Thursday, January 21, 2021

A repeat from 2014, with additions, relating to Mark Fisher, art as life, fascism, and the rest.

A friend of mine had it on vinyl, or maybe on a tape. I remember him translating it for me, laughing. 
"Everything is going according to plan." The line gave me a flashback from 20 years ago.
I didn't know about the Adam Curtis Massive Attack collaboration.

Curtis is a political romantic who uses irony only to put himself beyond irony. He refers to desperation and nihilism to indulge without admitting the indulgence, and the denial magnifies it. If art is reification, it describes the maker's desires as the desires of a person, not absolutely as the state of the world. Art is response; it's not the world. The little space between the two is irony.  Curtis collapses that space. What's left is simple determinism.

Curtis is the Chris Marker of the BBC, a romantic reporter of fact. Marker by comparison is just a man observing and responding to what he sees, while admitting that what exists may be something else entirely.
Better to say Curtis is the Errol Morris of the BBC. Curtis annoys me. Morris disgusts me.

Mirowski, "Hell is Truth Seen Too Late"

Recall that neoliberalism predicates itself on the observation that most humans are one or two bottles shy of a six-pack when it comes to rational thought. Hence, anyone who had read Hayek, such as Cass Sun- stein, long ago projected that the internet would promote the isolation of people within their own filter bubbles and that this might have implications for the way politics would play out in the future (Sunstein 2007). Sunstein’s reading of the situation was characteristically superficial, leading to his own prescription that people might be “nudged” toward certain political activities without realizing that they were being manipulated by their political over- lords. Others, starting from the same premise, took the position that the internet just naturally tended to degenerate into dreck, especially because so much of it came to depend on “user generated content [UCG]” (Feldman 2016). Neoliberals do not mind blaming any debilitating epistemic fallout on the agents themselves because it reinforces the message that the market just gives the masses whatever they want. Here, however, is where some on the left attempt to push back. Evgeny Morozov, for one, insists that the onus rests solidly on the economic organization of the platforms that struc- ture internet activity (2013). While this points us in a promising direction to understand the neoliberal character of fake news, the indictment may still be misleading: Is the dumbing down of the populace a mere unintended natural consequence of the pursuit of profit, an unfortunate by-product of progress, or is it something else? 

The documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis has long been warning us that something much larger and more pervasive has been going on well before the contemporary moment of frenzy over posttruth. As he puts it, “We live with a constant vaudeville of contradictory stories that makes it impossible for any real opposition to emerge, because they can’t counter it with a coherent narrative of their own.”27 Curtis finds one incisive theoretical discussion of the new regime in the work of the Russian Vladimir Surkov:
[The pervasive] defeatist response has become a central part of a new system of political control—and to understand how this is hap- pening you have to look to Russia and to a man called Vladislav Surkov who is a hero of our time. Surkov is one of President Putin’s advisors and has helped him maintain his power for fifteen years, but he has done it in a very new way. He came originally from the avant-garde art world, and those who have studied his career say that what Surkov has done is import ideas from conceptual art into the very heart of politics.
His aim is to undermine people’s perception of the world so they never know what is really happening. Surkov turned Russian politics into a bewildering, constantly-changing piece of theatre: he spon- sored all kinds of groups, from Neo-Nazi skin-heads to liberal human rights groups, he even backed parties that were opposed to President Putin. But the key thing was that Surkov then let it be known that this was what he was doing, which meant that no one was sure what was real or fake.
As one journalist put it, “It’s a strategy of power that keeps any opposition constantly confused, a ceaseless shape-shifting that is unstoppable because it’s indefinable,” which is exactly what Surkov is alleged to have done in the Ukraine this year. In typical fashion as the war began Surkov published a short story about something he called Non-Linear War, a war where you never know what the enemy are really up to or even who they are. The underlying aim Surkov says is not to win the war but to use the conflict to create a constant state of destabilized perception in order to manage and control.
Here Curtis suggests the approach derives from the traditions of 1980s conceptual art, but in his earlier films, he sought the inspirations in political developments of neoliberalism. While one sector of recent punditry (at least in the United States in 2017) seeks to pin the practice of “fake news” on the Russians, in a manner similar to Curtis, it may be more pre- cise and more comprehensive to regard its advent as a distinctly global phenomenon, with earlier roots. Of course, falsehoods, propaganda, and misinformation have been with us since time immemorial, but what Curtis and others point toward is something far more insidious than George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth. Once the neoliberal image of the market as both means of conveyance and validation of ideas took hold, then it consequently shaped and informed changes in the very means and conduct of argumentation in general. Befuddlement became an active political strategy very different from the top-down broadcast model of early twentieth-century “propaganda.” The recent fondness for Orwell’s 1984 as master narrative turns out to be another red herring. Now, disinformation rests on the creation of a fog of confusion and disillusion, and less directly on straightforward media manipulation (the bugaboo of the nostalgic Left) than the harvesting through social media of the inchoate folderol of the general populace, sub- sequently feeding it back to the masses through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and new model “journalism.” Dissimulation rechanneled becomes its own special “spontaneous disorder.”

