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More old business

OK, it’s the last Saturday of this blog, and time to get back to Mark Bauerlein.  Here’s the relevant snippet from his Chronicle of Higher Education essay:

In What’s Liberal ... ?, conservatism suffers similarly from stigmatizing references. Bérubé focuses on the anti-academic conservatives and fills his descriptions with diagnostic asides. Gay-rights debates “transform otherwise reasonable cultural conservatives into fumbling, conspiracy-mongering fanatics.” The columnist George Will is “furious,” and the columnist Michelle Malkin writes “shameful” books pressing “‘interpretations’ that no sane person countenances,” while Horowitz exaggerates “hysterically.” Such psychic wants explain why, according to Bérubé, “we just don’t trust cultural conservatives’ track record over the long term, to be honest. We think they’re the heirs of the people who spent decades dehumanizing African-Americans and immigrants, arguing chapter and verse that the Bible endorses slavery and the subjection of women."

Note the lineage: Not a line of reasoning, but a swell of mad wrath. Not Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville, T.S. Eliot, and Leo Strauss, but slaveholders, nativists, and sexists. Nothing from Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, E.D. Hirsch Jr., Harvey C. Mansfield, and the late Philip Rieff, to cite more-recent writers who may be termed “educational conservatives.” The scholarly conservative case against higher education is overlooked, while Bérubé devotes too many words to the claims of discrimination by a conservative student on television’s Hannity & Colmes, to a worry by a state legislator about “leftist totalitarianism,” and so on.

I said there were three things deeply wrong with this, but before I get to them, I want to say that I like Mark Bauerlein.  Even though I thought his 2000 boundary 2 review of my 1998 book, The Employment of English, misrepresented the actual contents of the book, I appreciated the fact that Mark arranged for me to reply to his review in the same issue, so that I could say so in so many words.  Mark is smart and, most of the time, has a fine bullshit detector; his critiques of academic “groupthink” are often on target.  So I stand by what I said in my Inside Higher Ed interview with Scott McLemee back in September: I think my discipline would be intellectually healthier if it had more people like Mark in it.

OK, now for the deeply wrong things.

THING THE FIRST.  In that first paragraph, Mark takes two passages—the “otherwise reasonable cultural conservatives” bit and the “track record over the long term” bit—from my final chapter, which deals not with intellectual conservatism but with political conservatives and liberals.  The context of the “fumbling, conspiracy-mongering fanatics” line, for example, is my discussion of the cultural differences between the United States in 1966 and in 2006, and the full sentence reads,

And as for gay rights—at the moment, the single issue most likely to transform otherwise-reasonable cultural conservatives into fuming, conspiracy-mongering fanatics, searching for gay subtexts in “Teletubbies” and advocacy of the homosexual agenda by cartoon characters in SpongeBob SquarePants and PBS’ Postcards from Buster—how can I begin to catalog the ways in which American culture is infinitely queerer in 2006 than anyone could possibly have imagined—or dreaded—in 1966?

Am I wrong about such conservatives?  Never mind Margaret Spellings and Jerry Falwell, now.  Mark Bauerlein, please meet John Derbyshire.  Or Stanley Kurtz.  Or Michael Medved, who sees advocacy of the gay agenda even in movies like Happy Feet (because, you know, they suggest that being “different” isn’t grounds for social ostracization).  Personally, I think the only problem with this passage is the phrase “otherwise reasonable.”

Anyway, Mark makes it look as if the “scholarly conservative case against higher education is overlooked” (i.e., by me) by quoting from a chapter that doesn’t deal with scholarly conservatives.  Interestingly, he doesn’t mention my discussion, much earlier in the book, of one of the scholarly conservatives who criticize higher education—namely, Mark Bauerlein.  In chapter three of my book, I take up Mark’s essay “Liberal Groupthink is Anti-Intellectual,” and I write, “the most interesting—and, I think, most insightful—aspect of Mark Bauerlein’s version of the conservative complaint is its insistence that a field’s domination by liberal-left thought is bad not only for the field in question but also for liberal-left thought.” In other words, I think he’s right in principle, even if some of his examples undermine his argument:

There’s much to admire in Bauerlein’s brief for conservatives.  Indeed, it is (as Bauerlein makes clear in his citation of Mill) classically liberal: the university should indeed be an argument culture, as Gerald Graff has long argued, and arguments are strongest when they engage with the strongest possible opposing arguments.  But Bauerlein’s essay doesn’t always practice what it preaches.  His accounts of some academic subfields, for instance, are at once tendentious and glib: “the quasi-Marxist outlook of cultural studies rules out those who espouse capitalism,” he writes, as if cultural studies theorists favor planned economies (they are much more often criticized, as in the work of Thomas Frank, for being unwitting advocates of libertarian capitalism).  “If you disapprove of affirmative action, forget pursuing a degree in African-American studies,” he continues, as if the study of African-American literature, history, and culture turns on the one social policy that American conservatives think of first when they think of black people and universities; and finally, most laughably, “if you think that the nuclear family proves the best unit of social well-being, stay away from women’s studies.”

