เว็บพนันออนไลน์_โปรโมชั่น 100%_เว็บพนันบอล ต่างประเทศ https://www.google.com//c36 Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made Fri, 01 Feb 2019 14:02:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Jeremy Hardy is dead https://www.google.com//c36/2019/02/01/jeremy-hardy-is-dead/ /c36/2019/02/01/jeremy-hardy-is-dead/#comments Fri, 01 Feb 2019 13:39:54 +0000 /c36/?p=45902 When I reached my late thirties I became very anxious about the possibility that I would never find anyone my age or younger funny. At the time, all the comedians I loved were considerably older than me and, for the most part, I’d liked them for years. I did, always, hold in my head that slender woman with long hair who had driven me and a bunch of Trots into fits of laughter sometime in the late 80’s and who had to be around my age.

I had missed the comedy boom in the UK (driven by people around my age) because I was out of the country, and foreign media culture was inaccessible in the States. (And, I’m sorry, but I struggle to think of an American television or radio show that I find funny—even Roseanne, which was entirely brilliant, wasn’t really brilliant because it was funny). Of course, now, I’ve learned to my relief that young(ish) people can be really funny, and I feel entirely relaxed about living a long life if that’s what fate has in store. The first step was first listening to Jeremy Hardy on The News Quiz, and, after a long time of finding him hilarious and lovable, discovering that he was about 15 years younger than his comic persona—only a couple of years my senior! And then that he was friends with Linda Smith who was also 15 years younger than her comic persona! I sometimes wondered whether you had to (roughly) share his politics to find him funny: my evidence against this is that my friend from secondary school who says she’s voted for every major political party loved him as much as I do and, now, Hugo Rifkind’s charming twit.

Here are two of my favorites. FIrst, Jeremy Hardy singing Hallelujah in the style of George Formby.

And here he is chatting with Mark Steel. A long, rambling, chat about fame.

If, as I doubt, there is an afterlife, it has become a much more realistic utopia, much funnier, and enormously less tuneful, in the past couple of weeks.

]]>
/c36/2019/02/01/jeremy-hardy-is-dead/feed/ 4
At least you can leave https://www.google.com//c36/2019/01/31/leaving-do/ /c36/2019/01/31/leaving-do/#comments Thu, 31 Jan 2019 17:56:43 +0000 /c36/?p=45895 London is the city of leaving do’s. There’s a real push on to get out before it all gets worse. This morning I was chatting with a Swedish friend who leaves on Tuesday, telling her how much freer and more energetic she’ll feel once she’s not carrying around the mental load of daily FUD that comes from just living here, now. My friend cut across the faux cheery bullshit and said “I don’t feel safe here, any more. There’s no limit to what they can do.”

There’s a conversation I’ve had with several British friends. We’ll all be moaning about Brexit affecting us and how the UK’s dysfunctional politics means there is no way to express this electorally, and then they’ll say; “But you’re lucky. At least you can leave.”

I go back and forward on that one. For British friends, living here is a one-shot deal. If Britain leaves the EU, they’re locked in on an island with people who say they’d rather starve than share air with immigrants like me, and who’d rather “send back” anyone brown-skinned. The festival of racism declared officially open by the referendum will go on travelling from town to town, finding new people to give shit-kickings to. Being British and liberal or on the left is painful, with Brexit in sight. The country’s remaining public services will probably fail and its already punitive social safety net be gathered up in the vicious, weakened hand of the state to be used solely as a whip.

If you’re British and can’t rustle up an Irish or Italian granny, you’re trapped however bad it gets. (Actually, you can still move to Ireland, as long as the hodge podge of reciprocity that goes with the Common Travel Area and Government of Ireland Act survives.) And your children, herded into forcibly privatised academies and made to rote-learn and silently face the wall for hours on end, all the better to prepare them for work in the Amazon warehouse – well they can forget about even dreaming of learning or living abroad. So yes, you have lost much, more than most of us yet know. And you worry as much as we do about martial law and what to do if the insulin runs out, but you’re not afraid, not like my Swedish friend is.

You’re not going to find your work contract isn’t being renewed because your employer “can’t take the chance” that you won’t be permitted to work here after Brexit. You won’t be turned away from viewing a basement flat because you’re foreign and the landlord “doesn’t want to risk it”. You won’t be sent away from the pre-natal clinic or refused chemotherapy unless you can document that you’re entitled to treatment, however much tax you’ve paid. You won’t be threatened with credible violence for speaking English in a foreign accent on public transport. You won’t refuse hot soup or a hostel bed when it’s below zero because you believe, correctly, that local authorities will tell the police or immigration enforcement where to find you so you can be deported. You won’t hesitate about reporting rape or domestic violence for the same reason.

These are just the real-life experiences of other EU citizens in the UK at the moment. If these examples seem unlikely to you, then widen your reading or your circle of acquaintance. The experiences of non-EU immigrants are far, far worse.

This week’s Immigration Bill, voted through easily as Labour flopped around between abstaining and then at the last minute only weakly whipping votes, worsens the conditions of all immigrants while pretending to equalise their mistreatment. From April 1, if Europeans don’t earn over £30,000 (more than many public service key-workers), they aren’t welcome. From April 1, our legal status will match our current cultural status as fully taxed and legally liable non-citizens tolerated – barely – as long as we earn 15-20% more than the average worker.

I wrote before about how, when a country thinks it’s being clever by weighing and measuring people by their current market value, it’s being a) economically illiterate and b) squandering the good will every relationship relies on. But I have to admit I also find it galling to be looked down on by a political class whose privilege is so iron-clad and life experience so narrow that they’ve never worked outside the single, uniform architectural style of their private school, university and parliament. The places they move through as they move through life merge into one single neo-Gothic space where it always smells of polished wood and where arcane customs make People not Like Us feel foolish and illegitimate.

Britain’s leaders hated the EU not because of “sovereignty” but because it’s not designed to make them feel special. There is no woolsack in Brussels and Strasbourg. There is no cavalry. The constitution is something you just pull down from the shelf and read. Britain’s leaders despise international institutions because in those spaces they’re a generic Minister for Justice or Head of Government among many, not The Home Secretary, not The Prime Minister. They can’t bear to feel generic and interchangeable, distinguished only by their knowledge and ability, hamstrung by their limited language skills. They joke that appointing someone to be a European Commissioner – several of whom have spending power greater than whole governments – is just how you get rid of troublesome politicians. They complain about the lack of ‘magic’ and ‘history’ in the European institutions to mask their anxiety and anger at still being expected to produce good work outside of the ultimate English cradle to grave comfort zone. They are the ultimate snowflakes. They wouldn’t last half an hour as an immigrant anywhere. A n y w h e r e. And “they” can often include the Labour front bench, too.

So yes, I feel terrible for British friends who appear to be stuck with these mediocrities. They must feel powerless, albeit not as powerless as the European citizens living here, paying taxes and subject to laws they don’t even have the symbolic, FPTP-fixed right to vote on.

But at least I can leave. And I’m Irish, so I have more rights than other Europeans, at least for now. Maybe it is hypothetically better for EU27 people in the UK because they can leave, but I want to get it down here in writing that having their citizenship stolen in a vote they were barred from participating in, having to apply to continue living in the life they built without local knowledge or networks, being administratively plucked out of that life and placed in the maw of the “hostile environment”, dealing day to day with xenophobia that can flick from mere verbal abuse to violence at any moment, and knowing in their bones that their future ability to access healthcare, education, pensions and social welfare is going to be whittled away until it is nothing; these are objectively worsening their material conditions of life. The hypothetical ability to leave does not mitigate this worsening, especially for those locked in here with British partners or children.

I don’t say this when I’m told that at least I can leave, because I think everyone’s pain under the yoke of Brexit is significant, and pain that comes from different causes – some metaphysical, some legal/administrative and cultural – can hurt to the same degree, even if in different quality. And also; divide and conquer is awful and is the problem, not the solution. And also; if you want to see how sociopathic UK politics is, witness its utter indifference to the material worsening of the conditions of British people living in other EU states, caused by Brexit. It’s not that they don’t care about us. They just don’t care, full stop.

There is of course another dimension to this; the vile, ignorant and arrogant way UK politicians have allowed Brexit to harm its nearest neighbour and erstwhile closest ally in Brussels, Ireland. I’m not going to catalogue it all. Fintan O’Toole diagnoses it quite well. A friend of some of us at CT, Dearbhail McDonald, writes in today’s Guardian about what the backstop really means to Northern Ireland. And the heretofore hard-right Tory talking point of ‘why don’t you just “re-join” the UK and make our border problem disappear for us please’ is now, apparently, a reasonable question for a flagship news programme to put to the minister of a sovereign state. It isn’t polite, or perhaps even possible, to express how angry this makes me, as an Irish person who lives in the UK.

One anecdote, though. Last summer I went to the official Irish twentieth anniversary celebration of the Good Friday / Belfast Agreement. It was held in the Barbican in London and featured a programme of poetry, images and music commemorating the Troubles and marking the losses that were to some small extent redeemed by the peace. At the drinks afterward I peered around the room and asked the British friend whose plus one I was – and who knew pretty much everyone there – where the UK government reps were. Not here, came the answer. They were invited but they hadn’t come.

