The End of MaxSpeak

by Kieran Healy on August 31, 2007

I missed this earlier this week. No more MaxSpeak as of September 3rd. Boo. Max’s posts felt like a very pure form of blogging: his prose style had a way of temporarily wiring you in to his thought process as it was happening. Not many people can convey that feeling well, either because there’s too much post-processing (and it all gets polished up) or there’s not enough (and its incomprehensible). Max hit the sweet-spot a lot more than most. The results weren’t pretty, but they were usually dynamic, direct and right on target more often than not. Soon, the interwebs will be just a bit more boring.

{ 53 comments }

1

Seth Edenbaum 08.31.07 at 6:58 am

Just a bit condescending. As if I read CT for prose style, or anything at this point, other than than DD (sounds a bit like Max doesn’t he?). The rest of you spout self-important academicism leavened with occasional musings on Stan Lee and stories about meeting Bill Gates… “Cool!!”
The nice thing about Max was that outside his field of expertise he was a proud vulgarian. He didn’t pretend. He didn’t care. This site treats intellectual vulgarity with reverence.

“The results weren’t pretty,”
Compared to what?
Jesus fucking christ, learn to write.

2

James Wimberley 08.31.07 at 9:23 am

Seth: kindly blaspheme with proper capitalisation.

3

Kieran Healy 08.31.07 at 11:36 am

The nice thing about Max was that outside his field of expertise he was a proud vulgarian.

Just a bit condescending.

4

Matt 08.31.07 at 11:53 am

Did someone here really write about meeting Bill Gates? I must have missed it. A quick search of the site doesn’t show it. I’d normally think that 6:58 am was an early time to be drunk but with Seth I never know.

5

abb1 08.31.07 at 12:16 pm

‘Populist’ would probably be a better word.

6

Mrs Tilton 08.31.07 at 1:08 pm

Matt @4: can’t be arsed to search, but didn’t somebody here once post a joke about meeting Gates? (In an airport, BTW, just to tie into Maria’s post.)

7

Doctor Slack 08.31.07 at 1:47 pm

I met Bill Gates on the road, and killed him.

MaxSpeak was one of the first blogs I read regularly, and one of the progenitors of a minor, largely-fogrotten (but dear to my heart) experiment in left-right blogging called Stand Down. Admittedly I haven’t read him much in the PajamasMedia era. I do hope the Sandwichman finds a good outlet.

8

Seth Edenbaum 08.31.07 at 2:08 pm

“He could be proudly vulgar.” That sounds better.

It means that perhaps it’s better to be a called a mensch than a philosopher, and it reminds me to be a bit nervous as I head off (as I’m wont do) in the opposite direction. Tyler Cowen doesn’t have such doubts, and neither do most of the people here.
Confident rationalists are at best an annoying bunch. At worst they’re a threat to the republic.

9

Seth Edenbaum 08.31.07 at 2:31 pm

The last sentence is a bit much, but I’m not sure its wrong.

10

Walt 08.31.07 at 2:57 pm

I knew the first comment was by s.e. 9 words into it, which is my personal best. Woo-hoo!

11

Hidari 08.31.07 at 3:04 pm

‘MaxSpeak was one of the first blogs I read regularly, and one of the progenitors of a minor, largely-forgotten (but dear to my heart) experiment in left-right blogging called Stand Down’.

Doctor Slack do you know anything about Scoop software? Contact me if you do.

(PS this goes for anyone who knows something about Scoop and is broadly sympathetic to the ‘editorial line’ of Stand Down).

12

Hidari 08.31.07 at 3:08 pm

Clicking on the link should make things clearer….

13

engels 08.31.07 at 3:51 pm

Confident rationalists are at best an annoying bunch. At worst they’re a threat to the republic.

President Bush shares your sentiments. As does Ayatollah Khomeini.

