I labour upwards into futurity.
William Blake?, 1796
31 October 2006
October Reading Review (2)
Agehananda Bharati, Swami. The Light at the Center:
Context and Pretext of Modern Mysticism. Santa Barbara, CA:
Almost finished. More on the book and the Swami
Brecht, Bertolt. Brecht on Theater: The Development
of an Aesthetic, edited and translated by John Willett. New
York: Hill and Wang, 1964.
Skimming for key philosophical content.
Levi, Albert William. Philosophy as Social
Expression. Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press,
See esp. Introduction and Conclusion. Intermediate
chapters profile Plato, Aquinas, Descartes, Moore. This was written
when analytical philosophy reigned unchallenged. The Introduction
provides some useful information on historical approaches. Levi
mentions Lukàcs, but the book falls below the theoretical
standard of good Marxism, though there is much that is usable
in it. Alvin Gouldner's analysis of Plato is the most compelling.
New in the queue:
Durer, Christopher S. Herman Melville, Romantic and Prophet:
A Study of His Romantic Sensibility and His Relationship to European
Romantics. Toronto: York P, 1996.
Michael Kosok, Dialectics
of Nature, Telos, No 6, Fall 1970.
I think this is bogus, man, but I will present
a fuller treatment elsewhere.
[> October Reading Review (1)]
29 October 2006
Richard Hofstadter on American Fascism &
Brown, David S. Richard Hofstadter: An Intellectual Biography.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006. 291 pp. Table
of contents. Publisher
Wiener, Jon. "America,
Through a Glass Darkly," The Nation, October 23,
Apparently, I'm not the only who thinks that a new look at Anti-Intellectualism
in American Life and other works by Hofstadter is in order.
29 October 2006
Irrationalism in Modern Thought Culminating in
Overpriced French Philosophy
Lears, Jackson. "Keeping
It Real," The Nation, June 12, 2006. Review of Martin
Jay's Songs of Experience.
Wolin, Richard. "Heidegger
Made Kosher," The Nation, February 20, 2006. On
Levinas vs. Sartre, and the general trends of Franco-Germanic 20th
Badiou, Alain. "The
Adventure of French Philosophy," New Left Review,
new series, no. 35, September-October 2005.
And, as usual, see my Positivism vs
Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie) Study Guide.
[> Annotation to "Irrationalism and
Marxism" by Étienne Balibar]
[> Bergson's Vitalism
& French Philosophy]
[> Julien Benda's
Treason of the Intellectuals]
23 October 2006
50th Anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution
A week ago I spoke with and shook the hand of the
one of two surviving leaders of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, who
escaped execution only because he was late for a meeting.
Otherwise, in other commemorative documentary contributions,
in the USA at any rate, I suspect the historical details are being
eclipsed in favor of American Cold War triumphalism, as if no other
perspective has a claim on the Hungarian Revolution. But the anti-Stalinist
left has something to say about it, too.
C.L.R. James et al, Introduction
to Facing Reality (1958). Lessons of the Hungarian Revolution.
15 October 2006
Half-Baked Half Nelson: Dialectics Interruptus
The film Half
Nelson (see also the film's own web site Half
Nelson - the film) is about dialectics and history taught by
a cocaine/crack-addicted teacher to inner city black kids. The web
site Dialectics for
Kids is cited in the credits.
Half Nelson, Opposing Forces Are Bound by Political
Faith by DENNIS LIM, New York Times, July 30, 2006.
Half Nelson, a Student Knows a Teachers Secret
by MANOHLA DARGIS, New York Times, August 11, 2006.
I distinctly remember concluding last winter after seeing Jim Jarmusch's
half-assed Broken Flowers at the E Street Cinema, prefaced
by trailers to a half-dozen tedious art films, that independent
filmmakers can pretty much get away with anythingthematic
confusion, disjointed narratives, underdefined characters, plots
that go nowhere, stories that don't add up (usually described by
the euphemism "open-ended")and that their pseudo-sophisticated
audiences will swallow it all just as they are expected to do, because
at the end of the day they are no more sophisticated than the audience
for Freddy vs. Jason at Union Station.
If you follow the reviews and discussion boards, perhaps you may
notice that the gullibility of white liberals and radicals know
no bounds. Reviewers are hardly more perspicacious that lay viewers.
Occasionally someone offers an insightful dissent.