The UK government snubbed the whole anniversary, not just that event. In fact, a few weeks before the anniversary, some British embassies around the world – prompted by questions from their host countries about what they’d be doing to mark the GFA – got in on last-minute celebrations with local Irish embassies. No shade on them, they belatedly made the effort and I’m sure it was appreciated. But for Official UK the GFA was to be ignored lest it highlight the reckless chances the government was taking with peace. (It was ignored also because the government’s majority is propped up by the biggest political party in Northern Ireland to have rejected the peace process, and also because Tories hate it as British sovereignty is the only sovereignty in the world that doesn’t stink.)

So when, as happened a couple of weeks ago drinking tea in the house of a dear friend who broke off from our mutual complaints about Britain’s current dysfunction to say, not for the first time, “At least you can leave”, I tend to say something like; ‘On top of our fears for our legal situation here as Europeans, it’s hard to imagine the hurt and anger of Irish people about how the UK is treating our country and its fragile peace, but please know that these feelings are considerable’.

I don’t say ‘I know you feel bad but your country is shitting all over mine and we didn’t vote for ANY of this and your media is full of racist xenophobic crap about my people that I thought you all grew out of in the late nineties already and you only occasionally get called a saboteur whereas I am a dirty economic migrant every day of the finite number of days I have to be alive that I am squandering in this hostile land but I don’t want us to fight about this because I love you and also most of my European friends are leaving or have already left’, because while this is something I feel, it’s not all of it.

I think about leaving all the time. But there are two of us and one of us has a salaried job here (working on Brexit, of all things. Oh Life’s Irony, you are such a melodramatic asshole.) We have a house we probably couldn’t sell, now, and anyway, sterling is worth so little elsewhere. And though I’m clearly no longer considered part of Team UK, I’m still part of the conversation, in a small way. Emotionally, intellectually and culturally, I’ve invested a lot, here. But I think about leaving all the time. All. The. Fucking. Time. I went away for a few days last week and coming back here and reading the news felt like taking a yoke chained to a rock and placing it on my shoulders and walking up a hill not because I wanted to get to the top but because the hill was the only thing there was.

I think about the freedom from the mental Brexit load I would have elsewhere, from the psychological Brexit tax. I wonder about other countries with functional progressive agendas I could be part of, minus the political antipattern of this toxic mess, and, hey, nicer weather. I dream about living somewhere with a workable health system that could look after a bunch of issues that hold me back, day to day. I imagine living somewhere actively pleasant where I’d invite my parents to spend each January, the generosity of the climate adding years to all our lives, the lessening of the grey-faced hustle that characterises the southeast of England opening up time and leisure to share all those conversations I’ll probably regret never having.

But I’ve moved countries at least a half a dozen times already and I know what it takes. I want to write books now, and country-moves are to all writers what babies are to women-writers; they cost you a couple of years and a shit-ton of money and about one book each.

At least I can leave. At least I can leave. They say Lisbon’s the new Berlin, right? Maybe staying’s the new leaving.

]]>
/c36/2019/01/31/leaving-do/feed/ 32
Classroom Discussion https://www.google.com//c36/2019/01/31/classroom-discussion/ /c36/2019/01/31/classroom-discussion/#comments Thu, 31 Jan 2019 16:40:40 +0000 /c36/?p=45892 I’ve started writing occasionally for the Association of College and University Educators. The posts will probably recapitulate a lot of themes from my blogging about teaching and learning here at CT, but for a different audience. Here is the first post, about making fruitful classroom discussions happen. Here’s a taster:

All teachers experience a tension between the need for engagement and the need for rigor. Without rigor, the students won’t learn what we want them to; without engagement, they won’t learn anything at all. In the classroom, the best way to guarantee rigor is for the professor to do all the talking—this is how they delude themselves that the class is going well. Unfortunately, this is also the best way to ensure complete disengagement, leading to torpor when we do try to stimulate discussion.

I decided to write it because I said something to the effect of the above paragraph in class recently, and a student stared at me, as if having an epiphany, and said “Do you explain this to students?”; it occurred to me that I don’t even say it to other teachers!

]]>
/c36/2019/01/31/classroom-discussion/feed/ 4
Erik Olin Wright — the thinker and the person. https://www.google.com//c36/2019/01/29/erik-olin-wright-the-thinker-and-the-person/ /c36/2019/01/29/erik-olin-wright-the-thinker-and-the-person/#comments Tue, 29 Jan 2019 22:56:54 +0000 /c36/?p=45889 I told you that in the coming days you’d be able to learn a lot about Erik’s ideas, if you wanted. Well, there are now 4 pieces at Jacobin by Erik’s former students and friends that, between them, tell you a great deal about his ideas, but also about how he was in the world. Vivek Chibber explains why Erik was a Marxist and, perhaps, more orthodoxly so than some people think. David Calnitsky gives you a sense of what Erik was like as a teacher. Elizabeth Wrigley-Field talks about how he conducted himself professionally around others. This story of David’s illustrates both his goofiness and his understanding that successful teaching depends, partly, on the right kind of relationship:

I attended an undergraduate lecture of his once, and at the beginning of class he reported that there was a student in his office hours who expressed being intimidated by him. He responded in class by showing childhood pictures – pictures of him at seven in a cowboy hat, pictures with his siblings.

And, having read that, this comment of Elizabeth’s won’t surprise you:

At the annual sociology meeting last August, when I knew he was sick but did not believe he would have so little time left, a few of us former students were talking about him. I commented that Erik was always exactly himself.

Then I thought about it a bit more, and I revised my remark. A lot of people — especially a lot of men — are “themselves” in a way that forces the people around them to conform: we all are supposed to contour ourselves around however they are. But Erik was the opposite of that: he was always really himself in a way that invited all of us to be ourselves, too.

And Michael Burawoy writes a long, beautiful, essay, combining an exposition of Erik’s ideas—his intellectual contribution—with the story of his life, and showing how well the two fit together.

And Here is a neat autobiographical essay with which Erik prefaced one of his later books. And, for that matter, here’s an enormous list of pdfs of his published writing.

]]>
/c36/2019/01/29/erik-olin-wright-the-thinker-and-the-person/feed/ 1
Art Young and Dr. Seuss https://www.google.com//c36/2019/01/28/art-young-and-dr-seuss/ /c36/2019/01/28/art-young-and-dr-seuss/#comments Mon, 28 Jan 2019 06:05:30 +0000 /c36/?p=45872 I don’t have time for a full appreciation of Art Young today, but I’ll re-recommend the new Fantagraphics book about him [amazon associates link] and advance one art historical thesis: Young was a significant influence on the style of Dr. Seuss. I have never seen this point made before. I didn’t realize it myself until a week ago. As an avid, amateur Seussologist, and student of lines of graphic influence in American cartoon art in the early 20th Century, I’m interested to see it.

Thing is: the reason Seuss’ style is such a signature is that it is, in many ways, very original and distinctive. His monsters with their floppy feet, the way their legs fold. The Seuss ‘look’ is well-established long before he is a popular children’s book author. Check out these old ads (I got them from this collection.)

And:

These aren’t dated with certainty. Between 1930 and 1940. His wartime cartoons are the same [there’s a serious Kindle bargain]. One example will do:

That could be right out of If I Ran The Circus. You are in no doubt it’s Seuss.

But compare these ‘Complexes’ Art Young published in The Saturday Evening Post, in 1924. The ‘Indecision Complex’:

And the ‘Hurry-Up Complex’:

And Seuss actually drew a deliberate Art Young homage for one GE ad [from the collection linked above]:

Per the previous post, that’s a reference to Hell Up To Date [archive.org has it], which was the first of three Dante spoof’s Art Young perpetrated. We don’t need that to prove Seuss knew who Art Young was. He was famous. But this is evidence Seuss liked him and was influenced by him.

Neat! (Since this isn’t an academic article I can say that.)

On a yet more personal note, a couple years back my youngest daughter gave me a challenging commission. Steven Universe in Dr. Seuss style. No Photoshop! (She knew I would cheat!) It would have been easy enough to do a standard Seuss boy, make him a bit chubby, give him round hair, stick a star on his shirt. But I decided to go for a more ambitious theme: Rose Quartz and Lion, in front of the beach house. Now: lions are standard Seuss beasts, but Seuss lions didn’t seem right for Lion, who called for something weirder. I needed to add floppy feet and that Seuss way that legs fold and the butt sticks up. I think it came out pretty well. But now I realize that, in a weird way, I drew it to look like that first Complex from Art Young (above). Nice to know who your ancestors are.

roselion

]]>
/c36/2019/01/28/art-young-and-dr-seuss/feed/ 13
Sunday photoblogging: Diner https://www.google.com//c36/2019/01/27/sunday-photoblogging-diner/ /c36/2019/01/27/sunday-photoblogging-diner/#comments Sun, 27 Jan 2019 16:50:31 +0000 /c36/?p=45864 Diner

]]>
/c36/2019/01/27/sunday-photoblogging-diner/feed/ 5
Fake news: the medium is not the message https://www.google.com//c36/2019/01/27/fake-news-the-medium-is-not-the-message/ /c36/2019/01/27/fake-news-the-medium-is-not-the-message/#comments Sun, 27 Jan 2019 09:34:47 +0000 /c36/?p=45859 A study of fake news on Twitter Facebook has found that the biggest propagators are Republicans over 65. No surprises there, but the researchers muddy the waters by suggesting that this group is prone to believing and spreading lies because they are “digital immigrants”, rather than “digital natives”, a distinction I thought had disappeared.

