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Monday, April 12, 2021


I am so sickened by the endless killing of black men and women by police officers that it is difficult for me to offer thoughtful, high – toned commentary on theoretical issues. 


Tom Weir said...

Been going on a long time Professor. But advancements in technology, such as mini cams and personal smart pho es have exposed them in real time. Now we can turn our attention to them as we witness each horrific event, and start to hold them to account.
-Tom Weir

Guy Mizrahi said...

Martin Luther King told us that the moral arch of the universe is long yet bends towards justice. Reading this morning about the senseless and horrific killing of Daunte Wright, such a belief feels hollow; for as you say, the killings are endless.

I don't have much to say, but I did want to share the last passages from Malcolm X's Autobiography. Malcolm X is, in all the important ways, my hero and someone I admire very deeply.

"Every morning when I wake up, now, I regard it as having another borrowed day. In any city, wherever I go, making speeches, holding meetings of my organization, or attending to other business, black men are watching every move I make, awaiting their chance to kill me. I have said publicly many times that I know that they have their orders. Anyone who chooses not to believe what I am saying doesn't know the Muslims in the Nation of Islam.

But I am also blessed with faithful followers who are, I believe, as dedicated to me as I once was to Mr. Elijah Muhammad. Those who would hunt a man need to remember that a jungle also contains those who hunt the hunters.

I know, too, that I could suddenly die at the hands of some white racists. Or I could die at the hands of some Negro hired by the white man. Or it could be some brainwashed Negro acting on his own idea that by eliminating me he would be helping out the white man, because I talk about the white man the way I do.

Anyway, now, each day I live as if I am already dead, and I tell you what I would like for you to do. When I am dead-I say it that way because from the things I know, I do not expect to live long enough to read this book in its finished form-I want you to just watch and see if I'm not right in what I say: that the white man, in his press, is going to identify me with "hate."

He will make use of me dead, as he has made use of me alive, as a convenient symbol of "hatred"-and that will help him to escape facing the truth that all I have been doing is holding up a mirror to reflect, to show, the history of unspeakable crimes that his race has committed against my race.

You watch. I will be labeled as, at best, an "irresponsible" black man. I have always felt about this accusation that the black "leader" whom white men consider to be "responsible" is invariably the black "leader" who never gets any results. You only get action as a black man if you are regarded by the white man as "irresponsible." In fact, this much I had learned when I was just a little boy. And since I have been some kind of a "leader" of black people here in the racist society of America, I have been more reassured each time the white man resisted me, or attacked me harder-because each time made me more certain that I was on the right track in the American black man's best interests. The racist white man's opposition automatically made me know that I did offer the black man something worthwhile.

Yes, I have cherished my "demagogue" role. I know that societies often have killed the people who have helped to change those societies. And if I can die having brought any light, having exposed any meaningful truth that will help to destroy the racist cancer that is malignant in the body of America-then, all of the credit is due to Allah. Only the mistakes have been mine."

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Thank you, Guy. I needed that!

s. wallerstein said...

What you people think of the work of Adolph Reed Jr., black Marxist scholar (apparently endorsed by Marxist philosopher Brian Leiter), who claims that police kill and exercise violence against poor people and working class people, black, latino, Native-American and white and that poverty, not racism, explains the number of blacks murdered by police?

jeffrey g kessen said...

Being a cop in America is a tough job, no doubt about that. But if you seek out that job and are disposed to hang with it, then there's a couple of elements that play into it: at some level you get off on the adrenalin rush of confrontation and the exercise of power over other people. Why else put up with the hell of a shift's predictable onerous wrangle? A sense of civic duty? Might be a part of it---a small part.

Marinus said...

One thing to take great in is the robust funding that in localities with significant BLM protests there are definite reductions in incidents of police violence against black people. Things are bad, but there are things we can do about them, and some people are doing them.

Écrasez L'infâme said...

Gun control wouldn’t have made any difference in this case, and it won’t immediately stop the racism. However it would over time make your streets and homes safer, and so make it less likely the police will resort to lethal force (or at least remove their usual defence if they do), and gradually make your country less like a bad Clint Eastwood movie and more like a modern safe space, and so help against the underlying racism and inequalities that way. No, it won’t be easy, and yes you’ll lose votes, and yes the right-wing press will skewer you, but the US left really ought to be at least looking at this.

Anonymous said...

Here's an excellent analysis by fivethirtyeight:

James Wilson said...

Malcolm said it himself, didn’t he, Samuel? It’s in the passages quoted by Guy:

“Every morning when I wake up, now, I regard it as having another borrowed day. In any city, wherever I go, making speeches, holding meetings of my organization, or attending to other business, black men are watching every move I make, awaiting their chance to kill me. I have said publicly many times that I know that they have their orders. Anyone who chooses not to believe what I am saying doesn't know the Muslims in the Nation of Islam.”

s. wallerstein’s question links to a question I had regarding our host’s despair over the endless killing, making it difficult “to offer thoughtful, high-toned commentary on theoretical issues.” As I understand Adolph Reed he is precisely trying to link his theoretical concerns to the on-the-ground hideousness of life in a brutal capitalist society. Isn’t that the necessary task of the Marxist theoretician?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

It is the necessary task. It just is not easy.

