Saturday, October 20, 2018

some links for the weekend, "save yourself" from Keira Knightly, Ovid as PUA and other contemporary motivated readings of older narrative/literary work

Music Modernization Act signed ...

Reiham Salam proposes that the next populist revolution will be Latino and it may not necessarily be blue state in its sympathies.

Keira Knightley and Kristen Bell have their stances about not wishing to use Disney princesses as role models for their kids.

Actors Keira Knightley and Kristen Bell have both commented on their unease about using Disney princesses as role models for their children.

Speaking on the Ellen Show, Knightley said her daughter (who was born in 2015) was “banned” from watching Cinderella, which Disney produced as a cartoon in 1950 and a live-action film in 2015. “[Cinderella] waits around for a rich guy to rescue her. Don’t. Rescue yourself! Obviously.”

Knightley added that she had also proscribed The Little Mermaid, the 1989 animation. “This is the one that I’m quite annoyed about because I really like the film. I mean, the songs are great, but do not give your voice up for a man. Hello! … I love The Little Mermaid! That one’s a little tricky – but I’m keeping to it.”

However, Knightley expressed approval of Disney hits Finding Dory (which stars Ellen Show host Ellen DeGeneres), Frozen and Moana.

There might be a simple reason to ask whether the operative term is "rescue" in the Disney formula.  American popular entertainment can invoke a term that may be informally thought of as "rescue" but I hesitate to say that Cinderella is necessarily "rescued", her virtuous character and "real" high status are affirmed by stories end and one of the paradoxes of celebrities claiming women should not have high status men 'rescue" them is latent (if not explicit) in whether they pair off or pair up with low status men in real life.  If they do then, well, fair enough, women don't need to be defined by having a 'resue" in the way of status validation through romantic or erotic attachemnt to a comparably statused male (or female).  Since I've been on an Adorno reading project the last few years something he noted in Current of Music was that many songs that seem to be about sex are really about status or class.  

Let's take a film that, for me, is a bit lackluster, Shrek--that's a film in which the princess is sort of rescued but doesn't "need" to be rescued but the jokes at length are about how she looks like a princess but does not realize that in terms of status and disposition she is more like Shrek. The happy ending is her repudiating the princess role and physiognomy in favor of becoming her "real" self.  This is a motif that is decades old in pop culture, at the very least.  As Madonna declared "second best is never enough, you'll be better, baby, on your own."  The "rescue" is not a redemption from bondage in a lot of these pop culture narrative tropes, it's an elevation or recognition of real status.  Don't hold out for a prince to save you, recognize your own worth.  

This sort of bromide from a celebrity makes sense to those who have attained celebrity but the uselessness of the bromide can seem quite a bit more apparent if we set aside the question of whether social mobility is actually feasible.  

To put the point even more harshly, being able to save yourself is probably more a function of a mixture of white privilege and celebrity than any plausible philosophy about how to go through the real world. 

There's also the possibility of misreading the old in light of concerns in the now.  This isn't just a category mistake that can happen within an ostensibly liberal thought-form, it is also probably what's permeating what is journalistically known as the alt-right.

Fetters: One thing I was shocked to learn from the book was how pickup artists claim Ovid as one of their own, as this prototypical pickup artist. That’s … something of a mischaracterization of Ovid, right?

Zuckerberg: Yeah. The most obvious differences between Ovid and pickup artists have to do with the social position of the reader and the social position of the putative “target.” The audience of a pickup-artist manual is pretty well understood within the community: awkward guys who are completely lacking in confidence when it comes to how to interact with the other sex and who need a set of protocols to follow. That person already feels marginalized by society; they already feel that there are a lot of people who just seem to know this stuff automatically, and that there are people who might be more attractive than they are, or more professionally successful or whatever, who will have an easier time picking up women. And they might have some resentment toward those people.

I don’t think that that was an audience that Ovid was writing for. Ovid is writing for a sophisticated literary audience, and a very elite audience. Extremely educated, probably extremely wealthy—books in that time were somewhat difficult to come by. They were possibly  reading the text at face value as a seduction manual, but also reading it as a literary text that is participating in several different genres at the same time. The Ars Amatoria is sort of mocking the form of didactic poetry, and there are also a lot of tropes from comedy in there. The young man who’s hopelessly in love with a meretrix, or an expensive sex worker—that trope is common in Roman comedy. There are places in the text where it almost seems like he’s writing a manual on how to be this kind of sitcom character. So it’s extremely literary in that way, and I don’t think you see pickup-artist texts working on all those levels in the same way. There’s an underlying sense in pickup-artist manuals that they are validating the reader’s fear that he is being sidelined in our society. Ovid’s text does the opposite: It assumes the reader is, if not on top of the world, very close to it.

And one of the fundamental assumptions of most pickup-artist texts is that the woman who you are attracted to has a lot of power over you, by virtue of that attraction. I think that the power dynamic in Ovid is a little different, because I don’t think that there’s ever any question in the reader’s mind that he is ultimately more powerful than the woman. [In Ovid’s time], he is the one with all of the social capital, and her financial well-being ultimately depends upon her desirability to men.

Fetters: You have a chapter on certain Red Pill groups’ fixation on false rape allegations and the pervasive belief, in that sphere, that women knowingly make false rape allegations quite often. I read it during the Kavanaugh hearing, and it felt really relevant.

Zuckerberg: That chapter was the hardest to write in a lot of ways; it’s just become more and more relevant over the past few years in a way that has been really disheartening. It’s so easy for patriarchy to wield this idea—that women make false rape accusations to ruin men—as a way of insinuating that women are too powerful. That the balance of power in society has tipped in women’s favor, that #MeToo has gone too far.

