Pomposity can be amusing, but pomposity sitting like an oversized hat on top of fear is hilarious. Wieseltier is afraid that the humanities are being overrun by thinkers from outside, who dare to tackle their precious problems--or "problematics" to use the, um, technical term favored by many in the humanities. He is right to be afraid. It is true that there is a crowd of often overconfident scientists impatiently addressing the big questions with scant appreciation of the subtleties unearthed by philosophers and others in the humanities, but the way to deal constructively with this awkward influx is to join forces and educate them, not declare them out of bounds.
The paper co-authored by law professor Michael Simkovic has had every blowhard and know-nothing in cyberspace frothing at the mouth for the last week; he has a sharp series of replies here. The Dunning-Kruger Effect lives!
IHE has the story. If "conservative students" feel "besieged" because they believe, inter alia, that human activities don't contribute to global warming, God created the world 10,000 years ago, Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is "only a theory," or that Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan was a serious attempt to balance the budget--all things that that benighted cohort of American "conservatives" often profess to believe these days--then they should feel besieged because they live in darkness, and it is the job of universities to bring enlightenment. Truth and knowledge is not evenly distributed across the political spectrum, and the modern Republican Party in the U.S. has claim to precious little of either these days. If students are "besieged" because they do not have a fair opportunity to defend their views with arguments and evidence, then they have a legitimate complaint. End of story.
An item several months ago from the blog of Graham Harman (who teaches philosophy at the American University in Cairo) is illustrative--it is an alleged "reader e-mail" which Mr. Harman saw fit to post:
[W]hat’s become a more interesting story is the way that [Leiter has] also become a medium for a very specific model of anglophone philosophy that is dismissive of all forms of history of philosophy, metaphysics, pragmatism, continental philosophy, philosophy of art, etc. i imagine there must be major grumblings in other subfields”
The "more interesting story" it seems to me is how Party-Line Continentals like Mr. Harman and his "reader" are simply unconstrained by any facts about what I actually write, teach or believe in ascribing views to me about "philosophy" which I obviously don't hold. Even the PGR gives extensive coverage to "history of philosophy, metaphysics, pragmatism, continental philosophy, philosophy of art" and even "etc," if by that one means the rest of philosophy from logic to medieval philosophy to applied ethics. Harman et al. are a bit like the Tea Party when it comes to Obama: they simply project on to the object of their ire all their paranoid obsessions, the facts be damned.
UPDATE: Harman is apparently associated with a make-believe philosophical "movement" that calls itself "speculative realism," and which is described by Ray Brassiers (who teaches philosophy at the American University in Beirut) quite amusingly as follows:
The ‘speculative realist movement’ exists only in the imaginations of a group of bloggers promoting an agenda for which I have no sympathy whatsoever: actor-network theory spiced with pan-psychist metaphysics and morsels of process philosophy. I don’t believe the internet is an appropriate medium for serious philosophical debate; nor do I believe it is acceptable to try to concoct a philosophical movement online by using blogs to exploit the misguided enthusiasm of impressionable graduate students. I agree with Deleuze’s remark that ultimately the most basic task of philosophy is to impede stupidity, so I see little philosophical merit in a ‘movement’ whose most signal achievement thus far is to have generated an online orgy of stupidity.
We, in fact, had a brief encounter with one part of this "online orgy of stupidity" awhile back (you have to read into the comments to get the full flavor of the sophomoric confusions at work here).
AND ANOTHER: This won't really be news, I guess, but Jon Cogburn (Louisiana State) really is clueless, not only about the quality of philosophical work and about SPEP, but even about the department where he was an undergraduate, UT Austin (the "rapprochement" between some of the awful SPEP-types there at that time like Louis Mackey and Kelly Oliver and the idiosyncratic Bergmannians like Allaire and Hochberg, exists only in his imagination). Most remarkable, though, is the non-reply by this silly Graham Harman person (to which Cogburn, given his lack of judgment, links), who writes as though the issue is that I'm unaware of the ressentiment of his ilk (and conservative Chrsitians, and Randians and all the rest), as opposed to the fact that he posted a series of fabrications about me. Mr. Harman is apparently well-known for his "passive-aggressive" blogging style, and this, as well as the original item, certainly fits the pattern. Tiresome.
