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Jon Cogburn
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By Jon Cogburn By Jon Cogburn Nearly everyone, and certainly everyone reading this, has had the following experience. You are having a pretty good conversation and suddenly your interlocutor says or does something of (in your opinion) such astonishing unreason that from that point onwards you are precluded from taking... Continue reading
Posted 46 minutes ago at Philosophical Percolations
Faith I want to write about faith, about the way the moon rises over cold snow, night after night, faithful even as it fades from fullness, slowly becoming that last curving and impossible sliver of light before the final darkness. But I have no faith myself I refuse it even... Continue reading
Posted yesterday at Philosophical Percolations
As members of the Executive Committee of the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy, we have wondered whether we should publicly respond to the U.S. presidential election and the events that have followed it. We hesitated to write this statement partly because we disagreed about how to write it, partly... Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at Philosophical Percolations
By Jon Cogburn This is Part III on a set of textually inspired meditations on the connection between author and narrator. Part I defended Jack Kerouac's On the Road from common misreadings that wrongly conflate narrator and author. Part II showed how Ian McEwan disastrously conflates himself with his narrator... Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at Philosophical Percolations
Wonderful set of reflections. I'd never connected Husserl on the role that imagination plays in phenomenology with the fiction writer's task before, but from what you've said this seems very plausible to me. I tend to think that fiction is first and foremost an exploration of how the actual world would evolves, were it set up differently than it is. On this conception fiction is a description of (counter)factual aspects of the actual world, the actual world makes it the case that some fictional texts are more or less true than others, and as a result of this we learn about the actual world from fiction. I also think that philosophy is just underspecified fiction in something like the way that some Heideggerians think that Vorhandenheit is arrived at privatively from Zuhandenheit (strangely, Edmund Burke suggests something similar about the relation between philosophy and history). On privativity, we can see fiction writers (according to the account gestured at above) doing what Husserl is doing. Or rather, we see Husserl doing what fiction writers are doing, but after abstracting away the overwhelming majority of narratively interesting information. In this sense fiction is at least genetically prior to phenomenology. One can actually read Heidegger's critique of Husserl as saying something very much like this. However, genetic priority of various types of investigations isn't necessarily ontological or even epistemic priority of the things investigated. Perhaps the things Husserl investigated, andt he properties he thereby adduced, are in some sense still prior to the richer world described by novelists and the richer (phenomenologically) world experienced phenomenologically. I'm ambivalent about this. To disagree is to imbibe a pretty strong form of metaphysical holism. In any case, one might argue that fiction doesn't capture what phenomenology does for the same reason that phenomenology doesn't capture what phenomenology does. The richness of perceptual content transcends the conceptual abilities of both phenomenologist and fiction writer. A few years ago, nearly everyone in analytic philosophy had some opinion about "non-conceptual content." This debate seems much more important to me now than it did during its heydey.
Oh my gosh thanks. I hadn't seen this (as far as I can gather Roden's blog accidentally got taken off our roll during some routine housekeeping; it's back on). I *think* I agree with Roden that Harman is committed to a form of the given in Sellars' sense. But one way to spin at least McDowell's (not Brandom's!) take on the myth of the given is that we have to be honest Hegelians in affirming our mythology. This is far left Sellarsianism though, which you only get if (among other things) you take on board McDowell's take on the myth while chucking McDowell's quietism. Roden's post is a great synchronicity for me. I'm teaching Sellars next semester and in my next book I hope to both make the connection between Harman and far left Sellarsianism as well as motivate it. It's fantastic to start to think about Roden's interventions here, both with respect to the post and with respect to the broader project of connecting his dark phenomenology with other strains of speculative realism (my colleague Debbie Goldgaber is thinking about this pretty deeply).
By Jon Cogburn One of Netflix's noblest services is introducing the Canadian mockumentary series Trailer Park Boys to an American audience, and then commissioning new seasons (eight through ten taking place in the park, with an extra eight episodes covering the three protagonist's European trip just out last month; an... Continue reading
Posted Nov 27, 2016 at Philosophical Percolations
Ooh, thanks again. That's very helpful for my ability to think about these things.
