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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON THE THOUGHT OF KARL MARX. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for Robert Paul Wolff Marx."





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Monday, October 15, 2018

NIGHT THOUGHTS


Inasmuch as this is my web log, or blog, I think it appropriate that I engage in some reasonably public navel gazing.  For some time now, I have been deeply, ungetoverably troubled, not to say unhappy.  I am not referring to elevated, sophisticated distress, the untergang des Abendlandes brooding we intellectuals deploy as our shtick.  I am talking about a pit-of-the-stomach lying-awake-at-night unhappiness that is momentarily lessened, but not ever dispelled, by a favorable round of polls or the victory of a Democratic Socialist primary winner in a safely Democratic seat.  

Lord knows, I have been unhappy about the way of the world at least since Jack Kennedy invaded Cuba and America embraced its nuclear weapons in a cosmic death hug.  I have seen Martin and Malcolm and Jack and Bobby killed, I have survived Nixon and Reagan and Clinton.  Trump is surely a uniquely despicable man, but at least he has not yet started a war, which sets him apart from a number of his post-1945 predecessors.  Why then, when I am sitting quietly and the facial muscles supporting my reflex smile relax, does my wife look at me and say, with concern, “You look so unhappy”?

To be sure, I am eighty-four, and the end of my life is a great deal closer than my middle years.  But my health is good, my children are flourishing, I am embarked on an exciting new venture in New York, and I am, by any reasonable measure, rich.  I mean, the only other people I know with apartments in Paris are my friends who live there.  So why so blue?  It is, as the King of Siam is wont to say in The King and I, a puzzlement.

The source of my distress is not the manifest evidence of the sheer evil of our political rulers.  I have known that for many decades.  Rather, it is the recognition that half of my fellow Americans are ready to embrace that evil when it is presented to them without the slightest simulacrum of the appearance of humanity and decency.  Hypocrisy, La Rochefoucauld observed, is the tribute vice pays to virtue.  Fascism, we might add, is not having to say you are sorry.

I have been sustained all these years by the belief that if only the people could be brought to see the truth, they would throw off their chains and seize liberation.  Why else write all those books unmasking the imperial aims of America’s “moral world leadership,” those manifestos demanding the end to voter suppression?  Why march for peace, for social justice, for Gay liberation, for women’s rights?

With luck, we will flip the House.  In 2020, we may take back the Senate and the Presidency.  But as I slip and slide into my nineties, those scores of millions will still be there, ready to embrace the next fascist poseur.

And after I am gone, as my grandchildren approach middle age, the water level will rise and the world’s billions will be displaced by changes that even then will be denied not only by the rich, who will have relocated to higher ground, but by the swamped cheering, chanting masses who elect and reelect them.

Is it any wonder I cannot sleep?

Now, when is my next canvassing appointment?



34 comments:

MS said...

I am going to take your navel gazing a step further.

You care about all of this because you are a member of the species homo sapiens, and you want to believe that our species is an improvement on the evolutionary scale, and therefore you feel pangs of disappointment when you realize that not all – indeed a large number - of your fellow species members fail to display the degree of sentient improvement that is supposed to set us apart from all of the other species on the planet, and who lack the measure of mutual empathy for the pain we inflict on our fellow homo sapiens that you hope others would feel, as you feel, for their fellow humans. And you care, that, despite our purported intellectual superiority to other species, we may commit acts that result in our own, and perhaps their, extinction. Does not all of this represent the statistical principle of regression towards the mean?

But you are an atheist, as I am. It is God, in Genesis, who says that s/he has created us in his/her own image, and that we are the pinnacle of his/her creation. It is God who values our existence as his/her greatest creation. If you do not believe in God, or in Genesis as an accurate historical account, however, does the universe even care that we exist, even care about our intellectual pursuits, and whether we solve the riddle of how the universe began? Do we not, as a species, commit more harm to other species than they do to us? Are the baboons, tigers, komodo dragons, amoeba as impressed with our intellectual superiority as we are? And, in the long run, does it matter if we do, indeed, through our own actions, become extinct, before we have figured out the riddle as to how and why the universe came into existence, a question that appears to be an infinite regress, anyway, with every answer leading to more questions?

