Monday, October 29, 2012

CD: Confucian Rectification of Names

Rebecca Solnit on climate change, activism, and the 'rectification of names:'
"Let's rectify some names ourselves. We often speak as though the source of so many of our problems is complex and even mysterious. I'm not sure it is. You can blame it all on greed: the refusal to do anything about climate change, the attempts by the .01% to destroy our democracy, the constant robbing of the poor, the resultant starving children, the war against most of what is beautiful on this Earth.

"Calling lies "lies" and theft "theft" and violence "violence," loudly, clearly, and consistently, until truth becomes more than a bump in the road, is a powerful aspect of political activism. Much of the work around human rights begins with accurately and aggressively reframing the status quo as an outrage, whether it's misogyny or racism or poisoning the environment. What protects an outrage are disguises, circumlocutions, and euphemisms -- "enhanced interrogation techniques" for torture, "collateral damage" for killing civilians, "the war on terror" for the war against you and me and our Bill of Rights.

"One of the great accomplishments of Occupy Wall Street was this rectification of names. Those who came together under that rubric named the greed, inequality, and injustice in our system; they made the brutality of debt and the subjugation of the debtors visible; they called out Wall Street's crimes; they labeled the wealthiest among us the "1%," those who have made a profession out of pumping great sums of our wealth upwards (quite a different kind of tax). It was a label that made instant sense across much of the political spectrum. It was a good beginning. But there's so much more to do."

Friday, October 26, 2012

CD: Democratic Decline

A thoughtful piece by Mike Lofgren about our nation's current plight, which is not without historical precedent:
Can we imagine how we might organize resistance to such a situation?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

CD: Living on Earth

Here's the transcript of a short radio interview with UVM law professor James Gustave Speth, author of America the Possible, in which he discusses among other things the importance of civil disobedience (he was arrested last year in Washington, D.C. to protest the XL pipeline) to revitalize the environmental movement in the face of catastrophic climate change:

LCR: New Blogging Benchmark

The Thursday post/Saturday comment strategy seems to be working pretty well. 87% of the class blogged this week (a new record!), and a third of you actually met the minimum standard of one post and two comments. Blogward and upward!

LCR: Rorty on Truth, Rationality, and Solidarity

Bridget raises a useful question about the first quiz question:

“The first sentence says that truth is “entirely” a matter of solidarity, so would that not mean that there cannot be truth without solidarity, that truth implies solidarity? Further, with the second statement, there is nothing of truth or rationality that is outside of “the familiar procedures of justification which a given society uses,” which I took to mean “solidarity.” Therefore there is nothing in truth or rationality that is not a matter of solidarity.”

Bridget thus symbolizes the passage as (T & R) --> S. Since there is no indication of a conditional statement in the passage, I don't think this will work. However, she correctly interprets Rorty's sense of 'solidarity,' and it is possible (though hard to tell without more context) that he intends an inference here between the two sentences. If so the first sentence would surely be the conclusion. So we would say T & R, therefore S. To make this formally valid we would have to symbolize Bridget's interpretation as [T --> S] as a tacit premise, clearly intended if she is right about how Rorty is using the word 'solidarity.' Hence:

1) [T --> S]  Tacit Prem.
2) T & R  Prem  /:. S
3) T  2 Simp
4) S  1, 3 MP  QED

 I'm afraid this argument would be viciously circular, however, since it sneakily assumes what it sets out to prove. As Peirce understands, truth had better mean more than solidarity, or all inquiry would be a sham, and whatever most people were convinced of would be true by definition -- if we all thought the earth was flat, it would be!