14

Seth Edenbaum 08.31.07 at 4:23 pm

So Bush is an empiricist?
He seems capable of rationalizing every mistake he’s ever made.
And theologians are rationalists. They’re its founders. But at least they rationalize from words.
Building formalism over empiricism as if one were the foundation of the other, by a rhetorical slight of hand: bullshit.

15

Hidari 08.31.07 at 4:39 pm

For some incomprehensible reason my first post was deleted so my last comment was…well…incomprehensible.

Anyway what I meant to post was:

‘MaxSpeak was one of the first blogs I read regularly, and one of the progenitors of a minor, largely-fogrotten (but dear to my heart) experiment in left-right blogging called Stand Down.’

Doctor Slack: do you know anything about Scoop? Do you know anybody that does? Please drop me a line if so.

ps this goes for anyone who is vaguely sympathetic to the ‘Stand Down’ editorical line.

16

notsneaky 08.31.07 at 5:18 pm

abb1, your meaning is unclear.

“Populist” as a better word for
a) condescending
b) drunk at 6:58 am
c) vulgarian
d) all of the above

?

17

luci 08.31.07 at 5:23 pm

The first blog I ever stumbled upon was Delong’s, which led to Dsquared, which led directly to Max.

Max is good stuff.

18

Miracle Max 08.31.07 at 6:35 pm

Thanks for any good wishes.

Keep an eye out for “Stand Down!” at nowarblog.org. A hardy soul is working on getting it up and running again, since we haven’t run out of wars yet.

Maxspeak.org will have a redirect to a new site with former MaxSpeak authors (minus myself), plus some new folks.

squatting vulgarly outside the universe . . .

19

engels 08.31.07 at 6:55 pm

Seth, your remarkable humpty-dumptyism vis-à-vis the word “rationalism” notwithstanding, it simply is not remotely fair to describe someone like Khomeini as a “rationalist”. Apart from his preference for divine revelation as a source of knowledge he is, after all, known for remarks like the following:

I repeat for the last time: abstain from holding meetings, from blathering, from publishing protests. Otherwise I will break your teeth.

Likewise, if Bush, Rove et al‘s cardinal intellectual sin is a narcisstic preference for tedious academic chin-stroking sessions over decisive action in the real world then that would certainly be news to me. On the contrary, it seems pretty clear that the problem is a disdain for rational thought, learning and discussion altogether, one which, from your regular pronouncements on the superiority of common sense, rhetoric and “craft” to knowledge and expertise of any kind, you appear to be somewhat sympathetic.

As for the tendency of intellectuals to embrace theoretical abstraction as a means of avoiding the messiness of reality, yes it can lead to serious problems, in academic life as well as in politics (although without some form of it modern science would surely be impossible) but such problems are best addressed through serious-minded critique and empirical refutation, not by the kind of rhetorical carpet-bombing which you seem to favour, which leaves it unclear whether your targets are intellectuals and academics who have gone astray or just intellectuals and academics per se.

Finally, this jeremiad against “rationalism” (purportedly now on behalf of “empiricism”) really does sit very oddly with your belief, stated elsewhere, in the innate superiority of European over Anglo-American philosophy. Are you going to tell us that Hegel was an empiricist, and J.S. Mill wasn’t?

20

abb1 08.31.07 at 7:49 pm

This may explain it.

…Reason, he argues, has run amok; instead of the enlightened utopia envisaged by Voltaire, the modern West is a soulless machine run by technocratic elites that promise efficiency but create disasters. The author targets the insane waste of our “permanent war economy,” the perils of nuclear power, the co-optation of democracy by vested interests, the news media’s focus on false events and manufactured celebrities, the “personality politics” of presidential campaigns. He critiques the Harvard Business School’s management teachings, profiles such figures as Thomas Jefferson, Robert McNamara and Charles de Gaulle, flunks our colleges for failure to reward creativity and imagination. He blames novelists from James Joyce onward for “rendering literature inaccessible” and divorcing fiction from social concerns. …

Saul locates the source of many of the contemporary world’s problems in a perversion of reason. He argues that while Voltaire had hoped to use reason as a tool to overthrow outmoded and harsh customs, his successors instead employed reason as an instrument of social control. The will of the people was unimportant to such acolytes of reason as Napoleon, who argued that uninformed popular opinion must be regimented through the supposed dictates of reason. The result of these misguided efforts at rational planning have been the horrors of modern warfare and the depredations of industrialism. Saul attributes such varied phenomena as the arms race, the “star system,” and the rise of bureaucracy to hyperrationalism.

