Friday, November 20, 2015

Maxime Rodinson: “independent Marxist” & (pre-Saidian) French Orientalist

In the words of Gilbert Achcar (see below), “Maxime Rodinson (1915-2004) was the last survivor of an exceptional group of French Orientalists—in the pre-Saidian non-pejorative meaning of this term, i.e. scholars of Islam and the Arab world—who lived through most of the twentieth century and rose to fame in the 1960s, a decade that saw the emergence of an impressive contingent of French thinkers whose names loom large in the social sciences of our time. The group of brilliant Orientalists to which Rodinson belonged, and which included other luminaries such as Jacque Berque and Claude Cahen reclaimed the field of Arab and Islamic studies with impeccable erudition, scientific rigour, and a critical solidarity with the peoples they studies that made their writings largely free from the deficiencies of the colonial ‘Orientalism’ of yesteryear and their own time.”

I happen to be reading Maxime Rodinson’s work afresh after many years, having first been introduced to him by Professor Juan Campo when I was an undergraduate at UC Santa Barbara. While I still have several of his works in English from that time, I recently picked up a new edition (Zed Books, 2015) of Marxism and the Muslim World (Foreword by Gilbert Achcar), originally published in 1979 (French ed., 1972). I thought some of (the younger among) you not familiar with his work might appreciate this list of books in English by Rodinson (most of these titles were published earlier in French):
  • The Arabs (London: Croom Helm, 1988)
  •  Cult, Ghetto, and State: The Persistence of the Jewish Question (London: Saqi Books, 1991) 
  • Europe and the Mystique of Islam (London: I.B. Tauris & Co., 1988) 
  • Islam and Capitalism (New York: Pantheon Books, 1973) 
  • Israel and the Arabs (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, revised ed., 1982) 
  • Israel: A Colonial-Settler State? (New York: Anchor Foundation/Pathfinder, 1973) 
  • Marxism and the Muslim world (London: Zed Books, 2015) (1979)   
  • Muhammad (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980) [I realize this biography is controversial in some quarters for transparent reasons, nonetheless, it remains a sympathetic portrait from an avowed Marxist.]
The Wikipedia entry on Rodinson is here. An interview with the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP) conducted by Joan Mandell and Joe Stork is here (as noted there, his parents died at Auschwitz in 1943).

On the various species of “Orientalism,” pre-Saidian and otherwise (including its role in ‘postcolonial’ and ‘subaltern’ studies), please see:

  • Ahmad, Aijaz. In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures (London: Verso, 1992). 
  • Bilgrami, Akeel. “Reflections on Edward Said,” the final three chapters from Bilgrami’s book, Secularism, Identity, and Enchantment (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014).
  • Chibber, Vivek. Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital (London: Verso, 2013).
  • Irwin, Robert. Dangerous Knowledge: Orientalism and Its Discontents (Woodstock, NY: The Overlook Press, 2006). 
  • Rodinson, Maxime. Europe and the Mystique of Islam (London: I.B. Tauris & Co., 1988). 
  • Said, Edward W. Orientalism (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978). 
  • Varisco, Daniel Martin. Reading Orientalism: Said and the Unsaid (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2007).

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Minds, Intelligence, and Human Nature

By way of distinguishing brains from minds (including the unique and irreducible properties of consciousness), AI (artificial intelligence) from human intelligence,* and human (animal) nature from animal nature simpliciter, and, I proffer the following titles:

