Tuesday, April 30, 2019

I teach a standard Contemporary Moral Issues/Applied Ethics course once a year, usually in the Spring, in lecture format, usually with 80-100 students (but this year with 170). Normally about 70% of the students are seniors, and about 70% are business majors (it meets an ethics requirement in the business major). We discuss topics such as abortion, inequality in education, parental licensing,...
I really don't keep up with this shit.

Technocracy
Opposition to freedom of speech.
"Epistocracy"
Liberal Fascism: Jonah Goldberg is the poor man's Foucault.

Some people would want children taken away from parents for teaching them that Zionism is racist.

Literacy tests for voting, since the American people are responsible for the deaths for millions.
How about abortion licenses, since some women are just irresponsible.

Abortion is legal because it's better to allow an irresponsible woman to abort a fetus that may be near viable than have the state chain her to a bed till she gives birth; a trimester is a measure of time not moral truth. We do not grant the state the right to micro-manage. Democracy's a bloody mess and needs to be.

Democracies have freedom of speech not because governments grant it but because the government is not granted the power to take it away.

This post is getting a lot of hits these days.

The Discovery of Experience

Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom

I'd forgotten I already had tag for Brighouse.

Freedom of speech is predicated on the assumption that experts are not what they pretend. It is not about personal freedom but self-government.

"The focus is on the freedom of a people, not on freedom of persons: on the plural, not the singular."

I wrote that before I'd read Arendt on plurality. I was raised with it.

Liberalism is garbage.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The modern definition of individualism expands out of the private realm that Arendt calls the 'social', as opposed to the public and political. The individualism of the Greeks was public. She uses the same word for both. Modern individualism includes the realm of business, private gain as public goal. Mixed with this is the sense that the new model brings with it an immunity from judgment, at least if you follow the law. Law becomes a border best handled by pedants. Modern individualism is Liberal as opposed to republican, no longer founded on a public/political model of individualism, of debate beyond self-interest. Virtue has been replaced by regulations. Greek political debate was debate among equals.

Liberalism spawned libertarianism, but sports are a public activity following the older model. Nozick's Wilt Chamberlain argument only works in the context of formalist liberalism and liberals have no logical answer. But Chamberlain wasn’t interested only in money –the private realm– but in money and fame and glory and respect. He needed his audience as they needed him. If he did something to really annoy them, they’d walk away, no matter how good he was. People didn’t pay money to watch Evel Knievel jump over a row of trucks, they paid for the right to watch him die trying.  Performance is a social activity, not simply a financial one. We're back to the distinction between law as idea and law as practice, between philosophers and lawyers, academics and actors, in politics or on the stage, between pedants and comedians.

The Human Condition

The Rise of the Social
The emergence of society—the rise of housekeeping, its activities, problems, and organizational devices—from the shadowy interior of the household into the light of the public sphere, has not only blurred the old borderline between private and political, it has also changed almost beyond recognition the meaning of the two terms and their significance for the life of the individual and the citizen. Not only would we not agree with the Greeks that a life spent in the privacy of "one's own" (idion), outside the world of the common, is "idiotic" by definition, or with the Romans to whom privacy offered but a temporary refuge from the business of the res publica; we call private today a sphere of intimacy whose beginnings we may be able to trace back to late Roman, though hardly to any period of Greek antiquity, but whose peculiar manifoldness and variety were certainly unknown to any period prior to the modern age. 
This is not merely a matter of shifted emphasis. In ancient feeling the privative trait of privacy, indicated in the word itself, was all-important; it meant literally a state of being deprived of something, and even of the highest and most human of man's capacities. A man who lived only a private life, who like the slave was not permitted to enter the public realm, or like the bar- barian had chosen not to establish such a realm, was not fully human. We no longer think primarily of deprivation when we use the word "privacy," and this is partly due to the enormous enrichment of the private sphere through modern individualism. However, it seems even more important that modern privacy is at least as sharply opposed to the social realm—unknown to the ancients who considered its content a private matter-—as it is to the political, properly speaking. The decisive historical fact is that modern privacy in its most relevant function, to shelter the intimate, was discovered as the opposite not of the political sphere but of the social, to which it is therefore more closely and authentically related.... 
This modern equality, based on the conformism inherent in society and possible only because behavior has replaced action as the foremost mode of human relationship, is in every respect different from equality in antiquity, and notably in the Greek city-states. To belong to the few "equals" (homoioi) meant to be permitted to live among one's peers; but the public realm itself, the polis, was permeated by a fiercely agonal spirit, where everybody had constantly to distinguish himself from all others, to show through unique deeds or achievements that he was the best of all (aien aristeuein).34 The public realm, in other words, was reserved for individuality; it was the only place  where men could show who they really and inexchangeably were. It was for the sake of this chance, and out of love for a body politic that made it possible to them all, that each was more or less willing to share in the burden of jurisdiction, defense, and administration of public affairs.

