Monday, July 24, 2017

Socialism vs Neoliberalism

In Everyone Hates Neoliberals, So We Talked to Some, Eve Peyser, well, talks to some self-identified neoliberals to try to discover what neoliberalism means. Notably, Peyser asks Aryeh Cohen-Wade about "the hatred neoliberals get from the left" (talk about a loaded question!); Cohen-Wade replies,

I think it's foolhardy and counterproductive. Trump-ism is a five-alarm fire that everyone on the left (defined broadly) should be uniting to oppose. Chapo Trap House–ism is convincing lefties that their true enemies are the people who agree with them 75 percent instead of the people who disagree with them 100 percent. If fighting Trump can't unite the left, nothing will.

But Cohen-Wade is mistaken: counting socialists as "the left," neoliberals are not on the left. Weighted by importance, socialists disagree with neoliberals 99.5 percent, and with capitalists 99.9 percent.* We have exactly two policy positions in common — middle-class women should have easy access to abortions, and the PPACA is better than nothing — and one philosophical position in common — Republicans suck marginally harder than the Democrats — but beyond that, we disagree about almost everything else.

*Nobody's wrong all the time. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Just on policy positions, socialists disagree with the neoliberal Democratic party: just off the top of my head, socialists
  • oppose the carceral state and the racialization of law enforcement and police killings
  • oppose imperialist wars and military action
  • oppose the neoliberal globalization project*
  • opposed the bailout of financial institutions and the abandonment of borrowers after the global financial crisis of 2007-2008
  • oppose the nearly-complete deregulation of financial institutions**
  • endorse single-payer, if not fully socialized, medicine
  • endorse unions, high minimum wages, and other specific working class concerns
  • endorse equal rights for immigrants
  • endorse full abortion and reproductive rights for all women
*Which is not to say that we oppose international trade; we just don't want it at all on the neoliberals' terms.
**Dodd-Frank is a joke.

In these assertions, I am relying on what the Democratic party has, you know, actually done or failed to do. The Democrats have, for example, done nothing about police violence against black people, or access to abortion for poor women, so I must conclude they either tacitly endorse these conditions, or they are utterly impotent.

Actually, I'm having a difficult time finding much of anything socialists actually agree on with neoliberals. The Democrats shed a few crocodile tears over a few socialist concerns, in contrast to the Republicans' unconcealed glee, but as far as actually doing something, the Democrats have a hard time rising even to tokenism.

More importantly, to the extent that neoliberals want to "help" those not in the top couple of income and wealth quintiles, they want to help them by sufferance and charity. Socialists want to empower those currently at the economic bottom: the working class should have a good, secure life by right, not by sufferance, and "the poor" shouldn't even be a category.

The Democratic party has essentially been operating by blackmail: Never mind that we take away any economic power and security you might have, never mind that we throw you in jail in world-record numbers, never mind that we send you off to kill brown people sitting on our oil, never mind that we kill you personally. Never mind all that: vote for us, or those nasty Republicans will take away even the crumbs we throw at you from our McMansions.

No. Fuck you, Democrats. Not for your positions, objectionable as we socialists find them, but for your insistence that you're on our side. You're not.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

I don't care about Harvard

Harvard is thinking about banning fraternities, sororities, and "final clubs". I really don't care. As a communist, I think the whole Ivy League system is terrible, but it's terrible not because it violates universal norms of "free speech" but because it reproduces capitalism (duh).

Background: Report of the Committee on the Unrecognized Single-Gender Social Organizations (USGSO), July 5, 2017: After reviewing a lot of data and talking with many interested parties, the committee found that discriminatory social organizations were discriminatory, this discrimination was contrary to the goals of the university, and thus recommended that the university forbid membership in these organizations. They note that at least two other colleges, Williams College and Bowdoin College, have forbidden membership in fraternities or sororities.

In Do Unto Other Harvard Students (July 13, 2017), Conor Friedersdorf argues that the policy is hypocritical, since Harvard is itself a discriminatory institution. I think this argument is lazy. In Harvard’s Steven Pinker on proposal to ban social clubs: ‘This is a terrible recommendation’ (July 13, 2017), Alex Morey quotes Steven Pinker's objections: The university is there to provide an education, not micromanage the students' social lives, that the committee's recommendations are not an "effective, rationally justified, evidence-based policy tailored to reduce sexual assault." Pinker's final complaint,
This illiberal policy [i.e. a policy Pinker disagrees with - ed.] can only contribute to the impression in the country at large that elite universities are not dispassionate forums for clarifying values, analyzing problems, and proposing evidence-based solutions, but are institutions determined to impose their ideology and values on a diverse population by brute force.
is breathtaking in its inanity. Criticizing any policy based on its "impression" is stupid. If these impressions are correct, then Pinker would argue against them directly, rather than arguing against some supposed impression.