  • Bennett, M.R. and P.M.S. Hacker. Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003. 
  • Bennett, Maxwell, Daniel Dennett, Peter Hacker, John Searle, and Daniel Robinson. Neuroscience and Philosophy: Brain, Mind and Language. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007. (I prefer the arguments of Bennett, Hacker, and Robinson over Dennett and Searle.)  
  • Descombes, Vincent (Stephen Adam Schwartz, tr.). The Mind’s Provisions: A Critique of Cognitivism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001. 
  • Finkelstein, David H. Expression and the Inner. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003. 
  • Gillett, Grant. Subjectivity and Being Somebody: Human Identity and Neuroethics. Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic, 2008. 
  • Gillett, Grant. The Mind and Its Discontents. New York: Oxford University Press, 2nd ed., 2009. 
  • Hacker, P.M.S. Human Nature: The Categorial Framework. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007. 
  • Hacker, P.M.S. The Intellectual Powers: A Study of Human Nature. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. 
  • Hodgson, David. The Mind Matters: Consciousness and Choice in a Quantum World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.
  • Horst, Steven. Beyond Reduction: Philosophy of Mind and Post-Reductionist Philosophy of Science. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2007. 
  • Hutto, Daniel D. The Presence of Mind. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1999. 
  • Hutto, Daniel D. Beyond Physicalism. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2000. 
  • Hutto, Daniel D. Folk Psychological Narratives: The Sociocultural Basis of Understanding. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008. 
  • Pardo, Michael S. and Dennis Patterson. Minds, Brains, and Law: The Conceptual Foundations of Law and Neuroscience. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. 
  • Robinson, Daniel N. Consciousness and Mental Life. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008. 
  • Tallis, Raymond. The Explicit Animal: A Defence of Human Consciousness. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999 ed. 
  • Tallis, Raymond. Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity. Durham, England: Acumen, 2011. 
  • Travis, Charles. Unshadowed Thought: Representation in Thought and Language. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.
* The provocative and important notions of “distributed” and “collective” intelligence blur these boundaries, indeed, they make artificial and human intelligence in several respects complementary; nevertheless, the former remains parasitic on the latter, much as conceptions of distributed and collective intelligence derive their meaning and referential power in the first instance from the concept of individual intelligence (which, in any case, is not ‘located’ in the brain), granted the superior “problem solving” (in the widest sense) capacity of distributed and collective intelligence (or collective wisdom). Moreover, acknowledging the power and significance of distributed and collective intelligence for, say, epistemic deliberative models of democratic theory and praxis, need not mean we abandon the explanatory tenets of methodological individualism for, as Hélène Landemore notes, “it can be argued that these notions lend themselves to explanations in terms of individual choices and actions, in the same way that collective-action problems can be accounted for by the analytical tools and individualist methodology of social choice theory.” 

Addendum: I am linking to the post at New APPS that moved me, in turn, to share the above list. It is representative of the sort of stuff at the permeable boundaries between and the interstices of science and philosophy that rubs me the wrong way (hopefully, for the right reasons). Generally, I think it is emblematic of “scientism” in philosophy, as captured in this remark by Professor Carrie Figdor: “Basically, I think psychological concepts are transitioning to scientifically determined standards for proper use, leaving behind the ideal-rational-human, anthropocentric standards we now have.” In short, I would argue that “no, neurons do not have preferences” (and we can critique various metaphysical and philosophy of mind theories without resorting to ‘mental state verbs’ to describe or refer to processes that in the natural world, be it within or outside our bodies). Indeed, this particular use of psychological concepts strikes me as a crude employment of anthropomorphic language! Please see Eric Schwitzgebel’s post, “Do Neurons Literally Have Preferences?” 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Democracy & Islam (or Muslims)

Here is a draft of my revised entry on “democracy” for a new edition of an encyclopedia on Islam (it is the only one of my previous entries that I am updating). The format and title are slightly different than the actual submission, but the content is otherwise identical.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Cultivating Revolutionary Counterculture & Politics: an exemplum

An indispensable work on both (a few of) the causes and (some of) the effects of the political and cultural orientation of the “paperback generation” [i.e., ‘baby boomers’] is Loren Glass’s Counterculture Colophon: Grove Press, the Evergreen Review, and the Incorporation of the Avant-Garde (Stanford University Press, 2013). First, the Wikipedia introduction to Grove Press:

“Grove Press is an American publishing imprint that was founded in 1951. Imprints include: Black Cat, Evergreen, Venus Library, and Zebra. Barney Rosset purchased the company in 1951 and turned it into an alternative book press in the United States. He partnered with Richard Seaver to bring French literature to the United States. The Atlantic Monthly Press, under the aegis of its publisher, Morgan Entrekin, merged with Grove Press in 1991. Grove is now an imprint of the publisher Grove/Atlantic, Inc.” 
And now a provocative snippet from Glass’s Counterculture Colophon:

“On the one hand, individual ownership was one component of this [i.e., the boomers’] generation’s relationship to print, and in some ways a misleading one, since paperbacks were frequently shared as a form of collective property. On the other hand, assigned reading lists were only one delivery system whereby these books got into the hands of college students, whose loyalty to Grove Press nurtured a whole common culture of revolutionary reading in the 1960s. [….] [P]rivate reading and public life were powerfully stitched together in the 1960s; to be in the Movement meant, at least partly, to be reading certain books, and many, if not most, of those books were published by Grove Press.”
On the aforementioned “common culture of revolutionary reading:” 

