Quote Du Jour

Blowhard, Esq. writes:

His reading ran the gamut, from radical progressive to moderate progressive, along with the occasional conservative progressive to ensure that all sides were heard from.

Aaron Haspel

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Fearless Girl and Politics, Part 2

Fenster writes:

In last May’s UR blog post about Fearless Girl and politics I wrote that a Village Voice article on the subject

won’t be the last word on the issue, mainly because there can never be a last word on the broader questions of artistic intent and integrity that are the main subjects of the piece.

Sure enough she is back, politics in tow again.

The Voice article on which I was commenting had its fair share of bullsh*t but digging deep into it I found the smallest of ponies.  I found it refreshing that the paper used its old left voice, chastising State Street, the statue’s corporate sponsor, for standard issue corporate greed rather than relying on trendier charges based on new new left identity politics.

Even then State Street was in trouble with the feds over gender and race discrimination in compensation.  But the Voice argued

(l)et’s leave aside State Street’s own recurring trouble with the law . . .

. . . going on to charge State Street with operating in the

grand Wall Street tradition is chasing profits wherever they may be found, a pursuit outside of moral distinctions.

It says something about the relative weights put on old left ideas versus identity politics nowadays that no one really cared much about the capitalism argument but that the feds made good on their discrimination charges.  At the moment, identity is king, if you will excuse that term in this context.

The State Street Corporation, a financial services company that put the Fearless Girl statue on Wall Street to promote the importance of women working in corporate leadership roles, will pay $5 million after an investigation found that it underpaid female and black executives.

The company denies any wrongdoing but will pay as part of a settlement with the Department of Labor. Law360 reported on the payout earlier this week, and Bloomberg posted the text of the conciliation agreement online.

The press loves this of course since it not only fits the narrative but the story has embedded right in it a lovely little ironic hook that gives the story added zip: the sponsor of the brave little girl standing up to Wall Street’s overly masculine energies is itself outed as a sexist cabal.  Or, as the New York Post put it: Fearless Girl or Fearless Beard?

But the irony never stops in today’s world.  Like the taco wrapped in a gordita shell wrapped in a crepe wrapped in a pizza irony comes in endless layers.   Here, while the press has mostly presented State Street as guilty as charged the bank continues to maintain that it did not discriminate in compensation, and that the settlement was done to put the matter behind them, in the now-routine legal fashion we have adopted on such things.

According to the conciliation agreement

State Street denies that it has . . . discriminated in any manner against any of its current or former employees on the basis of race, gender, or any other protected classification. . . This agreement does not constitute an admission or denial by State Street of any violation of . . . laws nor has there been an adjudicated finding that State Street violated or did not violate any laws.

Well, you say, that’s just the way the game is played.  The feds had them dead to rights and it suited the purposes of all the parties, including those who allegedly faced compensation discrimination, to just settle.

It does not seem that clean a matter to me.

Recall that the females alleging discrimination carried the titles of Managing Director, Senior Vice President and Vice President, and compensation is significantly a matter of discretion and performance.  Compensation is typically provided by means of a base salary plus bonus.  Determining whether discrimination exists is no simple matter in a more rigidly structured personnel system comprised of defined grades and salary ranges.  It gets more difficult when discretion plays a large role.

I wrote here about the extreme difficulty of demonstrating a Hollywood pay gap given that compensation at the level of stars is as far as one can get from a mechanistic approach.  Compensation for a State Street Managing Director is not that unmoored from easy metrics but it tilts in that direction.  It is akin to the Google problem: fire Jim Damore for his heretical views while trumpeting the virtues of “paying unfairly”, a somewhat loaded term that signifies a deep commitment to performance and perceived contribution, and which can easily result in two people in the same role earning dramatically different amounts. Google still seems to be trying to square paying unfairly fairly by its lights and paying unfairly unfairly by the fed’s lights.

