Saturday, August 18, 2007

the psychology of homo peckerwoodus

Over at TPM, M.J. Rosenberg refers to this perfectly wild interview with Wolfowitz published in the beating heart of the Murdochian nightmare, the Australian. After a brisk summary that can only bring a cheerful heh heh to the hearts of its readers ("He was forced out of this job for allegedly organising an over-generous promotion out of the bank for his partner. It was an absurd charge and the bank ultimately decided he had behaved ethically. Nonetheless there was a kind of frenzy of hostility to Wolfowitz, really from the day he started at the bank"), we then turn reverently to the man himself. The first question, of course, is:

'O WHAT can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge is wither'd from the lake,
And no birds sing…”

But no, that isn’t the first question, I’m getting my notes mixed up. Rather, the birds are singing like jiminy, and they are singing in Iraq, that happy happy land. As every rightwinger knows, following the intrepid reporting of Michael Totten, Michael Yon and Michael Fumento – the three Michaels of the Bush apocalypse, brought to you by Pyjamas media - Iraq is almost a superpower of happiness at the moment. It is all about the kids. Kids kids kids. Pictures of kids. Candy distributed to kids. Although one must admit – they are Muslim kids. Being Muslim has long been a rightwing crime, up there with being black and being Mexican. Luckily, due to a rigorous training in self-lobotomy, the warmongers are able to handle both the idea that the democratic, freedom lovin’ Iraqis are Moslems and that we have to drop nuclear weapons on Muslims with the greatest of ease in order to win the GWOT.

Well now. Having decisively brought freedom to Mesopotamia, one would think that Wolfowitz would be posing for statues. But you are misunderestimating the power of the MSM, which, as any good rightwinger can tell you, is in cahoots with the terrorists. Alas, Wolfowitz, whose brilliance is being shown every day, doesn’t even have a bankrollable girlfriend anymore. So the Australian reporter was surely apprehensive- would he be interviewing a broken man?

“He looks well and he seems to have absorbed all the strife that befell him. He agrees what happened to him was an injustice, but says: "I don't feel particularly bitter or resentful, I manage to get on with other things. I've developed some of the feeling for Africa that I've long had for Indonesia. It would be exciting to be able to help."”

Oh no. Africa, run for the hills! Wolfowitz saying “it would be exciting to help’ is like Genghis Khan opining about vacation destinations he’d like to go to with his kids.

However, the whole genius of the interview is in the interviewer knowing that, five hundred thousand dead Iraqis later, the man of sorrows is… Wolfowitz. To immediately spot the martyr like that is what reporters are paid for.

For what it is worth, Wolfowitz has his memories – and good ones they are!

`I think it is worth remembering January 2005. When Iraqis got the chance to vote for the first time, and the enemy threatened death to those who voted, and some said the indelible ink on the thumb may be mark of death, 9.5million Iraqis voted. That said something important. It’s an important asset to build on. I think the vote itself tells us something about what the great majority of Iraqis would like to see.’’

Now of course, we are going to go into September and do nothing again to bring home U.S. troops in Iraq. LI isn’t going to write about that on this blog. What we are going to write about is – a psychological experiment that was performed, years ago, by Leon Festinger. I came across this experiment in Lauren Slater’s charming book, Opening Skinner’s Box. Festinger’s article is here . As Slater points out, according to the then orthodox Behaviorist theory, human behavior was absolutely wired to reinforcements, such that the more a behavior was rewarded, the more it would be preferred. Festinger’s experiment showed exactly the opposite. A subject that was paid a dollar to lie about his opinion x was more likely to start shifting his opinion around to his expressed false opinion than a subject who was paid twenty dollars. In other words, those who made more were quite willing to admit they lied; those who were paid less had a tendency to try to make the lie come true, and were less willing to say that the lie was a lie.

Why? That’s a good question. Slater says:

“Festinger hypothesized that it is much harder to justify lying for a dollar; you are a good, smart person, after all, and good, smart people don’t do bad things for no real reason. Therefore, because you can’t take back the lie, and you’ve already pocketed the mealy money, you bring your beliefs into alignment with your actions, so as to reduce the dissonance between your self concept and your questionable behavior. However, those people who were paid twenty bucks to lie, they didn’t change their beliefs; in effect, they said, Yeah, I lied, I didn’t believe a word of what I said, but I got paid well.”

