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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Monday, November 30, 2015

MORE NERDY STUFF


I have on several occasions made reference to the fact that only 35% or so of Americans twenty -five and older have four year college degrees.   The discussion in the public space about the resentment of Republican base voters at what they [correctly] perceive as elitist condescension towards them focuses on the difference between elite colleges and universities -- the Ivy League, et al. -- and the rest of the two thousand four year colleges and universities in America, ignoring the fact that for two-thirds of adult Americans, Ball State or the satellite branches of the State University of Missouri are equally "elite."

But it occurred to me that the gap between the public discourse and reality is probably a good deal larger than that, so I did a little Googling to check, coming up with a useful link to the always reliable U. S. Census Bureau.

The percentage of the population twenty-five or older with college degrees has been rising steadily since I went to Harvard in 1950, at which time it was roughly five percent.  Now it is, I think, reasonable to assume that relatively few people get college degrees after the age of twenty -five.  There are some, of course, but when we are talking about percentages of a population of three hundred million and more, they do not much alter the overall statistics.  It follows that from the percentage of those twenty-five or older twenty years ago, we can infer the percentage forty-five or older today, and so forth.  [I trust this is obvious.]  What do we find when we consult the table?

Only 23.3% of Americans forty-five or older have college degrees -- not one in four.  More than three-fourths do not, and therefore are and always have been excluded from the very wide range of good jobs that require a college degree:  doctor, lawyer, professor, corporate executive, FBI agent, high school teacher, elementary school teacher, Walmart store manager, and so forth.  By the way, the figure for White Americans forty-five or older is 24.2%, less than a percentage point more.

I think these few statistics, all by themselves, tell us a good deal about the reasons for the deep anger and resentment of so large a portion of the Republican base.

NIGHT SWEATS


I had a strange dream last night.  The house I was living in suddenly developed huge cracks in the walls as though it had been through an earthquake.  When I awoke, I was thinking about the serious possibility that Donald Trump would win the Republican Presidential nomination.  As Bob Dylan did not say, you don't need a psychoanalyst to know which way the Id is blowing.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

APOLOGIA PRO VITA SUA


Magpie asks whether I am fluent in German.  As I explained in my reply, I am and always have been linguistically challenged [to use the current euphemism for cognitive deficits.]   I studied French in High School, and although I was in love with my teacher [as was every other teenage boy in the class], even that erotic impetus was inadequate to enable me to achieve any mastery.  I took a year of College German, aware that the doctorate would require a "reading knowledge" of two languages, and there was in fact a time, fifty years ago, when I managed to work my way through several serious volumes of Kant scholarship in German.  But on one of the few occasions when I actually attempted to order a meal in German [on the train from Paris to Vienna in 1959], I mistakenly asked for the menu instead of the karte, and got the set meal delivered to my table.  [It was all right.  The set meal was wiener schnitzel, which is probably what I would have ordered had I thought about it.]

But, you will protest, how on earth can you present yourself to the world as a Kant scholar, a Marx scholar, a Mannheim scholar, if you cannot read German?  How indeed?  The answer is rather complicated, as self-justifications tend to be, so bear with me.

First let me say that I am no sort of scholar at all, and have never pretended to be, save when I have been attempting to curry favor with Herbert Marcuse or Hannah Arendt.  I have on several occasions in my long career committed what I would be happy to consider acts of scholarship, but they have never risen much above what one might expect from a reasonably good undergraduate.  My greatest scholarly achievement, made possible by an interlibrary loan arranged by Harvard's Houghton Library, was to establish that the 1772 German edition of James Beattie's Essay on the Nature and Immutability of the Truth read by Kant was made from the original 1770 edition, and not from the 1771 second edition, and therefore did indeed contain the passage from Hume's Treatise that "awoke [Kant] from [his] dogmatic slumbers."  [See the Prolegomena.  You can look me up in the Journal of the History of Ideas for 1960.]

As a boy, not yet nineteen, I learned what real scholarship is by attending Harry Austryn Wolfson's lectures on the philosophy of Spinoza.  Wolfson was one of the great scholars of his time, a jewel in Harvard's crown, a master of two millennia of philosophical and theological literature in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, and all of the modern European languages.  I would consider myself to have blasphemed were I to suggest that I in any way inhabited that empyrean realm.

To count oneself a Kant scholar, one must at the very least read all of Kant's writings in the original, the published and the unpublished [the nachlass, the Opus Postumum, the letters], together with all the major and most of the minor commentaries.   Nor, I might add, can one count oneself a scholar of Plato or Aristotle without a firm grasp of classical Greek, or of Descartes without Latin and French, or of Kierkegaard without Danish and German. 

