Saturday, August 25, 2007


When LI goes out hiking with our brothers, the scene partly resembles the chapter in which Leopold Bloom and Stephen Daedelus slope towards home. Questions are raised - notably, the question of how it could possibly be the case that the intervals between the hour when the shadow points due east, the hour when it points due north, and the hour it points due west could be uneven. This involved much diagramming with sticks, calculations about preserving the percentage of the average day between sunrise and sunset as a circle with a greater or lesser diameter, representing the variation of the day over the year, and a few counterfactuals, one involving a world made entirely of glass, which sorta went over my head. Then there is the traditional argument about the pre-Columbian population of North and South America, which is always, for some reason, heated. The scene also resembles tradition redneck fiestas - for instance, back at camp, we all sing along to Freebird when its turn comes on the itunes playlist. Then there is the traditional beer, whiskey, rum and ... stuff. There is the straining to see a bird that just flew off from a bush, the shadow of a fish in a pool, and the hope of seeing a bear someday, at a suitable distance. There are the dirty jokes, which segue into politics, which veer into descriptions of crime scenes one has been a part of. There's the princess and the pea, or rather the princess and the fucking rocky gravel, effect to deal with in the confines of a tent upon which absolute forest dark has closed down; there's the amazingly delicious morning coffee, no longer cowboy style; there's the swimming in the pools under the waterfall.

To prove my distaste for shorts (excepting the right occasion): here's LI on a bridge in the mountains, wearing waterproof, non-commodifiable, thoroughly theory vetted trousers:

My brother, D., decided that LI was being silly. He opted for Lacanian lounging in a thoroughly American pair of shorts.

My other brother, D2, was also determined to trample the trails exposing his knees. To. Poison. Ivy. Having avoided the annual scourge so far this year, I was not about to dare that pernicious native american creeper:

Finally, we styled in the wilderness with this ultraneat camo budweiser tent for pooches. Featured is a model pooch, Cody:

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Atlanta. LI successfully made it past the e-ticket, the woman who tells you to get into the big line that wends around just like it used to pre e-ticket, the man telling his wife that he thinks they should go home and call up American airlines and get their money back, the harried smiles from the multiple service monster snorting up information and baggage, the doffed shoes, the metal detector and involved search of the old Mexican guy in the wheelchair including his stretched out socks, the niceness of tvs not hanging everywhere unlike Dallas, the airport where tvs are as thick as passenger pigeons used to be in the autumn skies of Ohio, the tracking of hurricane Dean through holiday resorts, the Delta plane with barely any passengers within which one could settle back and enjoy the two count em two packets of peanuts to make this trip an enjoyable one since the pilot and the Delta organization he represents know (regretfully) that we have a choice when buying tickets showing that old institutional memories of 1910 when we didn’t have a choice die hard, and then my brother, with a bit more gray to him and me and both of us casting those surreptitious measuring glances of siblings who haven’t seen each other in a while and getting our footing and we are off…

So there is going to be less from LI. I planned to do a little more concentrated research while here for my happiness essay. Gonna mostly try to hike. Eat. Drink. Be merry.

In the meantime … do look at the whole festschrift of inanity pouring out of Gideon Rose’s defense of the foreign policy clerisy. Glenn Greenwald is on quite a roll, dismantling the various pretences. Oddly, over at Lawyers Guns and Money one of the bloggers is defending the idea that invading Iraq was at least a defensible idea back in the day. LI begs to differ. There were two parameters that the promoters of the war had to deal with: cost and manpower. Cost was figured by Glenn Hubbard at 100-200 billion dollars. Manpower was figured by Shinseki at 400,000 men or over. Both figures referred to the whole process, for the invasion and the occupation were one process. I discount any argument that compartmentalized those things. I only count those arguments for the war which absorbed the fact that it would take the resources projected by Shinseki and Hubbard. And any supporter who did that – I can’t think of one – would have, honestly, not been able to support the invasion. The testimony of Wolfowitz and of the Rumsfeld Defense department in the months leading up to the war undercut any serious case for the war. In the same way that advocating building a dam across a river conscientiously means advocating using the resources it takes to build a dam across a river. A bad engineer will build an insufficiently supported bridge and cause a catastrophe. A bad foreign policy analyst will build a case detached from the project realities of resourcing it and create a guerilla war, a falling state, four million refugees and some not small change in deaths – we’ve reached five hundred thousand or so last year in Iraq. In both cases, the irresponsibility is shameful. And that’s that.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

