Thursday, May 26, 2005


The world lost one of its most brilliant thinkers last week when Paul Ricouer passed away. I was fortunate enough to have taken a seminar on Ricouer with one of his friends, David Stewart, so I was exposed to a broad swath of his thought. If I were smarter and a better philosopher, I would write like Ricouer. His writing was incredibly lucid, and traversed enormous terrain in both analytic and continental philosophy. Deleuze has written quite a bit about the philosopher as the friend of wisdom; Ricouer put this conception to work.

Long time no blog

Two things happened this weekend:

1) I graduated law school

2) I got engaged

With luck, I'll return to my usual bloviating tomorrah.

Update: Forgot to mention. My lady? Here's one of the many reasons I love her so. Brilliant. I'm not entirely sure it's all parody, though, and I don't know if that's creepy or weirdly intriguing.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

A great pomo debate should follow!

Jim over at @Large recently posted about post-modernism. In his considered opinion:
Current postmodernist expression is simply more bad breath from modernism. It is a deconstructive reaction to modernism, not knowing what it is, but merely what it is not. It's just post-something else. It doesn't even know what it wants to be when it grows up, but it certainly knows what it does not [want] to be: [Its] parent.
Your humble author has asked "Bill" [ed: quotes indicating the fluidity of identity in the blogosphere - ha!] the following questions, all of which I feel strongly about:

1. What do you think about the relationship between iterability and differance.

2. How has panopticism affected the realm of biopower in terms of the recent debate over smoking bars?

3. Which ideological state apparatus most clearly reifies Weber's thesis of the protestant work ethic?

I'm playing my hands close to my chest, but I think the answer to 3 will be the most telling.

Postscript: get a load of this from his post: "postmodernism is more a vacuum than a presence." True. Very true.

Monday, May 16, 2005


This post from Rude Pundit says it all. Exerpt:

But, c'mon, why bother apologizing when the right is so fuckin' fond of
trottin' out the Holocaust whenever they want to forcefully make an "argument."
Remember when Grover Norquist compared the
"fairness" of the estate tax to "the morality of the Holocaust"? That was sooo
clever. 'Cause, see, with the estate tax, the government "discriminates" by
taking some money from really, really rich dead people; and in the Holocaust,
the Nazis "discriminated" by killing millions of men, women, and children and
burning their bodies. You can see how readily the two are analogous.

He's got more examples, by the by, all of which are insane. Which reminds me of the Anchoress. In commenting on Robert Novak's slow-news-day column about how it's wrong for people to request public records, she unleashes this gem:

Incredibly sleazy but more troubling than mere sleaze, and I say this as a
former Democrat. The GOP never did anything like this, not on a continual,
incessant, pro-active sort of basis. The Nazis did, though - character
assassination was job 1 for them.

So you see, not only is requesting public records wrong, it's objectively pro-Nazi.

What slayed me is Amy K in the comments section: "You can always count on the left for elevated and reasoned discourse. " Uh-huh.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Two comments on federalism

I came across a shmaht comment on federalism at Reason's Hit and Run. The occasion for the comment is a post that links to an editorial from the Moonie Times, which basically calls bullshit on the GOP's purported interest in federalism.

First comment: "I'm starting to think that the erosion of federalism is less a result of lust for power than an egotistical take on "moral leadership." The liberals' need for political correctness and the conservatives' endorsement of "life politics" has only made things worse." (panurge)

That nails it. To take the atrocious (from a federalist perspective) partial birth abortion ban, ostensible federalists supported it because the life of fetii is more important than constitutional limits on federal power. The problem is that everyone thinks their particular issue is more important than federalism. When every issue is an exception, from drinking ages to domestic abuse, it's federalism that becomes the exception.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Navigation of meaning

Gaunilo has a really, really interesting post up at Gaunilo's Island. Much of it centers on a view of Christianity as an ethical navigation of meanings:
Christianity must be understood as a community and a mode of discourse that operates according to a logic of openness and continual negotiation of identity. I don't see Christian identity as constituted by boundaries that we are transgressing in being too accepting; I see Christianity as a community for whom its identity is its central task and eschatological condition - as an embodied community of argument centered around the liturgy and inhabited by the Spirit.

