Monthly Archives: October 2011

Now for Lacan…

Socratic Backfire and Banking Method of Education

So this article about a Professor being denied tenure because students did not like the style of his pedagogy and seems to be related to an increase to route learning being preferred.

Maranville followed the Socratic teaching style and described his way of teaching as “engaged learning,” according to court documents. Those records describe teaching approaches designed to go beyond lectures. He would ask questions to stimulate discussion. He divided his students into teams and gave them assignments outside class.

The Socratic style of teaching that Maranville used is hardly novel. But experts say that while it remains popular in law schools, there are reasons many faculty members have never used it extensively with the current generation of students.

“When done well, you simply do not impose the teacher’s idea, and try to come up with a solution through dialogue,” said Michael Apple, a professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. “In general, it is a guided dialogue.”

Supporters of the method see it as “a process by which you try to make the best logical argument and you focus on process as much as content,” Apple said. But he added that not that many faculty members use it these days. “The reason for its unpopularity sometimes is because we are in a test-based education system. Students can be increasingly impatient where the answer is not clear and when the professor is not giving it to them immediately.”

A lot also depends, Apple said, on who the students are. “It is controversial to some people, for example, students who are deeply concerned that they have to learn a certain amount of content and then take a test at the end,” he said. Students may also think that they are being treated as if they were not very smart.

Walter Parker, a professor of education at the University of Washington, said he teaches using the “Socratic seminar” method. He cautioned against stereotypes of the Socratic method, namely the depiction in the 1973 movie “The Paper Chase,” which shows a professor giving harsh evaluations to a student, leaving the students embarrassed.

“That is not the Socratic method,” he said.

“It is an interpretive discussion of a piece of text during which the professor says very little,” Parker said. “The professor chooses a rich piece of text and plans an interpretive question as he opens the discussion.”

This kind of teaching is more common in the humanities and social sciences, he said.

The advantage of this kind of teaching is that students learn how to think on their feet, said Patricia King, a professor of education at the University of Michigan.

“But it requires hard intellectual work,” she said.

In Maranville’s case, students did not see the value of his approach, the court records suggest. “Some students were quite vocal in their demands that he change his teaching style, which style had already been observed and approved by his peer faculty and administrative superiors,” according to the lawsuit. Students did not want to work in teams and did not want Maranville to ask questions. “They wanted him to lecture.” They also complained, according to the suit, that he did not know how to teach because he is blind.

The department chair – Scott Hammond, who is named in the lawsuit – apparently agreed with how Maranville taught his courses and called him a “master teacher,” according to court documents. Hammond visited his class, and so did an associate dean.

What I have to say here is entirely anecdotal, but I experienced this in Korea where standardized testing has been part of the culture since the advent of Confucianism in the Joseon dynasty.  I started noticing the above when I was teaching college and that thinking was declining. To use Paulo Freire concepts for a minute, standardized tests can only test easily banked knowledge given to the pupil.   It is a model based on knowledge/power viewed primarily as a commodity.   This changes the demands on Professors but also leads to a decline in both knowledge acquisition and process-based thinking. Furthermore, when combined with a consumer service model of evaluating Professors, you have something positively corrosive to education.

So I’ll leave you with a relevant quote:

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”
― Paulo FreirePedagogy of the Oppressed


For the all the talk of the accountability:  accountability doesn’t seem to be do the student ultimately since the student does not know what is necessary for knowledge formation. Instead it is accountability to capital to which the student’s uniformed opinion merely serves as a function.

Adorno contra Positivism, or why methodological skepticism is necessary, but not sufficient.

“Cowed into wanting to be no more than a mere provisional abbreviation for the factual matter beneath it, thought loses not only its autonomy in the face of reality, but with it the power to penetrate reality. Only at a remove from life can the mental life exist, and truly engage the empirical. While thought relates to facts and moves by criticizing them, its movement depends no less on the maintenance of distance. It expresses exactly what is, precisely because what is is never quite as thought expresses it. Essential to it as an element of exaggeration, of over-shooting the object, of self-detachment from the weight of the factual, so that instead of merely reproducing being it can, at once rigorous and free, determine it. Thus every thought resembles play, with which Hegel no less than Nietzsche compared the work of the mind. The unbarbaric side of philosophy is its tacit awareness of the element of irresponsibility, of blitheness springing from the volatility of thought, which forever escapes what it judges. Such licence is resented by the positivistic spirit and put down to mental disorder. Divergence from the facts becomes mere wrongness, the moment of play a luxury in a world where the intellectual functions have to account for their every moment with a stop-watch. But as soon as thought repudiates its inviolable distance and tries with a thousand subtle arguments to prove its literal correctness, it founders…. Vis-á-vis positivism it is fitting neither to insist on being right nor to put on airs of distinction, but rather to prove, by criticism of knowledge, the impossibility of a coincidence between the idea and what fulfills it. The passion for equating the non-synonymous is not the ever-striving toil that at last attains redemption, but naive and inexperienced. Thought has known and forgotten the reproaches of positivism a thousand times, and only through such knowing and forgetting did it first become thought.” [s82] – Theodor Adorno, Minimia Moralia.

