My Stuff

Coming Soon:

Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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

Total Pageviews

Thursday, May 18, 2023


A number of folks both on this blog and elsewhere have asked me what I think about AI in general and more particularly about the program called Chat GPT.  I have not yet been able to access one of these programs and try it so I am flying blind here, but let me say a few things that come to mind.


Suppose I am teaching an undergraduate course in philosophy and require students to submit ten-page papers as part of the work of the course. I read the papers, I comment on them, and I return them. I am reasonably familiar with this procedure because I have been doing it for the past 68 years.


Now let us suppose that I learn that some of the students, instead of writing the papers themselves, have had the papers generated by an AI program. Assume that the program is sufficiently advanced that I am not able to tell which papers were written by the students themselves and which were generated by artificial intelligence. How should I react to this information?


My first thought is that the students who have used an AI program to produce the paper have wasted their time and mine. My purpose in assigning the paper was to give them some practice in developing and expressing arguments and by submitting a paper generated by an AI program they have denied themselves that experience. They have also wasted my time since my purpose in reading the paper and making comments about it was to help them develop those skills.


But what about the grade!? Well, the grade has nothing at all to do with the process by which they learn and by which I teach. As I explained in a little book I wrote 54 years ago, the purpose of grading is to facilitate the sorting of too many people into too few desirable positions in society. It has absolutely nothing to do with teaching or learning. If I were a violin teacher I would comment on, correct, criticize the way in which my pupils played the pieces I asked them to learn.. I would do that whether they were beginners or were preparing for a debut performance at Carnegie Hall. Giving them grades on their performances would be an irrelevant and useless activity.


But if I do not give grades, then the college or university for which I work cannot decide which students have earned degrees. Indeed…


Marc Susselman said...

In the case in which I quoted the Conclusion from a reply brief I recently filed in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, I am maintaining that the monetary judgment which the plaintiffs obtained against my client (before I was her attorney) – a judgment which has essentially ruined her life, financially and emotionally, sending her into a six-year state of deep, clinical depression – was obtained by the principal witness for the company suing her for breach of contract committing perjury, irrefutably supported by documents, and that the company’s attorney knew he was committing perjury, in fact aided and abetted his committing perjury, both of which are felonies. I am contending that this constituted a “fraud on the court,” which is a basis for setting aside the judgment. In order to get into federal court, I have to plead and prove that the conduct of the witness and his attorney somehow constituted “state action” in order for the federal court to have jurisdiction over a matter which was litigated in state court, which is a separate jurisdiction. I am claiming that there was state action, by virtue of the witness and his attorney exploiting the judge and the court, which thereby rendered the judge and the court as accomplices, thereby constituting state action. The attorneys representing the judge on appeal argued in their appellate brief that my claim that the witness and the attorney committed a “fraud on the court,’ at the same time that the judge, either passively or intentionally, became an accomplice of that fraud on the court makes absolutely no sense, because the judge could not simultaneously be a victim of the fraud, and an accomplice in the fraud. In my reply brief I assert that they are misconstruing the argument. Fraud on the court is not fraud on the judge. Fraud on the court is fraud on the administration of justice in the judicial, legal system as a whole, and by their actions their fraud on the court defiled the legal system as a whole, regardless whether the judge was a passive or active participant in the fraud.

What’s the relevance? The students who use AI in order to get a better grade, are going to use that grade in competition with their classmates in applying for employment in our capitalist system – whether we like that system or not. Using AI has given them an unfair advantage in that competition. It is all well and good to say that by using AI they are the losers, because by not doing their own work they have cheated themselves out of an education. But by cheating themselves out of an education, they are also cheating others who have not used AI to get their grades, out of the employment which they are entitled to over the students who used AI. They, like the witness and his attorney who have defiled the legal system by their fraud on the court, are defiling the employment system by their fraud on the professors who are giving them the grades they need in order to garner that employment, to the disadvantage of the honest students who did not use AI.

Post-script: The reply brief I filed was 66 pp. long, replying to five other briefs. I filed a motion for leave to file an "oversized" brief, to exceed the official word limit. Yesterday, the 6th Circuit granted the motion in part, and denied it in part. They have ordered me to reduce the reply brief to a total of 8,000 words, which is approximately 32 pages, by May 24. I have my work cut out for me. (I also have another brief due that day in a Michigan appellate court.)

John Pillette said...

It seems that Daniel Dennett has a piece about this (AI, NOT appellate practice) in The Atlantic. I don’t have a subscription so all I’ve read of it is a small excerpt in which he claims that AI-generated “counterfeit people” are a serious menace, and maybe even THE menace: “These counterfeit people are the most dangerous artifacts in human history, capable of destroying not just economies but human freedom itself.”

My first reaction to this is that it seems a bit overblown. Isn’t a hydrogen bomb a little more dangerous as an “artifact”? And aren’t we already living amongst a surplus of “counterfeit people”, viz., celebrities of all sorts?

As for “human freedom itself” that would be a nice thing to have, sign me up!

There was a pretty good movie a few years ago about a hopeless dork (Joaquin Phoenix) who passes over his pretty neighbor (Amy Adams) and instead falls in love with his iPhone. His iPhone talks like Scarlett Johansen, and Amy Adams is made up to look kind of 1970’s feminist frumpy, but still … would this really happen? I mean, this is AMY ADAMS, fellas! … (Ms. Adams may be seen disporting herself in her underwear in “The Fighter”; look and you’ll undertsand my point).

But apparently this sort of thing does happen (Kids These Days!). It’s happening to ME … I can’t stop myself from making stupid comments on a blog! And for all I know all of YOU are ChatGPT bots …

SrVidaBuena said...

I’m amazed that on AI I never hear anyone that seems remotely aware of the work of Hubert Dreyfus (Heideggeraian AI) and John Searle, which dates back many decades now. In fact I can’t think of any philosophers that are mentioned in reference to AI, I’d settle for Dennett (who has something out in the popular press recently) or Patricia Churchland. Seems we mostly hear from ‘technologists’, which should likely be a warning in itself. It may be artificial but it’s meaningless to call it ‘intelligence’.

As for the current ChatGPT business, I have no doubt it will be deployed in numerous situations where it will further degrade all manner of routing functions and experience in our daily world from customer service to higher education.

LFC said...

An individual grade in a particular course is most likely not going to have a determinative or any impact on post-graduation prospects. Proctor & Gamble is not going to hire Jane instead of Julie to be asst product mgr for XYZ soap bc Jane got an A in Intro to Analytic Philosophy while Julie only got a B+.

What *is* more likely to have an impact on post-graduation prospects, esp when it comes to applications to grad schools or professional schools, is one's overall GPA or overall grades. As someone whose undergrad GPA (or the equivalent thereof) was not esp impressive, I know that from personal experience.

Anonymous said...

RPW, do you think you might institute a rule that self-praise is forbidden in Comments on your blog (that would include forbidding lengthy summaries of one's own professional exploits). You might also encourage more self-denigration, which is always refreshing. Thanks JP.

Eric said...

The students who use AI in order to get a better grade, are going to use that grade in competition with their classmates in applying for employment in our capitalist system – whether we like that system or not. Using AI has given them an unfair advantage in that competition.

The capitalist system does not care about right, wrong, fair, or unfair. It cares only about (short-term) results. Why shouldn't the student who was clever enough to use this tool, and get away with it, not prevail in the capitalist meritocracy?

Marc Susselman said...


You are underestimating the effect that AI would have in multiple classes, employed by multiple students. The student using AI is not going to use it only in Prof. Wolff’s philosophy class. S/he is going to use it in several classes, artificially elevating grades in several classes, artificially raising the student’s GPA, versus students who do not use AI.


The student who obtains the job because his GPA has been artificially inflated also did not learn the material which is needed to perform the job adequately, resulting in inferior job performance, inferior products, etc., which affects all of us.

Marc Susselman said...


If "JP" is John Pillette, as if you have not engaged in self-aggrandizement on this blog.

Fritz Poebel said...

Then again, here’s a headline and sub-headline (or whatever it’s called) from Rolling Stone magazine:

Professor Flunks All His Students After ChatGPT Falsely Claims It Wrote Their Papers

Texas A&M University–Commerce seniors who have already graduated were denied their diplomas because of an instructor who incorrectly used AI software to detect cheating

Michael Llenos said...

I wonder if A.I. could one day produce something along the lines of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy? If that will be the case, then the publishing company with the most expensive A.I. computer program will make the most sales. And if A.I. can do this one day for books, they could do it one day for movies. Possibly.

In Star Trek TNG, the computer sometimes was puzzled at what the crew member was saying or asking it. These simple misunderstandings seem to be easily understood by today's A.I.. Or maybe I'm mistaken.

John Pillette said...

