Thursday, November 29, 2007

Work in Progress

"Aristotle's Perfectionism and the Critique of Justice"

I dashed this paper off two weeks back in time for a conference submission deadline, and now need to revise it to give at the University of Maine next week. Comments?

The Source of My Problems?

Unemployed Negativity:
It occurred to me how much the world actively produces stupidity. I do not mean stupidity in terms of the malicious and downright idiotic content of the reigning ideologies, but stupidity in terms of the form of thought itself. [...] It seems to me that we will fail to comprehend the present if we do not take serious[ly] this production of stupidity.
U.N. mentions the CNN Airport Network as a particularly egregious example. The autistic repetition of the same, the systematically aborted thought processes, the obsequious obeisance before facts that are not facts. In short, the news. Shun it, comrades!


Sucked it real hard in class this morning. Perfect belly-flop.

Obviously, I haven't had much to add of late, but that's because:
a) I'm sick of the news and have nothing intelligent to say about it;
b) I haven't had time to read any atrociously offensive economics literature; and
c) I want to be putting more philosophy up here, but haven't habituated myself to that yet.

Will power is neither will, nor a power: Discuss...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Critical or Pre-Critical?

Kind of stacks the deck doesn't it? Post-critical is ruled out a priori. Despite the obvious influence of Kant on Heidegger and Derrida, for example, it is not at all clear to me that they are any closer to Kantian critical philosophy than is Althusser.

The lines of lineage are a bit more crossed and re-crossed than all this. It reminds me of Agamben's dichotomy between philosophies of immanence and philosophies of transcendence, or of Althusser's claim that the two tendencies of philosophy are materialism and idealism. I understand those as tactical distinctions, but to take them too seriously seems to me to be a mistake. It's dangerous to too closely identify with one's polemics.

Over on Unemployed Negativity, it has been suggested that our task is that of "thinking social relations beyond the category of the individual." That seems more fruitful to me. And if the line of demarcation is between philosophies of individuality and philosophies of trans-individuality, then Heidegger and Derrida end up on the same side as Althusser and Deleuze.

CFP: The Substance of Thought

The Theory Reading Group at Cornell University invites submissions for its fourth annual interdisciplinary spring conference

The Substance of Thought: Critical and Pre-Critical

featuring keynote speakers Simon Critchley (The New School for Social Research) and Alberto Toscano (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, April 10th-12th, 2008

The last few decades have witnessed a struggle within continental philosophy between those thinkers who accept Immanuel Kant’s “Copernican Revolution” and those who refuse critical philosophy in favor of a “classical” metaphysics that, in the words of Alain Badiou, “considers the
Kantian indictment of metaphysics…as null and void.” This conference will consider the conflict between “critical” and “classical” or metaphysical strains in contemporary thought. Has critical philosophy run its course, as Badiou suggests? Or has Kant’s critical turn determined the horizon of all future philosophical work? Or is there an alternative path? We are interested in analyzing the contemporary division between thinkers who prescribe a return to the pre-critical metaphysics of, for example, Spinoza, Leibniz, or Lucretius, and those who continue to take up various trajectories of Kant's critical legacy. The former camp might include Deleuze and Badiou as well as Negri and Althusser, while the latter might include Adorno, Benjamin, Heidegger, and Derrida. We particularly wish to encourage work that takes a stand on the conflict between the two camps, as well as work that considers the implications of the conflict for the arts and social sciences. The wide range of our inquiry includes interrogations of the nature of critique, the fate of aesthetics, the privilege accorded to immanence or transcendence, and the status of materialism. Suggested paper topics include (but are not limited to):

- transcendence and immanence
- Derrida and Deleuze
- negation and affirmation
- finite and infinite
- the rebirth of rationalism
- aesthetic ideologies
- quasi-, ultra-, immanent-transcendental
- the Althusserian legacy
- the one and the multiple
- the persistence of the dialectic
- the fate of aesthetics
- the return to Kant
- the future of the linguistic turn
- the question of critique
- futures of Marxism
- philosophies of experience
- univocity, equivocity
- the limits of representation
- the historical a priori
- the genesis of subjectivity
- the possibility of materialism
- affects, passions
- the role of the negative
- the new philosophy of science
- political ontology
- the return of nature philosophy
- radical Spinoza
- rhetoric and philosophy

The deadline for submission of 250-word paper abstracts for 20-minute presentations is February 1, 2008. Please include your name, e-mail address, and phone number. Please email abstracts to Notices of acceptance will be sent no later than February 15, 2008. For more information about the Theory Reading Group, visit

Friday, November 16, 2007

Casualties on the Homefront

The Times of London has a story today on suicides among American veterans. According to them, "At least 6,256 US veterans took their lives in 2005, at an average of 17 a day." And it looks like many of these are young vets, recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The suicide rate among Americans as a whole was 8.9 per 100,000, but the level among veterans was at least 18.7. That figure rose to a minimum of 22.9 among veterans aged 20 to 24 – almost four times the nonveteran average for people of the same age.