“…[I]n the second half of the 1960s, Grove expanded and enhanced both the investigative reporting and radical rhetoric of the Evergreen Review, publishing double agent Ken Philby’s revelations about British and American intelligence; Ho Chi Minh’s prison poems; extensive reports on urban riots and ghetto activism; eyewitness accounts of the events of May 1968, the Democratic Convention in Chicago, and the trial of the ‘Chicago 8’; interviews with My Lai veterans and other exposés on the Vietnam War; and numerous articles by and about the New Left, Weather Underground, Black Panthers, and other revolutionary movements throughout the world. In these efforts, Grove sought to merge literary and political understandings of the term ‘avant-garde’ in the belief that reading radical literature could instill both the practical knowledge and psychological transformation necessary to precipitate a revolution.” 

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Truth in action…which sometimes precedes philosophy, or, the longue durée of nonviolent revolution in the Middle East

“The philosophical convergence between both embattled /materialist and detached idealist philosophers is captured in a short poem by René Char (14 June 1907 – 19 February 1988): Towards your frontier, you humiliated, I walk at last with confidence, warned that truth does not necessarily precede action.’ This poetical aphorism opens two windows on the eternal dialectics between truth and action, theory and practice, philosophy and politics, as I see them unfolding in the Middle East convulsions of the early twenty-first century.
Let me paraphrase the great French poet. The first part says: ‘Toward the frontier of humiliated life, in the long night of the modern Middle East age of ruthless dictators, the men and women of the revolution walk with the certainty of truth.’ In this first window into the Middle East revolution, marching is physical action, and the marching operates with confidence and inevitability in its self-consciousness. The nexus between action and philosophy, more precisely the nexus of action to truth, philosophy’s meta-object, is therefore far more intimate than both engage or detached philosophers may be ready to concede.

There is more to the poem than reckoning the revelation of truth in historic changes of mass proportions that we call revolutions. Opening the second vista, Char writes that ‘la vérité ne précède pas obligatoirement l’action’ (Truth does not necessarily come before action). Necessarily, obligatoirement, is the key qualifier of the poem. Action is sometimes forced to precede truth. Sometimes truth comes before action; sometimes it does not. Philosophical truth faces deadlocks and impasses, aporia that action resolves, sometimes. In a world where the individual is always overtaken by forces far beyond his or her practical reach, the reach itself provides and answer to the impasse. Shorn of philosophy, however, that reach misses its most important resonance in world-historic terms. Truth is also in action, which sometimes precedes philosophy.”—From Chibli Mallat’s Philosophy of Nonviolence: Revolution, Constitutionalism, and Justice Beyond the Middle East (Oxford University Press, 2015)

Further reading: Nonviolent Resistance in the Middle East: A Basic Bibliography 

Sunday, October 04, 2015

The Great Depression & New Deal in U.S. History—A Basic Bibliography

My bibliography on the Great Depression and the New Deal is available here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Royal Chicano Air Force and the United Farm Workers

“Humor and kinship among veterans led members of the Rebel Chicano Air Front to adopt the ironic name of the Royal Chicano Air Force after their acronym—RCAF—was misidentified with the Canadian military. Operating out of their Sacramento, California headquarters (the Centro de Artistas Chicanos), they organized community programs, designed murals, and printed posters in support of the United Farm Workers Union. This collaborative spirit shines in Hasta La Victoria Siempre, c/s, a print by Luis (or Louie ‘the Foot’ González), based on his brother Héctor’s photograph of a United Farm Workers pro-labor rally. Interested in concrete poetry, Luis González wove the typed words long live, strike, and tomorrow into a fluid pattern.” 
My bibliography for César Chávez & the United Farm Workers is here.

Monday, September 21, 2015

On Golden Rice

At one of our sister blogs, the Agricultural Law blog.

Friday, September 18, 2015

César Chávez & the United Farm Workers: A Basic Bibliography

My basic bibliography on César Chávez and the United Farm Workers is here.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Construction of Sexual Disorder by Sullied Science and Big Pharma

Pablo Picasso, Trois femmes, 1908

“The real problem with ‘pink Viagra’” 
By Emily Nagoski 
Los Angeles Times, August 23, 2015

“The drug has many names: flibanserin, Addyi, Ectris, Girosa or, colloquially, ‘pink Viagra.’ Whatever you want to call the long-in-the-making libido pill for women, it recently gained FDA approval despite ‘serious, serious safety concerns’ and benefits that are ‘modest, maybe less than modest.’ But as a science-driven sex educator, I am less troubled by the risk of low blood pressure and fainting than I am by the drug maker’s reinforcement of an outdated, scientifically invalid model of sexual desire. [….]