While I don’t want to downplay Adorno’s wit, this is my problem with the methodological skepticism of most of the “skeptic’s movement” and with naivete realism that confuses factual knowledge with the totality of truth. Positivism has more or less disappeared as a serious philosophical move: it’s abnegation of metaphysics, itself metaphysical.  The methodological skepticism of someone like Michael Shermer is insufficient without some sort of critical orientation and remove from empirical facts in and of themselves ideological moves start to sneak into the purview of empirical facts.  Notions of objectivity cloud values judgments and the necessary life of the mind which an enable an interpretation of facts and application of them is dormant.

Methodological skepticism is not a philosophy.  It is, to use an term from Badiou, anti-philosophy is applied for its own sake.


El Mono Liso:

The three C’s are highly necessary to understanding the operations of capitalism. The first two were extensively covered by the Marx, but corporations seem our current obsession. Furthermore, the left throwing around this terms in a sloppy matter–similar to the terms fascist, imperial, etc–are highly degrading to both praxis and theory.

Originally posted on The Charnel-House:

The Parisian Arcades

The “Four Cs”: Commodities, Currency (Money), Capital, and Corporations


First we can state briefly what these objects concretely are, so that we can then spell out exactly what they are not.

Commodity A commodity is any product that is produced for sale on the market, i.e. for the sake of exchange.  Like any other product (non-commodities included), it has a certain utility, or “use-value.”  Products, regardless of their salability, tend to be useful in some way or another, to satisfy a certain need.  Use-values are of a qualitative nature.  That is to say, they are useful because they possess certain utile qualities.

Unlike other products, however, commodities also possess a certain value, or “exchange-value.”  As soon as a product becomes available for exchange on the market, it is thereby converted into a commodity.  Exchange-values are of a quantitative nature.  That is to…

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OWS, Odds, Ends, and Bits of Ephemera

Eduardo Porter said some interesting things on the OWS:

It’s hard to believe today, but from the 1960s to about 1980 workers in finance made little more than those in the rest of the private sector, on average. Then, things changed: from the ’80s on, administrations from both parties embraced deregulation, undoing many of the rules put in place in the wake of the Great Depression to limit banks’ riskiest, and most lucrative, investments. Gone were the limits on interstate banking, down came the wall separating commercial and investment banks.

From 1979 to 2006, the financial industry’s share in the nation’s corporate profits grew from a fifth to almost a third. By 2006, bankers and insurers were making 70 percent more, on average, than workers in the rest of the private sector. Then they set off one of the worst financial crises in living memory, and taxpayers bailed them out.

The protesters’ grievances may be aimed at Wall Street as a metaphor for broader economic forces. But there is nothing metaphorical about who is taking home the wealth. The protesters might even aim a bit higher: the real income growth is happening in the top 0.1 percent. There are lots of bankers there, too.

Kevin Carson, whose solutions I disagree with, points this about the OWS:

Among the expedients for “creating jobs” is a massive project to “rebuild infrastructure” — an approach well-loved by the Michael Moore “progressive” wing of the Democratic Party, but fundamentally antagonistic to the portion of the movement with a more or less anarchistic vision of a post-corporate alternative economy.

The “Jobs for All” agenda is essentially a return to a greenwashed version of the centralized corporate-state Consensus Capitalism of the mid-20th century. That model relied on massive waste and capital investment boondoggles by the state to guarantee full utilization of capacity and full employment — the very pathologies of corporate capitalism that the folks at Monthly Review have been pointing to for years. Just leave the centralized, capital-intensive, bureaucratic structure of Galbraithian capitalism intact, and then let the state build a new (but greenwashed!) Interstate Highway System every ten years to keep it running at capacity. Then everybody can work forty hours a week at a “job” doing things at least half of which are the moral equivalent of digging holes and filling them back in again, in an economy organized by Rube Goldberg. It’s the world depicted in the movie “Brazil.”

In other words, we’ve got a bunch of “Leftists” who are nostalgic for retro capitalism.

(Side note: There are days when I can’t tell if Doug Henwood is a socialist or a new dealer, and his proposal do sound like retro capitalism).

The charges that OWS is anti-sematic come up again. It is a front group again. :

Second, as I described in a recent post, there is indeed a structural similarity between some of the Occupy movement’s concerns and historical antisemitism. Occupy is, indeed, protesting against the malefactors of great wealth and their international cabals of political-financial interest. Add the word “Jewish” in there, and you’ve got world-zionist-conspiracy antisemitism, circa 1880-1945. So in a way, the couple of bigots at Zuccotti Park are just connecting the dots between Occupy’s agenda and their own.

