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Sunday, September 8, 2019


Talha, your abusive language is not welcome here.  I am going to remove your comment and ask you not to write in that vein again.  It is simply not acceptable on this blog.

Furthermore, I think it is cowardly of you to make such comments while hiding behind a pseudonym.  How on earth do you plan the change the world if you cannot even say whom you are?


Chris said...

I didn't get a chance to read Talha's comments before they were removed, so I cannot comment to their alleged abuse, however, Professor Wolff, numerous commentators on your blog have deftly dealt with this claim by you many times:

"Furthermore, I think it is cowardly of you to make such comments while hiding behind a pseudonym. How on earth do you plan the change the world if you cannot even say whom you are?"

It is ABSOLUTELY the case now, as you well know, that a single google search, or anonymous e-mail, that quotes from someone's internet history, can have them disbarred from job considerations, actual employment, or various other career opportunities. Many of us cannot afford to be vocally public socialists, or entertain controversial ideas, and maintain our careers - whatever they may be [Look at what happened to Ilhan Omar for saying something sensible, or Norman Finklestein]. When this debate was had on your blog, I could have sworn you acceded the point and acknowledged that while you have the wealth and resources to be a public white male emeritus AND socialists, many of us lacked your privilege. So why would you forego your prior point? We don't know if Talha is male or female, white or black, poor or rich, gay or straight, and where and how he/she earns a living with those traits may require that he/she use the identity Talha. And hell Talha may actually be his or her given first name. If operating with our first names is still too anonymous would you request last names? Should I hence forth post with my last name too now? But there are others in US with my first and last name, should I provide my SS#, place of employment, and personal photo to keep posting? I suspect requesting users of your blog not to be anonymous (especially when many posters use the handle anonymous) will quickly lead to a slippery slope of nonsense.

Sonic said...

Yeah, just to reiterate a previous comment of mine, I think you're very brave to post lectures of you teaching Marx online using your full name and image. It's something I've considered trying, but I don't think I could do it. There's something about specifically giving all the personal details of all the leftist thought leaders in modern America to one of the world's biggest corporations that just doesn't seem wise after learning a bit of history. Especially if you think The Revolution is around the corner.

I like the cyberpunk take anyway. In the information age, the revolution will be fought by the anonymous.

Anyway, I take privacy seriously, and I don't take it lightly that you would sacrifice yours for our sake. Thank you for that.

Paul Kern said...

I will confirm that Talha made abusive comments worthy of condemnation. It's one thing to hold commentary on a blogsite in anonymity when one is exchanging ideas respectfully, it's quite another to cast insults and use that anonymity as a shield. said...

Life's little pleasures (at least with respect to the "Comments" section of this blog) are become increasingly rare. Gotta love that syntax!

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Chris, you miss the point entirely. If the considerations you invoke lead someone to comment anonymously, then that person has a responsibility to be polite -- NOT NON-CONTROVERSIAL, just polite. Do you really find that too much to ask? Why, for heaven's sake?

Boris Dagaev said...

If the purpose was to establish guidelines, the removal has defied it. Those who haven't read Talha's comment have no precedent that would guide them to avoid crossing RPW's boundaries in the future. In this circumstance, confirmations like Paul Kern's are mere groupthink and calls for respectability, politeness etc are empty platitudes.

s. wallerstein said...


For the record, why don't you reconsider your decision not to comment here in the future?

I read your comments with interest and find that in general you make a valuable contribution
to the discussion here. We all have our day of rage and it's not wise to make decisions based on them.

Jerry Brown said...

Well I have inspired quite a few comments because I asked a few questions. And only Chris has answered any of them - thank you Chris.

Since I was at the receiving end of Tahla's comment that mostly focused on calling me a moron and questioning whatever education I have been able to access, and that questioned all kind's of things about my upbringing, supposed ideologies, intellect and character and intents that Tahla cannot possibly know, without in any way answering any of my questions, maybe I can just say that I found it insulting and hurtful and unnecessary.

Apparently Professor Wolff considered it similarly. And admonished Tahla without any requests from me to do so. And I appreciate that. Thanks.

Chris said...

Talha, if this is your last time here shoot me an e-mail:

[Another sliver of my anonymity removed]

Professor Wolff I'm not sure I see the connection?

Again bracketing out how offensive Talha's comments were, since I didn't see them, the first part of your claim I thought we all accepted as false? That is, one may not be using a pseudonym because they are a coward, there may be legitimate reasons for using one. This example is not analogous to Talha, but Snowden used a pseudonym to contact the press; hardly cowardly.

I also don't see the connection between a pseudonym and being polite. Why does the requirement to use a pseudonym also entail an acquirement to be polite? I'm not saying it does or doesn't, I just don't see a connection. I can at least envision scenarios where I can see anonymous behavior being both required and not being polite: e.g., Banksy.

Chris said...

To be blunt, the entire history of early 20th century socialism is a history of impolite publications under pseudonyms. Where would we all be now without the writings of Lenin and Trotsky, pseudonyms to be sure, or the lovely writings of 'Spartacus', aka Rosa Luxemburg.

decessero said...

Chris, ironically enough, your windmills are sufficiently tilted. The cause of good manners does not need lengthy defense amongst civilized correspondents one of whom you surely consider yourself. If you scratch the surface of historic colloquy you will find a veritable treasury of brilliant points and counterpoints made in the most polite vocabulary imaginable. Raw and brutish insults are merely evidence of a paucity of information, wealth of language, or both.

Jerry Brown said...

Just how effective would Rev. Martin Luther King have been had he contented himself with writing anonymous letters to the newspapers or politicians or whatever instead of putting himself and ultimately his life at risk arguing and leading demonstrations for what he and most of us believe correct now? This is probably another symptom of my 'great man of history' indoctrination- but what the hell- he is a hero to me. Wonder what description of MLK the German Marxists came up with. Maybe Professor Wolff could share that...

Not everyone can have that level of courage - I personally don't have it myself. The bravest thing I ever did might have been walking up to a group of cops beating a man already in handcuffs and telling them that was wrong. I was very scared and nervous doing only that- but they did stop beating the man after informing me I could be next. But at least I can sign my name to the comments I write. And am willing to suffer the consequences of that. Plus it deters me from insulting people needlessly online, at least most of the time.

Chris- I don't know your situation. Maybe you have a family you have to support. Or other responsibilities. Maybe you figure you can work for change more effectively from within whatever organization that might expel you if they knew what you really thought. One old Marxist I knew gave me that exact advice- and I have a lot of respect for him.

Point is- I don't know you or your situation and don't jump to conclusions about it and place you in some group I despise based on the very little I might have learned through your comments.

Chris said...

I'm not arguing against politeness wholesale, I was asking about the connection between politeness and pseudonyms. Otherwise I agree, in general, the default position in correspondence should be politeness. But general correspondence also doesn't require a pseudonym. Moreover, we can all think of occasions where even our default position shouldn't be polite. E.g., if I actually had to be stuck in a room with Dick Cheney, or Trump, my default position would not be one of proper civilized manners. So, agree, in general politeness should be obtained, but disagree that that's a categorical requirement, always and at all times. Moreover, the general and the categorical are separate issues from the connection between pseudonyms and politeness.

Thank you Jerry. I don't despise you either :)

F Lengyel said...

I happened to read Talha's contemptuous and uninformative comment and was happy to see this post in response. The circumstances of permissible incivility in "general correspondence" aren't relevant to this blog if the blog owner says that he finds the use of pseudonyms to insult others on his blog cowardly. This is the deep metaphysical connection between politeness and pseudonyms otherwise utterly mystified by the brutal processes of production that transform and commodify working-class thought for consumption in the marketplace of ideas. Just kidding. I am using my name, however.

Boris Dagaev said...

I'm afraid the respondents are missing one of Talha's points entirely. To repeat: "No expletives to be censored."

In other words, he was punished (censored, his words removed) for something he didn't do: he never transgressed any boundaries (of politeness, respectability, or anything else), because they had never been established by the owner. Moreover, he has never transgressed the boundaries he has evidently established for himself in a public debate: no expletives were used.

As such, the owner's action cannot be, in my opinion, considered just. Nor justified.

F Lengyel said...

Is that so? Consider, for example SOME ADVICE FROM AN OLD HAND, among other counterexamples from the blog archive.

Jim said...

Professor Wolff and Everyone --

I often get to this blog a few days late because I work what seems to be 24/7 and have difficulty simply finding the time. Consequently I did not read Talha's offensive post prior to its deletion so I am unable to directly comment on that.

I will say, however, that I have found Talha's comments in the past to be insightful and would miss hearing her/him/they insights in the future.

Has anyone ever read Theodore Draper's book, "The Roots of American Communism" (1957)? The crazy thing about that book is that while offering a rather straightforward comprehensive history of the American Communist Party, it is a history riddled with back stabbing, double crosses, infighting, petty jealousies, and endless arguments and impasses. Since most of the readers and posters on this blog are striving for a better society - in other words, a shared general goal - let's not allow ourselves to fall into that trap. As the Colonel implores to Private Joker in Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket:" "How about getting with the program - why don't you jump on the team and come in for the big win?"

Kidding of course. This is not to say we can't disagree -- this is what philosophy, politics, and life is all about. We can do it in a civil and collegial manner, which is what I like to think this blog is about.

-- Jim

Matt said...

the entire history of early 20th century socialism is a history of impolite publications under pseudonyms. Where would we all be now without the writings of Lenin and Trotsky, pseudonyms to be sure

Somewhat in relation to this point, over the last few days I've been reading Lenin's _National Liberation, Socialism, and Imperialism_. One of the things that is really, really bad about it is that it is just full of petty, stupid name-calling. I mean, even as political propaganda, is that actually useful? It because super hard to figure out what the argument is supposed to be because of the 5th grade level of discourse, and often enough, there's no argument at all, just name calling. It's disappointing, because I thought I might be interested in what Lenin had to say on these topics. And, once in a while, he does say something interesting. But, it's so much more work, and so much less pay-off, because he's so set on calling Rosa Luxemburg and various other people names, rather than make an actual argument. I don't think it's a good model to follow, and really don't think it's likely to win supporters who are not already convinced of the program.

(The book does have one of my favorite, probably unintentionally funny lines, one often quoted on the walls of Russian/Soviet language classrooms, where Lenin says, "Language is the primary means of human intercourse." That's not funny in English, but in Russian, the world for "language" and "the tongue" are exactly the same, making it sound like he had an unorthodox understanding of the frequency of oral sex.)

Also, though I don't think much turns on it, I'd say that a nom de guerre like Lenin or Trotsky is only somewhat like a pseudonym, not only because both of those guys used those names publicly, including with their actual first and patronymic names, but because they were personally well known to the authorities in many countries by those names. "Lenin" is more like "Hulk Hogan" than someone posting as "anonymous" on a blog

Anonymous said...

I will remain neutral in this local engagement in the Marxist-Postonite versus MMT holy war.

My contribution is to point out that Thomas Piketty, in his best-selling Capital in the 21st Century, did include the present value of slaves into his estimates of "capital" in the South of the US, but excluded it in that of the North. It is an interesting point, by the way, which I seem to remember RPW highlighted in his review of Capital.

One can see that in his Figure 4.11 (use Google). He explained why he made that decision:

In slave societies, of course (...) a slaveholder can fully and completely own the human capital of another person and even of that person’s offspring. In such societies, slaves can be bought and sold on the market and conveyed by inheritance, and it is common to include slaves in calculating a slaveholder’s wealth.

I would have thought that there is nothing unethical in that: an accurate description of an unethical reality is not the cause of it. Indeed, I would have thought it unethical to sugarcoat that reality. But that is just me and if that says anything, good or bad, about Piketty's ethics, is for readers to decide.


Without justifying Talha's pugnacious comments I would suggest to Jerry Brown that to include things like these in a question:

In any event, that is quite a new description of Abraham Lincoln at least for me. How much merit do you think it has? At the moment, I imagine whoever wrote it was smoking some really strong stuff. But I'm always willing to learn new things.

Does not suggest good faith and to seize on a typo do double down does not add credibility.

Let me put an example. Jerry Brown, please explain how the Magic Money Tree thing works? See what I mean?

-- The RED Herring.

s. wallerstein said...

His tendency to insult all his political opponents is not one of Lenin's most attractive traits. I distrust anyone in a position of political responsibility who is so sure that they are right and that others are wrong that they feel free to insult anyone in disagreement with them.

However, when there is no political responsibility involved, when it's just an ordinary argument, well-delivered insults can add spice to the debate, that is, if you're not the object of the insults.

I myself try to be courteous when arguing, but that's not so much a virtue as a personality trait.

Boris Dagaev said...

F Lengyel said...> Consider, for example SOME ADVICE FROM AN OLD HAND, among other counterexamples from the blog archive.

Considered. I stand uncorrected - conditional wishes (like "no chance for a serious progressive movement in this country if you cannot talk courteously") are not rules/boundaries to be followed. And there is no moderation process to enforce anything. What if Talha doesn't give a ... (damn? rat's ass? shit? what can I safely use here?) about giving a chance for a serious progressive movement in this country? Is he then free to insult anyone on this blog?

Moreover, I believe it is helpful to know factually where the true boundaries of the blog owner lie. For example, I know now, having learned Talha's fate, that I wouldn't be able to openly call this justification "All of us who are on the side of the exploited and the oppressed are comrades" what it is to me: pure bullshit - that is if I fear repercussions such as censorship and ban.

On a more practical side, the owner could pick someone he trusts to moderate comments (as opposed to writing tearful self-flagellating posts about lack of comradeship...)

Jerry Fresia said...

I think Professor Wolff's reaction was appropriate and commendable - largely because Jerry Brown seemed to be saying that he didn't get the implied Marxism in the Professor's post, especially as to why it would solicit the wistful coda , "Ah, the good old days!" - and was bravely seeking help in understanding the post. I have enjoyed Talha's comments in the past and was surprised to see him write in such a personal and hostile way. Well, I must admit that I too have gotten fired up only to hit the "send" button and regret not having waited awhile.

I also find it rather depressing to learn the degree to which some of you feel compelled to tip toe through life in order to advance the almighty career. Fortunately, so many great and passionate thinkers and actors never gave a fig about career and were committed, seemingly, to becoming who they were most.

F Lengyel said...

Boris Dagaev said...

Considered. I stand uncorrected - conditional wishes (like "no chance for a serious progressive movement in this country if you cannot talk courteously") are not rules/boundaries to be followed.

You missed the unconditional statement at the end of "SOME ADVICE FROM AN OLD HAND," which is "Cut it out."

Boris Dagaev said...

> You missed

No, I didn't. I surmise it is hard for you to comprehend: without clear boundaries (better - complemented by moderation rules) such "unconditional statements" are useless. Hopefully a repeat would help: what if Talha does not care about preconditions such as "a serious progressive movement" or "political success" or "uniting literally millions of others" etc? When premises fail, unconditional statements that follow from them do not apply.

Ironically, the blog was around for a few years with all its politeness and civility before the current brouhaha. It failed unite millions under its banner...

Even more ironically, Lenin, condemned above for this impoliteness, managed to unite millions without it... Maybe a progressive movement should learn form his example to be successful? Who knows...

Anonymous said...

Pardon the interloping, but this discussion reminds me of the cafeteria food fight in Animal House.

F Lengyel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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