As some of you may know, Niall Ferguson engaged in a bit of gay-bashing yesterday (links below), holding that Keynes wouldn’t have cared about future generations because he was gay (the point is apparently taken from Gertrude Himmelfarb: see the Delong item referred to below). Now he has apologized. In my view no one is obliged to accept an apology: should we accept Ferguson’s and move on, as they say?
Henry Blodgett at Business Insider was one of the first with the story.
Tom Kostigen at Financial Advisor also reported on Ferguson’s remarks.
One brother is dead and the other is in custody in a hospital. Obviously I loathe what they did. Obviously my thoughts are with the victims and their families. Obviously I would have stopped them if I could have, by any means whatsoever. But I also feel enormously sad that a 19 year old boy could come to this. And being a naturalist - that is not believing that things happen magically because of some supernatural force for evil - I believe that there is some explanation for why this happened. Maybe his brain chemicals are at different levels from ours. Maybe he underwent some trauma - either acute or chronic. Maybe he was taken in by an irrational ideology or systematically trained as are government torturers. Maybe all of these. I have no idea, and neither do you. Probably we would never fully understand even if we tried. But something happened, something contingent and potentially avoidable. And I hope that there is a way to redeem some modicum of life for this boy also. I hope that there is a way for all to find restorative, rather than vindictive, justice in this. I hope we can do better than toss one more body on the pile.
I think the discussions in the books demonstrate a slogan of mine, that "our nature is to be so open to our nurture that it becomes second nature."* What I mean by this is that we are "bodies politic," that is to say, due to our neuroendrocrinological plasticity, social experience will shape our bodies in accord with the subjectification practices in which we participate more or less consciously and willingly. Experience goes deep, you could say, right down to the brain's neurons and hormones. But there's a variation in that depth, I think; some depths are deeper than others.
Last night, Michelle
Obama presented the award for best picture at the Oscars. She said
all the usual inspirational stuff about movies making us laugh and cry and teaching
us something important about the human spirit. In Hollywood’s America, it doesn't matter what
you look like (wink, wink - race), where you come from (wink, wink -
immigration), or who you love (wink, wink - gay marriage), if you believe in
yourself, you can make your dreams come true. We all know it’s bullshit, and yet… hey, it’s
But wait a second! Isn't Michelle Obama the First Lady of the United
States? The wife of the President? And who are those smiling white people
standing behind her in military pomp and little bow ties? Is she actually
speaking from the White House?
Presenting an entertainment award? I know that's kind of weird, and
yet... she looks great! Her bangs are a little heavy, but it works.
Last week I presented a paper* on "Plato, Political Affect, and Lullabies"** at a wonderful conference at CUNY. One key point is Plato's claim that habits of transgression formed from repeated petty misdeeds can ripple up to bad effect in a polity (788b-c). In the plus ça change category, I read this AP story on "zero tolerance" school policies in the morning paper. Some key grafs:
Zero tolerance traces its philosophical roots to the "broken windows" theory of policing, which argues that if petty crime is held in check, more serious crime and disorder are prevented.[***]
Among the great early
Modern thinkers, Hobbes famously emphasizes the role of fear in the state of
nature in prompting the agreement to form the civil state—and fear of a return
to the state of nature once in such a state. The reason we must be afraid in –
and of – the the state of nature is the widespread ability of people to kill
each other; while asleep, even the strongest can be killed by the weakest (Ryan,
1996; Foucault, 2003; Hull, 2009; on the general relation of reason and passion
in Hobbes, see Coli, 2006).
The other great early Modern thinker whom we will
treat is Spinoza.
Max Weber defines political sovereignty as the monopoly on the legitimate
use of force within a territory. But there is a problem: how to
unleash yet control the killing potential of the forces of order, the army and
the police? The problem is especially acute in the
crucial point of counter-revolution: will the army fire on “the people”? Plato
saw this problem clearly in his analysis of the character of the guardians, who
had to be kind to friends yet fierce to enemies (Republic, 375c).
Interestingly enough, the problem is more on the
“unleashing” side than on the “controlling” side, for killing is less easy than
it might seem for those raised with a Hobbesian outlook in which the ability to
kill is assumed to be widespread. We should recall here the way Hobbes emphasizes the role of fear in
the state of nature in prompting the agreement to form the civil state—and fear
of a return to the state of nature once in such a state. The reason we must be
afraid in – and of – the the state of nature is the widespread ability of
people to kill each other; while asleep, even the strongest can be killed by
This NYT article (h/t Greg Downey on FB; check out his Neuroanthropology blog) lays out research on the effects of social conditions (isolation vs integration) on PTSD. Greg excerpted this quote:
It turns out that most trauma victims — even survivors of combat, torture or concentration camps — rebound to live full, normal lives. That has given rise to a more nuanced view of trauma — less a poison than an infectious agent, a challenge that most people overcome but that may defeat those weakened by past traumas, genetics or other factors. Now, a significant body of work suggests that even this view is too narrow — that the environment just after the event, particularly other people’s responses, may be just as crucial as the event itself.