This hypothesis tells us some interesting things about the support for the war. The peckerwoods who bought it hook, line and sinker and are still convinced that the U.S. should win – or as they usually put it in comments sections on blogs, WIN – in Iraq know, on one level, that they were lied to. But the lies were so cheap, so transparent, that of course in a sense accepting them was like accepting some cheap shoddy reward for doing a bad thing for no real reason. It is important to remember that 99.9 percent of the American public, in 2002, could care less about Iraq, knew nothing about Iraq, and had never, previously, ever thought that the security of America, or even our most minor self interest, depended on anything having to do with Iraq. Furthermore, they still could care less about Iraq. Most news stories about Iraq center, logically enough, on Americans. They quote American analysts. The Iraqis are segregated into the special, once a month story where an interview is conducted with the stray Gunga Din figure. The idea that we should devote a trillion dollars to making Iraq a democracy never emerged, spontaneously, from the burning, yearning heart of the American homeland. And, in fact, what the American homeland thinks, almost always, is that Moslems should be killed or converted. We are talking Northern Idaho here. We are talking rural Minnesota. We are talking Kansas, Oklahoma. We are talking the crystal meth/fundie imperium.

So, what we have here is clearly a classic case of dissonance.

What is puzzling, though, is the more highly rewarded. But here one should notice something: the ease with which the pro-war pundits have taken back their ‘support’ for the invasion. While the yahoos continue to bray that we brought down Satan Hussein, who hid those WMDs in Syria, the higher ups are (ahem)most regretful, dreadfully sorry that this happened in the first place. Mistakes were made. Ignatieff has already explained it was because he was just too good a person. Beinart has said that he listened to some wily Iraqi exiles - Muslims, come to think of it. The Washington Post editorial board has said that they, uh, trusted in Bush's competence. Although what the mistakes were, in the end, is rather misty. The upper deck people, too, were advocating for a war for no real reason. But the reward was enough – in terms of positioning, etc. – that looking back, they can afford to be a bit regretful. What they can’t afford is any shaking of their little positional niches. So they have made up the story of how they were serious all the time, day and night, and still are. A higher reward gives you greater leaway to admit mistakes, but the repair work to keep your world view clean and bright and consistent - and to keep being published on the Washington Post Op Ed page - will prevent any fundamental questions from being asked. That would be tres icky.

the price of a man

Was ist eigentlich ein Mensch?
Weiß ich, was ein Mensch ist?
Weiß ich, wer das weiß?
Ich weiß nicht, was ein Mensch ist
Ich kenne nur seine Preis. - Brecht, the Measures Taken

I’ve been thinking about witnesses and testimony to that change in emotional custom I outlined in my post for Brian.

Here’s one.

In a letter in response to criticism made by his English friend, A.N.W. Nassau, to his Democracy in America, Tocqueville defended one of his phrases about England –“the good of the poor ended up being sacrified to that of the rich.’

“You attack me on this point, of which you are certainly a very competent judge. However, you will permit me to disagree with your opinion. Firstly, it seems to me that you give to the phrase “good of the poor” a very restrained interpretation that I hadn’t given it: you translate it by the word wealth which applies particularly to riches. I had wanted to speak, myself, of all the things which could concur in the well being of life – consideration, political rights, the ease of obtaining justice, the enjoyments of the mind and the thousand other things that contribute indirectly to happiness. I think, lacking a contrary proof, that in England the rich have little by little attracted to themselves almost all the advantages that the social state furnishes to men. In taking the question in your narrow way, and in admitting that the poor man gains a momentarily greater profit in cultivating the land of another’s than of his own, do you think there are no other political, moral, intellectual profits attached to the possession of land, and which compensate beyond, and principally in a permanent manner, the disadvantage that you signal?”

Nassau’s view had worldwide consequences. In a decade, it was this view that depopulated Ireland, paralyzing any relief that would save the million Irish famine victims, and actually seeing their ‘removal” as a Malthusian good. It was this view that threw up factories and routinized 15 to 16 hour days – something like 200,000 women made cloth, lace, draperies and vestments in such factories in France by the 1860s, according to a contemporary, Julie Victoire Daubie. In Dieppe, Blanqui found women making 25 centimes for a 15 hour day. In Paris, in the Balzacian days of Louis Phillipe, Louis Désiré Véron, a bon vivant, found beautiful women assuming the ‘fold’ impressed upon them by the literature of Balzac, Sand and Musset: “Boldness of thought, an elegance that was a bit cavalier, little politeness even with the best attitude, nerves without vapors, a sensibility susceptible to profound emotions, but only for positive causes and chiefly on questions of interest: such are the distinctive traits of the more or less a la mode, more or less political women of the reign of Louis-Philippe.” Also, “From 1831, the rich bourgeoisie had their choice of seats at the Opera: they replaced the great families and the great names of the restauration.”

This was going on as the system of ‘fictional commodities’ – labor, land and money – took hold absolutely in the West. This is Polanyi:

“Neither under tribal, nor feudal, nor mercantile conditions was there, as we have shown, a separate economic system in society. Nineteenth century society, in which economic activity was isolated and imputed to a distinctive economic motive, was, indeed, a singular departure.

Such an institutional pattern could not function unless society was somehow subordinated to its requirements. A market economy can exist only in a market society. We reached this conclusion on general grounds in our analysis of the market pattern. We can now specify the reasons for this assertion. A market economy must comprise all elements of industry, including labor, land, and money. (In a market economy the last also is an essential element of industrial life and its inclusion in the market mechanism has, as we will see, far-reaching institutional consequences.) But labor and land are no other than the human beings themselves of which every society consists and the natural surroundings in which it exists. To include them in the market mechanism means to subordinate the substance of society itself to the laws of the market.”

Our question is about the interior life, the dimmest thing in the universe. Astronomers may point their telescopes this way, but they wont spot anything. Except, of course, some language. John Watson, the bizarre behaviorist, once proposed that thinking resided in the larynx, and was given to ending letters to his friends by saying that he would make some larynginal perturbations about them - his way of saying, thinking of you! What we are tracking, here, ends up lodged, in the end, under our own skin. So we will use our familiarity with the period's literature. Stendhal, who spent time in France, Italy, England and Germany, is one of the more acute observers of this time, which he saw as one transitioning from glory - Napoleon's promise - to calculation. And wanting, himself, to be a philosopher whose writing and thoughts were as clear and cold as the Civil Code, he studied Bentham and human nature, as he found it. His account of the motives for an altruistic act, published as an article in the Revue de Paris in 1829, has not, I think, been translated. If I have time, I’ll translate it in an upcoming post.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Infinite Thought’s latest post from Berlin is a heartfelt cry against the pyjamarization of the world. Adam Gopnik wrote a similar piece in Paris to the Moon. Now, some people can’t stand Adam Gopnick – Renata Adler, baby, I’m lookin’ at YOU – but I thought Paris to the Moon had some of the funniest american in paris pieces since the battling Thurbers settled in the berg in the 20s while Jimmy tried to work on his sketches.

Gopnik wrote about trying to dress as an adult in Paris – which was a very unamerican thing to do. He makes the same point in this little essay:

“The first great difference [between Parisians and Americans] is the one already mentioned—the preference in Paris, puzzling to an American, for adulthood over adolescence. There are very few Americans—and very little American culture—not haunted by youth and the idea of the superior happiness of teenage life, by memories of happiness found and lost (or happiness just lost, and now too late to recover). Americans like to remain seventeen for as long as they possibly can, they grant enormous credit to whatever seventeen-year-olds believe, and they have built a culture around the needs—and, some might say, reflecting the wisdoms—of adolescents.

This is because Americans are generally very happy when they are young: teenagers have sex, freedom, drugs, music, some money, and not very much schoolwork. Things tighten only a little in college, there is a summer off, and then suddenly they are plunged into a brutal, insecure work world. There are few shocks as great for an American at twenty-two as the first day of work, when arbitrary power and rampant insecurity invade a largely carefree Eden. This is why careworn Americans listen again and again, unto death, to the music they heard when they were teenagers. It explains a sight so ludicrous to Parisians: middle-age Americans strolling in the city in sneakers and shorts or jeans, dressed like the children they wish they were. They are not immature; they've just been knocked cold by the realities of grown-up life that their culture hides even from itself. “

I think this ludicrous outfit – my outfit, actually, sneakers and jeans – also bugs IT. (Although try to do without shorts on a hot Austin summer day). In one of her posts a while ago, she linked to a bande a part Godard video that, I imagine, is close to her view of how humans should dress. And, incidentally, what they should do in bars. And who can resist Anna Karinen in a black fedora? I too think that all politics should flow out of choreography, although I’m more of a West Side Story man. That there isn't more mass spontaneous dancing in the world points to the sad state of our present decay.

for brian

Brian asked me a good question in the comments of the last post. He asked me to write what I’ve been writing in plainer english. Let’s see if I can do that.

