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|Friday, July 13th, 2007|
|The Bush Admission: Truth and Consequences
One of today's more interesting episodes has been Bush's admission before a crowd of placid, obedient journalists that an administration official "likely" leaked the name of Valerie Plame to the press in an effort to punish her husband for his critical appraisal of the Bush regime's rationale for the preemptive invasion of Iraq. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19728346/
When the name was first disclosed, many intelligent people reasonably supposed that it was the natural behavior of an administration best understood as a gang of thugs. Not intelligent. Not particularly well read or impressively credentialed. Simple really. And with no maneuver gauged to be too sophomoric or puerile in their estimation to service their own exercise of power. The same sense of self-entitlement that manifests in a schoolyard bully's indignation over his victim's retaliation is what has propelled Republican gaffes with microphones for the last seven years. Whether they're turning off their opponent's to silence criticism, or neglecting their own live mic's while painting opponents with vulgar slurs, what motivates them is a kind of childlike temerity. A willingness to secure immoral objectives with naked aggression, while imagining they are not required to justify those objectives.
Our media institutions have been pretty effective at entrenching this imagined privilege even further within the minds of these sub-humans, by collectively creating a scrutiny-free environment even while they go through the motions of asking the president questions. Today, for example, in the midst of this spectacular admission, and with Bush's commutation of Libby's sentence only ten days old, the highlight of media scrutiny had to be when one reporter asked the president to tell us about "his feelings." Was he "disappointed in the white house officials" who disclosed Plame's name? Even for this pittance, Bush managed to evade a direct answer. And it's easy to imagine the rationale of his handlers, in coaching the simpleton to do so. Any concession to disappointment with those officials responsible leads inexorably towards the inquiry of just who else does the administration understand to be implicated in this ploy to intimidate Joe Wilson? More importantly, given Bush's earlier rhetoric about dismissing any administration official discovered to have publicly disclosed Plame's identity, what does it mean that his remarks...
"I'm aware of the fact that perhaps _somebody_ in the administration did disclose the name of that person..."
...do not explicitly refer to Libby, but seem to refer instead to some _other_ administration official? It's made implicit that at least one other viper harbors culpability. At a minimum, we need to be critically asking what sort of consequences there must be for the person's involved. How long has Bush known about their implication? What's his story today, and is he sticking to it? Instead, some giant of the white house press cor wants to know if the president is sad.
This cultural agreement to not press any republican with a critical appraisal has created an environment permissive of some pretty audacious bullshit. When the topic of an eventual Libby pardon was broached, bush defended his commutation of the original sentence, describing it as "a fair and balanced decision."
"Fair and balanced," the mantric shibboleth of all right-political media, has been faithfully conceded to by every journalist in that press cor, it would seem. But what is it exactly? A source of comfort to republicans eager to believe that any scrutiny of their 20th century right-political project unjustly persecutes them? Certainly! The repetition is part of a larger pathology of the media's simple minded treatment of "extremism" as a meaningful criticism. As if one could distill the truth from an equal number of the errors of opposing sides, until the official consensus of truth most closely represented that of C average America.
Right political ideologues level accusations of similar "weasel language" like this. I've observed them to express frustration with appeals to "nuance" from the left. I've also noticed though, that conservative frustration with "nuance" usually stems from their intellectual limitations preventing them from grasping concepts like "emergent properties" or "cumulative effects." The important difference is that in practice, "fair and balanced" means that matters of record have been "creatively interpreted" or amended to reflect right-political sentiment, and the appeal to "equal representation" is used to rationalize injecting reasoned inquiry with some consistently stupid right-political assumptions, and giving them equal footing.
Even more remarkable was this statement from Bush...
"I've often thought about what would have happened if that person had come forth and said, 'I did it.' Would we have had this endless hours of investigation and a lot of money being spent on this matter? But, so, it's been a tough issue for a lot of people in the White House. It's run its course and now we're going to move on."
The appeal to authority embedded here is laughable. Not even intellectual authority. Something far more helpless than that. The decider has decided. Our opportunity to scrutinize his administrations criminal activity has "run it's course." And now... "we're going to move on..." before any discussion of consequences can be had.
Smart people always know this is coming, but have seemed unable to confront it. When the circus of business majors and nascar enthusiasts that make up the Republican base put the thugs in power, they knew it could only be a disaster. When following 9/11, the assorted mentally retarded began thumping their chests, and willfully conflated Saddam Hussein with al-Qaeda, we anticipated the current crisis this would manufacture, and _I_ certainly anticipated that after the crisis was here, and unavoidable, it's republican authors would simply express readiness to "move along." Or they'd make some feeble appeal to "bipartisan unity" when the time to punish them for their aggressive stupidity had come. And I anticipated that the press would treat this as perfectly natural. Did we actually permit ourselves to become cowed into compliance with accusations as transparently stupid as "intellectual elitist" and "you don't support the troops?"
This sequence of events is endemic of all relations between intelligent people and right-political ideologues. First, when the right pursues their own agenda to the exclusion of reason and in defiance of what moral activity requires, the left constructs a critique _demonstrating_ why the right is alternately, wrong, stupid, and evil. The right huffs and puffs, and an army of conservative think tanks is deployed to produce _volumes_ about how mean the left is. All of them penned by men whose dearth of actual scholarship would have prevented their small opinion from seeing the light of day if the institution of those think tanks were not there to artificially support their work. Meanwhile the conservative braintrust marches on, and the left is kept distracted with right-political sewing of doubt and confusion like so:
-The data shows Global Warming will have catastrophic consequences for our environment.
-"Warming is probably not real."
-The data shows unregulated markets tend to precipitate the misbehavior of private industry.
-"Milton Friedman won a Nobel Prize Dammit!"
-The data shows our civil liberties will be meaningfully eroded by this administrations legislative chicanery.
-"Support the troops or you'll go to hell."
But eventually, the crisis _arrives_. And when it does, the press, and the right-political cheerleaders who brought us to this precipice, exhibit a kind of selective amnesia, forgetting their role in placing us in the catastrophe in the first place. Instead of the concession required of them, that those evil New York elitists with their fancy book-learnin were right all along, they produce a new narrative. One about how we must accustom ourselves to the harsh realities they have thrust upon us, and how we must look forward. The right-political ideologue is most eager to look forward now that a glance backwards illustrates how he has been complicit in our crisis.