I forgot to add that: from the perspective of the students (and of the administration who sells the students on the "value" of the degree; and of the larger world, which looks only at the degree and not at the learning--or lack thereof--that went into it), the final grade is the point, the only point, of the exercise.

From this perspective, it is Professor Wolff who is wasting the students' time, by demanding that they engage in the out-of-date task of "thinking".

As we speak there is a clever engineer working to develop a ProfessorBot that will hand out nothing but A pluses to StudentBots. The StudentBots will then go on to work on a virtual Wall Street, and in a virtual Washington, and in virtual law firms ...

s. wallerstein said...

The capitalist system does not care about right, wrong, fair, or unfair. It cares only about (short-term) results. Why shouldn't the student who was clever enough to use this tool, and get away with it, not prevail in the capitalist meritocracy?

I agree with Eric and in any case, do we participate in this blog for a grade?

No, we're all folks with a certain interest in learning, for diverse reasons, but I feel no sympathy for students who are only in it for the grade.

Actually, they should abolish grades. The whole AI thing makes it clear that grades aren't about learning and about accumulating wisdom, but about participating in a rotten and rotting system.

Let people who want to rise in the corporate ladder "duke it out", as we used to say or
duel with sabers to eliminate rivals, but why let them ruin the learning experience of those of us who value learning?

s. wallerstein said...

Giving the issue a bit more thought, I can see why there should be grades in medical school,
in nursing school, in dental school, in schools for airline pilots and engineers, etc,
but I can't see why there should be grades for future philosophers or historians or sociologists, etc.

John Pillette said...

Speaking of AI, I'm pretty sure that it (blogger) just axed my comment. It also knows where I live (and pretty much everything else about me) ... Jesus!

John Rapko said...

As far as I can tell from anecdotes (like the professor's) about CHAT GPT, its use by students is/will be the latest in the long line of cheating strategies. The prevalence of cheating (nothing new) always struck me as making both giving and grading assignments pointless. One sensible response to the omnipresence of cheating would be to revert to educational methods and systems like those suggested by Paul Goodman and Ivan Illich (smaller classes and in-person groups; mixed age; apprenticeship; collective self-posing of problems and manners of inquiry). Further, as s. wallerstein suggests, we might abolish grading as widely as possible, and that would include not having grades for non-technical classes and fields. There could be tests for levels of competence, where competence is of some social importance, as with driving tests. In every case, the question should be first asked whether grading at this point serves any important purpose . . . Generally, grading and required classes are the enemies of promise. Some recent examples from my students: (a) an exceptionally creative and clever artist/craftsperson, deeply insightful in my contemporary art history class, who had to drop out because she simply couldn't pass a required math class--she told me that the last math class she'd passed was as a sophomore in high school, where she swapped some drugs for a passing grade. (b) One of the most interesting and insightful students I've ever had in surveys of Ancient Art and Medieval to Modern European Art--he'd come back to college after getting out of prison (he'd been caught running naked through the streets at night while carrying some stolen goods; who among us hasn't?), and likewise couldn't pass a math class, although he had world-class questions about and insights into Giorgione and Caravaggio.--These are real-life examples of people who value learning, respond magnificently to the discussion of ideas, people without whom the world would be a drearier place, and whose education was unnecessarily restricted because their characters and talents do not mesh well with the corporate gears.

Anonymous said...

Since JP stated, "I can’t stop myself from making stupid comments on a blog!" I was praising him for that little bit of self-denigration or at least self-deprecation. Otherwise, I recall him saying some interesting critical things, but I didn't read him as glorying in his own perspicacity. Of course, he may be one of those Artificially Stupid algorithms he refers to. But he sounds real to me. I can see, however, why he might--as do I--doubt that other frequent commentators here are real humans, not algorithms, since they seem to be stuck in a variety of ruts.

John Pillette said...

Hahahaha, TAKE ... IT ... FROM ... ME ... I ... AM ... NOT ... A ... ROBOT ...!

(That needs to be spoken in "Robot Voice" for the proper effect)

And if you're reading this, BTW, then AI was mos def censoring me before. How funny is that?!?

LFC said...

Anonymous @7:30 p.m.

With respect, you have made a little bit of a mess here.

You posted a comment at 4:09 p.m. that ended with the words "Thanks JP." You have now explained that you were thanking John Pillette for his bit of self-deprecation (as you perceived it). However, the "thanks JP" was confusing, as it came at the end of a request or suggestion to Prof. Wolff, and thus had the potential to give rise to the inference that the comment was actually posted by John Pillette. Not a big deal, but needlessly confusing.

Second, I fully understand why you find Marc's longish comments about his cases and his briefs annoying. However, it should be clear by now that that, among other things, is what he does here. Easy enough to skip his comments.

Third, there's no compelling reason to post here with the moniker "Anonymous" as opposed to something more distinctive, anything you want, even a nonsense designation -- anything would be better than "Anonymous" really. Your posts have sort of a distinctive flavor, so why not give yourself a distinctive pseudonym? "Flaming dragon," "avenging angel," "leftist 892," "cat hater," "dog lover," "gerbil salesman," "Orwell," "Kant," "Lenin," "Marx," anything. Using "Anonymous" betrays a certain poverty of imagination.

aaall said...

I, for one, welcome our new AI masters.

Marc Susselman said...

When I took the SAT’s back in 1964, a section of the verbal test was devoted to analogy questions, which was intended to test the student’s ability to discern similarities and differences between words and the concepts they represented. Anonymous apparently has difficulty with analogies, because he has failed to understand the analogy I was making above to the effect that perjury during a trial, a form of cheating, and its adverse effects on the administration of justice, to students’ use of AI, a form of cheating, and its adverse effect on the employment market, which uses grade point averages as a means to identify which applicants actually have the knowledge to perform the jobs they are applying for. All Anonymous could see was that I was stroking my ego.

Achim Kriechel (A.K.) said...

Is it really so hard to distinguish the cheaters from those who have tried to really understand a material? I had this problem as a lecturer at an engineering school where I was teaching for 7 years. At that time, the problem was that students were simply copying digital design plans from one another. Two or three did the job and the others "paid ?". I of course told all the students in the course my suspicions and also showed them the clues that led me to the conclusion. The discussion was lifeless because I could not think of anything else except the argument that they did not have to prove anything to me or to the institute, but only to themselves. And I gave them the assurance that the feeling of having really understood something is damn pleasant, especially as an engineer when you see how what you think really works.

However, we have changed the examination regulations. The scores and the size of the oral exams were increased significantly. After that, the tendency to hand in copied work decreased significantly.

Achim Kriechel (A.K.) said...

SrVidaBuena said... at 3:03 PM

"In fact, I can't think of any philosophers that are mentioned in reference to AI..."

You are correct. The amount of philosophical discussion of AI is very manageable. Now that the issues are becoming really acute, one finds many statments (Dennet, Chomski, and many more) but all of them unfortunately "only" reacting to the fact that is becoming more and more obvious on the horizon and that now has to be classified somehow. Doesn't this fit to the role of philosophy as the discipline that always comes too late?

But there are exceptions. Already at the end of the 50s there was at least one institute in the USA where all the questions that are asked today by AI were also discussed philosophically. The Biological Computer Laboratory (BCL) in Urbana Illinois. It was founded by Heinz von Förster and over the time scientists and philosophers like U.Maturana, F.Varela, G.Günther, G.Pask, E.Glasersfeld and many more worked there.

Philosophically especially interesting are in my eyes the works of the philosopher Gotthard Günther, because he is able to connect the questions of cybernetics with the metaphysical concepts of classical philosophy, especially Kant and Hegel. There are a lot of texts from him in English language here:

John Pillette said...

In the hypothetical, the Professor and the students have both “wasted their time” and for obvious reasons. Instead of actual learning what is happening is an ersatz simulation thereof. Seeking and obtaining course credit on this basis is not only like obtaining goods with a counterfeit bill, it is also like going to the symphony and not listening, swallowing food without tasting it, visiting Yosemite with a blindfold on, and so on.

In the realm of popular culture, this sort of thing has been going on for some time. Most movies and television are clearly written by some kind of mechanical process and this material shamelessly panders to what it is presumed that the audience wants. My experience in watching these I would describe as pretty much entirely a “waste of time”; an ersatz simulation of the experience of watching a real movie.

(Let’s leave for another day the discussion of whether movies were EVER “authentic” and simply accept that they have become less authentic over the course of the last 20 years.)

The irony is, as these movies become ever more aesthetically worthless, they are ever more valuable as “Intellectual Property” and they make ever more money. I understand that one of the sticking points in the current WGA strike is just how much more automated scriptwriting will be allowed in Hollywood. As it stands right now, nobody (apart from me and you and a few despairing film critics) really cares about character, dialogue, plausibility, psychology and the rest of the naturalistic baggage carried over from the 19th Century.

In place of the aesthetic appreciation of the sort we all used to indulge in we now have something called “fan service”. The “fan” is to the “cineaste” as the cheating students in the hypothetical are to their swotty predecessors, but isn’t the problem really the rising tide of philistinism that is drowning all of us?

Steve Gerrard said...

Bob: Which little book are you referring to? I'd like to read it. Thanks.

John Pillette said...

Regarding AI censorship, it seems that our robot overlords had a problem with my chosen subject matter in a comment I submitted yesterday. In it, I referenced the trouble that David Duchovny found himself in some years back.

Recall that while DD was married to one of the world’s most beautiful women—Tea Leoni—he was somehow driven to ignore her ample “IRL” charms and instead slake his lust with his computer instead.

I don’t know what obscure professional reasons required that this all be made public knowledge, but I was grateful to learn of it nonetheless. It seems that we really do prefer the fake, the imaginary, the ersatz to the real thing … next stop, “The Matrix”!

Marc Susselman said...

John Pillette:

According to you, all of the movies listed below, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, are a “waste of time” and “an ersatz simulation of the experience of watching a real movie.” Pray tell, what in your opinion would constitute an authentic movie which was not an “ersatz simulation of the experience of watching a real movie”?

Best Picture winners, within the last 20 years:

2004: Million Dollar Baby, about a female boxer who become paralyzed during a boxing match.

2006: The Departed, about the criminal activity of Whitey Bulger in Boston, protected by an FBI agent.

2007: No Country For All Men, based on a novel and screenplay written by Cormac McCarthyk, about crime in Texas, a vicious killer and an aging sheriff.

2009: The Hurt Locker, about a demolition expert in Iraq, and the stress of his work.

2010: The King’s Speech, about the efforts of King George VI to overcome his stutter while he led Great Britain during WWII.

2012: Argo, about an actual scheme which was used to free American citizens held hostage in Iran.

2013: 12 Years A Slave, about a freeman kidnapped and sold into slavery, and the ordeal and persecution he experienced and witnessed.

2015: Spotlight, about how journalists uncovered the cover-up by the Catholic Church protecting pedophile priests in Boston.

2016: Moonlight, about the emotional ordeal experienced by a gay Black man.

2017: The Shape Of Water, a fantasy/sci-fi movie about the relationship between a woman and a captured alien being cruelly abused by its human captors.

2018: Green Book, an autobiographical account of a Black jazz musician and his experience of racism in the 1950s-1960s Jim Crow South.

2020: Nomadland, about homeless Americans living in RVs and their way of life.

2021: Coda, about a family whose members are all deaf.

John Pillette said...

[I know I’ll regret replying here but as I said I can’t help myself]

OMG Susselman, I did NOT reference “best picture” winners, I said “MOST movies and television”.

This is a quantitative analysis. For your information, there are around 125 Christmas Rom-Coms made for the Hallmark-Lifetime female sentiment industrial nexus EVERY YEAR.

That’s not just Rom-Coms, that’s XMAS ROM-COMS! These things are churned out like so many Twinkies. There are God knows how many made-for-TV Rom-Coms in total (I can’t even count that high).

Moreover, I didn’t even mention video games, which is how more and more persons are being “entertained” these days … movies and television look like peanuts next to that.

And anyway, the “King’s Speech” and “Moonlight” both sucked, and I didn't even see most of the others.

s. wallerstein said...

John Pillette,

It might interest you, but a while ago (I don't remember exactly) Marc and I and others had a long argument here about the value of classical Hollywood movies.

I and others defended the argument (which comes from Adorno and my own observation) that clasical Hollywood movies defend the status quo, the capitalist system, the rat race,
the buy-buy-buy consumer culture, the Amerikan way of life, while Marc insisted that they have redeeming artistic and social value.

To my surprise Professor Wolff jumped in at the end, agreeing with Marc, more or less calling the Frankfurt School "effete snobs". Not an exact quote, but it was like that.

I haven't seen any of the movies on Marc's list. I haven't seen any Hollywood movies in years except a couple of Woody Allen films (I'm a fan). I don't have Netflix or cable TV either.

Marc Susselman said...

John Pillette,

You wrote: “Most movies and television are clearly written by some kind of mechanical process and this material shamelessly panders to what it is presumed that the audience wants. My experience in watching these I would describe as pretty much entirely a ‘waste of time’; an ersatz simulation of the experience of watching a real movie.’”

This is one of the most ludicrous, pretentious, simplistic generalizations about American cinema that has been posted on this blog. For every one of the Best Picture movies I listed above, I could, if I wished to take the time (and I don’t) name 20-30 other movies that were released in the year in question which were not “ersatz,’ as you put it. Moreover, “The King’s Speech” and “Moonlight” sucked!!!??? And then you acknowledge that you had not seen most of the Best Picture winners. Bottom line: You are a pretentious snob who glorifies himself in being an iconoclastic critic of the contemporary scene and does not know what the hell he is talking about!

Marc Susselman said...

Steve Gerrard,

I believe Prof. Wolff was referring to "The Ideal Of The University."

Any response to the questions I posed to you in the previous thread?

John Rapko said...

It seems to me that sophisticated folks have been lamenting the decline of Hollywood into pandering, churned-out trash ever since the talkies came in. I was startled a decade ago when some students informed me that the 1980s was the great period of Hollywood (!) and that it's all been a loss of daring and authenticity since then. Perhaps there has been quantitatively a great increase in trash in the past two decades; but perhaps the overall spectrum of quality has remained the same--who is in a position to judge?--I've seen very few movies made this century (only three on Marc's list, though none of them made much of an impression), but of the very few I've seen in the past two years, three seemed to me quite good and to meet John Pillette's criteria for 'not-worthless': Drive My Car (Japan); Decision to Leave (South Korea); How to Blow Up a Pipeline (American Indie). As Wallace Stevens put it, Hollywood is just a bug in the grass. [For the theoretical issues in How to Blow Up a Pipeline, see my review of Andreas Malm's book (also published in the Marx and Philosophy Review of Books):]

John Pillette said...

I was generalizing of course, but what I had in mind were these particulars: a Preston Sturges triple feature I saw at the old Theatre 80 St. Marks back in the Stone Age (“Unfaithfully Yours”; the “Palm Beach Story”; and “Sullivan’s Travels”) vs. “Batman Begins” (2005).

I had gone to see the Batman movie innocently enough, I had something like Tim Burton in mind. Instead I found myself watching this thing, thinking WTF?!? The penny finally dropped at the very last frame: “Ohhhh, I’m supposed to take it SERIOUSLY!”

Unbelievable, and yet true. Batman “fans” take it seriously. As for Adorno et al., I don’t need him to tell me what my own eyeballs can see and ears can hear.

OF COURSE there are worthwhile movies that happen to get made, my point is that Hollywood is not trying to make these, they happen by accident almost. E.g., The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, et al.

Marc Susselman said...

John Rapko,

Well, as a friend of mine used to say about differences in taste and opinions, “That’s what makes a horse race.”

Have you yet seen the movie I have recommended several times, “Nine Days”?

LFC said...

I think the disagreement here is not as wide as it might appear.

John Pillette, though he used the word "most," seems to be talking about one (large) slice of the output. I don't watch that slice, for the most part, so can't evaluate it at first hand, but the superhero franchises (Marvel etc.) that make enormous profits are not something I'm interested in watching.

There's another slice, so to speak, that does contain some good movies. I don't watch a lot of movies, and when I do it's almost always in a theater, but there have been some good movies in recent years. Imo, both The King's Speech and Moonlight were good though not flawless (how many flawless examples of anything are there?). 'Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri' (or whatever it was called, I may have the title slightly wrong) was good, with a memorable performance by Frances McDormand among others. The well-directed movie version of Call Me By Your Name had one of the best performances by a young actor I've seen in a long time. Just a few instances. That said, I have no doubt there's also a large amt of formulaic, paint-by-the-numbers stuff.

John Pillette said...

As a fun exercise, a few months ago I looked at all of the highest-grossing movies, in five-year increments, going back to 1965 or so. I used “” and “”.

It was a fascinating exercise. Comedy has pretty much disappeared, following musicals out the door. What do we have now? Comic book militarism.

In 1972 “What’s Up, Doc” (the Barbara Streisand vehicle that was inter alia an homage to Preston Sturges) was number 3 for the year. No. 1? “The Godfather”. No. 2? “The Poseidon Adventure”. No. 4? “Deliverance”.

Those are pretty solid movies. To double-check I re-watched a bit of “What’s Up Doc” and decided that it more than holds up. Babs is an amazing performer!

So whether you want to call it a Spenglerian “decline” or whatever, there has certainly been a change over the last 50 years. Finally, I don’t care who disagrees with me on any of this. My own judgments are my own and I am the world’s leading expert on what I happen to like.

LFC said...

The slice of the market containing the highest grossing movies has indeed changed, I would say partly bc of the development of technologies like 3D whatever and the (to me, inexplicable) popularity of movies based on comic books. But beneath that slice, different (and better) sorts of movies are still being made.

I think I vaguely remember seeing What's Up Doc? when it came out. Streisand was good. It's the sort of movie that probably wouldn't be made today because it harks back to and/or fondly sends up some of the comedies of the '30s (?) and as the demographics have changed, the audience for that kind of thing has decreased.

That's the other factor here: demographics. Much of the market is geared to people under 30, and they want to see Batman Returns or Armageddon #500, etc.

Marc Susselman said...

Below is a partial list of worthwhile, well-made movies released in 2022-2023 that have nothing to do with super-heroes or comic books:

Armageddon Time


The Inspection

The People’s Joker

Alice Darling


The Whale

The Woman King

Are You There God, It’s Margaret


Bad Axe

Marc Susselman said...

Next month, I and my family intend to go the theater, buy some pop-corn, and watch Harrison Ford, at the age of 80, reprise his iconic role in “Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny.” Will it be a meaningful movie about the meaning of life? I highly doubt it. Will it change the world or prevent climate change? Highly unlikely? Will it be a hell of a lot of fun to watch and cheer Indiana Jones on as he fights against the forces of evil? You betcha!

anon. said...

We are most easily being got at--influenced--when we're not aware we're being got at? Perhaps?

Marc Susselman said...


Can you be a bit more obscure?

LFC said...

John Rapko (and maybe some others),
I think it's possible that you might be interested in Louis Menand's chapter on movies/film and movie criticism that is placed toward the end of his over-long book The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War. I stopped reading the book at around p. 400 so I didn't get to that chapter and have done no more than glance at it. However I've heard someone say it's one of the better chapters in the book.

John Rapko said...

LFC and Marc,

I think I also stopped reading Menand's book before that chapter. It seemed that the book was worth reading as a bit of general education, but the material discussed is perhaps overly familiar to me and I wasn't able to get fully engaged. I'll check out what he says about Hollywood; I have Robert Warshow's The Immediate Experience pretty much memorized, but beyond that I haven't read much Anglophone writing from the 1950s on movies--Thanks for the reminder about Nine Days. I really will put it on my short list, though right now I'm trembling with excitement from having seen that Jacques Rivette's Haut Bas Fragile is finally available on-line. And going back to a much earlier discussion, I'm distracted while lightly fuming about the National Theatre's Othello that I saw last night. I just muttered into my coffee: "He who steals this production--reducing Iago's 'Put money in thy purse' speech; introducing a silent group of herky-jerky on-lookers; making Emilia fall apart when she delivers her speech on men to Desdemona--steals trash."--Not really: I thought if nothing else Giles Terera was very fine in the eponymous role.

Marc Susselman said...

The Republicans are such kind-hearted, sympathetic people, coming to Sen. Feinstein’s defense, praising her courage and indomitable spirit, denouncing ageism, and encouraging Sen. Feinstein to stand her ground. Sen. Kennedy, from the great state of Louisiana, expressed sadness at seeing how Sen. Feinstein is being treated. It was reported that Sen. Feinstein appeared at a general meeting of the Judiciary Committee, and she was her old self! Not very encouraging.

John Pillette said...

JR, I happened to come across and enjoy your review of the "Pipeline" book some time ago, I’m not sure how. Assuming you still have a folder marked “pipeline”, here is something for it.

Any no-good punk of a certain age knows the old pebble-in-the-valve-stem trick. A friend of mine even played this trick on me once (unwittingly).

Here’s what happened. Once while on summer break in college, I happened to borrow my older sister’s Mercedes Wagon (a w123 model) and drive it up to a see a girlfriend. I parked it out back in the alley.

My pal Brian shows up later and becomes incensed that a newish Mercedes—of all things—had taken the (illegal!) spot in which he usually parked his beater Datsun 810 wagon. (His GF and my GF were roommates).

So Brian sees “my” car parked there and says something like, “God-damned yuppies! … I shall have my revenge!” and he does the pebble thing to all four tires. This was back when a newish Mercedes wagon was much more of cultural signifier, needless to say.

The next morning, I went down to find FOUR flat tires, and promptly came back upstairs: “God Damn It! FOUR flat tires! [etc.]” While deflecting responsibility (“it must have been some punks in the neighborhood …”) Brian was nevertheless obliged to spend the entire morning helping me re-inflate them ... I think we had to take them off and put them in the back of HIS car and drive to a gas station, but in any event it was a hot, sweaty hassle and we both had a hangover. Brian only fessed up some months later, but I had already figured it out, and I had to admit the whole thing was pretty funny.

Having gone through this ridiculous episode, I’m afraid that I cannot see this sort of thing as a “paradigm” for “resistance”. And of course, between between Brian’s crappy old 810 wagon and my sister’s newish Mercedes wagon, it was his that guzzled oil and gas and spewed pollution ...

s. wallerstein said...

From what I can see, artistic creativity is a one person show, it's not a team effort.

The great artistic creators work alone, Shakespeare, Mozart, Beethoven, Kafka, Proust, T.S. Eliot, etc.

Maybe a couple of art film directors such as Fellini and Bergman managed to impose their vision on a film crew and on actors who realized their artistic project and thus, can be counted as first rate artists. I believe that at times Woody Allen does that too and there may be a few others.

But Hollywood with its managerial ethos and its corporate structure just does not produce films of artistic quality. It may be that in about a 100 years of Hollywood there a few films that one could call art, but in general, it's a mass product for what Nietzsche rightly calls "the herd."

Sure, it's entertaining. With my son Pablo I must have seen the majority of Hollywood films produced in the late 80's and 90's and I don't claim to be "above" it nor am I above
French fries with ketchup. Most Hollywood films are French fries with ketchup for the mind.

John Pillette said...

I forgot the punch line: as every with-it eco-warrior from Portland to Berkeley to Burlington knows, an old W123 Mercedes wagon is, lo these many years later, THE car to have to show your ecological bona fides, especially one that’s rigged up to run on used fryer oil (I can almost smell the patchouli from here …).

John Rapko said...

John Pillette--
Thanks for the story of your encounter with the old 'pebble-in-the-valve' trick. My main relevant memory of the old days was more trying to keep my anarchist friends from 'keying' (i.e. scratching the paint with a long drag of a key) fancy cars and throwing bricks through the windows of banks and office of military recruiters (I wasn't very successful). The movie, by contrast, lives up to its title, and throws in a nice double-crossing of the FBI to boot. As is perhaps evident from my review of Malm's book, I feel suspended between Malm's and Rupert Read's (both of whom I greatly admire) tactics: I agree with whichever of them I've read more recently.

anon. said...

s.w. aren't you overlooking all those who in their moments of glory have acknowledged that they stood on the shoulders of giants? remembering John Donne too.

s. wallerstein said...

Put Donne on the list of great artists.

I have no problem with that. In graduate school 17th century was one of my two specialties.

As for standing on the shoulders of giants, obviously all great artists learn from their predecessors and early Beethoven sounds very much like Haydn, but at some point Beethoven becomes Beethoven and takes off.

John Pillette said...

JR: Ah yes, the “good old days” of TEEN AGE ANARCHY! I imagine that primatologists would simply shrug and say something like, “that’s EXACTLY what you would expect when you put a bunch of young apes together”.

Our final hurrah was getting arrested by the Capitol Hill Police way out on the end of a tower crane boom, back when the Federal Judicial Center was still a construction site. We were all somewhat baffled at “The Man’s” demonstrated lack of humor back then, but God only knows what would happen these days. Today’s jumpy officer corps might just shoot you off of there in a hail of bullets and ask questions later.

(Legal note, we got off scot-free because someone had left the gate wide open, so no “breaking”; just “entering”… and thereafter enjoying the “attractive nuisance”. Turns out that legal doctrines exist for a reason, who knew?)

Mikey said...

Prof. Wolff,

It perhaps is not entirely hopeless to spot AI produced papers.

The "Large Language Models" (LLMs) behind the most recent crop of AIs have a tendency to make up things that are false, and make basic errors of facts, stated with supreme apparent confidence.

For example, they are incapable of determining simple matters of relative size, beyond often used "bigger than a breadbox" or microwave, unless they happen to have been used with some specific level of frequency in their training data. A unique comparison, like a sock and an aircraft carrier would likely be made incorrectly.

They particularly have problems with bibliographical citations and exact quotes, often getting details wrong or making them up entirely.

They also have a problem with negation, since the word "not", for example, is used so commonly that it is often excluded from the training data, and if it isn't, the AIs don't really understand what it means, or how it is used, only what words are statistically likely to be nearby.

Several teachers have found other "tricks" to spot them.

Good luck!


Warren Goldfarb said...

My colleague Ned Hall has produced a hilarious document showing how poorly ChatGPT does in logical reasoning. The problem, I suspect, is that the basic training is associative, as Mikey mentions above, and this is of no help -- actually probably a hindrance -- in solving logic problems, although it might do fine in an essay in literature.

Marc Susselman said...


Very amusing. Raymond Smullyan published a book containing multiple variations on the Liar’s Paradox.

Marc Susselman said...

Some quotes by Raymond Smullyan (1919-2017)

“Recently, someone asked me if I believed in astrology. He seemed somewhat puzzled when I explained that the reason I don't is because I'm a Gemini.”

“How can you call that which was forced on me a gift? I have free will, but not of my own choice. I have never freely chosen to have free will. I have to have free will, whether I like it or not.”

“No, free will is not an 'extra'; it is part and parcel of the very essence of consciousness. A conscious being without free will is simply a metaphysical absurdity.”

LFC said...

Can ChatGPT experience what the late H. Bloom called the anxiety of influence?

DDA said...

Hi Warren,
Thanks for that link. I have a little collection (not generated by my prompts) of ChatGPT's bizarre (well not so bizarre if one remembers how it was built) incapacities. chatgtp examples

Marc Susselman said...

Watch this for laughs:

aaall said...

Seems there was a party and someone wasn't invited.

(click on the Tangish back to the future video.)

Marc, they're serious:

s. wallerstein said...

Instead of laughing at this woman, why doesn't the left begin to address her concerns?

Every time we on the left laugh at or mock someone, we lose a possible voter.

Banning TickTok will solve nothing, but...

I have a long-time woman friend in the U.S., a leftwing activist, feminist, votes for the Democrats, marches in all the marches and now she tells me that her elementary school age grand-daughter believes that she is a boy.

This woman is concerned, not because she is transphobic or anti-gay or into traditional gender models (I have never seen this woman with make-up or heels or even a dress), but because kids are easy to influence and there are doctors and clinics that make a lot of money off of the "transition" business.

We all were young once and we all made stupid decisions because one or another fad or trend influenced us and because we all wanted to fit in as kids and now transitioning is cool and in, at least in some circles.

I'm not claiming that there are not some young kids whose desire to transition is genuine and should be attended to, but laughing at everyone who questions the present fashion of
letting all very young kids who want to transition do it, with surgery and hormones, etc. does not seem wise to me.

aaall said...

s.w., it's Heritage so we know it's bogus (this is how we know that the 303 case in Colorado is bogus because ADF)
. The Right,as always, sees a pony in stoking fear. "T" is the opening against a perceived weak link. As Thomas pointed out in Dobbs, everything is up for grabs, also Lee Atwater.

At our age we should understand we don't have to get everything for it to be a thing.

s. wallerstein said...


When I talk to people on the right in Chile, they appear to be as sincere in their convictions as those on the left. There are cynics on both sides.

You seem to believe that the U.S. right cynically manipulates voters and I have no way to disprove that nor you to prove it.

Thus, there's no point arguing about it, but I just wanted to say the above for the record.

LFC said...


I must take fairly strong exception to your implication or suggestion that a lot -- or any -- very young or elementary-school age kids are being given hormones or surgery. I am 99.9999 percent sure that the number of elementary school kids being given gender-transition surgery is zero -- I can't imagine a doctor performing this surgery on anyone under 18, or maybe 17 in rare cases. And the percent of elementary school age kids taking hormones is, I would think, very, very, very small.

The bills that are going through Red state legislatures banning so-called gender-affirming care are simply a case of fake "moral panic" stoked by know-nothing right-wing legislators. It's one thing to insist that parents be involved, that seems entirely reasonable, but quite another to attempt to ban certain interactions between doctors and patients.

P.s. I didn't click on aaall's links so I don't know exactly the context, but I just wanted to say the above.

P.p.s. Offhand I know of only one transgender person, whom I've never met. Some friends of mine have an adult son, and this adult son's longtime girlfriend/partner decided (or discovered, or whatever the right verb is) that she was transgender and changed her name from a female one to a neutral-sounding one. (Whether she did anything else in terms of physical or physiological changes, I have no idea.) The young man in question decided to stay with this now-trans person. He told his mother: "I'm not gay, but I'm gay for [this person]." Governments should stay out of this whole arena, except poss. via narrow legislation to ensure that parents of very young children are involved in these matters, which, if they're responsible parents, they wd be anyway.

s. wallerstein said...

I was wrong. Children in the U.S. are not given hormones: they are given puberty blockers, which are widely permitted in the U.S., but less so in Europe. Not much is known about their long-term effects.

I have a grandson who is non-binary. He's 21, gay, often wears a dress and high heels, but does not take any special drugs. That seems like a sensible option and one that should be promoted.

LFC said...

Clarification: By "know of" in my comment above, I meant in a personal context; obvs. I am aware of certain transgender politicians and celebrities and academics, etc.

T.J. said...

s. wallerstein is displaying some remarkable ignorance in this discussion.

It's not true that any female child who says they're a boy or any male child who says they're a girl is automatically put on puberty blockers or in any other way pushed to transition.

Frankly, he sounds like a conservative old man caught up in a moral panic due to his complete lack of any information about the topic.

It is, in fact, very difficult for young people to transition either socially or medically in the U.S. There are innumerable barriers, many more than good sense calls for.

Of course children are impressionable and of course they say all sorts of outlandish things. Of course we wouldn't immediately want to set any female child who says "I'm a boy" or any male child who says "I'm a girl" on the path to transition. It's a good thing we don't!

What's also true is that trans people (including children) face enormous backlash to their being trans, from being ridiculed to being misunderstood in the sort of fundamental ways s. wallerstein is exemplifying to being victims of violence and state persecution.

Furthermore, all of this abuse makes it incredibly taxing on one's mental health to be trans in the U.S. at the moment. People who aren't able to transition and who are subjected to this sort of abuse are much more likely to harm themselves or commit suicide.

It's great that s. wallerstein's non-binary grandchild has found a way to live their life happily, but to suggest that it should be "promoted" for others is absurd.

The issue of how to live best as a trans person is extremely complicated and individual cases vary incredibly. One person might be perfectly happy with merely socially transitioning while for another person that would be wholly unsuitable.

The complexity of the issue tells us that it's best left to individuals, their families, and their doctors. That is to say, to the people who are in the best position and have the necessary information to make these decisions. Society at large, the government, s. wallerstein, etc. can keep their noses out of it.

Marc Susselman said...

Timely and relevant advice from Dr. Sanjay Gupta about parenting in the age of social media and technology. Since the Moms of Liberty are in the business of telling other people how to raise their kids, they should be required to read Dr. Gupta’s advice and the advice in Prof. Twenge’s book, mentioned in the article.

Michael Llenos said...

What we need in society is for the government to finally reveal all that they know about Extraterrestrials & the dealings they have had with them over the years. I bet some 60% of the global population would give up their hate of LGBTQ+ people if the government would just educate people concerning E.T.'s. (Okay, maybe I wouldn't bet on it, but it would be society's first step towards real progressiveness & social clarity.) Again the Dark Ages! The closest I could ever get to a real spaceport today would be if I traveled to Disneyland or sat watching a Sci-fi show. Dark Ages! Plus, NASA's spaceports are just ugly looking V-2 pads that are bigger than V-2 pads & are uglier than V-2 pads. We're living in the crappy Dark Ages! And we're crapping in the crappy Dark Ages! We don't even have access to medical nanotechnology. Countless medical procedures, like the removal of a kidney stone, are still barbaric. We don't even have repulsor-lift technologies for hover boards or cars--which, I believe, would still be a cheap knockoff to real antigravity vehicles.

If the government divulged about E.T.'s to everyone, everyone would be able to benefit from an influx of their advanced technologies & their experience of civil gains. I crap you not.

Marc Susselman said...


You're joking, right? Please tell me you are joking.

s. wallerstein said...

Actually, we're all basically non binary.

A little bit masculine and a little bit feminine, a little bit straight and a little bit gay, a little bit conservative and a little bit liberal, a little bit whatever it says on your passport and a little bit cosmopolitan, a little bit Jewish (in my case) and a little bit not, a little bit intellectual and a little bit unthinking, etc.

Anyone who imagines that they have a fixed identity is deceiving themselves, we're a flux, we re-invent ourselves instant by instant and that's how the human mind works.

I have nothing against adults deciding to change their gender identity and more power to them, but I wonder how long that new identity will solve whatever deep existential problems plague them as they do all of us.

LFC said...

Just to say that I agree with T.J. @12:04 a.m. that these matters are complicated, that individual situations vary greatly, and that government should stay out of them.

R McD said...

T.J., I have some sympathy with your closing sentence, that “it’s best left to individuals, their families, and their doctors.” But surely that is too simple in several ways.

First, it assumes that there is harmony within families on these matters. (I’d cite the commentary on Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria as one indicator that an individual, especially a minor, might encounter considerable push-back from family members.) How are these internal family conflicts to be resolved except by appeals to the encompassing socio-political judicial arrangements?

Second, the genie is already out of the bottle. The issue has already been massively politicised—by both sides, in my opinion. And both sides, again in my opinion, can quite legitimately point to the harms done by their opponents. As with much of our politics today, “take no prisoners” seems to predominate.

But what’s this all got to do with what Professor Wollf invited us to talk about, I haven’t a clue.

Michael Llenos said...


Some may find my previous post as a social catharsis, & some may read the truths mentioned & applaud such a post.

One thing is certain. Popular Culture tends to infect & poison the minds of mankind to such a degree that if you don't say or act within the norm set that you're considered an automatic proverbial outcast.

Marc Susselman said...


So you weren’t joking?? You actually believe that the U.S. government has had interactions with Extraterrestrials and is concealing this information from the American public?

Mercy, mercy me.

Michael Llenos said...


Have you ever heard of Exoplanets or even looked at the moon & stars with a telescope at night? What do you think the following scripture in the Torah means?

GENESIS Chapter 6

1 And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them,

2 That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.

3 And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.

4 There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.

Marc Susselman said...


I am sure that I read this passage once or twice in the past, but even reading it today, I do not see any mention of extraterrestrials, or the U.S. government’s knowledge of them being concealed from the American public. And if you are referring to God as an extraterrestrial, the U.S. government is not concealing information about God from the American public. Indeed, thousands of devoutly religious Americans claim to have knowledge of God’s existence. And giants are not extraterrestrials. They are just big-boned humans. You are extrapolating from this passage something that just is not there.

s. wallerstein said...


The extraterrestrials exist, but they have no contact with the U.S. government because they reject both Republicans and Democrats.

I talk to them all the time. They are very courteous, generous, polyglots, big tippers, vegetarians or vegans, pacifists, the women very beautiful, but totally faithful to their mates and the men to the women too.

Marc Susselman said...

s. wallerstein,

How do you tell their genders apart?

Michael Llenos said...


"That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose."

That doesn't sound like alien abduction to you?

BTW, the USA is only mentioned once in the Bible, but only in the context of being symbolically mentioned. In Daniel 7:6, it reads:

"After this I beheld, and lo another, like a leopard, which had upon the back of it four wings of a fowl; the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it."

I explain some of the symbology behind the virtuous Third Beast in my kindle book: A Humanities Bible for the Undergraduate. I believe previous interpreters, like Isaac Newton, who said the Third Beast was a different nation, didn't know what they were saying.

Marc Susselman said...


OK, I get it. You are saying that the "sons of God" are not the same as the men who are fathers of the daughters of men. So the sons of God are extraterrestrials who had sexual intercourse with human daughters of men. I think this was the opening in Ridley Scott's Alien sequel, "Prometheus."

Michael Llenos said...


"All which they chose" sounds against a woman's will or that the women were powerless to refuse the Sons of God. Benjamin Franklin said himself that there are Gods in the Heavens that are beneath God but above Men.

John Rapko said...

I like pretty much everything that I've read by the philosopher Sophie Grace Chappell, and strongly recommend a reading of her memoir on living as a trans-gender person. She addresses '10 myths' about being trans, starting on page 95:

Marc Susselman said...

Just a cinematic correction. Although “Prometheus” was released 33 years after the first Alien movie, it is actually chronologically the first in the series, which is: Prometheus; Alien Covenant (the last released in the series, in which AI reaches its apogee – and hence the connection to the original post); Alien (the first released, which I had to watch with my hands covering my eyes); Aliens; Alien3; and Alien Resurrection. Just in case you wondered.

Michael Llenos said...

"The women very beautiful, but totally faithful to their mates and the men to the women too."

Roddenberry emphasized a planet called Risa "that everything ours is yours". In the TNG show Captain's Holiday, he wanted Stewart to be surrounded by mostly gays & lesbians having orgies right in front of him, but Paramount said no. I'm pretty sure Risa, if real, would be a great place to visit or even live on no matter what the sexual orientation of the person visiting. But being "totally faithful to their mate" might be difficult on such a planet as Risa. But maybe I'm wrong. However, Plato's Republic may have its closest sci-fi manifestation in the idea of the planet Risa.

aaall said...

"The issue has already been massively politicised—by both sides, in my opinion."

No, that's the lazy (and suicidal) way of looking at our present situation. One side seeks to gin up fear by scapegoating a very small group and leverage that fear into bigger things. T to LGB to ... to box cars.

M.L., the nearest exoplanet is Proxima b which is four light years away so travel an issue? Given that there are hundreds of billions of galaxies, each galaxy has many billions of stars, and the universe has been around at least ~15 billion years, it's likely there's all sorts of life out there. Question is given the distances, how do they find us in the time frame in which HS has existed and what are the odds of breeding compatibility? Anyway, if I was an extra-terrestrial capable of traversing time and space, why would I be interested in Neolithic humans? Yuck! Anyway, we know how we treated folks quite like us not that long ago. This is more likely:,vid:vjFG-4Ge668

BTW, the Nephilim have been dealt with:

F-16s, so yea!

R McD said...

al: It's not lazy! You are, as I perceive it, indulging in your usual dogmatic dismissal of possible complexity. The truth is known (by you, it seems) and everyone else had better accept that 'truth,' otherwise we're all doomed. Would you ever confess to being wrong, or harbouring doubts? I'm just so tired of that sort of thinking and behaving. Conversation is reduced to warfare.

aaall said...

R, the "both sides" meme, in the context of our current politics is almost always an evasion, at best motivated by an unwillingness to confront some very real unpleasantness. In the instant case we know that every culture has a very small number of folks who don't conform to majority notions around gender and sexuality. There's an extensive literature on how these cultures deal with that (e.g. Prof Leiter recently had a post on how this was dealt with by the Marsh Arabs). In context the current panic is ridiculous and is fed by folks with a broader agenda.

For my sins I regularly read folks on the right so I've watched these "trans", "CRT", and "woke" things grow from nothing based on a few apparatchiks beavering away until it caught on. Chris Rufo lied about CRT and bragged about it. I've watched the right do this since before "Keynes at Harvard" - check it out.

"Social contagion" with trans was all the rage on the right for awhile then:

If I'm wrong I'll learn and admit it but there's a history with the American Right and "both sides" is beside the point. You might check out Rick Perlstein's work for a start.

s. wallerstein said...

I'm far from an expert on the trans question, but I've seen people who have no rightwing agenda question what might be called "the politically correct" trans agenda.

One person is the British philosopher Kathleen Stock who had to resign her position because of political pressure from radical trans activists. Stock is a feminist and has left political positions as well as a lesbian who does not believe that trans women are really women.

Philosopher Daniel Kaufman has documented her case and in general expressed skepticism about the trans agenda in his blog Electric Agora, which unfortunately was destroyed by a virus.

Kaufman is a centrist moderate in his politics, very anti-Trump, identifies as a Democrat, etc.

In Youtube you find a number of interviews Kaufman has done with feminist women, none of them rightwing, who are skeptical, as is Kaufman himself, of the trans agenda.

So it's not all a far right plot manipulated from Mar a Lagos or from the Kremlin.

R McD said...

aaall, thank you for your more substantive response.

I acknowledge that there is much to be very dismayed about at our current political conjunctures—though I feel compelled to add that I view our present moment from a rather non-USA perspective, so I’m less moved by American domestic difficulties than I imagine you are. (It seems likely to me that we’d take quite different perspectives on its foreign difficulties too. But that’s another matter.) But while acknowledging that there is much to be dismayed about, and while acknowledging that there are those extremists who will pick on anything and seek to exploit it in the most manipulative way they can, I also want it acknowledged that there are often other dimensions to these debates that do not deserve to be dismissed as irrelevant or ill-motivated, that there are genuine points of concern that are worthy of serious consideration.

I am not, myself, all that caught up in the matter that presently seems to have put us at odds. But I do happen to be concerned with the way that matter has been politicised—in a rather ham-handed way, I think it’s fair to add—in Scotland, which is politically very far removed from the current American malignances. It has contributed in at least a small way to Scotland belatedly joining the rest of Great Britain in falling into a state far removed from civil war, into a state of considerable political decay where, aside from a hyper-energised few, even those opposed to each other seem to lack all energy and, worse, principle. (The reference John Rapko gave above was, by the way, to a piece written by someone who has seemingly spent our pandemic years in the Scottish city of Dundee, so I’m not the first to introduce a non-American voice here.)

I guess the point is that the matter is being discussed in many different places, as you say in your first paragraph and as your reference to Leiter’s report also signifies. But that being the case, I can’t understand why you then narrow the notion of how it may be discussed to your particularly UScentric one. (Even Leiter, by the way, has defended such people as Kathleen Stock, who was hounded from her position at an English university by people who surely regard themselves as “progressives,” perhaps even ‘leftists’? Looked at it parochially that would surely require Leiter to be criticised for giving aid to ‘the enemy’?)

There is a paper (take note Prof. W., a psychoanalytic paper) that makes, I think, a useful distinction between affirmation, acceptance, and neutrality, since these are attitudes that tend to come into conflict and becloud matters here:

Finally, as to Rick Perlstein, I read one of his books a few years back, and as memory serves, his description of his own research and writing processes makes me think he’d be a prime candidate to be replaced by some AI device. I don’t plan to read another of his.

LFC said...

I think it likely that the right-wing legislators in certain red states are uninterested in, and probably unaware of, the debates in the academy between gender-critical feminists like Stock and certain other feminists and activists who favor a pro-trans position (for lack of a better phrase).

There is little (not zero, but little) connection between these two matters. One is a debate in philosophical and other venues about how to define "woman", overlaid with disputes about free speech and de-platforming, plus some other issues about who shd be allowed in which "spaces." The other is an effort to inject the state into matters of how parents, children, and doctors make decisions, and to enact rules relating to sports etc. It is v. possible both to oppose the measures going through certain state legislatures in the U.S. and to defend the right of Stock and those who share her views to be heard. I am fairly certain that is Leiter's position. In short, I would suggest making some distinctions between different sorts of political and academic contests, and the different sorts of asserted rights that are at stake. (Btw I don't know what is going on in Scotland so can't comment on that.)

s. wallerstein said...


What you say is true, but several here have suggested that those who do not buy into the standard politically correct trans agenda are somehow allying themselves with ultra-rightwing Republicans.

I cited Kathleen Stock and Dan Kaufman merely to point out that there are non-Republican thinking people who are very skeptical of said agenda.

By the way, I myself have no position on the feminist polemic over who is "really" a woman because I'm not sure what it means to be "really" a woman.

Marc Susselman said...

The subject of trangenderism and gender transition, like any social phenomenon, is amenable to being viewed and discussed from a multitude of perspective. The youtube video I linked to which started this lengthy discussion was focusing on only one such perspective, and one which I referred to as humorous – the efforts of a group of mothers alarmed by the prospect of young people wanting to change their gender to the opposite gender, and their claim that this was being caused by social media, and Tik Tok in particular, and was becoming such a serious epidemic that if deserved their attention and governmental action. The narrator of the video criticized these Moms of Liberty for sensationalizing the matter and for butting their noses where they did not belong. How to deal with a child or teenager’s expression of dissatisfaction with their biological gender is a matter which should be left to that child/teenager and their parents and physicians, and no one else. LFC and I, and I suspect aaall, agree on this. Government has no business getting involved in these personal decisions. The many other perspectives and issues which relate to transgenderism and gender transition raised above, although important, are not relevant to this issue of individual liberty.

Let’s say, for example, that a teenager concludes that his/her biological gender is not their “real “ gender and wants to start the process of transitioning. Suppose the parents are opposed to this and refuse to allow the process to begin. Suppose the teenager’s physician concludes that the teenager’s belief that their biological gender is not their “real” gender is genuine, and that opposing the transition will cause the teenager extreme emotional pain, and perhaps result in the teenager committing suicide. Should government get involved, either on the side of the teenager or the side of the parents? The traditional view in American law is that parents have final say about a child’s rearing until the child reaches the age of majority, 18 in most states. The only context in which parents’ decisions have been deemed properly overridden by government is when parents have refused to provide a child with medical care, a blood transfusion, for example, which endangers the child’s life. Is refusing to allow a teenager under the age of 18 to being transitioning to a different gender comparable to not allowing the teenager to have a blood transfusion? Should a court appoint a guardian to assist the teenager who wishes to transition, against the parents’ preference. I do not believe so. What do others think?

LFC said...

My off the cuff answer is that I think a lot would depend on the specific facts, and I could envision particular situations in which a teenager and his/her parents might be so irreconcilably at odds that some kind of judicial intervention might be appropriate. But I would think that would be a last resort, perhaps only needed in situations where, e g., the parents' fundamentalist religious beliefs prevented them from reaching some kind of reasonable accommodation with the teenager. Again, that's an off the cuff answer, so I reserve the right to modify it.

Marc Susselman said...

In light of what I wrote above:

“Ideology brings about a disastrous fusion: that of violence and righteousness – a savagery without stain.” Martin Amis (1949-May 19, 2023)

Marc Susselman said...

Well, with much pain and grief, I have succeeded in reducing my brief from 19,000 words to 8,000 words. But a lot of my darlings lie bleeding on the cutting room floor.

Howard said...

It is absurd for grown men and women, and perhaps the Supreme Court, to argue over bathrooms-
I think this speaks to how uptight and self righteous many of us are.
I can't imagine a more absurd topic for philosophers to waste their brain cells on.
I mean, get a life

R McD said...

Since LFC always strikes me as a thoughtful person, even when I disagree with him, I offer the following so that he may learn more about Scotland. Needless to add, perhaps, since the issue is most contentious, it should not be taken to be the last word on the subject; he should have no difficulty finding critical responses to what I’m attaching.

The referenced paper should also allow the well-meaning M.S. to extend his presently too narrow,and therefore somewhat parodic, summary of one of those who has become a focus of the present controversy as it is being fought out in the UK. It may also encourage Howard to contemplate that the matter may extend quite some way beyond the trivial aspects he ridicules.

It may also be of interest to anyone interested in the subject of policy capture, since it is a case study of one such instance. It is, of course, well known that the phenomenon of policy capture is not restricted to Scotland or more broadly the UK, or even to the EU where it is rather a dominant mode of policy making.

PS. M.S. it isn't McDonald

LFC said...

R McD,

Thank you. I've downloaded the paper and will take a look.

Marc Susselman said...

R McD,

But that's how it is spelled above the Golden Arches down the street from me..

s. wallerstein said...

Great quote from Martin Amis!!

Of course "ideology" is one of those words like "terrorist". The other guy has an ideology; I have a philosophy. Similarly, the guys I root for are "freedom fighters", while the guys I'm opposed to are "terrorists".

The right speaks of "gender ideology" to refer to the feminists and the feminists see rightwing thought as "misogynist ideology".

Thus, almost all of us have an ideology from the other guy's point of view. Since World War 2 the ideology most of us have, liberal democracy with free markets, has competed with the ideologies of Soviet Communism, Islamic fundamentalism and now Russian nationalism for winning the atrocity Olympics. I don't know which one scores the gold medal.

R McD said...

It's neither McDonald nor Macdonald nor any other variant of that name. And the notorious corporation should be sued for cultural appropriation of the most vicious kind--they even sued a family store in Scotland bearing the family name on its building for infringing the notorious corporation's property rights, or some such (no legal technicalities, please).

Marc Susselman said...

OK R. McD, below is a list of the 94 names which begin with the letters “McD” in the United Kingdom, with the frequency of their occurrence.

Which one is yours? (I have selflessly shared the single known spelling of my surname.)

1. mcdonald (351052)
2. mcdaniel (100720)
3. mcdowell (70198)
4. mcdermott (64439)
5. mcdonnell (40910)
6. mcdonough (29749)
7. mcdougall (28251)
8. mcdonagh (16384)
9. mcdade (11126)
10. mcdevitt (10559)
11. mcduffie (10439)
12. mcdougal (9022)
13. mcdaniels (7833)
14. mcdowall (7124)
15. mcdaid (6588)
16. mcdavid (4225)
17. mcdonell (4154)
18. mcdermid (3749)
19. mcdougald (3695)
20. mcdiarmid (3333)
21. mcduff (3295)
22. mcdougle (2127)
23. mcdow (1916)
24. mcdole (1874)
25. mcdill (1509)
26. mcduffee (1346)
27. mcdorman (1262)
28. mcduffy (1184)
29. mcdivitt (1172)
30. mcdermot (910)
31. mcdanel (813)
32. mcdermitt (812)
33. mcdaris (803)
34. mcdavitt (761)
35. mcdonogh (583)
36. mcdermaid (498)
37. mcduffey (494)
38. mcdonnough (479)
39. mcdoniel (451)
40. mcdonnel (432)
41. mcdearmon (402)
42. mcdarby (396)
43. mcdannell (380)
44. mcdermed (375)
45. mcdonalds (372)
46. mcdannald (368)
47. mcday (352)
48. mcdermand (350)
49. mcdonaugh (349)
50. mcderment (338)
51. mcdavis (321)
52. mcdannold (299)
53. mcdaneld (290)
54. mcdannel (287)
55. mcdermit (285)
56. mcdyer (278)
57. mcdilda (271)
58. mcdonal (265)
59. mcdonel (258)
60. mcdanal (257)
61. mcdiffett (251)
62. mcdunn (241)
63. mcdoom (231)
64. mcdermond (223)
65. mcdowney (206)
66. mcdeavitt (201)
67. mcdugle (197)
68. mcdwyer (196)
69. mcdonie (180)
70. mcdurmon (180)
71. mcdonnold (166)
72. mcdonaldson (158)
73. mcdearman (148)
74. mcdowald (145)
75. mcdew (137)
76. mcdown (135)
77. mcdugald (131)
78. mcdowel (124)
79. mcdougale (109)
80. mcdiffitt (108)
81. mcdarment (101)
82. mcdermeit (101)
83. mcdanial (59)
84. mcdonna (58)
85. mcdell (43)
86. mcdiarmed (39)
87. mcdirmid (26)
88. mcdonals (23)
89. mcduck (15)
90. mcdonand (11)
91. mcdoual (5)
92. mcdarmid (4)
93. mcdermott-row (1)
94. mcdonald's (1)

aaall said...

"It is absurd for grown men and women.."

Not if it's a distraction and a path to power. There's always been a pony in ginning up totally bogus controversies over social issues. For a start there's always funding available from the plutocrat class that welcomes the distraction as well as the gullible marks whose undifferentiated anxiety make them easy to scare.

We now have laws that allow the state to ban books, jail teachers and librarians, and criminalize gender care. The Comstock laws are being resurrected. There are actual instances where some Karen has called the police because she misgendered a butch lesbian in a rest room. A teacher in Florida is being investigated for showing a Disney film.

Back in the day we had the Red/pink scare; now it's CRT, cancel culture, woke, and gender.

s.w., one of the main reasons the far right likes Putin is his takes on gay and gender. Yesterday was the annual remembrance of the Russian Empire's genocide in Circassia. The Federation is currently keeping that tradition alive. Thinking of the St. Louis, we can't go back in time and correct mistakes but we can atone. That seems a better choice than using the past to dither over present choices.

It's easy to both see Kissinger as a war criminal and Putin needing a trip to the Hague (or out of a window).

Mikey said...

GPTZero is a site that attempts to determine if an AI was used as part of a paper. It's specifically intended to help teachers.

Danny said...

Blogger s. wallerstein said...
'Of course "ideology" is one of those words like "terrorist". The other guy has an ideology; I have a philosophy. Similarly, the guys I root for are "freedom fighters", while the guys I'm opposed to are "terrorists".'

An intriguing shot. There are examples of things that have more positive and negative words for them -- something like 'cronyism' is even more negative, I suppose, than 'nepotism' and so forth, though speaking of 'connections' or 'family' might sound positively benign. But what about 'freedom fighters' and 'terrorists'? Perhaps, they're the same in that both terrorists and freedom fighters resort to violence and justify their actions in terms of ideological arguments. Thus, there are those who view "terrorist" and "freedom fighter" as interchangeable terms. They can argue that the definition of terrorism depends purely on a person's viewpoint. One might ask: How does one distinguish between a terrorist and a freedom fighter? I might admit that there is not always an unambiguous definition of a terrorist. Maybe terrorists can, in certain theoretical cases, be considered freedom fighters. I'm not sure that would accomplish some kind of cleansing of terrorism -- maybe it would do the opposite for freedom fighters. I remember reading that David Brin (sci-fi writer) essay insisting that Star Wars was fascism. He meant to convey that Star Wars is a 'bad thing', but he might have thought through whether he was only rehabilitating fascism..

'The right speaks of "gender ideology" to refer to the feminists and the feminists see rightwing thought as "misogynist ideology".'

Where do mysoginist incels fit into this scheme? ;)

I would say of somebody posting hate-filled diatribes on YouTube, that as far as I'm concerned, it is 'poorly understood', at least by me. My reaction to the term “gender ideology”, though, is to hestitate not at all on the assumption that it has no academic or theoretical basis, nor a clear and coherent definition.

Danny said...

s. wallerstein said...
'Philosopher Daniel Kaufman has documented her case and in general expressed skepticism about the trans agenda in his blog Electric Agora, which unfortunately was destroyed by a virus.'

I might prefer 'senior philosophy faculty' or something, as I snort at the notion of people calling themselves philosophers. Maybe introduce yourself to a room full of students as a philosopher, and they all take notes. It's kind of a flex, like claiming to have met Beyoncé. A larger point is that something like 'Anglo-American philosophy' is less of a punchline than simply 'American philosophy'. I picture how it sounds maybe in France or Germany. 'I'm a philosopher, like David Hume'. Also, like the smart people go into that field. Patrick Ewing and Derek Jeter are not philosophers, they're athletes. Daniel A. Kauffman is a philosopher, at Missouri State University, and he too, is outwardly stoic and taciturn. Homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum puto.

I found this assertion from Kaufman:
'As I argued in a recent piece I did for Philosophy Now, philosophy historically has had a significant literary dimension, and there is very little of that in the professional academic publishing in philosophy today.'

Philosphy now, can we agree, is tripe. Keep a straight face for 'the professional academic publishing in philosophy today'.

' I think that both philosophical fiction and the philosophical essay should be included in the professional, academic “research” that professors may do in order to earn tenure and promotion.'

I just want tenure and promotion with out earning it, but that's different.

Danny said...

s. wallerstein said...
'One person is the British philosopher Kathleen Stock who had to resign her position because of political pressure from radical trans activists. Stock is a feminist and has left political positions as well as a lesbian who does not believe that trans women are really women.'

Thus, more than 600 academics were signing an open letter that criticized Stock’s comments on trans and gender non-conforming people -- her “harmful rhetoric” reinforced “the patriarchal status quo” -- there was a “tendency to mistake transphobic fearmongering for valuable scholarship, and attacks on already marginalised people for courageous exercises of free speech”. Note, Stock has been criticised for being a trustee of the LGB Alliance. Note this lobby group's history, which some describe as a troubling, ugly history. This might include ts connections with neo-Nazis, homophobes, and anti-abortion organiaations in the US, as well as its claims that opposing same-sex marriage is “not homophobic”.

Danny said...

s. wallerstein said...
'I and others defended the argument (which comes from Adorno and my own observation) that clasical Hollywood movies defend the status quo, the capitalist system, the rat race, the buy-buy-buy consumer culture, the Amerikan way of life, while Marc insisted that they have redeeming artistic and social value.'

If we were to draw this as a Venn diagram, we would need to draw separate circles? ;)

Danny said...

I have this habit of writing Amerika or Amerikan with a k. Amerika is a decadent oppressor nation. Or I mean, I'm kidding. But, I recall learning about how Webster he was a revolutionary, who proved that the change of spellings is more political than being lazy. He replaced all the s’s from organise, legalise, socialise and other ise’s with z’s and ize’s respectively. He removed all the redundant l’s from travelled and cancelled. All the theatres became theaters, so on and so forth.

Danny said...

'Anyone who imagines that they have a fixed identity is deceiving themselves, we're a flux, we re-invent ourselves instant by instant and that's how the human mind works.'

Maybe you have a thought about how *reality* works, but grouping information into categories simplifies our complex world, that's how the *mind* works.

s. wallerstein said...


I realize that you like to mock people like me and that I probably seem like a pretentious
leftwing poseur to you and maybe I am.

However, your comments about Kathleen Stock show a lack of compassion and basic solidarity.

Stock was forced out of her job as a philosophy professor due to pressures from radical trans activists because among other affirmations she claimed that trans women are not "really" women. That's a complex philosophical issue, which I will let the feminists debate, but no one should lose their job because of that.

I really find it difficult to imagine that Stock as a lesbian and feminist activist would be involved with a homophobic group that is against same sex marriage, as you claim.

Here is Leiter pointing out that the open letter against Stock is full of mistakes and misleading innuendos.

David Zimmerman said...

The LPG Alliance is a gay and lesbian support group that has defended the idea of "safe spaces" for lesbians, free of people with penises, even if they "identify" as women. This has made the Alliance the target of trans activists in England, who insist that self-identification makes it so when it come to gender identity. Kathleen Stock is on the board of the Alliance.

The Alliance is certainly not opposed to gay marriage. Why in the world would they be?