Furthermore, the the whole point of universities are to impose ideology and values; the argument is over which kind of values; just above are Pinker's preferred ideology and values he wishes to impose: "Universities ought to be places where issues are analyzed, distinctions are made, evidence is evaluated, and policies crafted to attain clearly stated goals" [emphasis added]. Had Pinker actually read the report, he would have discovered that the report actually does analyze issues, make distinctions, evaluate evidence and crafts policies to attain clearly stated goals, i.e. decreasing intra-campus exclusionary discrimination.

Finally, the idea that the university is implementing anything by "brute force" is absurd hyperbole.

Yes, Steven Pinker is a doofus. In other news, earth orbits sun.

But who really cares? Pinker teaches at Harvard; he has standing to negotiate the university's policies. I do not, so I don't care at all. As far as I'm concerned, Harvard can be totally internally exclusionary or totally inclusive. If you don't like their policies, don't go to Harvard. I didn't, and I'm not crying in my cornflakes.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Initial thoughts on "free speech" on campus

Why is "free speech" even an issue on college campuses. A college campus is a voluntary association, and the privileges and immunities of individuals in a voluntary association are usually (but not always, see below) matters of negotiation, not right.

We could argue and negotiate about whether or not it's a Good Idea to invite, say, Charles Murray to speak on campus. A colleague, whom I admire and respect, concedes that Murray is both wrong and uses bad methodology, but that the university would be best served by openly and critically examining his ideas rather than ignoring him. I'm not sure he's wrong, but in my position as a student and faculty member, I would strongly negotiate for substantive conditions on Murray's (hypothetical) appearance: I might endorse a debate, but I would absolutely oppose Murray speaking under circumstances, such as a commencement address, that did not support critical inquiry.

But the point is not necessarily whether or not it's a good idea (and for whom it is or is not a good idea) to invite Murray to speak; the point is whether Murray has the right to speak on campus or whether my university has an obligation, separate from our already-accepted institutional obligations, to invite him to speak. Our university is a voluntary association, but the government can and does impose rights on even voluntary associations. For example, unless an association is explicitly religious, a commercial voluntary association open to the public has the state-imposed obligation to not racially discriminate; individuals have the right to attend without regard to their race, without regard to the opinions of any of the directly interested parties: even if it were the consensus of the regents, the administration, the faculty, and the student body to exclude black people, we would be legally prohibited — correctly — from permitting such discrimination. So it is not inconceivable that universities must extend some privileges and immunities as a matter of right, and not just negotiation.

However, I think the case has to be made positively that some issue is a matter of right with regard to voluntary associations; the default position, unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary, should be that an issue is a matter of negotiation.

This distinction is especially important because the U.S. Constitution explicitly makes freedom of speech a matter of right, not negotiation, with respect to federal law, and, since Gitlow v. New York, state law. NAMBLA, for example, need not justify their immunity from prosecution for publishing their views by arguing that it's a Good Idea to publish; they need only point to the First Amendment.

Thus, I'm going to be looking at what kind of arguments supposed proponents and opponents of "free speech" on campus make. It's one thing to argue that it's a Good Idea or Bad Idea to have this or that particular conversation on campus with some individual or group; it's quite another to claim that arguments against this or that conversation are irrelevant because free speech. The first is just negotiation, and as I am an interested party on only one campus, I have little to say about negotiations on other campuses except at the most abstract level.

The second, however, deserves more careful examination. First, do advocates of the right of free speech on campus assert a universal right, i.e. does everyone, or at least everyone fulfilling some objective conditions, have the right to speak on campus, or do they assert a special right, i.e. only some group (e.g. "conservatives") has the right; and other groups' privileges are subject to negotiation? On what basis do they advocate free speech? One could, of course use the First Amendment to argue a more general case, but it is insufficient to just point to the First Amendment, which restricts only federal and state law; it does not automatically extend to voluntary associations.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Capitalist reproduction

Like anything else that persists longer than individual lifetimes, the capitalist political-economic system is reproduced: actual individuals in institutions must take action to ensure that after everyone currently part of the capitalist system has dies, that new individuals find themselves in a working capitalist system.