A friend of mine recently told me of a conversation he had, in which someone said that through our actions we are destroying the Earth. He responded, no, the Earth will be fine – it will restore itself. It is we who will be gone. And will the universe miss us?

s. wallerstein said...

When I despair of how short-sighted, thoughtless, greedy, unfeeling and unthinking most people are, which happens a lot these days, I turn to Schopenhauer, not so much the Schopenhauer of The World as Will and Representation, a young know-it-all, but the Schopenhauer of Parerga and Paralipomena, older, still a know-it-all, but less emphatic about it and no worse than young and I.

Schopenhauer is as almost as witty as Bertrand Russell and writes as clearly as any analytic philosopher. Like you, he is a Kant expert and like you, he detests Hegel.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, my own intellectual shortcoming is on display – “not all” and “fail” in the second sentence constitutes a double negative.

My therapy for weltschmerz is to take Woody Allen's advice in Hannah And Her Sisters and re-watch the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup.

Anonymous said...

As an aside, Elizabeth Warren should sue Trump for the $1 million.

In contract law, a contract is formed by an offer and acceptance, accompanied by what is referred to as “consideration.” The consideration can be money, but it does not have to be. Under the doctrine of what is called “promissory estoppel,” a party can accept and provide consideration, to form a contract, by performing a reciprocal action. For example, a millionaire offers you $1 million if you will climb Mt. Everest. You accept the offer, and provide the requisite consideration, by actually climbing Mt. Everest. The millionaire owes you $1 million, and you can actually sue in court to collect it.

Trump challenged Sen. Warren’s claim that she had Native American heritage. He publicly offered her $1 million if she could prove she had such heritage. She has taken him up on this offer, expended time and money to have a DNA test conducted, which indicates that she does, indeed, have Native American heritage. By her conduct, a contract has been formed between her and Trump, and he owes her the $1 million. I’d love to see her sue him in federal court to collect. (She can sue in federal court under what is called “diversity jurisdiction” – federal courts have jurisdiction over lawsuits between parties from different states, she from Mass., and he from N.Y.) How would “Justice” Kavanaugh rule if she were to sue and it went to the S. Ct.? Any guesses?

MS said...

I do not know why, but I thought I entered MS for the last 2 entries, but they are posted as Anonymous. My eyesight must be failing me.

s. wallerstein said...

What is Woody Allen's advice?

MS said...

s. wallerstein,

Allen, depressed about the state of the world, is contemplating suicide. He wanders into a movie theater in Manhattan which is showing the Marx Brothers film, Duck Soup. As he is watching the film, he appreciates the absurdity of life and concludes he should “Stop ruining my life searching for answers I’m never going to get, and just enjoy it while it lasts.” He sits back and enjoys the movie – which is about the absurdity of politics.

You can see the scene here, which is the final clip in the series:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90Z98ZlvpPU

If you have not seen either film, I highly recommend both.

s. wallerstein said...

Thanks.

I've seen most of the Marx Brothers and everything by Woody Allen until around 15 years ago.
I'm a fan of both the Marx Brothers and Woody Allen. I just didn't remember what Woody Allen said in a movie I saw over 30 years ago.

MS said...

Below is an edited version of an email that I just sent to Sen.Warren.


Dear Sen. Warren,

Since you are an attorney, you already know what I am about to tell you. You can, and should, sue President Trump for the $1 million he offered to pay you if you could provide proof that you have Native American heritage. Under the doctrine of promissory estoppel, by expending the time and money to obtain the DNA results confirming that you do, indeed, have Native American heritage, you have accepted his offer, provided consideration, and have formed a contract w/ Trump, by virtue of which he legally owes you the $1 million.