A little later, he writes: "My money rests instead on the ethical vision that is produced by the most compelling narrative, and eventuates in the richest surplus of meaning."

There's a lot in this post, but I'd like to take a quick look (when I should be studying international sales contracts...) at the suggested internal link between ethical navigation and the surplus of meaning.

One of the things that's always interested me in Christianity is its fundamental beauty.* It's the beauty of absence: what is usually thought of as beautiful in the Mona Lisa, for example, is the strangeness of the smile. The beauty of the painting lies in that which escapes the painting, that which is absent from the painting (the reason for the smile). Similarly, certain pieces of beauty have a longing in them that makes them agonizingly beautiful. Briefly, this is the aestheticization of absence. I think we see this absence in Christianity: at the pivotal moment of Christianity, when Christ is on the cross, he asks why this is happening. Notably, there's no response. I find that amazing: at possibly the most crucial point in the Passion, Jesus/God himself doesn't know why he's there ("Of father, why have you forsaken me"). Had God responded with a power point presentation of the four-fold root of his suffering, the passage would lose its ability to compel. Like the Mona Lisa, the beauty of the faith resides in a fundamental absence.

How is this absence squared with the surplus of meaning? Usually, we'd posit God as the source of meaning, which throws these two things into tension. But if we see God as a Lacanian super-signifier, the Big Father that sutures signifiers together into a univocal chain of signifiers, then the absence of God entails the polysemy of meaning. Without a super-signifier excluding possible meanings, everything is awash in different meanings. This is what I thought was so clever in the film About Schmidt: in this new landscape, the goal isn't to reassemble the Big Daddy (this would be Jesus as Osiris – Christianity as the putting-back-together of the god); it's to navigate the plenitude of meaning in an ethical way.

*One of these days, I'm gonna work out an aesthetic epistemology. Contemporary epistemology has already shown the way out of correspondence, so prima facie I don't think it'd be too hard to take one more step and locate truth in aesthetics.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Jesus's IPod

Grammar note: I just won't play up to religious exceptionalism by not adding the possessive 's' at the end of 'Jesus.' That's right, I said it.

Anyhoo, I can't remember whom I should hat-tip, but someone linked to this mildly-funny-but-not-really SF Gate article about what would be on Jesus's IPod. Maybe I didn't find it amusing cuz it seems so obvious to me: he'd totally have nothing but the fucking Get Up Kids.


Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Toward an analysis of abortion

Ella's Dad over at Ragged Edge has written one of the more sophisticated analyses of abortion that one is liable to see. It's not often that people cut through the emotional rhetoric and really get to the matter at hand. It's pretty long and in-depth, but I'll excerpt it as best I can to convey the essence of the argument:
What was curious to my abortion-supporting friends last summer was why I'm anti-abortion: not because I believe "life" beings at conception, but precisely because I don't know when "it" starts....

With the calculus being thus - the certain end of what may be a living human being on the one hand versus the promotion of consequence-free hedonism on the other - the only reasonable answer is the one that errs on the side of caution....

Good argument. Typically, when a life may be at stake, we err on the side of the caution. For example, if I'm hunting in the woods and see a figure in the distance that may or may not be a deer, I won't shoot on the off chance that it's a person. This is the moral precautionary principle, and it's clearly a good principle.

So far as I can tell (and I haven't spent long hours agonizing over this question - this analysis is purely provisional - hopefully I'll get some good pointers on the weaknesses), there are two ways in which the Precautionary Principle can be met when it comes to abortion. (note: I'm bracketing the option of adoption for the time being).