21

dsquared 08.31.07 at 7:57 pm

I was reading Max a long time before there was Maxspeak …

22

Seth Edenbaum 08.31.07 at 8:16 pm

If someone is going to argue against the trusim that rationalism descends from theology then there’s nothing I can do. The scientific revolutions were revolutions in empiricism. But I have nothing against rationalism: lawyers are rationalists arguing from foundational scraps of paper, and everyone knows how much I love lawyers.
Engels, I prefer literature to philosophy, and the continentals treat philosophy as a literary act (so I let them have their fun in peace).

The results weren’t pretty, but they were usually dynamic, direct and right on target more often than not.

That’s not one person talking about another it’s a teacher talking about a precocious student, or a professional talking about an amateur.
Max’s writing is informal and unpretentions. The post was neither. I should have just said that and let it be.

23

engels 08.31.07 at 8:18 pm

Christ, abb1, you really do have a talent for making any sort of intelligent discussion impossible, don’t you?

24

engels 08.31.07 at 8:27 pm

Sorry, I probably have written that, but really, I spent a certain amount of time trying to write a semi-serious response to Seth. In reponse, you post an extremely lengthy quotation which doesn’t seem to have traction on any of the specific points which anyone made above and really seems barely relevant. It just seems destined to turn the conversation into people che.ering and booing for and against “Reason” or “The Enlightenment”, or whatever This kind of thing really makes it difficult to discuss more abstract issues here. Anyway, my original comment was off-topic so I’ll leave it there.

25

engels 08.31.07 at 9:09 pm

(I should have written “Reason”, “Science”, “The Enlightenment”, or whatever.)

26

abb1 08.31.07 at 9:22 pm

That’s all right, I was just trying to help. The short version: this Saul guy wrote a whole book attacking all sorts of rationalism. Probably more than one book, that’s the one I know. That’s his main schtik, really. Basically says without humanist ethics and common sense it’s not good.

27

engels 08.31.07 at 9:42 pm

That’s all right, I was just trying to help. The short version: this Saul guy wrote a whole book attacking all sorts of rationalism. Probably more than one book, that’s the one I know. That’s his main schtik, really. Basically says without humanist ethics and common sense it’s not good.

abb1, a lengthy cut-and-paste from someone who has written a series of books on a topic which may or may not be all that similar to the one we were discussing does not add up to a serious argument for or against any of the specific points which people took the time to develop above, does it?

And you have made it pretty clear that you just aren’t interested in most of the issues which come up here unless they are directly related to US politics. Yet you frequently pop up on these threads with comments which just seem intended to wreck these discussions for everyone else.

28

engels 08.31.07 at 9:49 pm

That said, this thread wasn’t about Seth’s attacks on academics, so I shouldn’t have responded in the first place.

29

Hidari 08.31.07 at 11:30 pm

‘Keep an eye out for “Stand Down!” at nowarblog.org. A hardy soul is working on getting it up and running again, since we haven’t run out of wars yet.’

That hardy soul is me me me me me me me. Anyone who is interested in helping with a revamped Stand Down get in touch. Like I say, knowledge of Scoop a definite advantage, but not a necessity at this stage.

30

abb1 09.01.07 at 8:05 am

You’ve been in a bad mood recently, engels; I hope everything is alright with you and your family. But whatever it is, at some point you’ll need to snap out of it, man.

