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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

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Saturday, March 11, 2017

THE WAY THINGS ARE

My idle speculation about Trump’s Russian connection, posted before I took a break to deal with packing and such, provoked an outpouring of comments and cross-comments.  It even offered Robert Shore another opportunity to insult me, something that seems to give him a perverse pleasure and perhaps feeds his sense of superiority.  I confess that I grow weary of his insults, especially since I rather imagine I was publicly attacking American Cold War policy roughly when he was graduating from diapers to big boy pants.  Give it a rest, Bob!

Meanwhile, really really bad stuff is happening, stuff that threatens to deprive ten or fifteen million Americans of health care and to kill a goodly number of them.  So far as I can tell from the reporting, our best chance to stop this is the Senate.  All we can do is to continue to protest as loudly as possible, in hopes of giving a few Senators or two handfuls of Representatives pause.  The media seem to be making a good deal of noise about the harm these measures will cause, but that may not have an effect.

Much has been made of the fact that Trump’s favorite demographic will be hard hit by the unravelling of health insurance.  Indeed so.  All those deaths seems a rather high price to pay for the opportunity to say “I told you so.”

This country may be the Greatest Nation on Earth, but it is currently a really hateful place to live.


Since preparing to sell our apartment and move has robbed me temporarily of my natural good spirits, perhaps I might offer one more complaint [which I do not mean either in the medical or in the Metaphysical Poetry sense]:  when I write a post that is patently intended as humorous, if you must respond, as indeed I hope you will, please find something to say other than to quibble about singulars and plurals.  As stand-up comics say, you are a hard room.

25 comments:

Kate said...

I wish you the best of luck with your move and with your new place. Moving is a hassle, and the new craze for "staging" makes it worse -- but there is an element of humor. In my experience, the people who move in rapidly replace the emptiness with their own tchotchkes. The staged-look is intended only to create the (temporary and unconvincing) illusion that no one has ever really lived in this place before. But then they ask you to bake bread or cinnamon rolls the morning before the visitors come (leaving the kitchen immaculate of course), so you have a place where no one has ever lived that somehow smells delightfully of home baking.

Meanwhile, thanks also for your sane, thoughtful, and informative blog. It has made the last few months much more tolerable. May you continue it for years to come.

Kate

howie b said...

I myself keep my sanity afloat by practicing public put downs of the faux president in front of the mirror- he is our reality- for now, and the reality has to sink in, so we can fight and torpedo the man and everything he stands for. If you are at war, or profoundly sick, to realize that reality is not to stop to fight.
If this were the sixties and Trump were President there would be masses overflowing the streets- we need to resist in a thousand small ways and a few big ways- and hope that the rug of resentiment is pulled out from under Trump before his hostile takeover is a done deal.
You must remind yourself that the man barely has legitimacy as a human being, let alone as commander in Chief and that he has no gravitas or bearing no matter how nicely he dresses or no matter how fancy his bowling alley

howie b said...

One more thing about Trump's legitimacy- just as pedophiles become priests- the man is first of all a perp, all he does is to hurt ordinary people to his own advantage- he is not a President he is a perp who is commandeering the highest office to his perverse ends.
I think there are so called third world dictators who plunder and pillage in a more civilized fashion than Trump

I. M. Flaud said...
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I. M. Flaud said...
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I. M. Flaud said...

There has been no Friday Post, but in the spirit of indefatigable solidarity with the cause, I contributed $5 to Social Security Works, added my name to a few petitions, and--I don't know if this counts--purchased an expensive piece of Japanese electronics whose price will likely skyrocket once the trade wars commence. Perhaps this counts: I began re-reading Epictetus, who taught during a period of political oppression not wholly unlike our own. My uncle used to read Epictetus to me as a boy. The works of Epictetus aren't mentioned in Professor Wolff's "THE 25 MUST READ PHILOSOPHY BOOKS FOR GRAD STUDENTS," but the Enchiridion and the Discourses would find their application beyond the often pointlessly competitive, backbiting, judgmental, rank- and pedigree-conscious world of contemporary academic philosophy. And they might be must read books for those who tried and, for whatever reason, failed to join that world.

s. wallerstein said...

You've previously noted that your being pedantic about grammar is humor of sorts.
http://robertpaulwolff.blogspot.cl/2017/01/a-purely-pedantic-quibble.html

Maybe some of your readers have a sense of humor similar to yours and are also humorously pedantic about singulars and plurals.

