Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Saturday, June 17, 2017

SEE YOU IN A BIT

I have been blogging for just short of eight years.  In that time, I have written on line a quarter million word autobiography, another quarter million words of extended essays, and uncounted numbers of words of commentary on the passing scene.  I am now eighty-three years old, and I am tired, written out for the moment.  I am also just now managing a move from a condominium apartment to a continuing care retirement community.  I have decided therefore to take a break from blogging for a week or two.  We move on June 28th, and go to Paris for a two-week break on July 12th.  Unless something titanic of a political sort happens in the interim, I shall return to blogging at some time between the 28th and the 12th.  The world will get along quite nicely without me, I imagine.

TOUGH LOVE DEMANDS AN INTERVENTION

This is a message for Danial Langlois.


Mr. Langlois, for some time now, you have been posting lengthy comments on this blog, sometimes as often as twice or even three times a day.  Surely you must have noticed that after a short while I stopped responding to them, as indeed did the other constant commenters.  Speaking only for myself, I will say that I refrained from responding because I find your contributions to the discussion to be scattered, unfocused, and often simply incoherent.  You are always appropriately respectful, and I think it would be inappropriate for me to remove your comments, But I must suggest that in future you refrain from posting comments on this blog.  You are of course always welcome to read the blog, and I will tell you honestly that if you continue to post comments, I will not remove them.  But I really do think it would be best if you stop.

Friday, June 16, 2017

THIS COULD HAVE BEEN PREDICTED

When drug addiction was a problem in the Black community, America's response was to lock up as many Black men as it could manage -- an ad hoc response to the Civil Rights Movement and the end of Jim Crow.  Now that opioid addiction is killing White people, enlightened responses focused on helping the addicted are all the rage.  Indeed, according to this story in today's TIMES, some folks thinking outside the box are even using the jails in Kentucky as treatment centers.

Why am I not surprised?

EITHER THE WORLD IS COMING TO AN END OR A NEW DAY IS DAWNING

Amazon.com is buying Whole Foods.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

JERRY FRESIA'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE

Here is Jerry's account of the time his university's Chancellor ran over him with a car.  This is way, way braver than anything I have ever done.  I stand in awe.


Righteous, Upstanding, Honorable Self-serving Cowards With a Bit of Revenge Tossed In

Okay, okay, so inquiring minds want to know how it happened that within weeks of my very first full time teaching gig at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the Chancellor of the university drove over me with his car. Here’s the story, as best as I can recall.

First, some background: I arrived at UMass, Amherst in 1974 as a grad student in political science. My undergraduate degree was in engineering and I was then able to snag an MA degree in poly sci from Purdue University before I had to deal with my military “obligations.” Given the various ways of avoiding combat back then, I chose volunteering for a desk job in the Air Force, a four year commitment. As an intelligence officer, I spent two years in Korea and two at the Strategic Air Command Headquarters in Omaha. I mention this because it was my military experience that moved me from someone who knocked on doors for McGovern in ’72 to someone who secretly identified, while in uniform, more with the people on the ground in Vietnam resisting the US invasion than I did with the American pilots dropping bombs. What I saw and learned as an intel officer forever altered my sense of – well, shall we say – America’s best and brightest.

As the Professor has referenced, the UMass campus in the mid-70s was brimming with a slew of brilliant left (many of them Marxist) professors. The conceptual framework that I encountered completely transformed my way of understanding my own life as the son of factory workers and the grandson of illiterate immigrants. The Amherst campus wasn’t exactly Paris 1871 but for me it might as well have been. I felt alive, young, and powerful. The revolution just couldn’t come soon enough.

I received my degree in 1982 and throughout my grad school period I became very active within various groups, mostly around anti-intervention causes (Central America), some labor activity, and in solidarity with the gay and lesbian alliance that was becoming quite the powerhouse in nearby Northampton. I always felt that my activist experiences – working with and/or against city officials, speaking at group meetings and, at times, publicly, developing arguments, and watching powerful types simply betray various members of the community, principally our gay and lesbian friends - even the machinations of getting arrested, going to court, and so on – contributed as much to my education as did academic life. And so it was that when I got my first full time position (temporary) at UCSB, a professor friend advised me, “Whatever you do, do not embarrass the administration or your department.”

