Over and over, we have the evidence that it is not Isis that “radicalises” Muslims before they head off to Syria – and how I wish David Cameron would stop using that word – but the internet. The belief, the absolute conviction that the screen contains truth – that the “message” really is the ultimate verity – has still not been fully recognised for what it is; an extraordinary lapse in our critical consciousness that exposes us to the rawest of emotions – both total love and total hatred – without the means to correct this imbalance. The “virtual” has dropped out of “virtual reality”.
At its most basic, you have only to read the viciousness of internet chatrooms. Major newspapers – hopelessly late – have only now started to realise that chatrooms are not a new technical version of “Letters to the Editor” but a dangerous forum for people to let loose their most-disturbing characteristics. Thus a major political shift in the Middle East, transferred to the internet, takes on cataclysmic proportions. Our leaders not only can be transfixed themselves – the chairman of the US House Committee on Homeland Security, for example, last week brandishing a printed version of Dabiq, the Isis online magazine – but can use the same means to terrify us.
In his Saturday, September 20, afternoon speech to the 400 people rallying at the Indiana State House, Rev. Barber said he was told by his son, an environmental physicist, that if he ever got lost in mountainous territory he should walk to higher ground. This is necessary, Barber reported, because in the lowlands snakes congregate but if one climbs above the “snake line” snakes, being cold-blooded creatures, cannot live.
Referring to the snake line metaphor in an earlier speech Barber declared:
“There are some snakes out here. There are some low-down policies out here. There’s some poison out here. Going backwards on voting rights, that’s below the snake line. Going backwards on civil rights, that’s below the snake line. Hurting people just because they have a different sexuality, that’s below the snake line. Stomping on poor people just because you’ve got power, that’s below the snake line. Denying health care to the sick and keeping children from opportunity, that’s below the snake line” (Dave Johnson, “Let’s Get Our Politics Above the Snake Line,” Campaign for America’s Future, July 22, 2014).
Rev. Barber urged the newly formed Indiana Moral Mondays coalition to “go to higher ground,” where poverty is ended, everybody can vote, children can be educated, the sick can be healed, and everyone is respected.
In eleven years of blogging, I've only once received a serious threat of legal action for something posted here--serious, not in the sense that the claim had any merit, but in that the person making the claim had a real lawyer and there was a real prospect of a nuisance lawsuit being filed. The case involved jeweler and self-styled metaphysician David Birnbaum, whose curious case we noted last year, and whose story was then picked up by CHE. The trouble did not start, however, until almost six months later when The Guardian contacted Mr. Birnbaum for a story they subsequently ran about him. From that reporter Mr. Birnbaum discovered my original post about the allegations of academic identity theft from Prof. Hagberg. This posting agitated him, so he phoned me up at the office.
The conversation didn't get off to a good start because within the first twenty seconds he used the word "defamatory"; I cut him off and said to him, "If you call up a law professor and start throwing around the word defamatory, then the conversation is over." This sobered him up and we had a pleasant chat and he assured me the whole matter with Prof. Hagberg was a misunderstanding, that he had documents to prove it, that my post was very upsetting to his children, etc. It was an odd ramble. I said to him if he could send me documents proving it was a misunderstanding, then I would revise or remove the post accordingly. I told him to e-mail me the evidence.
Mr. Birnbaum didn't, in fact, have any real evidence, but he did e-mail me. He also cc'd his lawyer, which meant our correspondence was at an end. This was a litigator with a major New York law firm; my best guess is that this lawyer represents Mr. Birnbaum in disputes involving his high-end jewelry business, where there is probably hundreds of thousands (or millions) of dollars at stake. But I think as part of the cost of keeping his client, he also has to handle Mr. Birnbaum's vanity litigations (Birnbaum apparently made similar threats against Bard College as well, though in the end did nothing).
Fortunately, I have the best lawyer in the United States (truly!), a friend I went to law school with years ago. It's not just that he's really smart and a person of extraordinary integrity, it's that he has impeccable and shrewd judgment, and knows how to handle people--a huge part of successful lawyering is understanding how to get people to do what the law requires without actually having to bring suit (though bringing suit is, of course, the final recourse for certain wrongs). Over the years, my lawyer has recovered bonuses and security deposits wrongfully withheld, secured revisions to factually inaccurate statements in a book put out by a major publishing house, and assisted me in dealing effectively with sundry cyber-crazies. In none of these cases was a lawsuit ever filed (though in one, as I recall, a draft of the complaint did motivate the miscreant to do the right thing).
I think it's not really fair to ask several million Scots to vote on the question of independence without input from the philosophical community. Therefore, as a public service, I present the following poll:
Interesting item in IHE, addressing an issue I had not seen addressed elsewhere.