Where is Nascar? Where is business major? Right now, they're eagerly telling one another that we have no obligations to the Iraqi people. That these people need to take responsibility for themselves... because their crisis has nothing to do with us. Did our invasion of Iraq likely commit the leaders of Iran to a PetroEuro standard, precipitating even further dumping of US currency? Could be! Will it galvanize formerly disparate Islamic elements around the cause of hurting the US? Probably! Were they warned this would happen? Of course! But that's in the past. Their culpability will never come up again.
How do we break this sequence of events, and the republican ability to reset social memory to it's factory install settings every few years? We need to make these parties accountable. So I'd like to ask a provocative question.
What sort of consequences should there be, for voting for George Bush?Cross posted to the Fifth Estate
|Monday, June 4th, 2007|
|All About Me.
Livejournal's neverending vagina monologue puckish
, and adriang
(who should really know better) expressed frustration a while back that the anonymity of my journal prevents them from harassing myself and my co-workers. This has not been accidental. They let anyone onto this internet thing. I've already received the standard compliment of threats from ten year old "hackers" and survivalist lifestylist's. Such E-threats from the ineffectual represent no threat to me, and while puckish
's abilities don't extend beyond forwarding pictures of goatse and tubgirl to my family, professors or colleagues, I prefer to spare them the ordeal. Specific details that could be used maliciously, like my real name and address, or place of work/school will remain among the morality_play inner circle.
The rest of what follows has been prepared to "fill in the blanks" for the rest of you who are trying to determine what is to be done about me.
Morality_play in four parts:Personal.Political.Intellectual/Creative.Professional/Creative.
|Sunday, May 20th, 2007|
|The anti-pedestrian built environment
For anyone confused by all this "techno demonology" stuff, and curious to see exactly what I meant by this
"By dividing the length of the bench into several smaller units, the designer has sabotaged the ability of the homeless to lay down on top of the surface. If you examine public space and parks in urban areas, you'll probably discover a whole menagerie of design interventions like this, designed to fuck the destitute..."
Please see this recent contribution
The pyramid construction beneath the underpass... Yeah. Someone's going to need to get killed for that.
|Techno Demonology 5: The Market Libertarian Pathology
With respect to nature, we can easily imagine a natural phenomenon that hurts or deprives moral patients. In fact most natural phenomenon probably do. Nature is "red in tooth and claw." The current system requires everyone to eat one another to survive. Nature means institutional infanticide and brutality. It means disease and constant struggle. It means we're all afflicted with the absolute minimum intellectual and athletic potential nature requires to make us successful _breeders_ before we die violently.
But nature has no authority to impose these requirements, and we are not obligated to arbitrarily defer to it. The social darwinist errs by substituting foreign criteria for the criteria of moral activity whenever he makes a normative proposition. We can only decide how we are morally obligated to treat a natural phenomenon based upon what pleasures or pains it causes. For example, we would be morally obligated to suppress earthquakes or hurricanes if we possessed the means. The social darwinist is trying to arrive at moral obligations through an appeal to what conditions nature "favors." But moral activity formally describes obligations to intercede in the pains and pleasures of other moral patients. It has nothing to do with arbitrary emergent phenomena, so we cant then appeal to the evolutionary history or natural status of a thing to justify it's role in a crisis. Earthquakes would not become morally permissible because they're "natural" any more than a genetic proclivity for rape would. Darwin understood this distinction well, while his contemporaries did not. As I remarked to Spider88...
"Darwin's natural selection was conscripted by victorian sensibilities to embody everything from a justification of colonization to fantasies of cultural superiority. Huxley and Spencer were very effective at corrupting the popular interpretation of natural selection into that of an inevitably progressive force. I seem to recall that in several of Darwin's personal reflections and correspondences he explicitly lamented the fact that his popularizers seemed unwilling or unable to grasp that his selection was a process that possessed no agenda."
We're merely vehicles for the propagation of genes.The reason we suffer sickness, death and human limitations is that Natural selection does not have our interests in mind. It's a "process without a purpose." _No one is at the wheel_.
The consequences for market libertarian prescriptions are fatal.
Any prescriptive statement holding that some set of conditions _ought_ to prevail over others, must ultimately appeal to the requirements of moral activity. But what are those requirements? At a minimum, we can specify that moral activity is intersubjective, with subjective operators. Problematically, while market libertarianism assumes it's receiver operators are subjective entities with phenomenological consciousness, (you and I, plus Bambi, Thumper, and perhaps fetal and eventually artificial organisms) it's actor-operator (the market) is not. An important distinction here, is that agency cannot be synthesized by the collective activity of _other agents_. A popular libertarian narrative, for example, appeals to the "wisdom of crowds," to relocate agent-hood from the individual to the consumer market. But the reality is that crowds are quite dumb. Not even dumb. Unconscious. Crowds themselves, don't possess any sort of intentional state. They have no affective consciousness, and so agency can't be understood as something "distributable" in this way.
More critically, we've seen moral activity is necessarily instrumental, with an actor-operator equipped with agency by second order phenomenal consciousness. So even if we overlook the failure of the libertarian model of the actor-operator to meet the minimum requirement of subjectivity, it still fails to meet the requirement of instrumentality. Markets, as non-intelligent emergent systems, are not instrumental, but autonomous from oversight, and self-propelled by their own internal forces.
Finally, we _minimally_ understand moral activity as describing the pleasures and pains of moral patients (and our obligations to secure them) as it's primary currency. And markets, as objectiveless systems, are fatally disconnected from this requirement. They do not take the security of moral patient's quality of life as any sort of objective. They embody Ellul's technique, without a moral agent to steer their selection process, blindly indifferent to real human projects and happiness. Certainly, markets tend to favor certain kinds of conclusions, but "any old favored conclusion" won't do. Unless they actively secure the quality of life of every moral patient, they simply are not satisfying the requirements of moral activity. Markets select some moral patients for prosperity and others for destitution _non-intelligently_ and without respect to the qualities that distinguish their moral worth, and consequently they can't be understood as moral agents.
The crucial distinction seen here, in autonomous, emergent agencies like markets (Szerszinski's "elementals") or natural selection processes, is that they _don't possess moral content_, and consequently they can't be appealed to for normative purposes, the way market ideologues attempt to apply them. There is no way for a market libertarian to propose that the market _should_ determine anything without committing a preformative contradiction. He would implicitly be declaring that some variety of market-favored condition ought to prevail because the conditions the market selects for _ought not_ to prevail.
|Sunday, May 6th, 2007|
|Techno Demonology 4: Social Darwinism, Market Fundamentalism, and Naturalistic Fallacies
People familiar with my livejournal polemics must be aware of my antagonism towards libertarianism. That antagonism is directed at no small number of intellectual failures contained therein. It's Lockean provisions. The temporal bias of contractualism. The _catastrophe_ that is consequentialism. The failures of it's privatization and deregulatory objectives. All of these are good reasons to march taudiophile
off to the reeducation centers. This is said with a certain amount of good natured, apologetic jovialism to the libertarians on my friends list. monocrat
is a smart guy, and eleventoes
taste in industrial design is just _kick'n_, and I don't want to see them "marched" anywhere. As intelligent people though, I'd hope they would concede that creatures like ikilled007
are better off used as fuel, and probably don't have rights.