The main difference, of course, is that Occupy’s target is real, whereas the antisemite’s is a fantasy. Which is a pretty big difference.

All this would be insignificant were it not for the significant financial backing of ECI, and its association with respectable conservatives like Fox News commentator William Kristol. It’s possible that cracks may be appearing in the edifice. Recently, it’s come to light that one of ECI’s board members, Rachel Abrams posted inflammatory, borderline-insane rants about Palestinians being “devil spawn” on her blog. Unsurprisingly, the center-left Jewish organization J Street has called on the saner folk at ECI to cut dies, disavow, etc, and if they don’t, for other Jewish organizations like AIPAC and the ADL to distance themselves from ECI.

This last step should have been taken long ago. ECI, as critics point out, is no more a friend of Israel than it is a foe of Occupy Wall Street. Rather, it uses Israel (and now Occupy) as a pawn to score electoral points for Republicans. The whole organization is a ruse. It’s the Swift-Boat Veterans of American Jewry.

Of course, the Wall Street firms are spying on the #Occupy:

While we’re at it, despite some libertarians claim to the contrary, corporate capitalism is largely DEPENDENT on debt to function.

As we can see, profits actually come from some fairly unusual sources. Government spending up to the point of full employment actually increases profits, while workers’ savings diminishes them. This ties into the MMT argument that government should offset workers’ desired savings. As we can clearly see from the contemporary situation, this happens in an almost automatic manner; as the private sector saves and pays down debt in the current uncertain environment, the government goes into deficit in order to float profitability.

We should also note that capitalist economies are not perpetual motion machines. Many people seem to have a vague inclination that capitalist economies are somehow ‘self-generating’ and, for example, that government spending or private debt-financing are exogenous or external factors. This is clearly not the case. Money enters the economy through either government spending or private sector indebtedness. These then wash through the economy and eventually turn up as profits. These facts need to be front and centre when public policy is considered.

Now that we understand the basic dynamics of profit in a capitalist economy we can explore a number of different issues; including: monopoly profits and financial profits and the role of profits in a financial crisis. With our basic understanding we will be able to investigate these in more detail in later pieces.

On the thought virus called “Post-Political,” a mutation of “post-leftism”

Many years ago, I was exposed to the idea of post-Left anarchy. I was just out of high school, Bosnia was being bombed and I was angry at the way G-8 protests in Seattle exploded. Some threw at me a few essays Crimethinc, particularly  “Your Politics Are Boring as Fuck.” I was captivated by the question raised:

The truth is, your politics are boring to them because they really are irrelevant. They know that your antiquated styles of protest—your marches, hand held signs, and gatherings—are now powerless to effect real change because they have become such a predictable part of the status quo. They know that your post-Marxist jargon is off-putting because it really is a language of mere academic dispute, not a weapon capable of undermining systems of control. They know that your infighting, your splinter groups and endless quarrels over ephemeral theories can never effect any real change in the world they experience from day to day. They know that no matter who is in office, what laws are on the books, what “ism”s the intellectuals march under, the content of their lives will remain the same. They—we—know that our boredom is proof that these “politics” are not the key to any real transformation of life. For our lives are boring enough already!

But the answers at the end where flippant: either obvious or meaningless.  These things had been tried too. Then the primitivists were popular until around 2001, which I think reminded people that history hadn’t ended. I started to see primtivists and some of the early post-left anarchists as “doomers.”

The Doomer says catastrophe is necessary to effect the societal changes required to deal with Peak Oil and Climate Change.

However, I know the Doomer is wrong. Crisis can bring out the best in people, but it can also bring out the worst. When people are in shock, they don’t often make the best decisions. Extreme emotions tend to cloud one’s judgment. The Doomer also forgets that it’s a slippery slope from hoping for disaster to abetting it. He may get so caught up in following the news of collapse from around the world that he neglects (intentionally or not) to do anything to prevent or even mitigate the repercussions of that collapse. He may not even feel responsible for taking preemptive action, since he believes calamity is a prerequisite for reform. Of course, this theory only applies to the supposedly oblivious residents of distant states and countries. He would surely be singing a different tune if the same fate had befallen him.

The Doomer is motivated by much more than a perverse sense of altruism. He mainly desires to see everyone brought down to his level. His fondest wish is for everyone to be as emotionally crippled as he is, and, if they could also be paralyzed fiscally, that would be great too. The argument for the necessity of disaster is merely an excuse for his vindictive fantasies. This is the Doomer’s Curse: to wallow in despair, to sneer at the happiness of others, to revel in schadenfreude and to believe that he has humanity’s best interests at heart. The Doomer honestly thinks that a universal depression (in the emotional sense) would lay the foundation for a better world, but this belief is rooted in his own selfishness, not in a rational socioeconomic analysis.

