Robert Paul Wolff, as I had hoped, provides some useful commentary. Let us not forget that, during his long career, Mandela was an advocate of what would now be called "terrorism" against the South African state, and correctly so. He survived a quarter-century of unjust imprisonment, and yet, remarkably, assumed the mantle of political power without seeking revenge. He was a very unusual man, whom I suspect we do not yet understand, but Professor Wolff is surely right that there was something "great" about him, notwithstanding the debasement of that adjective by its promiscuous application to war criminals, political hacks, and servants of the ruling classes.
AND ANOTHER: Albie Sachs, a former justice of the South African Constitutional Court and himself a most impressive and remarkable individual, made an illuminating and moving set of remarks about Nelson Mandela several months ago.
We are entirely capable of knowing what policies best contribute to people leading positive and rewarding lives.
In recent decades, social scientists have been studying human happiness in the same way we study any other human attribute. Vast new multidisciplinary research has emerged around the proposition that it is possible to empirically measure the extent to which people view their lives as satisfying.
So what conditions best promote more rewarding lives?
The answer is simple and unequivocal: Happier people live in countries with a generous social safety net, or, more generally, countries whose governments "tax and spend" at higher rates, reflecting the greater range of services and protections offered by the state. (These findings come from analysis of data from the World Values Surveys for the 21 Western industrial democracies from 1981 to 2007 for my book "The Political Economy of Human Happiness." Similar findings have been reported in peer-reviewed journals like "Social Research" and the "Social Indicators Research.")
The relationship could not be stronger or clearer: However much it may pain conservatives to hear it, the "nanny state," as they disparagingly call it, works. Across the Western world, the quality of human life increases as the size of the state increases. It turns out that having a "nanny" makes life better for people. This is borne out by the U.N. 2013 "World Happiness Report," which found Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden the top five happiest nations.
Interesting piece from Jacobin. (Its partial target is Mark Oppenheimer, one of the scummier journalists I've encountered, but the piece is of interest independent of the easy mark. Adorno even makes an appearance!)
I was struck by this from a short Times piece about Appiah, in which he mentions "the most important questions facing us — gender, the environment, animal rights." Are those the "most important questions facing us"? Discuss.
Not really, superficial similarities notwithstanding. When he endorses the theory of ideology and non-teleological historical materialism, that will be different. Right now he's at the moralizing utopion socialist stage.
In the past, the U.S. has sometimes been described sardonically — but not inaccurately — as a one-party state: the business party, with two factions called Democrats and Republicans.
That is no longer true. The U.S. is still a one-party state, the business party. But it only has one faction: moderate Republicans, now called New Democrats (as the U.S. Congressional coalition styles itself).
There is still a Republican organization, but it long ago abandoned any pretense of being a normal parliamentary party. Conservative commentator Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute describes today's Republicans as "a radical insurgency — ideologically extreme, scornful of facts and compromise, dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition": a serious danger to the society.
The party is in lock-step service to the very rich and the corporate sector. Since votes cannot be obtained on that platform, the party has been compelled to mobilize sectors of the society that are extremist by world standards. Crazy is the new norm among Tea Party members and a host of others beyond the mainstream.
The Republican establishment and its business sponsors had expected to use them as a battering ram in the neoliberal assault against the population — to privatize, to deregulate and to limit government, while retaining those parts that serve wealth and power, like the military.
The Republican establishment has had some success, but now finds that it can no longer control its base, much to its dismay. The impact on American society thus becomes even more severe. A case in point: the virulent reaction against the Affordable Care Act and the near-shutdown of the government.
...though apparently well-known in other parts of the world. Based on an actual strike by Mexican-American workers against a zinc mining company, it is set in New Mexico, and uses actual mineworkers and their families in most of the main roles (including the male lead, Juan Chacon--his wife was played by a professional actress, however). The movie is strongly pro-union, unsurprisingly, but much more surprisingly, it has a strong pro-feminist twist, that wouldn't have been surprising in 1975, say, but is remarkable for 1954 (I won't spoil that part, you'll have to watch it). The main writers and directors were blacklisted for refusing to cooperate with the fascist McCarthy Committee, but like other communist sympathizers at the time, they were, in ethical sensibility, well ahead of their time. (At the end, the movie reveals which actors were "professionals" and which locals--there are several surprises.)