We can define three categories of social roles in the capitalist system: production, control, and reproduction.

Production consists of actually creating goods and services for profit. People who have a production role are economically justified by creating profit. In my earlier driving analogy, actually moving stuff from one point to another constituted "production"; in the capitalist system, the actual production of all goods and services for profit constitutes production. People who actually produce stuff are part of the working class.

Control consists of determining which goods and services will be produced, and to whom the profits will be allocated. People who largely control production, or who are part of the competition to determine who controls production and receives profit, are part of the capitalist class. So pretty much everyone in the finance industry, as well as the CEOs and members of boards of directors, are part of the capitalist class.

Everyone else (except the lumpenproletariat) reproduces the capitalist system: they ensure that there will be working factories, businesses, and workers in the future, and that these factories, businesses, and workers will have the physical, institutional, and ideological infrastructure to continue to operate in a capitalist system. The important distinction is that reproduction is not justified by profit, nor do those involved in reproduction directly control control production.

Human beings who will eventually become workers, capitalists, and others must be conceived, gestated, born, physically nurtured, educated, socialized, and enculturated. Hence families, schoolteachers, college and university instructors directly reproduce the capitalist system.

The capitalist system relies on coherent and stable institutions of property, contracts, and money. The role of maintaining the stability and coherence of these institutions falls on the government bureaucracy. Hence, most government workers work to reproduce the capitalist system. For example, the Federal Reserve bank manages the money supply. Although they do make a profit (which they turn over to the Treasury department), Janet Yellen's role, and the role of the governors nor the Fed's employees, are not economically justified by the Fed's profit, nor does the Fed actually control production. Their roles are justified because we need the Fed (or some institution that does the same thing, making money coherent and stable) to continue to have a capitalist system at all.

The numerically superior working class must be kept from rebelling. In addition to institutions of enculturation, we need police to ensure by force that those workers who are not sufficiently enculturated to accept their exploitation cannot substantially interfere with the capitalist system.

And, finally, because capitalist production takes place in firms, firms themselves as institutions have to come into being, persist, and their assets disposed of when they die.

Historically, the reproduction of firms was managed directly by capitalists themselves, who in addition to determining what was produced and who got the profits, directly maintained firms as institutions. If the capitalist owners needed assistance, they received that assistance from those who would themselves become capitalists. However, as businesses grew massively in size after the development of railroads in the mid-19th century, it was no longer possible for the capitalist class to reproduce the firm. Capitalists needed a legion of middle managers who, while neither doing much actual productive work, even at the level of coordination of multiple tasks, nor controlling production, were necessary to keep the firm functioning as a coherent institution.

A clear example is the Human Resources department of a large corporation such as IBM. The HR department does not produce computers, software, IT services, or any sort of intellectual property, so they are not workers. The HR department is not judged on the profits it brings to IBM; how could they be? But neither does the HR department control what and how many computers, etc. IBM produces, so they are not capitalists. The HR department does help keep IBM functioning as an institution: the HR department reproduces IBM as a firm, ensuring that there will be an IBM tomorrow.

I have two reasons for drawing the distinction between production and reproduction. First, because the roles have very different economic justifications, they consequently have different kinds of incentives, and thus their members have different ideologies.

This distinction becomes especially salient when the capitalist class tries to transform traditionally reproductive institutions, especially schools, colleges, and universities, into productive institutions. Should schools, colleges, and university be reproductive, i.e. ensuring that there will be a capitalist system tomorrow, or should they be productive, producing a service, "education", that individuals consume in exchange for money, resulting in profit?

I suspect that the capitalist class's efforts to bring education directly into the sphere of production will backfire to their own detriment. It is not at all clear to me that a capitalist-productive school system will ensure that capitalism persists.

The second reason to distinguish between control, production, and reproduction is to differentiate college educated people into different classes. By "college educated" I mean those people whose specific education substantially contributes to their economic role, i.e. exempting those whose degree is obtained primarily for reason of status. Thus I distinguish between engineers and physicians, whose education substantially contributes to their economic role as workers (usually in the labor aristocracy), financial analysts, who become part of the capitalist class, and the legions of middle managers, bureaucrats, accountants, etc. who reproduce capitalism.