But if that is to me forever terra incognita, what on earth have I been doing all my life?

Well, the answer is this.  If you want to know what Kant really said, read him in the German, and then read the commentaries in whatever language they are written in.  But if when you are done, you still cannot for the life of you figure out what on earth Kant meant;  if you cannot say what the argument is of the central portion of the Kritik der reinen Vernunft; if you cannot state clearly and simply the premises of the argument, the conclusion, and by what sequence of arguments Kant moves from the first to the second, then I may be able to help you.  Indeed, I flatter myself that I was the first student of Kant's philosophy ever actually to accomplish that seemingly simple but actually quite difficult task.  How can this be?  The answer is rather deep.  I have alluded to it on several occasions on this blog.  Let  me try to spell it out. 

Truly great philosophers do not write philosophy the way the rest of us do.  They do not string together sequences of sentences, fussily making sure that they never contradict themselves, tidying up the surface of their discourse, footnoting their sources, making it all neat and properly publishable in a peer reviewed journal.  Great philosophers wrestle with a problem as Jacob wrestled with the Angel of the Lord, refusing to let go until it bless them.  They have and pursue deep, unified, and ultimately simple intuitions that they believe hold the key to the resolution of the problem, and they care less about maintaining surface neatness than they do about being true to the original conceptual intuition. 

It is no good searching their minor works or their unpublished papers for clues to what they meant.  There is nothing for it but to dive into the morass of ideas after them, like Gandalf descending into the depths of the Caves of Moria to do battle with the Balrog.  The goal is not, as Kierkegaard mockingly says, "the howling madness of the higher lunacy, recognizable by such symptoms as convulsive shouting; a constant reiteration of the words 'era,' 'epoch,' 'era and epoch,' 'the System.' "  The goal is the Holy Grail of all philosophical thinking:  a clear, coherent, simple argument whose strengths and weaknesses can be grasped by reason.

Now, the intuitions of a great  philosopher are often at odds with one another, a fact that the philosopher himself or herself may not fully recognize.  So we as students of their works must make choices.  We must take risks.  We must gamble our time and energy and devotion in the hope that we, like Jacob, will be blessed.  And like any gamble, there is no certainty on which cards to place our money.  If we are truly seized by the text, we will be guided by our own philosophical concerns as well as by our understanding of the concerns of Kant or Marx or Plato or Hume.  So two of us may descend into the depths of the cave and emerge with differing and incompatible understandings.  That is not a sign of failure.  It is the inevitable and unavoidable consequence of real philosophical work.

What have I been doing all my life?  I have been wrestling with the Angel of the Lord, whether He present himself as Immanuel Kant or David Hume or Karl Marx.  I have been seeking the clear, coherent arguments that will succeed in capturing the deep intuitions that drove those great thinkers in their work.  And then, emerging from the depths, I have struggled to present those arguments to my students or readers so simply, so quietly, with so little jargon or mystery, that they can enjoy their beauty as I do.

So Magpie, no, I am not fluent in German.  Nor am I fluent in French, Latin, Greek, Arabic, or any other language save English.  But if my life has seen some successes together with the inevitable failures, then here and there in my voluminous writings are objects of real beauty  -- arguments mined from some of the great texts of our tradition that bring clarity and understanding to us all.

Friday, November 27, 2015

ANOTHER POSSIBILITY


In my on-going effort to find some way to present my thoughts on Ideological Critique, it occurred to me that perhaps I could deliver a series of lectures from my study and post them on YouTube.  I would need a good video camera and a lapel mike so that the audio is clear.  Above is a photo of one corner of my study, taken from my desk [which in this tiny study is only seven or eight feet away.]  The "podium" is a music stand, and the ladder to the right is used to access the top shelves, which hold the complete works of Marx and Engels [English edition -- the German is in the Paris apartment] and lots of extra copies of the books I have published.

If I had the energy, perhaps with each posted lecture I could also write and post on my blog a formal version of the lecture [not a transcription] for the folks who would prefer to read rather than listen.

If any of this proves feasible, I hope to launch the lecture series next January.  I will consider the series to have gone viral if half a dozen people watch it.  Hey, I have taught courses with that few students!

BLACK FRIDAY

OK.  Let me see whether I have this right.  We must all hope against hope that hordes of shoppers flood the stores and buy heaps of stuff they do not need and did not know they wanted with money they do not have so that some of the millions of men and women who cannot find work will be hired for poverty wages to sell it to them and thereby perhaps be able to feed themselves and their children.  And this system is what  makes this the greatest country in the history of the world.