I had my reservations about seeing this film, suspecting in advance
that it would be another white-boy-goes-slumming story. It wasn't
the standard fare, but its premise was somehow off, and I was not
the only one who left the theater dissatisfied.
Teacher Dan's affinity for black and Latin culture is unfeigned
and unromanticized, but his dysfunctional cocaine addiction is not
sufficiently motivated and in any case doesn't convincingly match
the plight of the inner city poor who give in to drug using or dealing.
A heroic savior, Dan is not, but his self-destructive behavior doesn't
convince me he is the peer of his aquaintances in the inner city,
either, and in this respect I differ from reviewers who find the
film refreshing. Dan is a radical who is committed to teaching his
students the history of struggle against oppression. Though irresponsible
and suffering from burnout, he is able to develop a rapport with
his students and get across some basic principles, while disregarding
the standard civil rights curriculum. At a gathering of his middle
class family late in the film, we discover that his parents were
activists in the '60s, but are apparently as demoralized as Dan.
We assume that the political climate has driven Dan to despair,
yet we don't have enough of his history to motivate his drug addiction.
Dan must have been brought up with this legacy, for we discover
in his library '60s "classics" such as Soul on Ice
and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Yet, while dedicated
in his individual manner to history teaching, he is disconnected
from others in every other way. A beautiful Latina fellow teacher
takes a liking to him, but after spending the night with him (and
inquiring about his library), he sloughs off a real connection as
a mere sex romp, permanently alienating the woman. Dan becomes quite
an unsympathetic character, even though his drug problem is the
apparent cause of his withdrawal from others. Politically helpless
and demoralized as he is, we want Dan at least to be able to function
as a friend, mentor, and educator, yet Dan sabotages himself even
in this restricted field of action.
After showing a clip of Mario Savio's famous speech during the
Berkeley Free Speech Movement, in which Davio passionately agitates
his audience to throw themselves on the 'gears of the machine',
Dan explains the machine. One student pipes up: but you're white,
you're a teacher, you're part of the machine, too. Dan responds:
that's right, and so are all of you. I am part of the machine even
while I oppose its policies. This is the one genuine dialectical
lesson of the film, though it's not taken to a satisfactory conclusion.
Dan teaches history via an explication of dialectics, which
he defines as the struggle of opposing forces. His approach is presumably
congruent to that of Dialectics
for Kids. This is not really an adequate characterization of
the concept, but it is serviceable for his presentation of political
struggle. (Though this is not mentioned, it bears resemblance to
Martin Luther King Jr.'s conception
of dialectics.) Dan refers to the spiral of change. At some point
a history of dialectics is outlinedthe yin-yang principle,
Aristotle, loss of dialectics in the West, and so on. At one point
Dan is asked: "how's diametrics going?" At another, his
book in progress, Dialectics for Kids, which attempts to
explain how change works, is mentioned. But that project is stalled
like the rest of Dan's life.
As I suggested, the one truly dialectical principle to be found
in all this is embedded in the notion that we too are a very part
of the machine against which we struggle; it is not just us vs.
them as separate unrelated entities, but one pole of the opposition
can only be defined in terms of its opposite. Presumably, the film
aims to show how we are all caught up in this machinery, no matter
at what level of society we operate. The quick cutting between two
family scenesDan's and an inner city black familyis
presumably one illustration of this point, as is the enmeshing of
Dan, his black dealer, and his befriended student, a black girl
named Drey, in the drug trade. And while all this may well be so,
Dan's relationship to all the others and the source of his drug
addiction needs to be examined more acutely.
Dan certainly does not put himself above anyone in this inner city
environment, nor do we. But there are some problems here. First,
were it not for his self-destructive behavior, however presumably
motivated by burnout and political despair (alluded to, never really
convincingly explained), Dan would certainly have more options than
anyone in this environment. Dan might be able to hang with anyone
in this milieu, denying any sense of superiority he might be accused
of, but then, on what basis, especially as he supports the drug
trade as an addict? Dan doesn't seem to grasp the implications of
this differential. The fact is, because he is a teacher, others
look up to him. A grateful parent of a former student of Dan who
has made good enthusiastically greets Dan in a bar, only to be brushed
off because Dan cannot remember the student's name. As with his
Latina would-be girlfriend, Dan isolates himself from others. The
student he now mentors and befriends, Drey, is shocked to find him
strung out in the ladies' room after hours. While she keeps his
secret and they remain friends, his addiction is a rather questionable
social equalizer. All of these people may in some sense be victims
of the same system, but we cannot sympathize with Dan's victimage
on the data presented because we are unsettled about the inevitability
of his particular role in the scheme of things. So while this is
not exactly a white hero or a slumming movie, there is something
slippery about its conception.