As I mentioned in the comment section, within a few weeks of my arrival (January 1986), Desmond Tutu came to UCSB to give an address. It was open to the public but I couldn’t get near the place so I listened in on my radio at home. After Tutu completed his impassioned plea for UC divestment, Chancellor Huttenback responded to Tutu’s remarks by saying, “I don’t know what to say.” What? You don’t know what to say? What an upstanding, honorable, cowardly asshole! I’M EMBARASSED!

I left my apartment, went on campus and found about 100 students protesting outside of the administration building. Someone asked me if I would say something to the assembled protesters so I went through my embarrassment-is-a-two-way-street story and that was that. But then minutes afterwards, the students began running toward the parking lot, shouting, “There he is, there he is!!” Apparently, Huttenback’s office had told the students who had wanted to meet with him, that he was out of town.

Huttenback very quickly walked to his car. I said to the students, “Block his exit.” And then I sat down on the road in front of the exit. One student joined me. The rest of the students were surrounding the exit, yelling and shouting.

Huttenback’s car approached at a slow speed (it was one of those 1986 GM models that looked like a tank). It turned a corner and then came directly at me. I remember that my brain was giving me two simultaneous and conflicting messages: one was “large, heavy metal object approaching, you have seconds to move to safety – GET UP, GET UP, GET UP.” The other message was “do not move, stay put, resist, resist, RESIST.” My comrade, the student next to me, sprang up in the nick of time and dashed off. The bumper of Huttenback’s car slammed into my chest, knocking me flat to the ground and then I felt the tire running over my foot. I remember thinking how the pressure on my foot was enormous and then it occurred to me that the tire was split seconds away from my pelvis. By this time, the protesters were screaming for Huttenback to stop. He did. And then he proceeded to back up over my foot. And with protesters banging on the car, he grove up over a curb, onto the grass and through a hedge and then onto the nearby road and sped away.

I wasn’t injured. My chest was bruised and my foot sore, but that was it. I reported the incident to the police and because there were “no injuries” there wasn’t really an incident. Talk about norms.

Weeks later, at the Reagan “western White House” press conference (remember Larry Speaks?), I, with a few other citizens, poured fake blood over ourselves and began yelling “Stop the Lies.” The nice thing about that action was that it had been picked up by the Nicaraguan press. So someone in that terrorized nation, I’m sure, understood that Americans were standing with them, as best they could, side by side.





Wednesday, June 14, 2017

SOME RESPONSES

The response to my blog post entitled “NORMS” has been rambunctious, hilarious, delightful.  I have a good deal to say by way of response, but before all else, I must begin with something Jerry Fresia wrote:

“prior to my first full-time teaching assignment at UC Santa Barbara, I was told (or maybe warned!) by a professor friend that whatever I do, I should not “embarrass” the university (or department chairs, etc). It was 1986 and Desmond Tutu gave an impassioned speech, at a very large assembly open to the public, urging that the UC universities divest. Chancellor Huttenback of UCSB responded by saying to Bishop Tutu, “I don’t know what to say.”

Later that day at a student rally, I was asked to say a few words. I recounted the advice/warning that I had received (clearly a big fat norm) and told the students that the embarrassment thing was or ought to be a two way street and that I was embarrassed by the Chancellor’s response.

Note: About an hour after I spoke at the rally about my two-way sense of embarrassment, the Chancellor actually ran over me with his car, literally. Long story. Later that year Chancellor Huttenback was convicted and ousted over the embezzlement of university funds as well as tax evasion. Ah, those were the days!”

Now really, Jerry, you cannot leave it at that!  I must insist that you tell us the whole story.  The blog is yours.