Mannerism is the continuing defense of old beliefs revealed as empty because they're all you have: if they're empty so are you, so you embrace the morbid symptoms. 

Decadence is moralism; moralism is decadence. Moralizing poets are read because they're honest in spite of themselves.

Varieties of liberal optimism, enthusiasm, narcissism, authoritarianism.

"[W]e must abandon traditional doctrinal and regulatory analogies and understand these private content platforms as systems of governance."
White House Executive Order
Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports. 

Truly an idiot.
The Intercept October 2, 2019. Civilian Deaths in U.S. Wars Are Skyrocketing Under Trump.
This September, in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, a wedding party was turned into a massacre after a commando raid by Afghan forces operating with U.S. support. Over 40 people were killed. Just days earlier, a drone strike in Nangarhar province blew up a gathering of pine nut farmers resting after their day’s harvest. “We had huddled together around small bonfires and we were discussing the security situation in our villages, but suddenly everything changed,” one survivor later told reporters. “There was destruction everywhere.” A letter that had been sent to local authorities informing them about the presence of the farmers failed to save them from the drone. As many as 30 people were killed, with 40 more injured.
FP  May 22, 2020  Trump Inherited the Drone War but Ditched Accountability. 
On March 10, a U.S. drone fired a missile, turning a passenger vehicle outside Janaale, Somalia, into a heap of burnt and broken metal with fresh corpses inside. Whether the people killed that day were “terrorists” or ordinary Somalis is actively disputed. It is also a reminder that the United States’ targeted killing program persists to this day, another legacy of the forever war that has now lasted for three presidential administrations and shows no signs of stopping in the next one. Under U.S. President Donald Trump, however, an already opaque and murderous set of rules has become even more widely applied, and ever less accountable.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Iraqi protestors occupy government buildings, November, 2019 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Monday, January 18, 2021

What is striking about the videos, though, is how often this entitlement is laced with insecurity. The attackers profess ownership of this house, but so much of their commentary betrays discomfort and alienation within it, bordering on a sort of provincial awe.

The petulance of angry tourists. An angry herd of anxious individualists, the spoiled American petty bourgeoisie, once bought off,  now in decline.

The sentence above was quoted by The Economist's Middle East correspondent, Greg Carlstrom, on Twitter. AbuKhalil used to say it was the only mainstream publication worth reading, because it was truly international, like capitalism. 

The Parler videos are collected here and  here; the New Yorker writer's video is here

Hoberman reviews  Jaden X, "The Storming of the Capital", in Artforum

Tape recorders, ordinary cameras, and movie cameras are already extensively owned by wage-earners. The question is why these means of production do not turn up at factories, in schools, in the offices of the bureaucracy, in short, everywhere there is social conflict.

—Hans Magnus Enzensberger, “Constituents of a Theory of the Media” New Left Review (1970)

HOW QUAINT that question seems today.

Hoberman wrote without knowing Sullivan's history, allowing him to bypass the fact that if the people storming the Capital had been black, or associated with BLM, they'd have been shot.  The update and amendation isn't quite enough. 

The cloying theatricality of American protests, or those that attract an audience. Occupy vs Wisconsin, again.

Black Lives Matter sentiment is essentially a militant expression of racial liberalism....Black Lives Matter is a cry for full recognition within the established terms of liberal democratic capitalism.

The black bourgeoise rising, in racial and class solidarity. Coates is predictable 

Videos from Cairo in 2013. al Sisi's coup: the Muslim Brotherhood records the destruction of their protest camp by the military. Full post-production, color grading and music. They posted the raw footage, but youtube removed it. There's art to this –politicized aesthetics is aestheticized politics– but it's not cosplay. 

NY Daily News. Cops arrest NYC workers during Hunts Point Produce Market strike for better wages. 
The computerized voice, text-to-speech typed into a console by a man in a car off camera. Hollywood dystopianism. Someone should review it.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

 Off and on since 1987.