People who espouse serious argument should not descend to caricature, and Bauerlein’s characterization of women’s studies—a field in which my wife works, even as she helps to maintain the nuclear family to which I belong—is one step away from the claim that “womyn’s studies” would simply prefer a world without men.

So no, you can’t really say that What’s Liberal overlooks scholarly conservatives’ complaints about higher education.  Especially if you’re Mark Bauerlein.

THING THE SECOND. About this Horowitz fellow:  I humbly request that Mark Bauerlein make up his mind already.

Here and in his New Criterion review of my book, Mark takes me to task for dueling with Horowitz instead of the more serious people he would prefer me to debate.  In the comment thread after his review was posted to the Valve, for instance, Mark writes on November 5,

Remarkable how strongly David Horowitz figures in the horizon of academics interested in the liberal bias issue.

Now, Eric Rauchway called bullshit on this maneuver back on November 2, noting Dan Drezner’s Bauerleinian complaint that What’s Liberal doesn’t deal with “serious” conservatives:

Dan says Bérubé focused too much on David Horowitz, which apparently Bérubé shouldn’t have done because, Dan thinks, “it’s very hard to take [Horowitz’s] rantings about the academy seriously.” . . . Dan goes on to say that because Bérubé argues against “liberal bias” by disputing the significant Horowitz, “[a]s a refutation of the conservative critique, What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts leaves something to be desired.” But if “the conservative critique” isn’t Horowitz’s complaint, what is it?

Writing a few days after Rauchway, many Valve commenters made the same point; so Mark, two days after suggesting that it is “remarkable” how strongly Horowitz figures in all this, weighed in to make it clear that he doesn’t take Horowitz seriously, except insofar as he does:

I don’t want to come off as renouncing David Horowitz, because I think that beneath the polemics and tactics lies a warranted criticism of the intellectual condition of the campus.  His politicking and smearing I take as simply the way politics are played, and having spent some time working in a politically delicate agency in DC, I don’t find his actions any worse than those of any other political advocacy campaign. Yes, he appears unfair, snide, belligerant . . . in academic settings. But in political ones, he’s a normal activist.

I replied to this stunning little two-step in that thread, but here I’d like to make another version of the same observation.  In 2004 Mark testified on behalf of Horowitz to the Georgia state legislature.  In What’s Liberal, and on this very blog, I noted that testimony, and noted also that Mark’s testimony seemed to contradict his insistence, in “Liberal Groupthink,” that “we can’t open the university to conservative ideas and persons by outside command. That would poison the atmosphere and jeopardize the ideals of free inquiry. Leftist bias evolved within the protocols of academic practice (though not without intimidation), and conservative challenges should evolve in the same way.” In response to that blog post, Mark appeared in the comments section to say this:

You’re right, Michael, some of my statements in the earlier testimony were overheated. I do believe that state interference with personnel and curriculum would be disastrous. Other outside pressures, including intelligent media coverage and “consumer reports,” would be welcome, but not the intrusion of legislators. Instead of chalking my position(s) up to “intellectual dishonesty,” though, you might consider that I, like many others, am trying to work through complex issues of academic freedom, curricular design, and political bias, and it causes a lot of second and third thoughts, first impressions and lasting impressions, distinguishing one’s own experiences from the objective state of the academy. Ideas change, and approaches, too.

When I read that back in June, I liked Mark again.  But then I remembered that he wrote it just a few months after he’d testified on behalf of the version of Horowitz’s Academic Bill of Rights that was being debated by Pennsylvania’s House Committee on Academic Freedom.

So I’m left with two options.  One is to conclude that there are as many Mark Bauerleins as there are Ringo Starrs, and that neither of them is aware of the other’s work.  The other, which I prefer, is to ask Mark to decide, at long last, whether he wants to defend Horowitz or whether he wants to criticize people for taking on Horowitz instead of dealing with more “serious” and “scholarly” critiques.  Because doing both at once just doesn’t look good, intellectually speakin’.

And I don’t mean to pick on Mark in this regard.  I think this should be a problem for all “intellectual” conservatives: either embrace Horowitz or criticize him.  That’s your job for 2007, y’all—because, after all, Horowitz is one of yours now.  As they say in Boogie Nights, he’s not MP, he’s YP.

THING THE THIRD.  This one is really easy.  It’s a version of thing the second, but broader.  Let’s go back to Mark’s Chronicle essay for a moment, specifically to his complaint about how I handle certain wingnuts:

the columnist Michelle Malkin writes “shameful” books pressing “‘interpretations’ that no sane person countenances,” while Horowitz exaggerates “hysterically.”