An important part of my criticism of market libertarianism, however, is more subtle than the problems summarized above, and consequently, it is often left unarticulated. Szerszynski's Techno Demonology provides the perfect platform to articulate it by placing it within the larger context of Winnerian politics of technology. Taken together, Szerszynski's model of the "elementals" and Ellul's theory of technique illuminate precisely what I believe is the "market libertarian pathology."
That pathology was put in sharp relief by spider88
in 2003, when she identified what I've been calling a strange species of naturalistic fallacy that has been percolating within popular culture. Her concern was with the _celebration_ of selfishness revolving around theses on evolutionary psychology by Robert Wright and Richard Dawkins. The latter, even after he had been careful to make the distinction between what our evolutionary heritage disposes us to do, and what we are _morally obligated to do_ very clear. This enthusiastic reception to narratives about our genetic commitments to "selfish genes" had apparently become an ordinary spectacle within evolutionary psychology. Her concerns inspired an interesting conversation
back in 2005, where I described those individuals celebrating the intrinsic selfishness, genetically institutionalized within us by natural selection, as misunderstanding that they cannot rationally proceed from what _is_ directly to what _ought to be_. That they "fallaciously suppose that natural selection is a moral authority." Spider anticipates this naturalistic fallacy herself, with her attention to the distinction between "is" and "ought."
This distinction pertains to the essential structure of morality. If we make the inquiry of what the formal qualities of morality are, we can begin to set limits to the model by determining what is minimally required for an activity to even possess _intelligible moral content_. For example, because any normative analysis automatically entails that the subjects involved can _experience_ the circumstance of their interaction, we can say that a moral calculus requires a subjective entity on both ends. Subjective in the sense of a "being" with introspective or mental subjectivity. In other words, first order representational consciousness. An entity that can have a disposition about what is external to it. I find Thomas Nagel's "What is it Like To Be a Bat" to be a useful point of reference for this description. Without respect to Nagels rejection of physicalism, his essential point about subjectivity is that there is "something it is like" to be a bat.
As an inquiry, neurophilosophy, and the other various permutations of the philosophy of mind, need to be central to any appraisal of moral status, because of the necessity of experiential qualia in both the moral patient and the agent. I'd go as far as to say that when we discuss moral activity, we are preformatively describing _neurologies_ as the central object. That, when properly understood, this is what patients and agents really are!
A second essential feature is that morality is relational and intersubjective. One of these two subjects will be the actor in the moral calculus and the other will be the receiver. It's the capacity in which the activity expressed by one modifies the condition of the other that we are fundamentally taking as our subject when we describe moral activity.
Next, the moral actor involved, beyond merely possessing subjectivity, must be able to intellectually reflect upon the content of it's actions. It must be able to anticipate consequences and modify it's behavior consistently with an _objective_ of securing certain consequences. (Note that this would not necessarily be required of the receiver.) This is expressive of the distinction drawn in moral philosophy between moral agents (who intellectually understand moral content) and moral patients (who possess intrinsic moral worth without understanding). On an aside, only one thing gets my blood up faster than deliberate obfuscation of the distinction between these two types of moral relevance.
The important point about this provision is that moral activity is _instrumental_. It entails _design_. This is why we distinguish the sort of culpability associated with deliberative action from that associated with unconscious action and accidental consequences. We can say it's immoral for Bob to kill the lamb when he can foresee the inevitability of suffering and deprivation his actions _intend_. We might not be able to say the same thing about a lion killing a lamb, because the lion would not be able to meaningfully reflect upon the consequences of his actions. And as stated, we obviously cant declare an earthquake to be a moral actor, because it's a non-intelligent emergent phenomenon. While it certainly diminishes the quality of life of many moral patients, it does not do so as a part of any objective. There is no instrumentality here to attach moral content to.
Finally, (at a minimum) any appraisal of moral content takes a certain kind of intersubjective activity as it's object. Relationally, Dick may be standing precisely ten meters from Jane, and closing in at a rate of half a meter per second. These criteria are precisely quantifiable but _morally irrellevant_. It makes no more sense to ask if Dick's speed and direction are moral than it does to ask if the color of the sky is moral. The types of activity that moral reasoning takes as it's object are those that act as vehicles for pains/deprivations or pleasures/enlargements. Note too, that these things only make contextual sense applied to subjective beings that can intelligibly _experience_ them.
So, we have some useful (and uncontroversial) criteria to articulate what we mean by moral activity now. Moral activity is intersubjective. It's instrumental. Because it's intersubjective, it requires it's operators to be subjective. Because it's instrumental, it requires it's actor-operator to be an agent. It's principal currency is pains and pleasures, or more broadly diminishment or amelioration of the quality of life (the experiential qualia.)
What should be clear is that the distinction of a naturalistic fallacy that _makes it untennable_ is the same content that distinguishes natural/emergent systems from design. Design has moral content precisely because it is instrumental. But natural selection and the evolutionary process are something else entirely. Consider...
The life sciences use teleological nomenclatures with expressions like "design" and "strategy." The formal qualities of a tree or an insect are commonly talked about in terms of the evolutionary "design" of natural selection or their "strategy" for reproductive success. Rationally though, we realize that the tree was not _designed_ in the context that the word is conventionally used. And natural scientists use it, context dependently, in a way that acknowledges that there was no oversight to engineer it's mechanical properties. No intelligent reflexive mechanism was present to correct for any failures in a prototype. It does not service the objectives or artistic aspirations of any intelligent _agency_. It's merely the consequence of a non-intelligent selection process. Certain sequences of amino acids have historically been more successful at propagating themselves than other competing sequences. Any number of such random arrangements can occur. Some might manifest as more effective energy conversion or reproductive mechnaisms. Naturally, those arrangements propel themselves into succeeding generations, but this phenomenon is clearly distinguishable from a design process, with an agent selecting formal qualities to suit his purposes.