By Jon Cogburn The major argumentative and explanatory tasks in Boris Johnson's re-revisionist The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History concern whether Winston Churchill did have an outsized effect on history, whether this effect was good or bad, and how he was able to achieve it. The book is... Continue reading
Posted Nov 26, 2016 at Philosophical Percolations
Ooh that's an excelelnt point. I tend to think of politics too much in terms of a battle between competing elites, with popular support something they mobilize in their struggles with one another. But, even with this way of looking at things, addressing (and shaping) popular discontent is part of what they have to do. I'm probably also a little too much into Thomas Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas type liberal fantasia, where we assume that economic interests are the only ones worth taking seriously and so then are aghast at voters who vote against their own. If you think this way, then it seems clear to you that the voters in those 21 smaller states would be much better served if California, New York, etc. had more representation. Most of those states are subsidized heavily by the more populated states. Weirdly, the political preferences of the citizens in the more populous states would result in the subsidies being greater, since the preferences are for a greater social welfare state for all citizens, not just citizens of the populous states. If you buy too much into the Thomas Frank's earlier way of looking at things (his newer excoriation of the Democratic party is I think necessary reading) then you think that the voters from the small states are being hoodwinked to vote against their interests. Then the disenfranchisement of people from bigger states starts to look like just part of an elite conspiracy. I think what's really killing the system is when you put Republican gerrymandering of House districts together with the way the Senate already disenfranchises people. At that point the House just can't do what it was supposed to do (serve the same role as the Plebeian assemblies in Ancient Rome) and you don't get policy that balances the needs of the people and the elite. But this failure was the failure of the late Roman Republic as well. Then it was because of how elections to consul were purchased and the fact that consuls still had so little executive power. One might argue that proconsuls too much in territories which they had to loot in order to pay back the loans which won them the elections. This was part of the Senatorial looting of the whole Republic though, one (by analog to Republican obstructionism and abuse of the judiciary today) they consistently prevented the Plebeian Assemblies from correcting until Octavian finally comes along and sorts things out for the next two hundred years. Is Trump just history repeating itself again as farce? Or playing the role of Sulla to some future Caesar? Or perhaps the analogy becomes unhelpful at this point. I don't know. One thing I'm going to do is read the Federalist Papers over the next year and think very seriously about how Madison, Hamilton, and Jay took the set up of the United States to prevent the kind of dysfunction of the late Roman Republic. This will help me better understand the extent to which the analogy is helpful.
Ooh, Heinlein's a really good example. I remember the jarring bit in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress where one of the characters gives a little speech about a Randian outpost on the moon. He just has to plunk down this utterly implausible little excrescence and then double down by having the character make sure and tell us that it is not in fact implausible. I really loved Stranger in a Strange Land in High School, but my impression is that I would find its sexual politics ridiculous were I to reread it now. I remember it as that kind of hippy drippy "if we al just got past our hangups man, this could be beautiful" type thing that's really just adolescent men wanting women to be cooler with having sex with them with no attachments, carrying with it all of the awful dishonesty about how easy it would be for human beings to just get over being destructively jealous and how sexual norms of fidelity (for all of the problems) can't be wholly chucked, because among other things (such as sorting out the fact that men should help raise children) they keep us from one another's throats. Some of the best post Altamount fiction about the 1960s, such as TC Boyle's Drop City and some of the stories in Ken Kesey's Demon Box, explore these themes adroitly without being didactic in the sense of an awful (and equally if not more dishonest than Heinlein) William Bennett lecture. Ayn Rand's novels (which I read the same time I was reading Heinlein) have to be at the top of this kind of dishonesty. With the possible exception of We the Living, every one of them is nothing but authorial intrusion into the life of her characters. The poor creatures are trying to go about their lives, but she puts in completely implausible facts such as someone building a railroad with only private equity (the person she thought did this, really didn't; in addition to the public goodies he received, he bought at a massive discount distressed railroads that had already been built on the public dime). And she makes them give these horrible speeches that wouldn't be out of place in a meeting of rural Bolsheviks, where the big guy from Saint Petersburg is harranguing them about how they aren't stealing enough grain from the kulaks. And she imposes her own warped sexual norms on the characters and presents them as normative for the rest of us. And the Paul Ryanesque dualism of moocher/takers versus the makers involves falsifying just about everything distinctive of humanity and our culture. I end up feeling sorry for the characters in Rand's novels. What a drag to be written that way. Most of their lives are lived off the page, but this godlike being keeps interjecting herself and making them do horrible things. As far as the religious conceit I was just trying to play with the trope that God is the author of creation and we are characters in the story she's writing. Is God constrained to write a plausible story? In one sense, yes by definition, because (going along with the conceit) the actual world is the measure by which we determine if something is plausible, and the actual world is God's story. But this isn't quite right because implausible things do actually happen. This very fact at least renders sensible the idea of a non-trivial plausibility condition on God's novel writing. This being said, I think it's a pernicious and widespread philosophical error to think that the actual world resembles a text. If I'm right about this the whole conceit probably falls apart or would need to be discussed with much greater subtlety and a lot of caveats. I haven't read Roth's American Pastoral yet! I found his academic novel The Human Stain (which came out I think the same year as Francine Prose's Blue Angel) surprisingly non-didactic. If someone told you the plot you would think it was some kind of screed against political correctness, but at least to me, the shows the compassion he shows for all of his characters completely blunts any didacticism. I think there's a very interesting issue about whether an overly didactic novel can be honest. Assume that the moral or political points the author is trying to get across are true. Then one might argue that the novel is be true but nonetheless an aesthetic disaster. I don't *think* this is right though. What makes a novel true or not is whether reality could plausibly evolve, were it set up the way it is in the novel. But look at how we respond to overly didactic people in real life. There's a reason that most people don't like academics. Our experience in front of classrooms makes us take the world in as something to be lectured to, and it's at best a humorous part of our foibles at worst something pretty destructive. In didactic novels you often have characters that lecture one another without the natural (and sometimes beneficial) pushback that lecturers get in the real world. Or (as in McEwan's new novel) the narrator is lecturing the reader, but we're not supposed to react the way normal people should react to being subject to the loudest drunk at the bar. In either case it doesn't scan. I want to think more about prophecy as a genre and the extent to which the manner in which we learn actual truths from fictional texts apply to prophecies. I suspect that you are right that the kind of account I'm gesturing at (fictions as gedankenexperiments) won't do justice to the role of prophetic voices. The copout would be for me to say that prophecy is not a species of fiction, but that just seems false to me. The number of atheists rightly moved by the prophetic books in the old Testament has to be legion. A success condition on a workable theory of fiction should be that it not entail that they are fools for having been so moved.
Ooh, these are extremely helpful. Thanks. I'm sorry but in the end I still don't think it does indicate that him doubling down on the white vote wasn't decisive. Though the statistics are really helpful in making sense of what happened, so thank you. I think there are two main considerations. First, one has to take into account the fact that turnout was down across the board. So getting a greater percentage of a given vote does not mean getting that percentage more votes. It's consistent with getting less votes. Consider the contrary of what you are putting forward, the fact that Trump got less actual white votes that Romney might also suggest that his doubling down didn't in effect get white voters to vote as an ethnicity (as African American voters, for very understandable reasons, historically have). But here the percentage going so far up does suggest that the strategy worked. As far as percentages going down from Obama's vote, I agree that this is very important information that Democrats have to attend to. But it would be a disaster for Republicans to conclude from this (as Steve Bannon seems to have from recent comments about building a fifty year majority by getting forty percent of the minority vote) that Republicans can do more of the same and continue to win national elections. The biggest problem is that when Trump betrays his economic promises to downwardly mobile middle class whites the only way he will be able to keep their vote is with more zenophobia. This will be some combination of the enemy within and external threats. The former will keep his numbers abysmally low (they are still very low even if not as bad as Romney's) and the latter will (as did Bush's war in Iraq) gin up popularity in the short-run but crater popularity in the medium term. The American political/diplomatic/military/military-contractor colossus is very bad at doing a certain kind of Empire. I hate to say this, but if we study the history of successful Empires, this is probably ultimately for the best. What seems to work historically is getting a country's economic elite complicit in occupation, early in the occupation genocidal levels of barbarity directed not only against those who oppose the occupation but to the cities and towns where it occurs, and intermarriage between occupiers and occupied. It's a good thing that these haven't been politically feasible from the Vietnam era on, though the logic of occupation in all of our wars pushes us towards them. Anyhow, if Trump has to go the xenophobic route, he will get us into a war, do it incompetently, and (assuming that gerrymandering and voter suppression are not so much further advanced that we have something resembling democratic elections at that point) the other guys (and women in the case of Democrats) will have a turn. Second, Obama could not possibly keep the stratospheric level of support among black voters. Anything he did to help the poor was viewed by a plurality of middle class white voters as helping black people by taxing white people. If you talk to a white anti-Obama person here in Louisiana within five minutes you'll get some dressed up (so as to not seem racist) version of this, almost always with radically mistaken empirical presuppositions about where our tax money actually goes. And there is no convincing such people. This narrative constrained Obama when he had Democratic control of the Senate and House and constrained him doubly when he no longer did (though Democrats kept winning the popular vote, the Senate system and gerrymandering of the