I thought this one about Nepalese ex-child soldiers provided a good concrete example:
But in villages that readily and happily reintegrated them (usually via rituals or conventions specifically designed to do so), they experienced no more mental distress than did peers who had never gone to war. The lasting harm of being a child soldier, it seemed, arose not from the war but from social isolation and conflict afterward.
As M.P. notes here in comments on Mohan's post, there is an undercurrent of thought (using the term lightly) that defends absolutist interpretations of the 2nd Amendment by claiming that widespread ownership of guns (sometimes specified as assault weapons) serves as a last line of defense against "tyranny."
The university's Board of Trustees proposed and unanimously approved the fingerprinting policy earlier this fall as a way to better protect minors on campus from potential criminals, reportedly following the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse case that rocked Pennsylvania State University in 2011. "It's prudent for us to do our due diligence and make sure we don't hire people like that," Florida Gulf Coast President Wilson Bradshaw told local media last month."
A petition at whitehouse.gov urging that Texas should secede from the United States has gathered over 100,000 signatures. Following the iron logic of secession, El Paso and Austin have filed petitions to secede from Texas should it secede from the US, and no doubt certain neighborhoods of those cities will file petitions to secede from the secession from the secession.
Texans should really think twice about this. The United States has a tendency to turn the governments of small- to medium-sized oil-rich countries into unstable dictatorships, and then, when it tires of its new playthings, it bombs them. Texas, or rather Texans, would, of course, save a significant amount of money if they no longer paid Federal income tax. But even $389 million doesn’t go very far when one stealth bomber costs a billion.
This NYT article on Occupy Sandy (h/t to Mark on FB) is noteworthy for highlighting a pressing problem for more-or-less anarchist strains of thought as they cross political affect.
"Occupy Wall Street has managed through its storm-related efforts not only to renew the impromptu passions of Zuccotti, but also to tap into an unfulfilled desire among the residents of the city to assist in the recovery. This altruistic urge was initially unmet by larger, more established charity groups, which seemed slow to deliver aid and turned away potential volunteers in droves during the early days of the disaster."
The question is how to institutionalize for efficiency without losing the face-to-face that helps drive empathy and altruism. I tend to take a modest evolutionary psychology angle here -- there really is something about faces for human beings and that something is plausibly an evolved predisposition for emotional resonance. Of course, the big question here is the ontological status of "predisposition."
The event of Hurricane Sandy is multi-dimensional; its sociological dimension is that people on the ground are "their own first responders," in Russel Honoré's phrase. Honoré's experience leading the militarized rescue effort in New Orleans after Katrina matches what sociologists have long demonstrated (and what Rebecca Solnit narrates in A Paradise Built in Hell): what appears in disasters is prosocial behavior, not atomized predation.
So, at the age of 32, I uncapped my pen to create a concept that could
be popular in the East and the West. I would go back to the very sources
from which others took violent and hateful messages and offer messages
of tolerance and peace in their place. I would give my heroes a Trojan
horse in the form of THE 99. Islam was my Helen. I wanted her back.
THE 99 references the 99 attributes of Allah - generosity, mercy, wisdom
and dozens of others not used to describe Islam in the media when you
were growing up. But if I am successful, by the time you read this, you
will not believe that such an era could have ever existed.
Knowing that children will learn vicariously from THE 99 to be tolerant
of all who believe in doing unto others as we would have them do unto
us, makes me very proud.--Naif Al-Mutawa (Exerpted from here).
Stern's recent Forms of Vitality has some concise descriptions of "affective attunement," in which a caretaker matches the affective dynamics of the infant, but in another modality (e.g., voice rather than gesture), so that there is no mere imitation, but a "signature" indicating the matching of internal states (41; 113).
But it's Trevarthen's interest in "musicality," in the rhythmic interaction of caretaker and infant, that makes the connection with Plato, specifically with his discussion of law, custom, and the skill of nurses in administering lullabies in the Laws. (The Athenian's assumption that slave women do child-rearing for citizens explains [in addition to my interest in Hrdy's Mothers and Others -- see Catarina on "allomothers"] why I'm using "caretaker" rather than "mother.")
