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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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




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Friday, August 16, 2013

SOMETIMES I JUST LOSE IT

Maintaining a daily blog is more difficult than it looks.  The challenge lies not in having opinions.  Opinions are like tribbles;  they just keep multiplying, with no apparent source of nutriment.  No, the problem is maintaining one's cool in a world so chock full of genuine outrages.  I take as my model -- if I may put it this way -- Gail Collins rather than Ed Schultz.  I suspect Collins feels as deeply morally offended by what she sees in the world as Schultz does, but she manages to achieve a light ironic tone that allows her to live with her anger for years on end.  My frequent digressions into movies or Bible passages accomplish something similar for me. 

But sometimes, I just lose it, and it is not, contrary to what you might think, the enormity of the outrage that triggers the loss of control.  By any reasonable utilitarian moral calculus, America's seventy-year long policy of imperial world domination, our obscene inequality of income and wealth, and the incarceration of millions of Black men as a form of virtual slavery are moral evils so great as to deserve continual unmodulated outrage.  But I am almost eighty, and I cannot live every day of my life twisted into contortions of anger.  What is happening in North Carolina right now, however, secondary as it is to these great world-historical evils, triggers such rage in me that I cannot talk about it with my customary ironic detachment.  I spent a good deal of last night tossing and turning, trying unsuccessfully to calm myself with fantasies of magical powers with which to visit great misery and pain on the Republican controlled State Legislature.

All throughout North Carolina, local Boards of Election, packed with Republican appointees and emboldened, empowered, and encouraged by the State Legislature, are openly, nakedly, unabashedly moving to deny the basic right to vote to any group that shows signs of inclining Democratic.  It is perfectly clear what is happening.  Throughout the state are countless White southerners who have never accepted the freeing of the slaves, the extension of suffrage to Blacks, or the ending of such comforting traditions as segregated schools and public facilities.  The election of Obama and the steady move of the state in the direction of the modern Democratic Party has made them feel like aliens in their own home, and now they are unashamedly striking back, emboldened by the Supreme Court's appalling Voting Rights Act decision.

You see. I cannot write about it without raising my voice in anger [literarily speaking].

Both Marx and Nietzsche understood that moral outrage is the last refuge of the powerless.  That is why Marx refused to issue moral condemnations of capitalism, preferring instead to lay out, calmly and ruthlessly, his reasons for believing that it is destined to be replaced by socialism.  And that is why Nietzsche mocks Christianity for portraying its crucified Savior as bait wriggling on a hook to catch unsuspecting souls.

Well, we will do what we can do here in North Carolina, and hope for the best.  I reflected this morning that I have lived all but seven of my seventy-nine years either in New York City or in Massachusetts.  I paid a heavy price when I moved here to avoid the harsh New England winters.

6 comments:

Don Schneier said...

When it comes to constructive alternatives, Nietzsche compares poorly to Marx. On my reading, there is the germ of a 'Philosophy of Empowerment' buried in the 'Will to Power' rhetoric, which, if he had gotten around to methodically developing, might have preempted reactionary contagions such as National Socialism, Straussitis, and Randitis, for example.

Seth said...

The news from NC reminds me that the Confederacy is never dead, it is not even past.

Your domicile in NC at least gives you a vote. You get the milder weather and a citizen's mite of influence which you would lack if writing from NY or MA. I hope something can be done.

Seth said...

The news from NC reminds me that the Confederacy is never dead, it is not even past.

Your domicile in NC at least gives you a vote. You get the milder weather and a citizen's mite of influence which you would lack if writing from NY or MA. I hope something can be done.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

echoing Faulkner, indeed. You are right that my vote was wasted in NY or Mass, as Lani Guinier puts it. What hurts is that when I moved here, five years ago, it really felt as though the state was tipping, and indeed elected a Democratic senator and went for Obama. I still think the long term trend lines are positive, but I am not sure I have a long time left. It is extraordinary to watch Boards of Elections attack student voters in locales where the presence of a branch of the State University is probably one of the principal things keeping the area afloat economically.

T Gent said...

Hi Don Schneider,

That's interesting what you say about the possible positive effects that might have resulted from a better-defined 'positive' part of Nietzsche's philosophy. Indeed, there are a lot of indications that he was searching for (rather than already working on) a new way of evaluating life and producing sense for ourselves once the old ways have been destroyed, and also that the enormity of this task might have tipped him towards going crazy. But still I don't think that the fact he doesn't provide alternatives is a fault. His project is essentially critical, and when he attempts positive theorising and proposals it is always 'experimentally', i.e. he refuses to give a fixed idea of how things should be done or how we should think. I think, given the kind of unsettling effect he's trying to provoke, this is precisely what he should have done and was trying to do.

Seth said...

Sen. Ellie Kinnaird's resignation is interesting news.

She seems to think "something can be done". Best of luck to her!