My main political interest is viewing the current political crisis through the lens of the struggle for state power between the capitalist class and the professional-managerial class, with the professional-managerial class consisting of college educated people primarily concerned with the reproduction of capitalism.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A Marxian class structure of 21st century capitalism

When we analyze something as complicated as human society, we have to make some simplifying assumptions. The Marxian notion of class is one such simplifying assumption.

Marx asserted that every individual's specific, concrete position in the social relations of production has a profound effect on their ideology, i.e. their moral and political thought, and that these positions are broadly generalizable, i.e. individuals' positions in the relations of production are typically not sui generis, and there is more variation between positions than within positions.* The question is not is this simplifying assumption true or false (it is both broadly true and broadly false), but whether it is true enough in ways that we can use to make meaningful explanations and predictions of social behavior.

*Observe that the opposite is true of the supposed objective and physiological characteristics associated with race: there is more variation within a race than between races, leading to the conclusion that these objective characteristics are not relevant in the construction of race, and that race is, primarily, a social construction.

The relations of production and the associated class structure are more complicated today than they were in Marx's time, but we can make some broad generalizations.

We can split up the economic roles in modern society into five broad categories, with some subcategories:
  1. The Capitalist Class, who directly own and control the processes of production
    1. Industrial Capitalists, who directly own and control the physical means of production
    2. Finance Capitalists, who directly own and control access to money
    3. Small Capitalists, the petty bourgeois, who directly own and control small productive businesses and employ others
    4. Rentiers, who live on pure capitalist income streams, but neither perform nor hire significant productive labor.
  2. The Professional-Managerial Class, who use education and specific professional expertise to reproduce the system of social relations, usually for a salary
  3. The Working Class, who actually perform the acts of production
    1. The Labor Aristocracy, who are employed by capitalists, and by virtue of monopolies, command a portion of surplus value. i.e. they are consistently paid significantly more than their labor power
    2. Ordinary Workers, who do not have monopoly protection, and who are directly employed by capitalists; market forces may temporarily increase or depress their wages above or below the political cost of labor power
    3. Freelance Workers, who do not employ others but are not directly employed by capitalists.
    4. The Reserve Army of the Unemployed, who want but do not have a position as an actual worker
  4. The Lumpenproletariat, who either do not want or cannot meaningfully aspire to a position as an actual worker (excepting children, the severely disabled, and the elderly) and must live on the charity of the state or on criminal activity
  5. Other classes, e.g. soldiers, police, scientists, (adult) students

An empirical question, which I have not yet seen well-explored, much less answered, is to what degree and in what directions do ideological opinions actually match these economic classes? (Since I'm going to become a university instructor, perhaps I'll have an opportunity to look myself.) Still, intuition and common sense suggest (but do not, of course, "prove" or even provide evidence for) that class does affect ideology, that we can find at least demonstrable correlations between class and ideology, and perhaps even devise an identification strategy that would reveal a causal relationship.

The first objection is, of course, is that individuals do not neatly sort themselves into classes. What are we to make, for example, of a physician (labor aristocracy) who owns a rental property (rentier) and employs others in a medical laboratory (small capitalist)? But it is not part of the Marxian class theory that there are bright lines between each of the classes. Most people have a primary or dominant class role, even if they do have a toe in another class. More importantly, we should see people participating in multiple classes where the classes are already economically close. By virtue of his position in the labor aristocracy, our physician above already has access to a small portion surplus labor, which he holds in common with rentiers and small capitalists. We see very few ordinary workers who are at the same time industrial or finance capitalists.

A more salient objection is that there are other non-class factors, notably sex and gender, sexual orientation, race, and religion, that substantially affect ideology. I think the proper Marxian response is not rebuttal but concession. Yes, these things matter a lot, and while they interact considerably with class, they cannot be ignored or blithely subsumed into a class analysis. As a Marxist, I say that race matters, sex and gender matters, all the other categories matter, and in addition to class liberation, not just as a Marxist but as someone concerned with human liberation, I support racial, sexual, etc. equality. (However, if someone limits their feminism and anti-racism to endorsing only the proportional representation of women and people of color in the capitalist system, my support would be at best tepid.)

This blog is mostly about me thinking out loud: I need to see what I write to know what I think. Noting these objections, I'm going to explore the relation between class and ideology in subsequent posts.