In reality, you see these fears about false allegations happening in societies that almost could not be more patriarchal. In classical Athens [as depicted in Greek historical myths like the Hippolytus myth, which involves a false rape allegation made by the female character Phaedra], women really had no legal existence; they were supposed to be neither seen nor heard in public, ideally. If that was the ideal woman in their society, and these men were still afraid that false rape allegations are going to ruin their lives, then it can’t be really about fear that women are too powerful. Even though that’s sort of how they always get framed.

There were people who eagerly considered expatriation if Trump won the presidency.  Over at The Atlantic there's a piece about black Americans who expatriate to escape what they see of the racism in American culture, with a warning that going overseas doesn't mean escaping American racism since racism can show up the world over and has its footholds in Europe, too.

But then we should try to avoid defining racism only in terms of the power and institutional influence.  It's possible to say that racism is only possible with access to formal and informal power and that one can be a racist without participating in racism. Although what that can mean is that it's possible for a black man or an Asian woman to be racist against each other while not contributing to racism because neither may be able to wield institutional power against the other ... unless either one of them calls the cops to get the other harassed for pedantic infractions of social codes ... .   

more Banksy stunt related opinion

In the weeks that have passed since one of Banksy’s Girl With Balloon paintings was half-shredded by remote control during a Sotheby’s sale on 5 October, there has been much speculation about whether the auction house was complicit in the prank.

The day after the painting was announced as sold on 11 October (under a different title, date and authentication certificate), Banksy released a statement saying there was “categorically no collusion” with Sotheby’s and he “was surprised as anyone when the painting made it past their security systems”. Sotheby’s, meanwhile, stressed it had “no prior knowledge of this event and were not in any way involved”.

But were there signs of things to come before that eventful evening? It is likely the seller was a close associate of Banksy’s. According to the original authentication certificate from Pest Control (Banksy's authentication board) dated 27 January 2009, the work was gifted to a Jo “for work on Barely Legal show, Los Angeles, 2006”. Banksy’s publicist, Jo Brooks, declines to say if it is her. The date of the painting is given as 2006.

Two stipulations of the consignment were that the work was placed in the evening sale and it was hung in the room for the auction. The final decision to allocate Banksy the last lot was down to Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s head of contemporary art in Europe.


Banksy has posted a video to his website in which he implies the shredding of his million-pound artwork Girl with Balloon at a Sotheby’s auction in London was supposed to have been complete.

In the video posted on Tuesday entitled Shred the Love (the director’s cut), Banksy shows himself constructing the shredding mechanism inside a frame. It then cuts to the auction room and the moment of partial destruction. At the end, the video notes: “In rehearsals it worked every time ...” as it shows the piece going the whole way through the shredding machine.

The canvas was partially shredded after the hammer came down on a winning bid of £1.04m ($1.4m), to the shock of the crowd on 5 October. Banksy later posted an image on Instagram of the shredded work dangling from the bottom of the frame with the title “Going, going, gone … ”

So the shredding ... seems to have been a half-baked stunt. 

Without access to the extent to which rehearsals were conducted should we even take it for granted rehearsals were done?  It doesn't seem necessary.  At this point the Banksy stunt still seems to depend upon the auction world and journlaist/historical institutions needed to grant the headlines to make the work possible.  If it turns out that it's really the case the self-shred was a botched job then the headline Banksy invited is that the stunt was a half-baked gambit.  Okay ... although half-baked gambits in other forms of entertainment look more like The Defenders than Banksy paintings.

Peter Leithart on Jean-Marie Schaeffer on Kant and aesthetics--mulling over a double bind in aesthetics since the age of Kant on intuition and analysis

Jean-Marie Schaeffer (Art of the Modern Age: Philosophy of Art from Kant to Heidegger (New French Thought Series) has a blast pointing out the contradictions in Kant’s aesthetics. Most of them arise from Kant’s insistence that the judgment of taste is founded on “the form of a finality” that excludes any specific end. That is, aesthetic judgment responds to the sheer form of finality, not to any particular purpose of the object judged.
This is in a sense just a teleological way of stating the principle of “disinterestedness” that Kant inherited from earlier writers on aesthetics: If we judge a table for its usefulness as a platform for food and drink, we are not making an aesthetic judgment. We have to evaluate without any notion of end.
Combined with this is Kant’s recognition that any artistic object is, inherently, purposive. That is because the artist at least intended to evoke pleasure, satisfaction, or provocation from his viewers. Natural beauty, by contrast, is not purposive, since, in Kant’s view, it is not an artistic product with a definite end.
As a result, Schaeffer writes, “artificial beauty is aesthetically less central than natural beauty it never elicits are pure aesthetic judgment,” that is, a judgment purified of interest and intent.
This has some disagreeable consequences.
It means that for Kant, artistic objects are most effective when they conceal their artificiality; there is an inherent deceptiveness in art. Truth and artistic beauty seem uncoupled at a basic level. It also means, Schaeffer says, that the art “most in conformity with the pure judgment of taste will be purely decorative art,” since “canonical arts” are either representational or are linked to a use (like architecture, or music composed for singing).
But the problem is more fundamental for Kant, since this conclusion that decorative art is the most purely aesthetic of human products “collides head-on with another Kantian thesis, according to which purely decorative works belong to the category of the agreeable rather than to the beautiful, for they please chiefly at the level of empirical sensation.”
Kant’s theory of genius is an effort to sidestep or overcome this contradiction. A genius is a kind of conduit of nature; his works are not the product of the application of rules, but a product of an inexplicable inspiration.
But this doesn’t help Kant much. Even genius painters have to know how to mix and apply paint, purely mechanical matters. Besides, genius, Kant wants to say, produce works of art that are exemplary, both for other geniuses and for pupils who are not geniuses. Pupils can abstract from the exemplary works of their genius master rules by which they reproduce works similar to their master’s.
Schaeffer asks: “if the work remains essentially opaque to the genius who produced it, and even to the genius-disciples who are inspired by it . . . , by what miracle can it become transparent for ordinary receivers who can only be imitators?” Indeed.
All these problems arise because of Kant’s obsession with purity. He wants aesthetic judgment purified of interest; aesthetic objects purified of intentionality; aesthetic judgments purified of any concept that would bring them back into the realm of pure or practical reason.
Hamann, again, got it right: The better aesthetics is the impure aesthetics, the aesthetics that recognizes the coinherence of reason and sensation, an incarnational aesthetics that unfolds the aesthetic consequences of the communicatio idiomatum.
To borrow terminology provided in Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow, there is a System 1 way of thinking and a System 2 way of thinking.  System 1 is what we colloquially think of as the realm of intuition, of immediately grasping whole patterns, the part of the brain or the mind that can, simply in observing things, assesses spatial relationships or patterns.  System 2 is what we colloquially think of as the analytical, rule-establishing and procedural reason, the reason that is brought in and trained for scholarly thought or explicitly and consciously involved in problem-solving.  From the Romantic era on in Western art these two systems of thought often get put in opposing corners in aesthetics and artistic education and analysis ... even if there would not necessarily have been such an opposition between System 1 and System 2 in earlier or even subsequent eras of artistic analysis or creation.
One of the perennial problems in analysis and art history is that System 1 and System 2 very often don't overlap in terms of creation or analysis.  There are all kinds of reasons for this but one reason was articulated by Leonard B. Meyer as follows:

