Linking opinions to social stratification

College Liberal

[Michael has nothing to say this week except talk about Mass Effect 3, so I was forced to put together a piece]

In this post I want to try and address a notion. It has been presumed or hinted at in a great many conversations that I’ve had with Michael lately but also from other places. I was addressing what I think is the one great flaw in Adorno’s thought, which Michael had either ignored or is ignoring, and that is his reasearch on ‘The Authoritarian Personality’ TAP where Adorno (et. al) tried to meld psychoanalysis with his socialist social theory to construct a typology or scale of people with regard to their susceptability to authoritarian control. The history around TAP is interesting in a variety of ways, not least because of the unease that US intellectuals had with Adorno’s original socialist bent on the issue, changing ‘socialism’ with ‘democracy’ to make the research more ‘respectable’ and probably better read.

What we also find interesting is the way in which Adorno’s fundamental idea is so influential, it has been definately so in the US. That notion being: is it possible to link social identity to one’s ideological outlook? As the most vague question, many people would think so, and it has led to a bit of research since Adorno on trying to link social identity features to say, a conservative or liberal mentality, or a religious believer or an atheist outlook. Why is this issue interesting?

  1. If the question is sufficiently empirically rigid, with decent operational terms, we can draft research questions and research design to answer whether say, in the UK, there are more people in the £30+ income bracket vote Conservative (the party) than Labour. With Adorno’s own research, his terminology was very bad in that it lacked operational rigour, plus Adorno had an outright disdain for positivist things like ‘evidence’. I think this aspect of Adorno is an oversight that Michael doesn’t properly acknowledge
  2. If opinion is fundamentally linked to identity, then our rational notions of open mindedness, or the semblance of debate should be taken less seriously. Major public debates, for example seem less to me like a means of reasonable people discussing ideas and proposals where they are willing to accept their own flaws in arguments or lack of evidence, and co-operatively reach the truth (like a Socratic dialogue), but instead, involve pundit figures who will refuse to accept any part of the opposing side’s opinion, and are sounding off on the same old issues where the audience members who have already made their mind will not be convinced either way. This is essentially the a critical point made by Chris Mooney as he advances the secularism and rationalism discussion as he moves away from the 2000s ‘new’ atheist agenda.


The Hendricks controversy, and subsequent reactions.

Today it came out that a contemporary philosopher who holds a high repute in that he has virtually invented a new style of epistemology (or at least termed the notion) known as ‘formal epistemology’, following the likes of Carnap, creating a logically and mathematically oriented approach to philosophy; has made a rather bad boo-boo, in posting pictures of sexually provocatively dressed young women to advertise a Logic course. I’m glad that Prof. Hendricks apologised because I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t intend to cause harm. However the context is far too sensitive to not be aware of the gendered issues around academia, education and the female representation in theoretical philosophy.

I had very strong feelings about this issue after reading so much about the negative experiences of women in philosophy through the ‘What’s it like’ blog, that one of us at Noumenal Realm thought it was relevant to include this development in a single couple of lines on Prof. Hendricks’ wikipedia page. After I came home from work I found that my comment disappeared on the basis of ‘not being based on reputable sources’, and being ‘a tempest in a teacup’. I’m an amateur wikipedia editor and I don’t know much about editing in wiki format compared to other people, but it is my personal view that this story should not be suppressed. I grant that Hendricks did apologise and that should be sourced, but I’m confused as to why this story is brushed out of wikipedia. This is an ongoing issue as wikipedia is constantly progressing, and it may turn out that I’m being a stick in the mud about including this story, of which I’m not apologetic about.

I’ve found a variety of interesting reactions to this issue over the past day:

  • Indignation. This is essentially my response too. Women have a hard time in academic philosophy, and logic is an area where women have issues with visibility. It’s a no-brainer to Noumenal Realm what kind of implications having those kinds of pictures have on the self esteem of say, a woman who wants to work on say, nonmonotonic logics, and is worried about not being around other women in her research area or being taken seriously in research conferences.
  • Dissolution. This response is basically a reaction that the typical prudes are being too conservative and have no sense of humour about this issue. In perhaps another context it might be funny, but male sex and masculinity has a priviledged position in academic logic.
  • Diversion. Perhaps the most bizarre dispute/troll is that people disagree with the blog Feminist Philosophers’ appropriation of the girls as ‘cheerleaders’ but are actually ‘catholic schoolgirls’. Trust a philosopher to quibble on a point like that.
  • Apology. Hendricks nobly took the bullet and stated that his set of photos were related to a magazine article piece he was putting out to improve the reputation of the subject, which Hendricks is very well known for doing in his native Denmark.

