Saturday, September 30, 2006

Zizek, perhaps

"Zizek explores how an ideological edifice is sustained by underground transgressions: "Law can be sustained only by a sovereign power which reserves for itself the right... to suspend the rule of law(s) on behalf of the Law itself.""

The Zizekian bon mot regarding sovereignity does not seem entirely off-topic in regards to the present torture bill: the sovereign as Law-enforcer, whether judicial or clerical (i.e. the Catholic Church, Inc.), assumes for itself the monarchical right to enforce laws and codes (which were never agreed to via an egalitarian, social contract), but grant itself whatever exemptions it needs, at least in potentia--the judge or priest pedophile/adulterer; a Scalia enforcing theocracy [state approved displays of Decalogue, etc.], and then watching porno. (An undergraduate yippie-in-training shrieks "Hypocrisy", but Z. suggests the judicial/clerical sovereign's Janus face is a bit more subtle and detailed than the sentimental liberal might believe). The legal sovereign may also at any time view any code as provisional, regardless of possible infringement of presumed contractural rights: at once upholding the liberal's feel-good concept of "due process" and then modifying/denying its "scope" when necessary. (Zizek, like many a empirically-minded Hegelian, really addressing issues similar to those raised by Hobbes in Leviathan--if not a Platonic dialogue somewhere).

One might ask, though, how the Marxist-statist argues in favor of retaining Habeas Corpus laws at all: from a purely statist viewpoint, the ruling would be (if Congress were comprised of hip leftists) thought to be quite acceptable, HC being the remnants of a liberal entitlement based on decadent views of the individual. The statists and Zizekians objecting to the torture bill (and it should be objected to) are showing their own janus-face: Lenin had no problem ending due process not merely for the aristos but for anyone who posed a threat to bolshevik power: the bipolarity of the sovereign reveals itself either in fascist/monarchy or communism.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

New Worlds Gals

A group of untalented, mediocre clowns who have yet to figure out that there's more to life than Pink Floyd lyrics, bud, and NASA fantasies, the New Worlds posse may be, hopefully, like, cerrados. (More to follow)

The "Creeping Threat of Jihadism"

Mr. Hitchens in the house again. He's is one of the few western journalists willing to fight the zealots, be they dixie Xtians, mafioso-like Catolicos, or wild-eyed muslim fanatics. Hitchens takes some getting used to, but he's generally correct, and the representative of a moderate secularism based , one might say, on Enlightenment principles. And he's the possessor of a fairly wicked Swiftian prose style as well.

"As a journalist Mr. Hitchens extensively covered the Bosnian war and the Gulf War, yet describes 9/11 as "an exhilarating moment" because it crystallized his views. "Everything I hate is on one side, and everything I love is on the other. I'm never going to get bored with this."

What does he hate?

"Religion. I quite simply identify it with barbarism and backwardness and human stupidity. The methods of theocracy in action are a cult of death." The jihadists, he says, "say they love death more than we love life, and we have to prove that wrong. They're right on the first; they love murder, in which they exult, and suicide, in which they take pride." Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, he says, want to turn the Islamic world back to the seventh century and take the West with them. "Opposed to these and hated by them is scientific inquiry and philosophical inquiry, the emancipation of women, the secular state, and other very hard-won achievements of civilization. And it's good to be reminded they are fragile, they can be destroyed. We can be pushed back into the childhood of our species again."

Turning back clocks doesn't interest Mr. Hitchens, who began his political life as a member of the British Labor Party and joined a Marxist faction even before arriving at Oxford to push revolution in the turmoil of 1968. "The promises of the '60s came true in 1989—in exactly the way we would not have imagined," he notes. The Cold War and leftist politics left him drained, he says, by the mid-'70s, and by the fall of the Berlin Wall he was ready for something "kind of banal, like how to bring together a market economy and democratic society." When the Cold War ended, he wanted to go back to writing about literature, not dreaming that the so-called peace dividend, by his calculation, was to last "only about 150 days."

When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and Slobodan Milosevic tried to annex all of Yugoslavia into a greater Serbia, Mr. Hitchens says, "I found myself in Sarajevo. And I found myself in northern Iraq in Kurdistan. Seeing people who'd been gassed, people who were still dying from Saddam's brutality . . . some I met were old comrades, but it was a pretty plain new enemy we had." The reality that totalitarian dictatorships like those in Iraq and Serbia could continue into the post--Cold War era hit him hard. "You may think you can give up politics but you can't, it won't give you up. Politics will come and find you." And the trials, at the same time, of his close friend, author Salman Rushdie, made him aware of the creeping threat of jihadism."