ISBN 0-226-52152-4

page 10

The constraints of a style are learned by composers and performers, critics and listeners. Usually such learning is largely the result of experience in performing and listening rather than of explicit formal instruction in music theory, history, or composition. In other words, knowledge of style is usually "tacit": that is, a matter of habits properly acquired (internalized) and appropriately brought into play. Even when a composer invents a new rule or, more commonly, discovers a novel strategy for realizing some existing rule, the invention or discovery may be largely tacit. He or she finds a relationship that works but may be unable to explain why it does so--how it is related to other features and other constraints of the style.

It is the goal of music theorists and style analysts to explain what the composer, performer, and listener know in this tacit way. 

from footnote 18 on page 10

Textbooks dealing with harmony, counterpoint, form, and so on, are not, despite customary usage, theoretical treatises, explaining the bases for the constraints employed in some style. Rather they are practical manuals of how-to-do-it rules. They bear the same relationship to theory of music as an instruction book for radio repairing bears to the theory of radio transmission, or, more to the point, they bear the same relationship to the theory and analysis of music as an English grammar of the eighteenth century bears to the style of, say, the poetry of William Blake.

Meyer went on to invoke Searle on the distinction between types of rules, Searle using the example of a game.

pages 11-12

Let us imagine a group of highly trained observers describing an American football game in statements only of brute facts. What could they say by way of description? Well, within certain areas a good deal could be said, and using statistical techniques certain "laws" could even be formulated. For example, we can imagine that after a time our observer would discover the law of periodic clustering: at statistically regular intervals organisms in like colored shirts cluster together in a roughly circular fashion (the huddle). Furthermore, at equally regular intervals, circular clustering is followed by linear clustering (the teams line up to play), and linear clustering is followed by the phenomenon of linear interpenetration. Such laws would be statistical in character, and none the worse for that.  But no matter how much data of this sort we imagine our observers to collect and no matter how many inductive generalizations we imagine them to make from the data, they still have not described American football. What is missing from their description? What is missing are all those concepts, which are backed by constitutive rules, concepts such as touchdown, offside, game, points, first down, time out, etc., and consequently what is missing are all the true statements one can make about a football game using those concepts. The missing statements are precisely what describe the phenomenon on the field as a game of football. The other descriptions, the descriptions of the brute facts, can be explained in terms of institutional facts. But the institutional facts can only be explained in terms of the constitutive rules which underlie them. 

[John R. Searle, Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language. Cambridge, 1969]

pages 11-12
... One can list and count traits--say, the frequency of sforzandi in Beethoven's music or the number of deceptive cadences in Wagner's operas--till the end of time; but if nothing is known about their functions (structural, processive, expressive, and so on), it will be impossible to explain why they are there, how their presence is related to other features observed, or why their frequency changes over time. Such traits may even serve as reasonably reliable "identifiers" of Beethoven's or Wagner's style, yet contribute nothing to our understanding of how the style functions. Put in another way; all the traits (characteristic of some work or set of works) that can be described and counted are essentially symptoms of the presence of a set of interrelated constraints. What the theorist and the analyst want to know about are the constraints of the style in terms of which the replicated patternings observed can be related to one another and to the experience of the works of art.  

But we are not precisely in the same position as Searle's observers. They can find knowledgeable informants in the grandstand or on the playing field who can tell them what the rules are; indeed the rules of football are written down and can be studied.  In the arts, however, the constraints governing the choices made are seldom explicitly recorded or consciously conceptualized, even by those most accomplished in their use. As we have seen, they are usually known tacitly. As a result the theorist/style analyst must infer the nature of the constraints--the rules of the game--from the play of the game itself. [emphasis added]

The gap between what in Searle's taxonomy of cognition can be thought of as "brute facts" (what you just saw that went on in the football game) and "institutional facts" (knowing what on earth any of those events mean "as a game of football") is one of the longstanding gaps in art theory and practice on the production side and the reception side.  

Meyer explained how much the Romantic era thinkers on art and artists themselves leaned on what in Kahneman's terms would be System 1 thinking.

page 176

... The Romantic affirmation of the primacy of unconscious, spontaneous inspiration growing out of individual emotion, and the concomitant denial and denigration of the claims of consciousness and shared rationality, result in a curious, almost paradoxical dichotomy between the creative act and the aesthetic object. For though reason plays virtually no role in inspired creation, the relationships that are prized in works of art result from the inevitability and inner logic of organic development. 

page 221

The valuing of individual inner experience is evident in the shift from the eighteenth-century idea that music represented emotions (affects) to the nineteenth century belief that music expressed the feeling of the composer. 


