Yes, I know there are only seven, but my recent experiences here in Paris convince me that an eighth circle is badly needed. Suffice it to say that for the last thirty-six hours, I have done very little besides trying to get my television and phone to work. Yesterday, I walked [in some cases a long way] four times to two different offices of the local cable company, called Orange [previously, when it was owned by the state and worked, it was called FranceTelecom.] In the first office, on the right bank, while I was waiting an hour to be received by a technical expert, I noticed a sign on the wall that said [in French, of course] roughly that abusive language and threats directed at employees would be treated as a criminal offense and would be dealt with harshly. "That's odd," I thought idly. When I went to the second Orange office, here on the Left Bank, I noticed the same sign, at roughly the same time that I was growing uncontrollably angry at the dismissive, unfriendly, unhelpful response of a woman working there whom I have had run-ins with before.
And then it struck me. Everyone in France must be so furious at Orange employees that they have become the objects of perpetual abuse -- hence the signs. Ordinarily, as you know, my sympathies are with the workers, but I have my limits. The extra level of Hell would be full up if I had my way.
After an Internet search I signed up for International Service on my cellphone, but I was unable to complete a local Paris call. I had been given a number to call for a "code" with which I could persuade the wretched woman in the local store to exchange my television decoder box for a new one -- apparently what I need. Two lengthy calls to very helpful Verizon ladies in the United States later, and with some additional complications to arcane for this blogsite, I was able to call the number. Alas, by now it was 5:01 p.m. here in Paris, and a cheerful English language recording told me the office closed at five. It will reopen on Monday at nine a.m. It seems there is nothing for it but to spend the weekend working on my next Kant lecture.
Oh, did I mention that yesterday morning, I saw the two little batobuses Yves Montand and Jean Gabin at their accustomed mooring? Some things in Paris can be relied upon.
Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
In a short while, the taxi will come to take us to the airport, and we shall fly to Paris for a short stay, returning on October 29th. By the time we arrive tomorrow morning, local time, Lecture Seven should be on YouTube. I will provide a link, and if some kind soul puts a notice on Reddit, it should get a healthy share of views. I can now see that two more lectures will carry me to the end of the Transcendental Analytic, with the final lecture being delivered on November 7, the day before the election.
It seems appropriate, somehow.
It seems appropriate, somehow.
I wrote In Defense of Anarchism when I was thirty-one [though it was not published until five years later.] It was a youthful work, full of insouciant bravado. How apt were Wordsworth’s lines, “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/But to be young was very heaven.” The argument of my little tract was so simple that it could have been stated in a short paragraph with room left over for embellishment. Further along in the text, I drew on Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s famous critique of English representative democracy to break a lance for something I imagined as television democracy [“The people of England deceive themselves when they fancy they are free; they are so, in fact, only during the election of members of parliament: for as soon as a new one is elected, they are again in chains, and are nothing. And thus, by the use they make of their brief moments of liberty, they deserve to lose it.”]
Television democracy rested on the conviction that men and women, offered the opportunity to give direct legislative expression to their desires and convictions, could be relied on to inform themselves, vote their interests, and set aside irrational hatreds and anxieties.
It is more than half a century since I wrote that tract, and in this terrible election season, I am forced to reflect that it is perhaps Yeats rather than Wordsworth to whom I must look for guidance.
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Monday, October 17, 2016
I just finished reading this fascinating survey of research done in Europe and America regarding the roots of the rise of far right nationalist parties. It is quite troubling. Bottom line: Trump's appeal really is xenophobic racism, not economic anxiety. I strongly recommend it.
Sunday, October 16, 2016
With three weeks to go, it is now clear that Hillary Clinton will win the election, taking the popular vote by a 4 or 5 percent margin and the electoral vote by 320-340 votes. [By comparison, Obama won the 2012 popular vote by 3.9% with 332 electoral votes.] The popular vote margin could go as high as 6-7%, and there is a very small chance of an electoral college blowout of 400 or more. There is a good but not great chance – maybe 2/3 -- that the Democrats will end up with the 50 Senate seats they need for control, and no realistic chance of their taking the House.