Is Mark defending Malkin and Horowitz here?  It’s hard to tell.  He clearly implies that my characterizations of their work are examples of those nasty “stigmatizing references” to which he objects.  But he doesn’t bother to explain why I said what I said about Malkin and Horowitz, and he doesn’t bother to defend them on the merits, either.

So, again, I have some friendly words of counsel for all you serious intellectual conservatives out there.

Look, folks.  If you want to defend Malkin’s defense of the Japanese-American internment camps during WW2, or if you want to defend Horowitz’s claim that 99 percent of all campus commencement speakers come from the left, go right ahead.  I won’t stop you!  But don’t criticize my criticism of these claims and leave it at that.  Defend ‘em or join me in criticizin’ ‘em.  Fish or cut bait. 

_______

Deep breath.

It’s kind of a shame that I have to append my brief reply to Dave Maier’s wonderful reading of What’s Liberal to this latest round of Horowitz-related sparring, but that’s how it goes—my time here is short, as you know.

Anyway, here’s Dr. Maier’s post in full, and here are my picky points about his picky points.

The first is very picky.  In my discussion of Richard Rorty, I suggested in passing that sometimes philosophers can get kind of, er, picky about who they consider to be a “real” philosopher.  Interestingly enough, Maier faults me for choosing to discuss Sam Harris as one of Rorty’s recent critics:

As an example of a realist, MB could have cited any number of people, from Roger Kimball to Jerry Fodor, but he actually turns to “philosopher Sam Harris” (he of the anti-religion polemic The End of Faith). Harris is actually a grad student in neuroscience, not a philosopher, but he apparently took a few courses with Rorty at Stanford, and feels he knows enough to set Rorty straight in his book.

OK, so, point one to me Maier.  Sam Harris earned his Ph.D. a degree in philosophy from Stanford.  [See comments 6 and 11.] (I’m sorry to sound so snippy about this, because Maier’s review is basically terrific: careful and bracing and sharp as hell.  But as you can no doubt tell, I am gettin’ a-weary of people telling me who I should and shouldn’t be debating.  At the end of his post, Maier tosses in an addendum on this score, complaining that my account of postmodernism should have discussed Gadamer and Ricoeur too: “Here’s a criticism which is no doubt unfair, but that, as I like to say, is how the bowling ball bounces. For a sixty-seven-page description of a course on postmodernism, one in the English department no less, there is surprisingly little in MB’s chapter—or the book as a whole—about hermeneutics.” Well, I do wish that Gadamer and Ricoeur had had more influence on the postmodernism debate in the 1980s than did Lyotard and Baudrillard, because they’re way smarter than Lyotard and Baudrillard.  But they didn’t, and that’s how the bowling ball bounced back then.)

But enough of the picky stuff; the center of gravity in Maier’s critique lies elsewhere.  He lodges two complaints about What’s Liberal with which I have to agree: one, he doesn’t like the word “incommensurability,” because of the “massive ambiguity of this term.” Noted!  I remark in What’s Liberal that there’s an entire Theory Wing devoted to calling everything an incommensurability.  Two, he accuses me (justly) of “cutting corners” by following John Searle in defending anti-realism in moral affairs but conceding realism with regard to the natural world.  He’s quite right about this.  I cut a few corners in What’s Liberal, and spent the second and third essays of Rhetorical Occasions filling in a few of the gaps.  But I have to say I just don’t quite understand what Maier is driving at when he insists that one has to be a consistent anti-realist or a consistent realist:

This leads to another of Rorty’s favorite shibboleths, one which MB picks up as well. Following Dewey (and his similar rejection of the Cartesian “spectator theory of knowledge"), Rorty puts great stock in rejecting the “correspondence theory of truth” in favor of a “coherence” view. Again, the reason “coherence” looks to Rorty like an improvement over “correspondence” is that it allows him to say that our justificatory obligations are not to the world but instead, on the one hand, to the rest of our beliefs (with which the new belief must fit), and on the other, to our fellow inquirers (our relations with the world being “merely causal"). But this cannot eliminate the (normative) relation to the world. For something to be a belief at all—and, not coincidentally, for the concepts that make it up to mean what they do in expressing the belief in question—it must be held to be true of the world.

In his fight against “correspondence,” Rorty has appealed to Davidson, who at first seems to agree—though Davidson’s commitment to “coherence” is half-hearted in spots (see “A Coherence Theory of Truth and Knowledge,” anthologized here)—but it is Davidsonian considerations that thwart him (and eventually Davidson himself; but that’s another story). For a belief to have the content it does—for it to be a belief that P—it must be appropriately sensitive to evidence that P is actually the case. That is, in order for you to convince me that X is indeed saying what you say X is saying—that your interpretation of his words is correct—you must show that the beliefs you ascribe to him in so doing are (that is, that he is) appropriately sensitive (whatever that may mean in the context) to evidence that the world is not that way. Which way? The way he believes it to be, on your account of what “P” means in his mouth when he asserts it. Naturally you will use your own terms, and refer to the world as you believe it to be, when telling me this. But that’s okay; I’m in the same position w/r/t your utterances as you are to his, so that’s been taken into account.