Friday, January 15, 2021

"The choice has been made."

"After such a book, it only remains for the author to choose between the muzzle of a pistol or the foot of the cross. 
The choice has been made." J.K. Huysmans

Party boy rebels and moralists always come home to conservatism. 

The media used to derive its institutional power from this perception of separateness. Politicians feared investigation by the news media precisely because they knew audiences perceived them as neutral arbiters.

Taibbi was always an idiot.

Ames is better, but even when moralists aren't open hypocrites they contradict themselves.

Ames, Jan. 17 

Social media is a giant snitching machine, right alongside its “disinformation” problem. Always surprised me how many eager police informants this country produces, given the opportunity—cuts across ideologies. Once upon a time, snitches were considered the lowest lifeforms.

Jan. 14

Apparently the correct position on AOC fearing for her life is...scorn?  

repeats, of repeats

Thursday, January 14, 2021

In his first book-length work, John Maynard Keynes, Minsky analyzed what he called “big government” capitalism. His goal was two-fold. First, he sought to re-interpret Keynes by distinguishing the so-called hydraulic Keynesianism of the postwar era from the author’s actual written work. He argued that postwar governments which boosted inflation through private profits contradicted Keynes’ original system. Keynes believed that the state should facilitate long term economic development by directly planning economic activity, including the distribution of investment over the long run. Postwar American policymakers, however, created a policy that protected private sector profits during downturns. The United States government did not create the structures which could sustain the production of a baseline basket of goods and services from market instability during upswings. Instead, it pumped up aggregate demand via employment in the military-industrial complex and its attendant investment goods.

The second goal of the book was to warn about the inflationary tendencies of this approach. Government was forcing “overinvestment” in capital intensive industries like auto manufacturing and aerospace. While this created good jobs, it also meant that workers would have more money to spend on things made by less capital intensive, nondurable consumer goods industries. Wage inequality between these two sectors caused increasing industrial conflict. In the United States and Western Europe, a pattern emerged in which managers made wage concessions to the most highly productive workers to keep at bay demands for greater union participation in company decisions, thereby further increasing the demand for consumer goods.

Because returns to capital intensive goods were high, the investment capital needed to expand capacity in consumer goods was scarce. With rapidly increasing demand, the price of these goods began to rise, leading to a wage-price spiral. In industries with no anticipated profits, capitalists had no incentive to expand capacity. Consequently, output remained stable while prices rose. In the labor market, some workers held on to their jobs while others were relegated to chronic underemployment.

My father called it the bourgeoisification of the working class.

In the United States and Western Europe, a pattern emerged in which managers made wage concessions to the most highly productive workers to keep at bay demands for greater union participation in company decisions, thereby further increasing the demand for consumer goods.

My arguments haven't changed. 


Henry Farrell asks: "Why Is Economic Inequality Higher in English Speaking Industrialized Democracies?"

Earlier he asked: "What Produced the Inequality Boom?" 


There's a real tragedy in the story of the American left. It no longer has any peasants or workers, only priests and dilettantes. My father used to refer to what he called "the bourgeoisification of the working class". Give them enough color TVs and a new car every 2 years and they'll shut up. Marx made the same complaint about the British. He blamed it all on backyard gardening. 

see previous

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Throughout the Trump era, there have been understandable but misguided calls to pass a domestic terrorism law expanding an investigative dragnet around Radical White Terror. Every law needed to combat Radical White Terror already exists. Further empowering law enforcement is more likely to give the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and local police tools to target people who meant to donate money to legitimate right-wing causes and religious charities—after which, in keeping with historical practice, they will have an expanded domestic ambit to target nonwhite and left-wing groups, causes and enterprises. The very police entities that would be empowered tend to make common cause with those they ostensibly target. 
The calls are already starting. The Wall Street Journal reported shortly after the riot that President-elect Biden plans to prioritize passing a domestic terrorism law. Hillary Clinton advocated “immediately” passing “new criminal laws at the state and federal levels that hold white supremacists accountable and tracking the activities of extremists such as those who breached the Capitol.” On The View on Monday, Meghan McCain said she was “not against sending these people to Gitmo.” But the 9/11 era, with all the reactionary forces it unleashed, helped get the U.S. here. It will never be reverse-engineered to get the U.S. out. It can only get the U.S. deeper into a democracy-draining quagmire.

No mention above of economics. New terror laws won't help, but neither will liberal moralism. Blyth is good here. Later on, less so.