Perhaps it is technically not all that difficult to locate and analyze the necessary data.  I dunno.  For its part the feds say they ran a regression analysis that demonstrated a “statistically significant disparity even when legitimate factors affecting pay were taken into account.”  The agreement does not describe the methodology in detail and the actual analysis undertaken does not seem to be public.  I’d be interested in seeing how DOL auditors make sense of things like performance evaluations, and whether these are cranked into the regression analysis.  Meantime State Street ain’t spilling the beans either.  They have put this behind them.

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Is the East Red?

Fenster writes:

I am not sure the Facebook like button is yet a threat to democracy but I do think there is something to this engineer’s concerns.  I don’t like the intentionally addictive quality of some social media.  It is possible that shortened attention spans may result and that on balance is not going to be a good thing for deliberative democracy.  You can’t do democracy effectively with Twitter’s 140 character limit.

I am much more bothered by technology’s centralizing tendencies overall.  When Apple did its famous 1984 ad, it was still possible with a straight face to hold up technology companies as engines of personal liberation.  Since then it has been a coin toss as to whether technology will break in the direction of autonomy or control, and it seems pretty clear to me that it is breaking in the latter direction.  The near future of such things was captured brilliantly in the Black Mirror episode entitled Nosedive, which you should see if you have not.

The linkage between private social media and government surveillance is a pretty chilling marriage.  The idea of Mark Zuckerberg for President is horrifying.

Already we are seeing Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other big players beginning a soft censorship that will almost certainly morph in a harder direction.  China seems to be mostly successful in throttling autonomy and fashioning an authoritarian approach to technology.  And Europe is not far behind, with its increasingly tough approaches to speech in public and on the web.  Our own up and coming younger generation seems much too casual about privacy and its louder members seem much to willing to trim back free speech in favor of a prim curation.

The entire history of mankind has involved a conflict between our natures and the direction we are pushed by civilization-building objective forces.  There is no law that says we must make our natures subservient to the direction of change but there is the Darwinian realization that, as with biological evolution, some behavioral and technical patterns are more adaptive than others.  Cultural beliefs are more than an afterthought–we are still agents of a sort.  But the future belongs to those who show up.

If new technologies are in the final analysis centralizing then the future will one way or another, by hook or by crook, for good or ill and with many bumps in the road be collective.  The large fights we are now witnessing over culture and politics may represent a felt sense that there is an Oklahoma land rush of a sort going on, and the people who determine what you get to see on Facebook today will be the precursors to the people who will be in charge of a lot more than that in the future.

Posted in Computers, Technology | 1 Comment

Naked Lady of the Week: Sophia Smith

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

ss-cover

Sophia is a British model who appears to be quite the entrepreneur. She’s been working for 10 years, has a few commercial sites to her name, and is an expert user of Twitter, at which she’s posted a list of goodies that admirers can purchase from Amazon and have sent to her. Hey, a girl’s gotta eat — and she’s also gotta have a set of giant garden dominoes.

Am I wrong to think she looks a bit like Barbara Stanwyck? I do love Barbara Stanwyck.

She describes herself thusly: “Naughty little nakedy model. Playboy. Chat Girl. Nuff Said.”

Naughty little nakedy model below. Have a great weekend.

Continue reading

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Juxtaposin’: Here Comes

Blowhard, Esq. writes:

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Architecture and Color

Paleo Retiree writes:

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Notes on Stephen Hicks’s “Explaining Postmodernism”

The Mistaken writes:

Explaining Postmodernism is the clearest book I’ve read on postmodern theory and how it fits into our current political climate. Stephen Hicks is a professor of philosophy at Rockford University in Illinois, with a PhD in Philosophy from Indiana University. He is or has been affiliated with the Objectivist Center and is currently director of the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship at Rockford. He’s pro-business, pro-capitalism, and sympathetic to classical liberalism, the Enlightenment, and modernism.

More importantly, Hicks hates postmodernism. This makes him ideally suited to write a book trying to explain it. Almost every other book on the topic is written either by postmodernists in their typical, obfuscatory, jargon-laden, aren’t-we-clever style or by Marxists, who like some aspects of postmodernism but dislike a lot of it because it isn’t Marxist enough.