See, when we’re talking about “truth,” I think the difference between sentences like “it is true that atoms are made up of protons, electrons, and neutrons” and sentences like “there are three things wrong with Bauerlein’s most recent account of my book” amounts to all the difference in the world.  The second kind of utterance, the one in which I make a claim that P is the case because X is indeed saying what I say X is saying, is a matter of hermeneutics, and such matters are indeed (on my account) best thought of in terms of coherence and consensus: I will persuade some of you, but not all, that my account of P and X is plausible, and my capacity to persuade will be based not on some appeal to mind-independent objects but to standards of evidence, argument, and interpretation that we may or may not share with regard to the deciphering of human utterances.  Whereas when you and I argue about the composition of matter, we’re not arguing about something that can interpret us back and say, “see here, you misunderstand me completely.” And that’s why I think, in my naive and amateur way, that there’s a qualitative difference between talking about the world of brute fact and the world of social fact (even if I also argue, contra Searle, that the distinction between brute fact and social fact is drawn by social fact).  So when I read someone like Maier writing that “for something to be a belief at all . . . it must be held to be true of the world,” I always want to know which world we’re talking about: because the interpretive protocols by which we determine the true state of matter in the universe seem to me to be quite different from the interpretive protocols by which we determine the true state of the matter with regard to reviews of people’s books.

Thanks to Dave Maier for reading What’s Liberal so rigorously—and thanks to everyone who participated in Liberalpalooza over the past two months.  I’m deeply grateful for the whole Book Event; it’s meant much more to me than I can say.

Posted by on 01/06 at 12:36 PM
  1. Hmmm, yeah, you’re dead right. An account of P is dependent on X’s agreement with P when X is capable of agreement - as it is, when, say, X is a human.

    Maybe that’s the “basis” you’ve been looking for. One could say: The only basis for social truth is an agreement between two X’s on the nature of P, where X’s are humans, and P is a matter on which the truth is predicated.

    Posted by Centrally Certified Content Publisher  on  01/06  at  02:32 PM
  2. Whoops… I should actually finish that thought!

    And the reason that sort of basis isn’t foundational is because the AGREEMENT isn’t always true.

    Posted by Centrally Certified Content Publisher  on  01/06  at  02:46 PM
  3. CCCP, I don’t think it’s so clear-cut. From my own little world, I’d be interested to know where mathematics would fall? Clearly, it is a social construct - but it is also based in nature (its axioms are formed in such a way that the resulting construct models nature). The whole issue is much complicated by the failure of the “axiomatic method” in its original goal, leading to questions about what the correct axioms are that use (possibly unwittingly) the language of coherence theory, as far as I can tell (I’m not a logician or set theorist, so take this with a grain of salt).

    Posted by  on  01/06  at  02:51 PM
  4. Well that settles it. I’ve got to go buy the book.

    Posted by Hattie  on  01/06  at  03:01 PM
  5. Oh yeah.... good point.

    I would say that Mathematics is really just a language. It sometimes talks about brute facts, and sometimes talks about social facts, but it’s always referring. What exactly the language is referring to at any point in time is subject to agreement between X and X who are using it to refer. Once that agreement has been made, mathematics can be used to discuss brute facts, but before that point it’s utterly useless. So… even though mathematics can be used to discuss brute facts, it is not itself a brute fact.

    captcha: fact (I’m not kidding)

    Posted by Centrally Certified Content Publisher  on  01/06  at  03:09 PM
  6. Sam Harris earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from Stanford.
    For what it’s worth, neither the link you cite, nor anything else a quick googling turned up, specifies Harris received a doctorate at Stanford. The most common phrasings are “a graduate in philosophy...” or “a degree in philosophy,” which, in this context, apparently means he graduated with a degree (almost certainly a BA) in philosophy. The biographical notes sometime go on to say that he is currently completing a doctorate in neuroscience, and if this were, in fact, his second doctorate, it seems almost certain that would be made explicit.

    Upshot--some one apparently believes that a Stanford degree in philosophy gives you a lot of street cred.

    Posted by carlos  on  01/06  at  03:11 PM
  7. The unbelievably crushing malaise continually creeps, only to be emboldened by the demise of this web log.  Thanks, MB.  You are appreciated greatly.  Don’t let emus or learned cucumbers get you down.

    Ha, figures. (captcha)

    Posted by Pinko Punko  on  01/06  at  04:00 PM
  8. You know who you should debate, Michael? Ringo Starr. That’s be so totally awesome!