wasting time

Damn. LI is going to Atlanta today. So we don't have time to post a long translation from Stendhal's 1826 preface to On Love. As we've been saying and saying, the 19th century experienced a change in emotional customs, following behind a change in the positional structure that derived from the emergence - or imposition - of the market society. What makes Stendhal such a great witness is that his early life was dedicated to the proposition that happiness in Europe was born out of the the French Revolution. This was what Napoleon's soldiers brought with them. If you remember the great opening chapters of The Charterhouse of Parma, he describes there the irresistibly joyous result of the contact of modernity - Napoleon's soldiers - with the petrified order of the ancien regime in Italy. Although the irresistibility was, in fact, resisted and rolled back in the 1820s. This was the decade in which Standhal saw political oppression in Italy first hand, in the career of the woman he was in love with, Mathilde Dembowski, a Milanese woman who was spied on by the Austrians for her work with the Italian revolutionaries. It was in the wake of Stendhal's affair with Metilde that he wrote On Love.

A.O. Hirschman, in "The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism Before Its Triumph", has given an account of the way the relation between passion and interest was reconfigured in the post-Smith era. Hirschman begins with a tres Stendhalian question: how did glory get subordinated to wealth in the West?

“No matter how much approval was bestowed on commerce and other forms of money-making, they certainly stood lower in the scale of medieval values than a number of other activities, in particular the striving for glory. It is indeed through a brief sketch of the idea of glory in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance that I shall now attempt to renew the sense of wonder about the genesis of the “spirit of capitalism.”

Indeed, all his life Stendhal strove to reconcile an intellectual preference for the strictly logical and cold - philosophy expressed in the style of the Civic Code, as he put it - with his notion of the 'happy few'. The meaning Stendhal gave to happiness is inseparable from glory. The glory that ran through the Napoleonic period had, for Stendhal, departed from Europe, atomizing into private ventures - such as Julien Sorel's. Stendhal's biting comments about businessmen and the wealthy comne out of this sense that they are essentially inglorious. The striving for self interest actually blinds the reader of On Love to its meaning: it is literally incomprehensible to them:

"In spite of taking pains to be clear and lucid, I can’t perform miracles; I can neither give ears to the deaf nor eyes to the blind. Thus money men, men whose pleasures are unselective [a grosse joie] who have earned a hundred thousand france in the year preceding the moment they open this book ought to quickly shut it, in particular if they are bankers, manufacturers, respectable industrialists, that is to say people with eminently positive ideas. This book may be less unintelligible to those who have gained a lot of money in the market or the lottery. Such profit can coexist with the habit of passing hours entirely devoted to revery, and to enjoying the emotions that come out of a painging of Prud’hon or a musical phrase of Mozart’s, or, finally, of a certain singular look darted by the woman one is preoccupied with. This is, of course, nothing but wasting one’s time for men who pay two thousand workers at the end of each week. Their minds are always pointed towards the useful and the positive."

Well, I will return to this when I can.

would the underground man approve of psychological experiments?