Feeling is all in all; the name is sound and smoke, obscuring heaven's pure glow.

"Feeling" does not have to be feeling as we might understand it, as emotions, it can be an invocation that things worth understanding can be understood at an intuitive level.  As Daniel Kahneman put it in Thinking Fast and Slow, 80 to 90 percent of the time our System 1 thinking gets things right so quickly we don't even have time to consciously think about the reality of our brain thinking.  The trouble is, of course, and thus one of the reasons for the book, is that when our System 1 patterns of thinking for the brain jump to the wrong conclusion we jump to categorically and often catastrophically wrong conclusions.  

To reformulate this observation in terms of the gap between Romantic and 20th century modernist and avant garde arte, constant appeals to the innate rightness of System 1 intuitionist art could make sense because the underlying constraints or "rules of the game" were not in question in the Romantic era in practical terms.  Sure, Anton Reicha could theorize about the viability of quarter-tones and his student Franz Liszt could do the same but absent instruments that could habitually produce those quarter tones theorizing about quarter tones inside of chromatic half steps in equal tempered instruments was just that, theorizing.  

The emergence of dodecaphonic music in the wake of nascent atonality; the emergence of symmetrical scales and what Messiaen termed modes of limited transposition; cumulatively these different approaches to dividing up octaves and the practical realization of instruments and instrumental techniques that split the chromatic minor second into multiple tones broke down what in the Romantic era had been the "innate" foundation of the creative game.  Romantic and post-Romantic grandstanding about how you could break all the rules of X or Y at some formal level because the bedrock of tonality wasn't going anywhere was shown up to be contingent.  

A way to translate the shock of this revolution in musical terms, specifically, would be to say the early 20th century modernists such as Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Berg, Webern in the West, or Scriabin or a Debussy for that matter, let alone a Wyschnedgradsky or a Haba or a Cowell or an Ives, was we could perhaps too lightly suggest that with a bit of help from System 2 analytical thinking these composers looked at what 19th century conventions regarded as bedrock, the chromatic scale in equal temperament, and asked point blank why THIS was the bedrock of musical thought and activity.  It wasn't for centuries so why did it have ot keep being the bedrock for musical activity moving forward from, say, 1914?  

In light of subsequent criticism of the legacy of Kant via German Idealism one of the criticisms that can be made of Kantian aesthetics is that it doesn’t have room to account for arts that call attention to their own artifice … in a word … the sublime in art is separated as more holy than art that calls attention to itself that in English would colloquially be known as “camp”.  There wasn't necessarily a lot of room in German and German-influenced aesthetics and other philosophy about art that left room for artists to make art that recognized and reveled in its own artifice.  

While in theory Romantic era artists and thinkers wanted people to cast off the hidebound rules and follow their instincts, so to speak, this was largely a rhetorical claim made with an understanding that there were twelve chromatic half steps dividing the octave.  There were no suppositions that the octave could be divided into 53 pitches governed by wildly different sets of intervals that were, nonetheless, derivable from the overtone series.  Xenakis had some fun pointing out the irony of reactionary musicians and arts critics who invoked the overtone series as a defense of tonality who thereby hoped to defend the role of intuition in the arts, because (of course) these defenses were made on the basis of invoking mathematical and scientific parameters.  Xenakis was able to see the irony and humor in those who clung to Romanticism as an aesthetic tradition and its musical legacy on the basis of mathematics and science because by the mid-20th century those most eager to defend what we could call art-on-the-basis-of-System 1 thinking were trying to do so on the basis of the most stringent would-be System 2 forms of argument available, never mind that the overtone series wouldn't and couldn't be realized in an equal tempered chromatic scale that gives us just major and minor scales or octatonic and whole-tone scales in the way equal-tempered instruments give those to us.  It's not that we can't make fun music using those instruments,obviously, it's that the math deosn't add up, as writers from Xenakis to Ben Johnston have pointed out over the last half century.

Where this may be relevant to 19th century era theorizing from the example of 18th century arts is at this point--the 19th century observers understood 18th century arts on the basis of their ideological and aesthetic concerns and were drawn to artists who became emblematic and canonical in 19th century terms who were not necessarily indicative of what was well-received in 18th century terms.  So we get people talking about how so many people were wrong to regard Mozart as having failed to please 18th century audience ideals when, if we took the accounts of how and why Mozart was thought to have failed, we'll see that Mozart perhaps "did" fail in some of his music to connect to audiences based on the conventions the audiences were accustomed to.  Not all the time, obviously, because Mozart was able to find success in his life, if not always to the degree he wanted--but it's a post-Romantic mythology that has it that Mozart was better than all the others and that his work, more than those works by a Clementi or a Salieri or a Wagenseil or a Vanhal should be taken as the music to consider (or a Dussek or a Ditters or an Albrechtsberger or ... ).  

Having been anti-Romantic in a lot of my sympathies and convictions most of my life I can appreciate the beauty of a lot of Romantic era art, music and literature while not seeing a particularly compelling reason to be tethered to their variety of ideological claims about the arts or the way our brains perceive, understand or appreciate the arts. That so many of the early 20th century avant garde attempted to create new strategies or invent new proverbial rules of the game doesn't mean they were doing so because they were "wrong", which is to say they weren't wrong to try to find new constraints to organize musical development because the supposedly foundational nature of equal tempered chromatic major and minor keys was called into question.  As Ben Johnston put it, we can think of that whole realm of music as still valid but a smaller subset of a larger conception of pitch organization that derives from the overtone series.  

