i am gearing up to teach david hume's enquiry concerning human understanding in my modern phil class. in my opinion, hume is, first off, the best philosophical prose stylist ever to write in english. it's not strunk-and-white stripped-down plain-speaking, exactly, but through all its complexities it is at great pains to achieve clarity.
coming to it after teaching descartes, locke, pascal, spinoza, i am struck by the modernity of hume's voice: really maybe the whole culture made a turn to something more comprehensible to us in the intervening decades. but also hume's voice - personal and intimate and yet amusing and entertaining - is perhaps a bit more like the style of his novelist contemporaries than it is like locke or malebranche. obviously, he had benefitted greatly from swift and addison, as well as his own people like samuel johnson and adam smith and gibbon. it is not surprising that hume's great style could be turned to a variety of authorial purposes, and it sparkles still in his essays on various topics and in his histories.
and then he really is both a charming and a killer intellectual: swashbuckling, bold as hell, but more precise in his way than any of his predecessors and also more humble. he is disarming, genial, but devatsting. he will rip your concepts to shreds. here's a good example: the classic section IV, part II of the enquiry.
Yeah -- have you ever seen a rattlesnake nest at mating time? Thousands of the bastards, all crowded all over each other just pumping away. So, the guy appears to believe that having more snakes in the nest -- Lebanon -- is a difference in quality rather than quantity. Worth debating, I suppose. However, they are both snake fucks. Best avoided.
folks keep bringing this to my attention: the irrationality of alcoholics anonymous. what i want to say is this: i have seen 12-step programs work for many people, and i have never seen anything else work. i believe that total abstinence is the only possibility for people like me; i believe i know that as well as anyone can know anything. and i have a funny feeling that some brief therapeutic intervention and drugs drugs drugs are going to have an even more impressive rate of failure. also i will say say that most doctors, neuro-obsessives, and gabrielle glazer do not understand what addiction is. also aa is spiritually profound. also perhaps rationality will kill you in the end.
now this is not to say that the whole aa thing is well thought-out on the philosophical or scientific levels. it originates basically among non-scientists of the 1930s; really it was founded by desperate alcoholics, ok? smart people but not harvard profs. this is also why it does work, when it does. now the big book asserts flatly that alcoholism is a disease. then again, it doesn't say what 'disease' means, exactly. at one point it even tries 'allergy'. but actually it's apparently an early version and one of the fundamental sources of the flat medicalization of addiction that now takes the form of genetics and neurotransmitters. but then 'made a list of all the people we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all' (for example) is an odd therapy for a genetic or neurological disorder.
so i don't think that aa or 12 step really has a coherent notion of addiction. also i think the disease model of addiction is really very half-assed and ill-thought-out, though people sort of insist on its literal truth, whatever that would mean exactly. what 12-step programs have is the insight - not really compatible with the notion of alcoholism as an organic disorder - that really you've got to undergo a kind of spiritual transformation, however you want to think about that. that the transformation begins with surrender is one of the profound bits. now, what the scientists and docs that glazer recommends don't have is any sort of connection to the phenomenology of addiction: what it's like to be an addict. you really really do not want to turn the matter over to them.
but honestly, no one has a clear conception of addiction, i believe. it is a great puzzle in ethical theory, especially as it bears on free will and responsibility. we are poised between all sorts of medical, moral, and spiritual models that are not nearly as distinct as people think. the brainboys have no more sense of what they're looking for than did jung, and there have been few more primitive stabs at the thing than the whole 'lights up your pleasure pathways' or 'dopamine' route: really, pathetic. but however, no one is doing much good here. you'd have to know what you're looking for to find it in someone's brain, yes? but it's not in a brain: it's in a brain embedded in a social and physical world.
i think ted cruz can be a pretty formidable politician, and will have a primary run, but he's quite off today at his announcement speech at liberty u. he's off rhythm, vague, badly written, cliche-ridden. this thing where you make your family into inspiring american exemplars - even across some pretty idiosyncratic stories - seems particularly half-hearted in this case. he emotes poorly. i do get a slimy vibe from cruz, but maybe that's unfair. he's by far the most rock-ribbed conservative in the race, and is at his best (even here at liberty), throwing that down polemically. it's a collage of libertarian/constitutional and religious-right themes, though, which has never been a coherent position.
