Archive for November, 2002

Friday, November 8th, 2002

I must admit that I still consider the entire notion of anti-americanism impossible to understand. Even when one sets aside the risible notion of condensing all aspects of an extremely heterogenous culture and society into one indivisible package, the idea still seems bizarre to say the least. Would one honestly use terms like ‘anti-british’ or even ‘anti-european’ in such a vague manner, that called to patriotism without defining what the ‘anti’ actually entailed? More to the point, would a European nation use any of those terms at all? A state with a noble tradition of liberty of thought does itself no favours when it seeks to silence discussion in the name of patriotism.

Update: Interesting piece from Christoper Hitchens, which does a noble job of providing the best definition of this term yet. That said, I am rather inclined that the only person left in the United States who would not be anti-american on this definition would be Hitchens himself. For example, he regarded secularism as a typically American attribute but historically American has been deeply uneasy about having a separation of church and state, as with the inclusion of religious phraselogy in the oath of allegiance and the currency. To be blunt, as a secular state the United States has always had even less to commend it than England, with its appalling state church. Finally, here is a very good example of why Europeans are right to look with horror at religion in the United States.

Friday, November 1st, 2002

Reading this article I feel rather inclined to ask Bernard Williams how he would describe any notion of truth that can be so without being both complete and correct, it being often ignored that Godel’s theorem also applies to these questions of language. I am less than sure as to how sociological (or indeed Kantian, thinking of the universality and reverseability of his imperatives) debates as to the universality of accuracy and sincerity actually relate to any of the metaphysical issues. I am still not sure of any reason to regard language and logic as being anything other formal systems we utilise for coping with reality. The LRB also has some equally interesting essays from John Rawls and Slavoj Zizek. As always with Zizek, I am left with the disturbing impression that the language of liberation is being used to justify oppression (not to mention his interesting but superficial tendency to throw in anecdotes as if they amount to empirical evidence). The idea of identity as being post-modern, something to be enacted and staged, is certainly contingent to the notions of alienation and anomie, but would we actually wish our behaviour to become subject to much greater cultural prescription? And if so, through what mechanism? Ostracism? Peer pressure? What exactly is the alternative?

There is certainly much to this analysis, but as ever it would be nice if it didn’t come with quite so much political baggage. Zizek wrote in The Ticklish Subject that no political agenda can be routed through identity and sexual politics. I’m inclined to agree, but I have difficulty seeing the problem with that.

There are occasionally, very occasionally, works of literary criticism that qualify as works of art in their own right. Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae is one such, as is Bloom’s own Anxiety of Influence. Reading this I am guessing that we can expect more of the same.

Friday, November 1st, 2002

One of the more important points usually overlooked from debates regarding evolutionary psychology is a historical one; it does not seem incidental to me that the founder of political liberalism (in the pre-socialist meaning of the term) was also the inventor of the idea of the blank slate, whereas, conversely, the view propounded by Hobbes that we are automata dictated to by our own passions (memes would be the modern phrase; I wonder if Dawkins and Hobbes have been compared before?) was accompanied by a distinctly more authoritarian form of politics, in whuch, for example, rights are not a meaningful notion. In truth, civilisation has always been conceived of as a defence against the Hobbesian state of nature, which is why I tend to be deeply suspicious of claims that nature should be considered a cardinal factor in political discussions. Not to mention the fact that to observe that genetic and environmental factors are mutually interdependent; it is more than a caveat to observe that innate characterisitics may not manifest themselves without environmental stimulus, which may influence how they manifest themselves in certain areas; it is a statement of fact. In which case, one feels minded to dismiss the whole affair as a false dichotomy.

Addedum: Interesting TNR piece about Pinker’s misinterpretation of Locke.

Regarding John Gray, I do not think the waters are anywhere near as murky; it is a less a matter of straw dogs and more to do with straw men. The simple fact is that we do have a special status in nature, if only because we are the only species able to drastically amend and adjust nature (our environment) to fit our needs. It is precisely this ability to alter the environment and, consequently, the pressures of natural selection that means said pressures cannot apply to us in precisely the same way they do to the rest of the animal kingdom. If this is not survival of the fittest, I do not know what is; so why the sentimental (or perhaps more accurately, appropriated Rousseauism) view of humanity as a plague against the innoncence of nature?