I strongly urge you to file suit, pro se, in federal court under diversity jurisdiction. If the Court follows the letter of the law, you are bound to win. Moreover, you can conduct discovery, subpoena his income tax returns and take his deposition. See, e.g., Jones v. Clinton. However, should he appeal his loss and take the case to the Supreme Court, I cannot guarantee how “Justice” Kavanaugh, and his conservative brethren would rule – but think of the fun you would have questioning Trump at a deposition.

Respectfully,

[M.S.], J.D., M.P.H.

Howie said...

I don't contra the Beatles think things are getting better all the time- but history is like the market, it does not stir in straight lines.
All of us share your foreboding, and many are ready for the struggle ahead

Discouraged said...

It's worse than you think. A good portion of this 50% are 2nd Amendment zealots. Why? To intimidate the disenfranchised, and to lie in wait should the socialists assume the slightest power. Why would I think there is a connection between that and the vote? The development of the handgun was instrumental for the franchise, at least according to Herbert Gintis.

Two million years ago, the hominin developed the ability to kill conspecifics from a distance with projectile weapons. Human political organization tracks the development of projectile weapons. Our current economic system depends on the use of projectile weapons as a mechanism of social control. If history is any guide (not that narrative history is any guide -- it is useless) the next form of human political organization, if there is one, depends on technological developments in projectile weapons.

But for some reason, this material fact is generally overlooked or dismissed--a source of perverse pleasure for me.

Colin Brown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Colin Brown said...

Professor Wolff and others:

I have been following this blog for a while but this is my first comment.

Trump is waging all-out psychological warfare upon the nation and especially those who oppose him. In particular, he is using Roy Cohn’s evil, sociopathic playbook, which includes the following strategies:

• Always be on the offensive. Attack, attack, attack. If someone attacks you, counter-attack immediately. If someone sues you, counter-sue immediately.

• If someone hits you, hit him or her back 10 or 20 times harder.

• If someone accuses you of wrongdoing, attack him or her relentlessly. Attack the accuser.

• Never admit wrongdoing or mistakes. Never accept blame. Blame others.

• Never apologize. Never feel guilty.

• Never admit failure, loss, or defeat. Always spin things as a win or victory.

• Never settle. Never surrender.

• Never show weakness. Always show strength.

Overall, these strategies are extremely aggressive and sociopathic. They are designed to mentally break or at least exhaust your opponents.

Therefore, DO NOT let Trump make you feel seriously depressed or hopeless. DO NOT give into despair. DO NOT give him the satisfaction. He would love it if everyone who opposes him (his perceived enemies) had a mental breakdown, suffered from depression, or even committed suicide.

Recall that Trump would go out of his way to try to sleep with his so-called friends’ and associates’ wives. In particular, he would tell the wife that her husband once cheated on her, or that he said XYZ about her, or that he said another woman was very attractive and wanted to act on it. Then Trump would telephone the husband (his so-called friend or associate), engage in “locker room talk” with him, and let the wife secretly listen to their conversation. Then, having pitted a wife against her husband, Trump would try to sleep with her.

This is EXACTLY what we’re dealing with: an evil, Machiavellian, narcissistic, sociopathic fascist. Thus, DO NOT let him undermine your mental health.

Instead, think positively and take decisive, consistent action against him.

Fortunately, he is enraging so many groups of people that his downfall appears inevitable: liberals; centrists; moderates; women; rape victims; blacks; Hispanics; Muslims; Native Americans; LGBT people; environmentalists; scientists; academics; journalists; state’s attorneys; the FBI (e.g. former FBI Directors Robert Mueller, James Comey, and Andrew McCabe); and even the CIA (e.g. former CIA Director John Brennan).

MS said...

Colin,

What you are saying makes it sound like we have all been sucked into a game of Jumanji = and we may be stuck in the game for another six years.

I desperately want to get out!

DDA said...

The better original version of that Woody Allen scene occurs in the sublime *Sullivan's Travels".

MS said...

David,

Why do you say better?