A moment’s thought should have suggested a different interpretation. The same group, after all, constitutes the primary audience for Fox News and (globally) the core readership of the Murdoch press. Even before the emergence of a distinctively partisan rightwing media, evangelicals eagerly spread fake news by word of mouth.

And this study defined fake news in the narrow sense covering reports that Obama is a lizardoid Muslim and similar. A more accurate definition, encompassing deliberate denial of overwhelming evidence, would encompass the entire rightwing media universe, going beyond the Murdoch press to include the output of thinktanks like AEI, Cato, Heritage and Heartland. The extreme cases studied on Twitter are the core of an onion wrapped in multiple layers of denial and defense mechanisms.

Until recently, the most obvious case was that of climate change, but now they have Trump. It’s now impossible to survive on the right without giving Trump a pass for his thousands of glaring lies. In these circumstances, it’s scarcely surprising that Republican activists who have been steeped in this environment for decades. see it as virtuous to circulate talking points regardless of their truth or falsity. Far from misleading this cohort, Twitter Facebook simply provided them with an amplifier.

]]>
/c36/2019/01/27/fake-news-the-medium-is-not-the-message/feed/ 60
There’s worse things, no doubt https://www.google.com//c36/2019/01/27/theres-worse-things-no-doubt/ /c36/2019/01/27/theres-worse-things-no-doubt/#comments Sun, 27 Jan 2019 02:46:48 +0000 /c36/?p=45856 I got on Twitter.

Honestly, I deserve some credit. I joined a couple years back because, suddenly, every time I landed on any Twitter page it was all in Arabic. Weird. I figured if I signed in I could adjust the language setting. But then the problem resolved itself. I never bothered. But I follow enough people I should be on the platform, but if I’m on the platform … So I logged in. Erased the Arabic script handle Twitter had wisely chosen as my default. Reset my country of origin from the default: Hungary. And Bob’s your uncle!

So what do we think of the ethics of Twitter? I mean: how can one live a flourishing life on Twitter?

It’s just the worst, right? I’ve made a terrible mistake.

]]>
/c36/2019/01/27/theres-worse-things-no-doubt/feed/ 23
Belief In Hell As The Basis For Faith https://www.google.com//c36/2019/01/26/belief-in-hell-as-the-basis-for-faith/ /c36/2019/01/26/belief-in-hell-as-the-basis-for-faith/#comments Sat, 26 Jan 2019 03:58:40 +0000 /c36/?p=45798 Our Corey is in The New Yorker! I was going to boost it for him but he got to it first.

But I’ll do it anyway.

The political convert was the poster child of the Cold War. The leading ideologues of the struggle against Communism weren’t ancient mariners of the right or liberal mandarins of the center. They were fugitives from the left. Max Eastman, Arthur Koestler, Whittaker Chambers, Sidney Hook, James Burnham, and Ignazio Silone—all these individuals, and others, too, had once been members or fellow-travellers of the Communist Party. Eventually, they changed course. More than gifted writers or tools of Western power, they understood what Edmund Burke understood when he launched his struggle against the French Revolution. “To destroy that enemy,” Burke wrote of the Jacobins, “the force opposed to it should be made to bear some analogy and resemblance to the force and spirit which that system exerts.”

Corey’s puzzle, per the subtitle: “defectors from the left have often given the right a spark and depth. Why doesn’t it work the other way around?”

We’ll get to that. But first I would like to report a coincidence. I’ve just been brushing up on Max Eastman myself. (Here’s a good Dissent piece, in case you need a refresher or introduction.) That’s because I’ve been reading about a different forgotten figure — the great cartoonist Art Young! Young is the subject of a new Fantagraphics books that is absolutely tops, and if you are the sort of person who might be remotely interested in anything of the sort, you should get it. It is To Laugh That We May Not Weep: The Life and Art of Art Young [publisher]. The Kindle version is cheap on Amazon [amazon associates link]. I don’t know how long that happy condition will last. If you don’t wanna pay, this site is pretty ok, too. The thing is: the new book contains lots of high quality reproductions of the original art, rather than just scans of the poorly printed originally published versions. The original art, properly reproduced, just pops to an incredible degree. The crosshatching. I’m in awe. Tomorrow or the next day I’m going to try to work up an appreciation of Young’s art. He was a pen and ink master. Just look at this nice stuff!


But politics. First, politics.

Max Eastman and Art Young worked together on a radical socialist monthly, The Masses. Eastman was editor (while still working on his dissertation under John Dewey); Art Young was house cartoonist. The two of them ended up co-defendants in major trials, not once, not twice but two-and-a-half times. (The third was a re-trial.)

First, in 1913, they were sued for libel by the Associated Press for alleging – truthfully! – that the AP had effectively suppressed news of the Paint-Creek Cabin-Creek Strike. Young drew a cartoon. Wikimedia has it. Wikipedia:

The strike came to national attention in July 1913, cartoonist Art Young published a cartoon in The Masses called “Poisoned at the Source” depicting the president of The Associated Press, Frank B. Noyes, poisoning a well labeled ‘The News’ with lies, suppressed facts, slander, and prejudice. It was accompanied by an editorial by Max Eastman claiming that the AP had not only suppressed the facts of the strike, but that the AP had a profound conflict of interest. Despite the AP’s denials, its local AP representative, Cal Young, was also a member of the military tribunal passing judgment on the strikers. The AP responded with two suits of criminal libel against Eastman and Young on November 1913 and January 1914. Both suits eventually were dropped. The AP’s specific reasons for dropping the suits, and its general relationship to labor, are explored in Upton Sinclair’s 1919 exposé The Brass Check.

Then Eastman and Young both got prosecuted for violation of the Espionage Act in 1918. Basically, they were accused of interfering with recruitment. Again Wikimedia has the offending cartoon. Funnier is the account of the second trial for espionage (after the first ended in mistrial.) Wikipedia:

The second trial began in September 1918, and it was as full of humor and irreverence as the first, perhaps more humorous for the historian than for Young. Throughout the trial, Young had the tendency to nap, an act that brought him dangerously close to being charged with contempt of court. Afraid Young would get into more trouble than he already was, his attorneys insisted he be awakened and given a pencil and pad. Young took the pencil and pad and quickly completed a self-portrait. The drawing, “Art Young on Trial for His Life”, appeared in the Liberator in June 1918. The cartoon depicted Young slumped in a chair, dozing the trial away.

Young’s propensity for napping worked to the defendant’s advantage during the closing arguments. Prosecutor Barnes, wrapped in an American flag and giving a moving speech, told a story of a dead soldier in France. This soldier, Barnes claimed, “is but one of a thousand whose voices are not silent. He died for you and he died for me. He died for Max Eastman. He died for John Reed. He died for Merrill Rogers. He demands that these men be punished.” Roused from his slumber by the impassioned speech, Young exclaimed, “What! Didn’t he die for me too?” The beautiful oration successfully ruined, the second jury was unable to convict or acquit. Eight jurors voted for acquittal and four for conviction. It would be the last time Young appeared in court for the charges, as they were dropped after failing twice to garner any convictions.

Good story!

Back to Corey’s New Yorker piece. (But we’ll get back to Young before we’re done!) The occasion for Corey’s question about the asymmetry – why are left-right converts influential, right-left converts not so much – is a pair of recent right-to-left shifts: Derek Black and Max Boot. (CT readers know Boot, and Corey just posted about him. Black is the subject of a recent book by Eli Saslow. [amazon])

Let’s first ask: is he right? (We don’t want to haul off and try to explain a non-fact.) Former leftist radicals have not merely joined but, to a very considerable degree, defined the modern American right. Made the modern conservative movement. Yep. True and undeniable.

Has no former right-winger-turned-left defined the shape of liberalism, or the left, to a comparable degree? Corey lists candidates: “Arianna Huffington, Michael Lind, Bruce Bartlett, Glenn Loury, and, in Britain, John Gray.” I might add: Gary Wills, David Brock. As Corey says: clearly none of these is it. I’m a fan of Michael Lind. He’s great. Brock’s Media Matters has been a significant, steady force. But I couldn’t honestly say that any of them have significantly shaped what liberalism or the left is. There are no former right-wing, now-left-wing ‘thought leaders’. Not the way ex-leftists on the right have literally made the modern conservative movement.

Is there a reason? Corey’s answer is seemingly rather simple (and I’ll simplify it further by quoting a single line from the end.)

Revolutions don’t react to or borrow; for better or worse, they create an untried form. They have no need for defectors, no need to turn the other side. As Hannah Arendt taught us, they always begin something new.

I think this is not quite it. First, while this is no doubt the rhetoric of revolution, the reality is always a bit more mixed. Second, not all leftism is revolutionism. Let alone all liberalism. But there’s something to this simple answer, all the same.

Let’s start here. Corey’s piece makes me think that ‘reactionary’ is kinda ambiguous. Type-1: a fantatical, dogmatic, uncompromising, iron adherent to some (former) order. Joseph de Maistre, say. But there is a second sort – the recovering former communist, say. Type-2. Sometimes those turn out plain type-1. The fanaticism of the convert. I don’t suppose there is daylight between David Horowitz and Joseph de Maistre, temperamentally. But often the recovering leftist turns out weirdly broad-minded, or pseudo-broad-minded, in an interesting way. The type-2 reactionary can think outside the box … but only in another box. (This needs another post.) It’s more like extreme-minded than truly broad-minded. It’s funny the degree to which conservatism – allegedly a softer, moderate temperament – has been a movement built on the backs of type-2 reactionaries without a moderate bone in their bodies. Just an unusually wide spread of extreme bones.