31

engels 09.01.07 at 4:15 pm

No, abb1, I am happy as larry the lamb on a spring morn and my family have never been better (and thank you so much for asking!) I just happen to think that you are an irritating, empty-headed pseudo-leftwing prat.

32

abb1 09.01.07 at 4:26 pm

I’m glad you feel happy, engels, but I’m still concerned about that irritability of yours. Hope it’s not rabies.

33

Doctor Slack 09.01.07 at 4:36 pm

Hidari: Sadly, I’m a bit of a techno-peasant and don’t know anything about Scoop. I do like the idea of a revived Stand Down. I’ll keep an eye out for people more knowledgeable about the technical whatsits and thingamadoodles than I am.

34

novakant 09.01.07 at 5:51 pm

35

engels 09.01.07 at 7:27 pm

Fuck off, Novakant.

36

engels 09.01.07 at 9:46 pm

Also, it is interesting to note the rhetorical move which abb1 invariably uses in reponse to me and anyone else who voices objections to his unique approach to “argument”, which is to ignore all the complaints that have been made, but to try to marginalise the complainant by suggesting that he or she must be irrational, in the grip of uncontrolled emotions or even, in this case, ill. This is of course a well-known right-wing rhetorical tactic. (I think Noam Chomsky has even written about it somewhere.)

37

seth edenbaum 09.02.07 at 3:23 am

Actually, Engels Abb’s comments were on point. And your reference to Khomeini was absurd, as is your assumption that the only arguments against rationalism come from irrationalism. By that logic the critique of classical economics has been lead by wizards, warlocks and catholic priests. I put it nicely back at home:

“A community of people may build a formally consistent social system founded on nothing more than shared assumptions, and label it “rational scientific secularism.” It’s up to others to point out that its just bourgeois.”

I swear to god we’re reliving the 19th fucking century. Nothing ever changes.

38

engels 09.02.07 at 3:29 am

Okay, I should have just ignored both of you to begin with. Do carry on.

39

engels 09.02.07 at 4:40 am

(But very briefly:

your reference to Khomeini was absurd

Well, if I may remind you, your original claim was that “Confident rationalists are… a threat to the republic.” I merely pointed out that this sentiment is not exactly original, having been shared by people including Karl Rove, Mao Zedong and Nicholas II of Russia.

Abb’s comments were on point

Are you referring to the comment that I am “in a bad mood” or the comment that I have rabies?

By that logic the critique of classical economics has been lead by wizards, warlocks and catholic priests.

No, by that logic it’s been led by people who feel that those assumptions are not truly reasonable. And you really are using the word “rationalist” in an idiosyncratic way if you take it to mean “logically valid reasoning from unexamined premises”. I doubt if anyone would want to defend that as a definition of rational enquiry. Being rational ought to mean submitting all of one’s beliefs to the test of reason. To be rational a formal system would have to be built on rational principles.)

40

seth edenbaum 09.02.07 at 5:33 am

Idiosyncratic? I dunno, here’s what my computer says:

“rationalism |ˈra sh ənlˌizəm; ˈra sh nəˌlizəm| noun a belief or theory that opinions and actions should be based on reason and knowledge rather than on religious belief or emotional response : scientific rationalism.”

Good enough, but then we get this:

• Philosophy the theory that reason rather than experience is the foundation of certainty in knowledge.
• Theology the practice of treating reason as the ultimate authority in religion

A conflict I think. My girlfriend says that math isn’t science ’cause it’s not empirical. Seems a bit much to me but what do I know, she gave up a tenure track job at Stanford and still gets to moonlight at the NIH. No shit! And real economists [sic][TM?] frown on the use of data, right? [The minimum wage etc.]

Faith is arguing from linguistic foundations as if language were the world
“logically valid reasoning from unexamined premises”

Same shit.
It’s the nature of professionalism that premises are no longer questioned. If you were still questioning premises you’d never even get there.
Live up to you pseudonym Engels, or find another one.

