The Functions of Childhood

Walter Benjamin finds a crucial moment of political awakening in a short story he wrote as a child. The piece (“perhaps the first I penned just for myself”) follows an immiserated pamphleteer through an ordinary workday. By the end, the sheer misery of his job––the poor pay, the mindless work, the general disdain with which the public greets him––finally gets to be too much, and he throws away his employer’s pamphlets. The adult Benjamin remarks that this is “[d]oubtless the least fruitful resolution,” but as a child he could conceive of “no form of revolt … other than sabotage.” Sabotage is, after all, the most reliable strategy available to the child, its limited efficacy notwithstanding (see “Beggars and Whores” in the appendix to Berlin Childhood). Continue reading

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This is What Happens When You Lose the Dialectic

Taking potshots at analytical Marxism probably isn’t the most productive use of my time, seeing as the approach hasn’t been especially popular in the past decade and change. But I’ve nonetheless found it difficult to escape its shadow, being a political scientist of sorts, as well as an insufferable leftist who talks about Marxism at parties. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked, after enumerating my research interests, whether I draw on G. A. Cohen.)

My impatience with analytical Marxism largely derives from my impatience with analytic philosophy more generally. I have immense difficulty believing that condensing every political and social issue into a logical proof or game theoretical model helps us engage them in any substantive way. But the exceptionally frustrating thing about analytical Marxism is the way in which it endeavors to improve (even salvage) the Marxist approach by getting rid of its most valuable component: the dialectic. Continue reading

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Statements on the University

I. Defenses of higher education in the liberal arts often appeal to Enlightenment ideals regarding individual development. What remains unsaid is that these ideals always presumed massive exclusion. Liberal arts education was reserved for children from established, propertied families. In the age of nascent capitalism, long before public elementary schools became common, children of poor families were often shunted into factories while their wealthy counterparts learned Latin. Prominent philosophers were sanguine about this stratification. To John Locke, for instance, it seemed only natural that “young gentlemen” should develop their “rational capacities,” while poor children should be placed into “working schools” to learn the virtue of “industriousness.” Continue reading

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Liberal Arts Education as Vocational Training

In retrospect, my expectations for Fareed Zakaria’s In Defense of a Liberal Education were pretty unrealistic. Considering his support for the WTO, the initial invasion of Iraq, and various other things I find rather objectionable, I probably should have expected that his views on higher education might also clash with my own. Still, Zakaria’s recent book is marketed as defending the liberal arts on the basis that “the university is much more than a vocational school.” With that in mind, I was a little alarmed to find that a staggering proportion of Zakaria’s defense of liberal arts education hinges on how well it prepares students for the job market. Continue reading

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On the Cascadian Megadeathquake

I’d like to talk a little bit about that recent New Yorker piece about how screwed Seattle and Portland are going to be when the next earthquake along the Cascadian subduction zone hits. According to the article, seismologists predict an extended, magnitude ~9.0 earthquake that will extend from northern California to southern British Columbia. Stephen Peterson, my friendly neighborhood skeptic, has already written a pretty thorough point-by-point response to the piece, but I have a couple points to raise myself. Continue reading

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This Political Correctness Is Makin’ Me Thirsty!

Jerry Seinfeld piped up a couple weeks ago with some complaints about “political correctness,” which were widely hailed as groundbreaking because apparently it’s still 1997. Seinfeld’s main target was college students. He noted that a lot of his comedian friends tell him to stay away from colleges because the audiences are “so PC.” The stakes are high for Seinfeld and other comics because, as Seinfeld has said elsewhere, if people get offended now, they don’t just complain––they try to ruin your career. In the wake of that recent Vox article by “Edward Schlosser,” Seinfeld’s comments have a sort of cultural resonance, and this means that the term “political correctness” has, I’m sorry to say, burst back into the national vernacular. Continue reading

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The Passion of Edward Schlosser: Why “Liberal Students” Aren’t the Problem

Don’t you hate how America’s universities have curdled into cesspools of liberal, “politically correct” groupthink? Edward Schlosser (a pseudonym) knows how you feel––and he’s a liberal! In his recent Vox article entitled “I’m a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me,” Professor Schlosser explains the problem with higher education. Time was that a professor could rebut student complaints, but now, student complaints are accepted as gospel. This is because kids these days no longer levy complaints based on professors’ actions, but based on how professors affect their emotional states. Since emotional claims can’t be debated, they’re more likely to be taken seriously, and professors are more likely to be penalized. This creates an environment in which professors opt not to teach controversial material for fear of getting student complaints and losing their jobs. The source of this problem? Liberal students have started buying into a “totalizing, simplistic, unworkable, and ultimately stifling conception of social justice.” It seems that, not content with ruining video games, the SJWs have moved on to academia. Continue reading

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Revisiting Charlie Hebdo: “Afflicting the Afflicted” and “Petty Bourgeois Identity Politics”

The aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks was a good time to watch the left devour itself. Some radicals, myself included, pointed out the magazine’s long history of Islamophobic and antisemitic caricatures, and suggested that, though the attack was tragic and indefensible, lionizing an Orientalist magazine was probably a poor choice. Many other radicals––most of them older, white, European Marxists––responded very harshly to the charges of racism levied at Charlie Hebdo. They accused the magazine’s critics of taking certain cartoons out of context (a fair criticism), of not understanding French politics (also a fair criticism), and of indulging “petty bourgeois identity politics” (a less fair criticism). Continue reading

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Toward a Foucauldian-Deleuzian Genealogical Metaphysic of Polysemous Signifiers in Juridico-Political Discursive Formations

When, in the pursuance of constitutionally mandated juridical “procedures,” one encounters a signifier with varied and numerous signifieds, how does one proceed? If this polysemous aberration presents itself, makes itself known, in the realm of substantiation, attestation, corroboration, and thus the determination of culpability or irreproachability, the repercussions of equivocation could “be” dire. How does one reconcile a linear––or (rather) binarist––proceduralism with a rhizomatic reality, replete with untold (even untellable?) metonymic slippages and acrimonious ambiguities? For that matter, can one safely assume a rhizomatism in “reality,” or even a “reality” of static persistence? Might not one be better off substituting a sort of verisimilitude for “reality” or “truth,” acknowledging the perfomativities and uncertainties inherent to routine and necessary, but all the same bedraggled “procedures?” Continue reading

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Israel’s Violence Isn’t Extraordinary, and That’s Terrifying

As anyone who has the misfortune of following me on Twitter knows, I’m pretty critical of the Israeli government. I’ve been particularly disturbed by the recent unfolding of Operation Protective Edge, an airstrike campaign in reaction to the abduction and murder of three Israeli teens.* This campaign has killed scores of Palestinians, the bulk of whom have been civilians, and many of whom have been children. This recent attack on Gaza is reprehensibly disproportionate in a manner unfortunately typical of Israeli military campaigns. As such, it has rightfully reignited a great deal of outcry from various peace groups and critics of Zionism. One charge I see repeatedly, though, bothers me; not infrequently, one hears fervent anti-Zionists compare Israel to Nazi Germany. This comparison strikes me as highly irresponsible for a few reasons.
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