Blyth is a fan of Milanovic; two smart men who've cultivated a view from a distance, interested in policy, less so in democracy. Neither have an epistemology that models change in their own opinions as an aspect of change in the world

The problem of monopoly and limits on free speech are problems of information. That's not a defense of a free market –markets are never free– but it's certainly not a defense of technocracy, even ruled by Blyth and Milanovic.

The fact of bougie Palestinians in the west will be the end of Zionism. Nothing else, not "enlightenment", not "reason". The feminism of men is a result of the feminism of women. Technocracy can't model that. The model of benign authority ends in decadence. "The golden age" was rotten to the core. 
Serendipity/timing. continuing in the next post.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Alex Cockburn 

1993: The Queen Mother's Leninist Love
February 4 
During World War II, Balmoral was a hothouse again, as Elizabeth, consort of George VI and today the aged Queen Mother, was seized with a passion for one of the military detachment based there. Her lover was a married man who before the war had attended the London School of Economics and there became a member of the Communist Club, confessing to the club’s secretary, J .B., that he had read no Marx but all the works of Lenin. With the invasion of the Soviet Union he volunteered and was subsequently posted to Balmoral, where his love affair with the King’s wife commenced. He told his wife of it. She was not pleased but remarked that at least she could be sure the relationship had no future. 
As did many leftists of the period, the couple had adopted a Basque baby orphaned in the Spanish Civil War. At the funeral of her mother years later, this young woman told intimates that finally the great secret could be disclosed. Widowed in the early 19505, Elizabeth conceived a passion for Cointreau, for at least one other military man and, some say, for Bourguiba of Tunisia, exchanging the dour surroundings of Balmoral for pleasures amid the ruins of Carthage. 

My grandfather Jack Arbuthnot, an officer in the Scots Guards, used to visit Scottish fastnesses such as Balmoral and Glamis, home of the Queen Mother’s family, the Bowes-Lyons, early in the century, and the future consort of George VI used to commandcer him as her steed, perched on his back and galloping him around the drawing room. Perhaps this formed the foundation for her later predilections. I shall wear a little Tampax pin with pride. As dear Jack Finnegan used to boast in his Scottish accent as thick as John Brown’s, ‘Finnegan, ML–Monarchist-Leninist’.
The golden age isn't in us, and everything he wrote demonstrates the fact. But that's ok.
Monarchist-Leninist has stuck with me ever since I read in it 93. Every once in a while I look it up.

Throwing Trump off Twitter and shutting down Parler using corporate monopoly power, driving the loons underground; out of sight is out of mind, but they're still there, angrier than ever. 

Deutsche Welle 

Iran: Facebook deletes Press TV page Iran's state media Press TV wrote on Twitter that Facebook has deleted its main page "without any warning or explanation."
2018, Guardian: Is Facebook a publisher? In public it says no, but in court it says yes 
Facebook has long had the same public response when questioned about its disruption of the news industry: it is a tech platform, not a publisher or a media company. 

But in a small courtroom in California’s Redwood City on Monday, attorneys for the social media company presented a different message from the one executives have made to Congress, in interviews and in speeches: Facebook, they repeatedly argued, is a publisher, and a company that makes editorial decisions, which are protected by the first amendment. 

The contradictory claim is Facebook’s latest tactic against a high-profile lawsuit, exposing a growing tension for the Silicon Valley corporation, which has long presented itself as neutral platform that does not have traditional journalistic responsibilities.

If algorithms control what you see, then platforms become editors. Like the defense offered by the makers of the Jon Ronson spambot,  "It's not us, it's the bot", doesn't cut it.

Ronson's breathy passivity is annoying in any context; here it becomes almost unbearable. But it's hard to say who in the video is more passive aggressive.

Free speech for fascists doesn't mean that a monopolistic media source with no risk of liability should have the right to funnel fascist opinion to those who want it.  

But this is not a question of scale.
In court filings late Tuesday, Amazon said it flagged dozens of pieces of violent content to the social media app starting in November. The company argued that Parler violated its contract with Amazon’s cloud computing unit, Amazon Web Services, when it failed to remove the content and that AWS suspended Parler’s account “as a last resort.”

“This case is not about suppressing speech or stifling viewpoints,” Amazon wrote in its response to Parler. “It is not about conspiracy to restrain trade. Instead, this case is about Parler’s demonstrated unwillingness and inability to remove from the servers of AWS content that threatens public safety, such as by inciting and planning the rape, torture, and assassination of named public officials and private citizens.”