My thesis has three parts.

The first part is that there are emotional customs – norms that organize the way people make sense of their feelings and moods in the past, present and future. Moreover, there is a sort of gray area in the West in which the good life has been associated with a certain mood – happiness.

Now, given this, as capitalism took hold as a total system in Europe and the U.S. in the 19th century, I’m saying that there was the beginning of a shift in emotional customs – in what counted as the emotional norm. It is, remember, with reference to the norm that emotions are organized as to what is appropriate.

The second part of my thesis is that a vocabulary and models were devised for feelings, beginning in the late 19th century, which codified the hedonistic emotional norm while at the same time attempting to capture the nature of emotions in a science. The science naturally attempted not only to trace emotion back to its causes, but also to classify emotions. Thus arose a classification that increasingly used the idea of negative and positive feelings, or feeling tone, or emotions, as a way to connect emotional species, so to speak. This system was diffused in a number of ways – in the psychology of personality, in the disciplines dealing with motivation, in education, and in therapy. In one sense, this system was recapitulating the Christian project of moralizing the emotions.

And the third part of the thesis is this. As happiness becomes the emotional norm, the idea of impressing the image of happiness on the world – of creating a happy world – was embodied in politics. This happy world, or happiness triumphant, becomes the directing image for all kinds of political action. Often of contradictory political actions.

Now, within this framework, I’m interested in several subthemes. One is about age roles. Polanyi’s Great Transformation produced an unexpected social fact: the traditional age roles dissolved. This wasn’t seen for a long time. There’s a satire of Louis XIV’s court in La Bruyere’s Characters, under the section about children. La Bruyere observes that:

“Laziness, indolence and idleness, vices that are so natural to children, disappear in games where they are lively, assiduous, exact, great lovers of rules and symmetry, where they are pitiless to another’s faults and recommence, themselves, in those things in which they are at fault: a certain presage of the day when they might neglect their duties, but never forget their pleasures.”

Taking up this coupling of technique and laziness, pleasure and the love of rules, La Bruyere writes:

“Children begin, among themselves, in the popular state [democracy]; each there is master and, naturally, they soon don’t get along, easing the passage into monarchy: someone distinguishes himself, either by a greater vivacity, or by a better disposition of the body, or by a more exact knowledge of different games and the little laws that compose them; the others defer to him, and he thus forms an absolute government, which runs on pleasure alone.”

The rule of pleasure can be extracted from its link to the absolutism of the monarch and reinserted into a form of democracy that La Bruyere little dreamed. But the link with youth, with childhood, is as key. In the calculus of pleasure that theoretically runs everything, I think La Bruyere is right – the homo economicus is not so much a rational agent as a perfect child.

Now, this shouldn’t be taken to mean that this change is all bad. Hell, can’t we all get along and be dialectical? as Rodney King once asked. Also, I’m uncomfortable with calling the change ‘capitalism’ – it isn’t as if there were some socialist alternative. Both Marx and the chamber of commerce agreed on the need for industry and growth. Capitalism seems to name a particular economic system that is fundamentally different from socialism. I don’t think so.

So, are you with me so far?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

emotions among the wormfood

After Delacroix, the painting of historical scenes generally devolved to the second tier of painting: to the painters of dioramas and of battlescenes housed in fairway tents. While the Mexican muralists did some pretty good battlescenes and pageant pictures, basically, paintings of battles today are alive mainly among comix artists, and of course the world of those digital artists who work on action pics (and hey, for you painters out there who want to make some bucks on the next big thing and go out with pop star divas, I’d suggest freeze framing action movie scenes and repainting them a la David. Pretty easy to do, the irony so up front that even the dumbest Vogue editor can see it, and you are on your way to a life of making subpar videos and such a la Matthew Barney).

