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Thursday, October 13, 2016


Let me first say that I have been stunned by the flood of lengthy and thoughtful comments triggered by my brief post.  One never  knows.  There is only one small comment I wish to make, about a comment posted by Chris a while back, but first let me express my puzzlement at the dramatic drop in views for my latest Kant lecture.  Here are the figures on the first five, as of this morning:

Lecture One:  13548 views
Lecture Two:   8695  views
Lecture Three: 3467 views
Lecture Four:  4995 views
Lecture Five:  4955 views
Lecture Six:     290 views

That is very odd.  Can anyone suggest an explanation?

Now, to the comments, which now number 43!  Early in the thread [is that the right term?], Chris wrote this:

"Articles like this are proof the Democrats of today are the Republicans of yester-year, and the economic spectrum is radically to the right of FDR:
[Goldman Sachs in meeting with Democratic party fund raisers ask to silence Warren and other progressive Democratic goals]

But again, I guess that's the sane and reasonable party. Tell me, if that's so, were the 80s Republicans sane and reasonable then too? Nixon must have been a beacon of sanity when he had that extremely progressive regime that implemented OSHA, and the EPA!"

It seems pretty clear Chris intended this as a sarcastic rhetorical question, but unfortunately the correct reply is "relatively speaking, yes."  I am old enough to remember every administration since that of FDR, and the appalling truth is that things have become in certain ways so much worse that Nixon today would be a moderate or Blue Dog Democrat.  I was not joking when I described Clinton as an intelligent and experienced Republican.  If all of our best efforts are successful, at this point the most we can realistically hope for is to turn the clock back several generations.  Bernie Sanders would have been a mainstream Democrat when I was young.  That will tell you what a hole we are in.


Matt said...

Nixon must have been a beacon of sanity when he had that extremely progressive regime that implemented OSHA, and the EPA

When people compare, say, Nixon with Obama, (or, in the future, Hilary Clinton) it's worth noting that Nixon faced a situation sort of the reverse faced by Obama for much of his time - that is, the Democrats had large, often veto-proof, majorities in the House and Senate. Lots of what it attributed now to Nixon are things that came out of those large democratic majorities in congress, not from Nixon. Would this stuff have passed if Republicans had controlled congress during Nixon's time? I rather doubt it. Would Obama have achieved more if he'd had a congress he could work with for more time? Indeed. This stuff matters, and it's not paid attention to, you'll get a distorted view of how politics works, and what it possible, in the U.S.

Chris said...

I mean, I happen to think the Nixon administration was insane, but I also think the democrats of today are insane. Whereas it seems the majority of the members of this board think like you do, i.e., both are relatively sane.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Chris, "insane" is really not a useful analytic category. Neither Nixon nor Obama is or was insane. The point is that the center of policy and ideology, on all matters save identity issues, has moved far to the right in the past forty years, so that today we must fight for a candidate whom we would have utterly rejected two generations ago. Our only hope is to hold the line with Clinton and then fight to recapture at least a part of what we have lost. What is the alternative? Crying "a pox on both their houses" and inaction?

Chris said...

Saying both candidates are vile, and emphasizing in the same breath that they're both vile, does not lead to the conclusion that one shouldn't vote Clinton. There are of course degrees to their vileness. I really don't want to be pigeonholed into that position, when as far I can tell I haven't been advocating it.

I've admitted there's a part of me that wants to see that vile sexual abuser lose to a woman. As a matter of identity politics that does seem important.

I have to disagree on the insane claim. The overwhelming readiness to kill people seems to be if not categorically insane, wholly pathological. And this pathology runs entirely too deep within both parties near equally. And its supporters and fawners are therefore guilty of something quite wicked when they look past it.

By the way, in the recent wikileaks the Clinton administration was quite explicit that all the party platform victories for Bernie were a false appeasement and not an earnest policy change. Most of the wikileaks demonstrate what we all should already know, Clinton lies constantly. Just keep that in mind when strategizing.


"So here's my idea. Bernie and his people have been bitching about super delegates and the huge percentage that have come out for Hillary. Since the original idea was to bring our elected officials to the convention ex-officio >> ( because of the offices and the constituencies they represent), why not throw Bernie a bone and reduce the super delegates in the future to the original draft of members of the House and Senate, governors and big city mayors, eliminating the DNC members who are not State chairs or vice-Chairs. (Frankly, DNC members don't really represent constituencies anyway. I should know. I served on the DNC first as Executive Director and then as an elected member for 10 years.) >> >> So if we "give" Bernie this in the Convention's rules committee, his people will think they've "won" something from the Party Establishment. And it functionally doesn't make any difference anyway. They win. We don't lose. Everyone is happy. "

howie b said...