What about this? Political conservatism is hell-based theology. There is a leftist Bad Place – way worse than most ordinary folk have ever witnessed – and the main thing we must do is keep out of it. So you need a steady stream of witnesses who have been there. (Even if it’s just Bill Buckley having been to Yale and having witnessed the fresh hell of God’s exclusion from those ivy-clad environs.) This first-hand testimony founds the political theology.

So the left isn’t distinguished from the right by some dream of an as-yet-unseen heaven. It’s distinguished by being not based on a nightmare of as-yet-unseen hell.

Now, as to the value of such visions? There was a time when the left, outside Russia, was wishfully deluded about conditions in Stalinist Russia. In those circumstances, apostate former worshippers of the God that Failed were powerful witnesses. But there is a stopped-clock weakness if that is all you’ve got. For the right, the problem with everything the left does is not that there is something obviously wrong with it. Yet, somehow, it’s necessarily the road to hell. So the conservative movement will be effectively lead by those who have, allegedly, walked that road back from hell. They have trod that sad path of good intentions gone bad.

Then again, demonization of the opposition isn’t a right-wing monopoly. Is the paranoid style so different, left-right-wise? Why shouldn’t the left be just as eager as the right to have converts from the other side testifying ‘it’s hell there!’

Back to Art Young. He started as a good, solidly midwestern Republican, drawing cartoons of a heroic Benjamin Harrison (of all things!) But he drifted left, then left some more. Corey quotes Daniel Bell (one of the more thoughtful left-right shifters): “Every radical generation has its Kronstadt.” Kronstadt: site of an egregious Stalinist atrocity – and hypocrisy. Slaughtered workers, then celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Paris Commune over their dead bodies. Young had a couple of Kronstadts, even before he found himself on trial. He was a sketch artist, covering the Haymarket Riots. He lampooned a different Harrison – Carter Harrison, mayor of Chicago – for being soft on anarchist elements, too lenient concerning labor protests, and bending over backwards to appeal to all nationalities. From the book:

Young himself would later say of the trial and execution of four men arrested for the Haymarket bombing that “not until several years later did I discover that there was another side to the story” and of a cartoon he drew for an anti-Anarchist book, “if the dead can hear, I ask forgiveness now for that act. I was young and I had been misled by the clamor of many voices raised to justify a dark and shameful deed.”

One of Young’s more popular cartoon creations was the Poor Fish. Hooked by the saddest stuff, wisdom-wise.

Like Ben Stein, criticizing Ocasio-Cortez: “There’s nothing wrong in a society that allows billionaires to exist as long as the billionaires don’t lock you up in prison and put you in a firing squad.” That’s a perfect, modern Poor Fishism.

It’s good to be a recovered Poor Fish – smarter than being Ben Stein – but not exactly heroic. Getting back to Corey: the trouble with Boot’s conversion is that his time in the conservative trenches doesn’t seem to have given him special local knowledge or insight, beyond what is more or less apparent to outsiders. Max Boot is a smart guy who was seriously confused, and some Poor Fish scales have fallen from his eyes. That’s it.

Corey has this good catch. On the one hand, Boot wanted to be part of a ‘party of ideas’, not just buy into cracker-barrel philosophy. Once upon a time we had Goldwater, The Conscience of a Conservative! Now it’s just Trump! But Corey catches him admitting later that, when he finally got around to reading Goldwater’s book – after Trump got elected – it seems kinda nuts in parts. As the Poor Fish preaches: “Wars are necessary.” And: “My country, right or wrong.” Also: “the meek shall inherit the earth,” “Life is what you make it,” “We’ll always have rich and poor,” and “there’s always room at the top.”

It’s like someone sells a Poor Fish a box of wisdom and … out pops a Poor Fish, selling a smaller box of wisdom!

Liberalism – progressivism, the left – isn’t going to remake itself as the philosophy with the special power to see further than a Poor Fish. If Art Young had tried to make a cartoon career out of narrating and re-narrating his harrowing escape from the ideological clutches of Benjamin Harrison, via the Haymarket Riots, that would have been … not without local interest, but self-limiting, as ideological achievements go. (If you want to read his biography, it’s on Archive.org.)

More needs to be said. It’s not that everything every recovering conservative has said about their leftward path is Poor Fish-bait. Why are, say, Michael Lind and Garry Wills smart apostates from the right but not therefore lefty leadership material? That’s an interesting question. But this post has gone on too long and I haven’t gotten to hell proper. Let’s briefly visit.

Art Young had a hell-and-back thing. Presumably it started with admiring Doré’s Dante illustrations as a lad. In 1893 he published Hell Up To Date, The Reckless Journey of R. Palasco Drant, Special Correspondent, Through the Infernal Regions, As Recorded By Himself (Archive.org has got that, too, and the graphics quality isn’t so bad). Then, in 1901 he followed up with Through Hell with Hiprah Hunt. (You can get a cheap Kindle version of that one. Or just try out Wikimedia.) Then, in 1934, Art Young’s Inferno: A Journey Through Hell Six Hundred Years After Dante. It isn’t really political. It’s one of those ‘annoying people get fitting punishments’ things, mostly. It gets somewhat more political as the author himself does. But, here again, the theme that capitalism is, secretly, Hell – or that some businessmen are bastards who deserve what’s coming to them – is not the stuff of which serious revelations are made. It’s unpretentious but graphically fun. It’s impossible to imagine Young offering up his vision of Hell, as a convert to the left, and speaking about it the way, say, Arthur Koestler spoke to the right. Corey quotes him: “all you comfortable, insular, Anglo-Saxon anti-Communists resent us as allies – but, when all is said, we ex-Communists are the only people on your side who know what it’s all about.”

You don’t know what the radical future requires unless you’ve once been too soft on Benjamin Harrison!

Eh. What else have you got?

That’s enough for Part 1. Part 2 will be my appreciation of Young’s style and artistic evolution, if I can work up to getting around to writing it.

Congrats again to Corey hitting the big time. The New Yorker, man.

]]>
/c36/2019/01/26/belief-in-hell-as-the-basis-for-faith/feed/ 69
The Problem of Max Boot https://www.google.com//c36/2019/01/25/the-problem-of-max-boot/ /c36/2019/01/25/the-problem-of-max-boot/#comments Fri, 25 Jan 2019 18:48:43 +0000 /c36/?p=45816 I’ve been thinking about political converts for a long time. At The New Yorker, I take up the problem of Max Boot, who probably needs no introduction, and Derek Black, who was a leading white supremacist and then renounced it all.

Here’s a taste:

Max Boot, a longtime conservative who recently broke with the right over the nomination and election of Donald Trump, registered as a Republican in 1988. At the time, Boot writes in “The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right,” he wanted to join the “party of ideas.” A movement of highbrows, conservatism was the work of the “learned, worldly, elitist, and eccentric lot” of writers at National Review, “far removed from the simple-minded, cracker-barrel populists who have taken control of the conservative movement today.” It was a movement, Boot explains at the outset, “inspired by Barry Goldwater’s canonical text from 1960, The Conscience of a Conservative. I believed in that movement, and served it my whole life.” A hundred and seventy-five pages later, Boot inadvertently lets slip that reading Goldwater’s “actual words” was something he hadn’t done until after Trump’s election. Throughout his three decades on the right, it appears, Boot believed in the tenets of a book he never read.

But it turns out that the problem of Boot and Black goes much deeper than what books were or weren’t read. If you compare the conversions from left to right—think Arthur Koestler, James Burnham, Whittaker Chambers, and so on—with those from right to left, you find something interesting.
Curiously, the movement from right to left has never played an equivalent role in modern politics. Not only are there fewer converts in that direction, but those conversions haven’t plowed as fertile a field as their counterparts have.

Why is that? Find out here.

]]>
/c36/2019/01/25/the-problem-of-max-boot/feed/ 25
Save the nukes https://www.google.com//c36/2019/01/25/save-the-nukes/ /c36/2019/01/25/save-the-nukes/#comments Fri, 25 Jan 2019 04:28:16 +0000 /c36/?p=45795

I’ve written numerous posts pointing out that expansion of nuclear power is not a serious option in decarbonizing the electricity supply. In a sense, there’s no need to make the case, as no profit-oriented corporation is ever likely to start a new plant. The recent abandonment of two proposed plants in the UK, despite the offer of massive subsidies, illustrates the point. The only purpose of talk about new nuclear power is to attack the only realistic options, wind and solar PV.

On the other hand, nuclear power is a lot less dangerous than coal. So, it’s worrying to see nuclear power plants closing down in the US and elsewhere, when there are plenty of coal-fired power plants still in operation. The worse case is Germany, where the phaseout of nuclear power has left lots of lignite-fuelled power stations still in operation.

The sensible policy is first, to abandon any idea of closing nuclear power stations by direct regulation and second, to impose a substantial carbon price, putting coal-fired power stations first in the “order of demerit” for closure.