LFC said...

I don't have a specific comment on Adolph Reed's views (with which I'm familiar mostly at second hand), but I think, as some comments have suggested already and as is commonly assumed, there's variation in how police act in different neighborhoods, with poorer urban neighborhoods often being policed differently than suburban ones, for a variety of reasons, some but not all of which are no doubt connected to race.

I live in an ethnically (and to some extent, racially) diverse suburb, and I don't think I've ever seen a police officer take his or her gun (or taser) out of its holster. When that happens, I think it's a relatively unusual event here, and the neighborhood listserv or 'NextDoor' platform will mention it (e.g., a post a few months ago wondering why so many officers, with guns drawn, were needed to arrest one suspect). p.s. One solution being suggested to the persistent problem of police shootings (again, more of a problem in some areas and neighborhoods than others) is to limit their remit (e.g., turn run-of-the-mill traffic stops over to another agency -- no doubt easier to propose than implement, for various reasons).

As to why people become police officers (raised by j. kessen, above), I'm sure the motives vary, but it's a fairly well-paying, albeit probably often rather boring, job, not requiring years and years of advanced training (though it does require some training). So for a young-ish person in relatively good physical shape, perhaps (though not necessarily) with some experience serving in the military, without particular intellectual or artistic or political or journalistic or similar ambitions that might point them in other directions, uninterested (and, one must say, for understandable reasons) in spending years in professional or graduate school, and looking for a stable, fairly well-paying job, one could see the attraction. There are also probably a small number of people who become police officers for idealistic reasons, thinking they will not only keep public order but also provide positive "role models" and other support for "at-risk" youth in urban neighborhoods, and at least a few cops probably do that. Though these days it's an occupation very much under the public spotlight, and hence perhaps less appealing for that reason.

s. wallerstein said...

Here's Leiter summarizing studies on the sociology of police violence.

s. wallerstein said...

Another post on the subject of police violence worth reading from Brian Leiter. It seems to me that in order to change this horrid situation of police violence and murder, we have to understand it first.

aaall said...

"Being a cop in America is a tough job, no doubt about that."

Tell that to a logger or a roofer or a firefighter. What we need to understand is that too many cops don't have the necessities to do the job.

Samuel Chase said...

It has become quite apparent that Prof. Wolff has decided to censor anything I may contribute to this blog, whether it relates to gun control issues, or the 1st Amendment rights of a university professor insisting on using gender specific pronouns, or a disagreement I may have with him regarding the application of the Fallacy of Composition. I once had a good deal of respect for him, since, after all, he was once my mentor as an undergraduate. That respect has diminished with age and maturity, since the man who insisted that every human being has an obligation to assert their independence from authority in the name of political anarchism, cannot himself tolerate any opinion which differs from his own, or takes issue with his analysis, since, after all, his autonomy of thought must be superior to that of everyone else. He will tolerate the use by aaall of a pseudonym, as long as aaall does not disagree with him. But let any one else use a pseudonym and not pay homage to his opinions, Prof. Wolff’s ego will not tolerate it.

Let’s see how long it takes him to censor this comment as well.

s. wallerstein said...

Sorry, Sam, I had accepted your presence here as a regular contributor.

However, since almost all of us know your real name and anyone investigating you can easily figure out who you are, why not follow the rules and use your real name?

Samuel Chase said...

s. wallerstein,

What the hell does it matter what name I submit a comment under? What matters regarding anyone’s comments are their substantive merit, regardless the identity of the author. It would have seemed to me that on a blog purportedly devoted to philosophical and analytic thought that this would be obvious, and not need to be expressly articulated.

s. wallerstein said...

The rules is the rules. You're a smart guy and you must have learned that in kindergarten like I did.

Now if you begin to comment under your real name and your comments get censored, you'll have a good case that Professor Wolff you claim above.

I would note that in another philosophy blog where I sometimes comment, that of Professor Leiter, the rules explicitly state that those who comment must state their real name.

Samuel Chase said...

Isn’t a precept, “The rules is the rules,” the very antithesis of political anarchism? This is not kindergarten. Are we not beyond kindergarten on this blog? How can a person who claims to be a political anarchist insist on religious observance of a precept which is contrary to the very essence of the political philosophy for which he claims to advocate? Rules generally don’t apply, except the rules created in his fiefdom? Is this not reminiscent of Orwell’s “All pigs are equal, but some pigs are more equal than others.” What relevance does the name of the party contributing a comment have to do with the substantive merit of the comment itself? I can see its usefulness to perhaps track whether a commenter is contradicting a prior comment or analysis, since such inconsistency may detract from the credibility of the commenter. But it has no bearing on the merit of the specific comment being offered at any given time. Should the value of one’s comments turn on the identity of the commenter? Of course not.

s. wallerstein said...