UPDATE: Philosopher Alan Weir (Glasgow) writes (he informs me that he is a member of "Academics for Yes," a pro-independence group, but that he here speaks in his personal capacity):
Mr. Marsicano’s piece on independence and Scottish Higher Education doesn’t get off to a great start, rounding up the Scottish population from 5.3 million to 6 million. Mr Marsicano states that Scotland received 13.1% of UK Funding versus 9% contribution to tax funding (Scottish population is 8.3% of the UK). The UK government document he quotes actually says:
"In 2012-13 Scottish Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) secured £257 million of UK Research Council grants (excluding Research Council institutes and infrastructure). This represents 13.1 per cent of the UK total"
But then goes on:
"Including Research Council funding (including grants, studentships and fellowships and spending on infrastructure), Scotland secured £307 million (10.7 per cent of the UK total)."
A somewhat different picture. The tax contribution in 2012-13 is actually 9.1% to be more precise (lower than normal because of tax breaks to encourage increases in oil exploration) but more importantly the presentation of the statistics fits in with the usual unionist line that Scots have been subsidised by the rest of the UK. This unionist claim is an egregiously false one. Over the last five years, Scotland has contributed 9.5% of UK tax revenue but received 9.3% of UK public expenditure, a fiscal transfer from Scotland to the rest of the UK (rUK) equivalent to about £8.3 billion, or about £1,600 per person. If one goes further back, e.g. to the oil boom of the 80s, Scotland was subsidising Margaret Thatcher’s government to the tune of 45% of its non-oil GDP per year. Can’t imagine Canadians being happy about transferring a tax windfall equivalent to nearly half of their non-oil GDP to the US.
Moreover the difference between Scotland’s research funding ‘tax contribution share’ and the 10.7% funding last year was around £46 million, under one thirtieth of one per cent of Scottish GDP. We’d be perfectly happy to make up such a difference should it occur in any particular year, as part of a combined Scottish/Republic of Ireland/rest of UK research framework. Scottish unionists, however, might not be keen on expanding the already existing joint funding arrangements between the UK and Ireland as they tend to be ‘Little Britishers’ and lack the outward-looking civic nationalism of Scottish nationalists. But I don’t think this view is widely shared in England where not only cooperation with our immediate neighbours but EU funding is becoming ever more important. As to Scottish membership of the EU, Mr. Marsicano would be better listening to constitutional lawyers such as Prof. Douglas-Scott, Professor of European and Human Rights Law at Oxford University (Legal Research Paper Series No. XXX July 2014) than a politician such as Barruso, almost certainly primed by the UK government to advance the unionist campaign (known internally as ‘Project Fear’ and replete with scare stories on pensions, demolished by the UK Government’s own Department of Works and Pensions, unsubstantiated claims of intimidation of universities by Scottish Government ministers which the author here repeats and much much more).
One also has to consider the prospects for UK funding if Scotland says no to independence and continues to subordinate its parliament to a parliament answerable to an electorate 84% of whom are English. UK research and science budgets are already being cut. The Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) has noted that “the cumulative erosion of the ring-fenced science budget will be over £1.1bn from the beginning of SR10 period up to 15/16”. A No vote would mean a substantial reduction in funds available for universities in Scotland because of the further planned cuts of £25 billion in UK public sector funding plus further reductions to the Scottish budget through the reform or abolition of the Barnett formula which governs half of Scottish public expenditure. Fuelled by the myth of the Scots as subsidy junkies there is almost universal agreement in England that Scottish public expenditure must be drastically reduced and the proposed enhanced devolution powers in the event of no to independence provide a perfect opportunity to do this.
Finally, the anti-immigration policies of the British government are widely recognised in the UK higher education sector as posing a serious threat to universities, whereas the party in power in the Scottish Government, the Scottish National Party, has repeatedly said it wishes to increase immigration into Scotland and use the wider powers of an independent government to bring this about.
I’ve written at far too much length on all these matters at
Thanks to Jerry Dworkin for pointing me to this fine piece by Rebecca West from The New Republic in 1914; an excerpt:
A little grave reflection shows us that our first duty is to establish a new and abusive school of criticism. There is now no criticism in England. There is merely a chorus of weak cheers, a piping note of appreciation that is not stilled unless a book is suppressed by the police, a mild kindliness that neither heats to enthusiasm nor reverses to anger. We reviewers combine the gentleness of early Christians with a promiscuous polytheism; we reject not even the most barbarous or most fatuous gods. So great is our amiability that it might proceed from the weakness of malnutrition, were it not that it is almost impossible not to make a living as a journalist. Nor is it due to compulsion from above, for it is not worth an editor's while to veil the bright rage of an entertaining writer for the sake of publishers' advertisements. No economic force compels this vice of amiability. It springs from a faintness of the spirit, from a convention of pleasantness, which, when attacked for the monstrous things it permits to enter the mind of the world, excuses itself by protesting that it is a pity to waste fierceness on things that do not matter.
But they do matter. The mind can think of a hundred twisted traditions and ignorances that lie across the path of letters like a barbed wire entanglement and bar the mind from an important advance....We must dispel this unlawful assembly of peers and privy councillors round the wellhead of scholarship with kindly but abusive, and, in cases of extreme academic refinement, coarse criticism.
Continental Philosophy Farhang Erfani, a philosopher at American University, provides a useful set of links to news, events, interviews, reviews, videos, etc. related to "Continental philosophy" (broadly construed)