It is the same conformism, the assumption that men behave and do not act with respect to each other, that lies at the root of the modern science of economics, whose birth coincided with the rise of society and which, together with its chief technical tool, statistics, became the social science par excellence. Economics—until the modern age a not too important part of ethics and politics and based on the assumption that men act with respect to their economic activities as they act in every other respect35—could achieve a scientific character only when men had become social beings and unanimously followed certain patterns of behavior, so that those who did not keep the rules could be considered to be asocial or abnormal.

The laws of statistics are valid only where large numbers or long periods are involved, and acts or events can statistically appear only as deviations or fluctuations. The justification of sta- tistics is that deeds and events are rare occurrences in everyday life and in history. Yet the meaningfulness of everyday relationships is disclosed not in everyday life but in rare deeds, just as the significance of a historical period shows itself only in the few events that illuminate it. The application of the law of large numbers and long periods to politics or history signifies nothing less than the willful obliteration of their very subject matter, and it is a hopeless enterprise to search for meaning in politics or significance in history when everything that is not everyday behavior or automatic trends has been ruled out as immaterial.

However, since the laws of statistics are perfectly valid where we deal with large numbers, it is obvious that every increase in population means an increased validity and a marked decrease of "deviation." Politically, this means that the larger the population in any given body politic, the more likely it will be the social rather than the political that constitutes the public realm. The Greeks, whose city-state was the most individualistic and least conformable body politic known to us, were quite aware of the fact that the polls, with its emphasis on action and speech, could survive only if the number of citizens remained restricted. Large numbers of people, crowded together, develop an almost irresistible inclination toward despotism, be this the despotism of a person or of majority rule; and although statistics, that is, the mathematical treatment of reality, was unknown prior to the modern age, the social phenomena which make such treatment possible—great numbers, accounting for conformism, behavior- ism, and automatism in human affairs—were precisely those traits which, in Greek self-understanding, distinguished the Persian civilization from their own.

The unfortunate truth about behaviorism and the validity of its "laws" is that the more people there are, the more likely they are to behave and the less likely to tolerate non-behavior. Statistically, this will be shown in the leveling out of fluctuation. In reality, deeds will have less and less chance to stem the tide of behavior, and events will more and more lose their significance, that is, their capacity to illuminate historical time. Statistical uniformity is by no means a harmless scientific ideal; it is the no longer secret political ideal of a society which, entirely submerged in the routine of everyday living, is at peace with the scientific outlook inherent in its very existence. 

The uniform behavior that lends itself to statistical determination, and therefore to scientifically correct prediction, can hardly be explained by the liberal hypothesis of a natural "harmony of interests," the foundation of "classical" economics; it was not Karl Marx but the liberal economists themselves who had to introduce the "communistic fiction," that is, to assume that there is one interest of society as a whole which with "an invisible hand" guides the behavior of men and produces the harmony of their conflicting interests.36 The difference between Marx and his fore- runners was only that he took the reality of conflict, as it pre- sented itself in the society of his time, as seriously as the hypothetical fiction of harmony; he was right in concluding that the "socialization of man" would produce automatically a harmony of all interests, and was only more courageous than his liberal teachers when he proposed to establish in reality the "communistic fiction" underlying all economic theories. What Marx did not— and, at his time, could not—understand was that the germs of communistic society were present in the reality of a national household, and that their full development was not hindered by any class-interest as such, but only by the already obsolete monarchical structure of the nation-state. Obviously, what pre- vented society from smooth functioning was only certain tradi- tional remnants that interfered and still influenced the behavior of "backward" classes. From the viewpoint of society, these were merely disturbing factors in the way of a full development of "social forces"; they no longer corresponded to reality and were therefore, in a sense, much more "fictitious" than the scientific "fiction" of one interest. 
A complete victory of society will always produce some sort of "communistic fiction," whose outstanding political characteris- tic is that it is indeed ruled by an "invisible hand," namely, by nobody. What we traditionally call state and government gives place here to pure administration—a state of affairs which Marx rightly predicted as the "withering away of the state," though he was wrong in assuming that only a revolution could bring it about, and even more wrong when he believed that this complete victory of society would mean the eventual emergence of the "realm of freedom."37