In Preston Sturges’ version, the plot is entirely different. Sullivan (Joel McCrae) is a movie director intent on making a socially relevant film about the plight of mankind. He is disabused of his mission when he watches a Walt Disney movie (not Duck Soup, and not a Marx Brothers movie) that makes him, and everyone in the audience (all inmates in a labor camp), laugh. The only similarity is that he is watching a movie that makes him laugh. Is it possible that this scene inspired Woody Allen? Perhaps, but I would argue that Allen improved it - Duck Soup is much funnier than the Disney movie Sullivan is watching and Allen’s world weariness is more profound. (I will debate anything with anybody – Joke.)

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy Sullivan’s Travels and other Sturges films. I just don’t think that they are better than Woody Allen’s.

By the way, Sullivan’s Travels was actually the inspiration for the Coen Brothers’ movie, O Brother Where Art Thou.

Colin Brown said...

MS,

I’m sorry but this is how Trump really thinks and operates. Virtually everything he has done as a businessman, presidential candidate, and president (e.g. his constant Twitter attacks) conforms to the Roy Cohn playbook.

For those who do not know, Roy Cohn was Joseph McCarthy's chief counsel during the McCarthy hearings, and he later served as the lawyer for the godfathers of the five NYC mafia families. A Village Voice journalist who once interviewed Cohn described him as being the Devil incarnate. Eventually Cohn mentored Trump, taught him the dark arts of politics and power (i.e. Machiavellianism), and served as his personal lawyer. Cohn ended up being disbarred for unethical behavior.

Nevertheless, here are more reasons for members of the resistance to think positively:

1. Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Michael Flynn, and George Papadopoulos have all pleaded guilty and are cooperating with the Mueller investigation.

2. Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney and “fixer,” has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the Mueller investigation. Cohen has completely turned on Trump. And recall when the FBI simultaneously raided Cohen’s office, hotel room, and residence, which caused Trump to have a volcanic meltdown.

3. Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer, is cooperating with the Mueller investigation, which has granted him immunity. I suspect Weisselberg knows many of the Trump Organization’s dirty financial secrets.

4. Setting aside his amorality, Trump does not know how to think strategically or prudently. He does not know when to shut up and stay silent. Just consider his many public comments that only help Mueller build a case for obstruction of justice.

5. In addition to the groups I mentioned previously, Trump is also enraging NFL players, advocates of free trade, national security officials (e.g. the anonymous author of the New York Times Op-Ed), Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (who talked about invoking the 25th amendment), Canadians, Mexicans, Western Europeans, the Chinese, etc. If you make enemies with too many people, do not be surprised when they gang up to take you down.

howard b said...

So Colin, Trump obviously was employing some skill at salesmanship, that was obvious from day one- but he is no genius, just a very talented student of Cohn's techniques-
Is there a book at how to fight back to Cohn's techniques? Counterinsurgency, of sorts.
Plus, Trump is so freaking obvious that it might embarrass Cohn

MS said...

Collin,

I know all about Roy Cohn. In addition to the facts about him that you refer to, he was a closet homosexual who, in public, viciously attacked homosexuals. He was the subject of Tony Kushner’s play Angels In America and died of Aids. He was, like his acolyte, a totally reprehensible human being. (Steve Miller, on Trump’s staff, also looks a bit like him. And, in retaining Michael Cohen as his personal attorney, was Trump hoping that the surname similarity would make his new attorney a reincarnation of his old mentor?)

I certainly hope that the points you make about Trump’s irrationality and his accumulating enemies does lead to his downfall. However, these points make sense in a rational world. I fear that we are no longer living in a rational world. How do you counter someone who persistently lies w/ impunity, who has no shame about lying, whose lies actually endear him to his supporters - which support, by the way, has not waned – and yet, who, to the cheers of his rally supporters, while he is lying, castigates others for allegedly lying, to which his supporters scream, “Lock her up!,” as they did when he accused Sen. Feinstein of lying about who leaked Prof. Ford’s letter to the press? His lies are entertainment, while the purported lies of others are grounds for incarceration. He continues to refer to Sen. Warren as Pocahontas and denies that he challenged her to prove her Native American ancestry, when video shows he definitely did. And even this is not enough to destabilize his support. See https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/15/opinions/elizabeth-warrens-big-mistake-maltby/index.html No rational argument flummoxes him, he just makes something up to counter it. Did you see his interview on 60 Minutes? Again, I ask, what poisoned well are his supporters drinking their water out of?