The tree is not anyone's artifice. And that limit's the ways we can even think about it to purely positive or descriptive terms. We can make positive statements of it's formal qualities; The color of it's foliage, it's dimensions, or we can make teleological statements about it's evolutionary origins. To go any further than that, to appraise the tree normatively, by asking if some feature of it were _moral_, would be to commit a very serious but subtle rational failure. _Normative_ questions or statements like these don't even make any rational sense when they pertain to emergent phenomena. It makes no sense to ask if a tree _ought_ to be a certain height (in a moral sense) because there is no subjective entity (no designer) to whom we can attribute moral or immoral intent. The tree simply _is_ that height irrespective of the way it's qualities impinge on moral patients.
This is the error of the naturalistic fallacy. It attempts to locate moral activity where the criteria for _any kind of moral content_ are just absent.
|Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007|
|Techno Demonology 3: Bronislaw Szerszynski/ Taxonomy of evil spirits
It's into this context that livejournalist turkishb
has presented me with Bronislaw Szerszynski's Techno Demonology thesis
. I confess to having experienced some trepidation at it's content at first. The reassuringly secular overtones that intelligent people are consoled by, and that permeate the technological analysis of Winner, Ellul, Keniston and Noble are absent here. He references Paul in Colloseans 2.8 for example:
"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ."
The apostle Paul was warning you all about _me_ with this passage... But he came from a bartering culture so fuck him.
Szerszynski's thesis turns out to be worth reading in the light of Winnerian technological analysis though. (In fact, my undergraduate thesis project probably would have been more successful if I had known about Szerszynski before now.) He is principally occupied with the ways technologies and artifacts confront us as agencies which are malign or _indifferent_. I'm probably going to have some difficulty with his use of "agency" here, since his theology clearly puts it to different uses than moral philosophy does. His description of these agencies as "indifferent" attracted my attention, however. He goes on to describe these agencies as "forces that operate on the natural and human worlds that are neither natural nor _under human control_."
His emphasis of indifference and lack of human control are significant in that they denote the qualities that distinguish non-intelligent emergent systems from design in morally relevant ways. This is not a trivial distinction. One of the minimum requirements for an activity to have moral content is that it possess instrumentality. All moral action is instrumental because morality describes the quality of how an activity consciously serves an _agenda_. This is why competence bears upon moral standing, why we judge the mentally infirm to be incompetent to be held to accountability, and why injury caused by premeditation and negligence have two different kinds of moral status.
It's also why a phenomenon like an earthquake, possesses no intelligible moral status despite the fact it can cause injury to innumerable moral patients. The earthquake possesses no agency (in the sense of second order phenomenological consciousness). It is not an instrumental action (In the sense of serving an intelligence). Obviously this has real consequences for design, since all design would be instrumental and consequently moral or immoral. More importantly for my point, is the way this distinguishes design from natural systems (or more broadly, _emergent_ systems) like evolution through natural selection, or the propagation of a virus. These things are certainly propelled by their own internal or fundamental forces, but their movement is not responsive to any objective. They're groundless and drifting things that are simply propelled by where the path of least resistance carries them.
Szerszynski's project is the development of a taxonomic nomenclature to distinguish the various phenomenon where technology and artifacts behave maliciously or indifferently. Viewed through the Winnerian lens, he wants to enunciate the mechanisms by which technologies become politicized. He borrows the New Testament language of spiritual agencies (supernatural agencies like angels, demons, principalities, thrones) to name these distinctions. I find this ingenuity delightful. Anyone familiar with the graphic symbology associated with these agencies would understand why. I think the principalities are giant disembodied heads with wings sprouting from their necks. One could not imagine more horrifying monsters than what has been produced by christian mythology.
What I am particularly interested in though, is Szerszynski's nomination of "elementals," which he describes as "technical systems that are treated as ends in themselves." He characterizes them as technologies that exert control, and are driven by their own internal rationality. He borrows Jacques Ellul's theory of Technique to emphasize how a dominant mode of thinking can become an autonomous self-determining system. He quotes Ellul; "Under such conditions, no concrete individual steers the technological process and it becomes... blindly indifferent to empirical, real human projects and happiness." No one is at the wheel.
As illustrations, he submits the manner in which automobile enthusiasm in the US has required an infrastructure to be grown up around it, in the form of expressways, tunnels, parking lots, petrol stations, etc., and how these institutions begin to dictate the design of our built environment, so that any design _requires_ the perpetuation of automobile travel, and associated depletions of land and petroleum. Ultimately this needs to become a crisis, but the force propelling this is non-intelligent and possesses no reflexive self-corrective mechanism. He also cites the way industrial agriculture compels small farmers to industrialize in order to remain competitive, and speculates upon the likely consequences of marketable genetic intervention at the point of human conception. What happens if the selection of genes for traits becomes culturally selected? I'd be less concerned if the selection were being done by the midcentury atomic physicists, or benevolent philosopher kings, but if parents whose greatest credentials are business degrees make the hard decisions, you have a disaster in the making. The pressure of "competitive culture" would propel them to select traits useful for what they imagine to be "competitive." The important distinction is that this "pressure" is brought to bear by a distributed collective tendency rather than by intelligent response to what conditions should prevail. No one is at the wheel.
Szerszynski makes a point to stipulate that his use of the word "technology" does not "simply refer to particular material technologies such as mobile telephony, nuclear power generation or agricultural biotechnology, but also to any artificial technical system which operates through finding the most efficient means to any end." He includes _markets_ in this treatment. I should emphasize the argument can be extended as necessary that market forces _do_ conspire to impede the quality and practical efficiency of material technologies and designed artifacts through value engineering, planned obsolescence, and path dependency. There are various market-libertarian gibberings that attempt to ground all technological innovation within the competition of the marketplace, but they consistently do this by ignoring the role of the market in impeding innovation, and ususally by deliberately conflating scientists, engineers and technicians with entrepreneurs.
Szerszynski is alluding to markets, themselves, as a type of technology though, describing them as technologies that "cease to operate for completely secular ends and begin to impose their _own purposes_ on the world."