Hick’s main thesis is simple, as expressed in this meme:

Pomo-meme-800x445
The book is wide ranging. It starts from a description of where we are now and how generally insane postmodernism is, then turns to intellectual history with a discussion of the Counter-Enlightenment and its challenges to realist epistemology. It then discusses post-Enlightenment philosophers from Hegel to Nietzsche to Heidegger and how they built on this Counter-Enlightenment current.

This current is broad and has a number of variants which Hicks describes for a few chapters. He then detours a bit by discussing the overlap between what he calls collectivist right and collectivist left thinkers. He then gets back to his laser focus on leftist intellectual history, which he decimates. Finally he turns to the postmodernists themselves, and their immediate precedents, such as the Frankfurt School, and reduces it all to a smoldering pile of ashes. Intellectually, that is. Because like it or not, the postmodernists are winning, and Hicks knows it.

Though clearly written, his argument is complex, so I’ll take it point by point:

  1. We are in a postmodern age now, because postmodernism is the main intellectual movement of our time, replacing modernism.
  2. Postmodernism is opposed to universal truths and “universal necessities” including Reason, Truth, or Knowledge.
  3. Most postmodernists are expressly political – they “deconstruct reasons, truth, and reality because they believe that in the name of reason, truth, and reality Western civilization has wrought dominance, oppression, and destruction.” They want to “exercise power for the purpose of social change.” Males, whites, and the rich have more power and thus are targets.
  4. Metaphysically, postmodernism is anti-realist, stating that it is impossible to speak about an independently existing reality. (Of course they contradict this all the time by complaining about an independently existing reality of mean old white men who are probably all in the Klan, but I digress.)
  5. Epistemologically, reality is assumed to be socio-linguistically constructed. Reason doesn’t arrive at reality.
  6. Postmodernism is collectivist. Groups are more important than individuals. Individuals are collectively (socially) constructed based on the groups they are part of and these groups are often/usually in conflict.
  7. The ethics and politics of postmodernism side with groups perceived as oppressed, unless they are white, male, etc.
  8. Postmodernism’s essentials are the opposite of modernism (i.e. Enlightenment thought and science) and also differ from pre-modern positions.
  9. Postmodernism has its roots in the battle between the Enlightenment and the Counter-Enlightenment. This starts with Kant. Kant said that objectivity doesn’t work because empiricism goes through our senses and puts an obstacle between reality and reason – our internal representations and concepts. Of course we have senses. But Kant says the existence of senses and their identity means they are obstacles to direct consciousness of reality.  So the blow to the Enlightenment came from two sources: Senses cut off reason from direct access to reality, and concepts seem irrelevant to reality or limited to contingent truths. Long story short – the “reality” we can study is merely in our brains. This is the Kantian position.  Much of modern philosophy stems from this. (My apologies if I’ve oversimplified this part. Hicks writes an entire chapter about it, but I’m not a philosopher, and am fine with just dismissing Kant and moving on.)
  10. After Kant the Counter-Enlightenment continued with philosophical approaches such as structuralism – a linguistic version in which everything (and thus reality) is about language. Another Counter-Enlightenment stream would be phenomenology, in which we try to avoid assumptions and describe reality as objectively as possible or bracket our opinions to “get to the thing itself” as Husserl might say.
  11. There is a fairly long discussion of Hegel, which seemed somewhat unnecessary. Essentially Hicks describes Hegel as stating that the subject doesn’t respond to external reality, the whole of reality is created by the subject. Furthermore, for Hegel, there are always contradictions in reality, which makes truth relative to time and place. The collective, rather than the individual, is what is important.
  12. Then came Nietzsche and the irrationalists who agree with Kant that reason is unable to know reality, agree with Hegel that reality is conflicted/absurd, conclude that reason is trumped by claims based on feeling, instinct, or leaps of faith. The non-rational and irrational yield deep truths about reality.
  13. With Heidegger we reach metaphysical nihilism. Hicks says Heidegger prefigures postmodernism by integrating speculative metaphysical conjecture with irrational epistemological streams. For Heidegger, the entire Western tradition – whether Platonic, Aristotelian, Lockean, or Cartesian – is based on subject/objection distinction and non-contradiction and must be overcome.
  14. Getting back to the postmodernists, they later adopted much of Heidegger but removed the metaphysics and mysticism (the best part) from Heidegger’s philosophy. Postmodernists are anti-realist: they say it is meaningless to speak of truth. Postmodernists then compromise between Heidegger and Nietzsche by incorporating Heidegger’s epistemological rejection of reason while elevating Nietzsche’s power struggle over Heidegger’s metaphysical quest for Being.