Threats, incitement, and conspiracy are covered by law. Fascists force the hand of the state, and then they'll blame the state.

Saturday, January 09, 2021

repeats.  After reading stupid comments elsewhere.

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.

Friday, January 08, 2021

Henry Farrell, self-exiled Irishman who abandoned one church for another –Catholic for Rational Action– spouts Orwell. 

"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to … exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink."

 Terry Eagleton

As far as ideas go, twentieth-century Britain imported them largely from Central European Jewish émigrés like Hobsbawm himself. Wittgenstein, Namier, Eysenck, Popper, Melanie Klein, Isaac Deutscher, Isaiah Berlin: One can imagine the Neanderthal condition of modern English culture without these brilliant blow-ins and carpetbaggers. Much the same happened in the literary arena, as the heights of "English" literature were effortlessly monopolized by a Pole (Joseph Conrad), three Americans (Henry James, T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound) and five Irishmen (Shaw, Wilde, Yeats, Joyce and Beckett). The Irish were expected to write most of England’s literature for it, such being the burdens of empire, as well as supplying them over the years with rents, cattle and cannon-fodder.

Farrell's responding to the fascist Hawley, who's been dumped by Bertelsmann. Hawley calls it "Orwellian", being thrown over by globalists. He can publish with Regnery. But I'm sure Farrell is happy Trump's been thrown offline and his supporters even more underground.

12 years ago Farrell was happy to entertain arguments for social Darwinism by economic policy, and his favorite literary critic ranks Shaw over Shakespeare. Henry loves Truth.  He lies to himself before the rest of us.

Moralists hate ambiguity; they refuse to learn how to read it, or they're incapable, and need the rest of us to be as purblind as they are. They don't defend free speech; they defend the power of the sovereign, and the authoritarianism of fiduciaries.

I'm done with links. Farrell has a tag.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

American "radicals" screaming that America isn't a democracy, while celebrating an electoral victory in Georgia. And the same lovers of "communism" think It's a Wonderful Life is the greatest American film of all time.

Credit for the win goes to the rising Southern black bourgeoisie.

This pic was making the rounds. The imagery of 70's Hollywood liberalism is a marker for the new good enough. Better Mel Brooks than George Lucas. Warnock sold out the Palestinians. He thought he had to.  He'll reverse himself again in time.
Zionists against identity politics, again. Lee Fang: "Absolutely critical essay". Again, as if the Georgia victory meant nothing.  Michael Lind is now a regular at Tablet, along with Wesley Yang and the rest. Joe Scarborough is better, simply by being more honest. You don't have to be very smart to see the obvious. 

I don't remember the first time I said that the members of the American intellectual class that follows politics are pedants, and those who aren't pedants aren't interested in politics. 

At the end of the longer official video,  with the cursing removed, he goes after the Portland idiots, but there's really no comparison.

Business Insider: Some among America's military allies believe Trump deliberately attempted a coup and may have had help from federal law-enforcement officials
The supporters of President Donald Trump who stormed the Capitol on Wednesday to stop the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden's election victory were attempting a violent coup that multiple European security officials said appeared to have at least tacit support from aspects of the US federal agencies responsible for securing the Capitol complex.

Insider spoke with three officials on Thursday morning: a French police official responsible for public security in a key section of central Paris, and two intelligence officials from NATO countries who directly work in counterterrorism and counterintelligence operations involving the US, terrorism, and Russia.

They said the circumstantial evidence available pointed to what would be openly called a coup attempt in any other nation. None were willing to speak on the record because of the dire nature of the subject.

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Weber  "Objectivity of Social Science and Social Policy" 

Nothing, however, is more dangerous than the confusion of theory and history stemming from naturalistic prejudices. This confusion expresses itself firstly in the belief that the "true" content and the essence of historical reality is portrayed in such theoretical constructs or secondly, in the use of these constructs as a procrustean bed into which history is to be forced or thirdly, in the hypostatization of such "ideas" as real "forces" and as a "true" reality which operates behind the passage of events and which works itself out in history. 