In fact, the doomer is almost the perfect mirror inverse of the ideological optimism:  Nothing can change without external complete rupture.  Internal ruptures such as reform or revolution are either not possible or not irrelevant.   But post-leftism morphed in anarchist circles. Recently I have seen Jason McQuinn’s definition of post-left anarchism. McQuinn’s problem is one that I think many on the left actually acknowledge. Look at this statement by McQuinn:

One of the most troubling problems of the contemporary anarchist milieu has been the frequent fixation on attempts to recreate the struggles of the past as though nothing significant has changed since 1919, 1936, or at best 1968. Partly this is a function of the long-prevalent anti-intellectualism amongst many anarchists. Partly it’s a result of the historical eclipse of the anarchist movement following the victory of Bolshevik state communism and the (self-) defeat of the Spanish Revolution. And partly it is because the vast majority of the most important anarchist theorists — like Godwin, Stirner, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, and Malatesta — come from the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. The void in the development of anarchist theory since the rebirth of the milieu in the 1960s has yet to be filled by any adequate new formulation of theory and practice powerful enough to end the impasse and catch the imaginations of the majority of contemporary anarchists in a similar manner to Bakunin’s or Kropotkin’s formulations in the nineteenth century.

Compare this to this:

In the present, the Left has turned away from the question of how the defeated revolutionary Marxism of the first and second decades of the twentieth century continued through mid-century in the Frankfurt School. For the Left, Frankfurt School Critical Theory is seen as a justification for abstention hiding behind a critique of participation, whereas the prevailing conception of revolutionary Marxism is of a ruthless actionism, in which the ends justify any means. Beneath these one-sided conceptions lies a greater problem, which has existed openly since at least Marx’s time, that theory and practice appear counterpoised and yet inseparable. Also since Marx’s time, the Left is best identified as the transformative force in history that directly addresses this problem, although it often does so blindly and ineffectually. This problem of the relation of theory and practice was at the center of Marx’s politics, and the best of the Marxist tradition, up to Adorno and the Frankfurt School.

The failure to address the relationship between Critical Theory and revolutionary Marxism evinces a deeper failing of the contemporary Left. The need to address the problem of relating theory to practice has been nullified by turning theory and practice into two oppositional camps. Even when theory and practice are said to coexist, it is apparent that this simply means that one is subordinate to the other.

By falsely resolving the problem of theory and practice the Left has relinquished the defining feature of its politics and ceased to be the Left at all. This has profound effects on the development of the history of capitalism in which the Left traditionally has acted as a transformative catalyst. Because its politics no longer mediate theory and practice, the Left has begun to decompose. Following Adorno, Platypus calls this process historical regression.

But instead of seeking to understand what went wrong, and how the crisis happened, Post-Left Anarchists like most of Crimethinc, Bill Black, and McQuinn claim to completely transcend it:

Post-left anarchy is not something new and different. It’s neither a political program nor an ideology. It’s not meant in any way to constitute some sort of faction or sect within the more general anarchist milieu. It’s in no way an opening to the political right; the right and left have always had much more in common with each other than either has in common with anarchism. And it’s certainly not intended as a new commodity in the already crowded marketplace of pseudo-radical ideas. It is simply intended as a restatement of the most fundamental and important anarchist positions within the context of a disintegrating international political left.

If we want to avoid being taken down with the wreckage of leftism as it crumbles, we need to fully, consciously and explicitly dissociate ourselves from its manifold failures — and especially from the invalid presuppositions of leftism which led to these failures. This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for anarchists to also consider themselves leftists — there has been a long, most often honorable, history of anarchist and left syntheses. But it does mean that in our contemporary situation it is not possible for anyone — even left-anarchists — to avoid confronting the fact that the failures of leftism in practice require a complete critique of leftism and an explicit break with every aspect of leftism implicated in its failures.

Left anarchists can no longer avoid subjecting their own leftism to intensive critique. From this point on it is simply not sufficient (not that it really ever has been) to project all the failures of leftism onto the most explicitly obnoxious varieties and episodes of leftist practice, like Leninism, Trotskyism and Stalinism. The critiques of leftist statism and leftist party organization have always been only the tip of a critique that must now explicitly encompass the entire iceberg of leftism, including those aspects often long incorporated into the traditions of anarchist practice. Any refusal to broaden and deepen the criticism of leftism constitutes a refusal to engage in the self-examination necessary for genuine self-understanding. And stubborn avoidance of self-understanding can never be justified for anyone seeking radical social change.