We need a carbon price, but in the short term the goal must be to shut down the oldest coal-fired plants and replace them with a crash program of renewable generation, publicly and privately owned.

]]>
/c36/2019/01/25/save-the-nukes/feed/ 111
Erik Olin Wright 1947-2019 https://www.google.com//c36/2019/01/23/erik-olin-wright-1947-2019/ /c36/2019/01/23/erik-olin-wright-1947-2019/#comments Wed, 23 Jan 2019 18:26:12 +0000 /c36/?p=45786 I’m sorry to report that Erik Olin Wright has died. He was diagnosed with an acute form of leukemia last spring, and, after various interventions, has been in decline for the past few weeks. He spent his last weeks mainly in the hospital, surrounded by his family, and plentiful visits from numerous friends and former students, socializing to the end. I apologize if what follows is a little incoherent: I wasn’t really ready for the news.

My own first memories of Erik long predate meeting him. The first is regular visits to the EOA bookshop on the Cowley Road when I was 16, and sitting on the floor reading Class, Crisis and the State, because it seemed kind of expensive to buy (John Carpenter was watching me and really not seeming to mind that I was reading an entire book though, I should say, without ever creasing it in the slightest). I later, in graduate school, wrote an essay on Analytical Marxism which I sent to Socialist Review only to receive a very kind rejection on the grounds that they were just about to publish an essay by Erik on the same topic (which seemed, entirely reasonable to me; even more so when I read the essay). When I later told these stories in graduate seminar we taught together he expressed disbelief that I was so much younger than him, something that might have been insulting except for the fact that, even then, he had twice the life force I have ever had. I met him on January 22nd 1992 just after my job talk at Madison: he kindly invited me to stay on for the subsequent 2 days to attend the conference on Associations and Democracy.

You’ll read loads in the coming days about Erik’s work as a scholar (if you feel like it). Obviously, like several CTers, his work, like that of the other Analytical Marxists, played a large role in my intellectual formation. We wrote a couple of papers together, and I’m certain I spent more time talking one-on-one about ideas with him than with anyone at Madison. But you’ll probably read less about what he was like as a person, or as a friend. My children have spent almost every Thanksgiving of their lives at his house: he was an incredibly energetic and enthusiastic host, and Thanksgiving – an entirely secular celebration with which you could do whatever you wanted, was his favorite holiday. Thanksgivings were large (30, 40 people, many of whom saw each other only at Thanksgiving), unwieldly, full of food and always ending in a square dance conducted by him on the violin leading a motley band of children of various ages (in latter days including my eldest who could just about keep up with him on the fiddle), which the more demure adults (which included me) would vie with each other to retreat from.

He loved children. In his last weeks, his caringbridge site contained an entry on ‘goofiness’, which he said is closely related to silliness—and although he could be goofy and silly among adults, it was among children that his goofiness shone—always using silly voices, telling silly stories, making stupid jokes—always conspiring with them, rather than condescending to them. He could go from an absurd joke with a 3 year old to a deep conversation about game theory with an adult and back completely seamlessly.

He was a sentimentalist, as you’ll see if you look on caringbridge. He loved music—not, really, pop music or jazz as far as I could tell, but all sorts of classical music, folk music (especially the American tradition) and, most notably musicals, which he attended avidly. He loved The Wizard of Oz with a vengeance (which may be have been because he was from Kansas, who knows?).

He was great as a mentor and friend. As a mentor. Early in my time at Madison he offered me lots of opportunities to do things that I’d never have done otherwise—things that would stretch me, but at which I’d succeed. He had great advice, rarely for me, but always good to pass on, which often involved just specific ways of seeing things. We once had in common a student with really bad writer’s block; Erik commented in an offhand way that the mistake the student was making was thinking of publications as conversation-closers (everything has to be exactly right) rather than as contribution to ongoing conversations; invitations for the reader to take their thinking to the next stage. Completely useless, actually, for the student in question, but it has been fantastic advice for other students with the same problem, especially in my discipline, philosophy, which is much more culpable of perfectionism than sociology.

As a friend—when I was at my lowest he insisted that we go to mindfulness classes together. Everyone in our mindfulness class had a story—something they were trying to deal with, and several of the stories were genuinely tragic. Everyone, that is, except Erik, for whom it was a brilliant combination of leisure activity and intellectual pursuit. He excelled at meditation, and was fascinated by how it worked. To be perfectly honest, mindfulness didn’t really do it for me—and yoga was worse—but the rhythm of attending, his care, and the amusement of seeing how seriously he could get into something that struck me as frivolous, really helped me a lot. In no time he was the most accomplished mindfulness practitioner in the group; something which helped him, actually, when he was dealing with biopsies and transplants.

In addition, he and Marcia are the only people other than me and my wife who met each of my three children (now 22, 17, and 12) during their first two weeks of life. (Obviously, my wife and I met them sooner than Erik and Marcia).

Oh, here’s a story. In addition to being goofy (which do not have in common) he was incredibly square (a shared trait). Sometime in the late-90s Jerry Cohen came to Madison to give some talks, and Erik convinced him to do a standup performance at a local theater. The problem was that Jerry would only do the performance if he was stoned, and (understandably) refused to bring his own pot through customs. At a certain point Erik awkwardly explained the problem to me and said “Do you know how to get hold of pot?” I stared at him, thinking that he must know me less well than I had thought and said “Of course I don’t! You’d know better than I would”. He giggled, and we both agreed that it would make a good Onion headline “Marxist professors, the only people in Madison, Wisconsin who don’t know how to procure marijuana”. I can’t remember how the problem was solved, but I do know that the contraband did not pass through either of our hands.

I had planned to see him today, and had planned to provide an elaborate picnic for him, his family, and other members of the September group who were flying into Milwaukee on Saturday for a farewell. My last conversation with him was warm and lovely. He called me a week or so ago because he was writing a long letter to his grandchildren, and wanted to check a fact with me: in 1969 he was arrested at a protest at the Oxford Union, and wanted to know which politician he was protesting against (there were two candidates). I reminded him I was 6 at the time, and he said “Yes, but you know all these things, so you’re bound to know which one it was”. I did.

Two years ago I sent a freshman student to take his American Society: How it Works class. Two days ago she sent me an email which I forwarded to his daughter yesterday. Its was one of the last things he heard: “I’ve been following Erik’s caringbridge site and I’ve found it really enjoyable to read. He is really a miraculous thinker and writer. You obviously know that better than I do.”

Indeed.

]]>
/c36/2019/01/23/erik-olin-wright-1947-2019/feed/ 19
Radically Transformative Virtue Ethics https://www.google.com//c36/2019/01/23/radically-transformative-virtue-ethics/ /c36/2019/01/23/radically-transformative-virtue-ethics/#comments Wed, 23 Jan 2019 05:51:27 +0000 /c36/?p=45777 I have an idea that there is sort of a hole in the ethics literature. I could be wrong! So tell me where I’m wrong.

The idea is this: transhumanism is virtue ethics. But no one seems to call it that. “Man remaining man, but transcending himself.” That’s Huxley, introducing transhumanism, and it specifies a delicate virtue balance to be maintained, if I make no mistake. Yet ‘virtue ethics’ is associated with conservative opposition to this sort of radical change option. (Here is Steve Fuller saying so. Not that him saying so proves it is so. But he says exactly what I expect lots of people to say, and it was the first Google hit.)

It’s like there’s this open question: what sort of people should there be? [Amazon – damn, Glover used to offer it free from his personal site, but it appears to have evaporated.] And ‘virtue ethics’ names only views that answer conservatively. Virtue ethics says: the sort we’ve already got. A subset of that.

Why not also call it ‘virtue ethics’ if the answer is: some new sort we haven’t got yet?

It isn’t mysterious that virtue ethics is associated with conservative attitudes towards virtue, given its connection with natural law thinking and grumpy old After Virtue and a bunch of other stuff. But that ought to be regarded as a contingent link.

Glover has an epigraph from Olaf Stapledon, Last and First Men:

“To romance of the future may seem to be indulgence in ungoverned speculation for the sake of the marvellous. Yet controlled imagination in this sphere can be a very valuable exercise for minds bewildered about the present and its potentialities. Today we should welcome, and even study, every serious attempt to envisage the future of our race; not merely in order to grasp the very diverse and often tragic possibilities that confront us, but also that we may familiarize ourselves with the certainty that many of our most cherished ideals would seem puerile to more developed minds. To romance of the far future, then, is to attempt to see the human race in its cosmic setting, and to mould our hearts to entertain new values.”

What a weird book, Last and First Men. But you know what it’s about? Virtue ethics. It’s about what sort of men there should be. The advantages and disadvantages of different sorts of men for life. The ‘cherished ideals’ that are experimentally challenged, on behalf of other hypothetical prospects, are ideals of virtue: what might constitute flourishing life?

Sorry about leaving you out, ladies! That’s a mistake that proves Stapledon’s larger point. There he was, trying to romance in the craziest way possible, yet it’s still ‘men’, all down the line. In his defense, the final generation is so crazy, you can’t say he didn’t think outside the box:

“The most advanced humans of all, essentially a perfected version of the 17th species. A race of philosophers and artists with a very liberal sexual morality. “Superficially we seem to be not one species but many.” (One interesting aspect of the Eighteenth Men is that they have a number of different “sub-genders,” variants on the basic male and female pattern, with distinctive temperaments. The Eighteenth Men’s equivalent of the family unit includes one of each of these sub-genders and is the basis of their society. The units have the ability to act as a group mind, which eventually leads to the establishment of a single group mind uniting the entire species.). This species no longer died naturally, but only by accident, suicide or being killed.”