    Posted by  on  01/06  at  04:15 PM
  9. Let be a battle of the drummers. And since there’s two Ringos we need two Bérubés. Perhaps Nick can join in.

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  01/06  at  04:59 PM
  10. OK, it’s the last Saturday of this blog,...

    Bummer. It was fun while it lasted.

    Posted by  on  01/06  at  06:35 PM
  11. For what it’s worth, neither the link you cite, nor anything else a quick googling turned up, specifies Harris received a doctorate at Stanford.

    Oh my goodness.  I just assume when someone represents himself as a graduate from Stanford in philosophy, he’s talking about a Ph.D.  My bad!  I stand corrected and humbled and really surprised.

    I’ll correct that bit.  Thanks, Carlos.

    Posted by Michael  on  01/06  at  07:17 PM
  12. is the captcha word really “human?” How cool is that?
    Well, having just read some John Leonard on Barbara Ehrenreich, it seems both synchronicitous and apropo to quote:

    … that what has always really bothered analretentive white men of the Eurocentric persuasion about “primitive"/ “peasant"/ “savage"/ “oriental"/ “cannibalistic” enthusiasm---for instance, Aboriginal corroborees, Jamaican plantation myal dances, Polynesian frenzies unto trance, ecstatic Moroccan drumming of the Hamadsha brotherhoods, the Hogbetsotso festival of the Anlo Ewe, !Kung healing rituals, African-American “ring-shouts,” even heavy-metal rock concerts---is that their social inferiors have assembled to enjoy themselves, assert their unembarrassed autonomy and camaraderie, ridicule their hierarchs, and so alter the state of their consciousness that they might prove to be a protest movement or, like the French Revolution, a real threat.

    It seems that not only are these activities perceived threats, but the study of them--the researches that have focussed academic inquiries into them--are also viewed as significant dangers to many who claim the mantle of conservative intellectuals (NL??).

    Posted by  on  01/06  at  07:27 PM
  13. A minor detail, I realize, but is it really fair to label T.S. Eliot as an “educational conservative?” I’m not sure this title adequately fits the man who said, “Every poet would like, I fancy, to be able to think that he had some direct social utility. . . . to be something of a pop entertainer” [T. S. Eliot, “Poetry and Drama,” 1951].

    http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1313

    ELIOT’s DARK ANGEL is supposed to be an interesting exposition of Eliot’s unconventional approach to teaching, art, and life:

    http://www.amazon.com/Eliots-Dark-Angel-Intersections-Life/dp/0195147022

    I’m not saying the practical cat was a hipster, but “educational conservative” doesn’t feel right.

    Posted by  on  01/06  at  10:08 PM
  14. Of course you have to address Horowitz; if you want political impact as a public intellectual in the area of acadeemic freedom, he’s the one who’s politically active for the conservatives.

    But for intellectual purposes, the public intellectual that I’d really be interested in seeing you engage with is Jared Diamond.  The problem that I have with antifoundationalism (having now read _Rhet Ox_) is that it seems to leave out one of the most important political trends of the current time—the idea that while morality is not externally determined in a Platonic sense, it is on a large scale pragmatically determined by limits due to brute fact.  That’s a lot of what the whole “reality based community” trope is about.  Sure, human values set by discussion are involved in the conclusion that sustainability is important—but only very basic ones, such as that it is not good for people to starve, that there is a very broad degree of social agreement on.  Admittedly there are those conservatives who, al la Frum’s “Dead Right”, think that a little starvation keeps people sharp—but social consensus doesn’t need to include everyone.

    Posted by  on  01/06  at  10:41 PM
  15. Oh, fine. I just meet you and now you’re shutting down your blog.

    And I even bought your book for my aunt as a Christmas gift.  Hmph.

    Posted by zuzu  on  01/07  at  12:33 AM
  16. But zuzu, that’s a gift that keeps on giving!

    Rich, I’ve read Guns, Germs and Steel but haven’t finished Collapse (I’m halfway through).  What aspect of Diamond’s work do you think I should focus on?  I presume you’re talking about that messy intersection where the brute facts of our ecosystem meet the social facts by which we try to understand how not to destroy it?  Those of us who aren’t David Frum, that is?

    Posted by Michael  on  01/07  at  12:56 AM
  17. My memory of Rorty is that he said he (and Dewey) weren’t offering a new theory of truth, but an argument why a theory of truth is not needed. And he convinced me, too. But now I find that he said something different.

    Kotsko and Berube both closing down. Hm—two revenue streams up for grabs......

    Posted by John Emerson  on  01/07  at  01:00 AM
  18. Hey MICHAEL, I just started reading your blog during THE SHOW TRIAL! And now you are hanging it up? WHat do I have to do, come over your house and strangle you a la Bart Simpson?

    I have a better idea (I mean than you stopping to be a blogger): why don’t you just never post except when you are SERIOUSLY procrastinating on writing something you are avoiding writing? Because that is when blogging is BEST. THat would be enough for me.