Hmmm.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

PATIENCE, PATIENCE

I keep reading opinion pieces [by Nate Silver, among many others] explaining why Donald Trump cannot get the Republican nomination.  I have several times put up posts explaining how I think that awful eventually could come to pass.  There is obviously no point in my arguing about a future I cannot influence.  I propose to wait until after the South Carolina primary, which will take place on Saturday, February 20, 2016, a little more than twelve weeks from now.  The next morning [for us early to bed types] we will know whether my analysis makes sense.

Wait for it.

THANKSGIVING DYSPEPSIA

Many commentators have written well and forcefully about the incipient fascism now gripping the Republican Party and the nation at large.  Take a look at Harold Meyerson's piece today in the Washington Post.  [The Post informs me that I have "read my limit of free articles" in the Post for this month and since I refuse to pay for the privilege, I cannot go back and copy the URL for a link in this post.]   Other authors have drawn suggestive comparisons between Trump and Francisco Franco or have called to mind the many shameful episodes in American history when the country succumbed to xenophobic lawlessness. 

I have become more and more persuaded that there are dangers here that in their potential for genuine harm outweigh the understandable and pleasurable schadenfreude we on the Left experience at the prospect of a Trump candidacy.  I have no idea what Trump actually believes, and quite possibly neither does he.  But then, I have no idea what Hitler really believed.  It is worth recalling that Nazism did not begin with a proposal for the Final Solution.  It swept through Weimar Germany, arguably the most sophisticated and intellectually advanced European country at that time, fueled by the resentment of the German people at the punitive provisions of the Versailles Treaty and their longing for lebensraum.  The resentments giving life to Trump's assault on American legal and moral norms are different, of course, but the sentiments are quite similar. 

Could Trump defeat Clinton in the general election?  Not as things now stand.  The polls are quite reassuring.  But imagine a Paris-like attack somewhere in America in September or October 2016. 

What is to be done?, to echo someone to whom I do not often look for inspiration.  We need to speak out, although that will have little or no impact on those whose thinly veiled fascist leanings are given legitimacy by Trump's campaign.  Beyond that, I fear that when the Primary season is done, if Trump has indeed captured the nomination [as I have argued, in a recent post, he well might], we will have no choice but to do everything we can, individually and collectively, to ensure a Clinton victory.  America can survive yet one more President in thrall to Wall Street.  I am not so sanguine that it can survive full-grown nativist fascism.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

OH WELL

The Philosophy Department at UNC did not think there would be sufficient interest in a lecture series, so that idea is dead.  I shall explore the possibility of doing the videos in another way and posting them, or if not that, then perhaps my original idea of a series of lecture/essays.  Disappointing.

Monday, November 23, 2015

THE IDEA DEVELOPS

Jerry Fresia, thank you for a lovely response to my idea of videotaping lectures on Ideological Critique.  As I turn this over in my mind, the following thought now emerges.  I could announce a lecture series, perhaps under the auspices of the Philosophy Department, if they were willing.  "A series of twelve public lectures on Ideological Critique by retired Professor Robert Paul Wolff, open to all members of the UNC Chapel Hill community."  That sort of thing.  Maybe on Tuesday evenings from 7:30 to 9:00 p.m.  I would invite those who show up to follow along with the readings if they wish, but craft the lectures so that they do not require reading to be understood.  If the Department were to make a classroom available, I would somehow arrange for the videotaping, and each Wednesday, the lecture would go up on YouTube [one can do this sort of thing, yes?] 

Of course, someone would have to show up to make it work, but perhaps I could count on at least that.  Maybe I should offer door prizes. 

If I felt enormously ambitious -- this may be a bridge too far -- I could write up each lecture and post it on my blog.

Of course, if no one at all shows up, I shall have to allow my light to flicker and go out.  [I am trying to think of some way to work in a remark about not giving a Tinker's damn, but inspiration fails me.]

DONALD TRUMP COULD ACTUALLY BE THE 2016 REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE


Inasmuch as this is my blog, I figure I get to write about what obsesses me, so here we go again into the weeds.  It goes without saying that this has been an authentically weird primary season on the Republican side.  For almost five months, which is an eternity in politics, Donald Trump has led the mob of aspiring governors, senators, and odd balls, with the strangest candidate of many decades, Dr. Ben Carson, nipping at his heels.  Readers of this blog know that I have been looking into the details of the primary selection process, and it now is clear to me that Donald Trump could really be the Republican Party's presidential nominee in 2016.  Indeed, I think it is reasonable to say that he not only can be nominated, but is at this point very close to being the odds on favorite to be nominated.

