an obession with first principles

A (Condensed) History of Race

Posted: Wednesday Dec 3rd | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Historical Method, Sociology, Uncategorized | View Comments

The non-objectivity of Science

Posted: Sunday Jul 20th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Philosophising, Power | View Comments

One of the more commonplace and prevalent misunderstandings of the nature of scientific activity, [Thomas] Kuhn thinks, is the Baconian notion of a random collecting of facts in a theory-free and “unprejudiced” manner, from which a theory slowly emerges. But that sort of fact gathering is most likely to produce a morass, not to move science forward. Fact gathering proceeds in the most efficient and productive manner when it is guided beforehand by a theory, by a certain conception of the way things are. Theory leads science to generate facts of which is had not the slightest suspicion and which, outside the theory, appear to be of no significance whatever. Facts are arti-facts. They become facts only within the “network of theory” to which they belong, as when Heidegger says that, because an entity is what it is only within the horizon of the understanding of Being within which it is understood, there can be no “bare facts”. It is interesting that, while the Anglo-American world had to suffer through a dark ages of positivism before reaching this realization, the interpreted character of perception has been a basic staple of continental through since Husserl’s Logical Investigations
Caputo, Radical Hermeneutics pg 215-216


Do What You Love

Posted: Wednesday Jan 22nd | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Anthropology, Philosophising, Politics, Power | View Comments

There has been an article running around lately called In the Name of Love: Elites embrace the “do what you love” mantra. But it devalues work and hurts workers. I was of two minds when it initially hit everyone in the social world. The article is both very correct, and very, very wrong. And I want to put down my reasoning on the article. I happen to think that “Do What You Love” is the very way out of our labor situation. Everyone ought to be able to do what they love. And the problem is that they cannot. The writer’s problem is that he has swallowed whole the moorings of capitalism and unable to see the system is the very problem, rather than one class of worker causing the plight of another class of worker. They are both workers and subject to the capitalists.

The problem with DWYL, however, is that it leads not to salvation but to the devaluation of actual work…

I vehemently disagree with this statement. I think we’ve misunderstood what “work” is, and what “bullshit work” is. When speaking the service class, or, “jobs no one wants”, we should all be doing them in our spaces. Why punish someone into doing what we refuse to do?

“…and more importantly, the dehumanization of the vast majority of laborers”

I agree with this entirely, but i don’t believe this statement follows from the first

“But why should our pleasure be for profit?”…”labor is not something one does for compensation but is an act of love”

Hear, hear!

“If profit doesn’t happen to follow, presumably it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient”

This is the first time we see the writer has swallowed the notion that “the market is always right”. Obviously, if you can’t make it doing what you love you’re not trying hard enough, not doing it right, and are rather forced to do something you don’t love to make money.

I happen to think the Steve Job’s quote is spot on. But to suggest that Apple’s exploitation of the international labor market is the only way that Steve Jobs can do what he loves is entirely fallacious. I don’t see how the Jobs quote and the Thoreau quote are at ends. Thoreau would lead me to hire Jobs to solve certain problems.

“Those in the lovable-work camp are vastly more privileged in terms of wealth, social status, education, society’s racial biases, and political clout, while comprising a small minority of the workforce”

This is entirely true, except the last clause. It isn’t a small minority, its a minority, but not small.
The problem with the writers’ point of view, in my opinion, is that he agrees with the basic assumptions of capitalism (market forces, labor and wage theory) and then is pitting one class of worker against another. The writer is doing the work of capitalists by getting those in service positions angry at “creative”/white-collar workers. Those who do “unloved work” in his terms, need just as much rescue from capitalism as do those who are doing “work” that they love. Both workers need to band together and overthrow the capitalists. “Do What You Love” can be the most pro-labor argument around — once you critique the system within which it operates: capitalism.

The writer is taking an incidental relationship; those from another class were able to do what they love within capitalism, while those from a lower class were not, and make it a causal relationship; only because the lower class can the higher class, without ever mentioning the true causal relationship — those with capital are exploiting all workers.

“If we believe that working as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur or a museum publicist or a think-tank acolyte is essential to being true to ourselves, what do we believe about the inner lives and hopes of those who clean hotel rooms and stock shelves at big-box stores? The answer is: nothing.

Hear, hear! This is precisely the argument we should be making. But not against workers who are able to do what they find existentially fulfilling — against the capitalists that exploit the labor of those who work doing what they hate, and exploit the labor and profit of those doing what they love

“Who, exactly, benefits from making work feel like nonwork?” “Why should workers feel as if they aren’t working when they are?” In masking the very exploitative mechanisms of labor that it fuels, DWYL is, in fact, the most perfect ideological tool of capitalism. If we acknowledged all of our work as work, we could set appropriate limits for it, demanding fair compensation and humane schedules that allow for family and leisure time.