Cogburn writes, "I just don't understand why we can't do our own projects without having to define ourselves so much in terms of what we don't like." I just don't understand why Cogburn thinks this has anything to do with my complaints about Party-Line Continentalism and SPEP. How hard is it to understand that some crap is pernicious crap and deserves to be adjudged as such, for the sake of students and for those not familiar with it? Why can't Cogburn just say he doesn't share my judgment (of course, he wouldn't), instead of attributing to me fake purposes? Just "stop it," Jon. I have no intention of withdrawing my (correct) assessment of the largely pernicious effect SPEP has on the perception of the Continental traditions in post-Kantian philosophy in Europe. Perhaps because you're an outsider to so much of this work, you don't realize the nature of the problem.
OK, I'm just anticipating the blog headline from the usual blowhards--InstaIgnorance, the Volokh naifs like Zywicki, or William "thank God no one knows what the actual Cornell Law faculty thinks of me" Jacobson--who are beside themselves with paranoid pleasure that the IRS was examining the non-profit bona fides of the various Koch Brothers front organizations posing as "social welfare" organizations. As best I can tell--non-tax lawyer, but literate person that I am--there is a tax exemption for social welfare organizations that aren't primarily poliitcal front groups. But for reasons familiar to anyone awake the last couple of years, the political front groups most likely to be posing as "social welfare" organizations were on the lunatic right associated with the "Tea Party" and like organizations. Their tax-exempt status did indeed demand scrutiny, unless one thought front groups for billionaires (and others) merit special deference when they want to avoid taxes. This is the second decade of the 21st-century, in which, at least in the United States, most "spontaneous grass root" organizations on the right are neither spontaneous nor grass root, and so responsible tax authorities ought to scrutinize them.
Of course, there's a deeper, philosophcal issue here: namely, whether venal groups that shill for the plutocracy can, in any sense, be organizations committed to "social welfare." But the IRS needn't get to the philosophical issue to nonetheless be justified in looking closely.
Supporters and opponents of gun control have very different fundamental beliefs about the role of guns in American society. Overall, the poll finds that 29 percent of Americans think that an armed revolution in order to protect liberties might be necessary in the next few years, with another five percent unsure. However, these beliefs are conditional on party. Just 18 percent of Democrats think an armed revolution may be necessary, as opposed to 44 percent of Republicans and 27 percent of independents.
The next time someone refers to the alleged "independents," please remember that one-quarter of them are gearing up for armed revolution.
The people who run Edwin Mellen Press are pretty clearly nuts. (Calling these folks "nuts" isn't actionable in the United States, but, for the record, my lawyer is based in the same jurisdiction as Mellen Press, New York, though maybe my wife's law firm here in Chicago would enjoy assigning the case to a junior associate for practice.) This time they're pursuing the "Scholarly Kitchen" blog, for a blog post that is clearly not actionable, and for a comment on that post that is also probably not actionable. Here's the "offending" post by Mr. Anderson of the blog: nothing in it is libelous, even if Mellen Press and Mr. Richardson were private citizens, rather then public figures. The letter from the Press's lawyer says, obviously falsely, that the blog has a "legal obligation" to deal with possibly defamatory comments; the comment in question is probably not defamatory, but even if it were, the Scholarly Kitchen blog has no obligation to remove it. The law in the United States is as clear as can be on this point. As best I can tell, Ms. Amendola, the Press's lawyer, is a 2010 graduate of the law school at the State University of New York at Buffalo, who worked briefly for a Buffalo law firm, and is now a solo practitioner. If state bar associations were more aggressive, she should be disbarred for sending nonsense threats like the one she sent to the "Scholarly Kitchen" blog.
I predict that the Edwin Mellen Press will be out of business within the next few years. Good riddance, given this disgraceful pattern of harassment. May I suggest that any authors of serious monographs with the Mellen Press contact them now and urge them to reform their "public relations" practices?
...to North Carolina! The "PhD in philosophy" is singled out for derisive remarks by these know-nothings, appraently unaware that UNC has one of the best philosophy programs in the United States. (The irony is William Bennett has a PhD in philosophy, though it didn't do him any good!)
UPDATE: Since I posted this several hours ago, when House Republications were threatening to vote against the McConnell-Biden deal, they reversed course, proving once again the far-reaching influence of this blog!