We now have the unprecedented historical opportunity, along with a plenitude of critical means, to recreate an international anarchist movement that can stand on its own and bow to no other movements. All that remains is for all of us to take this opportunity to critically reformulate our anarchist theories and reinvent our anarchist practices in light of our most fundamental desires and goals.

Reject the reification of revolt. Leftism is dead! Long live anarchy!

While McQuinn did give some points about what post-leftism is, his entire argument is essentially special pleading. For example,

The word “anarchy” literally means no rule or no ruler. No rule and no ruler both mean there is no political authority above people themselves, who can and should make all of their own decisions however they see fit. Most forms of ideology function to legitimate the authority of one or another elite or institution to make decisions for people, or else they serve to delegitimate people’s own decision-making for themselves.

In this sense, McQuinn doesn’t seem to understand what ideology actually is and that ideologies are not about specific recruitment. Furthermore, his primary complaint with leftism is a straw man of wicker man proportions: For leftists, the emphasis is always on recruiting to their organizations, so that you can adopt the role of a cadre serving their goals. They don’t want to see you adopt your own self-determined theory and activities because then you wouldn’t be allowing them to manipulate you.

Despite being untrue and a generalization that wouldn’t be allowed for a philosophy undergraduate, the goal of leftism is social transformation not vanguardism or cadre-ism.  Tendencies and groups in the left have tended to work in tandem in areas not influenced by post-Stalin varieties of Maosim of Marxist-Leninism. Furthermore this is an attack not on Marxist–ironically most post-leftists are highly influenced by the Situationalist International which explicitly reject anarchism–but on social anarchism.  No, as you can see, this rhetoric is not “post-left” so much as the same rhetoric one would hear from Glen Beck.

And the rightward shift in post-left have moved to post-political. One blog I read partly out of morbid curiosity, but also because it is rigorous in its historical background, is Against Politics, which links to racial nationalist sites like Attack the System and Alternative Right as well as anarcho-capitalist ones.  The post-political is a way to shift the focus, but the move is the same as post-leftist.  It’s not a critique of ideology: its ideology as special pleading.  It’s the same move made by Edmund Burke. To do not fall for the language of non-political: it about as honest as with Democrats and Republicans talk about the virtues of bipartisan.




Marginalia: Interviews on Politics and Culture From a Radical Bent: Advocatus Diaboli

This interview is the third in a long series on culture and politics. The focus is on radical and marginalized politics and the cross-section of culture. Sometimes the interviews are from the left, but some will be from libertarian or even certain kinds of the right-wing thought. Most of those I interview consider themselves in some sort of radical tradition opposed to contemporary politics. Some of these people have opinions close to mine. Some are diametrically opposed.

Advocatus Diaboli is the voice behind Playing the Devil’s Advocate, which pledges to uphold “Dissent and Skepticism.”  His blog is challenging on a variety of topics including science, academia, economics, skepticism, and culture.     Recently, the advocate has even written on why Windows XP is the dominant operating system. 

Skepoet: You’re blog has a motto that says “Upholding Dissent and Skepticism?” What kind of skepticism? I find a lot what passes for skepticism is selective.

Advocatus Diaboli: Of course, that is the problem with skepticism today. It has, unfortunately, become just another word for preaching the gospel of so called “experts”. However these “experts” are neither all-knowing nor infallible.They are just greedy and pompous human beings who are closer to priests than thinkers. Come to think of it- religious priests never try to tell you that they are objective seekers of truth.

Skepoet:Would you like to give some examples of this recently?

Advocatus Diaboli:I can give you two topical examples.

1. For decades, medical professionals have been preaching that high dietary fat intake was linked to coronary artery disease. However a number of drug trial failures in the last 5 years plus the overwhelming success of reduced carbohydrate diets has exposed their bullshit.

But the truly bizarre aspect of this saga is that high fat/low carb diets were known for decades to cause catabolism of body fat and large epidemiological studies have always suggested that high carb, not high fat, diets were behind the increase in metabolic diseases and coronary artery disease.

2. Take the recent outpouring of “experts” trying to prove that neutrinos do not travel faster than light. Do you know that both the general and special theory of relativity do not prohibit tachyons from existing. The existing theories merely say that you cannot accelerate a particle past the speed of light, but has nothing to say about particles that were born as tachyons.

The idea that neutrinos might be tachyonic has been around since the mid 1980s and one previous experiment gave values for their speed that were rather similar to the more recent and famous experiment. However there is no shortage of attention-whores in quackademia trying to take apart a very well done experiment. Seriously, neutrinos don’t care whether their behavior fits human models or not. It is human models that have to fit experimental data.