We're all stand-up comics here!!

Carl said...

Sorry, Bob! I genuinely thought you were under the misapprehension that "All politics is local" is ungrammatical, and wanted to enlighten you. My mistake, apparently!

Tom Cathcart said...

Some bad news from NY that may turn out to be good news: The US Attorney who refused to resign and consequently got fired by Trump is Preet Bharara of NY's southern district. Although, justly or unjustly, he's been criticized for not finding cause to prosecute anyone on Wall Street after the crash, he has subsequently jailed the heads of both houses of the state legislature as well as a close associate of Gov. Cuomo. The good news of his firing is he's not someone to be messed with and can be expected to join in the various legal cases against Trump. You would not want Preet Bharara to be after you.

David Palmeter said...

Off Topic--

Today’s Washington Post carries a story about McDowell County, W.VA, the county that has the lowest life expectancy in the United States--and a county that went strongly for Trump.

It tells the story of Clyde Graham, a 54 year-old out-of-work coal miner who suffers from a host of diseases. He lost his health insurance when he lost his job, but he now qualifies for Medicaid with the expansion of the program enacted by Obama Care.

He voted for Trump.

He did so because Trump said he’d bring the coal mining jobs back. He knew Trump also said he’d repeal Obama Care, but he wasn’t sure if that meant the Medicaid as well and, writes the Post, he reasoned that if the mines re-opened, he’d get a job and the insurance that would come with it, so he wouldn’t need Medicaid.

The story doesn’t draw the obvious conclusion from his reasoning--it also means he was saying, “I’ll have mine and to hell with everyone else.”

I’d like to be able to say I feel sorry for the guy, but I don’t. My gut reaction is, “to hell with him.” If Obama Care is destroyed, it seems to me perfectly just that he and others who voted like him, share in the suffering their votes would have helped bring to millions of others.

s. wallerstein said...

David Palmeter,

Noblesse oblige...

I. M. Flaud said...

I agree with David Palmeter. On that general off topic, I'd like to file a class action suit on behalf of medical insurance policy holders against insurance companies for using insurance premiums to pay for emergency room patients who lack insurance. Why should skyrocketing premiums be used for uninsured emergency room patients? The emergency room is no answer for chemotherapy patients or anyone who requires continuing care, nevertheless, such a lawsuit will quickly bring the matter of universal health coverage to a head. The only rational outcome would be to move to a single payer system. Incidentally, the Republicans refused to fund more than 12.6% of the so-called risk corridors to insurers participating in the ACA exchanges. The plan, which worked, was to drive up the cost of insurance and drive some insurers out of the market. The Republicans turned around and blamed Obamacare as if they had nothing to do with the rise in premiums.

Nick Pappas said...

No reason for you to remember, Professor Wolff, but in 1983 I was your TA for a summer school course. And now I keep up by reading your blog. Thanks on both counts!

Regarding health coverage, one worrisome detail is that the Medicaid expansion that began with the Affordable Care Act is going to remain in place until 2020. After that it starts phasing out. This means of course that the people who most stand to be hurt by the change in health care will not feel the full brunt of the cuts until after the next Presidential election.

David said...

One thing I know about Clyde Graham, the unemployed coal miner in West Virginia: I wouldn't want to trade places with him. Talk about exploited. He apparently acted out of self-interest in voting for Trump, which for a fifty-four unemployed worker is understandable. However, his ignorance was so extensive that he didn't actually act out of self-interest because his job is not going to come back any thanks to Trump and he may lose his Medicaid in part thanks to Trump. What I'm suggesting is that Clyde Graham, while he may have acted selfishly, is also a victim of an injustice so profound that it leaves him bereft of the knowledge he needs, and his neighbors in McDowell County need, to confront the reality of their economic conditions.

David Palmeter said...

Graham’s vote raises the difficult question of when we can hold people responsible for their actions. You are right--I certainly would not want to trade places with him. But just about everyone is disadvantaged in some way. He clearly is one of the more disadvantaged. The fact that his job is never coming back to him (his health appears to be so poor that he is unlikely to be hired even if the mine reopened) doesn’t change his behavior. His selfish vote may be understandable, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was selfish--in total disregard for people in his own community who would need Medicaid even if the mines did come back. While his incapacities may make his behavior predictable, so do Donald Trump’s--according to several prominent psychiatrists, he suffers from malignant narcissism--a disease that’s included in the DSM. I wish them both well in overcoming their handicaps, but I can also be angry with both of them, notwithstanding those handicaps.