Friday, October 19, 2012

LCR: Lizard Brain Politics

Columbia Law professor Patricia J. Williams:
"The virtual absence of prefrontal cortical activity in post-debate analyses should remind us that without critical thinking, we are not much more than that little nub of neurons that constitutes the lizard's entire brain.
   "Critical Thinking is the most valuable product of a good education. It allows us to negotiate the world using both the executive functions of our prefrontal lobes as well as the emotional intelligence  of our limbic system. A psychologist friend says it's akin to the power of metaphor: being able to understand comparisons at a deep level means we must be neither hyper-scientistically literal nor awash in our feelings, but able to make creative connections among different experiences, languages, and worlds."
Read the whole article at:

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

LCR: On Shyness in the Classroom

Check out the extended discussion on Bridget's blog of my comment in class on Friday about shyness. Here is a slightly revised argument that I present in the comments there:

1) Shyness is a habit. (definition, excluding pathological conditions that can present similarly)
2) It is possible in principle to change habits. (abundant observation; e.g. my mother managed to quit smoking after 25 years)
3) Shyness interferes with effective learning. (abundant research data regarding the ineffectiveness of passive learning strategies)
4) Anything that interferes with effective learning is bad for students. (definition)
(therefore) 5) Shyness is a bad habit for students.

CD: The Good Fight

As most of you know I abhor grades and the common obsession with them, believing them an anti-educational distraction that infantilizes students and drains learning of its inherent joy. I build them into my courses only because the institutional structure demands it.

Imagine my delight, then, to find that even though you are all aware blogging constitutes a substantial component of the course, so many of you have chosen to ignore the consequences for your grades, presumably on principle, by declining to do it. Of course, I think blogging can foster and amplify engagement with the material and each other in a low-pressure and enjoyable manner, and would like to see it catch on in my courses. However, I cannot but admire many of you for the price you are prepared to pay to resist the assignment.

As you collectively pursue this virtuous campaign against the manifest injustice of being asked to blog, I do hope you’ll keep the rest of us informed of your efforts. Hey, you could even blog about it!

Monday, October 8, 2012

CD: OWS and Police Intelligence

Michael Greenberg's "The Problem of the New York Police" in the current New York Review of Books is a must-read for anyone concerned about the Occupy movement and its hopes to snatch democracy from the jaws of oligarchy and a police state. An excerpt:
     "The culture of surveillance that has arisen at New York’s police department during the past decade has likely been enhanced by the unspoken rule of self-perpetuation that seems to govern most entrenched bureaucracies. Once you have a working unit of two thousand trained employees, with a budget in the hundreds of millions, broad public support, and no political checks or oversight, the temptation to extend your reach, to keep the machine in motion and identify more targets for investigation and create more and more files, is enormous.
     "Occupy Wall Street protesters have been especially vulnerable targets. Gideon Oliver, president of the New York chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, which, in partnership with the Legal Aid Society, has been providing free counsel to OWS arrestees, told me that in criminal court he and others have increasingly seen signs that peaceful political activists are landing on terrorist watch lists. Martin Stolar recently was defending an Occupy client in court for trespassing. In pre-trial proceedings evidence came from an Intel detective, implying, Stolar told me, that his client, a well-known activist within the Occupy movement, had been under surveillance and singled out for arrest. “At trial,” Stolar said, “they put a lowly uniform cop on the stand, to shield Intel.”

Thursday, October 4, 2012

CD: Dharampal on two concepts of law

One thing to notice in Dharampal's account of the events at Banares in the early 19th century is that there are, as it were, two legal operating systems in play. One is the apparently traditional relationship between a region or town and its local rulers, where protest of great hardship or (perceived or real)  injustice (including sit-downs, hunger strikes, commercial shut-downs, etc.) were understood as legitimate modes of expression, and sometimes led to negotiated changes in policy. The other is an essentially Roman notion of law as absolutely obligatory, in which any capitulation to such tactics is unacceptable because it would erode respect for law -- the subtext being that without it there would be chaos. The contrast is compounded by distant authority (Calcutta, London), whereby the local magistrate has very limited authority to negotiate or compromise without a lengthy delay while he checks with his superiors. It's like watching a conceptual train-wreck.