To gauge the extent of society's victory in the modern age, its early substitution of behavior for action and its eventual substitu- tion of bureaucracy, the rule of nobody, for personal rulership, it may be well to recall that its initial science of economics, which substitutes patterns of behavior only in this rather limited field of human activity, was finally followed by the all-comprehensive pretension of the social sciences which, as "behavioral sciences," aim to reduce man as a whole, in all his activities, to the level of a conditioned and behaving animal. If economics is the science of society in its early stages, when it could impose its rules of be- havior only on sections of the population and on parts of their activities, the rise of the "behavioral sciences" indicates clearly the final stage of this development, when mass society has devoured all strata of the nation and "social behavior" has become the stand- ard for all regions of life.
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34. Aien aristeuein kai hypeirochm emmenai allon ("always to be the best and to rise above others") is the central concern of Homer's heroes (Iliad vi. 208), and Homer was "the educator of Hellas."

35. "The conception of political economy as primarily a 'science' dates only from Adam Smith" and was unknown not only to antiquity and the Middle Ages, but also to canonist doctrine, the first "complete and economic doctrine" which "differed from modern economics in being an 'art' rather than a 'science' " (W. J. Ashley, of. tit., pp. 379 ff.). Classical economics assumed that man, in so far as he is an active being, acts exclusively from self-interest and is driven by only one desire, the desire for acquisition. Adam Smith's introduction of an "invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of [anybody's] intention" proves that even this minimum of action with its uniform motivation still con- tains too much unpredictable initiative for the establishment of a science. Marx developed classical economics further by substituting group or class interests for individual and personal interests and by reducing these class interests to two ma- jor classes, capitalists and workers, so that he was left with one conflict, where classical economics had seen a multitude of contradictory conflicts. The reason why the Marxian economic system is more consistent and coherent, and there- fore apparently so much more "scientific" than those of his predecessors, lies primarily in the construction of "socialized man," who is even less an acting being than the "economic man" of liberal economics.

36. That liberal utilitarianism, and not socialism, is "forced into an un- tenable 'communistic fiction' about the unity of society" and that "the com- munist fiction [is] implicit in most writings on economics" constitutes one of the chief theses of Myrdal's brilliant work {op. ck., pp. 54 and 150). He shows con- clusively that economics can be a science only if one assumes that one interest pervades society as a whole. Behind the "harmony of interests" stands always the "communistic fiction" of one interest, which may then be called welfare or commonwealth. Liberal economists consequently were always guided by a "communistic" ideal, namely, by "interest of society as a whole" (pp. 194—95). The crux of the argument is that this "amounts to the assertion that society must be conceived as a single subject. This, however, is precisely what cannot be conceived. If we tried, we would be attempting to abstract from the essential fact that social activity is the result of the intentions of several individuals" (p. 154).