S. Wallerstein refers to nobless oblige. There is an inescapable element of that present in my thinking and that of many, many others, in the sense that I think I know better than Graham does about what would be good for Graham. But even if I do, does that mean that I should get to vote and he doesn’t?

Nobless oblige is dangerous. We were governed by the “best and the brightest” once, and they gave us the war in Vietnam.

s. wallerstein said...

David Palmeter,

You said above that if the guy loses his health insurance due to Trump, you don't feel sorry for him because he voted for Trump.

You intepreted well my cryptic comment "noblesse oblige", which tells me several things about you (besides what I had already gathered about you from previous comments of yours): you're well educated, intelligent and perceptive. You probably figured Trump out the first time you heard him speak.

Mr. Graham is not as well educated as you are and probably not as intelligent and perceptive as you are (I use the word "intelligence" in the traditional sense). He could not see through Trump or his (for us) obviously false promises to bring coal mining back. He screwed himself by voting for Trump, and to me at least he seems a victim of his own ignorance, lack of education and maybe of low intelligence.

Noblesse (that is, our privileged education, reading, and maybe just being lucky enough to have enough basic intelligence to see through Trump) obliges us to treat Mr. Graham with empathy and sympathy and understanding.

By the way, those who gave us Viet Nam were obviously not the best, even if they may have been among the brightest. The best were those who resisted the War in Viet Nam and some of them were fairly bright (Chomsky is about the brightest person I've ever listened to).

David Palmeter said...

S. Wallerstein,

You say Mr. Graham deserves sympathy and understanding. I could feel that--along with extreme frustration--for his failure to see through Trump. That was true of many people who, in the phrase that is being used more frequently “have been left behind.”

But his reasoning about Medicaid, is for me, what eliminated sympathy--his calculating that, if he had a job he would have insurance, in which case he wouldn’t need Medicaid. This, when he’s living among people most of whom depend on it.

Disadvantage merits sympathy, but it is not a justification for the kind of selfishness Graham displayed. The poor can be as morally deficient as the rich. I am, however, troubled by the question of when responsibility attaches to behavior. I don’t know the answer, or even if there is an answer. But it is a very difficult issue for me.

So is the “noblesse oblige” point. I find myself thinking that I know better than Graham what’s good for him. That’s an attitude that can, if carried too far, undermine democracy.

I’m one of those on the Left who often asks what has become a perennial question for many of us, “Why do these people vote against their economic interest?” Graham did that, but he also did something else--he voted against Medicaid for his neighbors who need it and who, like him, live in the county with the shortest life expectancy in the US. I’m not troubled by having no sympathy for that.

The phrase “best and the brightest” popped into my head with your reference to nobles oblige and my own view that I knew better than he did what was best or Mr. Graham. It was the ironic title of a book in the early ‘70s by David Halberstam in which he recounted what got us into the mess in Viet Nam.

s. wallerstein said...

Bertrand Russell refers to the fallacy of the superior virtue of the oppressed. It's clear that the oppressed are not necessarily more virtuous. There is a tendency on the left to idealize the oppressed (from the muscular, class conscious and always militant workers of Communist propaganda to more contemporary versions), but that's just one more form of mystification.

Lots of times there are people who know what is better for other people than they themselves do. My psychotherapist may realize that my anxiety is not due to the fact that I cannot afford to buy a new Lexus to impress my girl friend (as I believe it is), but to my ambivalent feelings toward women, beginning with my mother. So too people like yourself and other readers of this blog (as well as Professor Wolff) who spend several hours a day studying quality media may know much better what is good in political terms for someone who watches 15 minutes of Fox News (paying more attention to the sports than to the politics) every night than that person does.

Now on the left there has always been the idea or theory that with more political education the uneducated and oppressed would come to become aware of their own class interests or gender interest, etc., and to see that the left, in one form or another, offers them a better deal than the Trumps of this world do. I am assuming that it is in everyone's best interest to have decent healthcare, housing, nutrition, education, etc. Someone may declare that what they really seek is to stuff themselves with junk food, to have no decent medical advice and to die waiting for attention in a crowded emergency room: if that is the case, there is nothing one can say to them.

