Friday, June 20, 2014

Lepore and the smarmmasters at slate!

I've been loving Jill Lepore's  takedown of the new business snakeoil, disruptive innovation and the responses to it. I especially love how Slate's Will Oremus replied. This is a man who has inherited the humorous stylings of Mickey Kaus and the ignorance of subject matter of Will Saletan. Those are big shoes to fill - in fact, I think size 24s - the bozo class. Of course, he trips all over himself trying to find an angle. His angle is, wait for it, that this being the internet, he, Oremus, is able to paraphrase Lepore's article, which is apparently behind a pay wall, and thus you, the reader, get it for free. Sakes alive! Lepore has been disrupted. Why is it like this is 1996 - or maybe 1936, since Readers Digest did the same thing. 
But the freebie you get from Oremus is worth what you pay for it. He evidently never met an argument with more than one variable in it that he could understand, and he severely misunderstands, and thus misparaphrases, Lepore's article. In the toady style that Slate has perfected, he didn't seem to high himself to one book or article to write his refutation - why should he? I mean, when you are a genius, anything you draw out of your ass must be high class. This was always Will Saletan's motto - used especially when he embraced white supremecy as science in an infamous series in 2007 - so Oremus is following in the footsteps of the masters.  Oremus might be interested in the fact that I can go to the library here in Santa Monica and read the whole issue for free - I mean, isn't that a portent of the singularity! 
Frankly, save for their book and movie reviews, Slate has been a must-laugh-at ever since they put a stick in Bush and saw he was done in 2000. For years, their schtick has  been to find clever ways to wrap rightwing conventional wisdom in neo-liberal wrapping and claim that the resulting product is some brand new thing nobody had ever thought of before, rather than yesterday's dog poop.  It is like the monster child of the New Republic and the Third Way. 
So I was happy to see them smarm attack Lepore's article. It shows that she must have tapped a vein. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Absence one

Anyone who reads continental philosophy or the philosophical essayists will soon be impressed by the almost obsessive mooning over the concept of absence.
This has no parallel in Anglophone philosophy – absence is at most treated as a simple description of a physical phenomenon. Jack doesn’t show up for the exam – he is absent.  There is nothing here  for the analytics (or post-analytics) to get moony about.
Nevertheless, there is something strange about the absence of absence in Anglophone philosophy. The unexamined master-trope of that philosophy is substitution.  Surely it if were examined, understanding substitution should encourage us to look at absence more closely.
Substitution implies that a place is preserved – in logical or physical or social space – that is filled with one or another variable. In a sense, the presence of the variable isn’t total, since it isn’t identical to the place. One can find another variable to put in that place.
The latest metaphor in the analytic tradition to designate this is “candidate”. A candidate – whether as an explanation or as a particular – is always being considered as the solution to some problem. Whether it is materialist accounts of cognitive states, theories of the reduction of the biological to the physical, etc., etc., the papers I edit in philosophy are built upon comparing one ‘candidate’ with another.
Although analytic philosophers go about closely peering at language with the fervor of a myopic seamstress threading a needle, they are curiously indifferent to their own use of language – so I have not read any account of how suddenly the candidate metaphor appeared in all the right journals. It is easy to see, though, that it is a metaphor that tells us something about how absence is thought of here. The implication is that the “place” where substitution takes or can take place is like an office. It is a position created by a political system. The politics may only be bureaucratic – it may be a position in a firm, in which the candidates compete against each other without seeing each other, before a hiring person or board. Or it may be a political system in which they compete against each other consciously, before a voting constituency. The main thing is that the competition is about filling the position. The binary in place is between the filled place and the empty place – or potentially empty place. These are pre-eminently relative states – the dialectic between them is deflected onto the system which determines them, and which has the power to simply get rid of the place – or multiply it. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

the material life

We call it a sucette. Our babysitter calls it a binky, and a couple of days ago the clerk at the grocery store, teasing Adam by asking for it, called it a nuk-nuk – I think. Nuk nuk sounded vaguely disturbing to me, and the surprisingly popular game of leaning over Adam and asking for something – can you give me your shoe? Your fruitpack? Or whatever, which many people seem to think is just the way to tease a baby, was played by that clerk just a tiny bit too roughly. This went with nuk nuk, I thought.
Such are the various titles of what is more neutrally called a pacifier. It is an article that, for the last year and a half, has been essential in our house. When Adam was very young – around three months, I believe – we bought our first one and he rejected it, and I thought that we wouldn’t need a pacifier. However, it turned out that this rejection was more in the nature of a misunderstanding. Or rather, it was more in the nature of how a sucette is used – for the calm that comes with putting it in his mouth and shifting it around and laying back and playing with its little handle (that handle that has a certain unpleasant visual association for me – I am always reminded of the ring they put on a bull’s nose, and I sometimes think it gives Adam too painfully the air of an animal we have domesticated, even if that is, really, the truth), it also seems to be comforting to throw it away. There’s some ceremony in it – in the same way that a baseball player tears his cap from his head and throws it down and stomps on it to theatricalize some fault in the umpire’s judgment, Adam likes to definitively toss the pacifier to signify that he’s about to run around yelling or play chase or hide. He also likes to lay it aside, with a graceful, judgmental gesture when he has decided to eat. This is always interesting to watch, because it means that he is going to be serious, now, about his turkey, or his yoghurt, or his bread. And just as taking the sucette out of his mouth prefaces his decision to grab the little strips of turkey and stuff as many of them as possible in his mouth, or take the plastic spoon and see how much Nature’s Own Turkey and Rice glop he can get on it and then, in a perilous trajectory towards his face, in his mouth (the glop often leaving a trail of drops on his pants and shirt on the way to its slide down the digestive tract.), so, too, the resumption of the pacifier is a final punctuation, a full stop that means this meal is over. Surely, this is manners on the infant scale.

The sucette is slowly losing its necessity as Adam pressses onward to that magic 2 year old mark. It used to be part of the standard kit for going out. I’d make sure I had water, crackers, maybe a fruit or a fruit pack, and the sucette before I lifted our boy up and strapped him into his stroller. The stroller did pose the problem that, often, Adam would decide that it was time to toss the sucette, and if I wasn’t paying attention, we’d lose it. Even if I was paying attention, I hesitated about taking a pacifier that had been tossed onto a sidewalk traversed by man and beast and tucking it back into Adam’s mouth. In truth, one loses a lot of squeamishness when raising a baby, but I had some left. Besides of course the mortification of somebody seeing me giving a pacifier to my baby after I’d picked it off the sidewalk or grass or floor. We found our solution one day in Atlanta in a Walmart, where they sold these handy ribbon clips, which allowed us to clip the band to Adam’s shirt and attach the sucette to the band. This didn’t entirely solve the problem, however, as Adam developed a way of unclipping the pacifier and tossing it, with the ribbon attached. Also, in the pandaemonium that takes the place of housekeeping when you have a baby, those ribbons would crawl under beds or dressers or insinuate themselve among the socks or somehow get in the bathtub – which meant that, added to the hunt for the pacifier was the hunt for the ribbon so that the pacifier wouldn’t get lost. Such is the treadmill of consumerism, ladies and gents.

The ethics of integrity or the Baker at Dachau

    Throughout the 19th and 20th century, one stumbles upon the lefthand heirs of Burke – Red Tories, as Orwell called them. Orwell’s inst...