Here's the Men's lightweight 4 rowing team from South Africa, just before they came from behind to win the gold.
I am well aware of the serious issues in South Africa today and the limitations of isolated sporting camaraderie as serious politics. But once upon a time I was roughed up by cops on my way to jail for protesting US support for the institution that made the very existence of such a team illegal. (The same institution that imprisoned, tortured, and later exiled my friend and mentor Dennis Brutus for demanding integration as a condition upon participation in the olympics.) Since my connection was nowhere near unique, nor as deep as that of many, I wonder how many others found themselves caught up in the social/political affect of the celebration. (I'm pretty sure Dennis would have taken a short break from his life-long agitation to treasure this moment.)
I'm reading Daniel Gross, The Secret History of Emotion (Chicago, 2006), which reclaims the tradition of theories of the emotion s(or "the passions" as they were so often called) that stress social embeddedness. The basic idea is that social position structures the emotional experience open to a particular person. Gross illustrates this thesis by a discussion of Aristotle and shame:
there is shame where social institutions are most dense... passions are inequitably distributed, exchanged, and monopolized where social difference is most extreme. A slave, for instance, does not provoke in a master passions such as friendly feeling, confidence, or even pity, because, according to Aristotle, pity is directed toward those of equal standing who have suffered a wrong unjustly. (42)
In Chapter 5, Gross discusses a case study of man suffering from delusions of grandeur laid out by William Perfect's "immensely popular" Annals of Insanity (1778). Gross focuses on Perfect's claim that the man exhibited "extreme sensibility." This is someone who had undergone an
One of the things I focus on is "political affect." It's a multi-valent concept; one of the registers in which it works is psycho-somatic effects of political economic conditions. This article summarizes research which details the bad health effects of chronic job insecurity:
Research shows that the purgatory of job insecurity may be even worse for you than unemployment. And it's turning the American Dream into a sleepwalking nightmare. From young temporary workers to middle-aged career veterans, Americans are being pushed to their physical and psychological limits in what has the makings of a major national public health crisis.
To turn this back to politics in the restricted sense, we should recall the classic distinction between anxiety and fear. Anxiety is free-floating arousal; fear is targeted. You're anxious about the dark and afraid of an approaching attack dog.
Consider then the brutality of contemporary US politics (and don't be so smug, my non-US friends; it's coming your way, sound bites and attack ads and all). If anxiety is worse than fear, anxiety-gripped people will be prone to accept the bogeys on offer by politicians, because at least you can focus your fear / hatred on a bogey, whereas with systemic insecurity, all you can do is suffer. So better to focus on some chimeric Islamomexikenyanian-gay-sex-having-and-abortion-loving-latte-sipping-arugula-eating-unionized-public-school-teacher-cultural-elite-who-are-sapping-and-impurifying-our-precious-bodily-fluids than to have to think your way through the anxiety to the social system that makes you insecure.
Or better, the contemporary political discourse blocks the path to an intellectual understanding of systematic insecurity by its relentless individualism and shaming, its victim-blaming. "Insecure? what a loser! You should have picked a better career."
One disastrously misleading trope in the study of Adam Smith is that his fundamental metaphysical and psychological commitments are basically Hume's. I attack it regularly in print. (See, e.g., here,here, here, here.) But I have overlooked a very important example of the way in which Smith deviates from Hume. Consider this passage:
Let us suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myriads of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let us consider how a man of humanity in Europe, who had no sort of connexion with that part of the world, would be affected upon receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity. He would, I imagine, first of all, express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune of that unhappy people, he would make many melancholy reflections upon the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labours of man, which could thus be annihilated in a moment. He would too, perhaps, if he was a man of speculation, enter into many reasonings concerning the effects which this disaster might produce upon the commerce of Europe, and the trade and business of the world in general. And when all this fine philosophy was over, when all these humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the same ease and tranquillity, as if no such accident had happened. The most frivolous disaster which could befal himself would occasion a more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own. To prevent, therefore, this paltry misfortune to himself, would a man of humanity be willing to sacrifice the lives of a hundred millions of his brethren, provided he had never seen them? Human nature startles with horror at the thought, and the world, in its greatest depravity and corruption, never produced such a villain as could be capable of entertaining it. But what makes this difference? When our passive feelings are almost always so sordid and so selfish, how comes it that our active principles should often be so generous and so noble? When we are always so much more deeply affected by whatever concerns ourselves, than by whatever concerns other men; what is it which prompts the generous, upon all occasions, and the mean upon many, to sacrifice their own interests to the greater interests of others? It is not the soft power of humanity, it is not that feeble spark of benevolence which Nature has lighted up in the human heart, that is thus capable of counteracting the strongest impulses of self-love. It is a stronger power, a more forcible motive, which exerts itself upon such occasions. It is reason, principle, conscience, the inhabitant of the breast, the man within, the great judge and arbiter of our conduct. It is he who, whenever we are about to act so as to affect the happiness of others, calls to us, with a voice capable of astonishing the most presumptuous of our passions, that we are but one of the multitude, in no respect better than any other in it; and that when we prefer ourselves so shamefully and so blindly to others, we become the proper objects of resentment, abhorrence, and execration. It is from him only that we learn the real littleness of ourselves, and of whatever relates to ourselves, and the natural misrepresentations of self-love can be corrected only by the eye of this impartial spectator. (The Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS), emphasis added)
You write about our anger, and yes, we are angry. We are angry at our government, at our police and at you. But none of you are succeeding in conveying what it feels like when you walk down the streets of Montreal right now, which is, for me at least, an overwhelming sense of joy and togetherness....