And if we did that, more of us could get around to doing what it is we really love.”

This is the critique he never makes in the whole article, and should have been making all along Do What You Love is the way out — but the article makes the wrong enemy, other laborers, rather than the capitalists


On Cops

Posted: Thursday Apr 18th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Anthropology, Philosophising, Power | View Comments

“Cops don’t beat up burglars”, he observed. If you want to cause a policeman to be violent, the surest way is to challenge their right to define the situation. This is not something a burglar is likely to do.36 This of course makes perfect sense if we remember that police are, essentially, bureaucrats with guns. Bureaucratic procedures are all about questions of definition. Or, to be more precise, they are about the imposition of a narrow range of pre-established schema to a social reality that is, usually, infinitely more complex: a crowd can be either orderly or disorderly; a citizen can be white, black, Hispanic, or an Asian/ Pacific Islander; a petitioner is or is not in possession of a valid photo ID. Such simplistic rubrics can only be maintained in the absence of dialogue; hence, the quintessential form of bureaucratic violence is the wielding of the truncheon when somebody “talks back”. David Graeber

From: ON THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF GIANT PUPPETS:
broken windows, imaginary jars of urine, and the
cosmological role of the police in American culture


An Actual Conversation on Anarchism

Posted: Friday Sep 7th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Uncategorized | View Comments

I don’t really have too much to comment on this one, I feel it is pretty straight forward


A Catholic Interaction

Posted: Wednesday Aug 15th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Dialogue, Politics | View Comments

I actually support the ad in question. It paints the picture of the world that Romney has created in the past, and would create as President — a world where the middle and low class has no access to healthcare. And then of course there is the feigned “impartiality” that he would also call out Romney for their lies. His campaign (not even Super PAC ads like the one in question) have created ads that are blatant lies that people have called them out on. Not a budge.

It is also telling that he doesn’t think Romney has abandoned his signature Massachusetts legislation. I’ve seen interviews where he does exactly that, he runs away from it. As a person who is personally benefitting from the legislation I can only imagine how many other small businesses (like the one I work for) could be created if people knew they could have affordable access to healthcare even when they’ve left the company they work for.


Fun With Columbia Economist

Posted: Friday Jul 13th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Politics | View Comments

First, I want to explain my (unclear) usage of “public investment”. I used it to indicate corporate “investment in the public good.” I did misunderstand where Sachs was going. But it only exacerbates my point — the 2008 crisis (from a finance POV) was one of zero private (company) investment. So in the face of an immediate crisis short-term gov’t spending plans overtook long-term gov’t spending plans. Who is surprised by that reaction? But the fact that its being held up as a crisis of leadership is silly. Imagine the actual crisis of leadership it would have been to have no reaction to a short-term crisis.

Upon reflection I think the most shocking thing, about both Sachs’s article that started this whole thing and the ensuing discussion, was the misguided rhetoric. It followed the traditional two-sided news story: side-a vs side-b. Keynesian vs. Supply-Side. Part of the failure of the American intellectual and news media (not to confuse you that they are even close to one and the same) is whitewashing arguments and refusing nuance based on data.

In many ways Keynesian thought and Supply-Side are opposed. But it is a mistake to suggest that Keynes ever put forward a system. He put forward observations that resulted in tools. One of these tools is short-term stimulus spending. Since Day One Krugman (the quintessential Keynesian) has argued that the stimulus was not big enough. And that there are structural problems in the economy. And that we need big infrastructure spending on all sorts of upgrades. As we all know from the scant repair crews we do see, infrastructure upgrades take forever. None of these specific points are what make Krugman a Keynesian. But all of these points are ones that Sachs’s himself suggests. So I don’t know why he is whitewashing Krugman as part of the Keynesian problem. The other hilarious part is that the GOP, while heavily indoctrinated by Supply-side thought, become Keynesians when it suits their agenda. The fact that all this is lost in translation is patently sad.

I also checked in on the “no leadership” on large infrastructure projects claim he made. Two bills, S.1769 and S.1660, were filibustered by the GOP after being introduced by Democrats. Both bills took up the idea of AIFA from a previous bill introduced to committee. This AIFA was a $10billion fund for a bi-partisan group of 7 congressman to spend on infrastructure. And then the next year it would be $20billion. And $50billion the year after that. Sounds pretty intense and long-term to me.


Voting, a Response to Dave Winer

Posted: Sunday Jun 17th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Dialogue, Politics | View Comments

This is largely for Dave Winer since he said write a blog post and I’ll read it.The only reason I am actually writing this blog post is because I know Dave is a well reasoned person and a good thinker willing to hear what people are saying (Hi Dave). I hope that this post clears up my take on voting for others as well.

I happen to think that Winer is dead right in his depiction and opinion of the current state, and future, of journalism and the media. I want to use that as the starting point to understand his tweet. And there are two ways to take Winer’s tweet:

People respect power expressed in votes. If #OWS could turn out voters, people would listen.