Anyway, in point of fact, the theory that with more political education the uneducated and oppressed would come to see that the left offers them a better deal
has had not the best track record. There are theories to explain that, false consciousness, ideology, etc., and I leave it to people like Professor Wolff with greater knowledge of philosophy than myself to explain those theories.

Joseph Fleming said...

Perhaps the Moral Foundations Theory by Jonathan Haidt can shed some light as to our perceptions.
Here is a link to the transcript of a TED talk.

https://www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_haidt_on_the_moral_mind/transcript?language=en

Anonymous said...


David,

"But his reasoning about Medicaid, is for me, what eliminated sympathy--his calculating that, if he had a job he would have insurance, in which case he wouldn’t need Medicaid."

I'd agree that this is a reprehensible point of view, but I'd add that there can be morally justifiable reasons for succumbing to morally reprehensible views, or at least reasons for lessening the degree of moral responsibility.

In this case, Trump voters live in a country and culture where the view "I’ll have mine and to hell with everyone else” is not merely a common and widely-held one, but one that is actively endorsed as a virtuous one, a point of moral and political principle. I think being a product of such a culture mitigates one's responsibility for susceptibility to such thinking.

More important, many Trump voters are and, for a while now, have been particularly on the "to hell" end of that cultural practice. It's much easier to abstain from the worst practices of a dirty game for those of us (like myself) who have come out on the relative top. However, in a game where the rules are "Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle," I'm inclined to think the losers are rarely morally responsible for playing by the same rules, and they are rules, that most on top play, the same rules that screwed them--even if it's to their own and other's harm.

Anonymous said...

This was David Palmeter on August 23, 2016 at 12:56 PM:

Progressives (among whom I include myself) are kidding themselves if they believe that renegotiating NAFTA or the WTO agreements will reverse the decline of manufacturing jobs in the US. They certainly have contributed—at the same time they were offering consumers lower prices and other US producers of goods and services foreign markets. I, for one, would not want to give up fresh fruits and vegetables the year round, nor give up my Volvo.

This is David Palmeter today casting the first stone on Clyde Graham:

The story doesn’t draw the obvious conclusion from his reasoning--it also means he was saying, “I’ll have mine and to hell with everyone else.”

I’d like to be able to say I feel sorry for the guy, but I don’t. My gut reaction is, “to hell with him.” If Obama Care is destroyed, it seems to me perfectly just that he and others who voted like him, share in the suffering their votes would have helped bring to millions of others.


Graham did exactly what David Palmeter defended a few months back. Graham is an ignoramus, stupid hillbilly.

What's your excuse, Palmeter?

----------

As the Good Book says (Matthew 7):

Judge not, that ye be not judged.

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.

(The obnoxious anonymous)

Robert Shore said...

So sorry you view any disagreement with your view on a subject as an insult. You might take the time to look at the links I posted and take issue with them. Or do you view them as insults as well?

David Palmeter said...

Anonymous

My excuse is that you are making a false equivalence. When I buy an imported product, there are three beneficiaries: (1) me; (2) those who produced and sold the good; (3) the people who produce and sell whatever it is that I buy with the money I’ve saved. This happens with every economic transaction--when I buy this book rather than that book, or go to one restaurant rather than another. Somebody is always being hurt. That’s why restaurants open and close with such frequency.

No one benefits from Graham’s vote to get rid of Medicaid expansion. He mistakenly thought he would, but unfortunately for him, he won’t.

The fact that someone is always being hurt by economic transactions, usually through no fault of their own, is why we need a decent social safety net--at least Obamacare, better Obamacare with a public option, best a single payer system, e.g., Medicare for all.

We need more a secure government pension system, so that employees don’t lose everything when their uncompetitive employers go bust. All those jobs lost in the auto industry weren’t the result of “unfair” foreign competition. They were lost because of technology and lousy management decisions on the part of their employers.

We need to emulate other industrialized nations and do a far, far better job of assisting and retraining those who lose their jobs whether from market forces or technology.

I could elaborate, but that’s really isn’t necessary. What I value about this blog are the thoughtful posts from Prof. Wolff and others all of whom wrestle with the difficult choices life presents to us. I’m interested in seeking answers to hard questions, not trying to win arguments. I spent a career as a lawyer doing that, and now that I’m retired I’d like to engage in civil discourse with civil people who are interested in solving the problems that trouble me. I value the fact that they do not troll, and have the common decency to attach their names to what they have to say.

s. wallerstein said...

David Palmeter,

Your last paragraph convinced this juror.

Magpie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.