Monday, September 25, 2006

Bloom, Nietzsche, Rorty.

I read Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind as a polemic against the American university with two prongs:

(1) An easy description of American university students as ungrounded, shallow and "nice", and

(2) A technical argument about the influence of German philosophy on contemporary American society.

Despite the fact that the book was published in 1987, it remains bold and trenchant 20 years later. Bloom makes a number of assertions in prong (1) that I believe that he would hold to today were he alive, nearly all of which I disagree with. Here are three of the boldest:

-All American college students are thoroughgoing relativists.
-European students are vastly superior to Americans in their education, ability to discuss books, and civic engagement.
-Liberal education is dead.

Prong (2), which I don't quite follow and need to rereread, has to do with the fact that we've imported anti-Democratic German philosophers like Marx, Freud, Nietzsche and Heidegger as well as their vocabularies and are in danger of becoming useless relativists because of it. What strikes me as massively ironic is the fact that Bloom is so critical of the masses in American being allowed to make decisions through voting, even as he clucks at the fact that we pretend that there is no danger in our cherrypicking of the parts of Nietzsche we like. Bloom worships Plato and thinks that the un-Republic-ed life is not worth living--his elitism leaps from every page through a series of anecdotes about him pithily refuting everyone he encounters and knocking American university students down like tenpins. Richard Rorty, a classmate of Bloom's at the University of Chicago, describes the university at the time as having been enveloped in a "neo-Aristotelian mystique," and Bloom never escaped it.

For me, Bloom's first critique is interesting and illuminating but misguided, and his second is (despite my lack of complete understanding) nearly certainly wrong. One of the parts of pragmatism I've kept in my journey away from Rorty is a lack of faith in someone's assenting to believe something as a prediction of how they will necessarily act.

Any thoughts? J. Morgan, I'm particularly interested in your take on our appropriation of the German vocabulary.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Insightful? Depends on what you mean by insightful, and if you're Larry Sabato.

I love some of this "analysis." Here's Amy Walter, House analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report newsletter:

"I don't think the question any longer is can Democrats win control of Congress, it's can Republicans do anything to stop it?" she said.

Well...that's actually the same question phrased a different way, Amy, because if the answer to "can Republicans do anything to stop it" is YES, then the answer to "can Democrats win control of Congress" is NO. Those questions aren't independent...

"It's too late to fix the national mood -- it's not going to be fixed," said Republican pollster Frank Luntz. "The major issues are not playing well for Republicans this year, and Republicans are not playing well with America this year."

I actually think that the major issues ARE playing well for Republicans, and that Republicans ARE playing well with America this year...almost no one is predicting that Democrats will actually take control of the House or Senate, let alone House AND Senate, so at least half the country, despite any misgivings about the issues, are okay with Republicans. Republicans continue to successfully hammer Democrats about security in the eyes of the voters, and somehow, Donald Rumsfeld is still secretary of defense.

And then there's the ubiquitous Larry Sabato:

"This looks like a classic sixth-year election," said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, who called the president's low approval ratings, hovering at about 40 percent, "the single best indicator for any mid-term election."

Classic, eh? Turns out that the last exception to the opposition party gaining seats was...1998...the last time there WAS a sixth-year election...

Anyone have any analysis of their own?

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Pope vs. Canada

In a condemnation of Canadian Catholics, the Pope said the following:

"In the name of tolerance your country has had to endure the folly of the redefinition of spouse, and in the name of freedom of choice it is confronted with the daily destruction of unborn children," the Pope told a group of bishops from Ontario. Such laws, he said, are the result of "the exclusion of God from the public sphere."

Setting aside completely the issues of gay marriage and abortion, does the Pope have the causality correct? I think we have several different options:

(1) The exclusion of God from the public square CAUSED liberal abortion and marriage laws.

(2) Liberal abortion and marriage laws CAUSED the exclusion of God from the public square.

(3) The exclusion of God from the public square is correlated with the rise of such laws.

(4) The exclusion of God from the public square and such laws are both due to another factor or group of factors, but are directly causally related.

(5) The exclusion of God from the public square and such laws are only coincidentally related; it is completely historically contingent that they happen to be occurring simultaneously.

What does everyone think? After the discussion gets rolling I'll probably throw in with (4).

(Ironic that one of the most nightmarish scenarios of a reversal of such laws was written by a Canadian?)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Drudge's biased headlines

The Drudge Report has this headline today: MoveOn.Org's Website Filled With Anti-Semitic Rants About Dem Lieberman...

Unfortunately for Drudge, their FORUM was filled with Anti-Semitic rants, not their website.

In a statement posted on the MoveOn site Saturday, Pariser condemned the anti-Semitic rants. "Once in a while - as in any public forum - inappropriate material is posted," he wrote. "Recently, a few of the thousands of comments that are posted every week contained anti-Semitic language. The comments that were posted were abhorrent. We were dismayed to see them, and removed them as soon as they came to our attention 17 days ago."

Drudge's headline is the equivalent of saying that a blog was filled with anti-Semitic rants because someone commented to that effect.