Maybe there will be a line over this incident and we will all be more aware for it happening. However it is my view that drawing such a line should involve ignoring what happened.


On balance: regarding critical perspectives on Christopher Hitchens’ life

While most of the other male Noumenons are quite fans of Christopher Hitchens, and to some extent, I quite like his ‘God is not Great’. There is, however, a number of pieces going against the grain orbituary pieces which place the man in a more critical light. I’ve just sent them to the other Noumenons and it has enlivened a midnight discussion at present. We have found the articles through Leiter Reports, and it certainly provides food for thought. The critical allegations which I find really challenging to the legacy of Hitchen’s reputation and writings are the following:

  1. Hitchens’ position on Iraq, specifically, the allegation that he said that he did not ‘change his position’ about supporting the war, but shifted from an initial WMD line of justification (following Blair/Bush), but the justifications that I recall him often saying (when we came across him ff 2006) were on the basis that Saddam Hussein was a dictator and any dicator should be removed with a democratic order. These are clearly different reasons and it is bad faith, and disingenuous to say the justification is the same, it is difficult to say it is not changing a position of support, when the platform of support is vastly different.
  2. Hitchens’ talk of Islam or ‘Islamofascism’ was one of those thematic soundbites that he had (along with the very notable: ‘we are created sick [by God], and commanded to be well’).
  3. There is one specific allegation pertaining to his reference to the Dixie Chicks (who in my view are a bit of a cultural obscurity) as ‘fucking fat slags’ (sic). There are many different ways to cut across or try to prosthyletise sexist language (e.g. ‘its a generational thing’/’journalism is full of men’), but it’s just poor rhetoric at best, or crass chauvinism at worst.
  4. The personal character of Hitchens is one who drinks often, Hitchens himself acknowledges this in various interviews. I recall a saying of his in an interview where he quipped that if one couldn’t be without a drink to be a creative writer, then they are a failure. According to personal testimonies, Hitchen’s character when drunk was highly uncomfortable and a bullying character. Michael is currently writing a book review on A.C. Grayling’s ‘The Good Book’, where he earlier made a pertinent comment to me that the problem with Grayling’s address of the character of Solon in Humanist “Book of Acts” is that he’s too positive and not critical. Michael’s point is that it does an injustice to Solon’s deserved reputation as a great man not to acknowledge that he was not perfect, and that his reforms (such as the measure to end slavery debts) did cause problems as well as solving others. So, when I asked Michael earlier if these critical appraisals still affected his admiration of the departed Christopher Hitchens he simply replied: Is Solon a great reformer?


On Social Media (or The panopticlon of judgmental peers)

I’ve noticed lately how Facebook is telling me about the behaviours of friends, whether they are in a certain restaurant (via Foursquare); whether Michael is playing too much Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and lately there is a ‘Guardian’ and ‘Telegraph’ application which tells me (as if I want to know) what articles they are reading from these UK newspapers. At this point I felt something was deeply wrong. The Guardian is putatively seen as a centre-left, liberal publication (or at least, their readers are described as such), and maybe 5 years ago people would have complained about the way in which technologies are are means of constant surveillance, leaving a trail of one’s activities. There was something menacing about being observed or having our data kept by unknown forces: who, for instance, really looks at our Nectar card points balance when I shop at Amazon or Homebase?

From Socimages post on social media

In a way this Foucauldian worry about the surveillance society and a menacing panopticlon is a lost concern. To some extent most citizens of the city-state accept surveillance in tacit ways to many degrees. During the UK riots this year, many surveillance technologies successfully worked to catch many of those involved, the public would surely approve of such an application, and we can at least see a non-menacing rationale of such surveillance in that extent. What I really find worrying, however, is the constant ‘performance’ of social life. This has been emphasised and turned up to such a level which I find insufferable. Twitter friends think that it’s somehow amusing to tell me about a late train in Croydon, or the “woes of waiting for a bus, and then two come at the same time #buskake”; Charlie Brooker, a great cynic of our time, has turned his writing which has insightful pieces on television and his Guardian column, has turned his talent from gold into bowel movements.