Professor Wolff:

The drop off in viewership may simply arise from the challenges Kant poses even to those with some familiarity with modern or ancient philosophy. Some of your viewers may come from a background of your other interests such as Marx and politics and culture, and to them Kant may prove quite a messy rabbit hole.
The alternative costs aren't worth the effort demanded.
I mean I know you must have taught Kant to undergraduates- but still

David Auerbach said...

The (as it seems now) destruction of the Republican party and (perhaps) their loss of control of the Senate and weakened control of the House (which leads to much less party discipline) actually opens up space for left politics. Not utopia, just reversals. Partly it's because the Democratic Party (as it now is) won't be able to wave boogiemen in our faces to keep us in line. The analogy (not totally convincing, but instructive) that I've heard is the opening that McGovern's thumping gave to the right.

s. wallerstein said...

In support of Chris, wouldn't Marcuse say that Hillary Clinton's policies are, if not insane, at least pathological?

Chris said...

I know Erich Fromm would have no problem categorically calling large institutions of power and the people that make them up insane. Since they embrace the death drive more often than eros.

s. wallerstein said...

Marcuse says more or less the same thing, but I'm not sure if he calls the system "insane" or just considers it to be "pathological". I'm too lazy to search through Eros and Civilization to see what term he uses.

Ed Barreras said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ed Barreras said...

Professor Wolff,

Early comments appear at the top of the comment box. That said, I feel compelled to say that I was too petulant in one of my early comments in the thread in question. Cranky from too little sleep, and frustrated at the morning coverage of the debate, I lashed out by speculating that maybe Trump voters are a lost cause due to their simply having low IQs. As I said, this was something Richard Rorty had once mentioned -- in an article summarizing Richard Posner on "elective aristocracy" -- to explain why so many people fail to vote in their best interests. Referencing S.J. Gould, another commentor then reminded us how dicey the concept of IQ can be (having read Gould, I was well aware of this), and I immediately walked those comments back. But I say it here again.

I have no idea how prominently the concept of IQ figures in Posner's discussion. My guess would be that it's just a throwaway line, meant to convey the idea that some generalized ignorance will always threaten and hinder progresss. Still, I'd say we can acknowledge this generalized ignorance without paying undue credence to the idea of IQ, which is abused in so many contexts.

David Palmeter said...

What exactly do people mean with terms like "insane"? How is Hillary Clinton insane? Donald Trump has, of course, manifested symptoms of narcissism and grandiosity, as well as cruelty and now paranoia (there's a "global conspiracy" beyond the allegations of many women that he assaulted).

But the term "insane" is very imprecise and does not, so far as I know, correlate with any specific mental illness. To the extent that it implies something abnormal, it would exclude any widely-held view, no matter how much some of us might disagree with it.

Take Syria for example. The choice seems to be (1) become involved militarily to the extent needed to stop the killing and suffering of thousands of innocent people--like that 5-year-old boy in the ambulance whose photo went viral a few weeks ago), risking major war perhaps with Russia in the process; (2) do nothing, which would have the virtue of not making it worse by our very presence; (3) enter in a limited way in some vague hope that this will improve things.

I can see good reasons for each of the three. I'm glad I'm not the one who has to make the decision. But is any of them "insane"?

s. wallerstein said...

David Palmeter,

There is a view associated with members of the Frankfurt school, such as Fromm and Marcuse and maybe Adorno (who is over my head) which says that "normal" late capitalist society with its destruction of the environment, with its commodified human relationships, with its promotion of one-dimensional personality structures as desirable, with its dumbing-down of what was once the sphere of high (and critical) culture, with its military aggressiveness, with its denial of eros (by "eros" they do not refer to Playboy-type eroticism, but to social relationships based on eros, the force that brings us together, instead of thanatos, that is, aggressiveness and competivity) etc., is not a sane state of affairs. I think that there is something to be said for that view.

Chris said...

Completely agree with Wallerstein and I think it's indicative of what I mean Palmeter.