So over the weekend I read All In, Paula Broadwell's slobberific biography of General David Petraeus. It was nothing special, just a typically crappy piece of fawning, noncritical journalism, full of passages like the following:
"At Petraeus's change of command in Baghdad in the summer of 2008, Secretary Gates claimed that 'history [would] regard Petraeus as one of the nation's great battle captains . . .' Petraeus's success on the battlefield, his status as a military intellectual and his will to succeed allowed him to shape not only doctrine but also organizational design, training, education and leadership development in the Army and, in many respects, the broader military . . .."
You can pretty much guess the rest of the plot from there. Every environment Petraeus enters is instantly bettered by his majestic personage. We see him passing through destroyed hamlets in Afghanistan, the weight of the world on his rugged shoulders, scratching his figurative chin as he worries which strategies to choose "so that villagers could once again live in peace and prosperity"....
(The reason for the title of this post will become clear, below.)
Glenn Branch of the National Center for Science Education called my attention last week to this putative review by Steve Fuller of Nagel's Mind and Cosmos; the review was aptly described by another correspondent as "a largely content-free mix of self-promotion and derogation of his Enemies, in which you held the place of honour." (Michael Weisberg, co-author of the review in The Nation, is not on Fuller's "Enemies list" so was erased from Fuller's score-settling.) Just to give the flavor of Fuller's "review," a short excerpt:
UPDATE: Philosopher P.D. Magnus (SUNY-Albany) writes with several important points:
Your recent blog post rightly decries "The Not-so-High Standards at (at least some) "Open Access" Journals" and describes the case as "Not a great advertisement for the genre".
Importantly, the genre in question is not Open Access journals tout court. The real problem here is OA journals that use an author-pays model. Lots of them are straight forwardly scams to chisel money out of institutions that cover that kind of publishing and out of authors who need a line on their CV.
There are other models of OA. Quality OA journals don't charge author fees. I'm thinking here especially of Philosophers' Imprint, but also of less well-known and less prestigious ones like Logos&Episteme. We can argue about their stature in the field, but their being OA is not a demerit.
There is also the model which is sometimes called "green OA", in which authors' papers are systematically hosted in institutional or disciplinary archives. Although this does not result in OA journals as such, traditional journals can facilitate or thwart the practice depending on how they handle rights.
Qualifying your post with the caveat "at least some" is importantly not enough, because we can state precisely what's wrong here. For-profit publishers have an interest in suspicion being raised about OA in general, when really it's a specific business model that leads to egregious abuses like the one that you point to.
Even by their usual standards, this is remarkably feeble. I guess they're counting on their readers not reading the review or being sufficiently stupid that, if they did, they wouldn't understand the actual argument.
(For those new to these sordid debates, the Discovery [sic] Institute is the public relations arm of the new creationist movement.)
ADDENDUM: Since several readers asked: the title of our review was given by the editors, not us. It's not terrible, not ideal.
There is only one problem confronting urban public schools, and it has nothing to do with the schools or the teachers, contrary to all the blather by idle-rich busybodies and the intellectually feeble politicans who do their bidding. The primary problem with urban public schools is that they largely serve a population that lives under conditions of economic hardship, sometimes grotesque economic hardship, with all the attendant problems of poor nutrition, physical safety, availability of adult supervision after school, and suitable environments and incentives for school work. That, of course, is why suburban public schools in affluent communities--with unionized teachers who are no different than those in the urban schools--always do better on measures of academic performance and outcomes. If you don't have to worry whether there will be food for dinner, or whether you will be mugged, or if anyone will be available to take care of you, or whether you'll have a quiet place to work, it turns out to be easier to do well in school. It's got nothing to do with the teachers, and everything to do with the environment. (Here and there, fabulous teaching makes a difference, but you can't make policy around atypical cases.)
Of course, it would be hard to generate enthusiasm among hedge-fund billionaire busybodies for doing something about the economic environment in which the victims live, so instead we are presented with the absurd idea that if only the teachers were better, everything would be dandy, as well as the destructive idea that to make the teachers better, we need to measure their performance based on standardized test results. (That idea, by the way, started with George W. Bush when he was Governor of Texas, and it successfully destroyed the public schools, as the curriculum devolved into "teaching to the test," rather than teaching.)