This latter danger is especially great since we are also, indeed primarily, accustomed to understand by the "ideas" of an epoch the thoughts or ideals which dominated the mass or at least an historically decisive number of the persons living in that epoch itself, and who were therefore significant as components of its culture. Now there are two aspects to this: in the first place, there are certain relationships between the "idea" in the sense of a tendency of practical or theoretical thought and the "idea" in the sense of the ideal-typical portrayal of an epoch constructed as a heuristic device. An ideal type of certain situations, which can be abstracted from certain characteristic social phenomena of an epoch, might--and this is indeed quite often the case--have also been present in the minds of the persons living in that epoch as an ideal to be striven for in practical life or as a maxim for the regulation of certain social relationships. This is true of the "idea" of "provision" and many other Canonist doctrines, especially those of Thomas Aquinas, in relationship to the modem ideal type of medieval "city economy" which we discussed above. The same is also true of the much talked of "basic concept" of economics: economic "value." From Scholasticism to Marxism, the idea of an objectively "valid" value, i.e., of an ethical imperative was amalgamated with an abstraction drawn from the empirical process of price formation. The notion that the "value" of commodities should be regulated by certain principles of natural law, has had and still has immeasurable significance for the development of culture--and not merely the culture of the Middle Ages. It has also influenced actual price formation very markedly. But what was meant and what can be meant by that theoretical concept can be made unambiguously clear only through precise, ideal-typical constructs. Those who are so contemptuous of the "Robinsonades" of classical theory should restrain themselves if they are unable to replace them with better concepts, which in this context means dearer concepts.

Turner, "The Continued Relevance of Weber's Philosophy of Social Science"

...For Weber, ’logic’, which might be taken by him to include calculation and decision-theory, was non-valuative, in contrast to the domain of described facts of the historical sciences, in which a ’valuative’ element entered. What is valuative is, for Weber, what is ours: logic is everyone’s. 

Sunday, January 03, 2021

Ashton Carter, Dick Cheney, William Cohen, Mark Esper, Robert Gates, Chuck Hagel, James Mattis, Leon Panetta, William Perry and Donald Rumsfeld are the 10 living former U.S. secretaries of defense.

As former secretaries of defense, we hold a common view of the solemn obligations of the U.S. armed forces and the Defense Department. Each of us swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. We did not swear it to an individual or a party.

American elections and the peaceful transfers of power that result are hallmarks of our democracy. With one singular and tragic exception that cost the lives of more Americans than all of our other wars combined, the United States has had an unbroken record of such transitions since 1789, including in times of partisan strife, war, epidemics and economic depression. This year should be no exception.

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Stephen P. Turner "Beyond the Academic Ethic"

It is important to understand how the university and academia related to intellectual life at large. Universities were places where people were learned, and went through various tests to show they were learned. A dissertation in the sixteenth century was a recapitulation of the professor’s notes—the real test was the viva, in which the candidate demonstrated an ability to defend these views on his feet. In Britain, college fellowships were awarded based on exams, not production—and production was largely optional and in many cases non-existent, well into the postwar era. At the same time, there was a lively non-academic world of learning, and also of production—indeed, this is where the ideas normally emerged. This dual world was somewhat permeable until what William James called “the Ph.D. octopus” (1903) strangled the university—as evidenced by the career of James himself. But until the academic revolution, which occurred over a long period, led by the “research universities,” the qualifications of a professor were learning, not production. And one can see this even in the institutions of the German university, where the Habilitationsschrift must be in a different specialty than the Ph.D. dissertation, and where there was originally no expectation that professors produce beyond this demonstration of learning.  

This system began to break down in the nineteenth century with the emergence of chemistry as a valuable form of knowledge not directly linked to a profession. The transformative figure is the chemist Justus Leibig, whose chemical discoveries launched an international business in agricultural products, attracted students from all over the world, and made him into a business magnate as well as a professor with a large and lively laboratory. This was knowledge that was valuable for a market other than the professions, and although its value was in a sense indirect as well, the users applied the knowledge and used the products themselves. The process of discovery could be tailored to the needs of the agricultural market. A new model was born. Liebig was not obliged to produce “impact” or monetize his research, but he did. Chemistry research itself became valuable, and science generally became valuable, whether or not there were practical applications. It was enough that sometimes something came out of it, or that training in science benefitted someone. Soon enough it did, with applications of chemical knowledge to medical issues.

It was not until the late nineteenth century that a new model emerged based on the granting of Ph.D.s and the creation of the modern set of disciplines. In the United States the origins of the modern category of research universities dates from 1915. The list has barely changed since then. But these universities were still primarily teaching institutions, with heavy teaching loads, and a scattering of productive “research” faculty most of whose “research” consisted of cataloging existing knowledge in textbooks. Pressure to publish was very limited.  The choice to write was largely voluntary. Peer review was not burdensome. Book publishing outside of the textbook market was difficult, usually subsidized, and relatively rare, and there were few journals. Decisions to publish were typically made by editors, without advice. These were the conditions under which the following was true:

In the traditional university, professors were “unaccountable.” The university was a sacred space where they were at liberty to pursue with students and colleagues their fields of inquiry without coercion or interference. This doesn’t mean they were free without qualification, of course. Professors were deeply accountable, but in a sense that went far beyond the reach, ambition, and perhaps even the interests of the administrative caste — they were accountable to discover and then to tell the truth, and to encourage their students to do the same. (Srigley, 2018, n.p.)