    Then you wouldn’t have to feel pressured to post.

    It is clear you don’t really have TIME to post post post. But you just WON B*E*S*T EDUCATIONAL BLOG !!  WHat kind of ingrate are you? I Voted for you!!!

    So don’t you think that is a good idea? My Idea? To leave your blog up and only post once a month or something?

    Posted by Kathy McCarty  on  01/07  at  02:08 AM
  19. I’m going to break my little rule about only posting content-free comments, in order to discuss these:

    From my own little world, I’d be interested to know where mathematics would fall? Clearly, it is a social construct - but it is also based in nature (its axioms are formed in such a way that the resulting construct models nature).

    and

    I would say that Mathematics is really just a language. It sometimes talks about brute facts, and sometimes talks about social facts, but it’s always referring...Once that agreement has been made, mathematics can be used to discuss brute facts, but before that point it’s utterly useless.

    Mathematics is not a language. It is a set of conceptual frameworks consisting of axioms and relations between those axioms. Specific subsets of those frameworks may be correlated with “facts” and used to model physical or social systems.

    There are conventions (certainly socially constructed) within descriptions of mathematical systems that take on linguistic form, but it is sloppy and sometimes dangerous to mistake that form for the mathematics itself.

    Umm, also, if my tone above sounds snippy, I don’t mean it to. And I don’t really have an answer for what mathematics really is: discovered fact or constructed reality. I would suggest, though, without knowing anything about the theory of coherence or the like, that you should look to either a more intuitionistic or nonmonotonic logic to describe social reasoning. They can be really cool, though harder to use than classical logic.

    Posted by John  on  01/07  at  02:47 AM
  20. Michael, if you want to work on Diamond, you should ride the innernets over to Savage Minds and do a search on “Jared.” (You could also search on “Diamond” but that’s likely to pull up Stanley Diamond too, and perhaps blood diamonds and whatever else.) They’ve had some interesting conversations about his work, with links to other stuff. Also, just drop me a line and I’ll email you a Word doc containing Diamond stuff I pulled through the tubewebs (much of it off of Savage Minds). You might also tap Timothy Burke; I vaguely recall he had some interesting things to say about Diamond.

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  01/07  at  04:31 AM
  21. I don’t think that there was anything useful in Savage Minds, most of which attacked a Diamond who they clearly hadn’t read.

    “What aspect of Diamond’s work do you think I should focus on?  I presume you’re talking about that messy intersection where the brute facts of our ecosystem meet the social facts by which we try to understand how not to destroy it?”

    It goes a bit farther than that.  The suggestion is that brute facts determine some aspect of social facts—not in the sense that moral values are waiting there to be discovered, but in the sense that a society that doesn’t choose to institute certain social facts collapses.  I think that it’s one of the most serious critiques of antifoundationalism, and brings up the odd hole in some leftist thought through which antifoundationalism and environmentalism can coexist.

    Diamond is a serious academic, beyond his two well-known books.  He was one of the founders of conservation biology, one of the only sciences (other than medicine) to incorporate moral decisions into the definition of the science.

    Posted by  on  01/07  at  09:02 AM
  22. I’m with zuzu. We bought your book Life as We Know it a couple of years after the birth of our son with down syndrome in 1997. I can’t believe I only found your blog during its alleged last week of publication. As long as you don’t remove it there should be enough stuff to read for “a while”, but for now I’m franticly trying to read your previous posts to find out what’s next…

    Anyway, today the artist CO2 is setting out from Montreal to find snow, possibly in the mountains. If successful, we will attempt to “Make Water”.

    This is an effort to bring attention to the global warming situation. see art-white-north.blogspot.com

    Thank-you Michael for your DS work

    Posted by CO2  on  01/07  at  10:00 AM
  23. I don’t recall the Savage Minds discussion in detail, but it did contain a link to Environmentalism and Eurocentrism by one J. M Blaut. That essay argued that Diamond got much of his geography wrong in GG&S. I’m not a geographer so I don’t really know. But, as Diamond hangs his argument on geography, that argument has problems if much of the geography is wrong.

    J. Blaut 1999. Environmentalism and Eurocentrism. Geographical Review 89 (3): 341-408.

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  01/07  at  10:07 AM
  24. Ya know, Michael, for a guy who’s quitting the blogging game you still seem to have quite a lot to say.  Does this mean I’ll have to buy your books from now on?

    Posted by  on  01/07  at  10:31 AM
  25. John: You don’t sound snippy.

    Any language can be described as a “set of conceptual frameworks consisting of axioms and relations between those axioms”. Language is more than the notations and sounds symptomatic of it, as mathematics is more than its notations. I’m using language in a very broad sense that includes both the internal models as well as the forms used to communicate those models.

    Not that that says ANYTHING about coherentism.

