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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

WHAT DO I KNOW?

The year I graduated from college [1953], I got a summer job as a counselor at a rather benighted sleep-away eight-week camp somewhere up in Vermont.  One of the kids at the camp, maybe aged ten or eleven, was a compulsive liar.  He not only lied about things the rest of us could not check on, like how rich his parents were or the fabulous places in the world he had been [this was back when ordinary middle-class children were not world travelers], but even about things happening at the camp that we all knew about and knew he was lying about.  It was weird.  He did not seem to do it to gain anything.  He just lied.  When you confronted him and said, “But I was there!  That is just not true!” he did not back down or even seem at all embarrassed.  He just went on lying.  I was only nineteen, and more worried about the fact that the camp director was a crook and might not pay us at the end of the summer, but I guess if I had been older and more sophisticated, I might have floated the opinion that the kid was a pathological liar, or something like that.

Why am I telling you this?  Well, strange as it may seem, it is a reaction to the vigorous debate that has been going on in the comments section of this blog in the past week or so.  On the one hand, I love it that people read my blog and are moved to engage in debates about it and by way of it.  On the other hand, all of this is making me reflect on the fact that I really personally and immediately know very little about what I have been writing on this blog, and after a while that begins to trouble me.

I mean, I have no hesitation calling Donald Trump a pathological liar.  But I have never met Donald Trump.  In fact, to the best of my knowledge, I have not ever met a single one of the more than sixty million men and women who voted for him for President.  Maybe what he does is all calculated.  Maybe it is inaccurately reported.  Maybe all politicians are like Trump.  I don’t know any politicians either.  I think maybe I have in my eighty-two years met and talked to one City Councilman, a couple of members of a town School Committee, and one, or maybe it is two, members of the House of Representatives.  That’s it.  No Senators, no Governors, no Cabinet members, and God knows no Presidents [although I did shake Obama’s hand once on a rope line in the White House.]  Odd as it may sound, I have actually met many more really important people in South Africa than I have in the United States.

There is a lot that I do know, of course, up close and personal, as it were.  I know my name and where I live [not trivial when you are eighty-two.]  I know a lot about the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and the philosophy of David Hume.  I know a lot about the economic theories of Karl Marx.  And that ain’t chicken feed, as we used to say [although I do not actually know what one feeds chickens.]  But I really do not know why people voted for Trump, or why they voted for Clinton or Johnson or Stein, for that matter.

What I do know is that as I was walking this morning [in unseasonably warm weather, by the way], I found that I was not puzzled or curious about what had happened in the election, and I was not depressed about it either.  I was angry.  I was angry because sixty million people I do not know have robbed me of sleep, of equanimity, of hope, and of some measure of pride in what my country seemed on the way to becoming.  I was angry because I am going to have to spend the next four or more years fighting desperately simply to stop people I have never met from doing bad things.  And I was angry because no matter how much I bestir myself, as I did yesterday evening when I went to an NAACP protest at the North Carolina State Capitol, there is precious little I personally can do.

Now I must go shop for dinner [I do know how to do that!].  A little later, I will tell you about the protest meeting last night.


4 comments:

Tom Cathcart said...

Bob, you're right, we don't know what we're talking about when we speculate.

I have some empirical data (n=4). Two people at our Thanksgiving table voted for Trump. One voted for him because her husband did. She is not a bigot, had a black boyfriend (she's white) and two women lovers before getting married to her husband. He voted for Trump because a) he always votes Republican and b) he thinks Trump's wilder statements are just his "going-in" position from which he will negotiate down. Friends also had two Trump voters at their table. They both despise "the establishment," a group which they say includes the media. They therefore like the fact that Trump tweets, because we get his opinions "unfiltered by the media." As a sometime writer, I gotta say, you couldn't write this sh*t. More to the point, none of these 4 neatly fits the categories we've all been throwing around. Well, maybe the distrustful, anti-establishment couple. My humbler self says, people are weirdly complex, and our so-called punditry is often just a cover for the fact that we're all trying desperately to get a handle on this so we don't feel like we've fallen into chaos.

Brian said...

Here is a little more empirical data (n=60).

NYT Book Review (text):
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/25/books/review/strangers-in-their-own-land-arlie-russell-hochschild.html

Two Part Interview on Democracy Now (transcript and video):
https://www.democracynow.org/2016/9/28/what_drives_trump_supporters_sociologist_arlie

https://www.democracynow.org/2016/9/28/arlie_russell_hochschild_on_strangers_in

Interview by Nader (audio):
https://ralphnaderradiohour.com/inside-the-mind-of-a-trump-voter/

s. wallerstein said...

All of us who participate in this blog follow politics very closely (I follow politics in both Chile and the U.S.) and probably vote very rationally after considering all the alternatives and the possible consequences of our votes.

We often assume that others think about politics in the same way, especially because we have friends who talk about politics all day (at least in my case, politics is the only "normal" subject I talk about, since I don't watch TV, follow sports, have a car, have a normal family life, follow fashion, have a smartphone, listen to pop music, etc.) and thus, many of us move in a world where politics is the currency of normal human interaction.

In reality, there are people who don't read a newspaper (online or off), don't bother to watch TV news or news on the radio and have only the vaguest idea of the political issues of the day. As I said above, I don't talk much to them, except maybe when I get a haircut every 4 months and then to avoid an aggression with the scissors, I tend to say "yes" to political statements I consider to be nonsense or even fascist.

Everyone I know in the U.S. (I'm in contact with them by email) voted for Sanders in the primaries (except a few family members who voted for Hillary) and everyone I know voted for Hillary in the general election, except one old friend who voted for Jill Stein (in California).

Daniel Langlois said...

[although I do not actually know what one feeds chickens.]

One food that chickens love is cracked corn, but what chickens eat and what chickens *should* eat are not always the same thing. I am especially concerned about all of the people feeding their hens mealworms.