C'est la raison qui engendre l'amour-propre, et c'est la réflexion qui le fortifie; c'est elle qui replie l'homme sur lui-même; c'est elle qui le sépare de tout ce qui le gêne et l'afflige: c'est la philosophie qui l'isole; c'est par elle qu'il dit en secret, à l'aspect d'un homme souffrant: péris si tu veux, je suis en sûreté. Il n'y a plus que les dangers de la société entière qui troublent le sommeil tranquille du philosophe, et qui l'arrachent de son lit. On peut impunément égorger son semblable sous sa fenêtre; il n'a qu'à mettre ses mains sur ses oreilles et s'argumenter un peu pour empêcher la nature qui se révolte en lui de l'identifier avec celui qu'on assassine. – Rousseau, Second Discourse

“It is reason which engenders amour-propre, and it is reflection that strengthens it; reason shoves man back upon himself, and it is reason which separates him from everthing that discomforts and afflicts him; it is philosophy which isolates him; it is on that account that he secretly says, in the face of some suffering person: perish if you want, I’m safe. Only the dangers run by society as a whole troubles the tranquil sleep of the philosopher, pulling him out of his bed. One can boldly cut the throat of his brother or sister under his window, and he’d do no more than put his hands over his ears and argue with himself a bit in order to keep down nature, nature which revolts inside him to identify him with the one being murdered.”

There’s another nice psychological experiment described by Lauren Slater. It was inspired by the Kitty Genovese case. In that case, Kitty was assaulted, stabbed several times and raped on a residential street in New York City, at 2 in the morning. The residents of the apartments around saw it. Not one even called the police. The assailant actually made three attacks, each time returning stab Genovese again, and the last time returning to cum over the fatal wounds he’d inflicted on her.

This caused a scandal at the time. Was New York City entirely inhabited by Rousseau’s philosophers? John Darley and Bibb Latané devised a nice experiment to understand the dynamics of what Rousseau claimed was the ‘natural pity” of the human being. Like many of the other great experiments, it is, in form, an experiment within an experiment – in a sense, Hamlet is the father of all experimental psychologists when he devised his play to monitor his step father’s reactions to the portrayal of a crime he believed happened in real life. And so, too, a play’s the thing to catch the experimental subject. In this one, the subject enters a chamber believing that he is engaged in a psych experiment about student life. The rules are that the subject is to hear the others talk about their common student problems, which they would do in turn. The student is to wait until it is his turn. Then he could turn on his mike and speak. It was a form of “tag team therapy” in Slater’s words.

In actuality, all the subject received were recorded voices. One of them, though, claimed to be epileptic, and during the course of the session has what seems to be a seizure. He asks for help. The subject believes that this information is received not just by him, but by all the members of the collective in their rooms. The epileptic pseudo subject actually keeps his mike on for six minutes, during which the sound of his fit is being received by the subject. He asks simply for someone to go to the monitor and alert him.

“The students [subjects] had a chance to think, and then to act. Here are the results: very few acted – thirty one percent…”

However, interestingly, when the group size was varied, and the subject thought he was in a dyad – just him and the student having the seizure – eighty five percent sought help.

Darley and Latane made an amusing variant of this experiment. In this one, the subject is to go to a room and fill out a questionaire about student life. There are other students there doing the same thing. At a certain point, smoke starts coming out of the air vent into the room. Then a lot of smoke. The other students continue to work, unbothered, even as the smoke becomes so thick it is hard to see. “In the entire experiment, only one subject reported the smoke to the experimenter down the hall within four minutes, only three within the entire experimental period, and the rest not at all.” So attunded did the subjects seem to be to the social cues of the other students that they didn’t dare break a sort of taboo, even though they were obviously threatened with something, and even though the only possible pain they could suffer would be to seem embarrassingly alarmed to some strangers.

As Slater writes; “This perhaps more than any other experiment show the pure foly tht lives at the heart of human beings; it runs so contrary to human sense that we would rather risk our lives than break rank, that we value social etiquette over survival. It puts Emily Post in a whole new place. Manners are not frivolous; they are more forceful than lust, than fear, more primal – that deep preening. When Daley and Latane varied the experiment so the naïve subject was alone in the room, he or she almost always constucted the story of smoke as an emergency and reported it immediately.”

All of which is an intro to the Stendhal’s reflection on interest and what at that time (1829) was not called altruism – that word was coined by Comte some 20 years later. Which will be an upcoming post.

Elia meets Karl Marx at the South Sea House

    When Charles Lamb, a scholarship boy at Christ’s Hospital, was fifteen, one of his patrons, Thomas Coventry, had a discussion with a...