Wednesday, November 06, 2019

The Democratic Virtues of Liberalism: a note for Leftists

Citizenship schools 2
Robert Kuttner, “Blaming Liberalism,” a review of Patrick J. Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed (Yale University Press, 2018; paperback edition, with new preface, 2019), The New York Review of Books, November 21, 2019 (Vol. LXVI, No. 18) 

This, in my judgment, is essential reading for avowed Leftists if only because intellectually feeble, philosophically obtuse, and politically perilous jeremiads against “Liberalism” will not cure what environmentally, socially and economically ails us (one reason I agree with the bulk of this review essay by Kuttner of Patrick J. Deenen’s book). If socialists fail to sufficiently parse the history of Liberalism so as to identify its intrinsic virtues for democratic theory and praxis, we will be left with the post-harvest husk of democracy. There is, no doubt, this and that to criticize in the Liberal tradition (for instance, when its erstwhile defenders stray far from its political soil into the murky waters of metaphysics, culture and messianism) in the works of individual Liberal philosophers from Locke to Rawls, but the core of this tradition is the lifeblood of democracy in our world and, as such, is absolutely essential to any future socialist ordering of states and societies. Several archetypal Liberal philosophers remind us of this fact: John Stuart Mill, John Dewey, and John Rawls. In this respect, they stand apart from the rest of their brothers and sisters in the Liberal tradition; although they hardly exhaust the possible meanings of Liberal Democratic Socialism or Liberal Socialist Democracy, especially to the extent that this has been geopolitically constrained if not determined. In short, they serve as a compelling reminder—for many of us, it appears, are in dire need of reminding—that the historical and contingent ties between capitalism and Liberalism are just that, and thus not necessary (authoritarian capitalist societies are stark and frightening examples of this fact), and so it behooves us not to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.

Friday, October 25, 2019


Miscellaneous material, comments and musings (in no particular order):
  • The Birth of Chicano Studies” by Sandy Banks for California State University Los Angeles Magazine
  • A review in MERIP of Julie Peteet, Space and Mobility in Palestine (Indiana University Press, 2017)
  • Left with nothing.” “On the day Bennie Coleman lost his house, the day armed U.S. marshals came to his door and ordered him off the property, he slumped in a folding chair across the street and watched the vestiges of his 76 years hauled to the curb. Movers carted out his easy chair, his clothes, his television. Next came the things that were closest to his heart: his Marine Corps medals and photographs of his dead wife, Martha. The duplex in Northeast Washington that Coleman bought with cash two decades earlier was emptied and shuttered. By sundown, he had nowhere to go. All because he didn’t pay a $134 property tax bill.”
Comment: That the various responsible (private and public) parties can do this with, so to speak, a “clean conscience,” or at best, rationalize such cruel behavior in legal terms, is further testament to the inherent structural dispositional properties of our “capitalist democracy.” The absence of humane intervention along the points of this abhorrent legal process is yet more glaring evidence of the peculiar vulnerabilities of the “non-rich” people in our society and the peculiar powers possessed by those who are, truly (i.e., without exaggeration), obscenely wealthy (as well as those ruthlessly aspiring to be same), often exploiting such disadvantages and vulnerabilities to accumulate yet more capital … and thus power. It is sickening, disgusting, appalling, inhumane (one seeks in vain proper adjectives to adequately describe such things). We owe it to those so exploited, to ourselves (to our understanding of human dignity, rights, and capabilities…), and to future generations, to do whatever we should and can do to fundamentally transform (involving destruction, dismantling, reconfiguring, and so forth) this socio-economic system. Expressions of sadness, indignation, anger, what have you, are insufficient if they do not lead to an unflagging determination (with the requisite courage) to change this contingent, historical, and abhorrent state of affairs.
Comment: In a world thoroughly saturated with a capitalist ethos and threatened by a corresponding diminution in the value of democratic ideals, processes, and methods, it is not surprising that a spiritual technique or method prominent in Buddhism (but found in other religious worldviews as well), is subject to misuse, ignorance, and commodification, not unlike yoga philosophy and spiritual praxis (which has been more or less reduced to gymnastics and exercise covered by a veneer or patina of New Age religious hodgepodge if not nonsense). From a Buddhist vantage point, this involves a failure to accord due attention to the other (no less indispensable, complementary and mutually reinforcing) two-thirds of the Eightfold Path. See too my earlier post, “The commodification of ‘mindfulness.’”
  • Andrew O’Hagan in The New York Review of Books on a new book about the life and work of Nelson Algren: “Singing the Back Streets.”
  • Verbal hints if not signs and symptoms of pathological narcissism: What follows is a fairly long list of verbal hints if not signs and symptoms of pathological narcissism (I trust you can identify the speaker; there are of course other such signs and symptoms by way of a more or less reliable diagnosis), or what cognitive psychologists term the “Dunning–Kruger effect,” “a cognitive bias in which people mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. It is related to the cognitive bias of illusory superiority and comes from the inability of people to recognize their lack of ability.”
  • “Nobody knows this stuff better than me.”
  • “Nobody knows more about taxes … and income, than I do.”
  • “Nobody knows more about campaign finance than I do.”
  • “Nobody knows more about technology than I do.”
  • “Nobody knows more about construction than I do.”
  • “I know more about drones than anybody.”
  • “Nobody in the history of this country knows more about infrastructure than I do.”
  • “I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me.”
  • “I understand things, I comprehend very better than, I think, almost anybody.”
  • “I know more about courts than anyone else on earth.”
  • “Nobody knows more about banks than I do.”
  • “Nobody knows more about trade than I do.”
  • “I understand the system better than anybody.
  • “Nobody knows politicians better than me.”
  • “I understand money better than anybody.”
  • “I know more about nuclear weapons than he’ll ever know.”
  • “Who knows more about lawsuits than I do?”
  • “You don’t think I get enough promotion? I get more promotion than every human being that has ever lived. I don’t need promotion. It would have been the greatest G-7 ever.”
  • “Because President Obama — it was a mess. And I was told and you were told, and everybody told it would be years before you ever did what I did in about a month and a half after I started. I went over to Iraq, I met with our generals, and we figured out a plan, and it was done within a month and a half. I’m the one that did the capturing. I’m the one that knows more about it than you people or the — or the fake pundits.”
  • Viktor Orbán (Hungary), Rodrigo Duterte (Philippines), Andrzej Duda (Poland), Jair Bolsonaro (Brazil), Kim Jong-un (North Korea), Vladimir Putin (Russia), Benjamin Netanyahu (Israel), Xi Jinping (China), Narendra Modi (India), Shinzō Abe (Japan), and Donald Trump (United States) (a representative thus not exhaustive list). Whatever their specific character and precise political differences, what do these men have in common?
  • Michael Hiltzik in The Los Angeles Times: “Trump proposes denying free school meals to half a million children
Musing: The space of reasons for and in a particular argument (legal, political, what have you, some forms of scientific argument perhaps the foremost exception here) is bounded, even if we cannot predict or spell out in advance the precise boundaries in any given instance. With regard to the arguments against impeachment and sundry other legal proceedings against Trump (I’m assuming familiarity with the specifics of a least some of these, a few of which have to do in the first place with Trump as a private citizen), we’ve seen over time several sets of similar or like-minded arguments from his Republican acolytes in Congress, the sets changing as their rationality, reasonableness, plausibility, or even credibility begins to diminish with fresh evidence or demonstrably better counter-arguments gaining a foothold in public fora of one kind or another especially, of course, in the mass media. 