I think the thing that is worrying me is that social media can be seen as a means to changing perceptions and challenging orthodoxies to give people a voice. But when individuals are aware of others, they become self conscious and attempt to project some idealised conception of themselves, projecting themselves as they think others expect or wish to see of them. I’m guilty of this myself, Michael and Destre have told me in previous discussions that they are slowly self conscious about this issue and find that social media management is similar to personality management in social interractions. In this way, social media has a fundamentally conservative force, instead of changing perceptions, it enforces the notion of ‘business as usual’, or that the status quo (or some hyperbolised version,  where all some individuals do are say proverbs and upload pictures of babies/cats/their six pack/drunken partying). The govenance of social media is under more nefarious hands than governments and shifty mega corporations, its governed by the expectations others have of us. It is true that social media can be used to subvert traditional forms of authority, and unify forms of resistance and can signify ideological and symbolic forms of difference. Social media however can be a conservative force that expresses in a most naked form, our need for approval from others, by emphasising what we think others will like or expect of us as social persons.This mindset preserves the status quo, and also our ways of perceiving change, both within ourselves and without.

It’s also inescapable. I could cynically add: ‘Like us on facebook’ and ‘join us on Twitter’. Words are cheap, if all we have to say are things people expect of us, that’s not freedom, it’s self enforced slavery.


The asymmetry of disgust

This week. I’ve pondered a post on the Occupy movement and actually going to one forced a silence for a little while. This post is not about the occupy movement, but I was provoked by the multitudinous number of interests, some of which were more about implying things than actual facts or statement (we are planning to write an extended post on this subject). Implying suggestive terms is the worse kind of rhetoric and it undermines a decent and rational conversation but alludes to fear mongering or already present prejudices, instead of attempting to justify or acknowledge them.

Two of the posters that were put up on a series of columns were relating to wikileaks. One simply said ‘free Bradley Manning’, who is currently alleged to have given a number of the infamous diplomatic cables to wikileaks. But the other one implied that Julian Assange’s trial is a set-up, show trial or distraction technique from the importance of the wikileaks movement. I will grant that commenting on any current legal case is never a good idea to pass a judgment before the officiating body (or in other words: what the hell do I know?), however, there is an aspect of a permanent stain on anyone’s name if there is ever an accusation of sexual assault. For many people, this allegation is the death of a professional career, even an allegation which is later shown to be false has already committed serious damage. It is odd though, how within the critical discourse of the ‘occupy’, there wasn’t enough distancing from a man currently on trial. I suspect that there are many who are willing to turn a blind eye to a ‘hero’s indiscretions if they are still a hero. If I am to be honest, I think I would still consider the likes of Aeneas or Achilleus to be great heroes (even if they are fictional) despite being distinctly flawed, in the case of the former, I wonder whether his flaws are inherent to his character.

I was thinking the other day about a particular celebrity who has seemingly been forgiven for the fact that he was not only convicted guilty of rape, but is almost celebrated for the personality and bravado he has about that instance. I speak of the appearance of famous boxer-rapist Mike Tyson, who appeared notably on the Comedy Central roast of Charlie Sheen (another instance of a celebrity who is complimented for womanising). There are a good number of people who will distance themselves from the work of wikileaks from its cult of personality leader, but the ‘at-least-ambivalence’ response is a dangerous tacit sign of acceptance of a very serious allegation. There is an asymmetry to separate the wrongdoings of a person from the person when it seems convenient to one’s self-concept. To downplay such an allegation is to downplay the seriousness of the act.

I note another asymmetry between disgraced celebrities. When Gary Glitter was convicted of child sexual abuse, it was a virtual death of his career. Many of Glitter’s songs had particular prominence in the US, usually as introduction songs for sports teams before big games, and would almost definately provide some form of royalty fee to the artist. There was a notable disappearance of those songs after he was convicted guilty, definately the case after his second conviction, that his act was so heinous that his fame was retconned (and one should not understate the prominence of some of his songs) as if it were erased from history. Compare this to say, Mike Tyson’s Punch Out which is hardly percieved as coloured by the activities later emerging by the man. It is interesting how some cultural asymmetries occur in our perceptions for essentially similar kinds of phenomena. I suspect there’s a Knobe effect/x-phi analysis waiting to be made here.


Action for Happiness?

I’ve read a few articles from my GReader feed and links that Michael is sneding me to the effect that there are publicised moves towards raising the agenda of ‘happiness’. This sounds so damned vague and I fear that the operationalisation of such a term posited in such a manner to be deemed uncontraversial is a dangerous political dogmatism in one thought, and I am also thinking about the ways in which people are simply unable to be happy in the UK today:

  • Unemployment is currently around 2.48 million
  • Eurozone countries are in dire straits and will affect all trading countries
  • Public services which (I assert) are vital for the wellbeing of the nation are either seriously cut or undermined: the ambulance service, the police, various local services, welfare for the seriously disabled, numerous community and arts projects and the health service. Most of which constitute as both necessary and sufficient conditions conducive to happiness
  • This sounds like a subversion of terms, what is happiness? This is an interesting and distinct question sui generis; but what is happiness at the cost of these social services and with increasing poverty? Rhetoric.