This description of markets as technologies is also accomplished by Winner and Noble in their analysis. Winner has even remarked upon the manner in which the market-libertarian shibboleth of "efficiency" is used as a trojan horse to contain a host of unspoken assumptions. But Szerszynski's treatment is useful for the way it attends to the unique features of emergent systems described above; Self-propulsion, autonomy from oversight, non-intelligence, non-instrumentality, objectivelessness. These are the qualities that distinguish natural/emergent systems from design.
|Techno Demonology 2: Langdon Winner / The politics of technology
The way in which artifacts in the built environment are designed to service political agendas, serve power interests, and marginalize or immiserize communities of moral patients is a prominent theme in my thinking. I can't be certain when it started, but it certainly crystallized around my freshman year as an undergraduate, when I was first introduced to the work of Langdon Winner
. Winner is a minor celebrity within certain realms of scholarship. Within the areas of inquiry that fall under the auspices of Science, Technology and Society in the US, and the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge in the UK, his principal theory that _technology has politics_ is common currency, but it is virtually unknown within the circles of literary theory that prevailed throughout the last couple of decades.
I believe the disconnect is that Winner does not ask us to "read" artifice in the way deconstruction (for example) compels us to _read_ a text. To critically analyze the political narrative implicit in it. Winner's Project does require what I would call "attentiveness" of us; a word that has political meaning for me. But it is different in important capacities. First, Winner's object of scrutiny is not just the obscured political narratives that get "trojan horse'd" into our approved entertainments like Dick Wolf's "Law & Order" catastrophe. It's the way technologies and artifacts practicably _malign us_ or otherwise deteriorate the material quality of life of various moral patients. The fabric of architecture and civil engineering in our cities is replete with these sorts of political artifacts. Often their design anticipates the criminalization of dissent, and is calculated to suppress popular rebellion. Janson's history of architecture has described Haussman's thoroughfares in Paris
as "robust" and "noble," without attention to the fact their metrics were a direct response to Louis Napoleon's efforts to head off a repeat of the organized marches and armed fighting of the 1848 revolution. University architecture in the US was fundamentally altered by the 1960's. It's public spaces are commonly embedded with features designed to facilitate the quelling of student political protests. If you live in a large American city, cances are fair that you've walked or driven through something with metric limits set by the turning radius of a tank.
I don't mean to implicate military authoritarianism here. The political objectives of design often serve more localized or private economic or power interests. Robert Moses' city planning and civil engineering projects are a useful point of reference because people seem to know him as a villain. They know him for his collusion with a burgeoning automobile industry to dismantle the infrastructure of public transportation, and less so for his role in rendering thousands of New Yorkers homeless. But you don't really appreciate him as an evil genius until you've observed how carefully the clearance heights of the Wantagh Parkway underpasses have been calculated to stratify the accessibility of public projects by class status.
The other important distinction in Winner's theory though, is that the political content of our technology isn't always something that happens by conspiratorial _design_. We also seem to become victims of someone's enrichment where emergent or reciprocal relationships occur between technology and certain power interests. Such is the case of Winner's reverse adaptation.
|Techno Demonology 1: The politics of designed artifacts
left a comment in my recent cautionary tale about political centrism in the US, directing me to the work of an author that has inspired me to articulate some thoughts on technology, politics, the relationship between morality and design, and a critical failure of market libertarianism. The explanation is necessarily complex, and will meander through several important points to get to it's ultimate conclusion. Please bear with me.
A few years ago, while spending the day in NY with friends, a public city bench inspired me to such frustration that I couldn't stop myself from screaming profanity about New York's department of public works. I raise my voice alot. I don't have any internal volume control. And when I see an article as profane as this bench, I tend to make a spectacle. My friends Kim and John were embarrassed. They just wanted to sit down, and now it looked unlikely that we were going to do that here.
At dinner later that evening, Kim was bemoaning the "blandness" of the tomatoes in her salad when she broached the subject of "what the hell is the matter with me anyway." I get asked this question frequently. But it's often a struggle to explain what sets me off. I explained that the bench was a brand new installation, and that it was made from teak
, which is a tropical hardwood. It almost certainly came from Indonesia, which has some of the most invasively aggressive, industrialized harvesting in the world. Between 1950 and 2000, forest canopy in Indonesia was reduced to 98 million ha from 162 million ha. And the rate of deforestation is accelerating rapidly. In the last ten years, it has easily increased to an average loss of 2 million ha per year. This is propelled by third world junta's who lack the benefit of the Western tradition of moral philosophy, and by western first world consumers who are aggressively illiterate of that intellectual tradition. A couple of industrial designers of my acquaintance facetiously describe the NY beautification project that produced these benches as New York's "rainforest depletion program."
Now Kim, like myself, is sensitive to the moral status of animals, and I reminded her that this kind of industrial extraction translated into real consequences for huge numbers of animals in the wild. As habitat diminished, so did food. Competitive pressure increased as more animals struggled for scarce resources. As if the threat of disease, starvation, and violent death through predation did not diminish the qualities of their lives enough, we've forced them to absorb the costs of industrialized market pressure. And of course, this doesn't even touch upon the larger environmental consequences precipitated by deforestation. So what end was served by all this immiserisation? Certainly not quality. That teak is poorly suited to outdoor exposure is common knowledge. It's often cited for it's "natural weather resistance" by _salesmen_ but It deteriorates rapidly without constant attention. It's popularity is socially constructed. People have been taught to associate it with opulence. The same tiresome mob of deranged midwestern housewives whose benchmark of design excellence is the set of Falcon Crest imagine teak lawn furniture from Ikea advertises success. Remember Chrysler's marketing campaign for the Imperial
? Ricardo Montalban's voiceover, with it's choclatey intonations, assuring you of the exotic, continental excellence of it's Corinthian leather upholstery? How many people here realize that "Corinthian leather" is manufactured in New Jersey? Right. It's like that.
Beyond the material selection, the bench featured the dreaded "third rail." In fact it featured a fourth rail as well. These "rails" I'm referring to are the rounded bars that compartmentalize a single bench into several smaller seating units by repeating the outer arm rests on the interior. They're a design convention that has developed fairly recently. Within the last fifteen years. Now they're ubiquitous. They never seem designed to provide an actual place to rest one's arm. They're often designed to look purely decorative, with quaint little foliate motifs. Often there's only one on a public bench of standard dimensions, but this one was unusually long. If a person is attentive to the way state and municipal funding for public works is starved at the federal level by anti-statist ideologues, this artifice might seem odd. It embodies a unit of material and fabrication cost that would be high for a society that devalues craftsmanship. There couldn't be a natural impetus for providing us with these dainty floral forms in fake wrought iron...
Unless you understand that it possesses a very sinister function, and that the decorative embellishment is there to camouflage that function. By dividing the length of the bench into several smaller units, the designer has sabotaged the ability of the homeless to lay down on top of the surface. If you examine public space and parks in urban areas, you'll probably discover a whole menagerie of design interventions like this, designed to fuck the destitute. This is because, as I described it to a friend recently, "public parks are _privately_ understood to exclusively serve a leisure class with the economic resources to jog through them in the middle of the afternoon with evian and mp3 players."