There are 25 million veterans in the United States, 1.6 million of whom served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Not everyone comes home from the war wounded, but the bottom line is nobody comes home unchanged,” said Paul Rieckhoff, a former Marine and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America.

CBS quoted the father of a 23-year-old soldier who shot himself in 2005 as suggesting that the military was covering up the scale of the problem. “Nobody wants to tally it up in the form of a government total,” Mike Bowman said. “They don’t want the true numbers of casualties to really be known.”

Mr Bowman’s son, Tim, was an army reservist who patrolled one of the most dangerous places in Baghdad, known as Airport Road. “His eyes when he came back were just dead. The light wasn’t there anymore,” said his mother, Kim Bowman. Eight months later, on Thanksgiving Day, Tim committed suicide.

The "official" casualty count for this war is so far from representing its true human costs.

UPDATE: It seems that, when you control for gender, race, and age, vets are--at most--only marginally more likely to commit suicide than the civilian population. This does not, however, answer the question of whether or not vets who have seen combat (in Iraq or elsewhere) are more likely to commit suicide than those who have not.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Principle Contradiction?

HTML Mencken:
And yet, and yet… some obsessions — okay, one current obsession — is more equal than others, is a political and moral trump card: Stopping the war. As Atrios has mentioned quite a bit lately with sarcastic understatement, people forget that war is a bad thing. But it’s not just a bad thing; unjust, immoral wars are the worst thing a country could ever do short of a Holocaust. Garden variety American racism makes people miserable and gets people killed, as does sexism, homophobia, etc. But evil wars get people murdered en masse — brown people, I might add. Plus it degrades America, breaks her treasury, and the conditions war exerts on domestic politics as a rule enables rightwing policy: there is a relationship between not just the war and, say, domestic spying, but also between the war and cultural issues like racism, sexism, etc. War is the fuel that the engine of wingnuttery guzzles. Wingnuts understand this; why do you think they are willing to concede (if push becomes hard electoral shove) on every single issue but that?
Within our present conjuncture, as they say, this is right, right, right.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Who have we become?

Via Andrew Sullivan, a heart-rending story:
In fairness to an unknown visitor to our country, imagine yourself in his place. The scene is on a recent Amtrak trip between New York City and Boston. The conductor collects tickets, requests identification, folds destination stubs into seatbacks, moves on to other cars. An older man across the aisle, traveling alone, shows his passport. It is clear from their conversation he doesn’t know English.

After decades as a frequent traveler, I have thousands of pictures -- scenery, buildings, people, architecture, from around the world. Today the train passes a lovely stretch of Connecticut shore, tidal marshes, nesting ospreys, the Long Island Sound. What little attention I pay as the visitor takes pictures, is that I’m impressed with his equipment. He and I, unknown to each other, are members of a picture-taking culture, fellow citizens of a show-and-tell world. I wonder if his will join the thousands on YouTube. I imagine, after his return home, how many friends he will impress with stories and pictures of this mild, early autumn, Saturday morning journey along the New England shoreline.

The train is a half hour west of New Haven when the conductor, having finished her original rounds, reappears. She moves down the aisle, looks, stops between our seats, faces the person taking pictures. “Sir, in the interest of national security, we do not allow pictures to be taken of or from this train.” He starts, “I…….” but, without English, his response trails off into silence. The conductor, speaking louder, forcefully: “Sir, I will confiscate that camera if you don’t put it away.” Again, little response. “Sir, this is a security matter! We cannot allow pictures.” She turns away abruptly and, as she moves down the aisle, calls over her shoulder, in a very loud voice, “Put. It. Away!” He packs his camera.

Within a minute after our arrival in New Haven, two armed police officers entered the car, approached my neighbor’s seat. “Sir, we're removing you from this train.” “I….;” “I……” “Sir, you have breached security regulations. We must remove you from this train.” “I…,” “I…..” “Sir, we are not going to delay this train because of you. You will get off, or we will remove you physically.” “I…..”

Nearby passengers stir. One says, “It’s obvious he doesn’t speak English. There are people here who speak more than one language. Perhaps we can help.” Different ones ask about the traveler’s language; learn he speaks Japanese. For me, a sudden flash of memory -- a student at International Christian University in Japan, I took countless pictures without arousing suspicion.