Skepoet: Which goes against the narrative that “science is always happy to be pointed to its errors” that you see parroted by many skeptics who don’t actually work in scientific academia. Another thing I have noticed about skeptics is that they tend to have a very establishment views on politics and tend to be either center-liberals or libertarians. Do you this politics is related to their larger mental posture?

Advocatus Diaboli:Quackademics are some of the most dogmatic and narrow minded people I have seen, and I have a PhD in an area of hard science. You are quite right about their political affiliations- both of which can only work in rigidly defined and imaginary mental worlds.

Skepoet: There seems to be a confusion in the popular skeptic’s movement about what science actually is and the do this with a knee jerk appeal to a hyper-relativist post-modernism that is supposedly afflicting modern culture. Ironically, I work in the Humanities and don’t see exactly what they are talking about. What I have seen are increasing claims to render morality or economics scientific in terms of evolutionary psychology or neurology. Do you think this is a meaningful trend?

Advocatus Diaboli:The main problem with quackademics is that the whole institution has become a corrupt, metrics obsessed ponzi scheme filled with petty minded people with delusions of self-importance.Evo-psychology is mostly vodoo because it tries to explain and rationalize observations, rather than make novel predictions which can be tested. Neurology, sadly, has also jumped the shark.. Do you know that you can elicit a fMRI signal, similar in magnitude to those used to supposedly read thoughts, by shouting at a dead fish. No really.

While the above mentioned artifacts can be avoided by using enough controls and doing extensive analysis you can bet that those who ‘want’ to show some results will either not do it or fudge the data.

Another example: Evo-pysch says that some men won’t get enough sex because they are beta, gamma or omega. However celibacy is essentially unknown among human hunter-gatherer groups and it seems that everyone gets laid a lot- unlike many other monkeys and apes.

Skepoet: That is fascinating. What do you think of Pinker’s new book?

Advocatus Diaboli:Well the effect that Pinker is talking about is due to two reasons- 1. Better, faster and cheaper communication make it hard to dehumanize your opponent or even rally your own group 2. Far fewer people are truly desperate and hence we don’t have to go down to that level.

Skepoet: Do you think his argument that this has to do with a strong central state is sound? It seems awfully teleological to me. I also think he’s frankly wrong about Hunter Gathers and most of the anthropologist I know say his categorizations are sloppy.

Advocatus Diaboli: Partly true.. but it has far more to do with increased levels of material prosperity.

 Skepoet: Which you and I both seem to think is about to take a dramatic turn around. This brings me to another issue that you and I both work on. We’re both sort of loosely involved with the idea of a new, new left. What do you see as the problems of the left right ?

Advocatus Diaboli: Actually, there is no reason for human prosperity to go down, as long as the parasites can be killed. The left has to abandon ideological bullshit and focus on improving the lives of all people. Everyone except the parasites and their cheerleaders.

Skepoet: Oh. I agree that there is no reason that it has too. But it most definitely will at status normal levels.

Advocatus Diaboli: A good example: If you really want to improve the lot of poorer blacks in the USA, all the rhetoric and after-school programs won’t help if you cannot give them income security and a real chance to improve their lives. To put it another way- people won’t act better unless they have a realistic chance of a better life and something to lose. But poor people have little, or nothing, to lose.

Skepoet: Definitely. It seems like liberal activists don’t want to look at class, but left activists don’t want to look at anything but a specific notion of it. But I think this does sort of bring me back to Pinker: it seems like the fear of ideology really seems to ignore that material conditions are changing and can change in a volatile way.

Advocatus Diaboli: Yes, a poor black person has far more in common with a poor white person.Conditions can change but complex systems are irreversible. Any attempt to reverse changes in such systems will result in unexpected consequences- to put it mildly. The AK-47 and RPG-7 forever neutered the ability of western countries to colonize and wage wars in other countries.

Skepoet: That’s a very valid point. In fact, I have noticed how few people have really paid attention to power differentials in asymmetric warfare almost always drains the more powerful combatant.

Advocatus Diaboli:  Look at this here.

Skepoet: Why do you think people ignore that costs game? It should have been obvious with the Soviets doing something similar. Plus waging war is pretty lucrative for many people.. you know the kind who like war but mysteriously disappear when they have to serve

Advocatus Diaboli:Because “we” are always special  till “we” are not.

Skepoet: It’s pretty much a confirmation bias then?

Advocatus Diaboli: More hubris than conformation bias.

Skepoet: I have thought about the profit end of things for a while and I honestly think that was a move used to sort of move the lower working class in the South East us more friendly to the government by more or less bribing them through army bases functioning as a kind of Keynesian stimulus.

Advocatus Diaboli: yes.. but that works only as long as your real economy is growing.