Well, getting all the elements together to portray the total social phenomenon of the happiness culture has a certain unavoidable dioramic feel. Just as in the diorama, where heroic figures alternate with the wormfood that brandishes swords, flees, is crippled by falling horses, shot, splayed, and abstractly wins or loses, I have to alternate a story about something happening in high culture – the change in the discourse of the emotions that kicked in in the second part of the 19th century – while making a claim that this affected the way the wormfood interpreted their emotions –the way emotional customs exist on the ‘folk’ level. Actually, the claim is not just that this affected the wormfood, but that there is a collective experience of a shift in the social phenomenon of interpreting emotions that corresponds to total shifts in the positional network, the level of aspiration, etc., associated with the new system of production.

Now, how do you get evidence for claims like this?

I’ve been reading some of the works published in the sixties – thick description ethnologies like Akenfield, Ronald Blythe’s excellent “Portrait of an English Village” – which took a long look back at the changes wrought in the landscape by war, technology, the abandonment of rural areas – as Blythe points out, 700,000 some English men and women abandoned the countryside in the 1870s to emigrate to Canada, the U.S., and Australia, leaving some areas to revert to untilled, unpastured nature, such as was common to them in Elizabethan days – and the diffusion among the great mass that still lived with ancien regime habits and ways of thinking of a totally different mindset.

When Napoleon’s soldiers swept through Europe, they very consciously diffused the doctrines of the French revolution – they felt themselves the bearers of a new political order. This was why Marx, for one, wished that Napoleon had succeeded – it would have broken the grip of the ancien regime on Prussia. But there were no soldiers bearing the message of a new emotional order to which one can point. Yet the new emotional order did come. This is a long event, one that took two centuries. It achieved critical mass, at it were, in the 1960s. What I am looking for is a way to find testimony to that massive, and massively invisible, change.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A fundraising video for LI

Mr. Scruggs made this great little fundraising video for Limited Inc. Check it out!

the charming Mr. Rove

Rove’s resignation today is in secret correspondence with the post I was going to write, but haven’t, because I am exhausted – for some reason, I’m not gettin’ my Zs. Well, let me do some of this in my sleep.

I’ve been reading Allan Brandt's The Cigarette Century. I read Helen Epstein’s review in the NYRB, and thought that the tone was off: Epstein claimed that her Mom’s death from lung cancer could be directly blamed on the cigarette companies. Myself, I always think, we all know quite well that smoking causes lung cancer. But I picked up the book, and I have had to modify my view about cig companies. There is a beautiful chapter in this book entitled “Constructing Controversy” which outlines not only the way the tobacco industry manufactured a “scientific controversy” as a political tool to prevent regulation of cigarettes, but the way their procedure introduced a whole new, dire dimension to American political life.

The deal went down like this. After Hill and Doll’s epidemiological study showed the causal link between lung cancer and smoking in 1951, the cigarette makers faced a crisis. The cancer study could have utterly collapsed sales, or so the makers thought. What were they to do? In the event, they got together, hired a pr firm, Hill and Knowlton. Hill and Knowlton wisely decided cigarette companies couldn't just advertise that they were safe - they needed a pr mechanism that was subtler than that. So the companies ponied up money for a false front 'research' think tank. H and T issued a “frank statement’ of concern from the collective industry. The statement promised to safeguard the public health. Then they set up the Tobacco Industry Research Committee - H and T made it clear that the think tank had to have 'research' in the name, as that would make it seem unbiased. Then they went looking for buyable scientists to form an advisory committee. The scientists would have preference when it came to research money. Plus, of course, the scientists were vetted on whether they were predisposed to doubt the epidemiological link. Whether, for instance, they smoked themselves. And finally they needed a man of integrity. Rather as the Exxon crowd has found, in the MIT scientist, Stephen McIntyre, a wonderful sceptical face to put upon a massive con job when it comes to ‘debating’ Global Warming, the TIRC found C.C. Little. He had great credentials. He’d headed up a Cancer institute at Bar Harbor, been a university president, won a lot of respect for his cancer research. However, he had an idee fixe, which was that cancer was genetic. And this idee fixe couldn’t stomach another causative agent for any cancer. So, as the evidence from animal research in the fifties mounted, as more epidemiological research was done, as the lemon lemon lemon kept coming up on the cancer machine, he impeturbably stuck to the Hill and Knowlton script that the industry found the case ‘unproven.’ Meanwhile, the TIRC busily sent mass mailings to doctors and buttonholed pliable journalists and editors, brilliantly orchestrating a campaign to make it look like the cancer link was headed into greater scientific uncertainty when, actually, the research was becoming more and more conclusive. The papers loved it, just as they loved cigarette advertising. The old days of blatant lying in the news biz were being modernized. Lying was done now by omission and the hosting of fake sides to debates which were carefully framed to help the multiple choice challenged reader get which was the right and which was the wrong side – and not get sidetracked by any risky and anti-business like side at all.