In my comment above, I compared our current situation to like being sucked into the game Jumanji. Actually, I think it is more like that old TV show, The Outer Limits – Do not adjust your TV; We control the vertical; We control the horizontal; You have entered THE OUTER LIMITS.

So, yes, we must soldier on, oppose him to the best of our abilities, hope that Mueller can come up w/ sufficient grounds to have him impeached, hope that the Democrats take back the House and/or the Senate so that he will be impeached, and engage in political action to enhance that prospect, hope that, if he is not impeached. the Democrats nominate someone who can defeat him in the next election, and engage in political action to enhance that prospect – and hope (“that thing with feathers that perches in the soul”) that the water in the poisoned well runs dry, so that a sufficient number of Americans will regain their senses so we can reclaim control of our TV sets – and our country.

MS said...

Addendum

Regarding Roy Cohn and Joe McCarthy, during the Red Scare two people were largely responsible for bringing down McCarthy – the attorney Joseph Welch, who, during the Army McCarthy hearings, indignantly asked Sen. McCarthy, who was accusing a young attorney on Welch’s staff of being a Communist, “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” And CBS commentator Edward R. Murrow, who, on his show See It Now, uncovered McCarthy’s duplicity. McCarthy was eventually censured by the Senate and finished his Senate career in disgrace. (By the way, one of the Senators who denounced McCarthy was Maine’s Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith – she delivered a speech titled “Declaration of Conscience” in which she criticized McCarthy’s smear tactics. Sen. Smith’s heir, Susan Collins, has no trace of the same moral fortitude.)

Now, today, we have no shortage of lawyers, public servants and TV journalists criticizing Trump, mocking him, ridiculing him, disclosing his lies – Anthony Avenatti and Michael Cohen (no reincarnations of Joseph Welch, to be sure, but they will have to do), James Comey, Madeline Albright, Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, 60 Minutes, etc., etc. And yet, and yet – Trump continues with his antics, the support among his devotees unabating.

So, my question is this – has something happened in our culture since the 1950s that explains this difference between what happened to McCarthy and what is happening with Trump? I appreciate that the 1950s were no paradise of social consciousness – Jim Crow laws in the South, anti-abortion laws, restrictive sexual mores. And I know, of course, there is no poisoned well, per se. But is there some other sociological phenomenon that explains the difference? Has some factor or factors affected the ability of Americans to think rationally and analytically, or affected their willingness to take umbrage at moral lapses? Is it the internet, the propagation of cell phones, the popularity of reality TV, all of the above? What is it – and why? Or, am I imagining that there is a difference?

Anonymous said...

Haven't fear and tribalism always taken stronger hold over the human mind than reason, given the right circumstances?

I think Trump's biggest weakness, related to some of the details listed above, is that he is incapable of inspiring any kind of loyalty, demonstrating time and time again that he is very willing to throw all underlings under the bus the moment it suits his opportunistic needs. As related with many of the fascist leaders he's been compared to, or even with the mafia for example, no leader of this style can hope to last long at all without at least a small circle of diehard loyalists to insulate and protect him. Trump seems to have nobody - his only strategy is too hire and fire quickly, using fear while it lasts, before anyone can get too close. This cannot last long.

s. wallerstein said...

The intensification of capitalism in the 1980's and thereafter have made a huge difference in the mentality of people in the U.S. and elsewhere.

As Marx explains so eloquently in the Communist Manifesto, capitalism destroys traditional bonds which tie people together and leaves only "cash nexus".

Capitalism reaches in full force in the 80's as Reagan, Thatcher and Pinochet destroy the welfare state and unions, as Keynesian social-democracy is replaced by neoliberalism.

