Skip to main content


Showing posts from March 1, 2020

Pareto: the Pareto "law" and the receipts

Vilfredo Pareto has never been a well known name, outside of economics and a part of sociology. He has, however, entered popular culture due to his so called “80/20” law, a power law that is often used by conservatives to indicate that inequality is not caused by social arrangements but transcends them – is rooted, in fact, in human nature. In many ways, Pareto, who lived during a time when the classical liberal order was dissolving, prefigured neoliberalism. He advocated for two theses that have become part of neo-liberal doctrine. The first is that inequality isn’t bad, poverty is: thus, growth is the way out of poverty, and the only real economic concern of the state. The other thesis, which he called the “circulation of elites”, is that family wealth – wealth attached, as it were, to the house – does not secure a specific elite over time. In other words, social mobility is such that the rich become poor and some of the poor become rich. These two theses make up the apolog

poem by Karen Chamisso

Leilah changes my sheets once every three days Phillipe and I lay encoupled in the odor of ironing and sachet. “According to the naturalist A.N. Bragham The waters of the Mare Nostrum are changed complete every 7500 years - an estimate that like most of ‘em depends on a host of alterable circumstances. From Gibraltar to Beirut the sea turns and tosses on an undercurrent that would not suit with Leila’s notions, nor mine Still, we dive, one after the other in the water of the Calanque de Port d’Alon and plunge down into that unmade water. Intimations of death are cheap in the eyes of this sea. We’ll pass before one snorting breath is exhaled by geology.

Note to Sanders camp: read Invisible Man, chapters 17-19, by tomorrow.

Biden, according to one exit poll, took 60 percent of the black vote in Texas. The same story is writ large across the South. It is a story with a moral, and the Sanders people better quickly get the punchline here. My suggestion to whoever is advising Sanders: read the section in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man about organizing for the Brotherhood in Harlem. The Brotherhood has a “scientific plan” (it is Ellison’s proxy for the Communist Party in the 30s). And the Invisible Man, with his experience of racism, and his own skin color, is an activist, with a sense of what the “scientific plan” means. But he comes against the limits not of the plan, but of the planners. The planners, like the Sanders people, seem to have decided to repress difference – the real history of African Americans in this country – for their “own good”. It isn’t that Sanders doesn’t denounce racism, but he is averse to the whole symbolic universe around that struggle, partly because he seems to think that

What is human life worth? William James and Bossuet

Il a eu le paradoxe pour parrain, et le poesie pour marraine – Delvau on Gerard Nerval In the third lecture of William James’ Pragmatism (1907), James gives us his sense of the pragmatic response to the great metaphysical question: is there only matter, or is there spirit too? A question which implies: is there a God?   And if there is not, does this have a bearing on the meaning of life in a world that is an ephemeral collection of molecules, which will be utterly swept away as all solar systems are ultimately swept away? James takes Herbert Spencer as his defender of materialism – although, save for the Darwinism, the position Spencer defends could as well have been taken from Helvetius. Spencer sees no problem in substituting matter for God, and James concedes that Spencer is right not to think of matter as somehow “dirty” (James doesn’t explore, as 20 th century anthropologists will, dirtiness itself as a cultural construct, the abject pole in the sacred economy). At t