Moreover, Hillary is, if not insane, pathological, because she is an entirely fabricated clay human being whose values, whims, policy, stances, facial expressions, hand waving, tone of voice, and foot steps, are entirely CALCULATED by data from WITHOUT. She's not a human being. She has no essence. She is dollars and polls congealed in a bodily shell (the exact opposite of Bernie and even Trump). She's beyond inauthentic, as there's nothing left of her to even offer a sliver of authentic hope. So insane, pathological, whatever you want to call it, she's off.

If polls and money say bomb X, she'll do it, if they say don't, she won't. That can't be sane...?

Chris said...

Jon Stewart summed it up quite nicely.

David Palmeter said...

S Wallerstein,

I've never read Adorno, very little of Marcuse, and haven't read any Fromm since college, 60 years ago--so I'm just about totally uninformed about the Frankfurt School, other than reading about it from time to time. (There's a new book out, The Grand Hotel Abyss, which seems something like an idiot's guide to the Frankfurt School; if any have read it, I'd appreciate their reactions).

As you describe it, the world does not seem "sane." Certainly no rational person would opt for military aggressiveness or environmental degradation. Yet I wonder where and when was this sphere or high critical culture that we have dumbed-down?

s. wallerstein said...

David Palmeter,

Adorno, who is over my head, is the guy who takes on the culture industry, but I'll give it a try with what I understand of him and what Marcuse says in One Dimensional Man.

The high culture reigned in the last half of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century in Europe and undoubtedly parts of the U.S., probably New York and Boston.

Before you jeer at the prejudices of a bunch of over-educated German Jews, all from wealthy backgrounds, let's look at the creative record, so to speak. Let's look at the hundred years from 1850 to 1950 and the almost sixty seven years, two thirds of a century, since 1950.

Writers from 1850 to 1950: Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Conrad, Proust, Kafka,
Joyce, Fitzgerald, Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Edith Wharton, all of whom are still read today.

Philosophers from 1850 to 1950: Marx, Engels, Mill, Nietzsche, William James, Russell, the best of Heidegger, most of Wittgenstein, all of whom are still read today.

Composers from 1850 to 1950: Brahms, Wagner, Mahler, Stravinsky, Berg, all of whom we still listen to.

There's a similar list of painters including the impressionists, the expressionists, the cubists, etc.

Is there a similarly impressive list post 1950? Maybe it's my prejudices, but I don't see one. There are of course lots of writers with talent and lots of bright philosophers, but where are the figures of equal cultural stature post 1950?

So something happened to culture when capitalism became totalitarian, to use Marcuse's word, when capitalism began to invade all aspects of our lives, as Marcuse claims that it now does. By the way, maybe it's a coincidence, but around 1950 "everyone" began to get a television in the United States and Western Europe.

Tom Cathcart said...

What is left out of the "insane" discussion is the fact that from 1968 to 1992 the Democrats did not win a single presidential election except for Jimmy Carter in 1976. People were writing books about the "permanent, Republican majority." Surprise: Democratic politics moved rightward. Did the whole country go "insane?" I suppose some would say so, but I don't find it a very useful category.

Chris said...

Yes, but Tom, it kept moving right after 1992 in large part to Bill Clinton's 'triangulation', which has been a continued strategy under Obama and now Hillary. We can't just pin all this on the Republicans, the never ending scapegoat of liberals.

Tom Cathcart said...

Chris: Who's talking about the Republicans? I'm talking about the electorate. During those 24 years, the Democrats did try one left-leaning candidate, McGovern. That didn't work out too well. I don't think the way to bring about change is to get leftier candidates (Bernie would have got creamed by any ordinary Republican, though maybe not by Trump.) We somehow have to move the electorate.

s. wallerstein said...

Tom Cathcart,

I don't want to dispute your points on the mindset of the electorate, but why couldn't a whole culture be considered "pathological", if not literally "insane".

Most of us can see pathological elements when we look at Nazi Germany. Bertrand Russell relates in his autobiography how when seeing the crowds cheering in London at the outbreak of World War 1, he considered them to be "crazy" (I don't recall his exact words). When we consider McCarthyism and many elements of the 1950's in the U.S., especially the rabid anti-communism, we can see a mass mindset that does not seem to be in good mental shape. Listen to any Trump rally when they chant "lock her up" or "drill baby drill" and that does not seem exactly like a model of "mental health".

So why couldn't there be something "wrong" with the most of U.S. culture? Is it special? Blessed by God?

Tom Cathcart said...

s, I take your point. I just don't find "insane" very helpful, particularly if we're going to try to influence the electorate.