Production and reproduction

As an analogy, let us say that driving a car constitutes production. The point of driving is to move minds, bodies, and stuff from one point to another. In the Marxian sense, reproduction comprises those activities that are not themselves necessarily actually driving, but are performed to make driving possible in the future. The most obvious reproductive activities are the manufacture of new cars and the training of new drivers. Building an car is not driving — nothing is moved from point A to point B — but without new cars to replace those that fall apart (and additional new cars to make more driving possible) the system of driving would eventually grind to a halt. As importantly, how companies manufacture cars — and how we train drivers — not only makes driving possible, but strongly affects how we drive.

There are other institutions that contribute not so obviously to the reproduction of driving. We must extract oil, refine it into gasoline, and distribute the gasoline to cars. We must build and maintain roads, road marking and signage, create and distribute maps. We must pass laws about how people should drive, and pay police, judges, sheriffs, and jailers to enforce those laws. The Marxian notion of reproduction extends to these activities.

Note that this distinction can occur at different levels simultaneously. For example, a person driving a gasoline tanker to a gas station is actually driving, i.e. producing at the "ontological" level, as well as making more driving possible, i.e. reproducing at the "teleological" level.

The analogy to capitalism is direct: the drivers are the capitalists, the cars are the workers, and everybody else is involved in reproduction.

The Marxian analysis of capitalism divides capitalist social system into three parts: production, control, and reproduction. Production comprises the use of labor to create goods and services for exchange. Control comprises the decisions of what and how much to produce. Reproduction comprises all the institutions that do not actually create goods and services, necessary to ensure that capitalist production continues running in the future.

Like the driving analogy above, the creation, nurture, and education of new human beings to replace those who die and to increase the population constitutes the "obvious" level of reproduction. The less obvious reproductive activities consist of the maintenance and enforcement of property rights, management of money by the government (including the central bank), and accounting.

The least obvious activity that I would classify as reproductive of capitalism is middle management. Immediate supervisors (e.g. shop forepersons) are directly productive, because they directly coordinate their workers' productive activities. Upper management control what and how much is produced, so they are capitalists or directly serving capitalists. But what of middle managers?

Middle management is often caricatured as pointy-haired boss or Ricky Gervais's and Steve Carell's characters from their respective versions of The Office. Middle managers appear ridiculous because they are divorced from the actual process of production, and thus to workers, their behavior appears at best arbitrary and at worst absurd or grotesque. But middle managers serve an important role: they hold large organizations together as coherent organizations. They are thus agents not of production, because they do not produce, nor of control, because they largely transmit control from upper management, but of reproduction: they make the capitalist system of production possible.

(Note that other relations of production can naturally be divided into control, production, and reproduction. For example, feudal lords control production, the serfs actually produce, and the church reproduce the feudal system.)

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Sturgeon's law

Theodore Sturgeon famously noted that "ninety percent of everything is crap."

I repeat Sturgeon's Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud. Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. is crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms. [emphasis added]

The Wikipedia article observes that philosopher Daniel Dennett has reintroduced the observation as an important tool for critical thinking.

Hence I am usually unimpressed by people offering anecdotes about any group doing stupid stuff. Stupidity is interesting, and I appreciate a good laugh at some doofus doing or saying something stupid, but such anecdotes are, as Sturgeon notes, "ultimately uninformative." Thus too with free speech issues on college campuses.

I would add, however, to Sturgeon's law that 90 percent is a lower bound; some topics reach 100 percent crap.

It is not enough to to draw conclusions about a broad topic to dredge up any number of examples of egregiously stupid shit. Sturgeon's law guarantees that there will be no shortage of such examples. We should really try to analyze the best 10 percent.

Furthermore, I think there we can usefully analyze even the stupid stuff. Individual analysis always useful: if so-and-so (<cough> Sam Harris) says something stupid, it's an intellectual virtue to point out that that specific said that specific stupid, and to show how it's stupid. Additionally, not all crap is the same. The ordinary kind of crap is just lazy: the author has simply not thought their position through. In contrast, in some topics, the crap is egregiously lying, completely contrary to actual facts. Generally, when I see a huge percentage of flat-out lies in the crap of some topic, I feel like I can draw conclusions about the topic.

We can also look at the general moral stance of the crap. If most of the crap seems generally morally reprehensible, I'm going to draw the conclusion that even the good stuff is contributing to the moral failure seen in the crap.