The police speak through the interpreter, with the impatience of authority. “The conductor asked this man three times to discontinue. We must remove him from the train.” The traveler hears the translation, is befuddled. Hidden beneath the commotion is a cross-cultural drama. With the appearance of police officers, this quiet visitor is embarrassed to find he is the center of attention. The officers explain, “After we remove him from the train, when we are through our investigation, we will put him on the next train.” The woman translates. The passenger replies, “I’m meeting relatives in Boston. They cannot be reached by phone. They expect me and will be worried when I do not arrive on schedule.” “Our task,” the police repeat, "is to remove you from this train. If necessary, we will do so by force. After we have finished the investigation, we’ll put you on another train.” The woman translates. The traveler gathers his belongings and departs.

I would like to think that I would have tried to intercede on this man's behalf, but I know how hard it can be to step out of the deference to authority and resignation in the face of bureaucratic idiocy.

One moment I am proud of in my life was a much milder version of these situations in which I managed to insert myself into the gears (with help from others). Waiting to take off on a flight from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, the plane was boarded by two airline bureaucrats who went down the aisle, pointed to three people, and told them they had to deplane and would be put on a flight the next morning. No explanation, no asking nicely; just "You, move." One of the people asked to leave was a bit resistant, and i and another passenger started chiming in, asking for an explanation, etc. Turned out we were over-weight, and these three folks had paid the least for their tickets, and so had been bumped. We managed to prevail upon the bureaucrats to, y'know, ask for volunteers, and, guess what, three people were willing to wait overnight.

Bureaucrats are just following rules, they have no inclination and little or no authority to use their judgment or to negotiate. That we have empowered a mass of bureaucrats to enforce a slew of fear-induced rules about "security" will be a decision we regret for a long time yet to come. If I were from another nation, there's no way I'd visit the States right now. No way.

Marx in the News

Via Infinite Thought, we discover that Marx's dermatitis was the origin of his theory of alienation:

The chronology is wrong of course (young Marx theorized alienation, old Marx squeezed his carbuncles while writing Das Kapital), but I'm just glad to see someone is still talking about old Moor.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Islamic Finance

Here's an interesting article on Islamic finance from today's Boston Globe. Key point: interest and speculation are bad.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Be Afraid. Be Very, Very Afraid.

Following the LGM links to some of the best blog posts evah!, I discovered this very nice summary of David Frum's conservatism (and not his alone):
What ‘offends’ conservatives about the welfare state is that it is economically inefficient: it destroys value by systematically encouraging masses of people to behave in reckless, value-destroying ways, which ultimately hurts those masses themselves. The cost of maintaining the safety net eventually frays even the satefy net, and then you’ve got nothing. Of course, this is putting the thesis rather crudely and ignoring numerous variants. But never mind that. It turns out economic inefficiency isn’t what ‘offends’ conservatives after all, at least not Frum.

“The great, overwhelming fact of a capitalist economy is risk. Everyone is at constant risk of the loss of his job, or of the destruction of his business by a competitor, or of the crash of his investment portfolio. Risk makes people circumspect. It disciplines them and teaches them self-control. Without a safety net, people won’t try to vault across the big top. Social security, student loans, and other government programs make it far less catastrophic than it used to be for middle-class people to dissolve their families. Without welfare and food stamps, poor people would cling harder to working-class respectability than they do not.”

The thing that makes capitalism good, apparently, is not that it generates wealth more efficiently than other known economic engines. No, the thing that makes capitalism good is that, by forcing people to live precarious lives, it causes them to live in fear of losing everything and therefore to adopt – as fearful people will – a cowed and subservient posture: in a word, they behave ‘conservatively’. Of course, crouching to protect themselves and their loved ones from the eternal lash of risk precisely won’t preserve these workers from risk. But the point isn’t to induce a society-wide conformist crouch by way of making the workers safe and happy. The point is to induce a society-wide conformist crouch. Period. A solid foundaton is hereby laid for a desirable social order.

Let’s call this position (what would be an evocative name?) ‘dark satanic millian liberalism’: the ethico-political theory that says laissez faire capitalism is good if and only if under capitalism the masses are forced to work in environments that break their will to want to ‘jump across the big top’, i.e. behave in a self-assertive, celebratorily individualist manner.
This dovetails very nicely with the Randian only-an-ubermensch-can-succeed-in-business silliness. The two conspire in that they apply to completely different people: the poor get the fearful conformity, the rich get the fearless individualism.

Friday, November 2, 2007

We Live in a Market (***cough***) Society

Two items over at Ezra Klein:
Between 1971 and 2001, Air and Highways received 62 times the funding Amtrak did. That the train system isn't as plush should not, under those circumstances, come as a surprise.

I guess those speak for themselves, eh?