First, there's a difference in what is weighed between the hunting hypo and abortion. In the former, what is lost is just a shot at getting a deer. More deer will come along. In the case of abortion, what is weighed is not "consequence-free hedonism" but the enormous opportunity costs incurred in having a kid. Kids are enormously expensive, both monetarily and emotionally, and require that the parent forego a number of other non-monetary options (a career; or, in this world, the choice of a partner, since many are less willing to date single parents; etc.). As I noted at ED's blog, this weighing of life and money is the rule, not the exception. Worker safety regs, for example, take note of the expenses of saving lives and issue regs that will efficiently ensure some level of worker safety. In other words, a measure that would cost a million dollars to save one life is a measure that will be rejected as inefficient. What this tells us is that, even when what is at stake is clearly a person, monetary concerns are not irrelevant.

A hypothetical: let's say that collecting a one-time tax on the wealthiest of 50%, to be applied to health care for the poor, would save 5 lives. Other things being equal (ie, assume no long-term effects on the economy), should we collect the tax? I have a feeling that people would say no, it's not acceptable. With abortion, though, when we aren't even clear that what's at stake is a person, the contention is that money and opportunity costs are no object. Perhaps the money-for-life tradeoff is morally wrong; however, the fact that we're so willing to accept the swap in so many other areas suggests that the life-at-all-costs approach to abortion is misguided.

One more consideration: let's say our hypothetical hunter is in the field, and sees a figure in the distance. It's brown, it's eating leaves off shrubbery, and it has horns. These are the things that we typically associate with deer-ness, so we shoot. The analog in the abortion case is that many people associate a brain with personhood. In the same way people associate horn-ness and brown-ness with "deer." Similarly, the existence of a brain seems like a minimal condition of personhood. So we're not awash in a gray zone of total incertitude - there are some factual states that enable us to infer personhood. Of course, some of us don't see the existence of a functioning brain as the minimal condition of personhood, but the general consensus is that it is (I think it's especially notable that even in the Schiavo case most Terri-bloggers argued that her brain had some minimum functionality; rare was the person that argued that a lump of flesh sans brain was a person with full rights).

In short, we're able to discern relevant facts by which we can infer personhood. We may be wrong, of course, but our hypothetical hunter may be wrong. What's significant is the existence of facts by which we can reasonably infer the personhood of the object.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Streak says it so I don't have to

Read it all. Here's a snippet:

I got into it with a very conservative gentleman. We have moments of clarity as if we are on the same field, but then the ground shifts and it is clear we aren't talking about the same stuff at all....

Today has been one of those days. I have written about those demons that come out when we are tired and weak and distraught. Mine come out when there are clouds and I am down. Today they reminded me that I am almost 40 and that my "career" is not what I had hoped. My brain struggles to fight them off--reminding those smug bastards that there is more to life than career, and that in that accounting, I am quite rich. More rich than I deserve. But those bastards keep taunting me; reminding me that my Ph.D., doesn't amount for shit.

I know they lie. I know they lie. But it hurts, and it drags me down today. Right now, though, as I write this, some evening sun has broken through. that is nice. I feel a surge of relief, like adrenalin, or like when you realize you have been holding your breath and start breathing again.
This is one of those down times, and those who read this blog recognize them. I am moody. I have to keep reminding myself of the truth of who I am, and not try to engage people on some other blog in a fake contest. It won't convince them, and it won't convince the demons.

But I don't have to take their shit either.

Channelling Friedman

At Betsy's Page, the eponymous proprietess links to an article at NRO which argues that Bush's first hundred days have been going pretty swimmingly. The NRO article concludes that Bush is a thoroughbred that's already winning the race. In the comments, Carol contends that Bush is actually a pitcher just getting going in the third inning.

I'd agree that Bush is a thoroughbred, only he's one that's defending against Shaq. When you guard Shaq, you play him hard for the first two and half quarters, and then by the third or fourth quarter, he starts tiring out, and you start pulling ahead. That's what Bush is doing: with Iraq and Social Security, he's throwing and taking a lot of hard fouls in the hopes that the opponent tires out and he can start pulling ahead when things go down the final stretch. That's what thoroughbreds do: they guard Shaq close and then grab the checkered flag. Whether Bush will foul out, or ride the nurse shark of progress remains to be seen, but I think that's the strategy.

Smarter Than I is up

Smarter than v.3.0, in which the raddest posts in the blogoshpere are culled, is up at Pseudopolymath.