The filmmakers' and some (re)viewers apparently take what they
would call the 'open-endedness' the film as a virtue, whereas I
take it as sloppy thinking. Dan and Drey end up sitting on a couch
together at the end of the film after a particularly bad binge on
his part. Meaning that they have a bond and mutual understanding,
whatever happens, I suppose. And so what are we to conclude from
this? The ending is as indeterminate as the unseen and unknown beginning
of Dan's addiction. This fragmented, slice-of-life approach to 'independent
film' may be chic but it doesn't do much for me, and I don't like
to see resources and opportunities squandered. The film doesn't
even teach us much about history or the dialectical approach to
historyhere, too, all we get is a random assortment of fragments.
The didactic dimension of the film is as 'open-ended'i.e.
disconnected and incoherentas the narrative. Leave it to the
left to screw things up.
15 October 2006
October Reading Review (1)
Grossman, Neal. Healing the Mind: The Philosophy of Spinoza
Adapted for a New Age. Selinsgrove [Pa.]: Susquehanna University
Press; London: Associated University Presses, 2003. 253 p.
To say that a New Age book is dishonest, escapist,
delusional, and idiotic would be a redundancy, but each twist
on this tired old theme stimulates fresh irritations. One of the
most disgusting aspects of New Age drivel is how it sucks everything
it touches into a perennial philosophy drained of history, and
hence of reality. It begins with abstracting the esoteric lore
of India out of the social filth which produced itthe caste
system, oppression, ignorance and superstitionand polishing
it up for upper middle class consumption in the West. To rob Spinoza
of his history is especially egregious, for such an approach robs
the self-effacing properties of Spinoza's text of the social subtext
that reveals its underlying political motivation. Just as western
middle class historical amnesia spreads a fog of forgetfulness
over the Indian caste system, so does it induce forgetfulness
about the political context of the Radical Enlightenment, of its
fight for secular political liberalism against feudal absolutism,
and of the especially poignant struggle of Spinoza, a Marrano,
a Jew, a member of an oppressed and terrorized people rejected
by his own community, the most rebellious of intellectual rebels,
a lonely crusader for a future he could only see the bare beginnings
of. Spinoza had to use stealth where we can speak freely; for
us to remain silent about the true nature of his historical context
and rebellion is to compound the crimes of history and stifle
its victims all over again. The vapid political neutrality of
New Age holism obscures the ineluctable reality that to be human
is not to merge into an impersonal whole but to be a specific
being and take sides, for one thing and against something else.
The ostensible impersonality and quasi-pantheism of Spinoza, in
the context of a theistic and theocratic society just emerging
from feudalism, carries with it a political motive that takes
sides; it's not about an impersonal purging and merging of self
within a whole that is wonderful and perfect just as it is.
Bronner, Stephen Eric. A Rumor about the
Jews: Antisemitism, Conspiracy, and the Protocols of Zion. New
York: Oxford University Press, 2003. (1st ed., 2000) Publisher
H-Net review: Linda Maizels. "Review
of Stephen Eric Bronner, A Rumor about the Jews: Antisemitism, Conspiracy,
and the Protocols of Zion," H-Judaic, H-Net Reviews, March,
Chapter 2 reproduces selections of the infamous
anti-Semitic forgery are reproduced. It is immediately evident
that this tract could only be a product of an illiberal society
attempting to stifle the democratic tendencies of modernizationhence
the slurs not only against the Jews, but in association with condemnation
of all anti-clerical, anti-aristocratic, anti-hierarchical, democratic
and liberal tendencies. Not surprising, as it is a czarist forgery.
Some of this content would not pass in liberal democracies, but
quite a bit of it is still live within the fascist currents of
societies like ours, not to mention others.