While I usually like Fredrik deBoer, his recent essay, "There’s no pro-campus censorship theory for me to debate", is a little frustrating. deBoer offers anecdotes, unsourced, of people failing to make good arguments on consistent principles for campus actions that seem to (maybe) impinge on free speech. I assume they're accurate (deBoer seems scrupulously honest), but veracity isn't the important thing here; I want to know whether deBoer is just plumbing the depths of the 90 percent of crap. And the anecdotes that deBoer offers just show ordinary laziness that is not facially reprehensible. So, while I take his point that academics should construct good arguments for whom they do and do not invite to campus, that he has given us examples of bad arguments doesn't tell us anything new.

I think a good principled argument is actually relatively easy to construct. deBoer complains, "Why do these controversies so often fall along predictable partisan lines?" Well, why shouldn't they? If the struggle is actually partisan, then of course these

I'm neither a liberal nor a conservative, but liberals consider conservatives to be not mistaken but actually evil; likewise, conservatives consider liberals to be evil.* I think both positions are, in a sense, "legitimate," in that they might be wrong, but they're not incoherent. If you think some group is actually evil, you have to fight them, and it's impossible to insist on absolute moral purity for everyone opposing them. Hence the liberal students are fighting against conservatism, and so what that people like the Clinton's are not morally pure; at least they're on the right side... or at least not obviously on the wrong side. In a struggle you fight, and as long as the person next to you is aiming in the correct direction, you don't need to ask too many questions. The campus "free speech" issues deBoer points out might not be not a debate on universal values, but rather what it appears to be: a partisan struggle. I think that's a position coherent and principled enough to be worth debating. but an actual partisan fight.

*My personal opinion is that conservatives are indeed completely evil (or completely deluded), and liberals slightly less evil; they mean well, but they're mostly... not exactly stupid, but they're missing too many important points.

Supposing that it is a partisan fight, I don't think deBoer's substantive criticism holds water. deBoer writes,
[Pro-censorship leftist]: What, you want to give “mainstream conservatives” a place to speak on campus? Any conservative contributes to racism, war, and poverty!

Me: Considering we’ve been arguing for decades against the perception that campus is a left-wing indoctrination center, and that the GOP has used that perception to massively defund public universities, this seems like a suicidal stance.

First, of course, I think his labeling of advocates he disagrees with as "pro-censorship" — an obviously value-laden term — poisons the well; he employs the term to label the position, not the argument. I think it might be possible to argue the position that actions such as protesting the invitation of speakers such as Milo Yiannopoulos, Richard Spencer, or Condoleeza Rice constitutes "censorship," but it's not so obvious that deBoer can simply assume it.

More importantly, no matter what campus liberals do, as long as educated people and people in academia struggle in any way against conservatives, the GOP will itself create the perception that "campus is a left-wing indoctrination center." This whole line started, as best I can tell, when students started protesting the Vietnam war. Furthermore, the conservative war against academia has little to do with students protesting conservatives; the conservatives are struggling against the professional-managerial class, and academia is the foundation of their legitimacy. Even if students passively accept whatever speakers their administrators deem acceptable, conservatives will not rest until academia is either destroyed or brought completely under the control of the "free market."

deBoer continues, "But anyway — you think the average Democrat doesn’t contribute to racism, war, and poverty?" I completely understand his frustration here, and I feel much the same. Still, commies like deBoer and I are completely marginal in the actual struggle against conservatism. The Bolsheviks welcomed the Kadets in the struggle against the Tsar, so too could we communists at least not complain too loudly and too generally at the struggles of those who do not share our proletarian purity.

I'm not on the side of the liberals or the professional-managerial class. However, the only universal value I see at stake here is that even a completely socialist government should not imprison Yiannopoulos, Spencer, or Rice just for their views. Other than that, fuck them. I don't care who does it, if the pressure of public opinion can stuff these assholes under the rocks they crawled out of, I'm not going to waste my breath defending them.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

What is free speech?

Free speech is impossible.

To be genuinely free, free speech must be free of all coercion, not just of coercion exercised directly by the state. If some non-state institution uses coercion, then either the state itself legitimizes the coercion, it which case the coercion is still state coercion, or the state does not have a monopoly on the exercise of coercion, and is not a state at all. Thus, if I say, "The sky is blue," and vigilantes beat me up without fear of state reprisal, then the state has coercively restricted my speech, so I do not have free speech.

