Saturday, June 10, 2017

scripture reading today!

The weekend, around my house, is often devoted to scripture reading – the scripture being Adorno’s minima moralia. Here’s a lively bit that I’ve translated and distorted just a pinch, which casts a lot of light on our era – you know, the Age of Bush and Trump.

Fish in the water – Since the global distribution machinery of highly concentrated industry has dissolved the sphere of circulation, the later has begun a marvelous post-existence. While the profession of the go-between has lost its economic basis, uncounted private lives have taken on the guise of agents and dealers, even one might say that the whole private domain is confounded with this enigmatic busy-ness, which bears all the features of commerce without really having an object to deal in. Across the spectrum of anxious people, from the unemployed, to the most prominent, subject at every second to the anger of those whose investments he represents,  the belief is that empathy, industry, servicability, through clever turns and dodges  through businessman’s qualities, can one take on the air of the imaginary executive, and soon there is not a relationship that isn’t seen as a connection, no impulse that is not submitted to the mental censor for being perhaps too deviant. The concept of connections, a category of intermediation and circulation, was never best exhibited in the actual circulation sphere, in the market, but instead in closed, monopolistic hierarchies. Now that society is wholly penetrated by hierarchy, the dark connections stand everywhere that we still see a semblence of freedom. The irrationality of the system expresses itself never more greatly than in the economic fate of individuals where this psychology of parasitism comes out. In early periods, when there really was something we could call a bourgeois division between the career and private life, the passing of which one must almost mourn, the unmannerly ambitious man was mistrusted for following his goals in the private sphere. Today, in contrast, the person who subsides entirely into the private sphere seems to be arrogant, alien, and not with the program, since the person’s goals are not visible.  It is almost suspicious not to ‘will’ something: one doesn’t trust anyone of this type -, who lives  without legitimating himself with some counter demands of his own – to help us in snapping after the miserable  treats we are offered. Numbers of people make their jobs out of the circumstances that kick people out of their jobs. These are the nicest people, the bien pensants, that are friends with everyone, the righteous, that forgive every human meanness and with implacable hostility label  every not normalized impulse sentimenta. They are indispensable in their knowledge of all the strings and shortcuts of power, guess the secret judgments of the might and live off of their talent for nimbly communicating it. The are found in all political situations, eveen there, where rejection of the system reigns as self-evident and thus diffuse a lax and resigned conformism of their own type. Often they  captivate with a certain cheerfulness, through an empathetic participation in the life of others: a speculating selflessness. They are clever, witty, sensible and adaptive: they have polished up the old salesman’s spirit with the latest in psychology. They are capable of anything, even love,  yet never faithful. They don’t betray out of some compulsion, but out of principle: they value even themseves as profitmakers, which they cannot share with others. In their minds they combine elective affinity and hatred: they are a temptation for the thoughtful, but also their worst enemy. Then these are the ones who take the last little corners of resistence, the hours painfull reserved from the demands of the machine, and they cunningly shit on it. Their late ripened individualism poisoned whatever is left of the individual.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

the ontological drunkard's proof

Swedenborg, I think, is the only protestant ever to create an image of hell and heaven to set against Dante's. So I like him for that. But I really like Swedenborg because he argued that drunkards, who escape from a thousand seemingly fatal accidents, are a logical proof that guardian angels exist. Weirdly enough, though the ontological proof of the existence of God is taught in every first year philosophy class, nobody teaches the proof by drunkard of the existence of guardian angels. Furthermore, I think more people believe the latter than believe the former. So what is up with these philosophers?

Monday, June 05, 2017

political stories

narrative induction
Charlotte Linde is a rather brilliant ethnographer broadly within the symbolic interaction school – although not participating in that schools downhill slide into the irrelevance of infinitely coding conversations to make the smallest of small bore points. Rather, she has taken Labov’s idea that a story is a distinguishable discursive unit and researched Life Stories – she wrote the standard book on the subject.

In 2000, she wrote a fine study of an insurance firm with the truly great title, “The acquisition of a speaker by a story: how history becomes memory and identity.”
 Identity, with its columnally Latinate Id seemingly standing for noun in general, has during the course of my lifetime been dipped in the acid of the verbal form, and now little leagurers talk of identifying with their team – their grandparents would, of course, used identify to talk not of a subjective process of belonging, but an objective process of witnessing, as in, can you identify the man who you saw shoot mr x in this courtroom? Conservative hearts break as the columnar Id falls to the ground, but that’s life, kiddo.

Linde’s article circles around a marvelous phrase: narrative induction. “I define narrative induction as the process by which people come to take on an existing set of stories as their own story…” My editor’s eye was pleased and did a little dance all over my face to see that this was the second sentence in the article – getting people to forthrightly state their topic is, surprisingly, one of the hardest things about editing academic papers.  

Narrative induction properly locates story as part of a process of initiation. Linde, in this paper, is obviously moving from her concern with stories people tell about themselves – the point of which is to say something significant about the self, and not the world – to stories people tell about the world. Those stories often are about experiences not one’s own. They are non-participant narratives.

Linde divides the NPN process– as she calls it – into three bits: how a person comes to take on someone else’s story; how a person comes to tell their own story in a way shaped by the stories of others; and how that story is heard by others as an instance of a normative pattern.