I seem to have found my niche over at Veterans Today. I appear to be the columnist in charge of pissing off the proto-Soviets and the Neo-Nazis both, along with being a general irritant to the conspiracy fringe. When one commentator goes off saying how dare I compare Netanyahu's campaign to Dr Goebbels, Goebbels was a fine, honorable model for ethical propaganda, and another starts in on the joys of life under Putin, you realize that life can have meaning. Now, the third character in my piece, the soon to be congressman from Illinois with the atrocious bookkeeping and Downton Abbey style or his supporters haven't weighed in yet. Maybe I can hit the trifecta.
Short Long Story: Re-election of Bibi is one of the worst things that could have happened to Israel, the Palestinians and the Middle East. The right wing, flawless red heifer types in the US are going to be delirious at the approaching Armageddon. Putin is a micromanaging creep because he's a creep and the only things that work in Russia are things he micromanages. He ten day retreat to the Trappist Monastery outside Ekaterinaberg got people panic-stricken because they are subject to panic of not just change but anything that looks like change. And, if Shock had gone for 20th Century Feed Store as a decor as opposed to Downton Abbey's Red Room, the other criminal behavior would probably not have surfaced until he was in the Republican leadership.
i'm teaching 17th and 18th century ('modern') philosophy. i think that we had enough tear-everything-down-and start over. that was bacon's project as he presented it, descartes', locke's, spinoza's. i had forgotten what prodigies of pride they were, especialy spinoza, who is always issuing broad corrections to his fellows. but they all gloat about how they're putting everything on a firm new foundation, and of course so does leibniz, kant, hegel, schopenhauer, etc. in retrospect, they shared a lot of assumptions, such as the 'idea idea' or the representational theory of perception. they weren't as shatteringly original as they thought they were, though some were pretty original. but then i feel like there was a long puttering out, like a century or more of diagnosis, of genealogy, hermeneutics, interpretation: a century of later wittgensteins and rortys and foucaults. now i think maybe new constructive projects are called for again, for the exhaustion is exhausted.
a few more nasty cracks about hillary. first of all, do not become confused as between her political gifts and her husband's. right? he is an extraordinary politician with a common touch. she is, at her best, pretty good. but one thing she has in common with her husband: she is in the clinton marriage. i would say we are being entertained by versions of the clinton marriage right now on scandal and house of cards. now, obviously a union of convenience between monsters of ambition is pretty entertaining. but looking squarely at the grants or the underwoods, i don't think most people would actually want to be governed by them. now there's why no one's ever going to see her private emails.
bill is gifted, but he's unbelievably gross. i do remember hillary in 1992 as bimbos erupted everywhere: 'i'm not some tammy wynette stand by your man dolt staying home baking cookies'. but tammy divorced george jones at least twice, while hillary was cuckolded hundreds of times and stood there and took it and defended her husband. how feminist is that? how strong? how right?
here's one of the many things that could bring the whole disgusting operation to a screeching halt: jeffrey epstein. another approach i'd take if i were on oppo research: try to construct schedules for bill clinton and dominique strauss-kahn over the last twenty years and see where they coincide. when were they in davos together or dubai or whatever and who has the pics? what guys like this should teach you is why men want power (oh, it's to do public service and give back) and what they do with it once they get it. go ahead if you are rational and draw anarchist conclusions, please.
i think it's obvious that the liberal establishment actually does not want clinton. try the washpost today: gene robinson, dana milbank, and dan balz are not even tepid. people are talking 'buyer's remorse' nine months before the iowa caucuses. who bought hillary clinton when? when did she win without playing? this is you, killing your own cause. if hillary clinton does not have gene robinson, who the hell can she possibly have? her only positive attribute, other than the gonads she shares with half the world's pop, is that there are no alternatives. that there aren't is extraordinarily irresponsible of the democratic party, yes? where's the goddamn bench? you have someone who could blow up like the world trade at any moment and whom no one actually wants to be president - indeed whom no one could possibly have positive reasons to support because she has no principles or even positions and merely serves the same old billionaires - and you are going to nominate her...why? because your vast pitiful party has no one else? after that, you're going to lose the election. so, time to ditch the unanimity and the mere resignation and try to say something more like what you actually think, gene.