When I have finished this book I hope to say
more beyond what is said in the H-Net review cited. Sophisticated
models of how religious ideology interacts with sociological factors
need to be popularized, especially in the philosophically challenged
Anglo-American sphere (including, alas, the otherwise salutary
secular humanist movement). That is, we need a more philosophically
and sociologically sophisticated defense of liberal and secular
values than the philosophical mediocrities who dominate such discourseSam
Harris, Richard Dawkins, E.O. Wilson, Daniel Dennett, etc.are
giving us. We also need a counterweight to the fascistic conception
of the "clash of civilizations" not only bequeathed
to us by right-wrong ideologues but adopted by scared liberals
like Harris who is part of the current foaming at the mouth over
Islam. We have to know how to condemn religious superstition unequivocally
without predicating everything that happens in society as a product
of "belief" in the abstract, or for that matter, on
sociologically illiterate metaphorical extensions of neo-Darwinism
Thomson, Alex. Adorno: A Guide for the
Perplexed. London; New York: Continuum, 2006. (Guides for the
This book is one in a series of new guides to
difficult philosophers. Adorno is the most difficult of the Frankfurters
to assimilate and to popularize for beginners, so I'm always on
the lookout for introductions to Adorno. None is likely to work
for the totally naive reader, but whatever can be done is most
needed, since, as the author recognizes, Adorno is one of the
most important and underappreciated philosophers of the 20th century.
I recommend this book as a companion to Adorno, but I'm not sure
about it as an introduction per se; then again, it's almost impossible
to explain Adorno from scratch without presupposing some background
from the reader. Chapter 2, on aesthetics and culture, is an excellent
clarification of Adorno's approach to the culture industry. Chapter
3, on freedom and society, is also a superior introduction to
Adorno's ethical and political thought. Chapter 4, on philosophy
per se, seems to me the weakest of the book. However, there are
some choice passages on philosophical developments in the late
19th and early 20th century contextualizing the situation in which
Farber, Marvin. Phenomenology and Existence: Toward a Philosophy
Within Nature. New York: Harper and Row, 1967.
As in Farber's other books, Farber attacks the
subjective idealist foundations of Husserl; in this book, he explains
how phenonemonology can be used productively to treat existence
within a naturalistic framework. I am just beginning this one.
In the reading queue:
Agehananda Bharati, Swami. The Light at the Center: Context
and Pretext of Modern Mysticism. Santa Barbara, CA: Ross-Erikson,
Burrow, J. W. The Crisis of Reason: European Thought, 1848-1914.
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.
Christopher Mack . "Review
of J. W. Burrow, The Crisis of Reason: European Thought,
1848-1914," H-Ideas, H-Net Reviews, June, 2001.
Asouzu, Innocent I. The
Method and Principles of Complementary Reflection in and beyond
African Philosophy. Münster: LIT Verlag, 2005. (Studies
in African Philosophy; v. 4)
a Splinter in Your Mind: The Philosophy Behind the Matrix Trilogy
by Matt Lawrence. Review by Joel Parthemore, Sept. 19, 2006.
A review comparing two of several books on philosophical
issues related to The Matrix movies. The only one I've
looked at is the first book on the subject in Open Court's Philosophy
and Popular Culture Series. My observation in this case is
what I have seen in many of these philosophy books on popular
culture: that these philosophers are as stupid and clueless as
the pop culture vapidities they analyze. There are exceptions:
the volumes on Woody Allen and Monty Python were pretty good.
The Matrix series is especially infuriating because it
seems to engage in real philosophical issues but is in actuality
unbelievably shallow and reactionary. Its easily consumable fare
is explainable: virtual reality is so established a cultural phenomenon,
the concept is readily assimilable by millions. It is real reality
they have trouble working with.
Balibar, Étienne. "Irrationalism and
Marxism," New Left Review, I/107, January-February 1978,
pp. 3-18. Introduction.
Though it now reflects to some extent an earlier
time, and to a larger extent particularly French conditions, and
most irritatingly, the connection to Althusser and Communist politics,
this article is quite rich and profound, and its ideological analysis
remains pertinent, especially now to (Anglo-)American ideological
conditions. (Consider the limitations of the likes of Sam Harris,
Dawkins, Wilson, Dennett, etc.) Much of Balibar's critique of
rationalism is geared to the specifically French intellectual
heritage (from Descartes on down), but it applies with a few tweaks
more generally, and quite pointedly to the highly restricted intellectual
discourse of the United States.