A more detailed story about the former adjunct French professor at Dusquesne, whose death generated substantial national attention. As one might have suspected, the story had more complexities than the original report suggested, though the complexities make it more, not less, tragic. One thing not in dispute: Dusquesne has resisted efforts by its adjunct faculty to unionize. Shame on the university!
All over the world, as governments retreat from their traditional duty to foster the common good and reconceive of themselves as mere managers of national economies, universities have been coming under pressure to turn themselves into training schools equipping young people with the skills required by a modern economy.
You argue - cogently - that allowing the transient needs of the economy to define the goals of higher education is a misguided and shortsighted policy: indispensable to a democratic society - indeed, to a vigorous national economy - is a critically literate citizenry competent to explore and interrogate the assumptions behind the paradigms of national and economic life reigning at any given moment. Without the ability to reflect on ourselves, you argue, we run a perennial risk of relaxing into complacent stasis. And only the neglected humanities can provide a training in such critical literacy.
I hope that your book will be high on the reading list of those politicians busy reshaping higher education in the light of national priorities, as well as of those university administrators to whom the traditional humanities have become alien ground.....But alas, I do not believe that your hopes and mine have much chance of being realised.
There are two main reasons for my pessimism. The first is that you somewhat underestimate, in my opinion, the ideological force driving the assault on the independence of universities in the (broadly conceived) West. This assault commenced in the 1980s as a reaction to what universities were doing in the 1960s and 1970s, namely, encouraging masses of young people in the view that there was something badly wrong with the way the world was being run and supplying them with the intellectual fodder for a critique of Western civilisation as a whole.
The campaign to rid the academy of what was variously diagnosed as a leftist or anarchist or anti-rational or anti-civilisational malaise has continued without let-up for decades, and has succeeded to such an extent that to conceive of universities any more as seedbeds of agitation and dissent would be laughable....
This leads me to the second reason why I fail to share your optimistic faith that the tide may yet be turned. A certain phase in the history of the university, a phase taking its inspiration from the German Romantic revival of humanism, is now, I believe, pretty much at its end. It has come to an end not just because the neoliberal enemies of the university have succeeded in their aims, but because there are too few people left who really believe in the humanities and in the university built on humanistic grounds, with philosophical, historical and philological studies as its pillars.
You argue that only the faculties of humanities are equipped to teach students the critical literacy that allows a culture to continually renew itself. But I envisage a telling question will be asked of you: even if we grant that critical literacy is as important as you claim, do students really need to know about Hesiod and Petrarch, about Francis Bacon and Jean-Paul Sartre, about the Boxer Rebellion and the Thirty Years War, to attain a sufficient competence in such literacy? Can you not simply design a pair of one-semester courses - courses in which all undergraduates, no matter what their career track, will be required to enrol - one course to be entitled "Reading and Writing", in which students will be trained to dissect arguments and write good expository prose; and the other to be entitled "Great Ideas", in which they will be briefed on the main currents of world thought from Ancient Egypt to the present? A pair of courses like that will not require an entire faculty of humanities behind them, merely a school of critical literacy staffed with bright young instructors....
I could not be more strongly on your side in your defence of the humanities and of the university as the home of free enquiry....But in the end, I believe, you will have to make a stand. You will have to say: we need free enquiry because freedom of thought is good in itself. We need institutions where teachers and students can pursue unconstrained the life of the mind because such institutions are, in ways that are difficult to pin down, good for all of us: good for the individual and good for society.