If there's a faultline between the poptimists and the rockists in musicology debates that seems to keep emerging as an undercurrent or even as a full-blown textual issue, it seems to be a question of camp.  Poptimists seem pretty reconciled to the reality of camp in the arts, whereas rockists seem to view all forms of camp as having some kind of general failure of authenticity.  

To translate what this can mean in practical terms, there are audiences and critics who don't like to watch movies that break the fourth wall at all or in a "knowing" way--there are those who want to be emotionally manipulated but they don't want to watch something that they believe "knows" is manipulating them emotionally.   The verisimilitude of character psychology hinges on a viewer being able to suspend disbelief long enough to "fall for" the emotional and narrative arcs of a story or a song.  To borrow Adorno's terminology, there are people who want art to put them under "the spell" and dislike art that is at any point (let alone constantly!) calling attention to its own artifice and perhaps even reveling in it.  To give an example from mid-20th century American cinema there are folks who are into Citizen Kane and there are folks who are into Bugs Bunny.  There are, of course, people who enjoy both Welles films and Looney Tunes but schools of criticism can emerge which prize one over the other or sets one against the other in terms of being "legitimate" art or not.  

I admire music by Beethoven and Mozart, to be sure, but I've written for years that my favorite of the "big three" from that era of music has always been Haydn.  That's not likely to change.  Haydn was not as long-winded as Beethoven so often was and he never seems as glib (however funny he very often is) as Mozart often seems to have been.  Haydn's work has paradoxically been respected into irrelevance since the Romantic era but in an era in which poptimists and rockists debate the merits and demerits of musical idioms and works I believe Haydn's work can be understood from either or both sides of that kind of divide. I also think that Haydn's work (although certainly not just his work!) can give us a potential prototype for ways of thinking about ameliorating ideological and aesthetic barriers that rockists and poptimists like to erect within musicological debates in our own time, not least of which could be a manufactured divide between "high" and "low" in the arts that is predicated on what may, after all, have turned out to be a post Kantian double bind within aesthetics between categories of aesthetic appreciation. 

Friday, October 19, 2018

a proposal that the antidote to Trumpism on foreign policy is Wilsonian ... a proposal that I find ... unpersuasive
Happily, the past century of American foreign policy provides two tested alternatives to Trumpist unilateralism: realist internationalism rooted in alliances, and commitment to a rules-based international order that favors democracy. The former can provide a tactical framework for a steady foreign policy, but if pushed too far tends to falter in practice. The strategic ambition of the latter can be misapplied, but has supported some of the best American world leadership over the past 100 years.  

Recently, Peter Beinart made a case for realist internationalism in The Atlantic. In his essay, he goes after Trump’s unilateralism and trashing of core American alliances. But his major complaint is with what he calls American overreach, including the assumption that the “unipolar” moment of unchallenged American power after the collapse of the Soviet Union can or should be sustained.
Beinart pushes a more modest foreign policy. So far, so good, but his specific prescription demonstrates the weakness of realism taken as a strategic doctrine: He suggests a spheres-of-influence system in which the great powers, including Russia, China, and the United States, each get their piece of the world and respect the others’ pieces. Russia gets eastern Europe, with Georgia and Ukraine both “neutral” (like Finland and Austria during the Cold War); China gets to occupy Taiwan and dominate Vietnam, and achieves recognition of its claims in the South and East China Seas; the U.S. gets the Western Hemisphere.  
As an abstraction, spheres-of-influence arrangements have appealed to foreign-policy theorists for a long time (e.g. Henry Kissinger and Walter Lippmann, 20th-century America’s most important foreign-policy journalist, whom Beinart cites). In practice, they don’t work out so well. For one thing, they usually involve doing deals with dictators at the expense of other people. Quite apart from the moral problem, for that reason spheres of influence are not stable: History suggests that autocratic great powers will never be satisfied with wherever the line is drawn.
Rather than linger on the invocation that Ukraine wants independence from Russia let's recall that swaths of Ukrainians sided with the Nazis ... we shouldn't take it as given that Ukrainians who want a Western alliance aren't going to be as bad or worse than Ukrainians interested in preserving a traditional association, however terribly fraught, with Russia.
While the ostensibly realist foreign policy position might have landed us in Gulf War 2 and the War on Terror the alternative to that is apparently not in Trump's foreign policy approach ... instead we are supposed to go back and take encouragement from the guy who got us into World War I.  
The alternative to Trumpist unilateralism or spheres of influence is the American grand strategy—100 years old this year—of a rules-based, open world which favors democracy. Woodrow Wilson has been out of fashion for a long time, and his flaws (racism being the worst) are indefensible. But his Fourteen Points, presented in a speech in January 1918, laid out a first draft of American global leadership in what became known as the American Century.
Wilson’s plan challenged the British and French imperial model; welcomed Germany and Russia into the prospective new system, if they accepted its premises; and outlined a world order of open trade, mutual security, self-determination, and, in staggering self-confidence, an implicit American guarantee of the new arrangement. This was not misplaced idealism or charity. On the contrary, it was rooted in a canny assumption that American interests would best be served in an open, rules-based order in which Yankee ingenuity could flourish. American values and interests would advance together. The genius of the Fourteen Points is that American prosperity was tied to the success of other countries; the system was positive-sum, not zero-sum.
I have all kinds of points at which I dislike Trump but if (and this may be a very big "if") President Trump has concluded that the Wilsonian style American century is, can be and at any rate should be over I don't see that as necessarily a bad thing. If and, again, this could be a very big "if", President Trump's approach is to not regard any nation state as an enemy until such time as Congress makes a formal declaration of war that may be precisely what we need now in foreign policy terms not because we don't have enemies but because if people have been terrified by the extent to which executive power expanded from Bush 2 through Obama in the 21st century as the executive branch pursued a war against "terror" and war in the Middle East then an executive that, however legion his flaws may be, is not interested in continuing that particular trend would be a change of pace. 
Of course the reason the "if" is a big "if" is because that's not how executive powers have played out in the last fifty years. But it's not clear to me at all that the Wilsonian adventurism that got us into a couple of world wars is a solution to what is presented as the problem of Trumps foreign policy approach.  Is the problem that Trump is okay dealing with heads of state who are murderous cretins?  Okay ... but many heads of state are butchers by the nature of the work involved getting to that level of power and keeping it.  It would be nice if it were otherwise but ... 
a group of nations all agreeing on something isn't necessarily proof that that something is a good thing.  Back in Gulf War 1 Bush had a coalition of nations that approved what hee decided to do.  A league of nations can be a league of wrong nations, after all.  Was not the Cold War a battle of wills between two different leagues of nations ale to invoke on behalf of their aims a legitimacy that the other side lacked?  Why, then, would a Wilsonian for mof internationalism automatically be right?  
After nearly two decades of a war on terror and the second Gulf War, neither of which have ended or are likely to end any time  at all, a Wilsonian form of policy seems about as much a pipe dream as it did in the previous century.  Holding up what Wilson wanted as worthy because it seems like a better alternative to whatever Trump and his administration are doing now doesn't seem like it's all that compelling a vision.  In the post Harvey Weinstein #metoo moment we have not quite gone through the reckoning, if one can happen, of what price was paid by so many in the entertainment industries who, for whatever reasons, looked the other way as Weinstein allegedly did all the things he allegedly did decade in and ou.  Now some self-described progressives and leftists HAVE said what they think was going on, that Clinton's supporters felt what the Clintons were achieving was important enough that looking the other way while high profile supporters did sordid things was part of the price of ensuring America was guided by sound policy. 