The sets themselves can be viewed as assuming points along a spectrum, with one end occupied by the most sound, persuasive, reasonable or rational arguments, the other end by those most implausible, patently irrational or unreasonable, perhaps even “arguments” we might readily conclude symptomatic of denial, wishful thinking, phantasy, and the like, and thus not even worthy of or amenable to counter-argument in the conventional sense (although we might feel compelled to speak to them when they are raised in mass media settings). Of late, we’ve seen such “arguments” come to the fore among Trump’s perfervid supporters and enablers, hence we learn that “abuse of power” is perfectly acceptable and not in the realm of impeachment; or that Trump can shoot someone and not be indicted (a legal inference, by the way, thought to follow from the OLC memos which, broadly and simply, argue that ‘indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President would unconstitutionally undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions’); or, as Lindsey  Graham said, in agreement with Trump about the impeachment efforts to date: “This is a lynching, in every sense.” I short, we should expect more “arguments” of this kind until the President has left or been removed from office. In other words, the space of plausible, rational and reasonable arguments has been occupied and exhausted, the other end of the spectrum, not so much (in one sense, it could be said to be ‘inexhaustible’).

Alas, frustration with arguments of any sort to achieve one’s ends can lead to behavior in which one abandons altogether the spectrum of  arguments and space of reasons that should be and often have been the life and blood of elected representatives in constitutional democracies, which by their nature and obligatory delegation arguments fundamentally depend on rhetorical arguments (of legal and political provenance), deliberative and otherwise, hence “Republican lawmakers led by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) on Wednesday stormed into the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) in the House of Representatives to disrupt the closed-door impeachment inquiry hearings taking place.”
  • From the blog of the London Review of Books, important, probing and succinct reflections from Chris Bertram about the lifeless bodies of 39 people found in a parked lorry container in Essex.
  • Norman J. Ornstein in the LA Times: “Trump’s emoluments transgressions don’t stop with the Doral fiasco
  • Last year the Brazilian fascist president, Jair Bolsonaro, “warned about the danger posed by refugees from Haiti, Africa, and the Middle East, calling them ’the scum of humanity’ and even argued that the army should take care of them.” He is notorious for routinely making racist and misogynistic public statements. Indeed, “a self-confessed ‘admirer’ of Hitler, he and two of his sons … openly support eugenics.” Such patently demagogic rhetoric with fascist pedigree was repeated in Trump’s characterization the other day of “Never Trumper Republicans” as “human scum” (hence they are in ‘certain ways worse and more dangerous for our Country than the Do Nothing Democrats’). Now White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham has defended Trump’s dehumanizing slur: “Asked during an appearance on ‘Fox & Friends’ whether Trump regrets using that phrase, Grisham enthusiastically said no.” “’He shouldn’t,’ she told host Brian Kilmeade. ‘The people who are against him and have been against him and working against him since the day they took office are just that. ... They deserve strong language like that.’”