There is one passage, though, which is rather
startling (though redolent of Marcuse,
whom Balibar dismisses as an irrationalist, and reminiscent of
András Gedö), to the effect
that positivism is the main philosophical enemy, because it also
the basis of its irrationalist nemesis. Positivism has been largely
displaced by irrationalism in the United States (the article was
written in the 1970s, with an eye to French conditions), but when
one looks at the ideologues of the scientific community, one can
see that its feeble defense of scientific rationality while yielding
concessions to religion as long as it doesn't interfere with the
scientific establishment (American Association for the Advancement
of Science) is predicated on narrow positivist (or its inverse,
[> Irrationalism in Modern
Thought Culminating in Overpriced French Philosophy]
Stern, J. P. "Heine: History and Prophecy," New Left
Review, I/20, Summer 1963, pp. 37-53. Introduction.
Breathtaking. Stern analyzes the epochal significance
of Heine's Religion and Philosophy in Germany and the basis
of German nationalism and volkisch ideology in the 19th
Holcomb III, H. R. (2005). Buller
does to Evolutionary Psychology what Kitcher did to Sociobiology,
Evolutionary Psychology, 3: 392-401.
A noteworthy review of the field, from the standpoint
of specialized research rather than cheesy popularizations and
Harris in Wikipedia: Note Meera Nanda's trenchant criticism
of Harris. See also my new webliography: Meera
A second article on Sam Harris in Wikipedia: The
End of Faith.
Note Harris' self-defense: "Rational
Mysticism" by Sam Harris, Free Inquiry, vol. 25,
Harris defends himself against prior criticism
in this magazine. While much of his commentary is eminently rational,
his reasoning is subject to severe breakdown. His knowledge claims
regarding meditation and the self are dubious. The locution "contemplative
scientist" is suspect. The argument supporting his contention
that "the happiest person on this earth at this moment might
have spent the last twenty years living alone in a cave"
is not only New Age mumbo jumbo, it totally elides the issue of
the good life and one's relation to objective reality. Sickening!
In a footnote Harris dubiously asserts the possible independence
of consciousness from the brain.
Note other critiques of Harris:
David Boulton, 2005. "Faith
kills," New Humanist, volume 120 number 2.
Note Boulton's questioning of Harris' naive
notions of religious causality of political conflicts.
Johann Hari, 2005. "The
sea of faith and violence," The Independent, 9
Hari appropriately tears Harris a new one for
Harris' views on politics and mysticism.
is a curious web site. On the one hand it promotes a naturalistic
world view, on the other, it devotes significant attention to spirituality.
This in itself is not a bad thing depending on exactly what claims
are being made. Personally, the word "spirituality" makes
me break out in hives, while the word "spiritual" only
does so in certain contexts, not in others (music, for example).
I am beginning to explore this web site and its linkages. The first
article I checked out is this book review:
Enlightenment. Book Review by Thomas W. Clark. Rational Mysticism:
Dispatches from the Border Between Science and Spirituality,
by John Horgan (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003, ISBN 0-618-06027-8)
292 pp. Cloth $25.00. Review in Free Inquiry magazine, Volume
24, Number 2.
I haven't read Horgan's book, though I've been
referred to it. The review is eminently reasonable; however, I
would take it in a slightly different direction. As with Sam Harris,
the argument for mysticism/spirituality is linked to the experience
of or claims about oneness with the universe, and by implication
the argument against it is linked to the issue of hallucinations
and the like. I see no value in the concept or experience of oneness
per se. On the contrary, I see spiritual exaltation as a distinctively
human phenomenon, apart from mindless, amoral nature and less
intelligent life forms. Knowledge claims about the oneness of
the universe are an illusion stemming from an exalted cognitive/affective
state with which I won't quarrel as long as it refrains from making
binding claims that obscure questions of reality, morality, and
justice, as all New Age garbage does. Since I value individuality
and distinction and not unity, I dissent from the reviewer only
in this one sentence:
The organism, its self, its consciousnessthe
worksall arise out of the physical world, so the mystical
intuition of unity, albeit noncognitive, reflects this empirical
truth about ourselves.
I see no value in this alleged empirical truth.
Our human destiny is to be somebody and something in particular,
not everything in general, to be for something and against something
else, not neutral, not impartial, not nondiscriminatingi.e.
not the New Age filth imported from feudal India, China, and Japan
and retooled for the smug, overprivileged goody-two-shoes upper
middle class spiritual masturbators of the modern West.
flying spaghetti monster. Salon.com interview with Richard Dawkins,
by Steve Paulson.