41

engels 09.02.07 at 4:29 pm

Seth, like I said, you can define rationalism in various ways, but you have to twist the meaning beyond recognition if you want to claim that the problem with religious fundamentalism is that it is “rationalist”.

In your last comment, you seem to be using it in a pejorative sense which is derived from its meaning in the history of philosophy; roughly, an over-reliance on reason, rather than experience, as a guide to truth. But then the distrust of “rationalism” in this sense is central to the self-image of the Anglo-American intellectual culture which you rail against, which has always claimed to be a common sense, empiricist style of thought, as against the speculative “theory” of the European continent (to which you appear to be more sympathetic) and the “ideology” of the Soviets. That’s why I asked you whether you would want to label Hegel as an empiricist, and J.S. Mill as a rationalist. Such a categorisation would certainly be unorthodox.

42

engels 09.02.07 at 4:53 pm

(In the extremely unlikely event that anyone cares, comment #39 was meant to refer to Nicholas I rather than Nicholas II.)

43

engels 09.02.07 at 5:31 pm

Btw here’s Seth

rationalism […]

“logically valid reasoning from unexamined premises”

Same shit.

It’s the nature of professionalism that premises are no longer questioned. If you were still questioning premises you’d never even get there.

And here’s evil philosopher and arch-rationalist Descartes

Some years ago I was struck by the large number of falsehoods that I had accepted as true in my childhood, and by the highly doubtful nature of the whole edifice I had subsequently based upon them. I realized that it was necessary, once in the course of my life, to demolish everything completely and start again right from the foundations if I wanted to establish anything at all in the sciences that was stable and likely to last.

Now by all means complain that present-day academic philosophers fail to live up to the founding spirit of their discipline. But claiming that philosophy is inherently opposed to questioning basic assumptions is to turn things upside down.

44

engels 09.02.07 at 5:35 pm

Now by all means complain that present-day academic philosophers fail to live up to the founding spirit of their discipline. But claiming that philosophy is inherently opposed to questioning basic assumptions (and worse, that religious and legal thought are superior in this regard) is to turn things upside down.

45

abb1 09.02.07 at 6:34 pm

Mr. Saul, whose real target is (I suspect) the philosophy of neo-liberalism, writes:

We carefully – rationally in fact – assign blame for our crimes to the irrational impulse. In this way we merely shut our eyes to the central and fundamental misunderstanding: reason is no more than structure. And structure is most easily controlled by those who feel themselves to be free of the cumbersome weight represented by common sense and humanism. Structure suits best those whose talents lie in manipulation and who have a taste for power in its purest form.

Thus the Age of Reason has turned out to be the Age of Structure; a time when, in the absence of purpose, the drive for power as a value in itself has become the principal indicator of social approval. And the winning of power has become the measure of social merit.

46

engels 09.02.07 at 7:13 pm

abb1, if you understand the above, and you think it constitutes a counterargument to a claim I have made here, then maybe you could explain how it does so, in your own words?

47

abb1 09.02.07 at 7:41 pm

I’m not arguing against you, I’m just trying to explain what I think people like Saul and (possibly) Seth are talking about.

Maybe it’s just a different angle. Maybe you’re both right, but you talk past each other, so there’s no counterargument. Reason is (according to Saul) just but a tool; can be used to build a house, can be used to blow it up.

I didn’t like his book much, actually; too many examples, interpretations, confusing. But I share the sentiment.

48

seth edenbaum 09.02.07 at 8:36 pm

The rhetoric of intention Engels. No more than that.
Read Chomsky the Cartesian, as he argues tooth and nail against the evidence concerning brain function. Read him arguing against empiricism. Until recently I had no idea what a blithering idiot he could be, Every other sentence is in the imperative: “The brain must…” “we must…” Sadly, no.
And for the thousandth time I’ll ask someone to do a study of the post-war American Jewish rationalism that gave us Chomsky and the Chicago boys. And no it was not “Reason” in either case, at least in the sense you approve of.