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The recurring but no less precarious neo-imperialist geopolitical assertion of productivist ideology on the ground in U.S. foreign policy:

President Trump said Monday that a limited number of U.S. troops will remain in Syria to man a garrison on the southern border with Jordan and ‘to secure the oil’ elsewhere in the country. ‘I don’t think it’s necessary, other than we secure the oil,’ Trump said of the U.S. military presence. ‘We need to secure the oil.’ A ‘small number of troops’ would also remain in southern Syria at the request of Israel and Jordan, he added in remarks to reporters at a meeting of his Cabinet in Washington. The decision to leave more than 20 percent of the U.S. force in Syria behind was the second time in less than a year that Trump announced a complete withdrawal, only to walk it back under heavy bipartisan criticism from lawmakers and disquiet within his own administration.” 

Comment: With regard to what we charitably describe as “foreign policy,” President Trump’s values are in the first place “productivist” (i.e., they pivot on and around an outmoded and ecologically catastrophic model of capitalist industrialism), which is in keeping with his quantitative valuation of virtually everything. Such (crudely extrinsic) values invariably trump (alas, pun intended), as they do in this case, more fundamental and humane values, be they of ethical, legal, or democratic provenance, for example. In the most recent instance, they serve to crowd out our country’s comparatively longstanding military allies in the fight against ISIS (and not only in Syria), the Kurds, the President resorting to all manner of contradictory, incoherent, and implausible rationalizations by way of feebly attempting to justify abandoning them to hostile Turkish, Syrian, and Russian armed forces (hence regimes perfectly willing to achieve their geopolitical goals through ethnic cleansing, torture, and flagrant violations of international humanitarian law*), as well as motley Arab militias in the region, including those of a radically militant “jihadist” motivation. This is the geopolitical triumph of “materialism” of the crassest sort inasmuch as it shamelessly places one of the most important strategic commodities on our planet: crude oil, over and above human beings—the Kurds (but not only them)—thus in effect giving priority, yet again, to capitalist productivism in the expression of U.S. foreign policy interests so as to smother a vivid incarnation of the more generalized concern with human dignity and human rights as these are essential to human welfare and well-being.

Please don’t infer from this that I think the U.S. by contrast is virtuous in this regard!

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The President as a deadly parasite on the body politic

Some understood this from the beginning; others came to the conclusion after watching Trump in office after a few months; yet others cut him more slack, according him the benefit of doubt in a manner that made transparent their gullibility (a twinge of doubt aroused by his reckless decision to abandon the Kurdish forces and people in Syria); while a remaining and appalling number of intransigent if not hysterical Republicans—in the wake of overwhelming historical, behavioral, empirical, and legal evidence that in a rational world would change their minds—continue to support a would-be authoritarian or even despotic but unequivocally undemocratic President who could neither pass a 6th grade civics test (of yesteryear) nor articulate a coherent conception of what it means to live in a constitutional democracy: Donald Trump is a deadly parasite on the body politic. Mutually reinforcing and debilitating psychological processes and phenomena operate on both sides of the equation: The President is a megalomaniacal narcissist whose life suggests a fundamental moral psychological failure to develop the barest moral sense and sensibility, let alone that kind of minimal moral awareness and self-reflection generally expected of individuals past adolescence we encounter and interact with in everyday life. And Trump’s passionately recalcitrant supporters evidence ostentatious display of their dispositionally shared proclivity to denial, self-deception and wishful thinking, abetted by both conventional conservative ideologies and that inordinate American fondness for bread and circuses that combine to cause intellectual macular degeneration, willful political ignorance, and moral evasion. 

Nancy Pelosi said she is praying for the President’s health after his latest “meltdown.” The case for Impeachment is overwhelming (based on ‘Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors’). On the other hand, and whether or not he is impeached or ends up incarcerated for his criminal behavior, we can only hope and wish that the President, as a fellow human being deserving of our compassion, is the recipient of more than prayers, indeed, that he seeks and receives the requisite mental health care and therapy he so desperately needs.