Despite sitting for so long atop the polls, Trump still clocks in at only 30-35% of "likely Republican primary voters."  How on earth can I say, on the basis of these facts, that he is close to being the odds on favorite to win the nomination.  Ah, well you may ask, little grasshopper.  [Reference to an old TV show.]  I will now plunge into the weeds, and those of a more balanced temperament can turn their attention to the pressing question, "Will the New England Patriots remain undefeated this evening after their Monday Night game against Buffalo?"

Let me review some numbers I have bored you with in past posts.  A total of 2484 delegate votes will be cast at the Republican Nominating Convention in Ohio next July.  To win, a candidate needs a majority, which is to say 1243 votes.  The delegates will be selected in two quite different ways.  1865 of them will be selected by the voters or attendees in caucuses and primaries, beginning in Iowa on February 1, 2016 and ending with a group of five primaries [including the biggest, California!] on June 7, 2016.  The remaining 619 delegates, sometimes referred to as "super delegates," will be allocated to the several states by a strict formula and chosen by party leaders in those states.  The super delegates tend to be state and local elected officials and party officials who worry a great deal about down-ticket candidates [including, in some cases, themselves.]  Since it is widely believed that a Trump candidacy would be a disaster for the Party, not many of them are likely to vote for him at the Convention.  So if Trump is to get 1243 votes, he is going to have to win almost all of them in the primaries and caucuses. 

A little arithmetic tells us that 1243 is two-thirds of 1865.  With barely a third of the vote, how on earth can Trump win two-thirds of those delegates?  The answer lies in some reasonable assumptions about what the field will look like when the voting starts in a bit more than two months and in the details of the delegate selection process.

Assumptions first.  Right now, Trump and Carson are getting roughly 50% of the vote in polls, with Cruz and Rubio together getting perhaps 20% and the other 30% scattered among all the other candidates and "don't know."  But that is going to change rapidly after the Iowa caucuses on February 1st and the New Hampshire primary on February 9th.  A great winnowing will take place, and when the grim reaper has done his work, the field will probably consist of Trump, Carson, Rubio, Cruz, Bush, and a few other die-hards who cannot quite believe they are not loved by their fellow Republicans.  At this point, the absolutely most crucial single factor is the Carson vote.  Either he continues to pull 20 -25%, or his utter and bizarre weirdness finally becomes too much even for Evangelical Christians, and he sinks to 10% or so. 

If Carson remains at the higher figure, there are two possibilities.  The first is that Cruz and Rubio advance, side by side, each one getting maybe 15-18% or so of the 50% left over after Trump and Carson have eaten their fill.  The second is that one of them [probably Rubio] emerges as the Establishment favorite, getting enough votes to challenge Trump for the lead.  I think the first possibility is far and away the more likely, but all the serious and knowledgeable people who comment on politics on TV, in newspapers, and on-line, seem to be assuming that the second will happen, putting an end to Trump's run.

If Carson tanks, that frees up a good many more votes, and if Trump does not scarf up a goodly portion of them, there is plenty of room for a Rubio to overcome Trump and go for the gold.  Since I find Carson beyond weird, I just cannot tell whether he is going to nose dive, but he sure hasn't thus far.

But this stills leaves the original question:  How can Trump win the nomination while only taking a third of the vote?  Now for some details.  According to Republican National Committee [RNC] rules, all the primaries and caucuses held on or before March 15 -- so called Super Tuesday -- must allocate their delegates "proportionally."   Many states holding primaries after March 15 2016 will also allocate delegates proportionally, including the biggest of them all, California.

However , "proportionally" does not mean that a candidate who gets 7% of the vote gets 7% of the delegates.  Not at all!  There are several different systems of proportional allocation, but most of them are one of two variations.  An example will make this clear.

A state gets three delegates for each Congressional District, or CD, plus some at-large delegates.  South Carolina, the third state to choose delegates, is typical.  South Carolina has seven CDs, so that is 21 delegates.  It also gets 24 at-large delegates, for a total of 45 South Carolina delegates.  In each CD, the leading candidate gets all three delegates.  In addition, the candidate with the most votes state-wide gets all 24 at-large delegates.  Well, supposed Trump is still leading the pack, and manages to get the most votes in four of the seven CDs, as well as the most votes in the state as a whole.,  In that case he gets (4 x 3) + 24 = 36 delegates.

Which means that with only 30-35% of the vote, Trump wins 80% of the delegates!

Some states are not quite so lopsidedly favorable to the front-runner, using what is called a "winner gets most" system.  But even this system is biased in favor of the leading vote-getter.  This is no accident, of course.  The system was devised by the RNC to make sure that a front runner would emerge as a winner without a long, bitter fight leading to an open Convention.  The RNC just did not imagine that Donald Trump would be their front runner.