At this point I could see the expression of realization dawning on Kim's features. To her, the bench had just been a place to sit. To me, it was an exemplar of a crisis that embodied the desperation of every wild animal and the indignity of every exhausted homeless person told to move it along. Kim is smart. She has no difficulty teasing out the obscured narratives of a film for example. She's sensitive to the ideological baggage being carried by cinematic clusterfucks like Saving Private Ryan. But it had simply never occurred to her to treat her built environment the same way, as a part of someone's artifice. And here, the malignant power of the artifice seemed to be even grander, because it was made manifest in the way moral patients lived and died. Not just in the "hidden message" of some artless hack like Spielberg.
This was a scandal to Kim. "Why would a designer participate in such a scenario, after all?" I realized though, that there was something wrong with that question. It wasn't consistently a matter of designer participation that facilitated the role of artifacts in diminishing our quality of life. Often it happened by non-intelligent means. That is to say, where design oversight was absent, other emergent forces tended to take over that favored certain conclusions associated with the path of least resistance. And In other episodes the (politically sinister) design intervention happened ultimately but not proximally to the design process or form the artifact took.
To illustrate, I remarked that the tomatoes Kim was complaining about were engineered to be artificially dense at the expense of flavor. This leads to bland and impalatably dense flesh. And it might seem absurd to imagine that growers would adopt an artificial model that diminished the quality of their product until we understand the ultimate causation. Artificially dense tomatoes survive conveyer belt travel and automated packaging more effectively. Since we privilege industrial models of agriculture, the product had to be adapted to the infrastructure that supports it. Palatability or nutrition become displaced as functional objectives by the requirements of a technical system. The phenomenon has been described as "reverse adaptation."
Having ruined her day, it seems I ruined her dinner as well. Because she wasn't hungry after that.
|Thursday, April 26th, 2007|
This morning I was watching the House discuss the Emergency Supplemental Spending Bill. And to my astonishment Bill Young of Florida got up on the podium, and in defiance of our current climate of understanding, intimated a direct connection between Saddam Hussein's regime and the attacks orchestrated on September 11th. His position seemed to be that our current administration had given the people what they wanted. That they had demanded justice following the fall of the towers, and that George Bush had delivered... Saddam Hussein. It was done with the hazily indefinite sophistry of an inexperienced and aggressive liar, and an eagerness to change the subject once the idea had once again been shat out upon the House floor.
Then to my futher astonishment, David Obey siezed him by the throat for his temerity, threw him to the ground and beat him to death with a shovel.
|Wednesday, April 25th, 2007|
|A cautionary word on our "progressive US centrists"
It seems to me that political affiliations have become increasingly incestuous in the last ten years. Since February, Lou Dobbs, a free market ideologue with laissez faire commitments tempered by backwards nationalism in his old age, and whom the pop-left imagines as a populist themselves, has been periodically interviewing Jonathan Cowan of the Third Way organization. Ostensibly, Third Way's mission is to save the unwashed masses from extremism in America. Their label of centrism has become very fashionable in the last couple of decades, and has been manifesting itself more aggressively in our political climate recently, in the form of tickets like Unity08
Centrism's popularity follows from it's ease of use, I think. It permits a simple person to act out the role of political participation without needing to do the work of intellectual engagement. Like Kabuki. Individualist culture in the US treats having an opinion like it's some kind of beatitude. But how do you speak meaningfully about the occupation of Iraq without knowing what articles bear upon it's legality, or test the merit of 20th century economic thought without being able to follow the socialist calculation debate? Centrism provides an easy solution to this problem by substituting the patina of "impartiality" where a smarter person would have placed a critical appraisal. And because centrism is designed to appeal to the mentally simple longing for a voice with it's brand of complete inattentiveness, it's poised to be infiltrated very effectively by right-political ideologues.
Chris Bowers for example, astutely observes
that Unity08's "center-progressivism" persistently enunciates the political right's positions for it, and seems to be well compensated for doing so. Third Way has been described as progressive in a variety of venues, but listening to Jonathan Cowan's exchange with Lou the other night, I was struck by the presence of three _sinister_ narratives embedded in his stated positions. Narratives we can attribute to the nonsensical libertarian ideology of the Third Way organization, and which Mr. Dobbs permitted to go unchecked. They are as follows:
People are scared of impending poverty in our current economic environment, but _they're_ irrational.
The "neopopulists," Cowan's Bete noir, misdiagnose the problem. The "real problems" of the middle class are whatever nebulous failure of government Mr. Cowan imagines. Which brings us to the second narrative:
Blame the state apparatus!
The mechanism we call _government_ which allows us to responsively and rationally ameliorate our own quality of life, needs to be contracted for the benefit of the private sector! Forget institutions designed to improve our quality of life, like medicine, pure research in the sciences, environmental regulation or public education! Even the basic requirements of a modern civilization like _roads_, infrastructure, or a _functional military_ need to be placed at the disposal of private interests. Which brings us to the third narrative:
Trust the free market mechanism!
"Americans need to be given the tools to cope with a globalized economy," or so mr. Cowan tells us. Tools which the imbecile spectre of "big government" has failed to provide it's citizens with. Of course, this prescription for policy assumes that we're obligated to defer to a market mechanism that Cowan arbitrarily privileges! The idea never even enters the dialogue that market forces ought to be artificially controlled and _suppressed_ where they come into conflict with morally desirable conclusions. Why doesn't it?
Is it because the limits of argument were set by an economist (Lou) and an imaginary economist (Cowan)? You know... I'm an architectural designer by day and a MatSci/Eng grad student by night. I don't imagine what I do to be rocket science. But I do not possess the luxury of innumeracy that afflicts the highest functioning economist while he's practicing a discipline with _weaker predictive power than psychology_! It terrifies me that policy is being manufactured by this professional class. That's like giving policymaking authority to population biologists!
We need to abandon this fantasy that market forces, left to their own devices, lead to anything like social justice _or even an efficient use of resources_. Markets are non-intelligent emergent systems. Like natural selection, they do not operate in our interests. And design intervention in the market needs to intercede where they fail to do so. If that sounds perilously similar to a "planned economy," so be it.