 Skepoet: It’s a brilliant tactical bleeding scheme that seems to be ignored. Ironically I saw discussion of this sort of decline rapidly after the election of Obama. Why do you think that is>

Advocatus Diaboli:It is not Bin Laden’s brilliance, but a uniquely american strain of hubris, greed, overreaction and stupidity. I mean.. who spends trillions of dollars to go after people who live in sub-standard housing? Heck.. you could buy off every afghan for a fraction of that amount.

Skepoet: In one of your recent blog posts, you said that Marx’s systemic critique of capitalism wasn’t radical enough. What exactly do you mean?

Advocatus Diaboli:Marx was born in the early 1800s and he only saw the first and second stage (1860s) of the industrial revolution. It is the third (after ww2) and the fourth stage (now) that have changed the rules and possibilities beyond what Marx could have imagined.\

While Marx foresaw automation of production and poverty in an environment of plenty, he did not foresee the effects of communication on the ability of human beings to organize in a manner unconstrained by what people has taken for granted. Even today many people do not understand or appreciate the full impact of vastly improved information access, ability to spread information and seed each others ideas.

Consider the communication we are having right now or the ability to read each other beliefs. For almost all of human history, such exchanges were inconceivable. Or consider the fact that you are in an Asian country right now doing something that is not related to killing or stealing from the natives. Do you realize that such possibilities have no real precedence in human history? For most of the time humans have existed on earth, only a very few people went to other places and interacted with the natives there.

Skepoet: Do you think the left has missed the boat on this?

Advocatus Diaboli:Not quite, The Left has used new communication technology far more effectively than the right. BUT they have used it in the old context of power structure and hierarchies.Ask yourself- Aren’t you more cynical about traditional authority systems and their representatives than your parents- and likely every generation which has existed before you. But why? Could it linked to your ability to see and access information and communication that break the facade of “experts”, shamans and priests?

 Skepoet:Fair point. Why do you think the narrative that the internet and mass communication has let to a decline in dialogue taken so much flight? I remember when Walter Cronkite died, so many where acting as if he personified creditability itself.

Advocatus Diaboli:Because that is what the “experts” would like you to believe. One more thing- the Internet is very different from traditional mass media.Cronkite was a good actor like every other famous anchor, journalist and leader. Traditional mass media is functionally one sided, the internet is not.

Skepoet: Do you think the pessimistic view is defeatist in character or enraged? I distrust gross generalizations, but in my earlier days on the internet irony was more of the tone. But it doesn’t seem to be that hip cynicism anymore. It seems more honest.

Advocatus Diaboli: Enraged, big bad technology has broken their ability to enslave people with recourse. And the internet has become a more honest and realistic representation of the world than it was in the late 90s, because it is now ubiquitous and not novel- at least for people like you or me.Though I am one of those who actually used Netscape 1.0 in my teens.

Skepoet: What do you think of the Occupy movement?

Advocatus Diaboli:The OWS moment is the beginning of the process. It is the failure of moments like these that will make it hard for people to ignore the obvious and force them to act. That’s actually my opinion too. My other opinion is that since the 1930s, no one’s ass has even been on the line a little bit. Now the struggle is a lot less on principle and a lot more on obvious physical reality. However, I always watching economists spin this.

Skepoet: That’s actually my opinion too. My other opinion is that since the 1930s, no one’s ass has even been on the line a little bit. Now the struggle is a lot less on principle and a lot more on obvious physical reality. However, I always watching economists spin this.

Advocatus Diaboli: Economists can spin as long they are alive, but their spin has little (if any) effect on the course of reality.

Skepoet: Oh, of course. I probably know the answer to this, but what do you think about contemporary economics as a discipline?

Advocatus Diaboli: It exists to make astrology look respectable. Look at assumptions such as homo economicus, utility maximization etc. Look.. at its core economics makes one assumption- people require a job to spend money. The problem is- are there enough jobs to keep the ponzi scheme going?

Skepoet: Economic rationality has always seemed obviously circular. I remember saying this in an macro-economics class when I was 19. My other thoughts is that classical economic paradigm, profits would go down as a result of competition. Boy was I surprised to learn that Marx said the same thing, but it was in classical economics. What people have missed is the expansion of capital prior to relatively recently was huge. What are some answers you see to that problem?

Advocatus Diaboli: Profits are not linked to competition.  At least the big ones are not.

Skepoet: How So?

Advocatus Diaboli: Have a look at both posts. They are a bit long but can explain what is a bit hard to summarize. Essentially profits come from somebody else willing to spend ” beyond their means”.

Skepoet: So profits are illusions of capital? They are essentially created by debt inflation?

Advocatus Diaboli:Ya.. in a nutshell. Though it is a bit more complicated than that.. but essentially, yes. Money is a shared delusion, in any case. So why should profit be any better?

Skepoet: So this brings us back to the skeptics movement, why do you think they pick such low hanging fruit that is essentially apolitical?