 A propos, in 1981, I was put up for a professorship at Brandeis shortly after my wife and I moved from Amherst to Boston.  The President, Marver Bernstein, was dead set against the appointment, saying that I had done some good work when I was young but was now played out.  [His Provost asked the Chair of the Philosophy Department, scornfully, “Why do you want another Marcuse?”  It was the greatest compliment I have ever received.]  I didn’t get the job, thank God.  My story, like Jerry’s, ends happily.  Shortly thereafter, Bernstein was killed in a hotel fire in Israel.

A number of you penned effulgent words of devotion, mimicking and mocking that godawful Cabinet meeting.  I will tell you a deep, dark, shameful secret.  I kind of liked them when I read them.  There!  And they say old folks can’t play Truth or Dare!

Let me move on to a more serious part of Jerry’s comment.  He writes:  “Based upon what you have just said, I assume you would agree that norms tend to express ideology.  So my question is, if norms are concrete manifestations of ideology, as I believe many norms are, are there social norms that would support actions of liberation? Or do such actions always push a society or institution to the edge of collapse?”

Jerry’s question in a way echoes the comment of S. Wallerstein, who wrote:  “There are good norms and there are bad norms.  For example, the norms that have to do with how women are treated in Saudi Arabia are bad in general.  I believe that the academic norms which you outline above are good, although full disclosure, I may just be defending norms that I guided my professional life with during the years that I taught in a university.  I'm not at all sure which of the norms of U.S. political behavior are good and which are bad. We'd first have to have some sense of the explicit and implicit norms, tacit and stated norms, written and unwritten norms, which function there.”

These are really interesting comments, and if I can wrest my eyes away from the train wreck of the Trump presidency, I want to try to reply to them. 

It is clear that there are social norms that support actions of liberation and, what is equally important, that would work to sustain a just society if one were to come into existence.  Norms are the public face of our social actions, and as such they are inevitably in conflict with many of our deepest desires – for domination, for revenge, for private gratification at the expense of the needs of others.  These are universal human desires, surely present in a socialist society as they are in capitalist, feudal, or slave societies.  A modern post-industrial socialist society will necessarily be bureaucratically organized.  Those occupying positions of public trust or managing large-scale enterprises will be drawn to favor some – children or friends, perhaps – to the detriment of others not so connected.  It is public norms, celebrated and reinforced by honor, by public recognition, by tradition, and by ideology, that will strengthen the public face of the individual against the temptations of self-interest. 


S Wallerstein is most assuredly correct.  There are good norms and bad norms.  As I have argued elsewhere, no philosophical argument will serve to distinguish between the good and the bad.  That is a matter of fundamental human choice.  As my Columbia student said all those years ago, “First you must choose which side you are on.  Then you will be able to decide what you ought to do.”  But it is important to recognize that those enforcing and living by the norms of Saudi Arabian society with regard to women are, sociologically speaking, doing just what I am doing when I reject those norms and instead embrace and live by the norms of a gender equal society.  A great many philosophers have defended the position that those who act immorally are, must be, guilty in effect of false consciousness, but I am convinced that is a mistake.  There are righteous, upstanding, honorable [by their lights] racists, sexists, and capitalist exploiters.  I simply choose to make them my enemies because they treat as enemies those with whom I have made common cause.  They feel the same pride, the same sense of subordinating themselves to norms dictated by society, the same willingness to yield self-interest to the norms they embrace, as I do.  They are my enemies, but I will misjudge their motives and fail to foresee their actions if I make the mistake of thinking that they must be self-serving cowards simply because they pursue evil ends.

OY VEH

The person who showed up at a Republican Congressional baseball practice and started blasting away with a rifle, hitting Representative Scalise and others, has been identified as James Hodgkinson from Illinois.  If this is the James T. Hodgkinson on Twitter, he appears to be a fanatic Bernie Sanders supporter!  One report has it that he left the Democratic Party to join the Green Party.  I am afraid we are now in for it.