a piece at The Atlantic on the energizing of secular Democrats

The voters who are most amped for the 2018 elections look elite in nearly every way. They are Democrats, college-educated, and largely secular. They are likely to be women, but they’re not necessarily white or particularly young. These are the people who might post rants about Donald Trump on Facebook or harass their friends to donate to Planned Parenthood. They may sign petitions on or follow the Facebook page of the U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, even though they don’t live in Texas. Maybe they attended the Women’s March two years ago, or the March for Our Lives this spring.

Secular Democrats were also much more likely to say they’re angry about what’s going on in the country today: Forty-one percent described themselves this way, compared with 28 percent of religious Democrats. Of all the groups highlighted in the data—divided by race, education, geographic region, and more—secular Democrats were the most likely to say they’re feeling this rage. This may shape the political landscape: “There’s no emotion that’s more linked to activism and engagement than anger,” Cox said.

The data on religiously unaffiliated Democrats combines with other statistics to form a rough picture of the voters who have been getting the most civically involved over the past year. Across the board, college graduates were significantly more likely than their nongraduate peers to have signed petitions, volunteered for or donated to a cause, attended rallies, liked a campaign online, called their representative, or changed what they bought for political reasons. Women were also more likely to have done many of these things than men, and they were five percentage points more likely to say they had become more civically engaged over the past two years. In general, Democrats beat out Republicans on a number of measures of civic engagement, especially when it comes to online activism: They were twice as likely to have signed an online petition, encouraged friends or family to get political online, or posted about issues they care about.

So what does all of this mean for the 2018 elections? While many Democrats seem to be more politically fired up than Republicans, it’s not clear that this will translate into big wins at the ballot box: Eighty-one percent of Democrats said they’ll absolutely or probably vote in November, compared with 82 percent of Republicans. But this wave of political energy may say something about the identity of Democratic voters—particularly those who don’t have strong religious or institutional ties. “There’s a sociological story you can tell about this community,” said Eitan Hersh, a political scientist at Tufts who is writing a book on what he calls “political hobbyism.” “This online world of political identity … is basically acting as a replacement for people who maybe a generation or two before would identify as Catholic or as Jewish or as Irish or Italian.”
Think of it as the Pod Save America voter: largely elite, politically plugged-in, constantly discussing the Republicans’ latest political shenanigans at dinner parties—and more focused on national problems than local affairs. “You see Democrats who will say on surveys that their most important issues are the environment or racial equality, and they take absolutely no interest in voting in local primaries or local municipal elections, where a lot of those issues are worked out,” Hersh said. “It’s a lot more gratifying to be talking about the Kavanaugh hearing.”
How easily, then, it can be to mention that Christopher Hitchens once wrote that when something, anything in the way of ideas, gets treated as if it were a religion it then poisons everything.  Hitchens, of course, zealously sided with the War on Terror and Gulf War 2 for a while ... perhaps thereby arguably demonstrating his own polemical point about religious zeal poisoning anything and everything.  

Which is not to say Hitchens was really right about that point, just that if blue state voters who are secular and progressive feel angry and right to be this might be a kind of righteous anger that is a kind of religious zeal. 

In an era in which people claim democracy is under attack we should stop and ask whether democracy is under attack or whether the systems and populations and power brokers traditionally thought of as being "democracy" have moved in directions that are uncomfortable.  To put it another way, democracy doesn't stop being a mode of governance in a nation simply because the "wrong" team gets elected.  A Republican can't say that democracy has been lost if a socialist gets elected any more than a socialist can say that democracy has been overturned if a Republican gets elected.  When democracy gets overturned is when the customs, traditions and powers to elect are compromised.  Yes, there's reason to believe Republicans have adopted policies that can stifle or suppress voting.  To the extent that progressives and (apparently more often) liberals and definitely people with grad school degrees have at times proposed a minimum educational requirement for being worthy of the franchise aristocratic exceptionalism doesn't always have to be red state to seem vain and condescending.  

But let me ge tto something Ellul wrote about the problem of what happens when democracy stops being a methodology for governance and is transformed into an ideological stance.

