Tag: Howl of the Day (Page 1 of 2)

Harvey Weinstein and the Aims and Structure of Hollywood

Howl of the Day: Oct 13, 2017

Political scientist Corey Robin has an interesting take on the current Harvey Weinstein debacle. Robin observes that power relationships leave little room for morality:

In virtually every oppressive workplace regime—and other types of oppressive regimes—you see the same phenomenon. ….

Those at the bottom of the regime, these less established actresses who need the most, look up and wonder why those above them, those more established actresses who need less, don’t speak out against an injustice: The more established have power, why don’t they use it, what are they afraid of?

Those higher up the ladder, those more established actresses, look down on those at the very bottom and wonder why they don’t speak out against that injustice: They’ve got nothing to lose, what are they afraid of?

Neither is wrong; they’re both accurately reflecting and acting upon their objective situations and interests. This is one of the reasons why collective action against injustice and oppression is so difficult. It’s Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand at work (in both senses), without the happy ending: everyone pursues their individual interests as individuals; the result is a social catastrophe.

This seems true, but at the same time, focusing on the power dynamic at play as opposed to the ends for which the power is used obscures something essential about the problem.

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Diogenes on Current Affairs

It is folly to lament the passing of a man who made a career out of writing beautiful lamentations for his own eventual passing.
Diogenes, regarding the death of Leonard Cohen

In death, as in life, may he lead his people as first among equals, and so may his funeral surpass in squalor those of the many poor dead of his nation.”
Diogenes, regarding the death of Fidel Castro

Diogenes the Cynic spent most of his life challenging the social, political, and philosophic views of Ancient Greece, often residing in a barrel in the marketplace. Long thought to have been torn apart by a pack of wild dogs outside the walls of Corinth in 323 BCE, he had in fact fallen asleep in a pool of molten amber. Now, thanks to the miracle of modern science, he has been extracted, restored, and returned to us. Diogenes is busy catching up on both the contemporary scene as well as the last 2300 years of historical development. He occasionally sends us these notes from a cardboard box that he is living in, somewhere in the nation’s capital.

What Fascism Is Not, What It Is, and Why It Matters

Howl of the Day: May 31, 2016

Fascism, as a term, has become almost synonymous with injustice. And this common view of fascism is a good place to begin understanding the phenomenon. Once the term is scrutinized just a bit, however, fascism becomes a more difficult thing to understand. This is despite the fact (and to certain extent, because of the fact) that the media is saturated with loud speeches and vivid images on the subject.

Fascism is so familiar to us as a shorthand for injustice that it is hard to see beyond that surface impression. But fascism cannot simply be the same as injustice. However objectionable it is, there are surely other political ills.

For example, the use of force to implement political policies is often referred to as fascistic. The same with political commonplaces, such as declarations of war and the existence of inequity. But force is employed in every type of regime, both good and bad, and inequities of some kind are ubiquitous. Without recourse to some standard of justice, there is no way to distinguish fascism from liberalism, or tyranny from democracy.

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Sanders at Dearborn: A Socialist Love-Story

Howl of the Day: Mar 16, 2016

In the wake of Bernie Sanders’ victory in the Michigan primary, one of the main themes in the press coverage is that the pundits were taken aback by the large numbers of Arabs and Muslims who voted for Sanders [1] [2] [3]. Cities such as Dearborn, which has the largest concentration of Arab-Americans in the nation, went heavily for Sanders to the surprise of many in the media. This surprise, if it is one, is attributed to the fact that Sanders is Jewish. And, of course, to the prejudicial assumption that few people would expect large numbers of Arabs and Muslims to vote for a Jewish candidate.

With that assumption proving unfounded, the media has rushed to an opposite and equally dubious sweeping assumption, viewing the high levels of support for Sanders among Arab and Muslim voters as evidence that anti-Semitism is not widespread in their communities.

The claim that Sanders’ support in Dearborn suggests there is little anti-Semitic feeling among Arabs and Muslims in America, or even beyond, is as great a folly as the claim that there is no more racism in America, since it has elected a black president. Many of the leading figures in the design and rise of European socialism were secular Jews–including Marx himself and Trotsky– yet, as 20th century European history makes abundantly clear, attraction to the socialist cause was not an antidote for anti-Semitism.

Despite the tone of desperate wishfulness in the articles that propose it to be so, Sanders’ ethnic and religious background had little or nothing to do with the results. The media should be asking why these communities voted for Sanders, rather than why they voted for him despite his being Jewish. The results are much more clearly understood as driven by Sanders’ views and his ideological commitments.

Bernie Sanders is a self-professed democratic socialist, and socialism is one of the few Western political ideologies to have taken root in a big way in the broader Arab and Muslim world or to find consilience there. For this reason, Sanders is probably the least surprising candidate to have garnered such support in these communities.