But! Speech may itself be coercive. If I walk up to a bank teller and say, "Give me all your money, or I'll shoot you," I am coercing the teller (and the bank, its depositors, and its owners). There is a contradiction: if the state regulates this coercion-by-speech, we lack free speech; if it cannot, it is not a state at all. Worse yet, if I say, "Do not say that the sky is blue, or I'll shoot you," someone's free speech will be violated: either my own — I am prohibited for speaking thus — or the person I'm threatening, who fears to say that the sky is blue.

Indeed, we have broadened the definition of "speech" to communicative acts: if burning a flag is a speech act, then pointing a loaded pistol at someone — so long as I do not pull the trigger — is objectively a speech act. One might argue (sensibly) that threats are substantively different than other speech acts, but to restrict any speech for any reason, however sensible and reasonable, is still infringing on someone's freedom of speech.

The point of the above exercise is to emphasize that we are arguing not about whether or not we should have "free speech" but about the limits and boundaries of permissible and impermissible speech, what institutions actually set those limits, and how they go about setting them.

The question then becomes on what basis are we to determine the limits? As I work through the sources, I'm going to try and determine both where each source advocates the limits should be, and, more importantly, why those limits should be as they advocate.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Free speech, political correctness, and higher education - first bibliography

Fine. I'm going to bite the bullet and do a scholarly investigation of the topic of free speech, political correctness, and higher education. This post will contain a first pass at a non-annotated bibliography. If you have any suggestions for additional sources, please let me know in comments.

My working research question is: are the values of political correctness and free speech in substantial conflict in the context of higher (postsecondary) education? I will define both terms, and investigate where and to what degree they do in fact conflict. I will judge the merits of both sides, and come to a conclusion about the degree we should support each value.

Scholarly sources
Wilson, John K. (1995) The myth of political correctness: The conservative attack on higher education. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
Rychlak, Ronald J. (1992-1992). Civil rights, Confederate flags, and political correctness: Free speech and race Relations on Campus. 66 Tul. L. Rev. 1411
Cheney, Lynne V. (September 1992). Telling the Truth. A Report on the State of the Humanities in Higher Education. National Endowment for the Humanities.
Scott, Peter. (2016). "Free speech" and "political correctness." European Journal of Higher Education 6.4: 417-420. doi:10.1080/21568235.2016.1227666.
Pujol, Jordi. (2016). The United States safe space campus controversy and the paradox of freedom of speech. Church, Communication and Culture 1.1: 240-254. doi:10.1080/23753234.2016.1234124.
Kitrosser, Heidi. (2016-2017). Free Speech, Higher Education, and the PC Narrative. 101 Minn. L. Rev. 1987
Robbins, Susan P. (January 19 2016). From the Editor—Sticks and stones: Trigger warnings, microaggressions, and political correctness. [editorial] Journal of Social Work Education 52.1: 1-5. doi:10.1080/10437797.2016.1116850.

Non-scholarly sources
Google "free speech political correctness and higher education"