Ed Barreras said...

S. Wallerstein,

You sketch a fascinating thesis, but doesn't it fall too easily to counterexample. For one thing, periods of culture ebb and flow. The English Renaissance, stretching from the late 1500s to the early 1600s, is considered a high point of English literature. There are simply no authors of the 18th century with stature comparable to the likes of Shakespeare and Milton. To what do we attribute this decline? Certainly it can't be the spread of "totalitarian" global capitalism as described by Marcuse.

Also, the major Romantic poets (Wordsworth, Shelley, Coleridge, Byron, Keats) all lived and worked in the pre-Victorian world, and today they're considered indispensable figures. But this wasn't the case in the early 20th century, when the likes of T.S. Eliot, whom you mentioned, tended to disparage them.

Also, if we're talking about philosophers, is it too far-fetched to say that Quine, whose major works are post-1950, is a figure at least on par with Russell? It seems reasonable to think that he'll be read far into the future. (And come to think of it, how many of Russell's contemporaries do we continue to read). Many would make the same claims for Foucault, no?

And where do the great writers of the post-1950s "Latin American Boom" (Garcia Marquez, Vargas Llosa) fit into this scheme?

Moreover, to what extent does politics map onto this meta-narrative about culture? I mean, are Barack Obama and Bill Clinton really *that* much worse that's Herbert Hoover and Warren G. Harding, or the presidents of the Gilded Age, in terms of their complicity with a nefarious form of capitalism?

s. wallerstein said...

Tom Cathcart,

Actually, we've been discussing this point for a few threads now. A while ago someone repeated Rorty's remark about half the electorate having an IQ of under 100 and that explaining why people vote for Trump and Hillary, not Sanders. That remark was branded as "racist" and maybe it is. So we're not going to say that much of the electorate is "stupid". You don't like "insane". How about "in the grip of a false consciousness" or "radically misguided" or "unwise"? This is a philosophy blog, so maybe we could settle on "unwise" to explain the electoral behavior of lots of people. In fact, I'm not big on the vocabulary of mental health myself.

s. wallerstein said...

Ed Barreras,

Cultures do ebb and flow. I don't know why there are no great 18th century writers in English, but there must be historical reasons for that ebb. That does not mean that Marcuse is wrong about attributing the current cultural ebb to an invasive capitalist culture.

I myself don't see Garcia Marquez or Vargas Llosa as being on the level of Dostoyevsky or Proust. I've lived in Latin American most of my life and I've read most of their major works in Spanish, by the way.

I've never read Quine, but I see that his major work, Two Dogmas of Empiricism, appeared in 1951, so give or take a year, that does not negate my thesis.

howie berman said...

Max Weber distinguishes between value and instrumental rationality- that implies the possibility of moral insanity. That sounds like Bertrand Russell's diatribe against the war "psychosis' It's a form of delusion and flight from decent and obvious moral values- but people who while insane enough to wage wars, are sane or instrumentally rational enough to win them.
Trump and his supporters are probably insane in both senses of the word. They have a warped sense of values and Trump's calculations of self interest and a repertoire for manipulating people that is rather limited, though he is shrewd at times and can be a deadly foe in some circumstances

Ed Barreras said...

S. Wallerstein,

Let's not tarnish the reputation of the late Richard Rorty. He wasn't the one who made those remarks about IQ. It was Richard Posner. Rorty was merely giving a rundown of Posner's views.

I have to confess I couldn't find the exact passage in Posner that Rorty was referring to. However, a quick google search of "Richard Posner + IQ" turned up some, shall we say, interesting results. It seems Posner is a realist about IQs, and he even "goes there" when it comes to race. Here is a blog entry where he discusses the topic ( The relevant passage is as follows:

"Most children of middle-class (say upper quartile of households, income starting at $80,000) Americans are white or Asian and attend good public or private schools, usually predominantly white. The average white IQ is of course 100 and the Asian (like the Jewish) almost one standard deviation higher, that is, 115. The average black IQ is 85, a full standard deviation below the white average, and the average Hispanic IQ has been estimated recently at 89. Black children in particular often come from disordered households, which has a negative effect on ability to learn and perhaps indeed on IQ (which is only partly hereditary) as well. Increasingly, black and Hispanic students find themselves in schools with few white or Asian students. The challenge to American education is to provide a useful education to the large number of Americans who are unlikely to benefit from a college education or from high school courses aimed at preparing students for college."