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The Anti-Trumplodytes

Howl of the Day: Mar 8, 2016
A disclaimer first. This article is not at all meant to endorse Donald J. Trump as a candidate for president of the United States. It is not even meant to suggest anything particularly good about him. It is only meant to discredit a particular strain of irresponsible rhetoric that has arisen surrounding his campaign.

Donald J. Trump is not like Hitler. It seems this can’t be repeated often enough.

It can’t be repeated often enough because saying that Trump is like Hitler does two things: it denigrates the sacrifices and sufferings of millions upon millions of human beings, military and civilian, during the Second World War, and it promotes such laziness of thinking as to make even basic political understanding impossible to achieve. Americans need to be able to speak about the relative merits and demerits of political figures and positions without sloppily referring to anything that doesn’t immediately please them as being like Hitler.

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Medieval Heart, Postmodern Mind – Umberto Eco (1932-2016)

Howl of the Day: Feb 23, 2016

It was a week of dying for remarkable people.

The U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia, passed away on February 13th, to be followed just six days later by both the novelist, Harper Lee, and the Italian thinker and writer, Umberto Eco.

Each of these individuals is surely due their tributes, but this one is for Eco, a man whose fertile imagination and wide-ranging labors were with few peers in today’s world. Born in the Piedmont region of Italy, Eco would, over the course of his life, make many and numerous contributions to literature, as novelist, essayist, and critic, to the university, as teacher, scholar, and even founder of a department for media studies, and to thought on such subjects as semiotics, philosophy, art, popular culture, and communication. His was both a deep and an industrious soul – a rarity.

It seems that there was also a riddle at the center of Eco’s existence, one that in the mentioning of it might serve as a fitting way to commemorate him.

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Scalia and the Rule of Law

Howl of the Day: Feb 22, 2016

“The law,” wrote Aristotle in his Politics, “is reason unaffected by desire”.

This view is complicated by Aristotle himself, particularly in his treatment of legislators, those who make the law, and foundings, when laws are born. But despite that, the view so expressed does not lose much of its basic persuasive impact, nor any of its practical importance. The difference between any regime and its degenerate form is often to be found in whether or not the law is regarded therein as an expression of passionless reason, and respected accordingly.

Perhaps no recent justice of the American Supreme Court was as concerned with this idea as the late Antonin Scalia. There have been and will, of course, continue to be questions about whether Scalia understood the issue sufficiently well, and whether he bore out his own view of the matter consistently in his actual judgements, and so on. But there can be little dispute that he regarded the issue as a central one and that he compelled others, friends and foes, to do the same.

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Intuition Unintuited

Howl of the Day: Feb 17, 2016

Moral intuition is a strange thing. When faced with a moral dilemma we often have a gut feeling that something is right or wrong. This feeling of certainty often disappears under scrutiny (remember the trolley problem!), but still we incline towards one or another course of action.

But what about problems where we don’t have a gut feeling of right or wrong? The Oxford academic philosopher, John Broome, posited that these cases reveal a different sort of moral intution: the intuition of neutrality. Indeed, in his article Should We Value Population, the then White’s Professor of Moral Philosophy argues that an intuition that a certain course of action is “ethically neutral” is in fact our “commonest” intuition:

The intuition of neutrality is not merely an intuition we happen to have. It is deeply embedded in the way we think about value and the way we form our moral judgements. We generally simply ignore the effects of our actions on the world’s population, even when the effects are perfectly predictable. This can only be because of the intuition that they are ethically neutral.

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Socrates Made Tiny and Cute

Howl of the Day: Feb 16, 2016

The Second Letter attributed to the philosopher, Plato, contains the famous suggestion that his dialogues present a Socrates made “young and beautiful”. Some people, it seems, concerned with the state of education of children in America, would go a few steps further than Plato did in this sense. They would raise a generation or more of little Socrateses, all not just young and beautiful, but tiny and cute.

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Philosophy Wanders But Is It Lost?

Howl of the Day: Feb 9, 2016

In an impressive article in the New York Times, Robert Frogeman and Adam Briggle call for a re-examination of the place of philosophy in society.

Articles like this one are much needed to inform discussions in today’s intellectual, political, and educational realms. The authors, Frogeman and Briggle, do an admirable job of tackling a difficult subject, and they do it in a lucid and accessible manner. Their article rightly draws our attention to some of the problems associated with the attempt to place philosophy into an academic setting in the 19th century. They show how these problems persist today and have indeed worsened over time, and they give some indication as to how it is not just philosophy which has lost it’s way, but perhaps all of human inquiry as a result.

There is a weakness of the piece, however, that is worth consideration. Frogeman and Briggle appear to overestimate the extent to which philosophy becoming lost has been caused by the trend toward specialization in the universities that it has ostensibly inhabited since the late 19th century. The authors do point to an earlier, more profound trend – the divorce of the sciences (natural and social) from philosophy. No doubt that is a greater cause of the loss than academic specialization. But wasn’t there always a problem?

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