    Posted by Centrally Certified Content Publisher  on  01/07  at  11:11 AM
  26. Just back from a long flight after a month in Europe. Boy are my arms tired!

    Badda-bing!

    Seriously, an unpleasant surprise to see this is the end of Le Blogue. But I never could understand how you could find the time to do it in the first place.

    So let me just say we should raise our glasses and say of our friend and blogmeister MB:

    “Hip hip hooray! For he’s a jolly good fellow. That nobody can deny.”

    Captcha: “cent,” as in 50.

    Posted by John Protevi  on  01/07  at  11:16 AM
  27. "I am not surprised that the mention of Jared Diamond is leading to some discussions similar to those on sociobio/ev psych that NL launched”, says the man halfway through Diamond’s The Third Chimpanzee (which he cleverly bought for his daughter for Xmas - next up High Fidelity - bought for his wife.)
    A few observations:

    1) The chasm beneath any popularization of science (particularly recent science) cedes nothing to the chasm beneath the signifier in terms of yawning gape-iness. (And they are of course related.)

    2) That notwithstanding, I quite recommend combining the Greenland section of Collapse with Jane Smiley’s The Greenlanders - which is a great telling of a piece of the same story. (Though the first time through, it can be a hard slog keeping Asgeir Gunnarson straight from Gunnar Asgeirsson - but I do think it is far & away Smiley’s best work.) [And there may be a course in there - start with the Montana piece of Collapse to get grounded, then Greenland/Smiley, and then on to some relevant novel more closely related to contemporary life (Babbitt, Bonfire of the Vanities, Power’s Gain, Oryx and Crake, Gatsby?)]

    3) Observing us deal with some of the topics raised by Diamond, Wilson et al, (us = me, my family, commenters on this blog, the scientific community, the world, the media, Tim Russert) I at times think that we are in the position of fish trying to discover that water is wet, and that a consensus scientific view of how we really got to be what we are will be left to our silicon creations (or significantly reengineered descendants) - if we get there at all.

    4) Is there some significant global “Collapse” in the relative near future for Homo sapiens sapiens? Maybe not - but per Paul Ehrlich:

    Gradual and humane reduction of the size of the human population, limiting of wasteful per capita consumption among the rich to allow room for increased consumption by the poor, use of more environmentally benign technologies and increased equity among and within nations will all be required.

    5) Do I really I think we can avoid it?
    See 3).

    6) You know, Sometimes I doubt my commitment to Sparkle Motion.

    Posted by  on  01/07  at  01:59 PM
  28. CCCP: Interesting, but I think I disagree with your definition of language.

    Consider language as a process. I have an object representing the set of all mental states, S, and a mapping to linguistic structure, f:S->L. Said mapping f does not perfectly preserve the structure of a mental state (it is a forgetful<i>wink, but it is meant to be invertible, so that someone given access to an L-object can apply a retraction function <i>r to retrieve an S-object with some distance from the original. (Obviously, I’m being way informal here.)

    My claim is that language is the f, r, L of my characterization, and that S is not. (Note that I’m trying to avoid discussing any way in which S represents reality, ‘cause that’s tricky.) Whereas mathematics, at the least, originates as an object in S, and is independent of the choice of f, r, and L.

    To which my daughter, who just woke from her nap, says, “Gababa ba.”

    Posted by John  on  01/07  at  02:38 PM
  29. Oops. Clearly I messed up the tags, and I have no idea why Safari inserted a winking smily face. See what I mean? It’s all a language problem…

    Posted by John  on  01/07  at  02:40 PM
  30. Exactly my point.rasberry

    Posted by Centrally Certified Content Publisher  on  01/07  at  03:35 PM
  31. One Palya is the length of time it takes to build a cube of lambswool 1 yojans high, if one strand was laid down every century. The measurement of yojan is approximately 9 miles, or it could be half that:  4.5 miles. 1 Yojan may be equivalent to 4 Krosas, or 8,000 Danda or Bow; it may also be equivalent to 4,000 Dhanu, or 768,000 Angulas.

    One can only hope that this sabbatical from blogging will not be a Palya in length, but should it be, then all that one can say is: thanks for all the phish. 

    Meanwhile out in the “real” world, there are some conflicting stories about the impending GNF.  It seems that the Bush administration is expected to announce next week a major step forward in the building of the country’s first new nuclear warhead in nearly two decades.  “It will propose combining elements of competing designs from two weapons laboratories in an approach that some experts argue is untested and risky.” The overall bill is “estimated at more than $100 billion.”

    http://www.defensetech.org/archives/003133.html

    ISRAEL has drawn up secret plans to destroy Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities with tactical nuclear weapons.  Two Israeli air force squadrons are training to blow up an Iranian facility using low-yield nuclear “bunker-busters”, according to several Israeli military sources.  The attack would be the first with nuclear weapons since 1945, when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Israeli weapons would each have a force equivalent to one-fifteenth of the Hiroshima bomb.