The FDA’s analysis of the data showed that only about 10% of the research participants taking flibanserin experienced ‘at least minimal improvement,’ while the remaining 90% experienced nothing at all. This is a drug with such potentially serious side effects that the FDA is requiring special training and certification before providers can prescribe it.

And the ‘disorder’ it treats (or, 90% of the time, fails to treat) isn’t a disorder at all but a normal, healthy variation in human sexual response. The pharmaceutical industry has millions — billions? — of dollars riding on all of us, including our doctors, ignoring 21st century science and reverting to a model of sexual desire that made really good sense in 1977. I think women deserve better.”

The entire article in the Los Angeles Times is here. 

See too this earlier editorial by Ellen Laan and Leonore Tiefer, also from the Times (no, not that one): “The sham drug idea of the year: ‘pink Viagra.’” 

Further reading: Biological Psychiatry, Sullied Psychology, & Pharmaceutical Reason: A Basic Bibliography.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Toward making sense of the structural constraints of health & illness in the neoliberal variation of advanced (or late-) capitalist society … (3)

…[E]very human being experiences different types and durations of physical and mental impairments, or different periods of health and illness, and lives for varying lengths of time due to the combined interactions of her internal biological endowments and needs, behaviours, external physical environment and social conditions. [….]

The centrality of human health and longevity to social justice is so patently obvious to some people that they simply take it as a starting point. This is particularly apparent in the remarkable history of physicians becoming social and political reformers, and even armed revolutionaries because of their understanding of manifest injustice in such aspects as the causes, consequences, persistence through generations, or distribution patterns of preventable ill-health and premature mortality in a population. But such an understanding is not limited only to physicians or those who work in the front lines of healthcare and public health. For example, Amartya Sen, the economist and philosopher, begins a lecture by stating, ‘In any discussion of social equity and justice, illness and health must figure as a major concern. I take that as my point of departure.’ He then continues, ‘…and begin by noting that health equity cannot but be a central feature of the justice of social arrangement in general.’ [….]

... John Rawls, perhaps the most renowned modern philosopher of social justice, has seemingly put forward the opposite position. Rawls believed that human health is a ‘natural good’ and subject to random luck over the life course; he sees health not as something significantly or directly socially produced, so it does not even come within the scope of social justice, let alone is central to it.” — Sridhar Venkatapuram, in the Introduction to his impressive and urgent book, Health Justice: An Argument from the Capabilities Approach (Polity Press, 2011) 

Venkatapuram goes on to note that, in his later writings, Rawls at least came to agree with Norman Daniels that justice produces entitlements to healthcare [emphasis added] in order to keep people above a minimum health threshold. Of course Daniels himself progressively extends the Rawlsian conception of “justice as fairness in two books: Just Health Care (Cambridge University Press, 1985), and Just Health: Meeting Health Needs Fairly (Cambridge University Press, 2008).

Monday, August 17, 2015

Toward making sense of the structural constraints of health & illness in the neoliberal variation of advanced (or late-) capitalist society … (2)

We have known for over 150 years than an individual’s chances of life and death are patterned according to social class: the more affluent and better educated people are, the longer and healthier their lives. These patterns persist even when there is universal access to health care—a finding quite surprising to those who think financial access to medical services is the primary determinant of health status. In fact, recent cross-national evidence suggests that the greater the degree of socio-economic inequality that exists within a society, the steeper the gradient of health inequality. As a result, middle-income groups in a more unequal society will have worse health than comparable or even poorer groups in a society with greater equality. Of course, we cannot infer causation from correlation, but there are plausible hypotheses about pathways which link social inequalities to health, and, even if more work remains to be done to clarify the exact mechanisms, it is not unreasonable to talk here [after Michael Marmot] about the social ‘determinants’ of health.—Norman Daniels, Bruce Kennedy, and Ichiro Kawachi in their book, Is Inequality Bad for Our Health (Beacon Press, 2000)

Further Reading: Sreenivasan, Gopal. Justice, Inequality, and Health, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 

My bibliography for Health: Law, Ethics, & Social Justice