Monday, October 14, 2019

The Cuban Revolution of 1959: a basic bibliography

Cuban revolution muralThe Cuban Revolution of 1959 was one of the most profound revolutions in Latin American historyin many ways more profound than the nineteenth-century wars for independence, which, despite the enormous human and military destruction, and despite the winning of political independence, did not overturn the structures of Latin American society. The Cuban revolution was part of the worldwide anticolonial and revolutionary ferment that followed World War II. The post-Stalinist, Third World revolutionary Marxism that it helped to define was also a factor in the emergence of a youthful New Left in Europe and the United States. — The The Cuba Reader: History, Culture, Politics, edited by Aviv Chomsky, Barry Carr, Alfredo Prieto, and Pamela Maria Smorkaloff (Durham, NC: Duke University Pressed., 2nd ed., 2019): 309

I recently posted my latest bibliography for the Cuban Revolution (26 July 1953 – 1 January 1959). It will be my last compilation so as to allow time for updating, when need be, the existing lists (111 in total).  

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

A Republican tipping point?

One of Trump’s tweets from yesterday: 

“As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!). They must, with Europe and others, watch over ....”

If this is not a tipping point for those unwilling or reluctant to conclude that Trump is mentally or psychologically unfit for office, nothing will be. His remaining obdurate public supporters can only be deeply ensnared in the muck and mire of denial, self-deception and wishful thinking, psychological armour and blinders they share with his Republican Party lackeys, bootlickers and sycophants in his administration and Congress, who in addition are bereft of moral backbone and ethical integrity, performing their grotesquely inane public defenses of Trump’s behavior as mere apparitions of politicians in a would-be democracy, their servile authoritarian predispositions having now become habitually or temperamentally fascist. 

President Trump and the Republican Party quickly call to mind the following verbs: prevaricate, obfuscate, dissemble, conceal, lie, evade, smirk, obstruct, phantasize, pretend, condescend, grovel, abrogate, destroy, besmirch, erode, assault, degrade, sully, extort, bribe, coerce, threaten, intimidate, bully, slander, wriggle, endanger…. And largely white evangelical Christians (excluding of course Left evangelical Christians, of which there appear to be far fewer in number) will confidently remind us how God in fact favors Trump, how such verbs vividly incarnate the preaching and teachings of Jesus in the Gospels!

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Raymond Tallis: philosopher

 “ … [T]he illegitimately and sometimes insanely, extended misuse of the terminformationis absolutely pivotal to establishing the conceptual confusions necessary to the seeming fruitfulness and explanatory power of much modern thought about the mind and the brain [in philosophy, evolutionary psychology, and cognitive science, for example]—and ourselves. This converges in the computational theory of mind [this can be traced back to the early work of Hilary Putnam, and becomes particularly influential with the philosophical work of the late Jerry Fodor and the writings of the philosopher and cognitive scientist, Daniel Dennett, and is well popularized by the linguist and cognitive psychologist, Stephen Pinker]. By playing on different meanings ofinformationand transferring epithets like a volleyball [across several nets], it is possible to argue that minds, brains, organisms, various artefacts such as computers and even non-living thermodynamic systems are all information-processing devices. Because they are deemed to be essentially the same in this vitally important respect, they can be used to model each other; homology and analogy can run riot. Once the concept of information is liberated from the idea of a conscious someone being informed and from that of a conscious someone doing the informing, anything is possible.” — Raymond Tallis*

*          *          *

Raymond Tallis has published over 35 books, many of those in philosophy, and he remains one of my favorite contemporary philosophers. He is somewhat (i.e., comparatively) neglected by those trained as professional philosophers, but I dare say it is in part  because he is rather more bold and brighter than many if not most of them (another reason perhaps being professional envy). What is more, he is a true polymath. Like Grant Gillett (this link does not list all of Gillet’s published books) another contemporary philosopher well-deserving of our attention, he has been both a physician and medical science researcher, although he is far more prolific as a philosopher than Gillett (which is to take nothing away from the latter’s virtues as a philosopher). I enjoyed and learned much from Tallis’s trilogy in philosophical anthropology mentioned below, especially the second volume, I Am: Philosophical Inquiry into First-Person Being (2004). And I highly recommend Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity (2011). I thought to introduce his philosophical writings today because I recently picked up two of his latest books, the second of which I’ve begun reading: Of Time and Lamentation: Reflections on Transience (Agenda Publishing, 2017), and Logos: The Mystery of How We Make Sense of the World (Agenda Publishing, 2018). For what it’s worth, as this is where I part company with him, Tallis does not appear to have a favorable of view of either psychoanalytic psychology and therapy or Marxism, indeed, his political outlook, from what I can ascertain, is rather conservative, although not dogmatically or perfervidly so.

