Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




Total Pageviews

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Glendower, Iran, And The Pointlessness Of It All

Like countless other left-wing news junkies, I spend endless hours surfing the web, checking in with The Huffington Post, TalkingPointsMemo, the Daily Kos, FiveThirty-Eight.com, and – for a bearable taste of the other wing -- Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish. By dint of this obsessive activity, I congratulate myself on being an active participant in the public discourse and a totally clued up public intellectual.

Every so often, Susie and I go on a vacation that disconnects me for days on end from the blogosphere. A case in point is a spectacular Botswana safari we went on several years ago, during which time I was, for ten days and more, completely out of touch. Whenever I return from one of these descents into the black hole of newslessness, I discover to my surprise that the world has got on quite nicely without me, and did not even notice that I was gone.

A case in point is the recent election in Iran. Like many others, I have been following the results avidly, checking in not only with my usual round of websites but also with the most valuable and reliable of all sites for Middle Eastern news, Juan Cole’s Informed Opinion. The range of reaction to the events in Tehran from pundits and bloggers is quite extraordinary. Some view the announced outcome as a defeat for Obama. Others are certain that the election has been stolen. [This is Cole’s take, and as always, his opinion seems to me to carry a great deal of weight.] Thomas Friedman has even taken the uproar surrounding the election and its outcome as evidence that his appalling advocacy of the Iraq war has acquired some sort of delayed justification, thereby rescuing him from the ignominy that has been his fate among intelligent observers for five years now.

But the simple truth is that I do not have a clue about anything that happens in Iran. I do not speak, read, or write Farsi or Arabic. My only visit to the entire region of the Middle East was an extremely unpleasant three-day tourist stop in Israel. Presented with an unlabelled map of the Middle East, I might be able to identify most of the countries correctly, though I wouldn’t want to bet a plane ticket on it.

What is more, nothing I do or say or think can have the slightest measurable effect on what happens in Iran [indeed, that may even be true of Obama, although he undoubtedly has a better shot at making a difference than I.] Were I to stop caring about the Middle East, no one would notice. My relationship to events there is rather like Shirley MacLaine’s relationship to her former incarnations – entirely imaginary. I am reminded of Hotspur’s great comeback in Henry IV, Part I, when Glendower brags that he can “call spirits from the vasty deep.” “Why, so can I” replies Hotspur, “and so can any man, but do they come when you do call to them?”

So, let us go on surfing and obsessing, and even blogging, but let us not imagine that what we do or say makes any sort of difference at all!

No comments: