Thursday, 29 November 2007

Montesquieu, Tocqueville, Foucault

Foucault's work from Society Must be Defended onwards needs to be understood in relation to Montesquieu and Tocqueville. We could even read Foucault as the third figure in a French liberal triumvirate spanning three centuries. This reading may have some problems attached to it, but no more than the other readings of Foucault around and less than most. Foucault's reputation has been taken over by Post-Marxist/ Post-Modernist/Post-Structuralist leftists for whom liberalism is a dirty word. However, Society Must be Defended coincides with a liberal revival in France which includes a Tocqueville revival. It uses the terms and references of the two great French liberals (and republicans). It's concerned with the kind of liberty that can exist under different kinds of regime. It's concerned with the limitation of society in relation to the state. It uses Montesquieu to establish the evolution of the French state, bureaucracy and aristocracy in the Eighteenth Century. The understanding of the relation between the Ancien Regime and the French Revolution follows the analysis of Tocquville's book of that name. Foucault refers to majoritarian and demagogic aspects of the emergence of left wing and democratic politics, very much in line with Tocqueville's understanding of the possible dangers of democracy.

The reading of Foucault's later work will be very incomplete until it is thoroughly understood and discussed in the terms of his two French predecessors in social and political thought devoted to liberty.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Social Constructivism in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

In 'Life Serial' (season 6, episode 5) Buffy suffers a series of mishaps which the episode strongly hints should be interpreted as examples of social constructivism.

'Social Constructivism' is explained in a sociology class at UC Sunnydale. Buffy is auditing with Willow and Tara while deciding how to plan her life. A charismatic teacher, Mike, gets the clads to participate in a fast moving question and answer session in which he asks class members to explain how reality is socially constructed. Willow herself has clearly gasped the issue and makes a good intervention.

The points that emerge in class include: reality is not independent of our point of view, there are multiple social realities, reality is not neutral.

These kind of points tend to get philosophers working metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of science steamed up about the alleged threat to truth, reality, knowledge and all that is good and decent. Maybe they should relax a bit and think about how the points made by constructivists can be taken up. I'm taking Buffy as a paradigm.

What happens in the episode to illustrate constructivism?

Buffy is seeking a life plan. Three very adolescent young men, who are absurdly obsessed with super hero and science fiction popular culture, are plotting to take over Sunnydale and are trying to track and weaken Buffy. The Trio are clearly a parody of Joss Whedon and the other writers on Buffy, this is confirmed on the DVD commentaries.

The trio find three ways to disrupt Buffy's life and monitor her reactions.

1. Buffy is auditing at college. Warren puts a micro transmitter on Buffy which speeds up her perception time. Time rushes past, punctuated by short episodes of normal time. At first Buffy thinks she is passing, which the audience can take as the naturalistic explanation of what happens. She is stressed in general and is stressed by her return to college. Because of this her perception of time changes.

2. Buffy starts working at Xander's building site. The construction workers are bemused and hostile when they meet this small thin girl, but her super hero strength enable her to do the heavy lifting. Her work is interrupted by the Trio. Andrew calls up demons who attack the male workers. Buffy fights them off and kills them. The workers deny seeing the demons and perceive what has happened as Buffy freaking out, it must be 'her time of the month'. Their response is crass but again gives the naturalistic reading, Buffy is unstable and violent because of the stross of being a Slayer.

3. Buffy starts working at the Magic Box co-owned by her Watcher (trainer and mentor) Giles and by fellow Scooby (demon fighter) Anya. The Trio is monitoring the Magic Box through a camera, significantly hidden in a skull. Jonathan uses magic to create a time loop, that can only be broken by satisfying a customer with a difficult request. The customer wants a live Mummy's Hand, but the hand is aggressive and dangerous. Either she gets a deadly hand or she gets a dead hand. Time keeps looping as Buffy realises, and she becomes more and more frustrated. She does eventually fşind the solution, but has a disagreement with Anya and hands back her staff badge. The naturalistic explanation is that Buffy is unbearably bored by retail.

All these misadventures put Buffy in situations where she is not the hero-Slayer-leader. At university Tara and Willow are more in command. At the building site, Xander is the boss not the loyal friend. At the shop, Buffy is the badly treated employee of Anya who is often inclined towards rudeness.

These misadventures leads to Buffy spending an evening with Spike, the semi-reformed vampire who is in love with her. She drinks more whiskey than she can handle and Spike wastes her time taking her to a demon poker game when she asks for his help. That aspect of the episode continues the theme that Buffy is alienated from her friends and from her younger sister Dawn. Spike's evil past and shadowy life make him more able to understand her alienated tendencies resulting from the burden of her mission as a the Slayer, constantly dealing with evil and death (think of that skull in the Magic Box).

Buffy's shifting sense of reality, could be seen as episodes of alienation from reality, rather than shifts of reality itself. However, reality is our sense of reality. The three incidents or reality shift deal with the following
1. Subjective experience is variable
2. Stress can lead to extreme shifts in the sense of reality, to the point where the supernatural becomes real.
3. The alienated experience of the supernatural is also a form of hyper reality, where the experience of some aspect of reality becomes extreme: the passing of time becomes an incomprehensible rush; the boredom of waiting for moments to pass becomes a repeating loop in time; anger with boorish male colleagues resting on restrained violence becomes a violent struggle with demons.

In one way the episode undermines social constructivism, because it makes a distinction between normal reality and alienated experience. However, it also suggests that the sense of reality is extremely variable according to mood, and that fantasy is a way of bringing attention to aspects of reality. The social constructivism is more moderate than Mike suggests. There are different realities according to relations with other people, as Mike suggests, but the variations in Buffy's experience are more about her subjective sense of reality and the changing social context rather than in turning reality into something that is constructed.

Aristotle, Hume,Kant and Nietzsche on Ethics

Teaching Ethics
I've been teaching Aristotle and Hume (along with Plato, Kant and Kierkegaard) in an Ethics course for non-philosophers at the technical university where I work. Usually I like to teach Nietzsche when teaching Ethics, and reflecting common practice at present, the Genealogy of Morality. Usually I use the Walter Kaufmann edition, but I have also used the Maudmarie Clark and Alan J. Swensen edition. This semester I've give Nietzsche a rest, largely because as my students are not philosophy students they are more likely to pick up on the 'Nietzsche was a Nazi' myth. They are very good science students, but they lack a context to distinguish unreliable rumours in philosophy from genuine interpretation. I'm sure I'll go back to Nietzsche again in a course where I'll think of the best possible way of dispelling the infamous myth, but I'm having a break to get perspective at present.

Aristotle and Nietzsche
In teaching these philosophers I am certainly thinking about Nietzsche at all times (so it's not really cheating on Nietzsche). One thing I'm concerned about is the assimiliation of Nietzsche to Aristotelian Virtue Theory. It's a productive exercise t put Nietzsche in the context of Aristotle and Neo-Aristotelian virtue theory, but the differences are important. There is a bestowing virtue in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, but it is egotism. It is true that Aristotle's virtue is egotistical in some way. As with other Antique thinkers, he's concerned with the health of the soul, rather than assuming a burden of moral obligation. But, the Aristotelian Virtue is learned over time and becomes habitual in cognitive process with feed back as immediate knowledge of a principle becomes habitual knowledge of how to follow a principle in practice. But in Nietzsche virtue is the expression of a self which does not accept external legislation. It may be tempting to think of Nietzsche's 'Overman' in terms of the 'Magnanimous' or 'Great Souled Man' in Aristotle. However, the Great Soul man is understood through the mean between excess and lack of virtue in Aristotle. Aristotle prefers the excess of virtue over the lack, so this does lead to some Nietzschean looking thoughts on the virtues of giving and heroism. The Nietzschean Overman experiences great tensions between great conflicting forces and has to be strong enough to integrate them. The Great Souled man follows prudent habits in which we have a set of consistent virtues, which connect with no problem. Nietzsche's ethics must be understood in terms of self-invention, inner conflict and a spontaneous giving from bursting inner strength; together with a strong distinction between inner life and civic life.

Hume and Nietzsche
There are readings of Nietzsche which make him look like Hume based of the claims that both Hume and Nietzsche are: determinists with regard to the will; have a naturalistic view of philosophy and mental contents; follow a empirical-scientific model for philosophy. I doubt that Nietzsche read much Hume, his reading of the history of philosophy was patchy. He knew the Greek and Roman texts very well, and had only seriously read later philosophers in an intermittent way. This is used as argument against reading him in the context of Kant and German Idealism , but strangely not Hume. I suggest that his idea of Hume, as part of a group British psychologists, largely derives from his friend Paul Rée. The empirical-scientific model in Hume is very subjectivist-empirical undermining the objectivity of science, but that seems to be overlooke din the Humean Nietzsche readings. Nietzsche did not abandon an earlier 'aesthetic' view for a later 'scientific view', as he sees continuity between science and art. Hume's ethics of minimising pain and increasing pleasure is reactive by Nietzsche's standards; Nietzsche's ethic is one of a strength which can absorb pain and which creates without regard to a calculus of pain and pleasure; the creative uses and increases pain to increase. It seems to me Nietzsche does have a form of libertarianism with regard to the will, based on the indeterminism of nature; and one might argue Hume shuld have done the same if he had been consistent about the invented nature of causality.

Nietzsche, Kant and German Idealism
This whole topic has fallen into undeserved oblivion. It's true that Nietzsche is against the Idealist view of a strong homology between mind and nature. It's may also be true that Nietzsche's main understanding of Kant was through Schopenhauer's reading, and that he had not read much German Idealism. With Nietzsche though, it is important to realise his talent for strategic reading, on the basis of limited knowledge he was able to grasp the significance of Kant and Hegel for his own ideas, and the conflcits he was interested in. The section on duties to oneself in Kant's Metaphysics of Morals, refers to the human as the individual who commands and obeys the self. This is a very Nietzschean thought, the human strength which grows from inner conflict. The Kantian self legislates from a subjective point of view, it's good for Nietzsche, though the universality of reason is not so good for him.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Asquith vs Lloyd George. Who is the real Liberal Hero?

Party Politics and Historical Debate
This post is inspired by a cross over between party political debate and historical debate. Recently the British Liberal Democrats have debated who the greatest British liberal was, and that discussion has been revised on the Liberal Democrat blog space by a debate in Liberal Democrat Voice, which I access via the LibDemBlogs aggregate about heroes selected by the two current contenders for leadership of the Liberal Democrats. J.S. Mill was a worthy overall winner, regrettably David Lloyd George made it onto the final short list, and H.H. Asquith did not. This is in part a riposte.

Huhne's as new Lloyd George; Nick Clegg as new Asquith?
One contender, Chris Huhne, has identified David Loyd George as his liberal hero. I do not want to deal with the current leadership issue here, I have already given strong support to Clegg in three earlier posts about this election and a post last year hoping for a Clegg leadership to arise. I will comment on LG (as David Lloyd George is often known) and the other main figure in British Liberal politics of that time, H.H. Asquith. However, I see Clegg as very Asquith like, and Huhne as very LG like. Since Huhne has identified LG as his model, this may not be completely fanciful.

The Rise of Asquith and LG
LG rose to prominence as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1908, replacing Asquith who had himself just replaced Henry Campbell Bannerman as Prime Minister. LG was brought up in a small town Wales in a lower middle class background, Asquith was from a more upper class family, studied Classics at Christchurch College Oxford. This was the college of the British political élite at that time. Asquith went on to be a successful lawyer of great intellectual distinction and then a politician. As a politician he continue to have the reputation of intellectual distinction. His views were inclined towards a moderate shift of the Liberal party into 'constructive liberalism', that is liberalism concerned with social goals as opposed to the liberalism of the main figure of Nineteenth liberalism, William Ewart Gladstone, who thought poverty should be dealt with by charity (and he was a very generous donor himself). Constructive liberalism kept Gladstone's commitments to free trade and a government policy oriented to general principles of government rather than sectional interest, but thought the state should intervene socially and economically to prevent poverty. Asquith was a moderate supporter of the British Empire and had no interest in grandiose imperial ideology, and certainly did not think the Empire should interfere with free trade.

L.G. was not completely committed to the Liberal party in several parts of his career. In an early stage, he leaned towards Welsh nationalism. Later on, in the internal currents of the Nineteenth Century Liberal Party, LG was a supporter of Joseph Chamberlain at the time Chamberlain was considered to represent Radicals in the Liberal Party. The 'Radical' label shifted in reference over time. At that point it meant a mixture of constitutional and social reform. Chamberlain was a Radical interested in state led social reforms. Later he moved towards 'Social Imperialism (imperialism, protectionism and social measures), and defected to the Conservative Party. LG did not follow Chamberlain into the Conservative Party at that time, but later was interested in Liberal-Conservative fusion.

Asquith and LG in Government
LG and Asquith benefitted from the collapse of a Conservative Government in 1905, a minority liberal government was followed by a Liberal landslide in the 1906 General Election. The Conservative Party was at that time split over free trade, leading to a promising young Conservative politician defecting to the Liberal Party, Winston Churchill. Churchill and LG were closely associated until Churchill returned to the Conservatives. Like the early enthusiasm for Chamberlain, it shows LG as someone always drawn to people who were not deep liberals themselves.

LG the Radical Hero of 1909
Asquith succeeded Prime Minister in 1908 with LG as his Chancellor. LG's time as Chancellor established him as a Radical hero. This largely came out of the People's Budget of 1909 which proposed redistributive taxation and land value taxation to finance social measures. It was fiercely opposed by the aristocratic interest in the House of Lords, leading to two general elections and the threat of flooding the House with new peers before the Lords backed down. Land value taxation was not implemented but remained an enthusiasm for one current with Britsh liberalism until the present day. At its most modest land value taxation is a way of raising revenue through a tax on the value of land, that may also have the result of leading land owners to make use of land by investing in developing it, or selling it someone who wants toı develop it. For real enthusiasts, this is a whole basis of government referring to the Mutualist philosophy of Henry George, which will end class society and the economic cycle. LG is a heroic symbols for the LV enthusiasts, but LG himself abandoned it as a post-war Prime Minister.

LG and Liberal-Conservative Fusion
At the same time as LG was becoming the Radical hero he was contemplating merging the Liberals with the Conservatives, on a program of anti-socialism, social reform and armament for a possible war. He was greatly taken with a juggernaut political force wielding a huge state power nationally and internationally. Such a huge block devoted to keeping the then emergent Labour Party out of power could not have been healthy for a genuine parliamentary democracy. Though LG was a talented parliamentarian, he had an attraction to forms of hegemonic power which would have made the parliamentary arena marginal. LG was a consistent social reformist and also a consistent enthusiast for the strong state internally and externally. Asquith's views were developed from a clear basis in Gladstonian liberalism, and even his non-Gladstonian 'Constructive' liberalism has something in common with Gladstone's pragmatic measures to ameliorate social conditions, most obviously in the case of reform to ırish tenancy laws. Some continuity with Gladstone is clear in comparison with LG's enthusiasm for the state and creating a crushingly hegemonic political force. LG's basic ideas seem better defined as Progressive Statism than as liberalism. LG's ideal was a dominating leader in charge of a hegemonic party able to introduce polices to improve social welfare through statist means, and building up a strong state machine for imperial and military purposes.

LG and American Progressivism
Comparisons with Theodore Roosevelt in the United States seem apt, and maybe we should bring in Woodrow Wilson as well. Both were part of the Progressive current in early Twentieth Century America which favoured social improvement through strengthened federal government and foreign intervention, though Wilson was more pacific in principle. Roosevelt was a Republican and Wilson was a Democrat, but party distinctions are very fluid in America and the President is much more distinct from the party in comparison with the relation in Europe between the head of government and the party behind that person.

LG becomes Wartime Prime Minister
The First World War led to LG becoming Prime Minister as Asquith lost credibility as war leader by 1916. LG, along with Churchill, is given great credit for improvements in the war effort against resistance from the General Staff. Possibly some of this is exaggerated, and possibly earlier supposed failures of Asquith and the General Staff have been exaggerated, but no one can take away a large part of the credit for leading Britain to a victorious conclusion in the war. Unfortunately LG's contribution to British liberalism at this time is less creditable.

LG and Peacetime Caeserism
LG was determined to be Liberal leader, though this was perhaps more a
desire to have a party to lead than to be a liberal leader. Asquith was not willing to create a vacancy and LG was not strong enough in the Liberal Party to force him out. For LG the solution was obvious, he created an electoral alliance between his supporters ,in Parliament and the Conservative Party. This swept to power and enable LG to keep up a war time style of government dominated by big figures in an inner cabinet, more of the attraction of power with LG as a Caeser like figure dominating everything through his personalised power. LG wanted to turn this into a Centre Party, which would crush the now weak and weakening Liberal Party and the Labour Party which was taking over former Liberal territory. Perhaps fortunately for pluralist politics and British parliamentarianism most Conservative MPs did not see any reason to accept the continuing leadership of someone whose real base was one half of a declining Liberal Party. LG dropped Land Value taxation during this period, one of the sources of his legend. LG's weak political base led him to raise political funds by the sale of state honours, though the dirty work was done not by him but the criminal Maundy Gregory. LG was dumped in 1922, the immediate cause was the presence of British troops in Turkey.

LG, Atatürk and Venizelos
LG's grandiose imagination and fascination with power play led him to support the ill conceived Greek invasion of Izmir and western Anatolia in 1919. The forces of the Turkish National Assembly under Mustafa Kemal Paşa (later Kemal Atatürk) defeated the Greeks, all other occupying forces, the Sultan's government in Istanbul, and the whole Sevres Treaty partition of the Ottoman heartlands which now comprise Turkey. LG had been infatuated with Eletherio Venizelos, the Liberal Greek Prime Minister and his desire to revive Greek dominance in a large part of the Byzantine, Alexandrian and Ancient Greek sphere. LG praised Venizelos as a new Pericles (the most distinguished leader of Ancient Athenian democracy). Venizelos was an admirable reformer and democrat but his grandiose Hellenism and misconceived invasion undermined Greek democracy. Venizelos was later gracious enough to nominate Atatürk for the Nobel Peace Prize, and LG himself referred to Atatürk as a genius. In some ways LG was always trying to be an Atatürk figure, the Caeserist leader of a hegemonic statist progressivist force. The difference is that such a thing was more appropriate to early Republican Turkey, where Atatürk was trying to build new secular modernist state system in an illiterate imam dominated peasant country, out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. Britain's Parliament was in its seventh century of existence, and had been the dominant element in the political system since 1688. The country was literate, urbanised, religiously moderate and had a deeply rooted party system and a strong tradition of private assocations, and a developed market economy. Not the conditions for a Caeser.

LG went back to a unified Liberal Party and was able to become leader after Asquith's death. He showed his creative and radical side by becoming an early adherent of the economics of Keynes, they wrote a Yellow Book of liberal economic policy together which resisted a return to the Gold standard for Sterling and advocated state intervention to relieve economic recession. None of this could prevent the continuing decline of the Liberal Party, which LG had set the scene for by splitting the party. The decline was only reversed in the 1950s and it is only recently that the Liberal Democrats have returned liberal parliamentary representation to the level of the 1920s.

LG: Statist, Hegemonist, and Caeserist
LG was a great reformer and leader. He was also a Caeserist in political practice, a hegemonist in his attitude to the party system, and a statist progressivist in ideology rather than a liberal believer in individualism and a limited defined role for the state. LG was more lower class in origin than Asquith, but was much more able to accommodate himself to the party of the upper classes. Early on he admired Chamberlain, the defector to the Conservatives and later he was an associate of Churchill, a Conservative for most of his life. Churchill's mix of social reformism and imperialism, and identification with a strong British state always willing to impose itself by force all seem close to LG.

Asquith: Liberal Loyalty and Principles
Asquith could never have joined the Conservatives, he was a liberal in principles and could only be at home in a liberal political culture, more universalist and individualist than the conservative culture of privileged leaders and special interests in the state and the economy. The conservative political culture certainly never accepted Asquith. It denied him the last role he hoped for, as Chancellor of Oxford University. At Oxford Asquith was a distinguished classics student, he want on to be a distinguished lawyer and then a significant Prime Minister. Nevertheless conservative graduates, particularly clergy could not stand the idea of him as Chancellor and voted him down.

Asquith was always a cabinet Prime Minister, in a full cabinet. He relied on reason and while his speeches may not have been as exciting as LG's they were considered great examples of intellectual construction. He was often under the influence of alcohol in parliament but never failed as a speaker, and never became a strong man bypassing Parliament. There was a lot of the patrician about Asquith, but he never needed to be part of the Conservative establishment and was happier in a party that wanted to constrain and limit institutions and centres of power, not absorb them into a hegemonic party-state system under a strong leader. Asquith never got into the moral catastrophe LG did with regard to sale of political honours, Asquith understood there are moral constraints on the pursuit of power. Asquith was not perfect of course. Sadly he opposed Women's Suffrage before the First World War, which LG did support, and private papers show he could be express himself offensively about those from other ethnic backgrounds. However, there were few who would seem good to us now from that point of view at the time; and certainly attempts to label Asquith as anti-Semitic must be balanced with the large role Jews played in the Liberal Party, sometimes as Asquith's colleagues. LG certainly thought military action to maintain the implicitly racist system of empire was justifiable.

If we look for absolute correctness, we will condemn all the past leaders. In a balanced assessment Asquith emerges as the model British Liberal leader after Gladstone and a Prime Minister of great distinction presiding over a government which reaffirmed free trade, sought a rule governed international order and pursued a major program of social reform, accompanied by major constitutional reform and a decisive defeat of entrenched privilege in the House of Lords.

Positive and Negative Moments in Kierkegaard

In Ecce Homo, Nietzsche divides his work between the yes-saying and the no-saying, between creation and critique. The yes-saying includes The Gay Science and Thıs Spoke Zarathustra. The no-saying includes Beyond Good and Evil and On the Genealogy of Morality. The recent extreme emphasis on the Genealogy in recent Nietzsche commentary, productive as it has been, is neglecting what place Nietzsche gave to the Genealogy.

Maybe the no-saying and yes-saying applies to Kierkegaard's texts. The no-saying would include the 'pseudonymous aesthetic' texts (Fear and Trembing, Either/Or etc) and at least one signed text, Concept of Anxiety. The yes-saying would be the signed 'religious' texts: Works of Love, Upbuilding Discourses, Without Authority etc. The no-saying texts work though what Kierkegaard rejects, and present the beginning of another perspective. The yes-saying texts give us the exposition of Kierkegaard's values in particular love. There is no need to classify these texts as just 'religious'. They depend on the range of worlds and moods dealt with in the earlier texts. The two groups exist together though not as homogeneous.

Repetition in Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard Commentary
Repetition does not feature much in Kierkegaard commentary. However, it is rather important. There is a book called Repetition and it features heavily in Concluding Unscientific Postscript. This lack of discussion reflects a failure for Kierkegaard commentary to develop properly. This certainly not a comment on the competence of individual commentators, but it is a comment on a tendency to put him in an over restricting framework, where concepts are applied to Kierkegaard without enough attention to how Kierkegaard's thought might challenge those concepts . Over time this has given us: Existentialist Kierkegaard, Postmodern Kierkegaard, Deconstructive Kierkegaard, Literary Kierkegaard, Fideist theological Kierkegaard, Neo-Aristotelian Virtue Theory Kierkegaard.

Repetition and Recollection
A brief consideration of 'Repetition' will hopefully make some small contribution to grasping Kierkegaard himself. 'Repetition' is established in opposition to 'Recollection'. Recollection is presented with reference to Plato's Theory of Recollection from the Meno and the Republic. That is the theory that perceptions of the forms of things are present in our memory, so that knowledge in its fullest sense comes from recollection of those forms.

Metaphysics and Psychology
Kierkegaard suggest that his is a move at the heart of metaphysics. We can think here of Kierkegaard giving a psychological theory for the origin of Platonism and of metaphysics in general, paralleling his explicitly psychological account of Anxiety as essential to free will.

An Alternative to Anxiety and Melancholia
Recollection is a backwards move in which we establish the continuity of the self through orientating our state now to past states. It represents a subordination of subjectivity to objectivity, and a subordination of 'living' to abstraction. Recollection is a backward Repetition. Repetition is a forward recollection in which we live forward, actively repeating the past in order to establish the continuity of self. In this understanding, knowledge emerges from subjectivity instead of an impossible attempt of subjectivity to subordinate itself to objectivity. The relation between subjectivity and objectivity is irreducibly paradoxical for Kierkegaard, but the paradox must be approached from subjectivity because that is our irreducible starting point. Repetition is against the metaphysics which subordinates time to atemporal forms, and tries to crush subjectivity under atemporality. Subjectivity is temporal and time moves in a direction, from past to future. That direction enables Repetition in which past moments are seized in the present in a new context. Repetition is the condition of happiness, so it it provide a structural psychological alternative to his discussions of Anxiety and Melancholia.

Kierkegaard at the Main Event in British Philosophy
Fortunately Kierkegaard will be the subject of a plenary Session of the Joint Society of the Aristotelian Society and the Mind Association, in Aberdeen in July 2008. John Lippett and Michelle Kosch will speak. Given the under developed nature of Kierkegaard commentary
the organisers have made an interesting choice. The Joint Session is the big event of the philosophical year in Britain. Kosch and Lippett have a chance to make a difference to the interest in and understnad of Kierkegaard, I hope they use the chance to the full.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Foucault and Derrida. Antique Ethical and Political Concepts

Foucault and Derrida
Something I'm working on at present is the discussion of antique ethical and political concepts in Foucault and Derrida. Both published work focusing on this in 1984. In Derrida's case in Politics of Friendship; in Foucault's case the 2nd and 3rd volumes of History of Sexuality: The Uses of Pleasure and The Care of the Self.

Republicanism and Individualism: Ancient and Modern Liberty
In both cases, there is a turn towards what is known as Republicanism, the political approach according to which citizenship and participation in politics are good in themselves. There is a well established historical narrative that has been discussed going back to the Eighteenth Century according to which the Antique world understood liberty as independence of the nation and the absence of a single all powerful ruler, in which everyday life is very tied up with public rituals and the duties of citizenships, and in which liberty means participation. In this narrative liberty in the modern world is understood as individual freedom from outside interference, the limitation of the public sphere, the right of the individual to be indifferent to public affairs, and in which liberty means individual freedom from constraint. This narrative maybe goes back to Hobbes in the Seventeenth Century, it certainly appears in Montesqueiue, Rousseau, Hegel, Constant, Wilhelm von Humboldt and Tocqueville. Kierkegaard refers to it in his discussion ancient and modern tragedy.

Foucault and Derrida do not challenge this narrative, but they do very effectively show the ways in which individuality appears in the antique world and the ways in which the unity of individuality and public citizenship becomes fractured.

Foucault on Sexuality
Foucault looks at the ways that the capacity to be a citizen is defined in terms of sexuality. The person capable of citizenship has sexual relations with social inferiors, young women or men. This indicates the way that antique citizenship is based on mastery of slaves, or at the very least not belonging to a slave class. capacity for citizenship was also understood in terms of control of the passions in self-mastery. The emphasis both on sexuality as mastery and limitation of sexuality is paradoxical. The paradox becomes greater in antique history as the merit of chastity is more and more recommended for the health of the soul. Foucault clearly has a particular regard for the period proceeding the greater emphasis on chastity. In the earlier period he sees creation of the self, individual freedom, through the emphasis on maximising pleasure.

Derrida on Friendship
Derrida picks up on the role of friendship mostly with reference to Aristotle. Aristotle's typology of the main kinds of friendship are generally well known as part of his ethics. Derrida picks up on the political significance with regard to democracy. Democracy presumes friendship between citizens. Aristotle's discussion refers to friendship in political terms, the ruler should be the friend of the ruled. Derrida points out political consequences of Aristotle's views. Aristotle thought that friendship must be selective, if I have too many friends the idea of friendship is extremely weakened because the available energy is split between too many people. Derrida suggests that logically Aristotle is bound to find that a man's friend can only be himself or a god. Friendship requires death, because I can only test someone's friendship completely by testing their reaction to my death. Since democracy is defined as friendship, the politics of friendship is conditioned by the paradoxes of friendship. Democracy must become oligarchic because it rests on selection of friends. The friend is is defined by relation to the enemy, as Carl Schitt suggested. None of this can eliminate the problems of friendship,. Democracy has to become, it is 'yet', a 'to come'.

Why Buffy Matters: Entropy and Life, History and the Moment

In Joss Whedon's TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy stand for life and the moment. Her 'watcher' (the Englishman Rupert Giles who trains her and is a general mentor figure) tells Buffy's mother (Joyce Summers) that Buffy is not good at history because she lives in the now and history is very much in the then.

When she is practicing for the SATS exam (general school examination of aptitude in the US, providing an opportunity for those who don't get grades to show what they have got), one of the answers Giles reads out to her refers to the second law of thermodynamics. This law refers to energy moving from hot gases to cold, and its more generalised conclusions include the claim that energy keeps reducing in a system. This is why there could never be a perpetual motion machine. In general the universe is losing energy and keeps cooling down. that loss of energy is also a collapse of the system into chaos. Chaos is what Buffy, Giles and all the good characters are fighting. Demons are strongly associated with chaos. Giles tells his former friend Ethan Rayne, that they stopped being friends when Ethan started woshipping chaos.

At the end of Season Three when her vampire lover with a soul, Angel, is dying she tells the pompous watcher Wes, that she does not know what he is talking about when he refers to the ancient laws that stop the Council of watchers from helping to cure Angel. She just knows her lover is dying. History and laws are foreign to her, she lives according to the passions of the present.

Buffy comes back to life from death twice, at the end of season one and at the beginning of season six.

As life, as the person who lives in the moment, Buffy is also a chaotic force. The struggle with chaos, what Freud called the death principle, what physicists call entropy, is what Buffy fights and is what she longs for. As the vampire Spike explains to her in season 5, she is drawn to death and experiencing the moment of death. A slayer guide explains to her that 'Your gift is death'. Buffy longs to entropy at that time, she with draws from her friend into herself , and dies a euphoric death to save the world from demon dimensions.

Buffy is chaotic in a positive sense, she resists and questions authority. This means introducing entropy into hierarchical ordered system. As the bad colonel points out to her boyfriend Riley, his resistance make him an anarchist.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Why you HAVE to switch to a Firefox Browser

I've been using a Firefox browser for a few years now. For those who don't know it is open access software and can be downloaded for free on a button on the right hand column of this blog. It downloads quickly and simply and does not use many bytes. I have always been very happy with the aesthetics and the flexibility, including the choice of many styles.

However, I used to find that Firefox was not working properly for a few sites which Microsoft's Explorer browser can handle. Most annoyingly I used to find that I could not download stuff onto my university website (a link to that can also be found on the right hand column of this blog) with Firefox.

Today I found that Explorer stopped working for the administration site, it mysteriously stopped accepting the user name and password. I switched to Firefox, I accessed the administration page quickly and easily and was able to do everything easily and quickly, much more so than I ever could with Explorer. Obviously it keeps improving.


Thursday, 22 November 2007

Why do Young People Think Morality is Private?

As far as I know this is a phenomenon going back to the the 1960s when student demonstrations might feature slogans about the privacy of morality. This week when teaching Hume in an ethics class, I was inevitably faced with a student who believed that morality is just a matter of individual choice. I can give a political example from British Liberal Democrat politics. That leaves the question of how far the same thing turns up in other political traditions, I can only guess that it does in some form. The Liberal Democrat Youth and Students wing in Britain did mention this privacy of morality in a motion to the party conference once. I've occasionally had frustrating conversations in the past with people who think that morality is just asserting an opinion and that there is nothing to discuss. If that were true there would be no moral philosophy. That attitude did appear in academic philosophy for a period in the 20th Century when it was though that Moral Philosophy could only refer to subjective opinion in substance and language or logic in form. That partly rested on a one sided reading of Hume. There is something else there. One aspect of this is a clearly a confusion between issues of right to privacy and issues of morality. This confusion may arise from conservatives who want to interfere in privacy with regard to consenting adult sexual relations and consuming drugs. But there also seems to be a solipsism of adolescence in which things that affect our inner choices and intimate relations are seen as purely subjective. What I said in class was that people may have different moral opinions but they can agree that certain areas have moral significance, and discuss issues in those areas. The discussion is a form of communication and agreement in itself, because something has to be agreed in order to have any discussion. Adolescent solipsism may be putting it harshly. In adolescence it is important to form morally charged views in an autonomous manner, which may lead to a somewhat solipsistic attitude. This emphasis on subjectivity does have some dangers. This is subjectivity in the most gestural sense, not in the sense of a rich description of subjective consciousness. These attitudes can persist, undermining public civic discussion of important issues. There ought to be ways in which teenagers can learn something about discussing moral issues and the importance of discussion, even where opinions differ.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Derrida's Philosophical Claims

Derrida: The Philosopher who says Nothing?
Derrida has acquired the reputation among many of the philosopher who has nothing to say. This suggestion is common place among his critics. However, a lot of Derrida fans are complicit with this position. They don't want to attribute anything as simple as philosophical theses to Derrida; that would betray the purity of Derrida's textuality and style. Those people tend to appreciate Hegel, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Heidegger in a similar way.

Semantic Contextualism, Holism, and Indeterminacy
It is correct to say that in Derrida the argument, the theses, the claims can never be completely isolated and abstracted from the precise movement of the text. However, it is also true that for Derrida there is no text outside context, and there is never a determinate context. Every text has many possible contexts, and these contexts themselves have many further contexts and so on. These fundamental aspects of Derrida's philosophy should not be regarded as something isolated from a standard philosophical language of claims and theses. Derrida's position can be clearly identified in very regular terms as Semantic Contextualism (meaning is determined by context), Semantic Holism (meaning of a linguistic item is always part of the meaning of the whole system of language), and Semantic Indeterminacy (meaning is never fully determined)

Derrida is a Semantic Contextualist, Holist and Indeterminist.

Demistifying Derrida's Style
We have characterised Derrida's philosophy as operating according to certain claims about semantics . Derrida tries to show these aspects of meaning in the way he writes. This is why style and textuality matters in Derrida. Not so mystified and strange after all is it.

Derrida's Claims
A sample list of Derrida's claims

  1. Speech is not superior to writing when interpreting the meaning of linguistic items.
  2. There is no philosophical position free of contradiction,
  3. There is no language free of semantic contradiction.
  4. Consciousness does not have a pure knowledge it its own contents.
  5. Language combines semantic abstraction with the physical of linguistic items.
  6. Every interpretation requires interpretation.
  7. Law rests on force in its application.
  8. Law assumes the universality of origin of law and its applicability, which is a universality it is instituting.
  9. Philosophy is part of educational and political institutions.
  10. There is no consistent demarcation possible between nature and culture.
  11. The idea of democracy assumes a perfection of identity between government and popular will which can never be achieved.
  12. There are no situations of perfect communication.
  13. Language has to understood with reference to non-ideational codes like DNA, computer programs and logical systems.
  14. Democracy assumes a friendship between all citizens which never be achieved.
  15. There is no pure socialist or anarchist community because individuals can never achieve perfect communication, or sympathy, with each other.
  16. There is a difference between the historical origin of scientific theories and their abstract origin as deduction.
  17. History of science is not the same thing as the justification of scientific theories.
  18. Pure Nominalism is assumed with regard to all meaning.
  19. The purity of Nominalism is always challenge by the universality assumed in the semantics of any linguistic item.
  20. All linguistic items are Peformative as well as Constative.
  21. There is no purely non-metaphorical moment in language.
  22. The idea of the Friend includes the idea of someone other than me and someone within myself.
  23. Hospitality includes the idea of the welcome of the stranger and the exclusion of the stranger as what is not me.

Why Buffy and Joss Whedon's other work matter

Joss Whedon created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, after three series this lead to the spin off Angel. Buffy ran for 7 seasons, Angel ran for 5 seasons. Towards the end of that period Whedon made 14 episodes of Firefly before it was cancelled by the network. The sequel to Firefly was the film Serenity. All these things have sold in massive amounts on DVD, unfortunately TV and cinema have been more mixed in their returns.

I'll be returing to the Whedonverse. First of all, why does it matter? Today we'll concentrate on Buffy. A series with a silly sounding name. The full name of the series, as Whedon points out, combines comedy, horror and drama. The silliness already indicates an interest in combining genres and crossing boundaries. What are the themes that appear and make Buffy important 8and which appear in the rest of the Whedonverse).

Buffy is an icon of female power, often defeating patronising enemies.
Buffy is also an ambiguous character: the hero and the disturbed individualist
The apparently simple conflict between good and evil moves switches back and forth between moral ambiguity and moral absolutes.
Buffy is drawn in different ways to 2 vampire characters (Angel and Spike) who make journeys from good to evil.
Buffy, Angel and Spike finds that despite the elemental conflicts she participates in, that the world has no meaning. The only morsl perspective is what the individual brings.
These characters refer to alientated states of mind and the struggle to overcome subjective alienation.
Characters find that passion drives them and is the basis rather than moral judgement.
Spike shows a moral evolution driven first by the restraint of a violence inhibiting implant, then by love for Buffy and then by regaining his 'soul' (soul=conscience in the Whedonverse). Many questions arise here about what morality is and what moral motivation is.
Individual difference and liberty are promoted along with an awareness that they can become alienating and disturbing.
Buffy is drawn towards 'the dark', towards violence, aggression and chaos in her own struggle against them.
The struggle against demonic chaos is a struggle to impose the order that Buffy resists.
Characters go through remarkable changes from apparent good to evil, and from evil to good. This is made very material in the vampirasation of Spike and Angel, both events are shown in flashback, and in the ways in which Angel and Spike get their souls back. For Angel, a soul is a punishment, for Spike it is a reward he seeks to make him worthy of Buffy. These tranformations and many others, raise questions about the limits of personal identity and the posisbility of change within continuous identity.
It deals with different possible worlds, as do many philosophers.
It's very funny, all serious themes are ironised and everything is ironised. This is an important message in itself. Comedy and tragedy are always close together.

Michel Foucault and Discursive Reality

This is inspired by current reading and online conversation with a friend. Unlike my friend, and many commentators, the more I read Foucault the less I see what he is often believed to do. That would be to understand reality in terms of discourse, which would be a form of social constructionism or constructivism. His account of sexuality in particular does not, as far as I can see, understand sexuality as constructed by discourse. ıt looks at the discourse surrounding sexuality, including science. The difference is important. Foucault sees medical, psychiatric, moral, religious, and philosophical discussions of sexuality as belonging to discourse, discourse which cuts across all subject divisions. Saying our knowledge of sexuality is discursive is not saying that sexuality is discursive. It does not deny that discourse is conditioned by observation and physical reality. Who would deny that our sexuality is affected by ideas about limits and the excitement of passing limits. However, despite popular mythology, Foucault does not say that sexuality is constructed by prohibitions. Sexuality is a reality labelled in many ways in different contexts. My friend correctly refers to this as Nominalism. Nomianlism does not deny physical realities though. Nominalism is not constructivism. The constructivist looking parts of Foucault are just as much about the eruption of physical reality in discourse as the definition of reality by discourse. That is why there is no master universal discourse in Foucault. He follows a materialism in which discourse emerges in the attmetps to control physical reality. I'll ask my friend for citations and then I may have more to say.

More Courage of Nick Clegg

I have to revise yesterday's comments about Clegg not saying as much as I'd like about his attitude to public services. In an interview with 5 prizewinning Liberal Democrat Bloggers (Alex Wilcock, James Graham etc), Clegg was clear and established consistency with past statements. He's in favour of choice in public services, particularly schools and health. he sees them as being funded by general taxation. In health he wants patients to 'own' a financial pot which can be transferred between providers, on schools he wants choice and he wants poor families to bring money with to any school their children attend. He clearly excluded health insurance and educational vouchers. This is consistent with previous pronouncements though those did leave the door open for what he has now excluded. His early speeches in the campaign did not exclude these possibilities either. Still given the necessary flexibility of anyone with a political career this is a consistent record. Clegg may or may not be pondering more radical market orientated measures, if he is he can floatr them later and wait for the reaction. He cannot force them on the party which does decide policy at conference after a consultative process.

I would prefer to see private insurance funds coming into health, with the government paying premiums for the poorest and everyone obliged to have insurance on a drivers' insurance model. Where services are provided by a public body it is reasonable to charge for morfe routine purposes, exempting hose on state benefits. Everyone knows that General Practioners (geenral service doctors in Britain) have a lot of people coming to 'surgeries' (open time) who do not have a problem or not one the GP can address. Education 'vouchers' are good if what that means is that parents choose between a multitude of publicly funded providers. That meaning has been given to vouchers, though I would have thought strictly speaking it could only apply to government issued vouchers which can be redeemed against fees at private schools.

Clegg is not running on the measures I favour but his committment to choice is important and does take some courage at this point. There are a lot of public sector professionals in the party who may be inclined to stick to a point of view based on producer monopoloy. This is referred to as 'universal service' and is supposed to be egalitarean. In reality it means inefficient services which disproportionately benefit the middle classes. Witness east London, a low income area where Medecin sans frontieres has moved in because National Health Service provision is so useless for local working class people. That is adter 10 years of increased spending on health and higher salaries for public sector workers, on top of a pension regime much more favourable than what most get in the private sector.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

The Courage of Nick Clegg

I've been tracking the contest to lead the British Liberal Democrats as closely as possible from Istanbul. In particular I've been following the Lib Dem Blogs aggregate. Inevitably this is a self selected group of the over opinionated (just like must myself) but overall I think it gives a reasonable idea of how Liberal Democrats are thinking.

This point is partly in response to some of the bloggers, but also to growing general perceptions of Nick Clegg. It has to be said that Clegg's campaign has been strikingly bland after an impressive launch in Sheffield where he emphasised the limits of the state and promised to take the party out of its comfort zone. There was an obvious contrast with Chris Huhne's more abrasive style. Things came to a head on BBC TV on Sunday when a presenter produced a Huhne campaign team dossier labelled 'Calamity Clegg'. Huhne disassociated himself from the document but then proceeded to talk over Clegg and the presenter making very aggressive accusations. One of his accusations was that Clegg supported school vouchers (not an idea I find intrinsically dreadful). Clegg has said in public and apparently in a recent private conversation with Huhne that he does not support vouchers. Indeed he has supported another way of increasing choice in schools by suggesting that low income families should carry money with them to any school they choose.

Most bloggers, and probably most party members, found Huhne's attitude unacceptable. Hardline Huhnites defended Huhne as telling it as it has to be told. A few neutrals took the view that Huhne was abrasive but Clegg is too bland and lacking in nerve

Clegg not a Coward
Very recently Clegg took a lot of flak from outside the Lib Dems on two policies:
1. Amnesty for illegal immigrants who've been in the country for 10 years or more
2. Evidence based public policy on drugs including alcohol, misrepresented in some quarters as a call for prohibition of alcohol. The point in the latter case is to approach the issue in health terms not criminal law.
Earlier radical proposal
Great Repeal Act, to dispose of unnecessary legislation. Could be just tidying up but I think it has to be taken as a plan for limiting the state by seeking out over interventionist legislation.

Clegg's Problem
After making a bold start by referring to limited state liberalism, very striking for the left inclined Lib Dems, Clegg has retreated into vagueness. He certainly does not want to say much what he favours for public sector reform. Under questioning from bloggers he's said he wants individual National Health Service accounts which would give a choice of providers. He's not really following up on the speech though or on earlier indications that he's interested in forms of funding health services other than out of general taxation. Huhne makes this sound like the bench mark of good health services for all, but the reality is that France has what is widely believed to be the world's best service. There are many private hospitals and charges, those who need reimbursement or free services in the first place get them. I don't see many French coming over to Britain to use our health services, Sarkozy has acted to make less easy for British ex-pat retirees to have free access.

Huhne the Thug
Some, and not just Huhne fans, thinks he showing he's got what it takes in the political battlefield. This misses the point that an inner party leadership battle is not the same as a contest between parties. Generally Clegg has recognised this, and certainly more so than Huhne. Clegg can turn on the rhetoric when he wants to, his different style in this contest does not make Huhne a better battler. I don't think the electorate are looking for a cynical aggressive power mad type, or at least they expect politicians to keep it hidden. Huhne's fans find criticisms of Huhne unfair but think their man should grind Clegg into the ground. All this shows that given the chance he will portray Clegg as destroying the health service, and all public services. Clegg has put off the debate about public sector reform. Since in the Lib Dems the party conference really does make policy, that doesn't mean Clegg will spring some package on the party straight after being elected.

Nonsense about Huhne's Level of Support
I'm not sure it it's the result of Huhne's briefing or lazy journalism but some media, particularly the Guardian/Observer newspaper have claimed Huhne has more party support than Clegg.
What are the facts?
1. Clegg has many more MPs backing him
2. Clegg has many more supporters on his website
3. Clegg has many more Facebook supporters
4. A recent survey of constituency chairs showed more support for Clegg.
That last point is probably the most important in showing how party members will vote. party chairs are local people who will know what members are thinking and will be in tune with that.

Predictions are dangerous but I'm jumping in
Clegg will win
Clegg will be bold.
Clegg's pleasant manner will make him the right person to explain bold policies

Monday, 12 November 2007

Zizek in Istanbul. My Humiliation

The Occasion
Slavoj Zizek was in Istanbul last week. Zizek uses a mixture of cultural commentary, philosophy, psychoanalysis and Marxism with great success. he is an international star as was reflected in his Istanbul reception. Bilgi University hosted his visited and he gave two seminars on saparate campuses. On both occasions entry was restricted to a limited who had registered in advance. An audio-video was set up to compensate the disappointed.

General Impression
I was present on both occasions and the Bilgi organisers very kindly invited me to a dinner after the first seminar. Both the talks and the dinner conversations were triumphs of wide ranging intellectual, political and cultural references delivered with compelling humour and force. I can't say I agreed with much of it, but there's no doubt that what he does he does with enormous talent, and as far as I can make out he is a nice person in an hyperactive kind of way. I certainly admire his complete contempt for Political Correctness

Political Correctness
Political Correctness brings up an oddity of the occasion. Many of the audience would in most contexts be considered painfully politically correct. That might mean an extreme embarressment with regard to the possibility of saying the wrong thing. At the less pleasant end, that can mean attacking and insulting people who supposedly said the wrong thing. This can be through put down or through more direct aggression. Zizek is completely free of all this and got the audience roaring with laughter at jokes they would never tell themselves and in many cases would try to make anyone who said anything similar pretty bad.

That leads to a great theme of Zizek's talk. Prohibition in two senses: direct prohibition and prohibition of mentioning the prohibition. The second prohibition enforces conformity through a language of freedom which conceals the reality of the first prohibition. This structure can be found in totalitarian and democratic societies.

Zizek's Prohibition
What was prohibited in Zizek's talk in the second sense, was the convergence between Zizek's 'Marxism and 'left' or 'communitarian' liberalism. This is extremely obvious but is not something Zizek can talk about himself. Conversations around the seminars confirmed that his fans take him as a symbol of non-liberal leftism to the degree that raising the relation with liberalism met with silence. Zizek criticises totalitarianism and prohibition in terms of the limitation of the state, avoiding self-censorship, individual rights. His criticism of capitalism refers to the very abstract account of commodity fetishism in Capital volume One. Zizek was concerned with referring to as concrete, but the reality is that 'commodity fetishism' rests on a belief in a natural, even metaphysical, real value inherent in produced objects. This is just a poor basis for criticising capitalism, many many Marxist economists have found it necessary to put concepts like 'commodity fetishism' and 'surplus value' and 'labour power theory of value' on a pedestal where they can be ignored. Marx's discussion certainly has ethical and cultural interest, but no non-Marxist economist would find them threatening. Zizek bases his critique of Capitalism and Totalitarianism on Enlightnment. The usual claim is made that Enlightnment values can only be satisfied by Marxism. Again this has never strict non-Marxists as a threatening argument. Enlightenment writers covers a wide and complex range, but a reasonable ideal type would emphasise: law, representative government, individual rights, private property, limitation of the state, division of state powers, commerce/market economics. Exceptions can be found but no one can deny that this is a reasonable over all summary. This just does not lead to Marxism except through some truly brutal readings of Kant. Fichte's transformation of Kant starts to lead in a statist anti-liberal direction but who believes that is a guide to what Kant says. Anyway, Fichte is an embarrassing example because of his nationalism and authoritarians, at the time he took an anti-liberal direction. Zixek himself comments on the lack of an alternative to capitalism. At the same time he gestures towards Lenin, with no thought about how Leninism is the first version of Stalinism. Beyond the gestures what is there: an interests in individual rights and pluralism in the context of community values and the social goals of the state. This is leading towards Sandell and McIntyre, not Lenin. Occasionally Zizek can sound like a Paleocon or a Swiftian Tory (absolute defence of local communities as bearers of tradition and value).

My Humiliation.
The second seminar was late to start. I was chatting in my admittedly loud voice with an ex-thesis student. Someone, I don't know who turned round and told me my conversation was disturbing, 'Please this is philosophy'! I was talking in a rather ironic way about the fever round Zizek and about problems with a very disturbed person who chairs a philosophy department in Turkey. I guess this person thinks that when a star comes, church/mosque like reverence is becoming and necessary, and anyone who doesn't behave accordingly is not a philosopher. I've been teaching philosophy, writing about it and studying it for over 20 years ago. I recently published a book on Derrida. I was at dinner with Zizek the evening before! His conversation at dinner and his talks show his attitude is the opposite of my tormenter. My conversations can be loud and unsubtle, but Zizek is much more radical in that direction, though he is also a very sympathetic and sensitive person. Sadly that's what happens with academic stars, they attract bizarre people with bizarre projections onto their hero. I seemed to be in the corner for those kind of people, judging by questions or self-obsessed ramblings posing as questions which emerged from that vicinity.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Media Myths: Neo-Conservatives and Free Markets

The Myth: Neo-Conservatives are Extreme Free Marketeers.

The myth is partly a journalistic one, but partly a belief which has become necessary to a large number of left wingers.

There is a variety of people travelling under the Neo-Con banner, and the influence it has had on the George W. Bush administration has led to lines blurring. Though on the whole the blurred line is one between Neo-Cons and hardline Realists in International Relations. The US view of reconstruction in Iraq is inevitably that it should be free market in principle, and should benefit US enterprises. I don't get excited about this. I didn't support the war, but governments defend national interests and prevailing principles of political economy within that country. The outrage from some people is pointless, would a very socialistic government do anything different if it was occupying another country for any reason. Say defending itself against invasion. Any Democrat government would push for very free market policies by the standards of Saddam's Iraq and would seek to benefit US companies.

The Neo-Cons are not libertarian extreme free marketeers in ideology. Many of them are ex-Democrats who support the kind of welfare programs and regulated economy which has existed since the New Deal. They are greatly hated by the Libertarian purists, and the the Paleocons who mix very small state policies with nationalism and conservative social values. Those forces who reject what endures from FDR are not Neocons, they tend to actively hate them.

The real source of Neo-Con thought are Cold War Military Liberalism, the neo-Platonist elitest Leo Strauss who never expressed an interest in pure free markets, the post-ideological social theorist Daniel Bell, Trotrskyites who moved from Marxist based hatred of Stalinism to a fervent belief in Democracy again Marxism.

The pure economic libertarians strongly opposed the Iraqi invasion, hate Bush and hate Neo-Cons.

But don't let those distinctions confuse you the next time you want to have a good rant about Neo-Cons and free markets.

Media Myths: Headscarf in Turkish Universities

I'm trying to get through a number of irritating media myths, which are certainly widespread in the British media and therefore probably elsewhere.

Myth: Female students can wear the headscarf in private universities in Turkey but not public universities.

Reality. There is variety of practice in BOTH PRIVATE AND PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES

A Private University where the Headscarf is Strictly Banned
I spent 9 years teaching in what is now Turkey's largest private university (Google me if you want to find out which). Not a place I regret leaving, but that's another story. When I started there in'97 there were students in the headscarf. However, the atmosphere was hardening after the February '97 Postmodern/Indirect Coup against the Islamist Prime MinisterErbakan. The word kept coming from the Higher Education Council to harden the line. First religious women came in secular hats covering their hair, or a wig, to avoid the horror of exposing real hair to non-family members. Eventually security stopped allowing them onto campus.

A Public University where the Headscarf is Allowed.
Bosphorus University (for some reason they insist their international name is Boğaziçi which can't even be spelled out without using the Turkish alphabet, I'm ignoring their stipulation). It's well know that the headscarf is worn by students there. Cumhuriyet (Republic), the flagship of secularist republicanism has plastered pictures of the headscarved women over its pages with great horror. Bosphorus is not a little known institution. It has the highest entry grades of any university in Turkey and is the first choice for most students.

I could give other examples, but enough. Journalists, aren't they wonderful? Do they ever check their claims?

Friday, 2 November 2007

Feyerabend and Latour: Must Philosophy of Science cleanse itself of Them?

I was teaching Paul Feyerabend and Bruno Latour earlier today in my MA class (Methodology in Political Science MA).

This followed the usual three defining figures in discussing scientific methodology: Popper, Kuhn and Lakatos. Feyerabend and Latour both develop thin gs which can be found in Kuhn. Like Kuhn, Lakatos rejected Popper's view that all scientific theories are theories which have survived experimental refutation. Lakatos suggested that theories are part of a group of theories, he labelled research programmes. There is no sudden refutation of one theory because the 'refutation' can apply to any one of a large number of theories including theories assumed in make observational instruments. However, a research programme goes through a kind of refutation over time when observational anomolies can only be explained by reducing the empirical scope of the programme.

Kuhn emphasised the non-scientific motivations for accepting or rejecting theories tied up with relations inside the scientific community. Lakatos regards this very warily as social psychology to kept apart from Science Itself.

With Feyerabend the supposed logical consistency of science is dismissed along with any claims that science is justified by observation. There are always various theories which satisfy observations, observations themselves are interpreted as parts of theories, different methods can be used and none is better than another. This violates the concern Popper and Lakatos have with finding a logic of science, a way in which all science is beliefs justified by observations, and logical inferences from observations.

With Latour, it's even worse from the point of view of mainstream philosophy of science. Relativism and contradiction in science? No problem for Latour. Science should be studied anthropologically to grasp the impact of power on scientists. Science can be explained by episodes in cultural history. E.g. 17th Century science is governed by the ideas painters had about the right distance from what is being painted.

Maybe we should try and rescue something from Latour for mainstream epistemology and philosophy of science.

  1. Latour is a direct realist. The objects of observation are real as they appear for us.
  2. Latour is denying the sources of the scepticism which has haunted epistemology since Descartes.
  3. Latour's anthropological approach turns science into a vital human impulse.

And rescuuing Feyerabend

  1. The scope of science takes precedence over contradiction.
  2. Observations should be maximised.
  3. Possible explanations are miximised.

No need to dismiss this as social psychology, or worse. Surely some stuff here for the justificationist epistemologists and philosophy of science types.

Nationalism and Facebook in Turkey. How about some Real Deabtes about Turkey's Politics

I've joined the Facebook phenomenon. I resisted at first, because I thought it was faddish. Well it is faddish, but it's still great as a way of keeping in touch with friends, reviving old friendships and sharing all kinds of things in an online community.

Facebook is now very popular in Turkey. I have no strong evidence for this, but I have a strong feeling that Turks in Turkey and Britain are disproportionately active on Facebook and internet communication. They keep popping up, and I'm particularly aware of it based in ıstanbul. The most obvious Turkish dimension of Facebook is that a lot of peopel have put the Turkish flag instead of a personal photograph on their profile. Less nationalsit people have been complaining about it on Facebook. Nationalists left and right are fighting it out it with the anti-nationalist or a-nationalist left.

As far as I'm concerned both sides are putting too much emphasis on the flag and nationalist gestures. Some more substantial issues would be welcome. Nationalist gestures, and reactions to them, have increased because of the way that opposition to the recovering Islamists in government has been mobilised, the reactivation of the PKK from norther Iraq, slowness of the EU to welcome Turkey, constant obsession in the west with labelling 1915 deportations and massacres of 1915 as genocide. It should be obvious that it is nonsense for parliaments to be voting on such an issue, just as it should be obvious that it is nonsense for Turkish nationalists to create an enemy image of the west out of the issue.

As regards the Turkish Facebook community, come on let's hear some substantive ideas about Turkey's present and future, not gestures and insults.

Liberal Democrat Leadership Race. A Major Choice. Clegg is the Man

I've emerged from a long sloth with regard to blogging, stimulated by the Liberal Democrat leadership race, and a few other things. A burst of blogging coming after a long down period. Trying to keep blogs brief, as that is the general tendency.

The point I have to make for now is that the Liberal Democrat leadership race is not a non-choice between two identikit candidates. The latter claim is upheld by many journalists handsomely paid for writing misleading generalisations. On the basis of my unpaid labour here is the real assessment.

Huhne is running for the party left vote, though evolution in the Lib Dems may mean more tha tis running for the support of the more introverted members.

Clegg is running for the party right vote, but with a lot of support from the party left. Most obviously Steven Webb who looked like the new leading figure on the party left, taking over from Simon Hughes, has given his support to Clegg instead of running himself.

What has happened is that a large part of the party left has decided that market mechanisms are necessary in public services and welfare provision to provide a good service and to avoid constant increases in the tax burden. Arguments they would recently have rejected as Thatcherite or beyond Thatcherite are being eagerly embraced because quite rightly it has become widely understood that competition stimulates efficiency and better outcomes. It is being widely understood that the public sector does not exist to soak up unemployment through inefficient working practices, which is wha tis has become in practice.

Chris Huhne is rejecting that argument. This is the key difference of substance. An opportunistic negative campaigning style has also begun to turn off people previously sympathetic to him.

Clegg is the man. He is the man because he understands how to bring together market mechanisms and social welfare for the poorest. He is taking a strong stand on all issues of the individuals' importance in relation to the state. He is reviving 'Classical Liberalism' in the proper manner, tha tis without the nonsensical misinterpretation of the tradition by hard-libertarians and social-national conservatives who favour a limited state in economic matters.