white trash and pity for minorities, but both are objects of concern from above. Poor and lower middle class whites sense the difference, see themselves shut out, as Palestinians do by the the earnest, guilty and thus self-regarding concern of otherwise anti-Semitic whites for the new Jewish state.

Objectivity is a claim to authority by those who already have power.  The powerful choose who and what deserves support, secure in their own bourgeois moralism. "It is quite obvious" they say, "that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism."

Streeck. "Social rights are displaced by civil rights, a process which, as Hannah Arendt saw clearly in 1948, inevitably dilutes to near-invisibility any system of effective social protection."

Bertram, "Engels" et al. have no understanding of social rights because they have no understanding the social.

The end of the first edition of The Origins of Totalitarianism.
How great our calamity actually is can be gauged from the fact that to achieve even so simple a task as the prevention of murder, we are forced to doubt the unchallenged existence of the basic tenets of morality upon which the whole structure of our life rests and which none of the great revolutionaries, from Robespierre to Lenin, ever seriously questioned. We can no longer believe with Lenin that “people will gradually become accustomed to the observance of the elementary rules of social life that have been . . repeated for thousands of years” (State and Revolution) and we must therefore try for what Burke’s great common sense deemed impossible: “new discoveries . . . in morality . . . or in the ideas of liberty” (Reflections on the Revolution in France). The trouble is that if we do not attempt this, there are plenty of indications that the mob, which more than once during the last fifty years has proved its superior ability to read the signs of the times, will take over and destroy where we were unable to produce. For the first disastrous result of man’s coming of age is that modern man has come to resent everything given, even his own existence – to resent the very fact that he is not the creator of the universe and himself. In this fundamental resentment, he refuses to see rhyme or reason in the given world. In his resentment of all laws merely given to him, he proclaims openly that everything is permitted and believes secretly that everything is possible. And since he knows that he is a law-creating being, and that his task, according to all standards of past history, is “superhuman,” he resents even his nihilistic convictions, as though they were forced upon him by some cruel joke of the devil. 
The alternative to this resentment, which is the psychological basis of contemporary nihilism, would be a fundamental gratitude for the few elementary things that indeed are invariably given us, such as life itself, the existence of man and the world. Neo-humanists, in their understandable yearning for the stable world of the past when law and order were given entities, and in their vain efforts to re-establish such stability by making man the measure of all things human, have confused the issue, which is the choice between resentment and gratitude as basic possible modern attitudes, and increased the fear of Man, this most unknown and most unpredictable being on earth. Generally speaking, such gratitude expects nothing except – in the worlds of Faulkner – one ’s “own one anonymous chance to perform something passionate and brave and austere not just in but into man’s enduring chronicle . . . in gratitude for the gift of time in it.” In the sphere of politics, gratitude emphasizes that we are not alone in the world. We can reconcile ourselves to the variety of mankind, to the differences between human beings – which are frightening precisely because of the essential equality of rights of all men and our consequent responsibility for all deeds and misdeeds committed by people different from ourselves – only through insight into the tremendous bliss that man was created with the power of procreation, that not a single man but Men inhabit the earth.

Only a consciously planned beginning of history, only a consciously devised new polity, will eventually be able to reintegrate those who in ever increasing numbers are being expelled from humanity and severed from the human condition. The recognition of the crime against humanity will, by itself, achieve neither liberty nor justice, for these are the concern of the daily strife of all citizens: it can only secure the participation of all men in the strife. The concept of human rights can again be meaningful only if they are redefined as a right to the human condition itself, which depends upon belonging to some human community, the right never to be dependent upon some inborn human dignity which ipso facto,  aside from its guarantee by fellow-men not only does not must but is the last and possibly most arrogant myth we have invented in our long history. The Rights of Man can be implemented only if they become the pre-political foundation of a new polity, the pre-legal basis of a new legal structure, the, so to speak, pre-historical fundament from which the history of mankind will derive its essential meaning in much the same way Western civilization did from its own fundamental origin myths.

In the meantime, it may have been useful to find the origin, and to contemplate the forms, of those new movements which pretend to have discovered the solution to our problems, and whose fantastic claims to having founded thousand-year empires and Messianic ages are believed, despite all evidence to the contrary, because they respond, albeit in a radically destructive way, to the terrible challenge of the century. This, certainly, cannot establish a new law on earth, but it is one way toward a new form of universal solidarity.

For those who were expelled from humanity and from human history and thereby deprived of their human condition need the solidarity of all men to assure them of their rightful place in “man’s enduring chronicle.” At least we can cry out to each one of those who rightly is in despair: “Do thyself no harm; for we are all here.” (Acts, 16:28)