Roth, Michael S. (August 31, 2016). Free speech, political correctness and higher education. Huffington Post.
Lukianoff, Greg, and Jonathan Haidt. (September 2015). The coddling of the American mind. The Atlantic.
Schapiro, Morton. (January 15, 2016). I’m Northwestern’s president. Here’s why safe spaces for students are important. The Washington Post
Cobb, Jelani. (November 10, 2015). Race and the Free-Speech Diversion. The New Yorker.
Strauss, Valerie, (November 20, 2015). Sick of hearing about pampered students with coddled minds? This university president is. The Washington Post
Zimmer, Robert J. (August 26, 2016). Free speech is the basis of a true education. The Wall Street Journal.
Stone, Geoffrey R. (August 26, 2016). Free expression in peril. The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Friedersdorf, Conor. (June 30, 2016). Should any ideas Be 'off the table' in campus debates? The Atlantic.
Roth, Michael. (September 19, 2015). Black lives matter and so does free speech. Wesleyan University.
Gersen, Jeannie Suk. (December 15, 2014). The trouble with teaching rape law. The New Yorker.
Kipnis, Laura (February 27, 2015). Sexual paranoia strikes academe. The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Cooke, Rachel. (April 2, 2017). Sexual paranoia on campus – and the professor at the eye of the storm. The Guardian.
Schlosser, Edward [pseudonym]. (June 3, 2015). I'm a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me. Vox.
McCormick, Jason . (December 1, 2016). I’m a liberal professor and my conservative students terrify me. The Coffeelicious.
Berlatsky, Noah. (June 11, 2015). Professors do live in fear—but not of liberal students. The New Republic.
Griswold, Alex. (June 3, 2015). Liberal professor vilified As racist for accurately quoting activist. The Daily Caller.
Flaherty, Colleen. (January 30, 2015). Going after the donors. Inside Higher Ed.
Steinhauer, Jillian. (June 20, 2014). South Carolina legislature penalizes colleges for teaching gay-themed books. Hyperallergic.
Kendall, Nancy. (June 9, 2015). Scott Walker is undermining academic freedom at the University of Wisconsin. New Republic
Hentoff, Nat. (Fall 1991). "Speech Codes" on the campus and problems of free speech. Dissent 38: 546-9.
Chait, Jonathan. (January 27, 2015). Not a very P.C. thing to say. New York Magazine, Daily Intelligencer.
Goldberg, Jonah. (February 16, 2015). The University of Michigan's tolerance problem. Los Angeles Times.
Mahmood, Omar. (November 19,2014). Do the left thing. Michigan Review.
Fields, Suzanne. (May 20, 2015). The slow death of free speech. The Washington Post.
Barone, Michael. (Jun 22, 2013). Why does the left want to suppress free speech?
Quintana, Chris, and Brock Read. (June 22, 2017). The Chronicle of Higher Education.
deBoer, Freddie. (June 26, 2017). There’s no pro-campus censorship theory for me to debate. Medium.

I have not yet carefully evaluated any of the sources. Some sources may be dodgy; hopefully, I'll be able to replace them later with more reliable sources.

Damn. I am barely scratching the surface. More later.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Philosophy solved!

Philosophy solved!

Note that on the one hand, I agree substantially with Atheist Freshman Philosophy Student: the world really is matter (but quantum mechanics shows us that matter is really quite complicated and strange), statistics and good experimental design gets us as close to "proving" causality as we want, and morality really is relative (to our subjective feelings), and a robust version of utilitarianism really is the best we can do as a socially constructed morality. And there are indeed no gods.

If the goal of philosophy really is to find out the true nature of physical reality and the best socially constructed morality, then yes, the problems of philosophy have been "solved". In much the same sense, the problem of the planets moving around all higgledy-piggledy was "solved" by Newton. Yay!

(I disagree with the character of Bertrand Russell: I don't think AFPS says anything fundamentally contradictory; I think any apparent contradictions come only from an uncharitable reading of ambiguous language.)

I think there are no small few philosophers who do see the above as the goal of philosophy, whom the author brilliantly satirizes in the final two paragraphs.

But I think I might agree with the author, in the sense that I don't think the goal of philosophy really is to find out the true nature of physical reality. All I can give you is my semi-informed opinion, but that opinion is that philosophy is a literary genre, and is a part of the search for truth in precisely the same sense that literature in general is a part of the search for truth. And that ain't chopped liver.

Take any great work of fiction, from Gilgamesh or the Iliad to The Sellout. Clearly (or so we assume) the actual events in a work of fiction are not literally true. And great works of fiction seem to interact with the truth-seeking parts of our minds in ways that lesser works of fiction do not. Thus too for philosophy. Plato is still worth reading even if his Theory of Forms is not literally true, and Plato is still worth reading not because his work is entertaining (which it is, notwithstanding his literary flaws, Plato is a rather good writer, especially in The Republic), but because he seems to interact with the truth-seeking parts of our minds.

I think it's pointless to argue about the underlying value philosophy. You either like philosophy or you don't. I don't care about the aesthetic or emotional problems that medieval French poetry addresses, I don't care about the poets' solutions to those problems, so I don't even read, much less study, medieval French poetry. It's useless to me personally, but if you like it, knock yourself out. But if you tell me I am an incomplete or unworthy human being just because I don't study medieval French poetry, make a damn good case or go fuck yourself.

Thus too with philosophy. As a literary endeavor, philosophy doesn't need to justify itself scientifically, any more than Plato needs to establish that Phaedrus was an actually existing person, and that his conversation with Socrates actually happened for the Dialog to be valuable. And that Richard Dawkins or Neil deGrasse Tyson does not find philosophy valuable should have no more import to philosophers than my indifference should have to scholars of medieval French poetry.