Translated from the French by Konrad Kellen & Jean Lerner
Vintage Books Edition, February 1973
Copyright (c) 1965 by Alfred A Knopf Inc.
ISBN 0-394-71874-7

page 249
... Once democracy becomes the object of propaganda, it also becomes totalitarian, authoritarian, and exclusive as dictatorship.

pages 249-250
... This really is the ultimate problem: democracy is not just a certain form of political organization or simply an ideology--it is, first of all, a certain view of life and a form of behavior. If democracy were only a form of political organization, there would be no problem; propaganda could adjust to it. ... But if democracy is a way of life, composed of tolerance, respect, degree, choice, diversity, and so on, all propaganda that acts on behavior and feelings and transforms them in depth turns man into someone who can no longer support democracy because he no longer follows democratic behavior. 

pages 251-252
But the creation of the etiological myth leads to an obligation on the part of democracy to become religious. It can no longer be secular but must create its religion. Besides, the creation of a religion is one of the indispensable elements of effective propaganda. [emphasis added] The content of this religion is of little importance; these feelings are used to integrate the masses into the national collective. We must not delude ourselves: when one speaks to us of "massive democracy" and "democratic participation," these are only veiled terms that mean "religion." Participation and unanimity have always been characteristics of religious societies, and only of religious societies. [emphasis added]

I am not sure there are any less democratic people than people who use social media to politically agitate fellow propagandists.  

If we are at a point where GOP and DNC advocates believe in the righteousness of their respective parties and goals above all else then we're looking at religious devotion.  We could put it even more starkly, to the extent that people who say they are Christian seek to reverse-engineer a Jesus whose life and teachings endorse a red or blue state Jesus in which the United States isn't part of the nations that will be judged by the Lord on the final day then that's a false Christ. 

When the party is the god for which success is paramount and to which loyalty is demanded then the post Weinstein moment and the #metoo era may have shed some light on who was sacrificed to the god of partisan loyalty in both the DNC and the GOP over the last thirty years. 

But as The Atlantic article noted, outrage doesn't necessarily translate into doing things at a local level.  As the composer and blogger John Halle put it at his blog in the last few years, too many of those who self-identify as left are more eager to feel righteous than to bother winning local or regional elected office and actually implementing (or learning how to implement) policy in the real world. 

a peculiar screed at Slate about how "we" are not responsible for climate change--the "we" who opine on the internet on a daily basis are not responsible because we're not the fossil fuel industry ...

Given that climate change is a global problem, the temptation to use we makes sense. But there’s a real problem with it: The guilty collective it invokes simply doesn’t exist. The we responsible for climate change is a fictional construct, one that’s distorting and dangerous. By hiding who’s really responsible for our current, terrifying predicament, we provides political cover for the people who are happy to let hundreds of millions of other people die for their own profit and pleasure.

I mean, think about it. Who is this we? Does it include the 735 million who, according to the World Bank, live on less than $2 a day? Does it include the approximately 5.5 billion people who, according to Oxfam, live on between $2 and $10 a day? Does it include the millions of people, all over the world (400,000 alone in the 2014 People’s Climate March in New York City) doing whatever they can to lower their own emissions and counter the fossil-fuel industry? Does it include Bill McKibben, the elder statesman of the climate movement who wrote his first book about climate change in 1989? How about Greta Thunberg, the 15-year-old girl currently sitting outside the Swedish Parliament on a school strike demanding that her government implement policies that actually end fossil-fuel production, distribution, and consumption? Does it include the indigenous peoples who lived in harmony with their ecosystems for generations upon generations? Does it include our children?
Within the annals of Slate itself no less there's a different take, an advice columnist writing to someone who has qualms about wanting to have a child in light of climate change.

Dear Care and Feeding,
I am a 21-year-old college student who desperately wants to be a parent within the next five to eight years of my life. I am reasonably certain I can achieve this—I have a good job lined up after graduation, I’ve been dating the same person since we were 17, and I have an incredible family support system within an hour of the city I’ll be living in. While I could change my mind, right now the picture of this domestic future makes me happier than I can say.
However, I can’t stop thinking about climate change. I’m terrified that I’m going to do all this, have a kid in the next five or six years, and then things will start to get really bad when the kid is still young. This is obviously terrifying; no young kid could have the psychological or tangible skills to cope with that, and I’m not sure I would either. It’s all I’ve been thinking about for weeks. I’m sure you get emails like this all the time (though probably from actual parents), and I know there’s no real answer, but how does one make this choice? Is it ever the right one?
—Rising Doubts
Dear Rising,
Yeah. I hear you. The recent U.N. report on just how fucked we are has been an emotional and philosophical game-changer for many people, it seems. It was the No. 1 topic of conversation for my kids this weekend, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think, Wow bros. My bad for bringing you here just in time for this.
I’m not going to try to sell you on having kids. The doubts you have and the reasons you cite for not wanting to are legitimate. So instead I’m going to advise you to wait. You are 21 years old. It is wonderful that you want to care for someone other than yourself. It is great that you are in a relationship that you care for and value. Yet you may feel yourself in an entirely different place by the time you are 25 or 27. (Of course, you may not, but that’s the point of waiting to see what happens.) Also, by then you will know a lot more about what is happening with our planet, our country, and our future, I would bet.
I would also point out that while bringing kids into this madness does seem like a legitimately questionable act, adopting kids who have already been brought into it is not. If you haven’t already, I would start sitting with that idea and seeing how it changes your outlook over time. When society has been reduced to a burning wasteland populated by roaming tribes who dart in and out of caves made from overturned 18-wheelers, wouldn’t it be nice to know that you can care for one of those kids who doesn’t have a tribe to belong to? Doesn’t the thought of it just globally warm … your heart?

Well .. depending on who you read adopting children already brought into the world is a questionable act. 

And .. this column, serious though it seems to have been, reminds me of Idiocracy ... the part at the start where the people who opt not to have kids get around to finally wanting kids and then can' thave them and ... 