House gave Republicans majorities). After eight years of this, lots of black voters have reasonably concluded that their hopes were not delivered on. Obama's policies did right the country after the debacle of Bush. But this necessarily involved getting the economic elite back on their feet. It worked. Look at the stock market. But when he then pivoted to put forward an infrastructure bill that would be sufficient to the scope of problems for everyone else, massive Republican obstructionism stopped him. This was very smart politics for Republicans, but very bad for the country. Obama's helplessness in the face of extrajudicial police killings of black people radically amped up the feeling among a lot of black voters that he let them down. Of course there was probably very little he could do. In a country where any lunatic can carry a gun, the police are going to be on hair triggers. And all of the inbuilt racism and the way the war on drugs and revenue raising via ticketing for slight infractions disproportionally effects black communities guarantees that this violence is going to be aimed at black people. But he did his Obama thing, picking battles where he had a shot at making a difference and hoarding his political capital to win those. From lectures by black faculty members at LSU I think that this has led to a feeling of abandonment among many black voters. It's not so different from the white voters who switched from Obama to Trump. Again though, in considering Trump I think that we should be considering the baseline of minority vote for Republicans before Obama. How did Trump do relative to GW Bush? I don't have the numbers here, but I'm certain he did massively worse with Latino voters than Bush did, and I'd be gobsmacked if it weren't the same with black voters. Obama got a big boost for being the first black President and for how awful Bush's policies ultimately were to minority communities. But eight years later, there was some disappointment and the voting went a little bit back to historical norms (still lopsided enough to guarantee a popular vote victory by Democrats of 2.5 million votes). But the fact that they didn't go back to historical norms suggests that the basic narrative about Trump winning via white identity politics is not entirely without merit (though clearly tit would be radically misleading to think that that is anywhere near the whole story). Anyhow, that's all I have to say about this, I think. I'll be very interested to see what you have to say in response. Thanks again for your fascinating and thought provoking comments.
Look To This Day Look to this day: For it is life, the very life of life. In its brief course Lie all the verities and realities of your existence. The bliss of growth, The glory of action, The splendour of achievement Are but experiences of time. For yesterday is... Continue reading
Posted Nov 25, 2016 at Philosophical Percolations
By Jon Cogburn The state of California currently has about 38.8 million people living in it. This is about the same population as the least populous 21 states. Yet California only receives two seats in the United States Senate, while these other states collectively receive 42 seats. The state of... Continue reading
Posted Nov 24, 2016 at Philosophical Percolations
By Jon Cogburn The main gimmick in Ian McEwan's newest novel Nutshell is that the narrator is a fetus who has learned about the world from his mother's penchant for falling asleep to talk radio. If the book were written by an American author the point of the gimmick would... Continue reading
Posted Nov 23, 2016 at Philosophical Percolations
Ooh, thanks tons! That's an extraordinarily helpful page.
By Jon Cogburn Who came up with the dumb idea of putting national elections just a few weeks before Thanksgiving holiday? It's too soon! Staring at a gelatinous mass of cranberryish substance is horrifying enough without also listening to people I love defensively minimizing the moral opprobrium involved in having... Continue reading
Posted Nov 22, 2016 at Philosophical Percolations
By Jon Cogburn Readers of David Lodge's Changing Places will remember the game 'Humiliation', where players list the most important literary work that they haven't read, the winner being the one most humiliated by the admission. In the novel the least pleasant antagonist is destroyed by the game. His major... Continue reading
Posted Nov 21, 2016 at Philosophical Percolations
By Jon Cogburn Yet another for Ian Crystal (1966-2012) It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this. - Bertrand Russell continental philosophers master the american flâneur pose weary sophistication too tight clothes slight surprised vocal... Continue reading
Posted Nov 20, 2016 at Philosophical Percolations
Don't have much to add to this other than to say that I agree. I've started reading Seneca and am quite drawn to the picture of philosophy as therapy. I realize that Wittgensteinians picked up on this as a limited way, but the therapy was always spieled as a treatment for the bad urge to philosophize in the first place. The wisdom traditions which are part of the history of academic philosophy were much more expansive though. One of the big problems with philosophy as therapy as we understand it post-Wittgensteinians is that it gets tied into a sort of reflexive non-cognitivism with respect to non-instrumental rationality. This leads to too radical a divorce between what the practice is doing to you (which could only be rational in an etiolated, Humean way) versus what is being said by the propositions articulated by the practice (which are in the space of reasons). I don't think you can give wisdom traditions their due if you are under the grips of this picture. One of the most surprising things to me as I studied Wittgensteinians is how often they presuppose dichotomies like this in their own work. Shit. I didn't mean to use this comment to crap on Wittgensteinians, but rather to argue that the kind of writing in which you are engaged is canonical at the birth of Western philosophy and at the very least an important underground stream throughout. It would be interesting to compare and contrast non-Western and Western philosophy in terms of these very practices and in terms of the explicit ideology about these practices.