Aren't you the political realistic, the pragmatist?

As a political pragmatist, you should be aware that the world is the way it is, not the way it should be.

Samuel Chase said...

Well, as an attorney fighting within a somewhat corrupt system, I have to be a pragmatist, but I am a pragmatist with a beef, and I will no longer keep my mouth shut in the face of hypocrisy. A friend just this week counseled me about burning my bridges, and I said to her that I am too long in the tooth to care about burning bridges – I no longer have to curry favor with hypocrites in order to get ahead. And I intend to burn bridges like a pyromaniac in heat.

s. wallerstein said...

From personal experience, I'd say that it's generally not wise to burn bridge when you're our age. At age 18 it's cool and liberating.

Samuel Chase said...

It can also be liberating at 72. Tomorrow morning I have hearing in court in which I am demanding that a judge recuse himself for violating my client's constitutional rights and by failing to report an attorney for professional discipline who without question suborned perjury - during a trial before the judge - from a witness on the witness stand, and there are documents which prove it, resulting in a judgment against my client (when she was not my client) that has essentially ruined her life. When he refuse to recuse himself, I am going to report him to the Judicial Tenure Commission for disciplinary action. At my age, there is nothing this judge can do to me which can deter me.

aaall said...


LFC said...

I must intervene here.

First, I had my own blog for a number of years, and the notion of censorship is inapplicable here, i.e., in the blog setting. This is not a public forum, though it may sometimes look like it. It is the private preserve of the blogger, in this case Prof. Wolff. Everyone here comments at his pleasure, because that is the norm of the blogosphere. When S. Chase posts very long comments of marginal relevance and they are removed, that's not censorship. It's an instance of a blogger maintaining some control over his space. Are there times when this is a close call? Yes, probably. If I were the proprietor of this blog, I might make different judgments occasionally, but that's not the point. The point is this is basically a private space, not a public forum, and we're all here on sufferance.

Second, the idea that Prof. Wolff can't tolerate disagreement seems incorrect. I've disagreed with him about things, so has s. wallerstein, so have others. Our comments, to the best of my knowledge, have not been removed.

If S. Chase would keep his comments a little briefer and a little more on point and a little less given to exposition at great length of SCOTUS opinions and such (w sometimes only tangential bearing on the discussion), I don't think they would be removed.

On the question of pseudonyms, I know S. Chase's actual initials but not his full name and I've taken no steps to determine what it is b/c I don't care. I'm sure it wd not be too hard to find, though it might be a bit difficult -- who knows.

I've commented here under my actual initials, which I prefer, and also under my first two initials and last name. I don't think there's much difference either way.

TheDudeDiogenes said...

John McWhorter holds a similar view on police shootings of civilians:

"The cops kill hundreds and hundreds of people every year. Of them, white people are the majority by a good margin. For every incident we hear of where cops kill a black person, there are multiple others where cops killed a white person and we did not hear about it.

Black people, however, are killed more than what our proportion of the population would predict in itself. Specifically, black people are killed at a rate two and a half times our representation in the population." (He goes on to explain why he thinks is the case; in short, higher rates of poverty, and thus higher rates of encounters with police.)

Ridiculousicculus said...

M.S / Samuel Chase / Narcissistic Attorney: your comments get scrubbed because they're excessively long, annoy other commentators, and are often filled with ad-hominem attacks. Professor Wolff spent 60 years or something working in the academy, where regardless of his political commitment to anarchism he was an authority figure in the class room. He has a few fun little anecdotes about that. And since The Philosopher's Stone is Professor Wolff's blog, and it's an academic/political blog, he's the authority figure on the blog - regardless of his political commitment to anarchism. And a political commitment to anarchism is not a political commitment providing you with a space to regale others with your dumb and annoying diatribes about how much ass you kick as a lawyer. What's baffling is that instead of taking a hint and going and posting elsewhere, or publishing your own blog, you insist on posting over and over again on Professor Wolff's blog. And now you're complaining about the mean authority figure Professor Wolff depriving you of your public square. But it's not a public square. It's Professor Wolff's blog. Quit whining and go write one of your briefs. Then you can publish your own blog and talk all you want about how awesome your brief is and anyone who is interested in your brief can read your post and tell you all about how cool your brief is.

DJL said...

A minor point, but it's not quite true that Leiter's blog explicitly states that commenters must state their real name. The actual policy doesn't say such thing ( and in any case every time a thread is opened there's plenty of comments signed under, for instance,'Anon Grad Student'. What Leiter does is careful (and time-consuming) moderation.

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