  15. This leads finally to Hicks’s FIRST THESIS: Postmodernism is the end result of Kantian epistemology and its Counter-Enlightenment. Postmodernism is the first synthesis of these trends: metaphysical antirealism, epistemological subjectivity, feeling as the root value of all ethics, relativism, and devaluing of science. From this, postmodernists just follow their feelings, as pre-moderns followed their traditions (and religions). But postmodern feelings are primarily rage, power, guilt, lust, and dread.
  16. Because of the dominant importance of social constructionism, independent individuals are not in charge of these feelings. Identities are the result of group membership: racial, sexual, economic, ethnic. And all will be in conflict.
  17. There is an enormous problem, which leads to Hicks’s SECOND THESIS: Postmodernism can’t only be about epistemology and anti-realism, because postmodernists are always Leftists. Also postmodern rhetoric is very harsh, melds with political correctness, and currently is best exemplified by the non-stop effort to call everyone they don’t like a “racist”, “sexist”, “bigot”, “white nationalist”, and eventually “Nazi.” The final argument is basically just ad hominem. Why?
  18. Hicks’s explanation is this: Marxism was initially modernist and made four main testable scientific claims about how capitalism would collapse and be replaced with communism. Each was eventually refuted. In real countries with real economies, classical liberalism (or some variant of it) won. This chart shows the Marxist predictions v. the actual results.
  19. Hicks states that the empirical evidence is strongly against socialism working anywhere with any kind of good long-term results. Capitalism led to better living conditions while no socialist experiment has worked, and most or all have been totalitarian and include widespread slaughter of their own population, as depicted in this chart.
  20. This leads to Hicks’s MAJOR HYPOTHESIS: “Postmodernism is the academic far left’s epistemological strategy for responding to the crisis caused by the failures of socialism in theory and practice.” Basically, the Left wanted socialism to work. It didn’t. Because of that they abandoned facts and went with feelings. Sound familiar?
  21. Hicks goes on a long tangent against collectivism in all of its forms, which he traces to Rousseau, then to left and right branches. The right branch is primarily German and goes through Herder eventually into National Socialism. This part of the book was interesting in making explicit links between socialism and Nazism, and people who like to argue about whether Nazism is leftist or rightist should read it, but I found it mainly irrelevant to the major theses of the book. I think it is clear that Hicks is not a fan of nationalism. But if you are, don’t let that deter you since his absolutely savage attack on the Left is worth reading no matter what.
  22. Hicks demolishes socialism in Chapter 5 which is, quite frankly, fantastic. Marxism’s main two arguments were: 1) Economically, capitalism would eventually fall apart because socialism was more efficient. It turns out it wasn’t and Hicks presents a bit of data to prove it. 2) Morally, capitalism is evil and socialism is good. Marxists thought capitalism would collapse because of exploitation and oppression of workers would lead to revolution. But it didn’t. Because capitalism isn’t inherently evil, and socialism isn’t inherently good. Duh.
  23. By the 1950s, Lenin’s theory of imperialism – that the misery of capitalism and oppression would essentially be off-shored to the Third World, one of the more reasonable parts of Marxist theory in my view – also started looking wrong. Third World countries that had adopted capitalism earliest seemed to be doing better than those that hadn’t.
  24. By 1956, socialism only had the moral case left because the economic case has been destroyed by facts. Then the USSR crushed the Hungarian revolution and Stalin’s crimes were exposed. Now, much of the moral case was destroyed too.
  25. In reaction, communists and socialists then put their faith in Mao, but soon his crimes surfaced as well.
  26. So the Left was in a profound crisis.
  27. Since the Left had now utterly failed in practice everywhere, they tried anew. Their new strategies split them into camps and changed some basic underlying Marxist assumptions in four ways: First, they shifted from a focus on need to a focus on equality. The original idea had been not to leave people in dire need. Now it was to “make everyone equal.” For instance, the socialist German government began splitting large businesses up to make them “more equal” in size. Also, rather than focusing on absolute poverty, Leftists began focusing on relative poverty, i.e. making sure rich people didn’t get too rich. Second, the growth of identity politics. Instead of focusing on “the poor” or working class, focus shifted to minorities, women, homosexuals, etc. Again, Leftists refocused not on absolute conditions, but relative conditions. This is still all about equality, i.e. gay marriage is based on a relative equalization of conditions, rather than an absolute need. Third, a change in ethos from “wealth is good” to “wealth is bad” and concomitant focus on how consumerism is making the proletariat non-revolutionary. This stems mainly from Marcuse and the Frankfurt School. Fourth, radical left environmentalism. From this viewpoint capitalism has both oppressed nature and alienated man from nature.  The solution is radical egalitarianism between species, best expressed in philosophies like Deep Ecology and animal rights.
