Thursday, May 19, 2022

Truth and lies. Content and form
Does liberalism without individualism, human rights at its foundation, and a belief that the state should stay out of people’s lives even make sense? Joseph Raz, who died on May 2nd, believed it did.  Raz was a world-renowned legal and political philosopher whose book, The Morality of Freedom, offered a way of marrying liberalism with a traditionally opposed political philosophy: perfectionism. 

Bruno Maçães in the New Statesman
A large part of the crypto space will never reconcile itself with this outcome. For the true revolutionaries, Terra’s implosion showed crypto is not going far enough. Stablecoins still look to fiat currencies as their model and so suffer from the same flaws the US dollar and its peers have always exhibited. They are tools of power, ways to control wealth and channel it in certain directions. Crypto utopians picture a world where mathematical truth becomes the overriding political authority. If this sounds like Platonism, it’s because it is Platonism. But there is a reason Platonism continues to attract us. Behind the notion of an immutable blockchain lies the dream of the unmediated rule of truth over society.

Evgeny Morozov reinvents... 

Algorithms have their limits; so do humans. At The Syllabus our human curators work side-by-side with technologists to discover outstanding new content.

Every week we index, rank and review tens of thousands of newly published pieces across text, audio, and video - and in 6 languages.

Our team then hand-picks the most interesting material from this ever-growing pile of information. We call this “artisanal automation”.

The result? More than a dozen weekly syllabi with all the best new material to read, watch and listen to.

3 Quarks Daily was founded in 2004. It's blurbed by Richard Dawkins and David Byrne. The Syllabus is blurbed by Brian Eno.

A friend's ex-girlfriend updated an old old film that's getting a new release.  Ex-Catholics, ex-porn stars,  and ex-geeks. "She's still got it." It's all still there.  It's reflex.

Oliver Sacks
What was going on? A roar of laughter from the aphasia ward, just as the President’s speech was coming on, and they had all been so eager to hear the President speaking ...

There he was, the old Charmer, the Actor, with his practiced rhetoric, his histrionisms, his emotional appeal—and all the patients were convulsed with laughter. Well, not all: some looked bewildered, some looked outraged, one or two looked apprehensive, but most looked amused. The President was, as always, moving—but he was moving them, apparently, mainly to laughter. What could they be thinking? Were they failing to understand him? Or did they, perhaps, understand him all too well?

It was often said of these patients, who though intelligent had the severest receptive or global aphasia, rendering them incapable of understanding words as such, that they none the less understood most of what was said to them. Their friends, their relatives, the nurses who knew them well, could hardly believe, sometimes, that they were aphasic.

This was because, when addressed naturally, they grasped some or most of the meaning. And one does speak ‘naturally’, naturally.

Thus, to demonstrate their aphasia, one had to go to extraordinary lengths, as a neurologist, to speak and behave unnaturally, to remove all the extraverbal cues—tone of voice, intonation, suggestive emphasis or inflection, as well as all visual cues (one’s expressions, one’s gestures, one’s entire, largely unconscious, personal repertoire and posture): one had to remove all of this (which might involve total concealment of one’s person, and total depersonalization of one’s voice, even to using a computerized voice synthesizer) in order to reduce speech to pure words, speech totally devoid of what Frege called ‘tone-color’ (Klangenfarben) or ‘evocation’. With the most sensitive patients, it was only with such a grossly artificial, mechanical speech—somewhat like that of the computers in Star Trek—that one could be wholly sure of their aphasia.

Why all this? Because speech—natural speech—does not consist of words alone, nor (as Hughlings Jackson thought) ‘propositions’ alone. It consists of utterance—an uttering-forth of one’s whole meaning with one’s whole being—the understanding of which involves infinitely more than mere word-recognition. And this was the clue to aphasiacs’ understanding, even when they might be wholly uncomprehending of words as such. For though the words, the verbal constructions, per se, might convey nothing, spoken language is normally suffused with ‘tone’, embedded in an expressiveness which transcends the verbal— and it is precisely this expressiveness, so deep, so various, so complex, so subtle, which is perfectly preserved in aphasia, though understanding of words be destroyed. Preserved—and often more: preternaturally enhanced ...

This too becomes clear—often in the most striking, or comic, or dramatic way—to all those who work or live closely with aphasiacs: their families or friends or nurses or doctors. At first, perhaps, we see nothing much the matter; and then we see that there has been a great change, almost an inversion, in their understanding of speech. Something has gone, has been devastated, it is true— but something has come, in its stead, has been immensely enhanced, so that—at least with emotionally laden utterance—the meaning may be fully grasped even when every word is missed. This, in our species Homo loquens, seems almost an inversion of the usual order of things: an inversion, and perhaps a reversion too, to something more primitive and elemental. And this perhaps is why Hughlings Jackson compared aphasiacs to dogs (a comparison that might outrage both!) though when he did this he was chiefly thinking of their linguistic incompetences, rather than their remarkable, and almost infallible, sensitivity to ‘tone’ and feeling. Henry Head, more sensitive in this regard, speaks of ‘feeling-tone’ in his (1926) treatise on aphasia, and stresses how it is preserved, and often enhanced, in aphasiacs.

Thus the feeling I sometimes have—which all of us who work closely with aphasiacs have—that one cannot lie to an aphasiac. He cannot grasp your words, and so cannot be deceived by them; but what he grasps he grasps with infallible precision, namely the expression that goes with the words, that total, spontaneous, involuntary expressiveness which can never be simulated or faked, as words alone can, all too easily ...

The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, was published in 1985, the English translation of The Name of the Rose, in 83. I was reading Calvino in the 70s, and then Borges. By the time I got to Borges I knew the problem.

2 decades ago as a 21 year old I read Gravity's Rainbow and a pair of fragments from it became touchstones of my intellectual life: the description at different points in the novel of two acts of self-destruction, the mass suicides of the Herero in Südwest as a refusal and denial of the authority of their masters, and of the Schwarzkommando as the final act of nihilism. The significance was context: that identical actions could signify categorical opposites. Academic freedom historically has been tied to general freedom of thought and to democracy, but now it's linked to institutional privilege and defended with references to monarchy. 

The classic defense of the free market is that its openness and vulgarity act as an astringent, testing and tightening thought what would otherwise risk becoming arid blather. But now that the market has reached the academy it wants to escape its roots. So we have an academy predicated not on the hopes of the humanities and of democracy but on the technocratic logic of reactionary schoolmen. Welcome to the 14th century.

Argument itself may be epiphenomenal, but it's not an argument to say that perfectionism is anti-democratic. Whatever the cause, Joseph Raz now has a tag.

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