Dawkins states his case eloquently and I agree
completely. I don't hold with the cowards who criticize his stridency.
My problem is not with this interview but with the prefatory matter
which reminds us that Dawkins introduced the concepts of pseudo-scientific
concept of memes and selfish genes. The very term 'selfish gene',
whatever the scientific content of this research programme, is
suspiciously teleological, and reveals something of what is awry.
I'll return to this momentarily, but I'll add that something else
happens when specialists in a given field turn to popularization
and make larger world view claims, fighting them out in the public
sphere outside the realm of academic journals. But first . . .
It is very unfortunate that so much time and
intellectual energy has to be diverted from fighting these fundamentalist
Christian imbeciles and that the issue could not have been disposed
of as it should have been by the end of the 19th century, and
that the redneck Right has forced us to fight the 19th century's
battles all over again. It's especially an indictment of Americans,
the most ignorant people in the Western world. The problem, though,
of investing so much energy in fighting the people holding you
back is that you never get to advance very far yourself. I don't
salivate every time Dawkins or Dennett or Wilson or Schermer makes
an appearance or publish a book. I find the secular humanist intellectual
culture quite tedious, necessary though it is. If the centerpiece
of one's intellectual life is Darwin vs. the Bible, one is going
to be diverted from exploring other areas of inquiry just as important.
Those of us who dismissed the Bible as a piece of tawdry pulp
literature from early childhood just don't feel the burn to devote
much energy to arguments over it, and don't even want to waste
our time debating ignorant Bible-humpers, though we are eager
to remove the obstacle to human progress they represent.
The problem here is the limited intellectual
culture of the Anglo-American sphere. Scientists make good liberals,
but few advance a jot farther. Consider even the concept of the
progress of knowledge. All scientific knowledge has experienced
growth over the past 30 years, including these people's own specialty,
evolutionary theory. But what else have Dawkins and company learned
in this period? They've been saying the same old shit for 30 years
and have not learned one new thing outside of their specialties.
They learned zip from the sociobiology wars of the 1970s. When
queried about it, Dawkins and Wilson are quite smug. Wilson made
an appearance recently with James Watson on the Charlie Rose show,
and when the discussion advanced to the point of discussing human
affairs, Watson and Wilson made the most ridiculous assertions
with smug assurance.
I've been stewing over this since reading Sam
Harris' The End of Faith. Then, when reviewing various
other material, and then some of the essays on naturalism.org,
I was thunderstruck by the severely limited range of the secular
humanist contingent. None of these people have any conception
of radical politics, critique, ideology, or social science. It's
all about Darwinism vs. spiritualism and nothing else. The social
science/political dimension is entirely missing. They have no
conception of social theory. They have no understanding of ideology
and little of history. They are completely fixated on Darwinism
and its relationship to spirituality, they have nothing else to
say about anything. Nor do they have a clue how limited their
range is, how small a piece of the philosophical/theoretical pie
they're biting off. And because of this, they are unable to account
for the ascendancy of fascism in America.
I was stunned by Sam Harris' ignorance. I am
not the only one to be taken aback by his advocacy of New Age
spirituality (paranormal phenomena and reincarnation not excepted).
It is consistent in a basic sense, however, with the premise of
the book, which should have been subtitled "Buddhism vs.
Islam." All that exists in Harris' universe is "belief";
all of human activity is the causal output of belief systems,
so it's only natural for him to oppose one belief system with
his para-belief system (mysticism, which he denies is a belief
system). Much worse than this, however, is that, traumatized by
9-11-01, Harris book is built around Islamophobia, and is in actuality
if not intent tailored to the warmongering of the Bush administration
and the Nazi Pope against the Islamic world. Harris even borrows
Huntington's notion of the 'clash of civilizations', a concept
which is fascist down to its toenails. But Harris is no right-winger,
he's a good liberal. I remember, however, the good liberals who
napalmed Vietnamese peasants in the '60s. It's positively macabre
that just before praising Indian mysticism to the skies for its
nondualism (Q: What did the guru say to the hot dog vendor? A:
Make me one with everything.) he presents an argument for torture.