so far the hillary email thing isn't a serious crimp in the campaign. but that or a dozen other things could rise to the level of damage at any time. now i don't know whether elizabeth warren wants to be president. there would be a sudden surge of actual energy, as opposed to mere capitulation, among libs were she to make it evident that she does. and if she does, i think she should take into consideration that there's a 50/50 chance or so that hillary's campaign falls apart before the nomination. if that starts occurring to people, it will also occur to people that they better have some alternative to turn to in april 2016, or be in a terrible problem.
i do think that if hillary is nominated, she is likely to lose to, say, walker or rubio; i like warren's chances better there. on the other hand, perhaps hillary, if she rides out all possible scandals, does ok against jeb, from whom she cannot be distinguished except by gender. she really is an empty soul, though: there just isn't anything there.
here's a bad sign: james carville is hysterically defensive on the email thing, throwing out random partisan red herrings, etc. the paranoia phase has already kicked in fully. try to remember what this was like and then really try to want it again.
lord i hate the media anniversary. there has been no surcease from selma for months, and the fact that you go from cnn to the nytimes to msnbc to the guardian to npr to the washington post to the daily beast and they all have the same story and they are all using very nearly the same sentences and they are all interviewing john lewis for the umpteenth time: i'm sorry, and i realize it's a solemn and important thing, but y'all are boring me to tears. a previous example was the 50 of the kennedy assassination: i came out thinking that we'd have to kill the man again, even if it took a wooden stake.
i recommend caroline spence's debut album, somehow, streamable here (she did release an ep in '13). an intensely lovely singer, though perhaps still developing. she's got a bunch of excellent songs, and i would say as a writer she's got people like steve earle and lucinda on board, but also connects to brandy clark-kacey musgraves-ashley monroe melancholic contempotrad. i like a lot of the songs, and don't dislike any of them, but try the uncharacteristically uptempo "kissing ain't the same as talking".
missouri auditor tom schweick commits suicide. the daily beast speculates that he was 'bullied to death'. but now, i want to say that it would take a lot more than a 'whisper campaign' hinting that i was jewish to make me bite the cobain stick or do that virginia woolf doggy paddle. don't believe me? go ahead and whisper. but we live in an era when people plunge into incurable depression or hang themselves because someone made a nasty crack on twitter, and also in an era where people just think that's obviously how you'd respond. instead of trying to keep facebook free of negativity, perhaps we should concentrate on helping people - even teenage girls, for example - realize that it doesn't much matter what some anonymous chump, or indeed some nonymous chump, is saying about you. one problem is social brutality, another is absurd social dependence, where my sense of self hinges on every single person approving of me unconditionally, or at least on keeping them from saying it if they don't. this is the other side of the self-esteem industry that infests everything from schools to oprah. on this account, self-esteem comes from people telling you how great you are all the time. that there is a crazed formula for self-loathing as soon as the bullshit stops, though. without just a hint of self-reliance or independent thought, no one is really going to be able to fend off despair, i think. then again, if you're this socially dependent, there isn't much left to preserve; you're redundant.
pity poor dwight garner: trying to review a book he loves but cannot even quote, because he's writing for little cowards who are scared of certain words and little censors who refuse to publish them. really, if you are a book critic and you can't even quote what you think is the best lit, you need to find a publication where you can. also i think probably the nytimes has no business writing about books at all if they can't be a little less scared or what's in them. seriously, if you tremble in fear at certain combinations of letters you shouldn't write or publish at all. leave the language to people who are able boldly to sally forth and use the alphabet.
here is another case, in the form of an unpublished letter to the editor by henry:
In “Publish and Cherish” (Book Review, Aug. 24), Rachel Shteir reviews The Most Dangerous Book, which is about the legal censorship that James Joyce’s Ulysses faced in its day. She writes, “Quoting Joyce’s notoriously bawdy letters to [his wife] Nora (many of which cannot be printed in this newspaper) is required for anyone writing about him in our era.”
Did the Times’ editor overlook the glaring irony of that sentence? Ms. Shteir is writing about Joyce in our era, yet the Times will not allow her to quote from the letters, even as it allows her to state that quoting from them is required. And why won’t the Times allow her to quote from the letters? It has no reason. Its policy is arbitrary and juvenile. Surely it is not protecting anyone from exposure to naughty words, because such words can hurt no one, including children, all of whom are exposed to them from a young age. And, of course, children would not be reading Ms. Shteir’s book review.