Alex Rosenberg (Duke), a leading philosopher of economic and biology, shared the following apt thoughts about this year's unusual prize:
So, the Swedish Central Bank's ersatz Nobel Prize for “economic science” gets awarded to a guy who says markets are efficient and there are no bubbles—Eugene Fama (“I don’t know what a credit bubble means. I don’t even know what a bubble means. These words have become popular. I don’t think they have any meaning”—New Yorker, 2010), along with another economist—Robert Shiller, who says that markets are pretty much nothing but bubbles, “Most of the action in the aggregate stock market is bubbles.” (NY Times, October 19, 2013) Imagine the parallel in physics or chemistry or biology—the prize is split between Einstein and Bohr for their disagreement about whether quantum mechanics is complete, or Pauling and Crick for their dispute about whether the gene is a double helix or a triple, or between Gould and Dawkins for their rejection of one another’s views about the units of selection. In these disciplines Nobel Prizes are given to reward a scientist who has established something every one else can bank on. In economics, “Not so much.” This wasn’t the first time they gave the award to an economist who says one thing and another one who asserts its direct denial. Cf. Myrdal and Hayek in 1974. What’s really going on here? Well, Shiller gave the game away in a NY Times interview when he said of Fama, “It’s like having a friend who is a devout believer of another religion.” Actually it’s probably two denominations in the same religion.
You would think this came from a Sinclair Lewis novel, but it's for real:
Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama sent a letter this week to Carol M. Watson, the acting chairwoman of the NEH, in which he demanded the agency explain its peer-review process for funding grants that explore “very indefinite” questions.
Sessions pointed to seven grants the NEH funded that seek to explore the following questions: “What is the meaning of life?”, “Why are we interested in the past?”, “What is the good life and how do I live it?”, “Why are bad people bad?”, “What is belief?”, “What is a monster?”, and “Why do humans write?”
The Black Bloc has
been in the news a fair bit over the last few years. They have made appearances at G5 meetings, at
the WTO meetings in Seatle, at the NATO meetings in Chicago, and currently they
are very much in the news here in Brazil.
The Black Bloc is, strictly speaking, a tactic. In protests, a horizontally organized group
of individuals will wear black and cover their faces, generally move about as a
unit and they may engage in some aspects of violence. In theory this is done to distract the
police -- ideally in a way that enables the free movement of the main protest
group. By dressing in black, they allow
other protestors to know who they are and to stay away from them if they choose
Chris Hedges recently wrote a piece calling the Black Bloc
“The Cancer in Occupy”. Hedges, like many others, believes that The Black Bloc is
not tactical, but involves “feral” acts of violence, is “adolescent,” scared
people away from Occupy, and made it easier for the State to demonize the
Graeber has responded to Hedges, arguing that Hedges has his facts wrong and
that in any case even Gandhi never renounced people who shared his cause -- even when they advocated violence.
Gandhi made it clear that while he was opposed to murder
under any circumstances, he also refused to denounce the murderer. This was a
man who was trying to do the right thing, to act against an historical
injustice, but did it in the wrong way because he was “drunk with a mad idea"…
Gandhi remained resolute. It is always morally superior, he insisted, to oppose
injustice through non-violent means than through violent means. However, to
oppose injustice through violent means is still morally superior to not doing
anything to oppose injustice at all.
The news media has been having a go at the Black Bloc’s
actions in the teacher protests in Brazil, and even publications like The Raw
Story seem to be painting the actions of the Black Bloc as senseless
violence. However, yesterday I was speaking to a teacher here in Rio – a woman in
her 50s – who said “no the Black Bloc was protecting us from the police!” So there is that.
I know some of you have views about this. Is Hedges right? Is The Black Bloc the cancer in occupy? Or is Graeber right. And what do you think of Graeber’s
interpretation of Gandhi here? Comments
This year is the 50th Anniversary of the trial of
Adolph Eichmann. The anniversary has led
to a number of museum exhibitions,
but also to a reexamination of Hannah Arendt’s famous book Eichmann in
Jerusalem – the book in which she coined the phrase “the banality of evil.”