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Ethical ruminations

How may ethics be justified given a non-theological, naturalist ontology? That sounds fairly obvious, but I suggest it is more problematic than many realize; and I tend to share the views of the later Freud in so far as he suggests violence, sadism, "thanatos" and unethical acts are really the norm (even within civilized society--ie. WWI and WWII), and that ethics/morality are generally exceptions, and typically done in furtherance of "eros." It's more complex than that, but a text such as Civ. and its Discontents in some way as valuable to "meta-ethics" as are the traditional ethics texts. It would be swell if everyone performed the Kantian imperative routine, consider their potential act in context (as a rule binding on all) and then do the right thing, but they don't: one of the great failures of ethics is assuming that at some point rationality and ethics will coincide. Like Hume, Freud realizes that's mostly unfeasible (as do various machiavellians of left and right).

I would not claim there are any innate ethical tendencies: there are instincts, desires, passions, as Hume says--and Hume not so far from biological determinism and Freudian desire of some sort- and there are thoughts, concepts, ethical beliefs or actions based on, or at least having some relation to those instincts and passions.

In contrast to Humean hedonism, the late ethicist Alan Gewirth attempted to construct an axiomatic formulation of ethics which transcends the mere subjective "desire-based" ethics of Hume and the utilitarians (and Hobbes as well in that school). Gewirth understands that utilitarianism (or simply giving up on rational ethics altogether) in all of its forms easily leads to saying whatever the majority decides on is correct. So there must be some other basis for ethics (or objective rights' claims), than consensus, and for Gewrtih it's a matter of viewing yourself and other human-agents as more or less equals in terms of rights claims: you claim, or at least require, some degree of freedom to pursue your goals and economic necessities; thus you must acknowledge other normal human-agents have the same need for some degree of freedom. Gewirths' Reason and Morality is quite a bit more complex than that, but Gewirth does offer a way out of Hume/utilitarianism, hedonism, and the problems of the cat. Imperative.

That said, the most Gewirth can say then is that selfishness, greed, conservativism, monarchy etc. are inconsistent or possibly irrational; so when you refuse to help the starving family (say in a jungle or forest when they have no other means of support) you are acting irrationally.

Gewirth is arguing for a rational right (yet secular) prior to the construction of society (where Hobbes would say in nature there are no rights or laws or ethics at all). Yes, if measuring socities by that sort of natural right, human history may appear to be a record of various murderous factions which never acknowledged that rational right to economic/social entitlement, but then even catholics often say the same, or postmodernists for that matter. Which is to say, if you yourself claim a right to self-sufficiency (if not requiring economic/biological resources), don't you have to grant that other normal human-agents have the same, or nearly equal right to self-sufficiency and economic/biological resources? It would seem so. I am not sure it is necessary , but quite a cogent argument.

Without clearly defined economic rights and social contracts which are enforced by the sovereign, we are more or less in a Hobbesian state of nature; tho some people do succeed and so forth. Yet Hobbes does hold that once people agree to form covenants and seek peace instead of living in anarchy, participation in the economy is a given: thus I would say Hobbes agrees with Gewirth's agent-identity idea for most part ( tho not completely), once social contracts/covenants have been established--citizens are entitled to more or less equal distribution of resources one of his givens, and indeed one that the Royalists did not admire. Which is to say Leviathan is quite a radical text and not so far from some socialist or marxist theory.

Where or when does this covenant-construction occur Master Hobbes? He's not really suggesting it had occurred: but that it should; that people should, for their own interests, form social contracts and seek peace. Of course that may not happen, and indeed Hobbes raises the spectre of the powerful baron (with his own army, say) who refuses to form any covenants. Yes the other people might have to force him to join, or presumably, eliminate him.

Obviously a marxist (or fascist or Nietzschean for that matter) simply gives up on rights-speak or contracts and suggests the proles revolt, create a non-democratic State and then implement various economic policies. Yet Stalin (or nazi statism) shows what sorts of results are produced from politics which have no basis in rights. That said I do think there may be pragmatic reasons to oppose pure democracy ( or Hobbesianism), but more along the line of neo-behaviorism, if not Plato's Republic, than marx or fascism.

Friday, September 15, 2006

There are ample reasons to object to the Frankfurt School, but Adorno, on occasion, put forth some interesting ideas (however speculative) in regards to commodification, consumerism, and the entertainment business.

"There is nothing left for the consumer to classify. Producers have done it for him. Art for the masses has destroyed the dream but still conforms to the tenets of that dreaming idealism which critical idealism baulked at. Everything derives from consciousness: for Malebranche and Berkeley, from the consciousness of God; in mass art, from the consciousness of the production team. Not only are the hit songs, stars, and soap operas cyclically recurrent and rigidly invariable types, but the specific content of the entertainment itself is derived from them and only appears to change. The details are interchangeable. The short interval sequence which was effective in a hit song, the hero’s momentary fall from grace (which he accepts as good sport), the rough treatment which the beloved gets from the male star, the latter’s rugged defiance of the spoilt heiress, are, like all the other details, ready-made clichés to be slotted in anywhere; they never do anything more than fulfil the purpose allotted them in the overall plan. Their whole raison d’être is to confirm it by being its constituent parts. As soon as the film begins, it is quite clear how it will end, and who will be rewarded, punished, or forgotten. In light music, once the trained ear has heard the first notes of the hit song, it can guess what is coming and feel flattered when it does come. The average length of the short story has to be rigidly adhered to. Even gags, effects, and jokes are calculated like the setting in which they are placed. They are the responsibility of special experts and their narrow range makes it easy for them to be apportioned in the office."