If the Times is concerned about offending puritanical readers, then it might consider that such readers, like children, are unlikely to be reading a review of a book about James Joyce. Furthermore, the Timesregularly quotes politicians who say things far more substantively offensive than anything that Joyce ever wrote. Why does the Times single out naughty words for its concern?
i can't believe anyone for a moment pretends to be puzzled about who killed boris nemstov. a former us ambassador to ukraine this morning on cnn: 'we will never know' what happened. then he makes it completely obvious that he has no doubt whatever that it was vlad the impaler. like what is the strategy there? what percentage is there in saying you've got no idea and then making it obvious that you are completely certain? well, whatever mealy-mouthed diplomats might think they're accomplishing, there is just no other even vaguely plausible scenario.
i guess i sort of stop blogging when i'm writing other stuff. anyway, i'm supposed to conduct a little faculty discussion today on ian buruma's theater of cruelty, a collection of his essays having to do with war and books on war from the new york review of books. i've been reading the nyrb since i was a child, and so i read most of these essays as they came out. i have to say they kind of slid by without making a big impression. i was vaguely impressed by buruma's nice prose style and his knowledge especially of matters having to do with ww2 and the holocaust. reading a stream of his essays together makes me realize something: i think that, despite these strengths, ian buruma is not very good.
in every single essay he takes the 'on the one hand; on the other hand' approach. this gives an impression of balance and rationality. however, almost every single time out, it amounts to this: flat contradictions. was leni riefenstahl a nazi monster? yes and no. were her films propaganda? yes and no. is there a difference between art and propaganda? yes and no. he of course discusses sontag's famous essay on riefenstahl. even if sontag was wrong, she was extremely definite. was sontag right about riefenstahl, according to buruma? yes and no. (but buruma really does this: he slut-shames leni mercilessly, all but resorting to the word 'ho', a whole line of attack that is irrelevant to anything else in the essay or in the issues. he's more generous, say, or just not at all worried, about the sex life of jean cocteau.) or: was the right approach in occupied france to resist, collaborate, or pretend the whole thing wasn't really happening? yes and no; yes and no; yes and no. every essay does this. it's pitiful: weak-kneed as well as logically ridiculous: cowardly. but solidly written.
also it is one measure of what i feel is a sad decline in the nyrb: sontag to buruma is a slide from excellence to mediocrity. or how about this month: we've got michael tomasky on the republican presidential field. tomasky is a partisan hack: like a left bill o'reilly but less fun. every sentence is a collage of weasel words and pejorative bitch-slaps. there's not a moment of actual dialogue with people on the other side, just a constant drumbeat about stupid the other side is (=how smart we are; michael tomasky's great theme is how smart michael tomasky is). unlike buruma, there's nothing particularly good about tomasky's prose. anyway, i don't think it's really an intellectual publication anymore.
You know, if the world blows up over some Skinhead deciding to off an irrelevant Russian Dissident on the Bridge outside of Red Square as a presumed favor to the FSB or Uncle Vladimir, I for one am going to be pissed off. Of course, it would go a long way to proving me right about conspiracy theories -- In that scenario, Boris Nemstov is really just the Putinesque version of Jody Foster, and the guy who pulled the trigger in this case knew how to shoot.
Still, it's interesting in a lot of ways. I got a note from my editor over at Veterans Today -- we're not a blog anymore, we're an online publication, and I have a very supportive editor -- wanting to know where the hell was some copy, last thing she got from me was some whimsy about bears. Ok, so I wrote this...
I suspect Putin had no clue this was coming, and was probably pissed off when it occurred. Man is a notorious micromanager and now he has to manage an investigation and a cover up simultaneously. Do they think he can just bend time to make more of it? And why the hell would anyone shoot the guy? He was about as significant in Russian affairs as Dan Quayle is in American politics...
Perhaps it was over the guy's arm candy. Not only is she an international model, she's both gorgeous and Ukrainian. And even though the shooter was right behind them, she didn't see the killer. Silenced pistol, close range from a car, yeah...I can almost believe that.