First, that people respect votes because voting is intrinsically good. That is to say, voting amplifies a dignity and spirit which speaks of our common humanity. It enlightens us and stands on its own. I disagree with this on its face. Voting is the expression of a choice. But choice is not the bedrock of freedom. False choices exist, and it is my position that we are being, and have been for some time, faced with a false choice.

Second, that people respect the ability to bring together large groups of people in a single action of voting. That is to say, voting is an extrinsic good which has the ability, under the right circumstances, to make an actual difference. I believe voting is an extrinsic good and can change things for the better. Today, however, doesn’t match these circumstances. I can understand that some might think “Wow, this movement can get people to vote together on an issue.” And, to some, that might be a wonderful thing. But, I believe this is a waste of energy.

Winer suggests that you ignore political news. Why? Because its all recycled garbage in the form of “DYHWTAS == Did you hear what that asshole said!”. I take his assertion one step further. Not only political news — but politics itself is now DYHWTAS. Winer doesn’t (as I don’t) support Obama, and neither of us are going to vote for Romney. The differences between Romney and Obama are small and irrelevant when compared to the massive amount of change we actually need in our culture, country, and economy.

Both candidates support the capitalistic system of Wall St. where money makes more money at the expense of people actually attempting to care for their material necessities. This can be seen in the US housing industry, in corporate pension plans, in municipal bonds that are bankrupting cities, in European austerity programs, in Commodities and Futures markets that defuse any developing country from having a self-sustaining agriculture, in corporations along with IMF backing first polluting and then taking and selling people’s water supplies. It can be seen in all the United State’s military endeavors where corporate employees outnumber troops three to one, where native peoples are being employed by US corporations taking them away from potential activities of rebuilding their own nations — because the corporations benefit from weak states. I cannot vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs. I cannot vote for a people’s bailout. I can only vote for bailing out financiers who created our mess, or austerity (which is no difference at all, bailing out the financiers gives them more money to continue and create opportunity for greater austerity in the future.) I cannot vote against the defense contractors which are building drones and missles that are killing innocent people all over the globe (which are labelled as military combatants now). And now these drones are crashing on US soil and are in the hands of police departments across the country, while we have over 60 US Air Force bases with drones stationed. I cannot vote to build the middle class and protect jobs. Neither party is willing to protect unions, while the GOP is willing to go after them openly. The unions are willing to donate to the Democratic party, but to what end? They are being systematically rooted out (starting in Wisconsin) and soon the Democratic party will have no basis for fundraising. And, as Dylan Ratigan often points out, the person who spends more money in a campaign wins 94% of the time. Winer understands what Roberto Unger says about Obama’s failure in office. I am, much less eloquently, saying the same thing Obama’s former professor is saying.

In summary — how is America going to have a third party when it doesn’t even have a second party? (Thank you @ChenguGold)

If I go over the two ways to take his reaction to questioning voting I am left dumbstruck. Voting is not an intrinsic good like dissent (not cynicism) is an intrinsic good. Dissent and the willful expression of true freedom — in the face of the illusion of freedom of choice between non-choices — by rejecting the options the status quo offers are the goal of Occupy. Occupy is not (sorry Bill Maher) the Tea Party of the Left.

There is not an extrinsic good valuable enough (to me, at least) to spend energy changing how people are going to vote. I, as one of many, refuse to present voting as a valid method of participation in changing the world. I refuse to give voting today a “blessing” of actual and true freedom. I refuse to imagine that focusing on getting people to vote is the magic solution. Conventional politics is definitively (thanks to Citizens United) an enterprise of the ridiculously wealthy and I refuse to construct the illusion that through voting we have the same power that the financiers who choose our politicians do.

Slavery in this country wasn’t ended through voting. Citizen voting perpetuated slavery was in economic and legal terms in the south after emancipation. The right of women to vote wasn’t enacted through citizens voting. The Civil Rights Act wasn’t enacted through citizens voting. The rights of unions weren’t enacted through citizen voting, nor were the rights that unions got for all workers over the years.

I fully support Lessig’s, Roemer’s, Ratigan’s (et. al.) hard work in getting Citizens United and reforming funding of elections in one fell swoop through a constitutional amendment. But getting such an amendment will never happen through voting. It is not in the financial interests of politicians (at least any politician on the national scene) to endorse and back this idea. Lessig is, of course, fully aware of this point. He thinks with enough pressure by the states, the federal legislature will be forced to move on this process. Now we’re seeing a massive increase of corporate money on the state level, and sometimes even local level, as well. The only thing powerful enough to accomplish this goal is shame. The shame of the people of the United States. It is evident today that politicians are capable of handling much higher levels of shame than they have in the past. This shame will not be accomplished by voting a few people out of office. I am fully convinced that this shame must be demonstrated in the streets.