Arendt was of course recently the subject of a major feature
film, and with the release
of the film there was an essay in the New York Times by Roger Berkowitz. I have to say I found Berkowitz’s essay
hard to buy: His claim was that Eichmann was banal in that he was a “true
believer” – and sorry but I don’t see how there is anything banal about a true
believer. Then again, I'm no expert (more on this below).
My interest in this topic stems from the fact that I
recently used Arendt’s thesis about the banality of evil to frame a NYT Stone
article about whistleblowers. In it I argued that whistleblowers
like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden are exceptional because they rejected their bureaucratic responsibilities when they saw they were participating in
systemic evil – they were acting as Eichmann (and many others) did not and to this day do not.
Meanwhile in an response published on the website of the
Hannah Arendt Center, Berkowitz argued that Arendt would have taken exception
to Snowden because he did not, as it were, face the music after he blew the
whistle. To illustrate, Berkowitz draws
on the following example discussed by Arendt (I quote at length).
For Arendt, great civil disobedients
from Socrates to Thoreau play important and essential roles in the political
realm. What is more, Arendt fully defends Daniel Ellsberg’s release of the
Pentagon Papers. It seems, therefore, that it is appropriate to enlist her in
support of the modern day whistleblowers.
There is, however, a problem with this
reading. Socrates, Thoreau, and Ellsberg all gave themselves up to the law and
allowed themselves to be judged by and within the legal system. In this regard,
they differ markedly from Snowden, Manning and others who have sought to remain
anonymous or to flee legal judgment. For Arendt, this difference is meaningful.
Consider the case of Shalom
Schwartzbard, which Arendt addresses in Eichmann in Jerusalem.
Schwartzbard was a Jew who assassinated the leader of Ukranian pogroms in the
streets of Paris. Schwartzbard stood where he took his revenge, waited for the
police, admitted his act of revenge, and put himself on trial. He claimed to
have acted justly at a time when the legal system was refusing to do justice.
And a French jury acquitted him.
For Arendt, the Schwartzbard case
stands for an essential principle of justice: that to break the law and act
justly, one must then bring oneself back into the law. She writes:
He who takes the law into his own
hands will render a service to justice only if he is willing to transform the
situation in such a way that the law can again operate and his act can, at
least posthumously, be validated.
Now I’m certainly no expert on Arendt (I won’t even claim I’m
competent on Arendt), so I wonder if I might crowdsource this
topic. What exactly did Arendt mean by
“the banality of evil,” and is it really the case that she would say a
whistleblower should simply turn herself in after the deed? Really?
But as I say; I don’t know. I’m
Comments are are moderated. Signed comments are preferred. I'll see if Roger Berkowitz can join us.
...watch this (and see the commentary that follows by Andrew Sullivan), all of which supports, I'm afraid, Robert Paul Wolff's diagnosis. These sick, sick people need to be caged first, treated second.
...University of Chicago would have only 2 Nobel Laureates on its faculty. Fortunately, for U of C, some bankers in the 1960s saw a branding opportunity! The newest award is curious, as Eric Schliesser (Ghent) notes--follow the links too.
I am not going apologize if I am occasionally rude to an ill-informed overpaid Harvard professor making absurd pronouncements on economics that have the effect of obstructing policy aimed at ending unnecessary suffering.
...but it's still not low enough. 1970s Republicans are all now Democrats, so we simply need the existing Repugs to expire altogether, and then we could have a moderately sane country again with Republocrats and liberals duking it out.
Voters there will decide whether to mandate a minimum annual income of about US $30,000 and whether to impose a dramatic cap on executive pay. The government, not unreasonably in a global capitalist system, opposes the latter. It will be interesting to see what happens.
The Provost's disingenous statement here. Kudos to the Providence College faculty for "raising hell" about this. (I'm waiting for permission to post a strong statement by the President of the Faculty Senate there.) The newly appointed defender of bigotry against gay people is a familiar figure. It is always an occasion for sadness when irrational religious dogma leads intelligent people down the road of moral depravity--at least when they aren't effective (when they are effective, which won't happen here, a different emotion is appropriate).
UPDATE: The letter that no doubt helped the Provost to backtrack:
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)