This policy move gives the appearance of a government that seems to be genuinely interested, without an integrated approach to the bases of wellbeing of which the government is responsible in contribution to the change (for the worse) to millions of lives. A campaign for ‘happiness’ sounds as absurd as giving a homeless person a bottle of gin (spiritual and proverbial), instead of dealing with the social conditions which form the base, like dealing with housing or employment. Aristotle says that even the virtuous man cannot be happy if her situation cannot allow it to be possible, like wise Priam who inevitably loses a war.


Pluralism, the non religious and intolerance (Linkspam of the week)

I’d like to highlight a few URLs that I’ve come across this week that I’d like to frame in a single post.

My twitter subscription to Three Faiths Forum gave a neat link to an article by a C. Steadman about the case for the non-religious to be involved in interfaith work. We’ve posted before about this and I find this article a very eloquent justification, as well a neat assertion of the case that there is no incompatibility by having a commitment to the social justice component of interfaith work and having no religious affiliation.

Thinking about the ‘other side’, there is a fascinating interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson (who I have come to know from his cameo on the Big Bang Theory [that’s a tv show not a cosmological hypothesis]) who states how much of his agenda in science communication is not interested very much in the issue of religion, however, one of his most viewed videos on youtube concerns a discussion with R. Dawkins where he makes the very interesting point that it is because of Dawkins’ eloquence of writing and putting forward his case that makes him prima facie antagonised by those of faith, in essence the notion of the ‘Angry atheist’ (in Steadman’s terms) is constructed by this kind of preconception or unwillingness to deal with the arguments in hand with (inter alia) the likes of Dawkins but more the conclusions made. For anyone who found this blog post for searching terms such as “Neil deGrasse Tyson” and “religion”, I apologise for adding to this reputation that Tyson does not want to have (in my defence, he’s blamed by Sheldon Cooper for the reclassification of Pluto – how’s that for changing a reputation).

Perhaps to put the importance of tolerance in context, this week a video came out of a grassroots protest led by the an organisation within the umbrella of US tea party movement where a ‘protest’ against speakers in a Muslim fundrasing event was obscured by the thinly veiled xenophobia of the protest’s participants. Such is the consequence of a lack of engagement or dialogue.


The elephant in the room: Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s ‘Nomad’ (Review)

This month I have the task of doing a book review. I’ve chosen a book within the so-called ‘New Atheist’ canon, although labels aside, this is a fascinating and challenging book for all concerned. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a person of numerous identities, many of which hold awkwardly together, and this is the essence of the title of her book: Nomad.

Ali is a woman. As a woman, she faces multiple discriminations; from her father, who is interestingly the daughter of Hirsi Magan Isse, a Somali revolutionary; from her grandmother, whose distrust of modernity was interesting in spite of her own personal defiance by defying patriarchal customs of her time and from her own community who see her as betraying her heritage.

Ali is a secularist. By studying in school was a defiance enough for her family, Ali came to study political science and immersed herself and identified with the values of the European Enlightenment. Ali makes an interesting case for the universality of the enlightenment values: of freedom of expression and the erosion of religious influence on civic society. From her background not just as an Arab, but a woman from an Arabic culture, she turns the values of the 17th and 18thC Enlightenment to apply beyond Europe. For her criticism of Islam, such as the insular fear of modernity and its values to practices which involve violence against women, Ali raises something very uncomfortable and unsayalbe in this day and age. Consider for instance in the UK that Baroness Warsi recently stated that Islamophobia is rife, while many comedians are known to have a secret rule to avoid critique of the religion due to the historical repercussions of Salman Rushdie. Ali was the writer of Theo Van Gogh’s film ‘Submission’, a film for which Van Gogh was murdered.