  28. Hicks states that this all happened because the Left started with the concept of a universal proletarian which is an idea based on reason, so when they gave up on reason they gave up on this concept. Also, Leftists, increasingly academics, realized that the masses aren’t smart enough to understand these abstractions and generalizations, but they can understand identity politics, because any simpleton can. “My group is oppressed by the majority!” doesn’t require any further analysis or intellectual heft, thus its ubiquity today.
  29. Also Maoism’s influence became more important: Revolution anywhere, by anyone, by any means.
  30. Hicks focuses on the role of Marcuse and the Frankfurt School. They added psychology, especially Freudianism, to Marxism, to justify the psychological basis for the lack of the predicted but not-ever-happening proletarian revolution. Then they tied Freudian notions of repression to capitalism.
  31. This repression may create its own destruction by bursting out in violence, the marginalized revolting, and criminality. Marcuse said they should look to the marginalized to fight back. This ring any bells for anyone recently?
  32. The blend of “The marginalized are our hope” and “Violence is OK” led to a strong turn towards irrationality and violence among leftists in the 1970s.
  33. To recap, at this point in Leftist intellectual thought: 1) Reason is out, passion is in; 2) Away from theorizing, decisive action now; 3) Moral disappointment in socialism, rage at the failure and betrayal of the utopian dream; 4) Psychological blow of seeing capitalism winning and smirking; and 5) Political justification of violence in theories of Frankfurt School.
  34. This led to the explosion of Leftist terrorism of the 1970s, but that was easily crushed by the capitalist state. Yet another Leftist failure. See the chart below.
  35. At this point we have the total collapse of the New Left. But, largely undeterred, Marcuse shrugged and said the Left will go to the universities and regroup. This then became postmodernism. Hicks focuses primarily on four of its main representatives: Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, and Rorty.
  36. These and other postmodernists were best suited to carry on the fight from the Left. Because they were academics, their main weapon was words. (And they don’t hesitate to overwhelm the reader with them. Ever try to actually read Derrida?). And because their epistemology held that words aren’t about reality, words must be a rhetorical weapon. Here Hicks presents the best chart in the book, a flow chart of failed Leftist strategies over the years that stands on its own as a minor masterpiece.
  37. In the final chapter Hicks is able to answer his first question: Why has a leading segment of the Left embraced skeptical and relativist epistemological positions? Well, because for a modernist, words link to real-world meanings. But for a postmodernist, words link only to other words because we cannot get outside language. Therefore, words can just be used rhetorically, as a weapon. There’s no need to correlate one’s words with anything like “reality”, since “reality” doesn’t exist and is just a socio-linguistic construction. Meanwhile, there are conflicts raging between groups, and given postmodern ethics, that’s really all that matters, so words should be used as weapons. This explains the harsh rhetoric, ad hominem, straw men, always trying to silence people whom you disagree with by saying they are using “violence” by speaking, and the rest of the bullshit that has affected public debate about almost anything.
  38. See, if you’re a postmodernist, you don’t worry about truth. You worry about emotions and winning.
  39. Postmodernism, says Hicks, is like the religious challenge to the Enlightenment. Adopt an epistemology that tells you that facts and reason doesn’t matter. “Feelings and passions are better guides.” And because you believe in the importance and inescapability of contradiction, use contradictory discourse as a political strategy.
  40. Hicks gives some examples: postmodernism is relativist, but it is at the same time is correct; all cultures are equal of respect except Western culture which is uniquely bad; values are subjective but racism and sexism are extremely terrible.
  41. OK, still with me? At this point Hicks concludes his polemic by stating that there are three possible reasons why postmodernism has these contradictions between its absolute and relativist positions: Reason 1) Relativism is primary and absolutism is secondary. But this can’t be true because they largely all agree on absolutes (politics). So forget this reason. Reason 2) The absolutes (politics) are primary, so the relativism is a rhetorical strategy to push those positions. Reason 3) Postmodernism is ultimately contradictory but postmodernists don’t care because they are essentially anti-social, destructive nihilists. (Sort of James Burnham’s position in his masterful Suicide of the West).
  42. Because R1 is ruled out, R2 or R3 must be true. Both are Machiavellian positions.
  43. With postmodernism, you can always divert from arguing about facts into arguments about epistemology. So if the facts don’t support you, for instance, just say there is no truth and your opponent is arguing from a position of privilege.
  44. Or, rather than reading the Western canon in a way that explains and justifies capitalism, individualism and liberalism, you can just say those books were written by white men and nobody should be forced to read them. That way rather than having to actually debate and disprove ideas, you can just dismiss them.
  45. This ends in nihilism. Postmodernists attack the Enlightenment on moral grounds, without moral grounds, or without referring to real facts or arguments. In this way you can undermine people’s confidence in science, technology, our economic system, social relations, individualism, themselves, etc.
  46. Fin.