Advocatus Diaboli: Because they have to advance their careers, feed themselves and win popularity contests.

Skepoet: So its essentially the same sort of celebrity generation masking as activism in your view?

Advocatus Diaboli:Yes.. Ever wondered why celebrities are concerned for kids in some village in Africa when their local school board is a mess?

Skepoet: That’s an obvious move of public relations. Cultural capital and what not.

Advocatus Diaboli: Ya.. it is about getting cheap and safe thrills, without disturbing the status quo.

Skepoet: It always amazed me that people like Angelia Jolie can admire Ayn Rand and yet also try to do so much “charity” work.

Advocatus Diaboli: Because she, and celebrities in general, are disingenuous. They do not believe in anything and all their actions are about appearing important and gaining power. Their life is just a show.. and eventually it ends. Politicians, CEOs, managers, HR personal, doctors, lawyers etc are no different and most of them are attention and power whores.The funny thing is that they will eventually die just like the poorest and most unlucky person in the world. “In the end everything burns”

Skepoet:  All is vanity.t. So I suppose my last question would be what do you think people really understand the value of dissent?

Advocatus Diaboli: Most people don’t understand its value because they cannot see past their nose. The ones that do are usually too scared to admit it or too busy pretending otherwise.But the universe does not care about what people believe. It functions regardless of what we want, like or desire- but most people cannot get around to admitting that.

Skepoet: An old theme that never really seems to go away. Thank you for your time.

Advocatus Diaboli: Ok, Thanks and have a look at some of the links I have sent you. Bye.

It’s about damn time: General Strike to be called in Oakland by the GA

@OccupyOakland GA approves the proposal for a general strike on Wednesday, November 5th. Word is they’re on the move to support #OccupySF.

Update: The strike appears to be on November 2. However, there has been mixed reports on dates in different Occupy feeds.

OWS now beginning to have issues with the police… again. During Obama’s re-election dinner no less.

So far, the OWS hasn’t been having a problem with the police, this seems to be changing as things seem to be getting hot in OWS, New York has got the Riot police out.

The Liberals at the New Republic know this

Here is, however, another, plausible possibility: that Occupy Wall Street is poorly timed. After all, there’s no legislative debate to usefully prod at the present juncture, but there’s a chance to scupper the president’s re-election. As John Nichols cheers in The Nation, the “movement might well develop into a virtual primary challenge to Obama.” Even if Obama attempts to co-opt the message of Occupy Wall Street, the movement will likely continue to harp on his inadequacy. (Many of the complaints with Obama unfairly view him as a central villain in the crisis, rather than a disappointingly ineffectual foe of it.) Protests might erupt at the convention in Charlotte that overshadow his case for reelection; all this further diminishes enthusiasm for his candidacy. Or worse, a third-party candidate emerges and we know how that story goes. Indeed, much of the gripe with Obama reflects the canard that a Republican president wouldn’t be worse. I hope the protesters are surrounded by allies who remind them it actually can get much worse.

You see, Americans readers, the Democratic governors and mayors all started to crack down at around the same time: Oakland, Chicago, Atlanta, and now New York? I suppose I should tell you to wake up.

I have been saying Occupy Wall Street WILL fail. Don’t let this be how.

More Occupy Oakland: This has been declared an illegal assembly.

It’s funny that for all its liberalness, the Bay Area has been on the vanguard of gutting the freedom of assembly while under Democratic leadership. We have had the BART shootings and the current lies from the Police Department in Oakland. Outright lies that even the Washington Post has had a hard time making excuses for given the photographic evidence. So they declared Occupy Oakland an “illegal assembly”:

Sam Rosenfeld, chairman of the Densus Group, an international crowd management consulting firm, said in a phone interview that if the photos are legitimate, police clearly used shotgun shells full of hard rubber on the protesters.

Now, interestingly, the Oakland Police are claiming:

Police say they were in the right to use bean bag rounds last night because protesters had thrown M-80 explosives, paint, and other hazardous materials at them. Reporters at the scene said protesters were throwing objects at the police.

Rosenfeld says Occupy Oakland protesters are “significantly more militant” than all the other Occupy protests. “The other protesters have a cooperative relationship with authorities, which is why Occupy Wall Street has been allowed to stay in the park in New York. But Oakland has refused to cooperate.”

This is not the first time the Oakland police force has been accused of using excessive force. This month, the San Francisco Chronicle reports the city of Oakland agreed to pay a $1.7 million settlement to the family of Jerry Amaro, who died in 2000 after police used excessive force during his arrest on suspicion of buying drugs.

Now the only think I have noticed about Occupy Oakland is that it has more actual poor people in it than some of the other OWS. Funny that seems to equate to militancy. To the rest of the OWS, do not forget that police under Democratic governors are not going to be your friends.


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