Thursday, June 20, 2019

Momentary Musings on Miscellaneous Topics

These brief thoughts were intermittently composed over the past several months and make, I think, for light summer reading. 

Compare these three recent news items (political and cultural symptoms of a pathological moral psychology among the powers-that-be):

(i) “Federal prosecutors are pursuing criminal charges against activist Scott Daniel Warren for doing nothing more than giving food, water and shelter to migrants trekking through the desert.” “[P]rosecutors charged Warren with several counts of one of those offenses, conspiracy to transport and harbor migrants. A federal felony that could land Warren in prison for 20 years.”
(ii) “President Trump has indicated that he is considering pardons for several American military members accused or convicted of war crimes, including high-profile cases of murder, attempted murder and desecration of a corpse, according to two United States officials.”
(iii) Jeff Koons’ stainless steel sculpture of a rabbit (‘Rabbit’) sold at auction for $91 million. “The buyer in the latest sale was Robert E. Mnuchin, a former executive at Goldman Sachs who currently plies his trade as an art dealer. He’s the father of Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, which must stand as some sort of commentary on 21st century robber barons and their relationship with a plutocrat-loving administration in Washington.”
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Generally speaking, arbitration clauses and processes have been a predictable boon to the rich and powerful (meaning the rest of us, as we say, get shafted), which explains why businesses frequently insist that “arbitration is a better alternative for consumers than litigation.” This is of a piece with the ideological bullshit propagated by conservatives that we are in urgent need of “tort reform,” hence the importance of Koenig and Rustad’s classic retort (pun intended), In Defense of Tort Law (New York University Press, 2001). As we learn from article in the Los Angeles Times, “[a] recent academic study confirms what consumer advocates have been saying for years: Mandatory arbitration is a rigged system — rigged, that is, in favor of businesses.”
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When it comes to examining or learning from motley doctrines, grand theories, worldviews, philosophies, and so forth, the qualifying phrase, “such truth as there is” (exemplifying the epistemic if not metaphysical spirit common to Jain epistemology, pragmatism, and more sophisticated notions of pluralism) is often apropos. This does not mean that “anything goes,” indeed, it may lead us to discover how or why this or that aspect or part of a theory or philosophy may be wrong and another right, and some theories or philosophies may therefore  increase in plausibility or persuasiveness while others thereby diminish or recede in significance or insight.
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In an attempt to dispassionately view the debate surrounding the Democrats running for President, I’ve arrived at the tentative conclusion that some, if not perhaps too many of us on the Left are hell-bent on displaying to our real and virtual comrades in real and envisaged struggle our virtuous Leftist bona fides and doctrinal purity, which strikes me as betraying at once both psychological insecurity and (relatedly) an inordinate desire for intellectual security: the former proves, oddly, motivating, for we then need to continually strive to demonstrate to ourselves and others the converse case (i.e. that we are not insecure); while the latter impoverishes the imagination and amounts to a variation on the proverb that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” as it proves reckless with regard to consequences, be they foreseen, probable, or unintentional.
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The President, a pathological narcissist and megalomaniac, is caught up in a welter of phantasies, delusions, and illusions, many of which are now shared with his supporters. One does not need a medical degree or psychoanalytic training to come to this conclusion. He should be removed from office forthwith. The President’s behavior, rhetoric, and policies are suffused with irreality and surreality, while Republican pundits and politicians take great pains to assure us that their twisted character and perverse logic are merely for entertainment and justifiable partisan purposes, allowing the Right to accomplish otherwise unobtainable putative purposes and ends that, at bottom, serve our individual and collective interests! How else to describe this but as political sorcery in the service of sheer madness and evil?
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The U.S. government views itself as uniquely entitled to untrammeled pursuit of its political and economic “interests” around the globe, while other countries are entitled to their geopolitically and legally circumscribed nation-state interests and, on occasion, nearby “regional interests,” although the latter can never trump U.S. interests, which are at once global and supreme by definition, thus recognition of regional interests must coincide with if not promote U.S. interests to have any sort of validity. The U.S. does not feel bound by the legal rules and norms of international law insofar as those clash with its tendentious formulation of national interests, all other countries (save Israel), however, are subject to the preeminence of U.S. interests and thus when there is conflict with those interests, the U.S. will find sufficient reason to call upon this or that international law only if it can somehow be construed in support of its globally sovereign political and economic interests.
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Pandering to those desires, preferences, and sentiments of the masses that are ill-formed, self-destructive or harmful, irrational, fickle or evanescent (subject to quickly changing fads and fashions), myopic, or shaped by fondness for instant gratification, or rhetorical appeals to our basest instincts and fears, our phantasies, illusions and delusions (this is not an exhaustive list), amounts to a flagrant failure to embody or exemplify any coherent and principled notion of democratic political representation and leadership. “The people” are not always and everywhere a reliable let alone intelligent or wise judge of their best interests, and thus to assume otherwise, is corrosive of the public good, the common welfare, and our individual and collective well-being. To assume otherwise may win you an election, but the deleterious consequences of this path to political power will eventually manifest themselves in both predictable and unpredictable ways.
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In retail marketing rhetoric and “branding,” using the adjective “upscale” is intended to get your attention and money (after all, you’re worth it!). In our case, it means “stay away,” this is not a place we’d like to visit. It also informs one that the lower classes are not welcome (well, that is, unless they dream of one day joining the upper classes), even if they could afford to buy something now and again. But what if “upscale” is combined with putatively “green” or “sustainable” practices (e.g.: ‘Caffe Luxxe [appropriately named] is diligent about its sourcing, down to the plantation level. Alternating between farms in Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia, Caffe Luxxe sources its beans from growers who focus on sustainable practices, such as crop rotation, tree renewal, and complementary crop cultivation.’)? What could be better than that, right?


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