As Unger proclaimed: “Obama must be defeated in this election.” He thinks that a loss by the Democratic party will redefine it. I, bluntly, don’t think it will. As Christopher Hedges points out in “Death of the Liberal Class”, the Democratic party was designed as a pressure valve between a Left party and a Right party. Ever since the destruction of a true American Left in the last decades of the 19th century through the first half of the 20th (thank you McCarthy) the pressure only runs in one direction — to the right. Which is why all policy over the last three decades has gone right, why the Supreme Court has gone right, and why the Democratic party has failed to have any news ideas that weren’t Republican ideas a decade earlier. What we have begun to believe, for lack of any other option, is that the Democratic party IS a leftist party. It was not, is not, and never will be.

Due to the lack of any leftist party why does voting make any difference? I contend it doesn’t. If we want to talk about “doing your civic duty” voting isn’t going to cut it. Doing your civic duty now means rejecting the false choices, rejecting the options the status quo gives you, and standing up for a free-er America that doesn’t terrorize the rest of the world while refusing the rights of its own citizens and acting against them in order to overflow the coffers of the unimaginably wealthy. This isn’t “take back our country.” This is “This is not my country.”

I am not naive. There are several good things that could happen if Obama wins. First, hopefully more liberal judges are appointed to the Supreme Court. But good luck getting that through Congress. Hopefully Roe v Wade doesn’t get overturned. Hopefully the rights for all the Other(s) in our society are broadened. But these rights will only allow people to exist long enough to be cogs in the machine of modern day capitalism. Are drones still going to kill innocents? Yes. Will we perpetuate terrorism at home and abroad? Yes. Will the middle class continue to be passively ignored, or actively given austerity such that they wither away? Yes. Will the financiers get richer? Yes. Should should I spend energy getting people to vote for this? I am glad people vote. But don’t hold it up as some holy and enshrined activity by which all progress it made. It isn’t.

Update

One of the tabs I had open when writing this was an interview of Sartre years after the ’68 revolution. One of his responses perfectly captures the feelings I have on the subject (again, I fail utterly at expressing myself):

“I have been convinced of the following fact for several years: those who want to do something within the system only end up by preserving it. He who wants to overturn the system by his vote is profoundly in error, since voting opposes the legality of a movement to its legitimacy, e.g., an insurrectional movement. All those who obtain power legally are exactly the same.” Sartre

I want to overturn the system. We all see something terribly wrong, and the conversation that needs to happen is between those who see it and don’t want to overturn the system, and those who see it and do.


I Love Stephen King

Posted: Monday Apr 30th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: In the News, Politics | View Comments

I guess some of this mad right-wing love comes from the idea that in America, anyone can become a Rich Guy if he just works hard and saves his pennies. Mitt Romney has said, in effect, “I’m rich and I don’t apologize for it.” Nobody wants you to, Mitt. What some of us want—those who aren’t blinded by a lot of bullshit persiflage thrown up to mask the idea that rich folks want to keep their damn money—is for you to acknowledge that you couldn’t have made it in America without America. That you were fortunate enough to be born in a country where upward mobility is possible (a subject upon which Barack Obama can speak with the authority of experience), but where the channels making such upward mobility possible are being increasingly clogged. That it’s not fair to ask the middle class to assume a disproportionate amount of the tax burden. Not fair? It’s un-fucking-American is what it is. I don’t want you to apologize for being rich; I want you to acknowledge that in America, we all should have to pay our fair share. That our civics classes never taught us that being American means that—sorry, kiddies—you’re on your own. That those who have received much must be obligated to pay—not to give, not to “cut a check and shut up,” in Governor Christie’s words, but to pay—in the same proportion. That’s called stepping up and not whining about it. That’s called patriotism, a word the Tea Partiers love to throw around as long as it doesn’t cost their beloved rich folks any money.
Stephen King: Tax Me for F@%&’s Sake!


Wendell Berry

Posted: Wednesday Apr 18th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Anthropology, History, Power | View Comments

We are living in the most destructive and, hence, the most stupid period of the history of our species. The list of its undeniable abominations is long and hardly bearable. And these abominations are not balanced or compensated or atoned for by the list, endlessly reiterated, of our scientific achievements. Some people are moved, now and again, to deplore one abomination or another. Others–and Hayden Carruth is one–deplore the whole list and its causes. Must protest is naive; it expects quick, visible improvements and despairs and gives up when such improvement does not come. Protestors who hold out longer have perhaps understood that success is not the proper goal. If protest depends on success, there would be little protest of any durability or significance. History simply affords too little evidence that anyone’s individual protest is of any use. Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.
On Difficult Hope by Wendell Berry, a reflection on Hayden Carruth’s poem “On Being Asked to Write a Poem Against the War in Vietnam”