We are now entering the Thanksgiving-New Year's hiatus, when Americans go shopping and forget about politics.  By the time all the unwanted presents have been returned and all the after-season sales have concluded, there will only be a few weeks before actual delegates get chosen and the frenzy leading up to and beyond Super Tuesday erupts.

The schedule, heavy on Southern states early on, favors Trump and Carson.  I believe it is possible, bordering on likely, that well before Americans have to file their taxes, Trump will be on his way to a lock on the delegate selection process.  The prospect of that in March will drive the Republican Establishment bonkers.  I think [I am not sure] they could actually cancel their Convention and retreat to an Electronic Smoke Filled Room.  But that may just be a politics junkie's wet dream.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

MINISCULE ON-LINE OPEN SOURCE COURSE, OR mooc

Susie and I had dinner the other evening with Ina and David Reeve.  David, you will recall from an earlier post, is a senior member the UNC Philosophy Department who has recently published a new translation of the Nichomachean Ethics.  I told my sad tale about offering a course on Ideological Critique for which not a single graduate student in the department registered [apparently I am not the only person to whom this has happened] and mentioned my plan to write and post a series of lectures on my blog.  Ina, who attended my Marx course last semester, asked "Why don't you deliver them as lectures, videotape the lectures, and put them on YouTube?"

This is an intriguing but rather scary idea, for several reasons.  First of all, I have not a clue how to do that, but I am sure I can find a twelve year old to assist me.  Secondly, it would be authentically weird to lecture to a camera rather than to students.  It is not as though I very often even pause for breath when I lecture, but I do, after all, talk to actual people, and I am afraid I might freeze up if there were no one out there smiling or frowning or taking notes or laughing at my jokes.  And then there is the little matter of my facial tics and twitches, with which I have been afflicted since I was five, and of which I am mortally embarrassed [although everyone very kindly lies and says they are not noticible.]

The modern world being what it is, I am sure I would have a larger [although still tiny] audience for YouTube lectures than for written lectures.  Folks could make it one of their multi-tasking items, while driving or taking a bath or watching a football game or making love -- well, maybe not when watching a football game.

What do you think?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

DETAILS, DETAILS

The more deeply I look into the rules governing the allocation of delegates in Republican primaries [I shall spare you the details -- each state is different!], the clearer it becomes to me that in a crowded field, a front-runner pulling 30-35% of the vote is likely to win as many as two-thirds or more of the delegates.  This markedly improves Trump's chances of securing the 1243 delegates needed for the nomination even without any of the 619 "super-delegates" voting for him.  If Trump does not nose-dive, which looks less and less likely as time goes by, the rag-tag collection of big-wigs known as "The Republican Establishment" is going to become more and more desperate as February turns into March and March approaches April.  We may soon be looking at the death of the Republican Party as we have known it since 1968 and Nixon's Southern Strategy.

People who want to explore the rules for each state primary or caucus can find them here on something called "The Green Papers."

Friday, November 20, 2015

A SPEECH YOU MUST WATCH

TheDudeDiogenes gave me this link to Bernie Sanders' Georgetown University speech.   I got right off my computer after watching it and donated another $1000 to his campaign.  You really need to watch it.  I do not think he has a shot at the nomination, but perhbaps he can create a movement, which would be more important.

BOOKS AVAILABLE ON-LINE

Mikey reports:  Mannheim's Ideology And Utopia is available free here: https://archive.org/details/ideologyutopiain00mann

Austen's Mansfield Park here: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/141

MY ON-LINE "COURSE" NEXT SEMESTER

A reader code-named Yurkle asks for the reading list for the "course" I shall teach next semester on my blog.  Although I shall repeat all of this when I begin, some time in January, I am happy to post the list  of "required" readings now.  Folks can ask for some of these as Christmas presents.

We shall read seven books and an essay, and [if possible] watch a video and a movie.  Here are the materials:

First segment:              Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia

Second segment:         Richard B. Lee and Irven DeVore, editors,                        Kalahari Hunter-Gatherers:  Studies of the !Kung and Their Neighbors
                                    Edwin Wilmsen, Land Filled With Flies

Third Segment:           Henry Louis Gates, Jr., The Signifying Monkey
                                    Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
                                    Alice Walker, The Color Purple

Coda:                          Jane Austen, Mansfield Park
                                    Edward Said, "Jane Austen and Empire" in Culture and Imperialism

With the Coda, it is highly desirable that students watch the 1999 movie of Mansfield Park made by the Canadian director Patricia Rozema.   Lee and his associates made a 50 minute video of the !Kung called "Man the Hunter," I believe, and if anyone can find it on-line somehow, watching it would be very useful.