It was all splendid. Per capita consumption of cigs actually rose after the cancer link was found, from 3,344 a year in 1954 to 4,025 in 1960. The profits were gorgeous. And, considering that about 450,000 people die annually from smoking related lung disease, we are talking a good 2.4 million deaths – not to speak of the number of lungs that have merely been operated on.

The cream of this capitalist jest is that the tobacco companies were worried about those deaths. After all, those were customers. They were researching making less carcinogenic fare. But could they? Behind the scenes, tobacco industry scientists were actually discovering carcinogens in cigarette smoke. While the TIBC, set up to do research on lung cancer, never, well, did any, secret memos from research done for the tobacco companies that Brandt got hold of tell a different story. For instance, for Phillip Morris, a scientist named Helmut Wakeham had discovered 15 different carcinogens in cigarette smoke by 1963. And more. In one memo, he wrote about “cardiovascular ailments that may arise from smoking are due to the physiological effects of nicotine.”

You have to hand it to the cigarette companies. That kind of fake controversy and intellectual dishonesty was ahead of its time. What was needed to make it truly come alive into an all American fun filled broomhandle up your bottom was combining it with the populist anger of the always inflamable peckerwood contingent. The cig companies didn’t see that. Like Balboa dying at Darien, they glimpsed only the glitter of an alien ocean. It took the petro companies in the seventies to create that final little bit, just for you, thus bringing about the political atmosphere we live in, and the shroud of misdirection that any issue - Iraq, global warming, national health care - immediately runs into. Rove-like creatures require careful cultural preparation before they can really do their little thing. A significant proportion of the American booboisie has learned to cretinize itself all by itself. They hardly need any training any more. Horatio Alger meets Dr. Mengele in a happy ending, a laff riot. I about died! Two thumbs up!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Robots should not be allowed to own dogs

As LI readers know, there is only one issue for us in the Presidential primary so far: revenging Seamus! This video of Mitt Romney is revealing – for instance, it reveals that he is a robot. LI thought that he simply looked like a robot from photos we’d seen. We hadn’t seen him on tv or video. This interview proves, I think conclusively, that Mitt Romney is a primitive robot. The chuckle, for instance, is a voice response first put into robots in 1956, I believe. The plasticene skin, which was developed at the same time, was also used on the 3314 Ken Busy Doll, 1971. You’ll also notice other features that were borrowed from the Ken Doll: bendable elbows. Hands that can grasp and hold items, bendable legs. The accoutrement for the Romneybot is pretty sophisticated. Some of the clothes seem almost to be designed for human beings, although, if you take a closer look, most of the buttons and zippers on the front are fake. The clothes unzip from the back, so you can pull your Romneybot clothes off without them ripping.

LI has complained about the quality of the MSM for years, but this is a new low point. By omitting to tell us that Romney is a robot, they are holding back a piece of information that voters should have, I believe. Although of a different body type, objective observers will note that he was produced by the same people who designed this Nomura X-70 Space Robot. If he is president, will the Nomura company get special attention when bidding on government contracts? This is something we want to know.

But whether he becomes a president or not, Romney, as a robot, shouldn’t be allowed to own a dog. For one thing, he has an exaggerated idea of what dogs do, jumping wise. He seems to think that Seamus simply jumped up on the roof of his station wagon, and that the jump had nothing to do with the taking that live wire and the putting it in contact with Seamus’s butt. As a robot, this might seem entirely natural. I’m sure that all the Romneybots go on battery pack during the night, and plug in in the morning. But live dogs are different.