This sort of advice column reminds me of something I've been thinking about in the last five to six years, about how Americans find it easier to imagine the end of the world altogether than  world in which America isn't defining the rest of the world and its collective fate via humanity.  Either we decide the fate of the human race or there is no human race in the future to be imagined.  

Taylor Swift has finally made some kind of political statement ... perhaps thereby joining the priesthood of publicly known entertainers and artists

Swift became a star as a teenager, when her political sensibilities were presumably not yet fully formed. Moreover, her early success was in country pop, a genre closely associated with more rural corners of the country. In this phase of her career, she and her team would have had good reason to believe that many of her most devoted admirers were conservatives who appreciated her upbeat lyrics and wholesome image.

Since then, however, Swift has sought to broaden her artistic horizons and, as you might expect, to transcend her middlebrow origins. Having achieved unsurpassed celebrity, she now finds herself in the uppermost echelons of the culture industries, where woke liberalism is de rigueur and departures from it are stigmatized. Her reluctance to explicitly embrace left-of-center politics was, I imagine, somewhat costly to her reputation among tastemakers. Critics who delighted in the enlightened political interventions of her peers took note of Swift’s reluctance to definitively affirm their view of the world, and it informed how they received her work. Politics aside, her seeming conventionality—her basicness—already made her suspect, and less interesting than performers who could more plausibly claim marginalized identities. At best, Swift could be an ally to those who, in the theology of woke liberalism, command the most sympathy.

Given these incentives, I’m not sure Swift had much of a choice in the matter. Declaring that Republican Marsha Blackburn’s conventionally conservative voting record “appalls and terrifies” her was close to the least she could do. Indeed, I don’t doubt there will be many detractors who will demand she offer further denunciations of the political right, thus distancing herself from the shrinking slice of her global audience consisting of conventional conservatives. It helps that most conservatives are so accustomed to enjoying the work of people who hold them in low regard that denouncing them is unlikely to exact much of a cost and that, as the columnist Josh Barro has observed, the most affluent and influential consumers “are more disproportionately left-of-center than they used to be.” From a purely commercial perspective, Swift would have been foolish not to have made her political gesture. Otherwise, she would have left herself open to the charge that she does not detest the GOP and all that it represents, which would have posed an unacceptable risk to her standing in the eyes of those she cares to impress.

What is new, I would argue, is the second development: that the number of people who are susceptible to elite influence has grown larger. Here is where I must tread lightly, as what follows is necessarily impressionistic. I get the sense that the most aggressively “woke” young people are precisely those who find themselves in the most fiercely competitive environments. Status and prestige matter to everyone, of course, but they matter to some more than others. Most of all, they matter to those who find themselves in precarious industries where one’s reputation counts for a great deal and, just as importantly, to lonely, unattached people who long to feel valued and desired. Delayed marriage and child-rearing ensure that many more young people spend many more years in the mating market and, by extension, orienting their lives around fulfilling their own social and sexual appetites over the care and feeding of children. This is especially true among children of the culturally powerful upper-middle-class, who’ve been trained to fear downward mobility in a stratified society as much as our primitive ancestors feared being devoured by toothy predators. The result is what you might call a culture of “competitive wokeness.”

Swift, of course, is at liberty to endorse whatever views she sees fit.  It's strange to consider in the last five years or so the degree to which journalists found fault with her for NOT articulating a social or political view they agreed with.  For a few years she didn't self-identify as being a feminist and that was held against her.  For the last few years since 45 got elected she has been described as some kind of Nazi barbie or as tacitly endorsing Trump by NOT denouncing Trump.  

But as was said at longer than probably necessary in the article above, Taylor Swift speaking up to endorse a Democratic candidate or Democratic policies makes her less rather than more distinctive.  There's a sense in which she has fallen into order whereas West, ironically perhaps, has made a point of finding nice things to say about 45.   That has been met with declarations or jokes that West is in some way mentally ill ... . 

Thursday, October 18, 2018

over at Slate a piece about how and why feminists must deal with Hillary Clinton's legacy of standing by Bill Clinton, unpleasant though it may be

What Megan Garber addressed at practically the start of 2018 ...

is showing up at Slate

Being at a point where I find it nearly impossible to take either of the two machines seriously I am not sure that the reckoning that is said to have been taken up in the era of Weinstein might have even happened had Clinton won the electoral college vote. 

Clinton's team has in the past cast doubt on the electoral system up to the point where it might have yielded a win against Obama, a matter that Slate author Mickey Kaus made fun of Clinton for a decade agoThat was back in the realm of May 2008 when it was established that Clinton had not dealt with what she said she faced down in Bosnia. Of course Clinton was not the nominee for the Democratic party by the time November 2008 rolled.  We had two terms of Obama as our president. 

As John Halle was blogging a while back, when we look at the men misusing power and celebrity a lot of them seem to have been not Sanders supporters but Clinton supporters and associates.  The charge of the misogynist Bernie bros damaging things for the Clinton campaign seem pedantic  and misleading compared to the electoral college vote.  i didn't think Sanders was likely to get the nomination or to win but with that in mind, Sanders economic ideas, however implausible they seemed to me at the time, at least made sense as a bid to rejuvenate new Deal era policies and programs for a new social and political context.  If the rejoinder from Clinton to a Trump slogan was that America already is great then it's not so mysterious how and why she lost.  That sort of slogan forced front and center the question of "if America already IS great for who is it already great?"

Tangential to that question was an observation Hanna Rosin made years ago that the kinds of rich white ladies who can afford to make a living as writers in New York are probably least likely to be directly harmed by what they call the patriarchy. 

If the question about 2016 was which of the two candidates in the two party system seemed convinced that the office was a more or less a birth right yby this point it's not so clear to me that we had anything other than a dead heat.