Raymond C. Tallis (born 10 October 1946) “is a philosopher, poet, novelist, cultural critic and a retired medical physician and clinical neuroscientist. Specialising in geriatrics, Tallis served on several UK commissions on medical care of the aged and was an editor or major contributor to two key textbooks in the field, The Clinical Neurology of Old Age and Textbook of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology. [….] From 1996 to 2000, he was Consultant Adviser in Care of the Elderly to the Chief Medical Officer. In 1999–2000, he was Vice-Chairman of the Stroke Task Force of the Advisory Group developing the National Service Framework for Older People. He has been on the Standing Medical Advisory Committee and the Council of the Royal College of Physicians and was secretary of the Joint Specialist Committee of the Royal College on Health Care of the Elderly between 1995 and 2003. He was a member of the Joint Task Force on Partnership in Medicine Taking, established by Alan Milburn, the Secretary of State for Health, in 2001. For three years he was a member of one of the appraisal panels of the National Institute of Clinical Excellence. He retired in 2006 as Emeritus Professor of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Manchester.
Philosophical Works

Aping mankind
Tallis attacked post-structuralism in books such as Not Saussure and Theorrhoea and After, and he contested assumptions of artificial intelligence research in his book Why the Mind is Not a Computer: A Pocket Dictionary on Neuromythology. He denies that our appreciation of art and music can be reduced to scientific terms. His philosophical writings attempt to supply an “anthropological” [as in ‘philosophical anthropology] account of what is distinctive about human beings. To this end he has written a trilogy of books entitled The Hand [2003]; I Am: A Philosophical Inquiry into First-Person Being[ 2004]; and The Knowing Animal [2004]. He has also argued extensively about the perceived misuse of scientific language and concepts to explain human experiences [and the mind and human consciousness in particular]. 

In 2007 Tallis published Unthinkable Thought: The Enduring Significance of Parmenides. His book The Kingdom of Infinite Space: A Fantastical Journey Around Your Head, which explores the range of activities that go on inside the human head, was published in April 2008. Michelangelos Finger: An Exploration of Everyday Transcendence was published in 2010.
Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity was published in 2011. In Defence of Wonder and Other Philosophical Reflections, a collection of essays from The Reader and elsewhere, was published in April 2012.” [….]

Tallis of time and lamentation 
* Tallis demonstrates the manner in which this slippery slope ends in a logical conclusion that postulates the “informationalization” of the universe itself (in particular, among both computer scientists and physicists, with some individuals, like Edward Fredkin and Stephen Wolfram, possessing expertise in both fields).
  Tallis Logos

Friday, September 06, 2019

Trump’s mind and the big picture

One of the few times Trump has spoken the truth occurred when he admitted he would do nothing about (alleged) climate change (about which, of course, he is appallingly ignorant, of a piece with his inexcusable ignorance of science or indeed about any field of organized inquiry and knowledge as represented, for example, by the natural and social sciences) if that meant affecting corporate profits (and the avaricious accumulation of money and wealth generally). So, even when he is honest, we get a frightening glimpse into his manifestly irrational and a-rational beliefs and the workings of his mind, a mind long mired in denial, self-deception, and wishful thinking, exacerbated so as to cause a surfeit of all manner of harms, given his narcissistic megalomania (or exemplification of all—or virtually all—of the diagnostic symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder), rendering his beliefs in the form of phantasies, illusions, and delusions. This is profoundly disturbing on its own. It is made even more troubling, confounding, and frustrating when we realize that the President has instinctively loyal and perfervid enablers and supporters in the White House, in Congress, among right-wing talk radio hosts and TV personalities, and throughout the general population, including the vast majority of the Republican Party, erstwhile conservatives, capitalist titans of industry and finance, groups like the NRA, conservative evangelical Christians (a small number of evangelical Christians, namely those who have read the synoptic Gospels and taken the parables and sayings of Jesus to heart, are on the Left), white supremacists, proto-fascists and fascists…, all of whom are in active or implicit, de jure or de facto cooperation, collusion and complicity with the regressive politics and policies of the Executive Branch, including those of the Cabinet and federal agencies, politics and policies that are regressive not only with regard to our ecologies and the environment, but in light of whatever progress we have made to date and the possibilities and hopes we entertain for the democratically inspired and constrained pursuit of generalized welfare, well-being, and fulfillment (or eudaimonia).

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Beyond “scientific psychology”

Kandinsky c

So, let me ask, what is knowledge of human beings? How does it enter into our understanding of ourselves and others as individuals? Can it be acquired by scientific observation, and does it have the kind of generality, precision, and objectivity characteristic of science? Wittgenstein asks: can one learn this knowledge? Let me quote his very brief answer: 

‘Yes; some can. Not, however, by taking a course in it, but through “experience”—Can someone else be man’s teacher in this? Certainly. From time to time he gives him the right tip.—This is what “learning” and “teaching” are like here.—What one acquires here is not a technique; one learns correct judgments. There are also rules, but they do not form a system, and only experienced people can apply them right. Unlike calculating-rules.’ 

The experience which Wittgenstein has in mind is the kind one has in living ones own life. It refers to one’s dealings with people in their variety in different situations, meeting with their cooperation as well as obstruction, their gratitude and their resentment, finding communion with them and at other times feeling at a loss and out of ones depth. The point is that we acquire whatever knowledge we have of mankind in living our life, engaging with others and suffering lifes adversities. The more open we are in ourselvesthat means open to hurt, grief, criticisms, as well as to the pleasures of give and takethe more we are capable of learning from others about life. By contrast the psychologists laboratory is an ivory tower. — Ilham Dilman, Raskolnikovs Rebirth: Psychology and the Understanding of Good and Evil (Open Court, 2000): 2-3. 