37. For a brilliant exposition of this usually neglected aspect of Marx's rele- vance for modern society, see Siegfried Landshut, "Die Gegenwart im Lichte derMarxschen Lehre," Hamburger Jahrbuch fitr Wirtschafts- und Gesellschaftspolitik,Vol. I (1956)
Arendt, Truth and Politics
Political thought is representative. I form an opinion by considering a given issue from different viewpoints, by making present to my mind the standpoints of those who are absent; that is, I represent them. This process of representation does not blindly adopt the actual views of those who stand somewhere else, and hence look upon the world from a different perspective; this is a question neither of empathy, as though I tried to be or to feel like somebody else, nor of counting noses and joining a majority but of being and thinking in my own identity where actually I am not. The more people's standpoints I have present in my mind while I am pondering a given issue, and the better I can imagine how I would feel and think if I were in their place, the stronger will be my capacity for representative thinking and the more valid my final conclusions, my opinion.
(It is this capacity for an "enlarged mentality" that enables men to judge; as such, it was discovered by Kant in the first part of his Critique of Judgment, though he did not recognize the political and moral implications of his discovery.) The very process of opinion formation is determined by those in whose places somebody thinks and uses his own mind, and the only condition for this exertion of the imagination is disinterestedness, the liberation from one's own private interests. Hence, even if I shun all company or am completely isolated while forming an opinion, I am not sim- ply together only with myself in the solitude of philosophical thought; I remain in this world of universal interdependence, where I can make myself the representative o f everybody else. Of course, I can refuse to do this and form an opinion that takes only my own interests, or the interests of the group to which I belong, into account; nothing, indeed, is more common, even among highly sophisticated people, than the blind obstinacy that becomes manifest in lack of imagination and failure to judge. But the very quality ofan opinion, as ofajudgment, depends upon the degree of its impartiality.
Baehr, editor's introduction,  The Portable Hannah Arendt
To make matters worse, compassion tends to generate an attitude of suspicion whose paranoia is exceeded only by the zeal that accompanies it. Whereas deeds and words have an "objective" reality (they can be seen and heard), emotions such as compassion reside in the invisible recesses of our inner life. If they are to shine in public as a beacon of policy, they must be professed, but the more a person feels bound to profess his sin- cerity the more it appears that his action is prompted by ulterior motives: "me thinks he doth protest too much." So begins the search to find the hypocrites, a quest that can have no intrinsic terminus because the feelings of the heart are ultimately immeasurable and constantly in flux. Further- more, the bloodhounds of suspicion follow a scent that all too often turns out to be their own. Because compassion is a matter of changing mood and sensation rather than something stable like a physical artifact or visible like ahuman deed, even its exponents can never feel certain ofwhether they are paragons of empathY, or just phonies in disguise. The result is an even greater desire to demonstrate their feelings as unfeigned and to continue a cycle of behavior that is at once bloody and self-destructive. For Arendt, the opposite of compassion is not cynical indifference to the plight of those who suffer, but rather solidarity and respect, principles that may be occasioned by an emotion, but which in their generalized concern for human dignity (of the fortunate and of the unfortunate alike), their rejection of condescension and self-righteousness, their realism and sense of perspective offer superior resources for dealing with oppression and exploitation than the passions and sentiments of the heart.
Arendt On Violence
Progress, to be sure, is a more serious and a more complex item offered at the superstition fair of our time. The irrational nineteenth-century belief in unlimited progress has found universal acceptance chiefly because of the astounding development of the natural sciences, which, since the rise of the modern age, actually have been "universal" sciences and therefore could look forward to an unending task in exploring the immensity of the universe. That science, even though no longer limited by the finitude of the earth and its nature, should be subject to never-ending progress is by no means certain; that strictly scientific research in the humanities, the so-called Geisteswissenschaften that deal with the products of the human spirit, must come to an end by definition is obvious. The ceaseless, senseless demand for original scholarship in a number of fields, where only erudition is now possible, has led either to sheer irrelevancy, the famous knowing of more and more about less and less, or to the development of a pseudo-scholarship which actually destroys its object.* It is noteworthy that the rebellion of the young, to the extent that it is not exclusively morally or politically motivated, has been chiefly directed against the academic glorification of scholarship and science, both of which, though for different reasons, are gravely compromised in their eyes. And it is true that it is by no means impossible that we have reached in both cases a turning point, the point of destructive returns. Not only has the progress of science ceased to coincide with the progress of mankind (whatever that may mean), but it could even spell mankind's end, just as the further progress of scholarship may well end with the destruction of everything that made scholarship worth our while. Progress, in other words, can no longer serve as the standard by which to evaluate the disastrously rapid change-processes we have let loose.
*for a splendid exemplification of these not merely superfluous but pernicious enterprises, see Edmund Wilson, The Fruits of the MLA, NY 1968
[I've removed other footnotes]

Sunday, April 14, 2019


At this point it's been seven years, reworking the first two minutes, and a few things later on.  I think again, at least for now I've solved the biggest problems I was having.

The point was always to move from overtly formal to 'formless'. After about seven minutes it's the straight footage, in the order it was shot, recording my decisions, without color manipulation or correction. But I didn't wait for things to happen. I turned the camera on to look, and turned it of when I stopped.

Early on when I had someone else do the color work I realized he'd darkened a shot to hide the fact that someone was looking at the camera. That's not something you want in documentary filmmaking. But I realized that I'd used it on purpose.  I was cutting the first section for comedy; it made me laugh but I hadn't thought about why. The footage is full of them and I'd telegraphed them all. I was making something theatrical and also voyeuristic, as street photography is, making art out of people's lives and their annoyance is the counterpoint, the world looking back, the gaze photojournalism ignores. If I didn't have actors at least I could give the strangers I photographed without permission the chance to say fuck you. And they do.

Art is a lie, but Baudelaire was right to say that good art acknowledges both object and subject, "the world external to the artist and the artist himself." His mistake was to think this was new.

Two, or three, very different forms of artifice, artificiality. The change as the music changes between the second and third section is clear enough. And the last two sections may get boring. That's ok.

And since I'm putting it up again I might as well repost this as well. The two films, videos whatever you want to call them, that I've completed, more or less, in the past ten years