Harris is so scared by Islammuch more than he's alarmed
by Bush, whom he's unwilling to put in the same category with
Bin Ladenhe makes the most ridiculous claims about the motivations
of hundreds of millions of Muslims, treating them all as potential
suicide bombers. Which is not to say that Islam doesn't deserve
to be denounced in the harshest of terms or Muslim cultures should
not be severely upbraided for their backwardness. Harris has no
concept, not even a clue, of of how religious ideology interacts
with sociological factors. Harris can only see faith as a cause
and other social factors as a cause separately; he has zero sense
of their combination.
Save for reservations about Harris' New Age
drivel, American secularists are ejaculating gallons over his
war on faith. But craven liberals like Harris are the first to
cave to fascism. And he's not even smart like Hitchens.
Returning to my main point, lacking the necessary
intellectual sophistication to grapple with the full range of
social and ideological phenomena, the atheist and secular humanist
community is as hamstrung as the Democratic Party; it has to scale
back its prospectives just to keep liberal democracy from being
swallowed up by irrational, theocratic fascism, but its scope
of discourse and action is so limited it can't approach the root
causes of our social problems, though of necessity it's driven
to be more political the closer this society is driven to fascism
and the closer the world to oblivion. A person who has nothing
more to offer than memes is ill-equipped to face down this threat.
[> October Reading Review (2)]
[> David Hume vs.
[> Darwinism, Creationism,
Naturalism, Philosophy of Science & Pseudoscience]
3 October 2006
September Reading Review
Books partly or completely read in September:
Myers, Henry Alonzo. The Spinoza-Hegel Paradox: A Study of the
Choice Between Traditional Idealism and Systematic Pluralism.
Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm. Philosophical Papers and Letters,
selection translated and edited with an introduction by Leroy E.
Loemker, 2nd ed. Dordrecht, Holland; Boston: D. Reidel Pub. Co.,
1976 [1969, 1st ed. 1956]). xii, 736 pp. (Synthese Historical Library;
v. 2) See my review.
Weisman, Karen A. Imageless Truths: Shelley's Poetic Fictions.
Goldstein, by Rebecca. Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who
Gave Us Modernity.
I also attended her book talk in Washington,
which should be broadcast on C-SPAN. She was extraordinarily eloquent
in stating the thesis of her book.
Adorno, Theodor W. Metaphysics: Concept and Problems.
Adorno was quite interesting: on Aristotle (viz.
Plato) seen through the spectrum of Kant, Hegel, Husserl, Scheler,
and Heidegger; and on metaphysical experience today. For a couple
of quotes see my web page: Adorno
on Philosophy, Sociology & History.
Matthews, Michael R. The Marxist Theory of Schooling: A Study
of Epistemology and Education. Humanities Press, 1980.
Matthews is not terribly exciting, and probably
dated, but it is interesting in that it takes a philosophy of
science approach to combat the then-dominant Analytic Philosophy
of Education (in Britain and/or Australia). Interesting in that
Matthews takes the best of Popper, Lakatos, Dewey, and even a
dash of Althusser in combination with Marx to combat the dominant
inductivism and empiricism.
Harris, Sam. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future
Harris presents stretches of lucid argument against
faith and religion, even against relativism and pragmatism; but
from a social and political standpoint, the author is a reactionary
liberal and a moron. The final chapter in fact reveals what is
wrong with the whole book: everything is about consciousness,
detached from material reality. There is plenty of philosophy,
cognitive science and neurobiology, history, ethical discussion
in the book, but no interconnected conception of social organization
and ideology, no social theory, and of course, no Marx. Because
consciousness is detached from material reality, the book comes
down to a war between Buddhist mysticism and Islam, with intervening
criticisms of the history of Catholicism, the Christian Right's
interference in government, etc. And the final chapter, containing
flimsy arguments for nondualistic mysticism, comes right after
an argument advocating torture in the war on terrorism. The man
is schizoid, a petty bourgeois liberal freaked out by 9-11. And
this is about the best that the intellectual life of the USA is
capable of producing, apparently. It's sickening. I need to review
this book in detail.
Harris shows his true craven colors in "Head-in-the-Sand
Liberals" in the Los Angeles Times.
My reading of the fiction and essays of Jorge Luis Borges in English
translation can be found in the September
archive, as can mention of journal and periodical articles and
other cultural matters.
[> October Reading Review (1)]