I come home from these protests euphoric. The first night I returned, I sat down on my couch and I burst into tears, as the act of resisting, loudly, with my neighbours, so joyfully, had released so much tension that I had been carrying around with me, fearing our government, fearing arrest, fearing for the future. I felt lighter....
This is what Quebec looks like right now. Every night is teargas and riot cops, but it is also joy, laughter, kindness, togetherness, and beautiful music. Our hearts are bursting. We are so proud of each other; of the spirit of Quebec and its people; of our ability to resist, and our ability to collaborate.
[UPDATE 27 May, 8:00 am CDT*: philosophical comment below the fold]
As Montreal police are beginning to increase the use of kettling in their crackdown on protest, it's a good time to remind ourselves of the dual use of that tactic: 1) the production of crowd "violence" providing pretext for further crackdowns, and 2) as a form of extra-judicial punishment (I am choosing that term carefully; I do not mean "extra-legal" but simply "outside the courts" [as opposed to the legislature]).
The best new crowd psychology shows that the police can produce violent reactions from their adversaries, just by treating them as adversaries (thereby producing a group identity of the crowd as "enclosed" and "threatened"), cutting off their path ("kettling"), hell, just showing up in riot gear. This effect is not unknown in the policing community (paywall protected article, unfortunately). You can of course investigate the self-constition of police group identity as the "thin blue line protecting society from violent mobs," etc. along these same lines.
Furthermore, as Laurie Penny points out here, kettling itself is a form of extra-judicial punishment: humiliating, anxiety-producing, etc. Just keeping you from urinating for hours has all sorts of subtle or not so subtle physiologico-psychological anxiety effects. It also puts the relief of your anxiety in the hands of the agents of the State.
One other extra-judicial punishment, beyond kettling -- or maybe a prolongation of kettling is better -- is to make the arrest procedure as long and degrading and difficult as possible. And then to decline to press charges. But the 24-36-48-even sometimes 72 hours in custody is in fact worse punishment than a judge is likely to pass down. So even if the police don't break your ribs with a billy club or pepper-spray you, they can still punish you, for just keeping you handcuffed, humiliated, for hours and hours on end is already punishment.
A perfect example here of the media's insatiable desire to annoint a leader of a mass movement. The linked BBC article not only looks to present GND (see, I'm falling into it myself, using the initials) as a "leader," it also uses "he said, she said" reporting to make sure the most reactionary creeps get air time to repeat the usual canards about the students as spoiled brats (and quite implicitly, but nonetheless there, unless I'm being hyper-sensitive, the Quebec Francophones as emotional and unruly compared to the sober and rational Anglos). Now I'm quite sure GND knows all this and has made a careful study of Camila Vallego's manipulation of and by the media. (Cf. as well David Graeber and OWS.)
What I'd like to ask for comments on is not so much that tactical level, as the philosophical question of what lies behind the mediatic creation of "leaders." What desire is at work here, what fear of the multitude is being assuaged? "Fascism" is terribly overused as an analytical category, but can that be remedied by making a distinction between micro- and macro-fascism? Is this an instance of micro-fascism, the desire to find a leader, so that all human relations are that of leader and led, crowding out the immanent self-organization of the multitude? I'm moving very fast here, from a combination of caffeine and time pressure from other tasks, but I hope some of this makes sense and is enought to elicit comments.