There it is, folks.  I believe that this will be one of the most interesting, sophisticated [although not pretentious or obscure] and rewarding courses I have ever taught.  I do hope someone actually sticks with it to the end.  But in the Blogosphere, one never knows.

THESE ARE UGLY TIMES

The response of Republicans [and some craven House Democrats] to the Paris attacks is not merely ignorant and despicable, it is deeply troubling.  This is what fascism looks like when it begins.  The response is also, at least at first glance, somewhat puzzling.  It was, after all, not the United States that was attacked, but France, a country the Right routinely disparages and ridicules.  Why the hysteria?  I suspect it is simply a momentary displacement of the domestic hatred of anyone not reliably White and Christian that has risen, like a pestilential smog, from the heartland of America.  When even Antonin Scalia feels called upon to observe, in response to a Republican mayor, that the internment of Japanese-Americans was wrong, you know that a rough beast is indeed slouching toward Bethlehem. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

BACK INTO THE WEEDS


The response of Republicans to the disastrous Paris attacks has been so despicable that it makes sober comment difficult.  These really are awful people, frightened, panicky, without a shred of common decency, false to their professed religious beliefs and bereft of even the least common intelligence.  I am not going to try to blog about them.  It is too dispiriting.

Instead, I propose to dive back into the weeds of the Primary season.  It is now a month since last I talked about the Republican and Democratic races -- more than enough time for something to have happened.

First, let me simply report that with the aid of my computer, Susie and I watched the South Carolina forum hosted by Rachel Maddow at which the three Democratic Party candidates spoke  [we actually fast forwarded through the Martin O'Malley segment -- nice progressive man, but not going anywhere in the race.]  The contrast between Clinton and Sanders was interesting.  Clinton was intelligent, knowledgeable, poised, cheerful, skillful -- and utterly inauthentic.  I found myself wondering whether she could pass a Turing test  and register as a human being rather than as a machine.  Sanders was blunt, intense, almost without humor, and completely authentic.  I am afraid the machine is going to win the nomination, probably sewing it up some time in late April or early May.

There have been very interesting developments in the Republican race, three in particular.  They are, in order of importance:

(a)  Trump's continued large lead in the polls, fluctuating around the 25-30% mark;

(b)  Carson's sharp drop in the very latest polls, a development which, if it continues, will completely alter the race; and

(c) the emergence of Cruz as a co-equal leader with Rubio of the lower tier.

(a)   For reasons I have explained, with only a bit more than a quarter of the vote, according to the polls, Trump can rack up a sizeable number of delegates, even in the primaries that distribute delegates proportionally.  Let me give one important example, that of California, to illustrate what I mean.  California gets 172 delegates determined by the primary [this is separate from the "super-delegates."]  Each of the 53 Congressional districts gets three, all three of which go to the candidate who has the most votes in that district [for a total of 159].  In addition, 13 at-large delegates go to the candidate who has the highest vote total state-wide.  Let us suppose that by June 7th, when the California primary is held, there is still no one with the 1243 delegates needed to secure the nomination, and that Trump, Carson, Rubio, Cruz, Bush, and one or two others are still in the running.  If Trump can pull 30% of the vote, he is likely to win 30 or 35 of the district races, accumulating close to 100 delegates.  He will also pick up the 13 at-large delegates, for a total, let us say, of maybe 110.  With 30% of the vote he wins 64% of the delegates.  Similar results can be expected elsewhere.  Thus, Trump may exit the primary season with more at least1000 of the 1243 delegates he needs -- more than enough to enable him to start making one of the deals he is so fond of boasting about.

(b)   If Carson does continue to fade, that opens the way for an "Establishment" candidate to surge -- presumably Rubio, as things now look, though one never knows.  If there is a single such candidate vacuuming up the bits and pieces of votes released by the departure of the bottom tier candidates from the race, he [it won't be Fiorina] may actually top Trump, at which point we would be on track for yet another main-line Republican to give the shaft to the half of the base that hates them all -- a very interesting prospect.  In that case, we may see the party split wide open, in ways I find it hard to predict or imagine.

(c) But if Cruz continues to come on, perhaps snagging a good deal of the Carson vote, that will stop Rubio from establishing himself as the sole non-Trump.  We could get to the Convention with no one having 1243 votes, even with the Jackal's share of the super-delegates. 

We are now one week from the Thanksgiving-New Year 's hiatus, when America goes shopping.  By the time we are writing "2016" on our checks, the Iowa caucuses will be upon us.  I am pretty certain that Trump will not fade.  So the two things to keep an eye on are, first, the fate of Carson, and second, the rise of Cruz to challenge Rubio.

Stay tuned.