Ali is not a ‘feminist’. So many are unwilling to critique Islam, perhaps for the fear of association with extremist right-wing politics or for the threats. This is a topic very sensitive but important. Ali refuses the title of ‘feminist’ despite raising the issue of women in the Arab world, as well as the double oppression Arab women face when emigrating to the west with the pressure to conform to old cultural standards against their pressure to distance themselves from integrating with the society. Integrating to a a country once emigrating is often an issue for minority groups and it shows the many facets of the cultural diaspora that is contemporary Islam. Ali challenges so-called identifying feminists because ‘many’ (only one I recall was named – Germaine Greer) refused to critique Muslim country customs on the basis to the effect of  ‘we cannot judge other countries by our cultural standards’. That alone raises at least two or three distinct questions internal to a feminist discussion. For Ali, these issues for the women she describes are not so much a feminist issue, but a human rights issue.

Ali is a modern woman. Perhaps the end of the book shows how sympathetic Ali is to her late grandmother, who despite her defiance, did not approve of her granddaughter’s life. Ali describes how Somalia irrevocably changed once western innovations and modernity were introduced, electricity for instance, and new ways of thinking, and new ways of killing. For better and for worse, the innovations that modernity brought could not be reversed. Ali’s grandmother was a nomad who was forcibly married off to a man who left her for another woman, despite this she maintained her personal integrity within the confines of her patriarchy of the time. Ali describes her grandmother as a more successful matriarch keeping the clan in checkcompared to the woman her grandfather replaced her with, who, while the latter provided him with boys (a favoured gender in tribal society), was poor at other domestic duties. Ali sees the strength of her grandmother and those of many other women around her in the trials of everyday life. It is Ali’s conviction, as it is for many others, such as Nussbaum, that a key feature for social development in many countries involves providing more education and social mobility to women especially in their traditional caregiver roles of their society. While recognising this, Ali fights a battle of many fronts, from the dangerous public criticisms of Islam, both from the social othodoxy and her family’s ostracism of her; to the indifference of liberal intellectuals and so-called feminists who turn a blind eye. Ali shows herself as a Nomad of many fronts.


Links of interest (3-9th January weeks)

I thought I’d share some links of interest.

  1. The blog ‘A Year of Feminist Classics‘ are inviting readiers and bloggers to take part in an online reading group. Their list of works are very interesting, including authors from JS Mill and Harriet Taylor, Simone de Beauvoir, Naomi Wolf and Judith butler. Here is their full reading list for the year.
  2. I’ve found a neat article by Richard Smith (mentioned as a speaker in Michael’s previous post on the ‘valuing the humanities’ discussion) concerning the import of the humanities on medicine as a profession and a scientific endeavour.
  3. The blog ‘Inter Kant’ provides a discussion linking teleology with practical reasoning, and the exegetical difficulties of trying to make this view consistent. It provides an interesting starting point to try to clarify the relationship between how an agent may have hypothetical imperatives of teleological character, and Kant’s (as it is normally understood) non consequentialist notion of morality.

We hope that you join us for another year of blogging.


a news digest of yesterday

Dear Readers,

I thought that I’d share two stories, and one blog post. The blog post is from lovely Chris Bateman of ‘Only a Game’ and ‘International Hobo’ (a nickname apt for Michael were it not already taken). Bateman, a regular commentator and probably the non-bot only reader of this blog, has written a post on the introduction of new gadets to increase the longevity of this present generation of games consoles: the Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. We were originally planning a post on the consumer nature of console gaming and their extended longevity. After reading this post, we’ve decided to maintain silence on a post on technology and the role of the consumer, as this is far more eloquent.

Two other stories I thought worth commenting. Johnny Marr, one time member of band ‘The Smiths’, has mentioned that British PM Cameron is ‘not allowed’ to be a fan of The Smiths. What an utterly pretentious move! But it is also one which strives to preseve a sense of authenticity which is exuded once from a band, that eventually becomes utterly chewed up and consumed by (guess who?) the consumer into their own semiolgical set of meanings.

Similarly, there’s a story about the Manic Street Preachers being tipped to play on the pinnacle of demagoguery, BBC pseudo-‘reality’ television Strictly Come Dancing. These kinds of stories are the basis from which some theorising can be made on the notion of authenticity. Authenticity is an issue mentioned in a previous post, which seems to appropriate so many meanings and foci. Is it the fan that confers authenticity? How does one maintain atuhenticity against the threat of ‘selling out’? Is commercial success and popularity a ‘critical’ or ‘aesthetic’ flaw? If so, what kind of absurd hypocrisies do fans have of their favourite band? This seems confusing to me, as I increasingly consider the notion of ‘ironic distance’.


P.S. Many congratulations to Bateman and his partner for the oncoming ‘family level up’ mentioned in his recent post. As probably the only non-bot reader, we all wish him well.