Post 80's many of us begin to wonder if we are "too idealistic" and feel a bit foolish about not being in it for the money since almost everyone seems in it for the money. In fact, in general one feels a bit of an outsider simply because one isn't in it for the money. That of course affects even the best of us (I'm not claiming to be one of the best), perhaps unconsciously and most everyone now consults their bank account and their retirement fund before standing up to power.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous,

Your statement “This cannot last long,” is ominous. Yes, there are ways that his lack of loyalty to his cadres can result in his removal – a military coup or assassination, for example. Neither of these would be helpful to our republic. And though I desperately want him to go away, I could not endorse either. In terms of the lawful ways of removing him, the only means that would preserve the republic, by impeachment, invocation of the 25th Amendment or election defeat, none of these prospects is enhanced by his lack of loyalty to his staff, administrators, etc. As long as Republicans control the House or Senate, he will be not be impeached, or, if impeached (should the Democrats win the House), not convicted. His disloyalty to his aides, etc., does not affect the loyalty of Republican Congress people to him. For the same reasons, there will not be enough support to invoke the 25th Amendment. Nor does lack of loyalty to his aides, etc., adversely affect the loyalty of his supporters in the electorate – they don’t care if he demonstrates no loyalty to those close to him. Don’t underestimate him – he can still get re-elected.

DDA said...

@MS
Well, first I think the key idea of the scene (a comedic film reminding the protagonist there are other joys and values (or however you to put it) than the ones depressing him) is the same. But second, Sullivan's Travels is by far the better movie. In fact, I think it is better than all but a hundred or so movies with which it shares the distinction of being one of the best hundred or so movies.
Also, the scene in Sullivan's Travels is much more political and less solipsistic than Allen's. In Sturges' version the character awakens in response to the other people in the audience reacting to movie.

MS said...

David,

You say potayto, I say potaato, you say tomayto, I say tomaato.
Potayto, potaato; Tomayto; tomaato -

Let's call the whole thing off.

Anonymous said...

Well, things certainly could be much worse. It's a miracle humanity has had nukes for this long and managed not to blow up the world.

Best of all possible worlds?

Howie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
s. wallerstein said...

Warning.

Anyone's comments on this blog can be easily googled and so please watch out before you speak about assassinating Trump, even in jest: the FBI does not have a sense of humor.

MS said...

s. wallerstein,

Actually, there is a novel that was recommended by another commenter on this site several months ago which is about the assassination of a president by a U.S. senator. The novel is “Necessity,” by D. W. Baffa. After reading the comment, I borrowed the book from my local library. There is no question that the president in question is intended to be Trump (named Walter Bridges in the novel)– the novel describes the president as being extremely mendacious, with ties to Russia and includes claims of interference w/ the election by the Russian government. The descriptions of his aides and advisers are obvious caricatures of people in the Trump administration, e.g., Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Sanders. As I was reading the book, I wondered if the author had in fact been questioned by the FBI.

I cannot recommend the book. Initially I found it intriguing – the author peppers the book with various pseudo intellectual subjects, e.g., the assassination of Julius Caesar and its unintended consequences in fostering the establishment of the Roman Empire under Augustus; the show trials of Communist dissidents under Stalin; the legal defense of necessity as a rationale for killing the president (the senator openly confesses to his crime, claiming it was necessary to save the country from a destructive demagogue.) Some of the courtroom scenes are well written. However, after convincing the reader that he is engaging in a serious discussion of a momentous constitutional crisis that we are actually confronting, the author concludes the novel with a commercially motivated plot twist that I found extremely offensive. I emailed the author and castigated him for exploiting our current critical situation for his own financial gain.

So, there is already a work of fiction currently available that should, if anything, have attracted the attention of the FBI. Yet, it continues to be sold on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

MS said...

Correction.

The author is D. W. Buffa.

Danny said...

..we intellectuals..

Rueban B said...

Anecdotally, I am a philosopher of law who focuses on rule by law -- the use of the legal form as a cloak for arbitrary power. Over the last two decades, I have worked on my home jurisdiction (Malaysia). For the last nearly five decades, Malaysian law and politics have been ethno-authoritarian in ways that resemble what is going on in the US now. The government long advanced an ethno-national program that produced various pathologies that were at odds respect for legality, democracy, and human rights. Things seemed hopeless and unchangeable as the government continued to consolidate its hold on power, remaining unchallenged at the polls for fifty years.