    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,242243,00.html

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2089-2535310,00.html

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070107/ap_on_re_mi_ea/israel_iran_nuclear

    I suppose reading about the collapse of past civilizations and the impending demise of the planet’s life sustaining ecosystems, might be preferred to pondering the possibility of the GNF within the month??

    Posted by  on  01/07  at  04:56 PM
  32. What is important about this discussion is this: if f:S->L is a mapping from mental state to linguistic structure, and r:L->S is a retraction for f, when is Michael going to address the intellectual arguments raised by Ringo Starr in “It Don’t Come Easy”? Intellectual rigor, if not honesty, demands a response.

    Posted by John  on  01/07  at  06:00 PM
  33. Okay, Michael, I concede your first point. I should have made it clear that you weren’t talking about conservative intellectuals, but about political conservatives. I would say that it would be better to call them conservative polemicists than political conservatives, but that’s a quibble. Yes, a pernicious thread of conservatism that goes back to royalists and in the Old World and nativists in the New World, and they’re an embarrassment to the tradition. Conservatism in the 1950s formulated a vision separate from that past, and neocons a decade later had nothing to do with it. Maybe intellectual conservatives today need to reaffirm that distinction.

    Malkin and Horowitz are different cases. She has come to prominence in an age of cable talk and blogs, and keys her performance to the quick accusation. It’s a thin act in an obnoxious style, but the media love it. Her success has encouraged her to go one step further with every accolade and paycheck. She’s more a media personality than a political figure, and not an intellectual figure at all. You ask conservative intellectuals to defend her or criticize her, but I’ve never heard one mention her one way or the other, so the question has never occurred to me.

    Horowitz is more complicated and serious. I feel ambivalent about him. His campaign against the academic Left descends into low blows and smears. He exaggerates leftist bias, and he paints the academic left as cheap socialists with a broad hasty brush.

    On the positive side, though:

    -----Radical Son is a great book, the best personal reflection on the ideological course of the 60s and 70s that I’ve seen.

    -----Horowitz will debate the issues up front and in your face, and give the other side a venue to make its case.

    -----He’s right to cast the liberal arts curriculum as slanted to the left, and that it makes for an inadequate education.

    I’m sure you don’t think that these pluses make up for the drawbacks, but there’s an added variable to consider, and I mentioned it in the Valve thread. Horowitz acts in a political context these days. As a political campaign, it has little intellectual force and staying power, and academics disarm it easily by conceding his general point but casting his solutions as worse than the problem. Whenever that has happened, the movement has lost all its wind. You’ve made several concessions about leftist bigotry here and there in the humanities, at the same time that you’ve dispatched many details in his allegations, and I’ve think you’ve prevailed there. You did that in the radio show with Kantor, and you came off the winner. Is there any impact Horowitz has had on the actual practices on campus? Not that I’ve seen. I do take Horowitz quite seriously in his “Radical Son” mode, but I don’t think the against-campus-bias movement is going anywhere.

    Perhaps this is to repeat the “two-step” you noted above, and maybe conservatives in academia harbor a satisfaction in seeing the smug nastiness of their more radical colleagues answered by Horowitz’s tactics, and this leads them to downplay the negatives. I’ve seen so much bullying and conformity to lasting effect that the bullying of Horowitz (to little effect) isn’t so upsetting.

    Finally, I didn’t testify “on Horowitz’s behalf” in Georgia. Someone in his office simply asked me to join him at a hearing to talk about bias on campus, and I agreed to do so. We never even spoke until one minute before the hearing began, and I was one of several people there. Horowitz wasn’t even the main speaker. I mentioned, as you note, that some of my statements there were injudicious.

    Problem is, I don’t really have any counsel to make today about what to do about the liberal bias issue in the humanities curriculum. I do see it as a serious failing--not because conservatives and libertarians don’t have jobs there, but because undergrads and grad students aren’t studying some important ideas and texts that have significant influence in cultural and educational policy today, and have some intellectual integrity in their own right. The pedagogical model you present of classroom instruction in What’s Liberal . . . is one we can all agree to, but the question remains whether the content of the syllabus can change, whether other important traditions can be incorporated. Professors like to think that they operate on principles of radical criticism and self-examination, but in actual practice the main pattern looks like that of inertia. Few things are harder to change than a professor’s teaching habits.

    How to do it? I don’t want outsiders coming into the curriculum or the classroom, but professors won’t go anywhere else. There’s no real exchange between the world, the text, and the critic, despite all the talk amongst our colleagues about power, politics, . . . But unless something drastic changes, the humanities in higher ed will become even more marginal to society, to the campus, and to students.

    Posted by  on  01/07  at  06:28 PM
  34. Posted by Dave M  on  01/08  at  03:01 AM

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