There is an area, as Linde points out, where work on this has been done: in religious studies. Specifically, the study of metanoia, conversion stories. But there’s metanoia and then there’s metanoia. There’s St. Paul on the way to Damascas, and there’s Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom, on the way to the relative wealth of a Toyota Car Dealership, owned by his father-in-law. Linde, not having access to St. Paul, opted to study the trainees of a major American insurance company in the Midwest. Like Labov, Linde is interested in class issues. In particular, stories of occupational choice. In her Life Stories book, she presented some evidence that professionals present their occupational choice stories in terms of some vocation or calling, while working class speakers present it, more often, in terms of accident or need for money. Philosophy professors rarely will say, for instance, well, I needed a steady paycheck, looked at the job security of tenure, loved the idea of travel and vacation time, so I went into philosophy. They will give a story rooted in their view of themselves as emotional/cognitive critters. Labov’s work was done in the seventies, and my guess is that there has been some shift. The NYT recently published an article about “quants” in finance, many of whom came from physics, and their stories were all without a moral/personal dimension – they were all about money, not interest in finance. Interestingly, as a sort of saving face gesture, they all talked about how there are “deep problems” in finance.
Narrative induction is obviously about politics. It is one of the great instruments by which power is made into action and organisation.  To my mind, the discourse about democracy, which has become the central discourse in political philosophy, has become sterile; using the insights of narratology might liven it up a bit. There has to be more than democracy in democracy, or democracy just becomes another gimcrack put up job. There has to be stories within a democracy that sustain it. If the stories are simply about who is being elected, I think it is a symptom of democracy’s decay – its surrender to the old monarchial narrative.  
We need, in other words, to start looking at political stories. How they work, and how they do self-work This is an area that has not  been very well explored by political philosophers who want to infinitely suss out what Locke meant, or stuff like that. We need something  more novelistic. We need more ‘what is it like to be’ questions that will allow us to understand the political stories people tell.  And not stories that give political agents the character depth of lab rats pressing buttons for pellets.

Cause those stories, though cynically satisfying, are ultimately untrue. They are even untrue about rats. 

Sunday, June 04, 2017

aryan nation

In 2014, Fortune magazine did a series about white collar convicts in prison. One of the convicts was Matthew Kluger, who was caught on an insider trading charge. Kluger is a name- his father, for instance, won a Pulitzer prize for the book, Ashes to Ashes, about cigarette company financed pseudo-science. Kluger was a highly paid lawyer.
The magazine asked him about race relations in prison. This is what he said:
When I was in transit [from Butner] to here, I was being held at this BOP central transit center in Oklahoma City: 5,000 people sitting there on any given day—it's unbelievable. It's at the airport. They pull the plane right up and they have a jet way. It's quite an amazing thing to see.
So I got there. I went to my room. And my room was occupied by a black guy. I went and started moving in, because we talked and the black guy was also going to Morgantown. About ten minutes later, some big, white, tattooed guy, an Aryan Brotherhood, Texas guy, pulled me aside. He pointed to some tables and said, "This is where we sit."
“We,” meaning you, too.
Well, I was a little confused about that. I wasn't sure whether he was saying, "This is where we sit, so stay away from us," or "This is where we sit, and you're welcome to join us." And then about ten minutes later, a guard came over and said, "I'm moving you to a different room." I said, "Why?" He said, "because your friends there said it was unacceptable to them for you to be in a room with a black guy."
So they moved me into my own room. Which was fine. I mean, I felt bad. I felt very bad. But I was happy enough to get my own room for the six days that I was there.
I've met interesting characters here, and I met interesting characters at Butner. My best friend at Butner was a 28-year-old sex offender who grew up in a trailer in rural South Carolina. I mean, I grew up in Connecticut, and later I went to prep school. This is not really my thing.
So you do meet some interesting people, and you learn to interact with people you would never outside of here have had the opportunity to interact with.

So race matters.

Race matters. Yeah. Race definitely matters. I would say in some prisons they're 50 years behind the times. Here we're only 10 or 12 years behind, or 20 years behind the times. No, there is a very “us and them” view—now, that doesn't mean that there's no interaction. And I have a couple of black friends. But by and large, there's a lot of suspicion and wariness.

I was reminded of this scene when I read the NYT’s lighthearted look at what they are calling the alt-right – it used to be known as white supremicists, but the Times is nothing if not trendy, and kissing the ass of our Republican overlords by using euphemisms for racists is where it is at in the country club world. The article centered on a former felon, Kyle Chapman, who is described here: 

As the founder of a group of right-wing vigilantes called the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights, Mr. Chapman, a 6-foot-2, 240-pound commercial diver, is part of a growing movement that experts on political extremism say has injected a new element of violence into street demonstrations across the country.
I loooove that description. Kyle Chapman does have a slightly different profession the NYT people decided not to front. He’s been convicted of three felonies, two for armed robbery, one for selling weapons to some urban gang. Otherwise, he’s just a nice commercial diver.
I kid. You know I love our liberal gray NYT rolling over for the right paper of record, and advertising as part of the resistance. So, so… Times-ish.
But this is not so much about bashing the Times as calling attention to something that seems to operate completely under the attention zone of the establishment. It was not commercial diving that shaped Kyle Chapman's racist views. Prison has become a major station in the lives of hundreds of thousands of white males in their late teens and twenties. And that experience has majorly leaked into our national discourse.
The whole prison system in America relies on the kind of massive topown violation of human rights that puts the US on the level of North Korea, for instance, by torturing prisoners, and the encouragement of convict level gangs. The prison system that gave birth to the Aryan Nation is doing nothing about it.
I’m not suggesting that Trumpism is merely the phylogenetic extension of the Aryan nation. Rather, both are the phylogenetic extension of what America chose to become after the civil rights movements of the 60s. The massive incarceration system has leaked into the rest of the system, as it was bound to do. But we can all go da da da, and pretend this didn’t happen. Isn’t happening.

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...