Then in May this year, the government lost the elections and lo-and-behold, Malaysia has entered a period of political transition. Whether or not the transition will succeed is an open question. But my point is that one should not give up and lose hope. To do so is to succumb to the myth of the given -- the idea that social and political reality is fixed. I think it is a mistake to suppose that ideas and arguments by themselves can change things. But change is dependent upon ideas and arguments. And it is our task to continue to try to set these out as best as we can.

To be sure, as I reach middle age, I am less optimistic about the power of legal philosophy in the real world. But I don't think I have given up totally though admittedly I expect much less out of intellectual work. Long winded point: but have some faith in democratic processes and the prospect that people can see the truth.

Danny said...

'I have been unhappy about the way of the world at least since Jack Kennedy invaded Cuba and America embraced its nuclear weapons in a cosmic death hug.'

This is too Walt Whitman for me, hugs of death and cosmic kisses. don't we ordinarily communicate through words? Like, because that's our conventional conduit for expressing thoughts and feelings? But sometimes words feel inadequate. They can seem like a paltry tool for properly expressing ourselves. So we choose a different, supra-verbal tool: the cosmic death hug. I do not understand the point. What, that America embraced its nuclear weapons, like, on a Torah-guided, moral level or what? What, more precisely, is the point about Jack Kennedy? I know, though it's from before my time, that John F. Kennedy won the presidency by claiming that the Republican Party had allowed the U.S. to fall behind the Soviets into a missile gap. Is there some coherent position being advocated here, about Massive Retaliation as a military doctrine/nuclear strategy, versus Flexible Response? I know that Upon entering office Kennedy cited General Maxwell Taylor's book The Uncertain Trumpet to Congress for its conclusion that massive retaliation left the U.S. with only two choices: defeat on the ground or the resort to the use of nuclear weapons. I am abashed that I don't know more about it, but I think I'm meeting you more than halfway, is there a coherent point to be extracted here or what?

..we intellectuals..

Colin Brown said...

Howard B:

I do not know of any specific book or guide on how to counter Roy Cohn’s playbook.

But if you’re a high-profile figure (e.g. a Democratic presidential candidate), I think you can effectively use some of Cohn’s strategies against Trump. In particular:

1. Attack him constantly and relentlessly.
2. Never surrender.
3. Never show weakness toward him; always show strength.
4. Never apologize for attacking Trump; he deserves everything he gets.

Michael Avenatti is taking this approach.

Now, if you’re an average citizen, you can try using these strategies against Trump (e.g. constantly attack him on Twitter) but he can easily ignore or block you. You simply do not have the standing or platform for these strategies to make an impact. So, instead, I think the average citizen should resist and counter Trump as follows:

1. Vote Democrat in the 2018 and 2020 elections, even if you’re extremely critical of the Democratic Party, the DNC, neo-liberalism, etc. Overall, the Democrats are far more prudent, responsible, and sane than the Republicans are. Hillary Clinton had a lot of baggage but she would have been an infinitely better president than Trump.

2. Persuade all your family members and friends to vote Democrat in 2018 and 2020. You may not be able to persuade everyone but at least try. Possible exception: diehard Trump supporters. You’re likely wasting your time trying to persuade them.

3. Volunteer for any local Democratic candidate’s campaign.

4. Pressure your US Senators and House Representatives to stop the most outrageous things Trump is doing. This is especially important once Mueller releases his final report, which will likely be damning.

5. Follow the news but do not constantly obsess over it. Live your practical life, spend quality time with your family and friends, and enjoy your hobbies. I find reading rigorous philosophy (e.g. epistemology, metaphysics, Kant, Heidegger) to be highly therapeutic in these times.

6. DO NOT let Trump get (deeply) underneath your skin. DO NOT let him undermine your mental health. Remember that this too shall pass.