At Leiter Reports, there is a link to a piece, “Beyond the Replication Crisis,” with the following conclusion posted along with a request for comments:

“The replication crisis, if nothing else, has shown that productivity is not intrinsically valuable. Much of what psychology has produced has been shown, empirically, to be a waste of time, effort, and money. As Gibson put it: our gains are puny, our science ill-founded. As a subject, it is hard to see what it has to lose from a period of theoretical confrontation.” 

I tried to post a comment, but for some inexplicable reason, Brian never posts my comments. I gave up attempting to comment several years ago, but thought I’d try again (it turns out the passage of time in this case could not work any magic), as this was a topic that very much interests me and to which I’ve given some thought over the years. In any case, what follows represents what I wanted to say (it’s not the original comment, as I did not save it).

Whatever the specifics of “the replication crisis” (some of the comments to Brian’s post argued the ‘crisis’ was rather exaggerated or its implications scientific psychology far less dramatic) one might have drawn the same conclusion based on other, albeit not unrelated reasons, those culled from the outside looking in as it were, the foremost of them owing to the field’s regnant presuppositions and assumptions, as well as the highly constricted scope of psychology experiments. The backbone of such psychology (its forms of knowledge being impersonal, general, inductive, statistical, and theoretical) is of course experimental, and the artificial nature of such experimentation, owing to its constitutional inability to faithfully reproduce or even emulate or imitate the conditions of everyday life or cohere in some measure with folk psychology (first-person or not) and its corresponding narratives, by itself suggests its findings will largely “be a waste of time, effort, and money,” and thus one can reasonably reach the conclusion that scientific psychology as currently organized and practiced is “ill-founded.” 

As I’ve noted in this space before, one domain fundamental to human psychology, the study of emotions, likewise reveals the intrinsic weakness of scientific psychology, a fact highlighted here by Jon Elster, although he is able to salvage some residual utility from this discipline:

“… [W]ith respect to an important subset of the emotions we can learn more from moralists, novelists, and playwrights than from the cumulative findings of scientific psychology. These emotions include regret, relief, hope, disappointment, shame, guilt, pridefulness, pride, hybris, envy, jealousy, malice, pity, indignation, wrath, hatred, contempt, joy, grief, and romantic love. By contrast, the scientific study of the emotions can teach us a great deal about anger, fear, disgust, parental love, and sexual desire (if we count the last two as emotions). [….] I believe…that prescientific insights into the emotion are not simply superseded by modern psychology in the way that natural philosophy has been superseded by physics. Some men and women in the past have been superb students of human nature, with more wide-ranging personal experience, better powers of observation, and deeper intuitions than almost any psychologist I can think of. This is only what we should expect: There is no reason why one century out of twenty-five should have a privilege in wisdom and understanding. In the case of physics, this argument does not apply. Advances in mathematics and experimental techniques have made it possible to go far beyond what could be achieved in earlier centuries. There has be no similar revolution in psychology. Although the pages of psychology journals testify to a great deal of concern with methodology, even the most sophisticated statistical analysis cannot compensate for the intrinsic limitations of laboratory studies on humans.” (Alchemies of the Mind: Rationality and the Emotions, 1999: 48-50) 

Compare the virtually identical sentiment expressed some twenty-five years earlier by an avowed “pupil” of Wittgenstein (yet also a dear friend) in a small book of essays by the psychiatrist Maurice O’Connor Drury, The Danger of Words (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973):

“We might say of a great novelist such as Tolstoy, or our own George Eliot, that they show profound psychological insight into the characters they depict. Or again we should say of a historian such as Burckhardt that he had great psychological acumen in penetrating the motives behind the facts of history. In general, then, it is the great novelists, dramatists, biographers, historians, that are the real psychologists.” 

And like Elster, Drury is not simply dismissive of scientific psychology as such: “I believe that experimental psychology has made and will continue to make very significant contributions to the study of neuro-physiology.”
Kandinsky a
Another philosophical and theoretical perspective from which we can critique scientific psychology can be gleaned from psychoanalytic theory and therapy. Of course it has long been fervently argued that psychoanalysis itself is not now nor ever will be a “science,” and so perhaps it is understandably expected that psychoanalysis is disposed to conspicuously serve as one of several possible polemical or conflicting vantage points from which a vigorous critique of scientific psychology can be—and has been—formulated. I won’t here systematically address, let alone attempt to assess, the arguments in this multi-faceted and long-standing debate about the scientific merits (or lack thereof) of psychoanalysis except to state that I happen to believe psychoanalysis can and should be viewed as a (new) science of subjectivity: in one sense, it is betwixt and between the natural and social sciences, and free to borrow—thus benefit—from both; in another sense, psychoanalysis is distinguishable from the modern sciences in its proximity to philosophy, other “therapies of desire” (those of both religious provenance, as in Buddhism, and non-religious origin, as with ‘philosophy as therapeia’), and the arts, especially literature. 