Some concluding remarks. These are my opinions, not Hicks’s:

In the last 20-30 years, academic postmodernism indoctrinated an enormous number of people who now hold influential positions in the media, entertainment, and tech companies. It infected law schools and the social sciences, resulting in numerous people in government also holding these positions, whether in the US or Western Europe.

The speed with which postmodern ideas have become “common sense,” particularly to cultural and media elites, the professoriate, and urban young people is breathtaking. Social media companies and the new Internet media, largely run by people subjected to postmodernist indoctrination in the universities play an enormous role here. Whatever the reason, in the last 25 years postmodernism has gone from a minor academic oddity to the fundamental thought matrix of our age.

Most of our contemporary popular debates about race, sexuality, etc. are based on the tactics and nihilistic philosophy of postmodernism. Unable to address conventional Marxist or Leftist politics, they have turned to the cultural and social sphere. But they also have invaded legal and policy spheres and are, essentially, on a mission to destroy the West and its traditions. This is indeed nihilism. But it is targeted nihilism – focused on its enemy. And while Hicks thinks the target is modernism, it also includes anything left of pre-modernism or tradition. It includes not just the individual, but the family. Not just rich people, but the middle class. Not just white elites, but white proletarians. Not just parts of the West, but the entire thing.

To save the West and its traditions, whether pre-modern or modern, postmodernism is going to have to be stopped. It is the dangerous ideology fundamentally underlying all of the lunacy and insanity we see on a daily basis today.

Hicks does a masterful job showing us how, and why this has happened. While I disagree with his dismissal of pre-modern tradition and his statements that the collectivist right is dead and gone, his main points are solid and on target. (To be fair the book is a few years old, before the most recent collectivist right resurgence.)

This is an important, vital book for our time. Particularly if you have children of or near college age, it is important that they read this to counter the postmodern brainwashing that passes for education in our institutions of higher education and increasingly even elementary and secondary schools.

Postmodernism is the worst thing the Left has come up with since the fall of the major communist states. Its enemies are logic, realism, and calm, rational, empirically-based argument. It can and will be defeated. To go back to Hick’s chart, it must end, as all other Leftist attempts prior have ended, as failures.

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