Cowan can't level Third Way's tiresome "neopopulist" canard at me to minimize this criticism. I simply don't possess any meaningful egalitarian commitments. I'd estimate that policy making authority _ought to be_ in the hands of a technically competent class. But that means scientists! It sure as hell doesn't mean Cowan. If he thinks he or his ilk are permitted to set the policy agenda for the rest of us, then he radically misunderstands his place.
Why oh why can't we have a better quality of political dialogue in this country?Cross posted to the 5th Estate
|Thursday, April 19th, 2007|
There's a thread on the abortiondebate community, here
, about pro-life feminism, started by user sunovermountain
. Usually, no thinking except the most elementary can escape the crushing gravity of the vast, droning, intellectual black hole that is that community, but a few stray particles of critical thought made it out this time. They originated with the_alchemist
, who was trying to qualify how she arrived at her variety of pro-life ideology.
I think this thread contains some content that is instructive in where popular disputes about abortion tend to go wrong, and how they can be improved. I'd like to formalize my own thinking about this with some analysis, and field reactions from the FFL community.sunovermountain
initiated the thread with a description of what she understood the major premises of a pro-life feminism to be. Now, I should emphasize that I don't think anyone would find these premises sufficient. the_alchemist
certainly didn't. I don't. But I think they represented some very ordinarily assumed premises, that I hear repeated in a lot of popular arguments. Basically, sunovermountain
began with the assumption of institutionalized marginalization of women. That prevailing structures in the way we work, distribute income and raise offspring _intrinsically_ diminish women's quality of life. As it happens, I think this is a pretty reasonable assumption. Institutional marginalization is something we can demonstrate by appeal to real matters of record. Access to contraceptives and a society that supports their use are essential to a minimum social justice. Their absence could be said to "privatize the benefits" of sex among men, and "socialize the risks" of sex among women.
She proceeds to suppose that an agenda to minimize abortions is best served then, by a commitment to the well being of women, since a society that institutionally supports women during pregnancy, childbirth and parenting would have the net effect of decreasing the total number of abortions. This is how she synthesizes pro-life ideology with feminism. It's here that I think a number of pro-life ideologues fundamentally go wrong on several levels.
First of all, _why_ are we providing support for the women in this model? Is it because we're satisfying our obligations to women as moral patients? It doesn't look that way. Instead, sunovermountain
begins with an objective of decreasing abortions, and works her way backwards to a strategy securing that objective. Improving women's quality of life is rationalized, not as something required of us by our moral obligations to women, but only as a means to the end of fewer abortions. This is a servile treatment of women, which makes them subservient to the neonate in any moral calculus we could draw from her model.
I don't see any way a thinking person could accept this rationale as compelling. Any discussion we're going to have about what our obligations are to another being can only rationally proceed from the inquiry of what sorts of properties moral rights follow from, and what quality of rights follow from those properties. We understand our obligations to women in this way. I'm morally obligated to modify my behavior (to not impinge on a woman's quality of life) because she possesses intrinsic moral value. Not because she can be instrumental in satisfying some kantian kingdom of ends. Yes, institutionally supported women may very well have fewer abortions. And (we could pretend) it might magically make them prettier to look at too. But such properties, however desirable, are extrinsic to their moral worth. Our obligations to moral patients can't _originate_ with how they function to satisfy our obligations to a third party.
Second, what sort of moral obligations to the fetus are served by this model? It seems that the objective of securing fewer total abortions often enters debate as a substitute for actually securing rights for the unborn. Both of these things cannot simultaneously be principal objectives of a pro-life feminism if they aren't consistent with one another. Can they be? It seems to me that any pro-life model of feminism must, at a minimum, concede that at least _some_ kinds of neonates are entitled to protections from aggression, And that we're morally obligated to enforce those protections as long as the mothers life is not at stake. So given this premise, what would an ultimate objective of "reducing abortions" among those types of neonates mean? That needlessly killing moral patients is acceptable as long as it's only a few of them? If pro-choice ideologues like unkai
were accustomed to eating six babies a day, but she felt like she could cut back a little, what is the appropriate response? Do you ask her to reduce her daily consumption to two babies as long as it's not too inconvenient to her, or do you simply force her to refrain?the_alchemist
correctly points out that even if we created a comprehensive support network for all women, permitting them to give birth to and raise children in relative ease, there would still be prolific demand for abortion. The point I think is lost here, is that pro-choice ideology is propelled by the conviction that women are uniquely privileged to dispose of any neonate _whatever properties of moral worth it possesses_. This is an essential distinction. The ideology is fundamentally hostile to any analysis of moral status because it's prefaced upon the objective of defying the requirements of moral activity. For instance, when moral philosophers make an inquiry into what sort of moral status a human blastocyst possesses, whatever their conclusions, any premise of "reproductive choice" must respond to those conclusions... "the woman can abort the neonate." And when neuroscientists establish some fixture of a cognitive "self" within a fetus, the premise of reproductive choice must then respond... "the woman can abort the neonate."
I could go on, but it should be clear this same response comes as consistently as if the pro-choice community were being fed punched cards. There's no pause for reflection. The pro-choice enclave isn't participating in the rational inquiry described above.
The point is that we determine what our moral obligations are to other entities by establishing what morally relevant properties they possess. Pro-choice ideology doesn't make any such inquiry. It consistently appeals to rhetorical assertions that women are empowered to deprive certain others. So this isn't even a description of moral activity they're producing. It's a description of a power relationship. It's a description of hegemony.
Contrast this with the_alchemist
"patriarchy is not the only evil in the world and I believe that some of the things we could do to make things more equal are immoral."
_This_ is a tentative description of a moral calculus. She's sensitive to a moral failure in the treatment of women, but she reasons that the moral status of other moral patients functions as a _limiting factor_ in how we can make reparations to that failure.
"I see feminism as being about freeing women from oppression, not enabling them to oppress others."
This comment turned out to be prescient. This is it exactly! The distinction between defense from aggression and _enabling_ with power. And this next comment really impressed me:
"I also see fighting for the rights of foetuses (and animals) as a natural progression from fighting for the rights of other oppressed groups... it's time to start thinking about those who share a lot of characteristics with born humans, but aren't exactly the same."
Another way of putting this that I think comes closer to the point is... It's time to start thinking about what the qualities are that impart "born humans" with moral patienthood, and stop institutionally denying it to a variety of marginalized communities that we can verify _also have those properties_! Communities like, you know... mammals. And neonatal humans in _at least_ the second trimester! We need to stop treating morally irrelevant properties as if they could ever be determiners of moral worth. Properties like species and _biological autonomy from the mother_, which have no bearing upon moral patienthood.