This is not to ignore the genetically derived flirtations with and occasional indulgence in scientism that shadowed the beginnings of psychoanalysis. Nor should we forget the primary (thus not exclusive) focus on psychopathology, early on at least, which effectively suppressed, distorted or left unexamined key conceptions and assumptions essential to normative models or pictures of what makes for psychological health and well-being. In brief, psychoanalysis is a science, given a sufficiently generous definition of science, one with strong family resemblance to or close in spirit to the meaning of vidyā in Sanskrit. In any case, wherever one falls out in this debate, psychoanalysis remains abundantly rich with psychological insight and knowledge of the sort that can enable us to keenly appreciate the chronic shortcomings of scientific psychology as the preeminent academic field (in the sense that it tends to crowd out different orientations, e.g., psychoanalysis) dedicated to the study of human psychology.

The late Ilham Dilman, who penned a number of exquisitely incisive analytical examinations of Freudian psychology and psychoanalysis in general, and was, it turns out, likewise a student of Wittgenstein’s writings (his review of the aforementioned volume by Dury, concluded that it was ‘like [a] breath of fresh air’), ties our material together with a concise summary of the differences between “scientific psychology” and psychology proper: 

“What the psychologist is concerned to discern and understand in human conduct are expressions of the human soul—verbal and other—that is of individual human beings. Here it is important to remember that human beings can be themselves in what they say and do, and as such accessible to others, and they can also withdraw, put up a front, hide their feelings and intentions from others. They are capable of lying and pretense. There is nothing like this in the animal world or the world of physics, nothing like this which the physicist or ethologist needs to take into account in his observations. For much of what the psychologist needs to understand he has come to know people as individuals. [….]

The trouble with academic, experimental psychology is that, deceived by the pretensions of science, it does not recognize its own limitations. As Wittgenstein puts it at the end of the Philosophical Investigations: 

‘The confusion and barrenness of psychology is not to be explained by calling it a ‘young science;’ its state is not comparable with that of physics, for instance, in its beginnings …. For in psychology there are experimental methods and conceptual confusion.

The existence of the experimental methods makes us think we have the means of solving the problems which trouble us; though problem and method pass one another by.’” — From Dilman’s chapter on “science and psychology” (which deserves to be read in full) in Raskolnikovs Rebirth: Psychology and the Understanding of Good and Evil (Open Court, 2000: 1-21)

Kandinsky dRelevant Bibliographies
Images: Wassily Kandinsky

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Reading Lists and Sundry Material