This thread was about Max Sawicky. My question was how it was possible for someone to write something that was meant to be complimenary and make it sound more like an encomium to the subtleties of author’s own imagination. Again: the difference between thoughful arrogance, whiich can be charming, and arrogant thoughtfulness, which isn’t. “See how generous I am.” What kind of man can’t tell the difference? Someone who is so busy looking at other things that he never looks back at himself.
“M&E?” The research model of sciences brought over to the humanities? Sputnik? How did it become possible for a philosophy to be called “techincal”?

Designers are never empiricists. And neither are Utilitarians. I’ve never been able to define “utility”, and i worry about anyone who has. I had a subscription to the Joural of Philosophy years ago. It was amazing. The narcissism of deconstrution without the irony or sense of humor. Hany ideas can fit on the head of a pin?
But Max[speak] contained multitudes, and Sandwichman too.

Also for the Bill Gates reference above, replace it with Google, a more malign influence anyway, since they’re actually good at what they do.

“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”
A nice thought but an impossible rule. The best one can do is try to observe one’s own actions, even the most casual and thoughtless ones, and wonder at what it would mean if each or any should become a universal law. That’s my definition of the philosophical life and it takes up many hours of my day. And I tell you, my days are pretty nervous. What can I say, I’m ecccentric. I don’t like people who make great claims for themselves who aren’t scared shitless. And calling yourself a philosopher is a pretty big claim.

I’ll say it again, and maybe I’m the only one who does so, but it seems so obvious I can’t think it’s not a truism: “The rule of law is not the rule of reason.” I wish people would spend more time thinking about what that means. And I wish people who would argue that the rule of law does or can not not exist, would spend some time thinking about the implications of their ideas as it affects their understanding and opinions of republican government.

49

engels 09.03.07 at 1:36 am

Seth, I’ve read through your comment twice now trying to discover some sort of connection between it and anything I wrote above, but I’m not getting it. Abb1, at least you have the honesty to admit that you are not even attempting to address anything I have actually written.

Anyway, I could have this kind of “debate” with the drunks who hang around outside Brixton tube, but on this occasion I’ll pass. No offence meant. As you were.

50

seth edenbaum 09.03.07 at 4:59 am

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Rationalism vs. Empiricism
Start here.

51

abb1 09.03.07 at 6:20 am

Yo, cut me some slack, Daddy-O. I’m just an IT guy, I don’t know shit about these things. I read a book on the subject and I’m telling you about it, that’s all. You don’t have to read my comments or respond to them.

52

engels 09.03.07 at 2:28 pm

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Rationalism vs. Empiricism. Start here.

“Just a bit condescending.”

You don’t have to read my comments

If only…

53

seth edenbaum 09.03.07 at 7:19 pm

try this one.
Logicians aren’t philosophers, they’re technicians, The law of non-contradiction does not hold in the perceptions of our daily life. If it did there would be no need for literature. All of our linguistic definitions are provisional. Language is not mathematics. Look at the list above of Descartes’ rhetorical slips and slides.
Formal ethics. How do we come to terms with downloading as a ubiquitous (but not victimless) crime? We can’t. The best response to change the system of distribution: to cut the Gordian knot. Such moments are inevitable in every formal system. Philosophy is concerned with the question of how we recognize and respond to those moments. A philosophy that does not concern itself with crisis is not a philosophy but a technics

And here’s that same quote from Santayana again:

Transcendental logic. the method of discovery for the mind, was to become also the method of evolution in nature and history. Transcendental method, so abused, became transcendental myth. A conscientious critique of knowledge was turned into a sham system of nature. We must therefore distinguish sharply the transcendental grammar of the intellect, which is significant and potentially correct, from the various transcendental systems of the universe which are chimeras.
The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy

The rationalism of utility and the lowest common denominator brings us to this. Read em and weep. Really.

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