This passage was taken from one of the many responses to the new regime of administrative control of the university through metrics and “goals.” It reiterates ideas that Shils also expresses. And it is a source of confusion, because much of the same language is used ideologically to describe the more recent past, the period after the academic revolution. This period was not free of coercion, but the coercion took a particular form.  


What changed? In a word, professionalization. The description on the back of Jencks’ and Reisman’s book describes its message as follows 

academic professionalism is an advance over amateur gentility, but they warn of its dangers and limitations: the elitism and arrogance implicit in meritocracy, the myopia that derives from a strictly academic view of human experience and understanding, the complacency that comes from making technical competence an end rather than a means. 

Philosophers went from modestly saying, accurately, that they “taught philosophy” to saying they were “philosophers” or even “professional philosophers” to distinguish them from other things that go by the name of philosophy. In sociology, the name of the American Sociological Society was changed to the acronymically less anatomical American Sociological Association to reflect the new status of “profession.” Political sciences became “scientific,” with the behavioralist revolution, whose leaders are now mercifully forgotten. The term “scholar” was consistent with knowing and expounding, and with the value of learning as an end in itself: the term “profession” implied not merely “professing” but possessing a specific set of skills and body of knowledge that was in some sense exclusive—unlike the mere learning of the amateur.

Jencks and Reisman 

the complacency that comes from making technical competence an end rather than a means.

The Middle Ages accepted and developed rather than studied and restored the heritage of the past. They copied classical works of art and used Aristotle and Ovid much as they copied and used the works of contemporaries. They made no attempt to interpret them from an archaeological, philological or "critical" in short, from an historical, point of view. For, if human existence could be thought of as a means rather than an end, how much less could the records of human activity be considered as values in themselves. 

all obvious, but always good to add sources. 

Also Turner,

Brains/Practices/Relativism presents the first major rethinking of social theory in light of cognitive science. Stephen P. Turner focuses especially on connectionism, which views learning as a process of adaptation to input that, in turn, leads to patterns of response distinct to each individual. This means that there is no common "server" from which people download shared frameworks that enable them to cooperate or communicate. Therefore, argues Turner, "practices"—in the sense that the term is widely used in the social sciences and humanities—is a myth, and so are the "cultures" that are central to anthropological and sociological thought.

He's a Weber scholar and a fan of Donald Davidson. Cultures are a myth, so it's irrational to argue that Warhol's art, or Pollock's, or Hawthorn's are American, beyond the basic fact of geography. 

His writing confuses me. He claims to be a naturalist critical of normativism, but Weber is the model for the normative structure of the academic ethic. If there's no culture then there's no German idea of freedom. But of course there is. Turner is committed to individualism so to reading Weber as an individual, for "his ideas". Rationalists rationalize.

A naturalist theory of law that doesn't expand to a naturalist theory of institutions is pointless.  Somewhere I read a description of Cassirer as working from a naturalized Judaism as Santayana worked from Catholicism. But there's no way it could be otherwise. After all, there's no such thing as an ex-Catholic.

I suppose the best way to put it is to say the only options are neo-Kantianism or hard determinism, or as a determinist to say that determinism made me a Kantian, a naturalist to the point of  "that self-evident religio without which there is no desire for knowledge, not even the desire for atheism."

Turner, "The Continued Relevance of Weber's Philosophy of Social Science"

For Weber, sociology itself is not a subject matter grounded in the nature of the universe but is rather grounded in the choices that we make to define the subject. His definition of sociology, as the study of meaningful social action, has no special status as a definition. It is not further grounded in an a prior, philosophically groundable ontology or epistemology which selects it as the only  possible definition—something that many of his critics, as Schutz found to be a failing. Like the conceptual categories that Weber deployed, its only claim on us the claim of utility, and utility is utility in reference to culturally generated and fundamentally ordinary kinds of purposes of understanding, such as the purpose of understanding the historical causes of present day capitalism, rather than universal epistemic goals, such as the final truth about the nature of society.  