Someone thanked me the other day for posting on the Quebec situation. I said "there's no need for thanks, as we are all in this together, for Louisiana is set to decimate its universities via another round of budget cuts. Year after year, it's the same: http://theadvocate.com/news/2893882-123/college-leaders-blast-cuts. And of course it's completely artificial as in 2007 the Republicans pushed through huge tax cuts on the wealthy, which creates the revenue shortfall which is the pretext then for the expense cuts. The media let them off the hook by pretending there's a "budget crisis" when it's only a self-inflicted revenue shortfall. AFAICT, it's the same in Quebec, right?"
Now insofar as this is an Art, Politics, Philosophy, Science blog, here's a philosophical question: what's going on with the constitution of what I'm going to call here "serial identity," as in the title of the post? It's not quite "just" a relay of support, as in this great photo, but something more, or at least different.
It's not the assertion of collective identity either, as in this wonderful clip "We are Wisconsin":
First, on a more purely cognitive line, the question is how to communicate clearly the difference between the very common use of linear projections ("if we continue on the same path ...") and the more difficult to grasp but probably more plausible postulation of positive feedback loops leading to takeoffs ("natural processes can have abrupt breaks ..."). In other words, how to explain linearity vs nonlinearity in the popular press.
But it's the second question that interests me: how do we trigger a controlled reaction to the fear provoked by predictions of ACC disaster? The tagline in the article is "hug the monster." I'll explain what that means below the fold, but first, a shoutout to my Lovecraft friends.
[This is part of a larger draft-paper on the significance of counterfactual causal reasoning in the Sympathetic Process in Adam Smith's philosophy that is meant as a correction to one-sided focus on the significance of affect in Smith.--ES]
Consider the following passage in The Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS; the references are the so-called Glasgow edition):
There are some passions of which the expressions excite no sort of sympathy, but before we are acquainted with what gave occasion to them, serve rather to disgust and provoke us against them…. The general idea of good or bad fortune, therefore, creates some concern for the person who has met with it, but the general idea of provocation excites no sympathy with the anger of the man who has received it. Nature, it seems, teaches us to be more averse to enter into this passion, and, till informed of its cause, to be disposed rather to take part against it. Even our sympathy with the grief or joy of another, before we are informed of the cause of either, is always extremely imperfect (TMS 220.127.116.11-9, 11)
In context Smith’s claim that what we might label ‘instinctual sympathy’ only goes so far. In some contexts without knowledge of the causal circumstances that produce the passions in the agent concerned, the sympathetic process will always lead to what Smith calls “extremely imperfect" sympathy. It seems to follow from Smith’s account and his adopted terminology that there exists some (non-instinctual) sequence that leads to perfect, or at least much less imperfect sympathy. It can be described as follows: following (T0) (i) an intensely/passionately felt moral situation which is experienced or observed empirically, is as follows: (ii) by way of the imagination spectators and moral agents place themselves in each other situations, including (ii*) knowledge of (moral) causes that gave rise to the moral situation , and this involves (iii) a sympathetic mutual modulation (informed, perhaps, by observations about how the other is reacting), which, in turn, produces (iv) a conceived reflected passion within each participant in the sympathetic process and this (v) alters the intensity of the feelings of the participants in the process; after several rounds of this, perhaps, this produces (vi) fellow feeling (sympathy) among spectator and persons principally concerned.
Per 36 USC § 115 (dating from 1958), today, May 1, is Loyalty Day in the United States of America, "a special day for the reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States and for the recognition of the heritage of American freedom." The text also reads:
The President is requested to issue a proclamation—
(1) calling on United States Government officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on Loyalty Day; and
(2) inviting the people of the United States to observe Loyalty Day with appropriate ceremonies in schools and other suitable places.
President Obama's Loyalty Day 2012 proclamation is here. (By the way, it's also Law Day, if Loyalty Day isn't enough for you.)
I was asked to do a short presentation yesterday for "Revolutionary Renditions," the culminating event in a spring-semester series sponsored by the International Studies program at LSU reflecting on the 2011 "Arab Spring." I chose the "duel of anthems" scene from Casablanca and commented on three aspects of La Marseillaise (in itself and as depicted in the movie) with regard to the intertwining of the affective, the semantic, and the pragmatic: 1) collective embodiment in music; 2) the temporality of revolutionary solidarity; 3) the universality of the values of the French Revolution and the “rights of man.” First the clip, then below the fold my (roughly sketched) notes for the discussion: