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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Friday, April 10, 2020

MUSING IDLY


Sitting in my study in virtual quarantine on a lovely, cool spring afternoon, musing on what I might write about for my blog, my thoughts turned, as they often do, to the beautiful Preface to Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments, more particularly to this passage:

“But if anyone were to be so polite as to assume that I have an opinion, and if he were to carry his gallantry to the extreme of adopting this opinion because he believed it to be mine, I should have to be sorry for his politeness, in that it was bestowed upon so unworthy an object, and for his opinion, if he has no other opinion than mine.”

It is strange to host a blog, a site where one is expected to post not news or scholarly analysis or even poetry but one’s opinion.  It is rather like being an influencer in the online marketplace of ideas.  Since one has nothing to offer but frissonerie, if I may coin a word, there is an almost irresistible temptation to reach for the outré, the daring, the apocalyptic. 

I genuinely have no idea what the next six months will bring.  To be honest, my energies are almost entirely devoted to ensuring that the 1600 square feet to which my usable world has shrunk is safe for Susie and myself. 

On Monday I shall conduct the next to last online meeting of my UNC course on Marx.  The reading for the class is my essay, “The Future of Socialism.”  No one can deny that I am an optimist, a Tigger in a world of Eeyores.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, at least you are privileged enough to have 1600 sq ft in which to quarantine.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Indeed I am, and well aware of it, too. Why do you imagine I mentioned the sq footage of my apartment?

Dean said...

Touché!

Today has been a two-zinger-retort day. First, Glenn Greenwald RT'd a tweet that reads, "When Glenn Greenwald retweets it, you know it's garbage." Now this!

F Lengyel said...

The implicit premise of privilege discourse is that the privileged should not have their privileges. Therefore you should give up your 1600 square foot apartment in the middle of a global pandemic, according to the tiresome privilege scolds. Spread the immiseration.

F Lengyel said...

The Future of Socialism is one of my favorite essays. I especially like the intractable ambiguity of general accounting methods, the conclusion that executive decision making is quasi-political and the observation that there are no markets within the corporation. Elizabeth Anderson is no Marxist, but she nakes similar points-- not about the inherent arbitrariness in accounting for which input accounts for what fraction of the price of an output, however. Here's a compact, suggestive rephrasing: there is no "coordinate-free" way to do this accounting. Anyway Anderson says that the corporation defines the boundary where markets end and the top-down command economy of the corporation begins. Of course not all corporations are organized this way, but it is very common for capitalists to argue the normative point that employees shouldn't have a say in running a corporation, since the capitalist took the risks. It's wonderful how the fact-value dichotomy is suspended for this ideological maneuver.

s. wallerstein said...

1600 square feet isn't all that much.

I have 50 square meters, which converted into square feet gives me 538 square feet. I'm one person and the Professor and his wife are two, so they have 800 square meters each.

I'm only legally allowed to leave my apartment twice a week to go to a supermarket or a pharmacy with permission obtained from the police online. No permits granted to take a walk, not even to the corner. I admit to cheating a little and walking to the corner or even around the block from time to time, but it's still a bit claustrophobic.

So while I'm aware that there are many who are forced to stay inside with less than 500 square feet or 800 square feet per person, I feel that the Professor and I have the right to complain a bit or even to feel a little sorry for ourselves at times. I don't feel in the least guilty for the little bit of privilege I have, I'm not a billionaire or even a millionaire and I spent too much of my life feeling guilty because I had a bit more than others.

Dean said...

"The implicit premise of privilege discourse is that the privileged should not have their privileges."

I disagree, because there are legitimate reasons to foreground privilege in some contexts. Take, for example, legacy admissions to Ivy League universities. What we don't need is people leveraging their privilege to stifle discussion. Take, for example, skewed accounts of meritocracy: "I [white male offspring of celebrity parents] worked my butt off to get where I am!"

F Lengyel said...

Dean, yes, of course it depends. However the scolds argue as if it's a privilege not to get shot by the police. So more innocent people should get shot by the police. The focus is on individual privilege instead of systemic oppression.

Dean said...

For perspective, my entire house, occupied by four, is less than 1600 sq. ft. The only reason I "need" this much is my record collection and to some extent my books, which spill out of one bedroom into the rest of the house. I feel *mildly* guilty about the records, but I have lived among them for longer than I've lived among the rest of my family, and so I feel a certain attachment to them. And yet I have no right to complain.

Dean said...

Where I come from, I feel like it is a privilege not to get shot by the police. Maybe that's just because I really do not like the police.

F Lengyel said...

This is four times more privileged than my square footage. I live in Manhattan in a rent-stabilized apartment, which could alter the calculation. Then again, I have a rare skin condition which required a series of skin grafts. Since I had insurance that covered the main operation to graft my scalp, that could count against me. On the other hand, I paid out of pocket in advance for the second surgery. Perhaps that counts against me too, since I could just barely afford it...

Dean said...

"Four times more privileged" wins!

It's uncomfortable hearing about the real burdens suffered by others. (Not having enough space for a record collection is not one of them.) I'm sorry you have to deal with all of that, NN.

However, I have an unspeakable condition that is five times more rare than yours!

F Lengyel said...

Really. My condition is very rare and was the subject of a dermatological paper published in 2010. There were about 10 published papers on the condition in the world medical literature at the time. Beyond "very rare"--not to mention difficult and expensive to address--it's hard to give a frequency estimate. How's this: is your condition such that if you enter it into Google and click on images, your case presentation is the first image that turns up in the search?

Dean said...

I was joking, and I'd hoped that would be clear. I really do love your quantification of "privilege."

F Lengyel said...

Yes it was clear--I couldn't resist the dopamine rush. But I'm not insisting that everyone else should be afflicted with my degenerative skin disease to equalize the world's injustices. I wish there were a greater appreciation for risk pools than there is. Maybe the pandemic will increase it, though I have my doubts.

Anonymous said...

A vaccine for COVID-19 is now in Phase 1 study in Washington state:
https://fivethirtyeight.com/videos/how-close-are-we-to-a-covid-19-vaccine/

I was trashed for talking about treatments and vaccine on this site a few weeks ago.
But reality (science & technology) lives outside the bubble of ideologically driven "insider" speak.

Dean said...

In fact, science also lives inside that bubble. But being science it's more likely not to succumb to the biases. But only more likely.

Jim said...

Actually, nearly all technological and scientific developments are shaped and directed by social, cultural, economic, political, and yes, ideological forces. This includes medical science and technologies which significantly vary from culture to culture, nation to nation.

F Lengyel said...

Given my current experience with donor sites for skin grafts, I prefer talk of "blisters" to "bubbles."

Dean said...

Meanwhile, this is a lovely performance of the St. Matthew Passion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4U-SSReZOQ

Anonymous said...

I can see you shoveling the horse manure and saying, "There must be a pony here somewhere!"

F Lengyel said...

When you, Anonymous, were the source.

Dean said...

That is, the first part of the SMP. Still, it is a marvel. Treat yourself.

LFC said...

Anonymous @10:42 pm

You were not "trashed" here for talking about a vaccine. You had written that there "is" (present tense) a vaccine, as if a vaccine were already available, and I simply pointed out that a vaccine or vaccines were still in development. Why don't you stop misrepresenting what goes on here and portraying yourself as an embattled, put-upon victim. It's pointless and inaccurate.

LFC said...

P.s. Maybe English is not your first language. If it isn't, then maybe you should brush up on what the present tense ordinarily implies. This is not an arcane point and I don't want to get into a discussion of the philosophy of language. But if I say "there is a sun today" it means the sun is shining *right now*. The sentence "there is a vaccine" means there is a vaccine available *right now*, not in phase I trials or available in a week or a month or a year. Obviously everyone here favors treatment and prevention. Why you are determined to turn this into some kind of ideological battle royal is a mystery.

Anonymous said...

...directed at LFC for misquoting me.

LFC says @10:42 PM above: "You had written that there "is" (present tense) a vaccine, as if a vaccine were already available, and I simply pointed out that a vaccine or vaccines were still in development."

anonymous says on March 18 @10:2 AM: "And there are treatments (no vaccine "cure" for about a year), but there are anti-virals that appear effective:
https://www.healthline.com/health/coronavirus-treatment#potential-treatments".

I guess I "don't understand English" because I thought I was clearly stating something that would happen in "about a year". But you have corrected me. That is obviously perfectly clear English for "is" (implying "right now"). Thank you for the correction!

My comments which raised such ire were in the context of the March 18th post by RPW entitled "A QUESTION POSED ANXIOUSLY". I was clearly try to provide some hopeful news and assurance of possibilities to keep his spirits up.

In the comments to the March 18th post by RPW, LFC stated the following at 1:19PM on March 19th: LFC said...
"Anonymous:
A vaccine is in the initial testing stage, not yet available; even on an expedited basis, it takes time. Your statement that "there is" a vaccine is therefore misleading at best."

Sorry to be so "misleading".
Sorry to not understand the English language as capably and adroitly and as "deeply" as you do.
I humble myself before your well honed ideological insightfulness.
As George Orwell pointed out, I may be corrected with a proper "re-education" effort and some day recognize the 2+2=5.
There is hope for me yet!