Tis the Season for Conference Wankery!

by Tedra Osell on December 28, 2011

Do you know what’s more boring than the insularity of academia? Bold Rebels Who Take Stands Against the Insularity of Academia by using minor players/subfields as weapons to bash someone who is mistakenly thought to be Really Important because he has a Column in the New York Times.

I so do not miss this kind of wankery. I had spent a few minutes feeling mildly wistful about lacking a reason to go up to Seattle this year, since I like and miss Seattle and would have enjoyed having drinks with some old friends and acquaintances, but dear god do I prefer sitting on my couch in 70-degree December weather thinking about taking a walk to the grocery store to having to listen to people preen themselves on their superior cynicism. If I’d stayed in academia I’m afraid my eyeballs would have gotten stuck staring at the ceiling and I’d be unable to walk anywhere.

Simple, Docile, Gifted

by Henry Farrell on December 28, 2011

Via “David Moles”:http://chrononaut.org/2011/12/01/but-the-sabres-of-jeb-stuarts-cavalry-and-the-bayonets-of-picketts-division-had-on-the-slopes-of-gettysburg-embodied-him-forever-in-a-revivified-tory-party/, Winston Churchill’s Grasshopper-Lies-Heavyesque exercise in the genre of alternative history within an alternative history deserves a wider readership. I give you the counter-counter-historical bit of “If Lee had not won the battle of Gettysburg.”

bq. If Lee after his triumphal entry into Washington had merely been the soldier, his achievements would have ended on the battlefield. It was his august declaration that the victorious Confederacy would pursue no policy toward the African negroes which was not in harmony with the moral conceptions of western Europe that opened the highroads along which we are now marching so prosperously

bq. But even this famous gesture might have failed if it had not been caught up and implemented by the practical genius and trained parliamentary aptitudes of Gladstone. There is practically no doubt at this stage that the basic principle upon which the color question in the Southern States of America has been so happily settled owed its origin mainly to Gladstonian ingenuity and to the long statecraft of Britain in dealing with alien and more primitive populations. There was not only the need to declare the new fundamental relationship between master and servant, but the creation for the liberated slaves of institutions suited to their own cultural development and capable of affording them a different yet honorable status in a commonwealth, destined eventually to become almost world wide.

bq. Let us only think what would have happened supposing the liberation of the slaves had been followed by some idiotic assertion of racial equality, and even by attempts to graft white democratic institutions upon the simple, docile, gifted African race belonging to a much earlier chapter in human history. We might have seen the whole of the Southern States invaded by gangs of carpetbagging politicians exploiting the ignorant and untutored colored vote against the white inhabitants and bringing the time-honored forms of parliamentary government into unmerited disrepute. We might have seen the sorry force of black legislators attempting to govern their former masters. Upon the rebound from this there must inevitably have been a strong reassertion of local white supremacy. By one device or another the franchises accorded to the negroes would have been taken from them. The constitutional principles of the Republic would have been proclaimed, only to be evaded or subverted; and many a warm-hearted philanthropist would have found his sojourn in the South no better than “A Fool’s Errand.”

Since the JSTOR version is apparently a straight reprint of Churchill’s original 1930 essay, I’m presuming it’s not in copyright any more, and have put it up here taken it down as I understand from comments that it is still in copyright.

Science and the “aim of philosophy”

by Chris Bertram on December 28, 2011

There’s a very interesting interview with Brian Leiter over at 3:AM Magazine. Read the whole thing, as they say. Interesting and entertaining though Brian’s thoughts are, I reacted somewhat negatively to his promotion of “realism” over “moralism” and to the somewhat dismissive (though sugar-coated) remarks he makes about Jerry Cohen. Jerry actually did have some “realist” things to say about society and politics, most notably in parts of _Self-Ownership, Freedom and Equality_ and in chapter 11 of _Karl Marx’s Theory of History_, but his work can speak for itself. More worrying, I think, is Brian’s apparent desire to abolish large parts of philosophy altogether when he write approvingly of:

bq. those who think the aim of philosophy should be to get as clear as possible about the way things really are, that is, about the actual causal structure of the natural and human world, how societies and economies work, what motivates politicians and ordinary people to do what they do ….

My question here is: why’s that an aim of _philosophy_ ? The people investigating the actual causal structure of the natural world are natural scientists, not philosophers; the people investigating the actual causal structure of the human world are social scientists, not philosophers.

Update: Brian assures me that he has no desire that the moralists be “purged” (my work was “abolished”). I’m happy to hear that, but it remains that he thinks that we moralists are pursuing an agenda that is other than he believes the aim of philosophy ought to be.

I Love a Man in Uniform

by Maria on December 28, 2011

I almost hesitate to make this recommendation, as my taste has cloven to the mainest of main streams since I became an army wife. A recent intervention has more or less cured me of a short but embarrassing episode of James Blunt fandom. I did, however, spend the whole of Christmas in two comfortable but flattering Boden dresses which I suspect are just a bit smart for the many coffee mornings I now attend. (I was shocked to discover I’m the only one who bakes for them. Everyone else brings biscuits from upper echelon supermarkets.)

‘Wherever You Are’, the lovely song sung by the Military Wives Choir led by Gareth Malone, is at least worth a hunt through Youtube, along with footage of how it came about. The song’s release follows a TV series about choirmaster Gareth Malone turning a group of women into a proper choir while their military husbands were away in Afghanistan. The women’s letters to their husbands were gleaned for touching – though admittedly a bit saccharine – lyrics to a song written for them. Eventually the men came home, and the choir sang beautifully in the Royal Albert Hall on Remembrance Sunday. There were many tears along the way, not least those of viewers. The song was number 1 in the UK at Christmas and has now been released in the US. The proceeds are going to charities that support ex-service men and women. It is certainly worth a listen and even ordering from Amazon US (whenever they get around to re-stocking it).

The real reason I hesitate just a little bit in recommending this sweet song is a niggling worry about sentiment. We all live in a post-Diana world where the stiff upper lip has given way to increasingly orchestrated and maudlin displays of public emotion. A leader who can’t emote, especially on television, is no good. As soldiers don’t have a choice about which wars they fight, it’s a good thing that citizens of democracies don’t, as a rule, pillory service men and women. But I can’t help thinking all these TV programmes about soldiers and their feelings, army wives singing and crying, and kindly townspeople meeting hearses; they give the rest of us a deliciously tender moment to feel in sympathy, rather than think hard about the reality of an all-volunteer force fighting largely wars of choice. [click to continue…]

Thanks to everyone who has made comments on the drafts of the new chapter of Zombie Economics, on Expansionary Austerity, for the forthcoming paperback edition.  I’m now editing in response, and adding a section on Further Reading. I’d welcome any suggestions for this chapter, as well as any useful references that weren’t in the hardback edition.