You might object that these aren’t very controlled thought-experiments. But I think you have to grant that, in spirit, it’s not Jeremy Bentham’s mummified corpse blasted into space, to float over every subsequent generation, providing normative guidance – or Kant. We should imagine these ‘men’ in action, living their lives, so as to judge whether that seems like ‘flourishing’, or else an awful wrong turn or dead-end. (See also: H.G. Wells, The Time Machine. And a ton of other, later SF.)

The reason why a lot of weird SF works well as fiction is because it’s loose experiments in weird virtue ethics.

Two last points. Fukayama, denouncing transhumanism. “Transhumanism’s advocates think they understand what constitutes a good human being, and they are happy to leave behind the limited, mortal, natural beings they see around them in favor of something better. But do they really comprehend ultimate human goods?”

This sounds like a classic description of virtue ethics. The philosopher – call him Aristotle – presumes to be able to recognize a good human being, when he sees one. He doesn’t have some ultimate, Platonic or Benthamic benchmark, the Form of the Good, against which he measures this solid, good fellow!

Is that so dangerous? To think you know a good man – or woman – when you see one?

Final point. When Andrea Long Chu wrote an op-ed about how her new vagina won’t make her happy, there was a big, conservative freak-out about how twisted it was that she thinks she should be able to opt for this surgery even if she doesn’t have a doctor’s note, testifying that her hedonic levels are likely to rise, not fall, after the operation (or whatever the note should say.) But one of the core concepts of virtue ethics is that flourishing shouldn’t be mistaken for bare hedonics, or even preference satisfaction. (And one of the stock horrors of modern ethics is supposed to be handing these life decisions to doctors, with their hedono-meters, or whatever.) Chu’s idea – right or wrong – is that she can’t flourish any other way. This is the kind of life she needs to live, let the happiness chips fall where they may. That is a perfectly familiar, virtue-ethics-y sort of thought. Yet virtue ethics is associated with conservative opposition to radically transformative ideas about … virtue.

So that’s a weird way to restrict use of ‘virtue ethics’.

There’s no way this hasn’t been pointed out already. Everyone knows Nietzsche is kinda virtue-ethics-y, and his Overman isn’t exactly a conservative option, transformatively. No one thinks progressives can’t possibly engage in virtue-signalling, because ‘virtue’ is for conservatives. But a lot of the talk about virtue ethics seems to skew presumptively conservative. Like the only models have to be actual, not merely possible.

Who has written about this?

]]>
/c36/2019/01/23/radically-transformative-virtue-ethics/feed/ 36
The Material Power of Ideas and Knowledge https://www.google.com//c36/2019/01/22/the-material-power-of-ideas-and-knowledge/ /c36/2019/01/22/the-material-power-of-ideas-and-knowledge/#comments Tue, 22 Jan 2019 18:44:23 +0000 /c36/?p=45770 Attention conservation notice: long (nearly 5,000 words long) essay on the economic power of ideas. To its credit, the questions discussed are plausibly important. To its detriment, the arguments are less arguments than gestures, and the structure is decidedly baggy.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been wanting to write a response to Aaron Major’s (paywalled) article on ideas and economic power for Catalyst. Now there’s a second piece by Jeremy Adelman in Aeon on Thomas Piketty and Adam Tooze. I think they’re both wrong, but in different ways. Major’s piece suggests that economic ideas don’t really matter very much – it’s the economic base, not the superstructure that’s doing the work. Adelman, in contrast, think that ideas are super important – he just thinks that Piketty and Tooze have ones that are leading us in the wrong direction.

These arguments come from radically different places, but they have one thing in common. They both substantially underestimate the role that ideas have played in getting us to where we are on the left, and what they they’re likely to do for us in the near future.

Before the argument proper, something that ought to be obvious, but may not be to everyone. That I disagree with both writers is emphatically not to say that their writing is useless. We’re living in a good intellectual moment for the left, despite, and perhaps in part because of, the shitty material conditions. The reason I’ve been itching to respond to Major is because it’s an important argument to get going – and the flourishing of new small magazines and websites on the left that permits this kind of argument is something joyous and wondrous to behold. And another caveat: I’ve a dog in this fight. I’ve written on ideas and economics in the past. I also have a collaborative project with Mark Blyth, who’s the main person that Major is picking a fight with, which has been hanging around in our Dropbox folders for the last couple of years, but may still sometime see the light of day.

Do ideas matter?

Major argues that they don’t matter nearly as much as you might think. This means that a lot of recent work focusing on economic ideas leads us in the wrong direction.

And yet, though motivated by a genuine concern for the damage that neoliberalism has done, building a critique of neoliberalism through an idea-centered framework is both politically disarming and reinforces pernicious aspects of the neoliberal project. One of the recurring points that emerges from a close reading of idea-centered accounts of political and economic change is that the materialist social context — the structure of social divisions formed along economic lines and the way power is distributed across those divisions — exerts a great deal of influence over both the content of ideas as well as their relative influence. The neoliberal political-economic agenda, like others before it, advances through a favorable balance of social forces while simultaneously trying to obscure the role that power and material advantage plays in its success. If the strength and resilience of the elitist, pro-capital, and dehumanizing policies and practices that are often summarized as “neoliberal” is reduced to, or primarily explained as, the impact of ideas, and those ideas are not grounded in the balance of material forces that gives them shape and influence, then one can easily walk away with the impression that the solution to neoliberalism is found in intellectual debate and critique, and not what is really needed: political mobilization.

Here, in particular, he focuses on the work of Mark Blyth:

 

Mark Blyth’s Great Transformations helped spur the recent surge in idea-centered political economy and so serves as a useful starting point for this discussion. Like other political economists, Blyth argues that transitions from one political-economic era to another are caused by deep, punctuated crisis. However, whereas realist political science imagines perfectly rational actors approaching a crisis like any other problem to be solved, Blyth questions this basic premise. Political actors are not rational, he argues, but rather rely on prevailing norms and ideas to serve as a kind of “instruction sheet” that they follow. During moments of crisis, dominant models of economic management fail, leaving political actors grasping for some way of understanding the nature of the problems that they face and means to address them. This opens the door to once-sidelined experts and intellectuals to chart a new path forward by writing a new, workable instruction sheet.

Major respects what Blyth is doing – but thinks it is nonetheless misconceived.

 

To make a strong ideational argument stick, it is not enough to show that some ideas mattered for some social or policy change. Rather, one has to be able to support two additional claims. First, that the formation, circulation, and debate over different policy ideas can be explained independent of other material forces. Materialist political economy, from which Blyth is trying to break, does not deny that economic policymaking has an important ideational component of the sort that Blyth describes, but it also insists that material social factors play a powerful agenda-setting role, limiting the scope of policy debate. Second, a strong ideational argument needs to be able to explain why one set of ideas beat out other, competing ideas in purely ideational terms. A strong ideational argument suggests that the victory of one idea over another can be explained by the character of the idea itself, not by the power or position of the actors who champion it. … Great Transformations falters on both counts. … What Blyth’s account … reveals, though he never addresses it explicitly, is that the ideas that framed early New Deal policy innovations were themselves shaped by the structures of US industry and agriculture and the strength of competing economic classes. It is because US labor was organized and militant that the Roosevelt administration sought an economic program that would forge an alliance with the working class. The political capacity of social classes not only affected which policies worked, and which policies failed — it also affected how policies were crafted and which ones were advanced. …Blyth’s more recent Austerity: History of a Dangerous Idea is marred by the same analytical unevenness … the book is hamstrung by the insistence that the story of austerity can be told as a history of ideas. … Taken as a whole, Blyth’s work points to a critical challenge that scholars have faced in trying to make idea-centered arguments for political and economic change stick, and that is explainingidea selection. Rarely does anything of historical significance happen without heated debate, and the turn to neoliberalism is no exception. Margaret Thatcher may have successfully exported her pithy, dismissive “There Is No Alternative,” but her numerous opponents begged to differ. Sides are formed, measures are proposed, and rationalizations are given. But who wins? Blyth’s own accounts of major policy change highlights critical moments in times of crisis when state elites were grappling with competing ideas, but neither Great Transformations nor Austerity can really explain why some ideas went on to shape policy and others found their way into the dustbin of history.

If ideas matter, whose ideas are the right ones?

Jeremy Adelman’s take is very different. He believes that ideas (or, to use his own term, ‘narratives) can play an important role in politics. The problem is that the ideas that the left provide, are the wrong ones. We need more Hirschman.

Our big narratives were once capable of more nuance than the pendular swing from euphoria to dysphoria. For every 18th-century Enlightenment story of hope, there was a shadow of decline; in the 19th century, liberals had to joust with conservative and radical prophets of demise. Some even saw crisis as an opportunity. Influenced by Karl Marx, the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter in 1942 made a virtue out of ruin. There could be something creative about bringing down tired old institutions. The late German-born economist Albert O Hirschman thought of disequilibria as a potential source of new thinking. In 1981, he distinguished between two types of crisis: the kind that disintegrates societies and sends members scrambling for the exits, and what he called an ‘integrative crisis’, one in which people together imagine new ways forward. Witnessing the catastrophes of the Great War and the rise of fascism in Europe imparted to Schumpeter and Hirschman a certain style. In spite of the horror and gloom of the 1930s, the Second World War had also prompted the hope that crises could be righted and societies could pull out of tailspins.

and less Piketty and Tooze.