One other thing. I think the Mitt Romneybot in its current iteration needs an updated emotional cuing module. Humans, for instance, don’t smile and chuckle when asked whether they disobeyed laws concerning animal cruelty in the states of which they were governor. I am pretty sure, viewing this video, that if Romney were accused of a drive by shooting that killed a four year old, his response would be to smile and chuckle and say that he wasn’t aware that drive bys were against the law. However, in the earlier line of Romneybots, the cuing was probably wired like that because back then, the modules were pretty big. They came in a rectangular box that was two inchs by four. New emotional response modules now come wafer thin. The GOP should definitely invest in rewiring this part of the Romneybot before he gets nominated. However, this raises other questions: does the Romneybot have a state of the art motherboard or not? I hope this question is answered as we prepare for electing a future strong but compassionate president.

Tony Wilson, rip

Yesterday I read that Tony Wilson died Friday. This bummed me out. If you lived in Austin in the eighties and you were a grad student in philosophy – there were an amazing number of us – or a bright and likely undergrad in the Art school, the movie sound track for your life was very likely to come from Joy Division. I moved to Austin in 1985 from New Orleans. My New Orleans sound track was Donna Summer and the Talking Heads. Even though Donna was well on her way down in 1985, I had an abiding sentimental attachment. And fuck, I still do – don’t be telling me that Bad Girls isn’t one of the great albums, cause I don’t want to hear that shit.

Well, I had a sort of marginal knowledge of Ian Curtis. It was one of the people in the house I lived in who piled on the Joy Division. She had picked up the bug from a very popular instructor at that time, Rick Roderick, who’d also, I think, introduced Louis Mackey (my master’s director or whatever you call it) to Joy Division. And according to some story that was being passed around, Louis had actually met New Order when they came to Austin. All of this is rumor, twice removed and now recalled haltingly, but the point, here, is that the music was also a set of associations and rumors.

The Unknown Pleasures album did seem to permeate the little society of that time – looking back, it seems like we were all following some call to fuck up our lives as much as possible in as short a time as possible as a protest against the Ice Age that was Reagan. In philosophy, and in U.T., Derrida was still some kind of radical unknown, so you could get a good, dicey rep just by having read a bit of him. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was perhaps the age of the last stand of Liberal Arts, before they became wholly subordinate to what the Big U. does now – the churning out of business students, and the bending of all disciplines to provide tasty models for management papers. Derrida is now big in the journal published by the Academy of Management. And I grow old, I grow old. I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. In New Orleans, I’d been politically involved in the movement for the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, which was called the movement against U.S. intervention in Nicaragua although, in actuality, it was the movement to spread the revolution from Nicaragua to the entire continent and up through Mexico. Although, funnily enough, I lived for a while with a group of Nicaraguan exiles who were Contra supporters, and who were helping people get into the U.S. in a less than legal fashion (which meant I never knew who would be in the house), and we got along perfectly. But I’ve never let outright contradictions in my life worry me. In Austin, there was a lot more talk about politics and a lot less political activity. That suited me: I was definitely tired of showing up with the rest of the crewe to put out the coffin and the leaflets on Jackson Square of a Saturday morning. I’ve never been an early riser.

It is funny to think how much Tony Wilson, of whom I had never heard of in the 80s, shaped the Austin sound track. We were all hopping down that lipstick traces trail. And I was not ever even a great fan of New Order – it was simply there, in the air. It was what my buddies listened to. It was the perfect music to brood in, it seemed like. And brooding was glamorous.

Now I don’t think the best band Tony Wilson promoted was Joy Division. That was Happy Mondays, by a long shot. Of course, Bez, for an American, is incomprehensible – Bez represents that opaque point in Englishness that I will never understand, ever. What is he doing? Who knows. But what was important about Tony Wilson wasn’t so much in the bands he promoting as in the idea that the music was about riskier choices in a rich world. If you have such a great life movie sound track, you have to do things in your life that are worthy of it, even if they are rotten and stupid things that plunge you into karmic debt. That is what I loved, and still love, about pop music. That is something Wilson understood.

olivier blanchard and the free lunch: a comedy of errors

  The neolib economist Oliver Blanchard tweeted a very funny comedy bit, in which he played the part of “social democrat”. And he wrote: “As...