Confronted with such a thoughtful and attentive appraisal of moral commitments, one could have expected indignation and confusion from the pro-choice ideologue. And one didn't need to wait long for such expectation to be fulfilled. roseofjuly
supplied both indignation _and_ confusion in short order:
She bookends her comments with the statements...
"Time to start giving those chimpanzees rights, huh?"
"I don't think fetuses and animals can be counted amongst oppressed groups."
The barb she injects here about chimpanzees sets a tone of dismissal she's not entitled to. Basically though, she's eager to assert that animals and fetal humans "don't count." That implicitly, there's something that distinguishes them from other types of socially marginalized communities. To that end she's willing to include women, gay people, black people... you know. The usual suspects. But she's adamant that our moral protections can never extend to these other groups. To even consider the possibility she describes as "noxious."
But why? If there really is some quality that distinguishes an adult human in full possession of his faculties from a fetal human or a dog, then she needs to enunciate what it is. And her description needs to distinguish these entities in a morally relevant way or fail on it's own face. roseofjuly
does try to provide such a description in a fumbling kind of way. And she comes _so close_ to identifying the morally crucial property, it's worth looking at her analysis to see where she goes wrong.
"Women, gays/lesbians, and ethnic minorities are people who can think, reason, write, create art...who live on this earth as part of our society and make contributions to it." Fetuses are not and the movements CANNOT be compared! It's not a natural progression... fetuses are not going to start composing piano concertos and dogs are not going to start painting abstract art and forming social movements."
It's a haphazard and fragmented attempt at qualifying her position, but I can distinguish eight distinct criteria that she's submitting to attach the moral patienthood of a subject to:
Thinking, reasoning, writing, creating art, creating piano concertos, participation in a society, contribution to a society, and creating "social movements."
Now these are curious criteria. Three of them describe creative enterprises. Three others describe social functions. The first two are the interesting ones. They describe some functional internal property of the subject being considered. Something to do with it's intellectual subjectivity. This is the criteria she came so close to correctly identifying as a location for moral worth. Still, her thinking fails inspection.
It's worth remarking that the last _three fourths_ of her criteria don't even describe morally relevant properties. They're only popular misunderstandings of moral locus' that get passed from one adolescent girl to the next. Moral patienthood does not follow from a subject's creating art or literature. The moral patienthood of a scientist or engineer with no artistic aspirations is not compromised by failing to produce artwork, for example. No more so than the artist's is compromised by failing to produce engineering. Nor can their moral patienthood be localized to any latent creative _ability_, since we can easily imagine a subject with no artistic or technical skills, who can still experience suffering and prefer to avoid it.
Similarly, a person retains the same moral patienthood internal to a society that he possesses while external to one. Our obligations to the moral worth of another subject don't magically vanish if he's marooned on a desert island. His moral patienthood remains intact. The origin of moral worth must then exist in some other range of properties these subjects have in common. So six of her criteria are just worthless and don't merit any further consideration. She didn't think about them in any critical way. What about these last two? Thinking and reasoning? These come much closer to being meaningful criteria. They certainly possess moral relevancy. The problem is, they don't possess the right kind, if roseofjuly
is using them to judge whether or not morality permits us to destroy or otherwise deprive a subject.
What does she mean by "thinking" for example? Does she mean phenomenological consciousness? And if she does, then what order? She distinguishes thinking from "reasoning," so it seems she might intend "first order representational consciousness" when she says "thinking." And if that's the case, then her position is just factually erroneous. First order p.c. is not closed to fetal humans or non-human animals. There is no good empirical or scientific evidence to withhold it from neonates after twenty weeks of gestation. And in fact, there is significant evidence to attribute real access consciousness and intentional states to a _broad_ taxonomy of animals. A taxonomy at least inclusive of mammals and birds, with amphibians and reptiles representing pretty good candidates too.
If on the other hand, she means second order phenomenal intelligence, then it's important to clarify that we wouldn't _need_ to establish that sort of meta-thinking in an organism to attribute moral patienthood to it. Second order representational states are only a prerequisite of moral _agency_. Patienthood hinges upon the subjects ability to possess an internal disposition about it's situation. The ability to experience qualia. And this only falls within the first order. In fact, moral activity only makes logical sense by locating patienthood with that sort of subjectivity. Locating it anywhere else leads to a preformative contradiction.
There are a variety of rights that would logically be denied to a subject that lacked moral agency. The right to vote, for example. roseofjuly
is attempting to deprive subjects of protections associated with patienthood based upon the absence of agency. It's not clear if this is a deliberate obfuscation or if she's legitimately confused about the distinction.
|Monday, July 31st, 2006|
|The big justice of the great lj abuse sky magnet is swift.
"This account has been either temporarily or permanently suspended. If you are livejournal user puckish
please refer to the livejournal faq..."
It must be a conspiracy concocted by your livejournal "stalker." It couldn't possibly have anything to do with the fact that you routinely behave like an abominable child, violate the livejournal tos, and react like a drag queen whose wig has been ripped off every time someone makes a public spectacle of how poor your reasoning is.
When I finally get around to responding to your slander in my journal, you'll be free to respond anonymously if you'd like. Of course, you've _always_ been free to do that! I've _never needed_ to hide my journal or restrict who can comment in it like you do.
I'm going to need to take my lunch in more often. Th internet gives you prizes!
|Saturday, July 22nd, 2006|
Drama can go in here, if you're looking for a place to put it.
More to come. Current Mood: devious
|Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006|
Obituaries are emotionally exhausting, I've found. I hope I don't need to mark the passing of any others soon.
Gilbert Sorrentino is Dead.http://www.centerforbookculture.org/pages/news/news_sorrentino.html
Jackalish is the only person I know of on my friends list who will potentially recoil at this discovery.
Sorrentino was too smart for the rest of us. He was one of my standards to test other intellectuals by, and the reason I've been shocked to discover how low the bar is set for that title by popular media.
I thought about getting out the sazerac, but it seems to me that that's the sort of thing some dolt would do to mark the passing of a Hunter Thompson. I mean here, to do some minor justice, too late, for Sorrentino. So I've decided to find some subtle monster, and destroy it.
I might drink anyway.
|Sunday, April 30th, 2006|
|Thursday, November 17th, 2005|
"When a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is the fact that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental, men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand. So confronted, the candidate must either bark with the pack or be lost.
All the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre; the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum. The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."
H. L. Mencken,Baltimore Sun, July 26, 1920
What interests me most is Mencken's observation that this scenario emerges as "democracy is perfected."