The end of the Cold War in 1989 marked a break in the storytelling habits of global integration. Without rivalry from the East or challenges from the South, the big narratives of progress got flattened around a single plot. Talk of a new world economy gave way to the Washington Consensus; socialist integration lost its age-old appeal. … the power of flat-world storytelling asphyxiated the nay-sayers. That is, until a financial crisis, the spectacle of crumbling glaciers and scenes of an Arab Spring gone horribly awry ended the triumphalist bender. Suddenly, the euphoric style gave way to a chorus of dysphoria. …Now, even the most sophisticated stories about capitalism and democracy see the two as threatening to part ways. The French economist Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013) put the spotlight on the vice of inequality and slow growth. … Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World (2018) by the British historian Adam Tooze also leaves a sinking feeling: the 2008 crisis couldn’t even fail right! Instead, it left the world awash in more debt and concentrated economic power. Piketty and Tooze didn’t set out to explain how humanity climbed onto the doomsday treadmill. They do, however, contribute to a gathering impression of a new normal, one in which disaster becomes the default, and unequal, sluggish growth – the rule.The final section of Piketty’s book details feasible correctives to market fundamentalism. Despite the progressive vacuum that handed governments around the world to Right-wing nativists, Piketty’s discussion of possible reforms didn’t generate much discussion. If Schumpeter’s work pointed to crises as opportunities for movement and progress, Tooze tells the story of an establishment refusing to learn from the crisis it made. The real failure then of that financial mayhem was that its makers couldn’t see how their heroic story of decontrolled Homo pecuniaria was responsible for the crisis – and instead compelled bystanders and taxpayers to pay the price.

The result is that the nationalists are winning.

Piketty and Tooze are right about structural features of inequality and how the makers of catastrophe became its beneficiaries. But we also need to see how the consensus of catastrophe that straddles the ideological spectrum – but grows more dire and menacing as one approaches the extremes – favours the politics of the strong man glaring down the nation-doubters. The alternative is not to be wistful about flat-world narratives that find solace in technical panaceas and market fundamentalisms; the last thing we need is a return to the comforts of lean-in fairy tales that rely on facile responses to a complicated world. To learn from collapses and extinctions, and prevent more of them, we need to recover our command over complex storytelling, to think of tensions instead of incompatibilities, to allow choices and alternatives, mixtures and ambiguities, instability and learning, to counter the false certainties of the abyss.

Ideas and the new left

Obviously, Major and Adelman are coming from very different places. Major’s approach is closer to that of classical Marxism – to focus on the intellectual debate is to miss the actual power dynamics. Adelman instead seems to suggest that storytelling plays a crucial, and perhaps even determinative role in shaping economic politics. Yet each is a different reason for intense skepticism about the role of ideas currently floating around the left. Major would think that they are primarily a reflection of underlying material conditions, while for Adelman, they are leading us onto a path of gloom and structural pessimism.

One way to think about whether ideas matter is to look at the resurgence of the left that Major and others are part of. As already noted, I’m mostly on Blyth’s side on the question of whether ideas are important, although my loose work-in-progress with him is intended to address some of the deficiencies that Major identifies (we are pushing to develop a “materialist account of how economic knowledge is changed or transmitted,” looking at the specific networks through which ideas spread, and the role that power relations can play in diffusion). What I think Major misses is that coalition formation – which as he notes is at the core of Blyth’s argument – is playing a crucial role in the development of the modern American left, and that ideas are playing a key role in shaping that coalition, just as Blyth would argue.

More specifically: the new American left is specifically associated with ideas such as Abolish ICE, the Green New Deal, and a 70% tax for the super rich. But what is notable about these ideas is not that they are wonkish and programmatic. They aren’t intended to provide policy makers with a detailed list of all the things that need to be done to accomplish a specific set of generally desirable objectives. Instead, they have been crafted (I suspect pretty deliberately, though as always with these things, not as part of a grand master plan but as strategies that might or might not work) to build coalitions.

Abolish ICE, for example, was in part crafted to define ICE and to make it toxic. Equally though, it was likely intended to create a sharp dividing line within Democratic party politics, forcing politicians who would otherwise have been tempted to fudge their position to get off the fence. It was never clear precisely what abolishing ICE meant in practice. Getting rid of internal immigration raids in general? Subordinating ICE to the rule of law, sort of, by integrating it into the DOJ? But asking for policy specificity is asking the wrong question, By casting broad opposition to ICE as a make-or-break issue, the slogan reshaped the coalitional dynamics within the Democratic party, making it substantially harder for centrist Democrats to prevaricate, and pulling the debate within the Democratic party significantly to the left.

The Green New Deal is similarly broad. As แจกเครดิตฟรี ล่าสุดDavid Roberts describes it:

the exact details of the GND remain to be worked out, but the broad thrust is fairly simple. It refers, in the loosest sense, to a massive program of investments in clean-energy jobs and infrastructure, meant to transform not just the energy sector, but the entire economy. It is meant both to decarbonize the economy and to make it fairer and more just. But the policy is only part of the picture. Just as striking are the politics, which seem to have tapped into an enormous, untapped demand for climate ambition.

Again, as Roberts is suggesting, the driving force of a Green New Deal is not to provide thousands of pages of detailed reports about how to implement a new deal that is green. It’s supposed to build a coalition, and start to fracture the blocking counter-coalition. The policy can come later – the politics comes first.

Finally, and most recently, the proposal that Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez has made for a 70% marginal tax rate should also be read in terms of coalitional politics. There have been various spluttering and indignant responses that the base rate is very often less important than the loopholes, that what matters is income from investments and so on. All of these criticisms are undoubtedly correct – but also largely irrelevant. What Ocasio-Cortez is doing is not putting forward a bill, but introducing an idea into the policy debate that appeared (and still appears to some) to be crazy and impossible, and to shape a new political coalition around it.

Major is absolutely right to argue that the fight over ideas is heavily skewed by wealth and power. But his argument tends to overlook the ways in which ideas do play a key role in building coalitions. The possible coalitions that are coming into focus are to a very significant degree a product of the specific ideas that they are being mobilized around.

The idea of the Green New Deal obviously points towards a coalition between people frightened about global warming, and people motivated by inequality, and willing to have a government spend large amounts of money to rectify it. But it isn’t the only plausible or possible coalition – with different ideas, different coalitions would, and still might, emerge. As Major says, neo-liberalism didn’t spring fully armed from the foreheads of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. It was to a very significant degree the product of the business coalitions that took Hayek and Friedman’s ideas up. But again, had the motivating ideas of the entrepreneurs been different, the coalitions that emerged would have been different too. I take this as one of the lessons of Slobodian’s book, which Major rightly talks a lot about. Ideas don’t emerge in a vacuum, but they interact with policy processes in messy and complicated ways, creating policy coalitions that can’t simply be read from a set of structural economic constraints.

So in short, it seems to me to be hard to understand the new American left without paying attention to ideas, and in particular to the ways that the ideas are shaping coalitional dynamics. Ideational entrepreneurs such as Sean McElwee and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are playing a very important role in shaping the coalitions that are emerging, and if different figures, with different ideas were there, the coalitions that would emerge would be different, or that they might not emerge at all. Furthermore, I think both of them are playing a sharp game where they are using other people’s intellectual capital to their advantage. As I discuss below, there are many economists who think that high marginal tax rates are plausibly a very good idea. That makes it much easier for Ocasio-Cortez to push her 70% proposal – and to get it taken seriously – than would otherwise be the case. The game of ideas may be rigged as Major argues, but sometimes you can win even in rigged games.

And besides it’s fun to suggest that Sean McElwee may be the Friedrich Hayek or Walter Lippmann of our times, if only to provoke and annoy both Sean’s fans, and Hayek’s.

Ideas and big structures

Adelman in contrast, thinks that ideas and narratives are super important, but that we want different ones than the left is providing. Specifically, he suggests that both Piketty and Tooze give us dystopian futures in which nothing could change. I think he’s wrong here. This misunderstands what Piketty and Tooze have written, and how their work has been taken up.

The weakest part of Adelman’s essay is his suggestion that Piketty provides a “dysphoric” account of world politics. As he has to note, Piketty does indeed identify “feasible correctives” to the trends he identifies. It would hardly be Piketty’s fault if these correctives were not what people had chosen to pay attention to in his book. But Adelman both underestimates what Piketty is doing, and misses how Piketty’s work (in collaboration with Saez, Zucman and others) is having practical consequences. There is a very real sense in which Piketty’s entire book is a bet – that revealing the structures of inequality will help build the politics to correct it. To recapitulate an argument from our colloquium with Piketty a couple of years ago:

Piketty is an economist, but his contribution is better understood in sociological terms. … We live in a technocratic age, which among other things means that the kinds of knowledge that appeal to technocrats, such as high quality statistical data, are likely to appear legitimate in ways that other kinds of knowledge are not. Piketty and his colleagues have engaged in slow, patient work, the boring of hard boards, building high quality data sets that appear to confound the previous technocratic wisdom that we didn’t need to worry about inequality. This makes a vast and important social phenomenon, that might otherwise have been partly obscured, visible, salient and socially undeniable. … [this] helps explain Piketty’s policy prescriptions, some of which are proposed not so much to solve the problem of inequality, as to help generate the kinds of politics that might solve the problem. Piketty’s entire project could be seen as a bet – that generating increased knowledge about the actual shape of inequality will help generate the kinds of politics that can successfully address inequality. His careful gathering of data and his ingenious search for proxies where data is available (e.g. using publicly visible data on the performance of university endowments as a proxy for the returns to capital available to the merely ordinarily rich and the super rich) all try to cast light on what was invisible and occluded. So too do his policy proposals.