TINK BRIGHTENS

The response has persuaded me to attempt the on-line version of my Ideological Critique course [truth to tell, I did not need much encouragement], so some time next January, I shall begin, with plenty of warning for those who wish to obtain the books and really follow closely.

I think it should be exciting material, conceptually demanding and on occasion rather surprising.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

PETER PAN, TINKER BELL, AND ME


Many of us will recall the moment in J. M. Barrie's classic play, Peter Pan, when the little fairy, Tinker Bell, is dying from the poison she has drunk to save Peter.  Tink is represented not by an actress but by a bright spot of light reflected from an off-stage mirror.  As the light begins to fade, Peter breaks the fourth wall and turns to the children in the audience,  "Do you believe in fairies?  Say quick that you believe.  If you believe, clap your hands."  The children always clap, the light brightens, and the play can go on.

Last week, the children did not clap, and Tinker Bell died.  The play has been cancelled.

Permit me to explain.

After teaching a graduate/advanced undergraduate course last  semester in the UNC Philosophy Department on "Karl Marx's Critique of Capitalism," I talked with the Chair of the Department about teaching a quite different course next semester at the same level on the theme "Ideological Critique."  I conceived this course as a more sophisticated and demanding version of a course I taught at UMass twenty-five years ago.  It was agreed that I would teach the course, and I began to prepare.  I am going to describe the course in some detail, for a reason that will become clear  presently.

The course is organized into three 3-4 week segments followed by a two week coda.  In the first segment, I carefully take the students through Karl Mannheim's great classic work, Ideology and Utopia.  This introduces them to the concept of ideological critique and provides the frame for what follows.  In the next segment, we read a work devoted to the study of a San-speaking people who live in the Kalahari Desert in Southern Africa.  These people, the Zhu, were the object of an elaborate ethnographical study carried out by a famous anthropologist, Richard Lee, and a large team of associates.  Lee et al. construe the Zhu as a pre-historical holdover from a time when human beings lived by hunting and gathering and foraging.  Edwin Wilmsen's book Land Filled With Flies, which is the major text for this segment of my course, is a theoretically complex, highly detailed, scathing ideological critique not only of the work of Lee but beyond that of the field of Ethnography itself.  Inasmuch as Wilmsen draws brilliantly on categories of analysis developed by Marx, the book actually constitutes a fascinating continuation of my course of Marx.

The third major segment of the course switches fields and topics abruptly and turns to African-American literature.  Henry Louis Gates' most important book, The Signifying Monkey, develops a literary critical theory of African-American literature rooted in the religious and oral traditions of West Africa.  The book is also, in my judgment, a brilliant and very angry ideological critique of Literary Criticism as practiced by the icons of that field -- Jacques Derrida, Harold Bloom, Geoffrey Hartman, Paul de Man, and others.

The coda is devoted to an essay by Edward Said, whose work virtually created the field of Post-Colonial Studies.  The essay is a very surprising reading of one of Jane Austen's novels, Mansfield Park.  With the novel and the essay, I have the students watch a film of the novel made by the Canadian director Patricia Rozema, who was clearly influenced by Said's essay.

And that is the course.  During my "vacation" from this blog, I spent endless hours in Paris very carefully re-reading the Gates and the Wilmsen, taking more than twenty-five pages of detailed notes.  I had forgotten how much there was to talk about in each book, and I wondered whether one semester would be enough time for everything I want to say.

UNC, as a result of a miscalculation of their admissions "yield," admitted twice as many graduate students as usual this year -- twelve instead of six.  I thought therefore that there might be a good turnout for the course -- more even than the six Philosophy grad students who signed up for the Marx course.  Last week, from Paris, I sent an e-mail to the departmental secretary to find out about enrolment.  Not a single graduate student enrolled in the course.

The children did not clap.  I cancelled the course.

I spent a bad twenty-four hours after that, I freely confess, but then my natural good spirits returned.  I finished working through the last sixty pages of the Wilmsen, even though it was for naught.  But then I began to think.  I honestly believe that this is a truly great course, and I am loathe to let it simply die, clapping or no.  Could I perhaps teach it -- in some sense of "teach" -- on my blog.

Here is what I am thinking.  Perhaps some of you will write comments and tell me whether what I am proposing makes any sense.  Next semester, starting some time in January, I will post a series of extended essays, two or three a week, in the form of lectures.  I will invite interested parties to buy and read the books and follow along.  If there are five or eight folks who are enthusiastic enough to "take" the course, I will invite them to write essays on the different segments and send them to me.  I will read the essays and comment on them, just as if they were in my class. The only thing I will not do is append grades.