This is an important move in relation to the second kind of criticism because it temporalizes, historicizes, and makes culturally relative all of the problematic philosophical distinctions, including the distinction between reasons and causes, which have been the subject of aprioristic philosophizing during the twentieth century. The significance of doing this is that it undermines any sort of absolutization of particular concepts, which constitute the given on which this strategy depends. The notion of the self, for example, becomes available to us as a theoretical or conceptual term which we can use to define problems, but our use of it always comes with the implicit qualification that the term may be historically rooted in the language of life of a very specific historical community, namely ours, and that its applicability elsewhere cannot be taken for granted, and indeed that the applicability and historical origins and development of such concepts becomes fair game for sociological analysis itself. Thus the modern notion of the self is, as Weber implicitly treated it, the product of a particular theodicy that is part of the theology of reformation Protestantism, without which there would not be the concept of 'the self' in its present form. 

However, this strategy of historicization, applied reflexively, raises a question about Weber that was pointed out repeatedly by his critics in the twenties. Is Weber’s own conception of social sci- ence transhistorical, and if so, how can the idea of a transhistorical conception of social science be understood within the framework of his purpose-relative conception of social science in which fun- damental conceptual schemes and categories are understood to be historical? His admirers, notably Karl Jaspers, argued that his con- ception of social science was itself purpose-relative, an instrument or a probe, which was itself subject to revision and which made no claim to finality or absoluteness.

Understanding the arguments in this way brings Weber very close to the Heideggerian notion of every form of knowledge being a form of concealment, because Weber himself suggested that the content of social science changed as ’the light of the great cultural concerns moves on’ (1949:112). And this perfectly reasonable reconstruction of Weber places it in the general framework of Continental philosophy. Weber himself, I would suggest, would not have argued in quite this way, and his strategy in relation to the causal character of historical sciences provides a model that is useful for understanding how he might have responded differently to these issues....

 On Davidson, shared, and not 
What is not shared is the way they characterized the difference between action explanations and nomic explanations. For Davidson, ’the concepts we use to explain and describe thought, speech, and action, are irreducibly normative’ (1999: 460). Weber of course held the same View under the heading of ’value-relatedness’. For Weber ’values’ already enter into the descriptions one makes in the language of life8 Moreover, Weber thought of ordinary language as the expression of a valuative world outlook, and thus distinctive to the epoch. Thus they agree on the normativity of descriptions of intentional action, but disagree on the reasons for it. Davidson, in ’The Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme’, dismissed the idea of distinct conceptual schemes on which Weber appears to rely, and indeed he might have listed Weber, along with Kuhn, as an example of the kind of thinker who, like Kuhn, ’is brilliant at saying what things were like before the revolution using— what else — our post-revolutionary idiom’ (1984 [1974]: 184). Against this Davidson argued that we could not understand another culture if we do not assume that many of the beliefs of the speakers in another culture are true and like our own, without which we would have no basis for translating and interpreting their beliefs, or even understanding them as beliefs and actions. This would seem to rule out genuinely distinctive Weltanschauungen based on different normativities or values, and indeed, Davidson, in a discussion of the problem of the objectivity of values, embraced the objectivity of values. 
But here the differences are not so great as they initially appear. Weber used the term Weltanschauung, but he also emphasized that it is an abstraction, an ideal-type construction of a more complex set of individual beliefs and ideas. And although I have loosely used the term ’culture’ here to characterize his views, he did nothing to ontologize any of these collective mental concepts, or make them into fixed units, such as paradigms. He did not suppose that the thoughts (including the typifications and schemes of significance) of other people in other eras are always accessible to us, but did take the view that to the extent that they are, they must be accessible through our typifications, though of course these typifications may be refined and abstracted to be made more useful for the purpose of making sense of these other eras. For Weber we are condemned to the scheme of significance of our present, but we can extend it through abstraction.

And this is how he resolves it.

...For Weber, ’logic’, which might be taken by him to include calculation and decision-theory, was non-valuative, in contrast to the domain of described facts of the historical sciences, in which a ’valuative’ element entered. What is valuative is, for Weber, what is ours: logic is everyone’s.
Turner's one of the few academics recently who's read any of the manuscript and replied to questions. He told me to try Routledge again. I don't think he read very far, but since I begin with an attack on Weber, that was polite. But I've still been lazy with Weber. My points stand. I cut to the chase. The fact/value distinction is bullshit, but formalisms are not concerned with facts. The problems begin with their application to the world: Evening Star/Morning Star-Palestine/Israel.
repeats of repeats, but this link is as good as any.