This is therefore a good time to address a matter that has received a good deal of attention lately, and is much misunderstood. The point I wish to make is quite general, and has nothing in particular to do with the two people currently competing for the presidency. I could make it directly with reference to Hillary Clinton, but her name is now so toxic on this site that it would be difficult for me to get my readers to attend thoughtfully if I were to couch my argument in reference to her candidacy. Indeed, I really suspect that if I were to put forward a syllogism in Barbara with “Hillary Clinton” as one of the terms in the major premise, there are some who should know better who would refuse to grant the validity of the argument.
So, let us suppose Bernie had won the nomination, and were now in the last weeks of his campaign. Let us also suppose, for the sake of argument, that Bernie really is a socialist, as he says. I have seen no evidence of that, by the way. His policies are essentially indistinguishable from those of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal, but let us take Bernie at his word. Imagine now that WikiLeaks releases a collection of hacked email messages between Bernie and his wife, Jane. In one of them, Bernie tells his wife about a talk he gave to the annual meeting of the Socialist Scholars Conference. [I spoke on two occasions to that group back in the day, but I have no idea whether it still exists.] The Socialist Scholars Conference would of course not have paid Bernie $250,000, but we may suppose that they hosted a brunch for him catered by Zabar’s.
It is easy to imagine Bernie saying to the assembled socialists, “You and I understand that what America needs is collective ownership of the means of production, but I cannot say that in a political campaign, because if I did, I would have no chance of winning. So I talk about billionaires and the one percent and I rail at banks too big to fail, because those have a wide appeal. You see, in politics, it is necessary to have both a public and a private position. [These are the words from one of Clinton’s speeches to Wall Street bankers.]
Had Bernie ever said this, he would have been quite right. The American political party system is one of broad uneasy coalitions of scores of millions of men and women with very different interests and commitments. In presidential campaigns, the inevitable and unavoidable compromises are made not, as in a parliamentary system, among parties each of which has an unambiguous stand on major issues, but within each of the two major parties, by compromises the selling of which to the electorate requires a distinction between the public and private positions of the party candidates. This is not a shocking revelation of the corruption of our politics; it is the normal and inevitable result of the need to achieve some sort of governing coalition in a nation of three hundred thirty million very diverse people.
What, after all, are the alternatives? A parliamentary system, which has its own strengths and weaknesses, or the war of all against all. What makes Clinton despicable is not that she has “both a public and a private position.” It is what the private position is. But we always knew that about her. So please, let us have no more channeling of Claude Raines in Casablanca [“I am shocked, shocked, that there is gambling in Rick’s place.”]
Friday, October 14, 2016
I have led a quiet, protected, uneventful life, or so it has seemed to me. I was born into a stable middle-class family that was virtually unaffected either by the Great Depression or by the Second World War. I pursued a conventional educational path leading, with no more than the usual uncertainties, to a tenured professorship at the age of thirty. My military service, such as it was, occurred during one of those rare moments when the United States was not at war, and though I had some measure of success as an academic and as an author, I did not even quite rise to the level, in Mel Brooks’ classic phrase, of being “world famous in Poland.” My first series of video’ed lectures, On Ideological Critique, had a quite modest success, drawing more viewers than I had ever seen in a classroom but, judging by the other YouTube clips, so few as not even to be worth taking note of. Under these circumstances, it was quite easy for me to assure myself that I cared a great deal more about being a good teacher and a clear writer than I did about achieving even a fleeting moment of fame, let alone the fifteen minutes that Andy Warhol had promised. I compared myself to M. de St. Colombe, playing his viola da gamba for hours on end in a little wooden shack, oblivious to the attractions of Versailles.
Then I began my current series of lectures on the Critique of Pure Reason, and quite inexplicably, they drew thousands of views on YouTube. In a matter of weeks, my carefully cultivated façade of spiritual purity crumbled, and I found myself anxiously checking the tally of views of each lecture. The crash of the viewership for the sixth lecture sent me into John Bunyan’s Slough of Despond. I found myself crying pathetically, like Marlon Brandon in the taxi with Rod Steiger, “I coulda been a contender; I coulda been somebody!”
Fortunately, a long-time reader sent me an email message, in which he recalled me to myself. Here is what he wrote, in part: “Your job is to speak to those who remain. I would remind you that you have mentored individuals, giving them hours of your time. Do not get snagged on the “popularity” nettle.”
I realized that he was right, and returning to my hut, picked up my viola da gamba, (all of which was made easier, needless to say, by the fact that there was then a sharp uptick in the views of Lecture Six.)