Thursday, September 07, 2006


It's questionable whether any particular type of thinking could be said to be peculiar to philosophy, or Philosophy with a big P. Even as far back as Leibniz there was an urge to end the demarcation between philosophy and science. Frege's task consisted of trimming up the language to make it more suitable for physical sciences, mathematics, and scholarly work, retro-fitting the outdated syllogistic forms with quantifiers and predicates. Aristotelian cat. syllogisms updated with quantifiers and predicates more or less defines modern formal logic.

Frege/Russell are also in an important sense semanticists, as much as philosophers or logicians. Given the advances of the physical sciences, the positivists desired to sort of reduce language and statements to pure symbolism; and with both Frege and Russell there was an impulse to view all language as comprised of propositions, functions, quantifiers, variables, predicates, and the needed mathematics. Witt. of the Tractatus, and then later Quine continue this reductionism, for better or worse. Verification of course was another key analytical issue, as is probability; in strictly logical terms, the Tractatus demonstrates deductive logic reduces to tautologies and contradictions, tho there are a few paradoxes (which however are generally not an issue except for a very limited set of self-referential expressions. Your OS works fine: Goedel be damned).

So that propositional aspect is not really so philosophical as much as about eliminating ambiguity of ordinary language and creating semantic efficiency: the symbolic language then may be used for different purposes, whether philosophy of science, or programming or inductive endeavors.

The Big P philosophy, Der Weltanschauung-- conceptualization, system building, philosophy of science, phil. of history/time/process, ethics, even theology or whatever it is Heideggerians do-- is affected by the move to the symbolic language; once the positivists decide on permitting only synthetic/analytic truths, a lot of metaphysical baggage was eliminated as well. Ethics becomes in some sense closer to psychology and sociology. Political philosophy ala Hobbes or Rousseau, Marx, more akin to Econ. or poli sci. But these disciplines hardly deny the positivist advances; indeed behaviorism depended on positivism and pragmatism for a lot of its core doctrine.

You seem like you are suggesting a sort of thoroughly inductive political and educational philosophy, which would encompass other disciplines. I do not think that is likely to occur; indeed it could be argued that ethics and political philosophy have mostly been absorbed into various social sciences: doesn't Dewey sort of suggest that as well? Cognitive studies and lingustics (tho I'm not so sure what linguistics is anymore, except a sort of ultra-grammar) absorb philosophy of mind and epistemology, really. Philosophy of science remains, but scientists are generally more suited to those investigations than traditional philosophers: tho a critique of the economics, methods, and ethics of Big Science, especially academic science, remains important, and a Feyerbend should be taught along with Popper and Kuhn. Of course with the rise of PostMod Inc. a lot of metaphysics, or quasi-metaphysics is back, with plenty of aesthetics and the perennial marxism, but I would hold Russellianism to be more authentically progressive than most postmod. The Big P philosophy is dead (if it wasn't in 1885 when the Cambridge people began to trash on Hegel and Kant), and that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

-- Ich gebrauchte das Wort "Staat": es versteht sich von selbst, wer damit gemeint ist—irgendein Rudel blonder Raubtiere, eine Eroberer- und Herren-Rasse, weiche, kriegerisch organisiert und mit der Kraft, zu organisieren, unbedenklich ihre furchtbaren Tatzen auf eine der Zahl nach vielleicht ungeheuer überlegene, aber noch gestaltlose, noch schweifende Bevölkerung legt. Dergestalt beginnt ja der "Staat" auf Erden: ich denke, jene Schwärmerei ist abgetan, welche ihn mit einem "Vertrage" beginnen liess.--

Cheap anglo translation:

I used the word "State"—it is self-evident who is meant by that term—some pack of blond predatory animals, a race of conquerors and masters, which, organized for war and with the power to organize, without thinking about it, sets its terrifying paws on a subordinate population which may perhaps be vast in numbers but is still without any shape, is still wandering about. That's surely the way the "State" begins on earth. I believe that that fantasy has been done away with which sees the beginning of the state in some "contract."....

from Faust

Verachte nur Vernunft und Wissenschaft,

des Menschen allerhöchste Kraft,

laß nur in Blend- und Zauberwerken

dich von dem Lügengeist bestärken,

so hab' ich dich schon unbedingt.

PZ's translation into Englische:

"Scorn Reason and Science,

Humanity's highest craft;

permit yourself to be overcome

with the lying soul of magic and illusions,

and I have you absolutely..."

Der LuegenGeist: sort of California's official spiritual Entity
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