Several times a year I post an updated list of the bibliographies available on my Academia page (the start of the school year for many being one of those times). I have also included a separate list of my writing on a variety of topics as well as the “study guides” for several religious worldviews I used to give to my students. All of the material is in alphabetical order on the site, save the study guides, which are found at the bottom of the page.
  1. Transdisciplinary Perspectives on Addiction
  2. Africana & African American Philosophy
  3. After Slavery & Reconstruction: The Black Struggle for Civil Rights, Freedom, and Equality in the U.S.
  4. Salvador Allende and the Quest for Socialism
  5. R. Ambedkar
  6. American Indian Law (this list goes considerably beyond ‘law’)
  7. Samir Amin (3 September 1931 - 12 August 2018)
  8. Analogy & Metaphor
  9. Anarchism: Philosophy & Praxis
  10. Animal Ethics, Rights, and Law
  11. The Arab World: Modern & Post-Modern
  12. Attica Prison Uprising (September 9, 1971 – September 13, 1971): Notes, Timeline, and Essential Reading
  13. The Bedouin
  14. Beyond Capitalist Agribusiness: Toward Agroecology & Food Justice
  15. Beyond Capitalist-Attenuated Time: Freedom, Leisure, and Self-Realization
  16. Beyond Inequality: Toward the Globalization of Welfare, Well-Being and Human Flourishing
  17. Beyond Punitive Capitalist and Liberal Society
  18. Bioethics
  19. Biological Psychiatry, Sullied Psychology and Pharmaceutical Reason
  20. The Black Athlete and Sports
  21. Blacks and Food Justice: A Guide to Resources
  22. Blacks on the (Radical) Left
  23. The Black Panther Party
  24. On Boxing — Sweet Science & Brutal Agon
  25. Buddhism
  26. Buddhism & Psychoanalysis
  27. Capital Punishment
  28. Capitalist and Other Distortions of Democratic Education — From Etiological Diagnosis to Therapeutic Regimen
  29. César Chávez & the United Farm Workers
  30. Christianity
  31. Classical Chinese Worldviews
  32. Communism in India
  33. Comparative Law
  34. Conflict Resolution and Nonviolence
  35. Constitutionalism
  36. Constitutionalism in India
  37. Contract Theory & Promises
  38. Criminal Law: Municipal (Domestic) and International
  39. Death & Dying
  40. Democratic Theory
  41. Detroit: Labor & Industrialization, Race & Politics, Rebellion & Resurgence
  42. Dreams and Dreaming
  43. Ecological & Environmental Politics, Philosophies, and Worldviews
  44. Emotions
  45. Ethical Perspectives on Science & Technology
  46. Famine: History, Causes, and Consequences
  47. Frantz Fanon
  48. Freudian and Post-Freudian Psychology
  49. The Life, Work, & Legacy of Mohandas K. Gandhi
  50. Genocide
  51. Global Distributive Justice
  52. The Great Depression & The New Deal
  53. The Haitian Revolution
  54. Health: Law, Ethics & Social Justice
  55. Hinduism
  56. The History, Theory & Praxis of the Left in the 1960s
  57. Human Nature and Personal Identity
  58. Human Rights
  59. Ethics, Law, and Politics of Immigration & Refugees
  60. Indic (or Indian) Philosophy
  61. Individual & Shared Responsibility
  62. International Criminal Law
  63. International Law
  64. Modern Iran
  65. Islam, the Arts, and Aesthetic Experience
  66. Islam and Jurisprudence
  67. Islam & Muslims in the United States
  68. Islamic Studies
  69. Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
  70. The Jain Tradition
  71. L.R. James: Marxist Humanist & Afro-Trinidadian Socialist
  72. Judaism
  73. Law and Literature
  74. Toward an Understanding of Liberalism
  75. Malcolm X (May 19, 1925 – February 21, 1965)
  76. Marxism
  77. Marxism (or ‘the Left’), Art & Aesthetics
  78. Marxism and Freudian Psychology
  79. Toward a Marxist Theory of International Law
  80. Mass Media
  81. Nonviolent Resistance in the Middle East (with an emphasis on the Palestinian struggle)
  82. Nuclear Weapons
  83. Pan-Africanism, Black Internationalism, & Black Cosmopolitanism
  84. Philosophy of Law and Legal Theory
  85. Philosophy, Psychology, & Methodology for the Social Sciences
  86. Philosophy & Racism
  87. The Prophet Muhammad
  88. Toward a “Realist” Social and Political Psychology
  89. The Puerto Rican Struggle for Independence & Self-Determination
  90. Punishment and Prison
  91. The Qur’ān (Translations, Commentaries, Studies)
  92. Radical Catholicism (The Catholic Worker Movement, Liberation Theology…)
  93. Science and Religion
  94. Science and Technology
  95. Slavery
  96. Social Security & the Welfare State
  97. South African Liberation Struggles
  98. Sufism
  99. Sullied (Natural & Social) Sciences
  100. Terrorism
  101. Theology and Philosophy in Islamic Traditions
  102. Torture: moral, legal, and political dimensions
  103. Transitional Justice
  104. Utopian Imagination, Thought & Praxis
  105. The Varna & Caste System in India
  106. Vietnam War
  107. Violent Conflict & the Laws of War
  108. Women as Intellectuals in the European Enlightenment
  109. Workers, the World of Work, and Labor Law
  110. Zionist Ideologies
Reading in Prison 2
Essays, Papers, and “Study Guides,” (some published, although most of what little I’ve published—largely encyclopedia entries—is not available on my Academia page):
  • “Act Naturally!” “Say What?”
  • Advaita Vedānta Philosophy: a short introduction
  • Analogy and Metaphor: An Idiosyncratic Introduction
  • Bombing French Indochina during the U.S. War in Vietnam: a précis
  • Book Review: Oliver Leaman’s Islamic Aesthetics: An Introduction (2004) Philosophy East and West, Vol. 57, No. 2, (2007), 271-275.
  • Book Review: Martin D. Yaffe, ed., Judaism and Environmental Ethics (2001), Philosophy East and West, Vol. 57, No. 3 (2007), 400-405.
  • Christianity: study guide
  • Confucianism: study guide
  • Daoism: study guide
  • Democracy and Islam
  • Free Association in Psychoanalysis and “Willing What Cannot Be Willed”
  • A summary introduction to the Freudian psychoanalytic model of therapeutic philosophy and psychology
  • The Golden Rule
  • Hinduism: study guide
  • Iran’s Nuclear Power Program and the Question of Nuclear Weapons: Articles and Blog Posts (this material is not written by yours truly)
  • Islam: study guide
  • Judaism: study guide
  • Natural Law “externalism” v. Natural Law as “moral aspiration”
  • The pathology of normalcy ... and the quest for a sane society
  • Poetry and Islam: An Introduction
  • Prosoche in the Daily Life of a Salonnière in the French Enlightenment
  • Toward a Philosophically Sensitive Definition of Public Health Law
  • Social Norms and Legal Theory
  • Toward Socialism
  • The Legal Doctrine of Stare Decisis and Rationality
  • Therapies of Desire: Introspection in Buddhist and Psychoanalytic Psychologies
  • Donald Trump and Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Reading in Florida prison