My only reaction to this is: Yikes!

As I discovered in my search, Posner's thoughts here have proved quite popular with the white supremacist contingent. I mean, he's 77, but still...he ought to know better.

LFC said...

Hillary is, if not insane, pathological, because she is an entirely fabricated clay human being whose values, whims, policy, stances, facial expressions, hand waving, tone of voice, and foot steps, are entirely CALCULATED by data from WITHOUT. She's not a human being. She has no essence. She is dollars and polls congealed in a bodily shell (the exact opposite of Bernie and even Trump).

This is hyperbolic nonsense. She's a politician. They are all somewhat calculative by definition (including Sanders, for whom I voted in the Dem primary in my state). I'm not a big fan of HRC, but if you look at her career I think it's not that hard to figure out 1)what she really cares about, 2)what she is duly concerned about but doesn't care about that much, and 3)what she's saying mainly to get elected. Most politicians have this mixture, and it doesn't always make for an attractive picture, but it doesn't support the assertion that she's a "clay human being" and "a bodily shell".

Chris said...

Saying "she's a politician" does not render the behavior non-pathological, even if it makes it socially normalized. There's also a stark difference from making rote calculations, and being a clay candidate. If you want evidence of her clay candidacy have you been following the wikileaks? Her entire staff consistently says every day of the month, that before Hillary presents X, they need all the data on it, so she's in step. The flip flopping is by the hour, not by the month or year. Here's my evidence she has been clay this whole time:

1, 2, and 3 are great assertions, but what is submitted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. Do you have evidence?

Chris said...

" Most politicians have this mixture, and it doesn't always make for an attractive picture, but it doesn't support the assertion that she's a "clay human being" and "a bodily shell". "

Actually it supports exactly that...Moreover, just because everyone in a particular industry is engaged in X behavior, it doesn't follow that X behavior is not pathological.

E.g., Look guys, there's nothing wrong with strangling people with piano wire, it's not pathological, everyone I know in the mob does it.

The political establishment is pathological, it's sick. Let's not identify with our abusers and make excuses for them, please.

Tom Cathcart said...

Chris, this is going to sound ad hominem, and I don't really intend it to be, but here goes. When we deny any common decency or humanity to a group of people and see them exclusively through a lens of self-serving, power-crazed motives, it strikes me pretty much the way Trump's diatribes strike me. Are Hillary and center-left people in general compromised ethically? Yes. Are we all? Yes. Should we be? Tough question. One wants to say no, but one of my heads says, "God save us from the purists." G.K. Chesterton said, "Contrary to popular belief, the madman isn't the man who has lost his reason. He's the man who's lost everything but his reason." Does that give us a convenient excuse to settle for the status quo? Yes. And so it goes, the spiralling ethical demand on us all.

s. wallerstein said...

Tom Cathcart,

Are we all compromised ethically, as you ask? Yes.

However, there seems to be an ethical difference between Professor Wolff and Henry Kissinger in spite the fact that neither is a pure saint.

I see Hillary as being closer to Henry Kissinger in ethical terms than she is to Professor Wolff.

Real world ethics, in contrast to internet social justice warrior ethics, is not about trying to live a pure life and still less about never defiling one's mouth with impure sayings, but about doing as little harm as possible and hopefully, doing a bit of good at times.

(I'm not accusing anyone in this thread of being an internet social justice warrior, by the way.)

Chris said...

" G.K. Chesterton said, "Contrary to popular belief, the madman isn't the man who has lost his reason. He's the man who's lost everything but his reason." Does that give us a convenient excuse to settle for the status quo? Yes. And so it goes, the spiralling ethical demand on us all. "

Wouldn't I be the mad man in this situation, and all the Democratic apologists be the herd....? If so no ad hominem taken.

From what I've gathered Hillary and her Democratic SUPPORTERS are the NORM, the "mad man" is the one suggesting otherwise.

By the way, let me make one point clear. I have been critiquing Clinton SUPPORTERS, not Clinton strategic voters. I understand Wolff's position that strategically it's best to elect Clinton and push her from the Sander's left. I'm not totally sure I agree with it (especially not in solid red/blue states), but I comprehend it. That's quite different from showing support for Clinton, i.e., being apologetic about her policies and defending her as a person. It's the latter position that I find untenable and that's the one I refer to as suffering from Stockholm syndrome.