Toggle Commented Nov 19, 2016 on Response to Haze at Philosophical Percolations
Ooh, this is a nice analysis. The "tweener" musicians (the ones the baby boomers listened to, who themselves were older than the baby boomers but too young to fight in World War II) all came of age in that sweet spot where they were profoundly informed by their local traditions but also exposed to other local traditions. From this period to the period of Clear Channel taking over all of the FM stations you get a gradual destruction of local traditions. By the late 1980s in Alabama (when I started playing in bands) it was so grim. The only way you could get a gig playing live music at a bar is if you played covers of whatever happened to be popular on the radio that month. And you couldn't put any of your own spin on the covers at all, you had to play them as much as possible where they sounded exactly like the radio and MTV versions. Many musicians played in two bands, one to get gigs and one to satisfy their own creative needs. Grunge was supposed to be a solution to this, and it did help at the club level, but of course grunge occurred in the Ticket Master Clear Channel landscape. At the advent of the internet there was hope that alternate distribution channels would create virtual communities that might replicate some of the goodmaking features (not to downplay the historical badmaking features) actual communities blown over by Walmart/Clear Channel/etc. Maybe the jury is still out on that?
Thanks for this and the link*. I very much like the connection you make to this and to the apophatic tradition in spiritual matters. In my other post I got into some rule following paradox type considerations with respect to our attempt to use language to navigate our way through these things. If the problem that language isn't hooking up to reality in the right way (here, our economic and media elites working so that true beliefs do not play the normal role with respect to rational behavior) coming up with more language to understand how this is happening won't make any difference. In the process I talked about how philosophy of religion almost constitutively overstates the importance of doctrine to faith and religious life. Perhaps the there is a helpful political analogue to the role that worship and prayer play for religious people? Peter Singer once said that the pictures in his book Animal Liberation did more for animal liberation than any of his arguments did. Maybe all of the words we pile up do something more than just increase the likelihood that those of us writing them (and the few, if any, people reading them) will have the true beliefs being encouraged in the blog post/article/book in question? I don't know. Anyhow, I'm going to read the Kendzior piece now and am adding it and Life Beyond Bivalence to our blogroll. Fantastic to see that you are sharing words over there now and that you still have time/energy/etcetera to share some with us over here.** [*Which I can't get typepad to make work: if you cut and paste the link above into a browser window the article does come up. In messing around with this, I found another great article by the same author at https://thecorrespondent.com/5575/our-fate-was-sealed-long-before-november-8-and-not-because-the-elections-rigged/1576889402275-7591b019 . You may have to cut and paste that too. **Don't think I need to say this, but let me reiterate publicly the open invitation for you to post things here too whenever and in whatever capacity you want! Please don't take this as hectoring, but rather as an expression of good will. I'm going to catch up on Life Beyond Bivalence now.]
By Jon Cogburn In this post I griped about how blog conversation had largely migrated to facebook, and how the facebook interface undermines long-form philosophy discussion. I didn't offer much of a theory about why facebook walls undermine longform philosophical discussion, but rather explored an analogy with the advent of... Continue reading
Posted Nov 18, 2016 at Philosophical Percolations
By Jon Cogburn There's a reason that popular music peaked in the decade or so around the time Philip Larkin takes sexual intercourse to have begun. The 1920s were this period when to listen to music you had to be surrounded by people who played music. As recording music became... Continue reading
Posted Nov 17, 2016 at Philosophical Percolations
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I don't think he'd get away with it, but who really knows? They aren't going to be able to kill Obamacare without some credible huge giveaway to the insurance companies. This is probably it.
Toggle Commented Nov 14, 2016 on Trump, Terror & Hope at Philosophical Percolations