These ideas, and the knowledge they have generated are among the enabling conditions for Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal for a 70% marginal tax rate on people earning more than $10 million a year. The work that Atkinson, Piketty, Saez and others did to show the radical redistribution at the top of the income distribution did indeed make visible what was before occluded. Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal is reminiscent of earlier arguments by Piketty, Saez and Stantcheva, as well as other economists suggesting that high marginal tax rates are entirely feasible. Not only are Piketty’s and his colleagues’ arguments not dysphoric – but they are contributing to a practical and important agenda for economic and political reform. And these economists are looking to keep contributing to this agenda. Saez and Zucman argue in the New York Times today that:

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has kick-started a much-needed debate about taxes. … But that’s not the fundamental reason higher top marginal income tax rates are desirable. Their root justification is not about collecting revenue. It is about regulating inequality and the market economy. It is also about safeguarding democracy against oligarchy. … But that’s not the fundamental reason higher top marginal income tax rates are desirable. Their root justification is not about collecting revenue. It is about regulating inequality and the market economy. It is also about safeguarding democracy against oligarchy. … Progressive income taxation cannot solve all our injustices. But if history is any guide, it can help stir the country in the right direction, closer to Japan and farther from Putin’s Russia. Democracy or plutocracy: That is, fundamentally, what top tax rates are about.

You may, of course, disagree with this diagnosis – but it seems squarely aimed at confronting the problems of our current politics and economy rather than treating them as an inevitable plunge downwards into stasis and dystopia.

A similar case could be made for Tooze’s book (which is very, very good). Tooze is indeed looking to diagnose the politics of the crash, and he does indeed argue that the people who worked against it failed to learn the lessons that they ought to have. But that is only one part of his argument.

Another is to spur financial historians (and others) to better figure out the complexities of the international financial system, so as to properly understand both the forces that led to the crisis, and to better understand the politics that we need to respond to it. He doesn’t merely argue that the Establishment learned nothing. Instead, he’s trying to start mapping out a global architecture that no-one – including the Establishment – understands particularly well. The birth of the Eurodollar system; the creation of a financial governance regime in which the US Fed became an effective global backstop; the backwash of macroprudential systems for democracy in Eastern Europe. The message that we are supposed to take from his account is not that there is Nothing to Be Done – but that we’d better start to map out what is going on before we start deciding what our options are. The strong implication of his work is the need for a better, more intelligent, but globally focused left, rather than one that thinks it can retreat back to the nation state (this is surely at least one of the motivations for his acidulous running battle with Wolfgang Streeck).

In that light, แจกเครดิตฟรี ล่าสุด from a couple of days ago deserves further attention. Tooze’s concern is precisely with the question of how to tell a politically useful story about the economic crisis and the forces that produced it. He worries in passing that his own account wasn’t “dirty” enough, but also makes it clear that we need to understand the structures of the world economy.

One can flout Hayek by delving into the depths of governmental machinery as Brett does so brilliantly. One can strip the magic from capitalism (entzaubern) by exposing its seamier side and the sheer grubbiness of deal-making. But we also need to defy Hayek’s insistence that the economy cannot be represented or made calculable, his Bilderverbot (the Mosaic ban on graven images). For all their many inadequacies, we must cling to the macro- in macroeconomics and macrofinance. If what we are after is an understanding of the complex forces driving the uneven and combined development of the global economy, there is no alternative.

In other words, his project is not dissimilar from Piketty’s (and closer yet to Gabriel Zucman’s inquiry into the global politics of tax havens). It’s an effort to render visible what has been occulted, and (although he doesn’t state this explicitly), to use this new knowledge to build a better politics.

Adelman’s complaint is that both Piketty and Tooze fail to provide “complex storytelling, to think of tensions instead of incompatibilities, to allow choices and alternatives, mixtures and ambiguities, instability and learning, to counter the false certainties of the abyss.” Leaving aside the question of whether ambiguities and complexities are inherently good things, I just don’t think that it’s true that either Piketty or Tooze fail to pay attention to the tension between constraining structures and what can be done. Indeed, some version of that tension is the main force that animates their books. Both, furthermore, are laying a bet on the value of generating knowledge and ideas as a path towards a better politics. It’s clear that there’s a political movement that is making practical use of Piketty’s ideas. There isn’t one yet that is trying to really grapple with the macro-forces that Tooze is trying to identify. But it wasn’t at all clear three or four years ago that there would be a groundswell for a 70% marginal tax rate in the US either.

Ideas and politics

As it said on the label, this is a baggy essay, which tries to argue against two different takes on ideas, more because they are both currently on my mind than because they are organically connected. But there is an underlying if mostly implicit theory of the unsatisfactory relationship between knowledge, ideas and political efficacy beneath it.

On the one hand, academic knowledge can indeed matter to politics – but only when it is taken up and transformed by political actors. Thus, for example, the work that Piketty and others did on inequality may help to spur political change, but it will do so only if the idea that it has been transformed into spurs the formation of an effective coalition. We don’t know if it will – but we can be sure that if it does, that the coalition will form around an idea that will be far cruder (simple ideas are easier to rally around) and vaguer (imprecision helps broaden the coalition) than the knowledge that it builds upon.

On the other, for closely connected reasons it is very hard to say in advance what knowledge will matter to politics, and how it will matter. Most notoriously, a rigid account of the inexorability of structure can be adapted into theories of revolution and radical change. Complaining that a particular set of academic arguments only reinforces our sense of political helplessness is probably not (unless it is a very crude set of arguments indeed) a good basis for critique, since the uses to which it may be put by astute political actors may be unexpected, in ways that escape your pessimistic interpretation. In any event many, and even most good academic arguments can be read in multiple politically contradictory ways. Really good ideas rarely map onto politics in simple or straightforward ways (another reason why they have to be simplified to be made effective).

[lightly updated and typos fixed]

]]>
/c36/2019/01/22/the-material-power-of-ideas-and-knowledge/feed/ 45
Getting on beneath the vaulted sky https://www.google.com//c36/2019/01/22/getting-on-beneath-the-vaulted-sky/ /c36/2019/01/22/getting-on-beneath-the-vaulted-sky/#comments Tue, 22 Jan 2019 11:40:37 +0000 /c36/?p=45768 Early last year, I began to experience some pains in my hands. I associated them with bringing a large turkey back from the butchers. Hadn’t taken the car, because parking, but it was heavier than I appreciated and I struggled with the bird as the handles of the plastic bad tore on my fingers. I went to the doctor. Tendons, probably, he said. Most likely be better in a few months.

Then in September, back from a touring holiday in France which had involved a lot of lugging of boxes and cases up and down stairs, the pain was back, worse. I lacked the strength to open cans and bottles. Some movements were fine but turning a knob or using a key sometimes — ouch!

That’s where I am, basically. A few trips to the doctor and the physio later, osteoarthritis it seems. Injections in the thumb joint helped one hand, but less the other. Typing is ok, mostly, but my handwriting is worse. On public transport I steady myself by wrapping my arm around things, since gripping with a hand might hurt. I squeeze a rubber ball from time to time, as building up the muscles supposedly compensates a bit for the damage to the joints.

Not much fun, but could be worse. And only one of many things that comes past your mid fifties (I’m sixty now). I’ve had more blood tests in the past three years than in the previous thirty put together. Diabetes? No, thank goodness, not yet. Blood pressure is high, if not really dangerously so yet. Swallowing statins every morning, when I remember, to keep the choresterol down.

My father died in the summer of 2017. He was in good form until a week before the end though he’d had his share of health problems over the quarter-century before and a walk to the shops and back would see him needing a rest. We shared conversations to the end. He was lively, still learning German, discussing Edith Wharton. Though we all know that death is coming, a parent going is concrete. You know that will be you soon enough, so better make the best of it and concentrate on what matters.

As I’ve thought more about the loss of capacity. The aches and pains. The knowledge that there are things you could do but now can’t. When you really ought to take more exercise because it is good for your heart and lungs, but when there’s every chance that back, knee or hip won’t play nicely enough to let you.

I keep returning to an image from a TV programme about John Clare. The picture was of a man on his back with

The grass below — above the vaulted sky.

When young the vaulting is infinitely distant, and if lucky and not disabled you can vault over obstacles yourself. But age makes the sky close in. In your forties you can see the roof even if you can’t touch it. Then, later, if you stretch, your fingers graze the surface. Time comes when you have to be careful not to bang your head. Some while after you stoop and then crouch. The tunnel gets narrower too. There is less space to move and perhaps, eventually, there will be no space at all.

]]>
/c36/2019/01/22/getting-on-beneath-the-vaulted-sky/feed/ 21