Rahm Emanuel's kids attend the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, where 99% of the kids go on to college (and about 50% go on to what would be generally considered highly selective or "elite" colleges and universities). There are some very good teachers at "Lab," and some not so good ones. But no one ever dreams of suggesting that to be even better, those teachers should be paid according to standardized test results. Lab School is successful for simple reasons: it has resources and it has good students, half of whom come from academic families and the other half from with families with family and monetary resources to support them. The school's financial resources support a good curriculum, a well-compensated teaching staff, arts, enrichment programs, after-school activities, and more. No one ever suggests we should "stop throwing money" at the school, that what "Lab" really needs is teachers whose students get higher test scores. But this bullshit and blather is standard fare when it comes to the public schools.
The pathological liars of the right are out in full force to smear the striking teachers. Typical are the headlines on the site of "Matt Drudge," one of the ringleaders of the Right-Wing Blob, a man whose crimes against truth and moral decency are well-known. One headline reads that the teachers "Turn Down $400 Million Deal, 16% Pay Raise..." Of course, you have to go to the article and read till the end to learn that that was a 16% pay raise over four years, and that it was in response to an even greater increase in the workload of the teachers. Another headline then reports, falsely, that Chicago public school teachers "have highest average salary in Nation," linking to a blog post at The National Review (!), which cites no sources, since in fact it's not true. Corey Robin has more relevant details. And here's a good takedown of the disgusting Mayor. Jim Nichols has a good round-up of links and information.
UPDATE: A colleague elsewhere correctly observes that if "there is really high teacher turnover and/or burned out teachers who are dramatically overworked and under-resourced, then teachers really do become problematically bad," and that's, of course, part of what the teachers' union is trying to prevent. The key point is that the problems confronting urban public schools are not primarily problems about the quality of teaching, let alone problems that will be solved by gimmicks like standardized testing and merit pay, which will produce, among other things, precisely high teacher turnover.
ANOTHER: A profile of the head of the teachers union.
MORE: A terrific speech by a Chicago lawyer, Matt Farmer, about what parents want from education.
ANOTHER RESOURCE: Diana Ravitch, who was actually in the Bush Education Department, though has subsequently recanted on the right-wing myths about public education, charter schools, and teachers' unions, has a good and on-going set of posts about the Chicago situation. (Those right-wing myths continue to be championed by the Obama Administration in large part.)
A LATE ADDENDUM: This post raises an important point about how we are taught to think about compensation in the capitalist utopia.
SEPTEMBER 12 UPDATE: Leave it to the "liberal" New York Times to come down squarely on the side of the idle-rich billionaire busybodies!
Another day, another tedious tirade from the pompous Leon Wieseltier. This one is a long take-down of Paul Ryan and his idolatry of Ayn Rand. Such high-minded seriousness! I am reminded of Dick Cheney, attired in military fatigues, hunting quail with his assault weapons.
What caught my eye amid all the fulmination and folk wisdom--there are few arguments or supporting evidence of any kind to be found--is how Wieseltier casually pronounces Atlas Shrugged and Also Sprach Zarathustra to be in the same category of adolescent sins and chides Rand and Marx for advancing economic theories towards moral ends, albeit antithetical ones.
This is embarrassing even by Wieseltier's low standards. Granted a lot of adolescents are excited by Nietzsche when they encounter him (even if for all the wrong reasons), and the inscrutable Zarathustra is plainly not his best work (or perhaps the clearest exposition of his views). But to draw any kind of equivalence between the works of these 2 thinkers (if you can charitably call Rand one) is so buffoonish that one is left wondering who the adolescent in this discussion is.
UPDATE: As Catarina Dutilh Novaes continues to dig, the best line in response is due to Dan Kervick: "I can't think of a time in my life when I thought, 'Damn, I wish my penis were more sensitive!'"
ANOTHER: 24 hours later, and there's still no apology for the ludicrous comparison of circumcision to female genital mutilation, but a link to a video has been added. The video is remarkable for being almost totaly irrelevant to the comparison at issue, but perhaps Dutilh Novaes is counting on no one really watching it. Still, the comments are worth reading to get a sense of how utterly nuts some people are.
UPDATE: Michael Weisberg (Penn) points out to me that these survey responses about evolution are strongly affected by how the question is presented; for discussion, see this paper. When the questions are asked differently, the belief in evolution goes up.
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)