Well, there it is.  What do you think?  Is anyone clapping?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

THE LATEST NEWS ON THE LGBT FRONT


Readers of this blog will know that Paris is a roughly oval shaped city , through the middle of which, in a great arc from East to West, runs the river Seine on its way to the Atlantic.  If you stand facing downstream, the southern part of the city, where Susie and I have an apartment, is on your left -- hence, the Left Bank.  Many of the most popular tourist attractions lie along the river -- the Eiffel Tower, the Tuileries Gardens, the Louvre, and Notre Dame itself, which actually sits on an island in the middle of the river.  The municipal government of Paris, which is in general a very progressive and imaginative city government, runs a number of flat bottomed boats called Batobus which cruise up and down the river, stopping at places where tourists might like to visit.  For a single fare, you can board a Batobus, hop off at the next stop, see a sight, and then hop back on the next boat without paying any more.  The Batobus are named for various squares and avenues in Paris.  The city also runs a fleet of slightly larger flat bottomed boats called Bateaux Mouches that serve meals, so that one can eat and cruise the river at the same time.

During my morning walks, I discovered that at night all the Batobus moor, two by two, on the Left Bank, just before the bridge to Place de la Concorde which is the turnaround point on my walk.  As I have reported in previous posts, at the back of the line up I have been accustomed to see two smaller Batobus, the Jean Gabin and the Yves Montand.

This trip, when I took my first walk, I noticed that Yves Montand was missing.  At first I thought nothing of it.  "Off on location making a movie," I said to myself.  But day after day, as the Yves Montand did not reappear, I grew worried.  Had there been an upheaval in the French cinematic world of which I was unaware?  Had the soulful, sad-eyed Montand been taken out by the tough-guy Gabin?

Several days later, when Susie and I were crossing a bridge from the île St. Louis, I looked down and to my pleasure and relief saw a Bateau Mouche called the Brigitte Bardot.

Apparently, in Paris, there are even transgender boats!

Monday, November 16, 2015

THE OLD PHILOSOPHER RETURNS, SADDER BUT NO WISER


I had a light-hearted post prepared for my return, but the events of Friday evening in Paris require some comment, even though I have absolutely nothing to add to what you will all have learned from news reports and television and web commentary.

Friday evening, after a day spent packing and cleaning the apartment, Susie and I went to dinner at Le Petit Pontoise, a local restaurant that we have long enjoyed.  [I had ravioles dauphinés and  joues de porc -- a red wine stew of pig cheeks and vegetables].  At about nine-thirty we walked home and went to bed.  A bit after midnight, the phone rang.  Our Paris phone has a jaunty ring tone quite different from the harsh sound I knew as a boy.  The first time I heard it, I had no idea where the sound was coming from.  When I picked up the phone and heard the voice of my son, Tobias, saying "Dad?" I had a terrible fear that something awful had happened in America.  Why else would he be calling in the middle of the night?  But his first words were, "Are you all right?"  It was then that I learned what had happened.  While we talked, I surfed the web for news and he responded to a text message from his brother, Patrick.

Susie and I spent much of Saturday watching CNN as the terrible story unfolded.  Many people, including some of you, very kindly sent e-mail messages of concern, and I responded to them all, assuring people that we were well.

Even though the attacks took place only a mile or two from our apartment, we were as distant from them as we would have been had we already been back in Chapel Hill.  All of the incidents occurred on the Right Bank, north of the Seine.  My turf is the Left Bank, and save when I circumnavigate the 4th arrondissement during my morning walk, I rarely venture north of the river.  I had never heard of the Bataclan theater or the Cambodian restaurant that came under attack.

The next morning, the Saturday Place Maubert food market, the largest of the week, was cancelled, an eerie sight since all the stanchions and awnings had been put up on Friday before the attacks occurred.  Shakespeare and Co., the famous English language bookstore opposite Notre Dame, was closed "until the situation is clarified" but people were in the streets.  Perhaps the only visible response to the attacks was an increased police presence.

What do I think of the events?  I will leave geo-political analysis to those who know more about the Middle East and Islam.  My overwhelming feeling is one of world-weary sadness.  Human beings are the only mammals who regularly kill large numbers of their own species, not for food or sex or territory, but simply out of anger or despair or boredom or religious ecstasy.  The communicants of the great Abrahamic religions have been slaughtering people for centuries -- indeed, for millennia -- and when their enthusiasm for blood wanes, secular mass murderers step forward to fill the void.  Perhaps it is because I will soon be eighty-two, but I am weighed down by the fragility and brevity of our insignificant moment of life.  So many of our greatest works of art are either explorations of this blood lust or celebrations of it.  "Make love, not war," we said in the Sixties. 

Fat chance.

Saturday, November 14, 2015